Bias, She Wrote

Clara Chow, “Bias, She Wrote,” The Strait Times 13 October 2015

I have no answer to those questions, nor am I sure if this comparison is fair. But the controversy has convinced me of one thing at least: that we never read innocently — that is, without consuming the writer’s identity in some way. As Andrew Gallix wrote in his introduction to the satirical Biographical Dictionary Of Literary Failure: “Literary biography is a by-product of literature: the writer’s life is read, à rebours, in the light of her works.”

Conversely, one might read a writer’s work differently, after finding out something particularly intriguing or unsavoury about her life. We are always reading with or against the grain of who we think the writer is. In submitting my own fiction to international journals, I always state in the first line of my cover letter that I am a writer from Singapore. The off-chance that an overseas editor might find my nationality interesting, I admit, factors in that decision.

Simmering in the Elastic Gloom

Claire-Louise Bennett, Pond (2015)

English, strictly speaking, is not my first language by the way. I haven’t yet discovered what my first language is so for the time being I use English words in order to say things. I expect I will always have to do it that way; regrettably I don’t think my first language can be written down at all. I’m not sure it can be made external you see. I think it has to stay where it is; simmering in the elastic gloom betwixt my flickering organs.


“It had something to do with love. About the essential brutality of love. About those adventitious souls who deliberately seek out love as a prime agent of total self-immolation. Yes, that’s right. It attempted to show that in the whole history of literature love is quite routinely depicted as an engulfing process of ecstatic suffering which finally, mercifully, obliterates us and delivers us to oblivion. Dismembered and packed off. Something like that. Something along those lines. I am mad about you. I am going out of my mind. My soul burns for you. I am inflamed. There is nothing now, nothing except you. Gone, quite gone. That kind of thing. … Actually, now that I come to think of it, I think the gist of my argument was simply that love is indeed a vicious and divine disintegration of selfhood and that artistic representations of it as such aren’t at all uncommon or outlandish and have nothing whatsoever to do with endeavouring to shock an audience.”
Claire-Louise Bennett, “Morning, Noon & Night,” Pond (2015)

L’événement qui sort du langage

Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes 1915-1980: Le théâtre du langage, dir. Chantal Thomas and Thierry Thomas, 2015 [TV interview]

La mort est le seul événement. Tout le reste est discours, au fond. Tout le reste est langage. Le réel ne peut jamais se saisir, se posséder. C’est toujours un langage qui renvoit à un autre langage, indéfiniment. L’amour lui-même. Mais la mort, c’est l’événement qui sort du langage.

Abandoning Art

Susan Sontag, “The Aesthetics of Silence,” Styles of Radical Will (1969)

But the choice of permanent silence doesn’t negate their [Rimbaud, Wittgenstein, Duchamp] work. On the contrary, it imparts retroactively an added power and authority to what was broken off; disavowal of the work becoming a new source of its validity, a certificate of unchallengeable seriousness. That seriousness consists in not regarding art (or philosophy practiced as an art form: Wittgenstein) as something whose seriousness lasts forever, an “end,” a permanent vehicle for spiritual ambition. The truly serious attitude is one that regards art as a “means” to something that can perhaps be achieved only by abandoning art; judged more impatiently, art is a false way or (the word of the Dada artist Jacques Vaché) a stupidity.

[See Blanchot.]

Almost a Negative Theology

Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936)

What happened was: when, with the advent of the first truly revolutionary means of reproduction, namely photography (simultaneously with the dawn of Socialism), art felt a crisis approaching that after a further century became unmistakable, it reacted with the theory of ‘l’art pour l’art’, which constitutes a theology of art. From it there proceeded, in the further course of events, almost a negative theology in the form of the idea of a ‘pure’ art that rejected not only any kind of social function but also any prompting by an actual subject. (In poetry, Mallarmé was the first to reach this position.)