Tuesday, August 31, 2004


A compulsive desire to share--for lack of a better word, a ‘love’--that which can only ever be private (at the same time that it is never private, and never originary but always already nostalgic); in short, literature. There is one in every family, and sometimes more than one. One who spends hours in solitude only to emerge as if time had been stopped, as if she had almost died and come back to life, emerging to talk the ears off anyone within range. As if at once haunted and seduced by the inadequacy of the long-forgotten, foreign shore of speaking; in short, desire. But the soapbox is ultimately vapid; the song always disappoints. Another book appears, and the cycle begins again.

There are many ways of describing these episodes. As always the psychoanalytic vocabulary is already there. Often the speaking is a rant, exuberant, belligerent, unlistening, rambling. After all, usually the unlucky victim has not just emerged herself from the same voyage; rather, she has been scrubbing potatoes, changing diapers, paying bills. She is able to respond like an Echo, sarcastic, teasing, perhaps hurt. Or, if she is patient--indifferent, affirming.

But sometimes obsessive fields are hospitable, their borders never quite merging but finding sites of friction and overlap. Something unstable ‘in common’ has been created--a standard has silently slipped into language. Something beyond a mere tolerance of the other, and more like an openness. Perhaps even a kind of faith.

If there is a “we,” then “our” times are an unprecedented failure of hearing, a failure of the slaves. What if the only way to counter the “terrible monologues” of Hitler--as Blanchot refers to them--or political speech in general, is to begin truly listening.

The rantings of the bibliophiles are not-quite-soliloquies. They are a slightly richer form of polemic, desperately seeking to reassure themselves of their superiority. Symptomatic of a contemporary disease that has no panacea. The same timeless voyages of the bibliophiles are never quite the same (“the same is not the same as the same”). ‘Friendship,’ if there is such a thing, is not predicated on agreement, but on a hearing-in-common--or rather on a listening-in-common to this hearing itself. A community (‘literature’), as Agamben says, without belonging, but belonging only to belonging.


"There is thus something that is destroying my thinking, a something which does not prevent me from being what I might be, but which leaves me, if I may say so, in abeyance. A something furtive which takes away from me the words which I have found."

--M. Antonin Artaud, Collected Works, 10-11