Unreal Nature

August 29, 2012

Wider Than the Sky

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:46 am

… since madness itself — of whatever sort — is only a language of a particular kind …

This is from The Infinite Conversation by Maurice Blanchot (1993; originally published in 1969):

… “We have too many things and not enough forms. This is what tortures those who are conscientious.” [Flaubert]

… he clearly sees the truth of language in this “too many things” and this “not enough forms,” and he regards this lack as the writer’s reason for being since the writer is called upon to make up for it through labor, skill, and cunning. “Too many things,” “not enough forms,” a poverty he deplores since it obliges him to give only limited expression to so much wealth. This corresponds to Lévi-Strauss’s hypothesis that art is essentially reduction, the elaboration of a reduced model. Except that, far from feeling distressed by this, Lévi-Strauss cheerfully describes all the advantages afforded by the reductive power of both the plastic arts and (as he implies) language. (“Being smaller, the totality of the object seems less formidable; because it is quantitatively diminished, it seems qualitatively simplified; this quantitative transposition increases and diversifies our power over a homologue of the thing.”)

… even if the number of structures is finite, that is, if there are only a defined number of kinds of relations, as long as one of them is such that it expresses (contains) the infinite, Flaubert’s statement can be turned around the other way, and one ought not complain that there are “too many things,” but rather “never enough things”: now the universe in its entirety does not suffice to fill the Danaids’ barrel.

… At this point we come very close to Wittgenstein’s problem, as corrected by Bertrand Russell: every language has a structure about which we can say nothing in this language, but there must be another language that treats the structure of the first and possesses a new structure about which we cannot say anything, except in a third language — and so forth.


matryoshka dolls [image from Wikipedia]

… One is inevitably tempted to ascribe the obsession involved in this process to the perversity of some kind of madness, and in this there is nothing scandalous; but since madness itself — of whatever sort — is only a language of a particular kind, and one we will endeavor if we are learned to transpose into another, we will be doing no more, however vigilant we may be, than simply — blindly — embarking in our turn on this navigation that ends neither in a harbor nor in some shipwreck: all of us delivered over, with more or less pomposity or simplicity, to the play of displacement without place, of redoubling without duplication, of reiteration without repetition — processes that fold into and unfold within one another infinitely and without moving, as though the word that is in excess could in this way be exhausted.

This “one ought not complain that there are “too many things,” but rather “never enough things” is surely a cue to include some Emily Dickinson (that is not in Blanchot’s text):

The Brain – is wider than the Sky –
For – put them side by side –
The one the other will contain
With ease – and You – beside –

The Brain is deeper than the sea –
For – hold them – Blue to Blue –
The one the other will absorb –
As Sponges – Buckets – do –

The Brain is just the weight of God –
For – Heft them – Pound for Pound –
And they will differ – if they do –
As Syllable from Sound –

… which third verse Helen Vendler (affectionately) describes as “Dickinson’s sacrilegious worship of the Syllable.”

My most recent previous post from Blanchot’s book is here.

-Julie

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