Unreal Nature

November 2, 2014

New and Almost Innocent

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:29 am

… In the end it is a matter of a language reduced to its interior aspect, open to the inexpressible, new and almost innocent.

… [But the reader] sees only unusual words at which he is embarrassed and because of which he believes the writer to be precious and strange.

This is from the essay ‘Mystery in Literature’ found in The Work of Fire by Maurice Blanchot (1949):

… Who will not say to himself, All right, that’s understood, language is sign and sense, word and idea, we know that, we have always known it. But this is what happens: one is forced to stop knowing it. At each instant, it is natural for us to speak of the “power of words,” of those words that are called great — liberty, justice, religion — because they are completely without thought, and seem, to us to exercise a dangerous power “over the mind and heart of men, apart from their meaning.” Apart from their meaning — what can be more singular? As if a word could lose its meaning, go outside of its meaning, all while remaining a word; as if it did not act then according to another meaning, forming with it a new indissoluble arrangement, having a word side and an idea side.

… The author who disdains words must still, however, arrive at sentences. he must have rare forms, exceptional figures of speech, words that, because of their newness, cease to be words for him. In the end it is a matter of a language reduced to its interior aspect, open to the inexpressible, new and almost innocent. But what an author has written, a reader reads. And this reader not only does not undergo the illusion of the author who thought he was dealing only with a thought without words, he undergoes the opposite illusion of a language with a superabundance of words, one almost without thought. He sees only unusual words at which he is embarrassed and because of which he believes the writer to be precious and strange.

… At rare moments, when it is a question of a piece of language in transformation or in decay, with expressions that are at once overused and usual, such as we use mechanically but that some stop or snag makes suddenly visible to us, we come to discover at the same time these two aspects of language: We perceive, in quick succession or annoying simultaneity, this double face of the star, as if, because of the disturbance, it had started to sway in front of us. Or again, it is from an angle that we seem to glimpse the heads and tails together, or by a quick fanning out that suddenly throws into our presence, a graspable display, the whole face of language, whose two sides we otherwise see only as folded one over the other, each hidden by the other.

Everyday language is such that we cannot see it at the same time, in its entirety, in its two aspects. If there (rightly) does not exist less of it, it is due to the fact that it is essentially a dialogue: it belongs to a couple, the speaking and the speaker, the author and the reader. The two relationships of language are displayed in their duplicity by this other duplicity, of the man who speaks and the man who listens: idea aspect, on one side, most often the speaking side, and word aspect, on the side of the spoken. “Author’s thought, reader’s words,” said Jean Paulhan: “author’s words, reader’s thought.”

But how these two functions of author and reader, of mouth and ear, are not assigned once for all, that each person is at the same time the two members of the couple, and writes sometimes as a reader and listens (more rarely) as if he were speaking — this confusion of tasks contributes to making habitual language into a language with only one side. One speaks but no one listens, one listens to what has not been spoken, or even no one speaks, no one listens: these situations are frequent.

… There is a sense other than intelligible sense, there is a meaning that is not yet either clear or distinct, that is not expressly thought, but that is as it were, played or mimed or lived by every being capable of grasping and communicating a meaning. Yet it is exactly such a meaning that one first meets in speech, with which it is in such a close relationship that it finds in it its realization rather than its conceptual thought and to throw to folly, to mystery, all that is outside of the conceptual, is to give more to mystery than it asks, and scarcely to understand it.

… “Light and consciousness overwhelm me with as many mysteries … as night and dreams.” [Paul Eluard] And again (“Uninterrupted Poetry”):

Take form in the formless
Take an imprint in the blur
Take sense in the senseless

Is it not there appointed in poetry itself, the form of the mystery of poetry and of Literature, if, in whatever madness they claim, they always make reason out of their madness and, to the utmost, lead us in this transparent night where the dark is only inferred?

-Julie

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