Works Which Are Nothing But Their Own Project

Roland Barthes, Preface, Critical Essays (1964)

The material text (the Book) may therefore have from its author’s point of view, an inessential and even to a certain de­gree an inauthentic character. Hence we often find works which are, by a fundamental ruse, nothing but their own project: the work is written by seeking the work, which begins fictively when it is terminated practically. Is this not the meaning of A la re­cherche du temps perdu — to present the image of a book which is written exclusively by seeking the Book?

Potential for Disorder

Susan Sontag, “At the Same Time: The Novelist and Moral Reasoning,” At the Same Time: Essays and Speeches

Every fictional plot contains hints and traces of the stories it has excluded or resisted in order to assume its present shape. Alternatives to the plot ought to be felt up to the last moment. These alternatives constitute the potential for disorder (and therefore of suspense) in the story’s unfolding.

Unexpressing the Expressible

Roland Barthes, Critical Essays (1964; 1972 in English)

We often hear it said that it is the task of art to express the inexpressible; it is the contrary which must be said (with no intention of paradox): the whole task of art is to unexpress the expressible, to kidnap from the world’s language, which is the poor and powerful language of the passions, another speech, an exact speech.


Jamie Fisher, “A Patron Saint for Sadsacks: What Snark Says About Failure — and What Literature Says Back,” Los Angeles Review of Books 10 June 2015

The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure 300dpi

… In his introduction to the BDLF, Andrew Gallix suspects “that there is indeed a touch of Schadenfreude about the pleasure derived from reading these anecdotes of writerly woe.” There’s a name for this pleasure, and this narrative tradition: It’s snark. …

… Gallix’s introduction suggests that in writing the BDLF, Rose “may have been exorcising some demons of his own.” …

… Gallix places Rose’s work alongside any number of famous literary silences in the face of imperfection: “Rimbaud’s renunciation of poetry …, the Dada suicides, Wittgenstein’s coda to the Tractatus, the white paintings of Malevich or Rauschenberg, Yves Klein’s vacant exhibitions, as well (of course) as John Cage’s mute music piece.” Gallix describes the appeal of “absolute whiteness,” untrammeled potential.

This is true enough, in its way; any artist has coped with those moments of paralyzing uncertainty, when silence or irony seem better than wreckage. But Gallix’s misreading of Cage is, I think, telling. Cage intended the vacancy of the work to supply a stage for the ambient environment. His point wasn’t that art is incapable of speech, or that the artist has, finally, nothing to say. His intention was to draw a circle around a small section of public life and say, All that is inside this circle is art. It’s a circle of reception, an announcement that he is willing to listen. When Gallix calls Cage’s piece “mute,” he fails to understand that it is a stage for the people, and the experiences, we don’t usually choose to hear. …

You Will Fail

Nicholas Wroe, “Frank Auerbach: ‘Painting is the Most Marvellous Activity Humans Have Invented,’ The Guardian 16 May 2015

He says the obligation to take account of the art that has gone before carries two demands: “first that you attempt to do something of a comparable scale and standard, which is impossible; second that you try and do something that has never been done before, that is also impossible. So in the face of this you can either just chuck it in, or you can spend all your energy and time and hopes in trying to cope with it. You will fail. But as Beckett very kindly said for all of us, ‘try again, fail better’, and painting just took me over.