Unreal Nature

July 18, 2013

Another Importance

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:35 am

… “When I say something, this thing immediately and definitively loses its importance. When I write it down, it also loses it, but sometimes gains another importance.”

This is from The Preparation of the Novel by Roland Barthes (2003). These are from Barthes’s lectures given between 1978 and 1980 at the Collège de France:

… This year, I want to think about the very strange “mental thing” (cosa mentale) that makes one man in a million, if not a billion, start desperately wanting to write that real thing that we call — or used to call — a work.

… What does someone who wants to write fantasize about in the work to be written? What kind of work is envisaged? What is it about the work that makes him want to write it, to the extent that becomes possible (for everything hinges on this) for this desire to be pragmatically transformed into a concrete (and patient) labor? Put differently, what guiding-image will he choose to “set down” in his plan for the Work to be written?

Flaubert: somewhat different [from Mallarmé], because what he fantasized (at least at the start, at around thirty-one or thirty-two years old) wasn’t a structure, a series of permutations, but a writing, pure stylistic action — but for him too, in the absence of any content. 1852 (thirty-one years old): “What seems beautiful to me, what I should like to write, is a book about nothing, a book dependent on nothing external, which would be held together by the internal strength of its style … a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if such a thing is possible.” And 1853 (thirty-two years old): “I should like to write books where there would be nothing to it but writing sentences (so to speak) just as, to live, one only has to breathe air. What I don’t like are the stratagems of the plan, the combinations of effects, all the underhanded calculations.”

[ … ]

Circumstance

1. The circumstantial. Album [as compared to the Book] = inventory of circumstances. (2) The discontinuous. Either a thread running from day to day (all forms of Diary), or an anthological dispersion of pieces (poetry collection) → Absence of structure: artificial grouping of elements whereby the sequence, the presence or absence of a given element, is arbitrary → A page of an album can be moved or added at random; procedure absolutely contrary to the Book; articles, occasionally sonnets = “to send a visiting card to the living” (unfortunately that’s just how it is: to write a preface for someone = to slip your visiting card into someone else’s book) → Type of Album: Mallarmé’s Divagations: “A book just the way I don’t like them, scattered and with no architecture”; same defect as journalism: “Decidedly, no one escapes journalism” → Indeed, today everything draws us into it, forces us into it.

… Whenever the Album — and especially the Diary — is met with suspicion, this suspicion (I’ll say, for me: this unease) actually has to do with Speech (≠ Writing). — The major issue with Speech: its value is precarious; it loses its value in the very process of actualization; the regime of Speech = deflation ≠ Writing = probably what checks the exhausting hemorrhage of the imaginary (there are downsides to this “cure” as I keep pointing out: writing is hard, difficult) →Now, if the basis of the Album is the notation (as in the case of the Diary), then as an intermediary between Speech and the Writing it can easily disappoint: the notation is already writing yet still speech → Kafka speaks of the notation whose “worthlessness [is] recognized too late” (disappointment typical of speech), and Mallarmé describes this disappointing process, this deflation admirably: “or some other blather that becomes so whenever you elaborate it <in the writing of the Album, of the Diary>, but is persuasive, dreamy, and true when you mutter it to yourself.” (Speech: that very short-lived inner moment when it still has value) → Of course, all is not lost: a dialectic is possible; Kafka again: “When I say something, this thing immediately and definitively loses its importance <the curse of speech>. When I write it down, it also loses it, but sometimes gains another importance.” The chance, the vagaries, the miracle of writing: but it’s by no means guaranteed (“sometimes”).

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

-Julie

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