Unreal Nature

November 15, 2015

The Flutter of Closing Wings

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… when he observes things, he does it for the sake of things, and when he describes something, it is the thing itself that describes itself.

This is from the essay ‘Literature and the Right to Death’ found in The Gaze of Orpheus and other essays by Maurice Blanchot, translated by Lydia Davis (1981). I have posted from this same essay before: see this post:

… Literature is a concern for the reality of things, for their unknown, free, and silent existence; literature is their innocence and their forbidden presence, it is the being which protests against revelation, it is the defiance of what does not want to take place outside. In this way, it sympathizes with darkness, with aimless passion, with lawless violence, with everything in the world that seems to perpetuate the refusal to come into the world.

[line break added to make this easier to read online] In this way, too, it allies itself with the reality of language, it makes language into matter without contour, content without form, a force that is capricious and impersonal and says nothing, reveals nothing, simply announces — through its refusal to say anything — that it comes from night and will return to night. In itself, this metamorphosis is not unsuccessful. It is certainly true that words are transformed.

[line break added] They no longer signify shadow, earth, they no longer represent the absence of shadow and earth which is meaning, which is the shadow’s light, which is the transparency of the earth: opacity is their answer; the flutter of closing wings is their speech; in them, physical weight is present as the stifling density of an accumulation of syllables that has lost all meaning.

… because they are not interested in the world, but in what things and beings would be if there were no world; because they devote themselves to literature as to an impersonal power that only wants to be engulfed and submerged. If this is what poetry is like, at least we will know why it must be withdrawn from history, where it produces a strange insect-like buzzing in the margins, and we will also know that no work which allows itself to slip down this slope towards the chasm can be called a work of prose. Well, what is it then?

… Now here is a man who does more observing than writing: he walks in a pine forest, looks at a wasp, picks up a stone. He is a sort of scholar, but this scholar fades away in the face of what he knows, sometimes in the face of what he wants to know; he is a man who learns for the sake of other men: he has gone over to the side of objects, sometimes he is water, sometimes a pebble, sometimes a tree, and when he observes things, he does it for the sake of things, and when he describes something, it is the thing itself that describes itself.

… Where in the work lies the beginning of the moment when the words become stronger than their meaning and the meaning more physical than the word?

… Literature is language turning into ambiguity. Ordinary language is not necessarily clear; it does not always say what it says; misunderstanding is also one of its paths. This is inevitable. Every time we speak we make words into monsters with two faces, one being reality, physical presence, and the other meaning, ideal absence. But ordinary language limits equivocation. It solidly encloses the absence in a presence, it puts a term to understanding, to the indefinite movement of comprehension; understanding is limited, but misunderstanding is limited, too.

[line break added] In literature, ambiguity is in some sense abandoned to its excesses by the opportunities it finds and exhausted by the extent of the abuses it can commit. It is as though there were a hidden trap here to force ambiguity to reveal its own traps, and as though in surrendering unreservedly to ambiguity literature were attempting to keep it — out of sight of the world and out of the thought of the world — in a place where it fulfills itself without endangering anything.

-Julie

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