Expenditure for Nothing

Roland Barthes, “An Interview with Jacques Chancel (Radioscopie),” Essays and Interviews Volume 5

I was alluding to the fact that writing today is an expenditure for nothing, an ‘unconditional expenditure’, as Georges Bataille would say … It’s a sort of perverse activity which, in a sense, has no purpose, cannot enter into any knind of accounting and always goes beyond the practical tasks we may ask of it..

No doubt writing’s part of social exchange. When you write books and have them published, it’s all part of a publishing market and belongs to a particular economy. But, in writing, there’s always something additional which goes beyond questions of economic return and it is the pour rien, the ‘for nothing’ that defines the ‘bliss of writing’ and is, therefore, a perversion.

Cultural Osmosis

Roland Barthes, “An Interview with Jacques Chancel (Radioscopie),” Essays and Interviews Volume 5

I said that you can say this because we live in a cultural world where there’s a ‘superego’ — a pressure that makes us feel obliged to read certain books, so that we’d feel guilty if we hadn’t. I simply wanted to push back against that pressure and explain that we very often know books without having read them — there’s a sort of cultural osmosis that happens.

[See Umberto Eco.]

Lessons in Unlearning

Simon Critchley, ABC of Impossibility, 2015

The poet issues reminders for what we already know and interprets what we already understand but have not made explicit. Poetry takes things as they are and as they are understood by us, but in a way that we have covered over through force of habit, a contempt born of familiarity, or what Fernando Pessao’s heteronym Alberto Caeiro calls ‘a sickness of the eyes’. Poetry returns us to our familiarity with things through the de-familiarization of poetic saying, it provides what Careio calls ‘lessons in unlearning’ where we finally see what is under our noses. What the poet discovers is what we knew already, but had covered up: the world in its plain simplicitly and palpable presence.

A Preparation for Something that Never Happens

W. B. Yeats, The Autobiography of William Butler Yeats, 1935

When I think of all the books I have read, and of the wise words I have heard spoken, and of the anxiety I have given to parents and grandparents, and of the hopes that I have had, all life weighed in the scales of my own life seems to me a preparation for something that never happens.

Disappearing Into That Nothingness

Elizabeth Sewell, Paul Valéry (1952)

Then there is Mallarmé himself, sitting, as he admitted in a letter to a close friend, in front of a mirror as he wrote, to make sure that he would not disappear into that nothingness which during the writing of Hérodiade his soul had seen and shuddered at.

It is like Mallarmé, whose poetry is so pure that it is about poetry and nothing else at all, a form commenting on a form, the content irrelevant [via].

It Is Doing Nothing

Jenny Diski, “Diary,” London Review of Books 28 May 1992

I do nothing. I get on with the new novel. Smoke. Drink coffee. Smoke. Write. Stare at ceiling. Smoke. Write. Lie on the sofa. Drink coffee. Write.

It is a kind of heaven. This is what I was made for. It is doing nothing. A fraud is being perpetrated: writing is not work, it’s doing nothing. It’s not a fraud: doing nothing is what I have to do to live. Or: doing writing is what I have to do to do nothing. Or: doing nothing is what I have to do to write. Or: writing is what I have to do to be my melancholy self. And be alone.