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The review of comparative poetry Semicerchio, out of Florence, takes its inspiration from the essay by Guido Mazzoni, Sulla poesia moderna (2005), to reflect on poetry’s social import. Its “inquiry into the poet’s social mandate” raises the following questions:
Is it possible to identify a “social mandate” for poets today?
Does poetic language’s loss of communication stem from a loss of social presence and relevance?
Can we assess the influence that poetry exerts today on the renewal of common language, or the language of culture?
Is it possible to attribute to song the social representativity that for centuries has been poetry’s rightful due?

Here is my answer.

The view that you [Semicerchio] ask us to hold regarding poetry and the poet is sociological. From this angle, we are meant to look at poetry as a social phenomenon, and the risk we face today consists in reducing the issue of poetry to that very phenomenality—a “Bourdieusian” risk [after sociologist Pierre Bourdieu] that you take with apparent ease. Indeed, for my own part, I think it is clearly necessary to deal with the issue in these terms; but, since I belong to a body of poets that concerns itself with poetry as original experience and poem-writing, I cannot help but allude to a certain number of axiomatic presuppositions that refer to a working poetics,“continued  by all available means,” that tends to include within its view the thing itself (if such exists)—and that does not reduce poetry to its own reduction.

Your line of inquiry, which relies on Walter Benjamin, is radical and, inasmuch as it does so, excellent. One must think in radical terms, now more than ever; not “mince words” and “take things at face value,” as the common expressions go. Amid other “ends,” is the end of poetry at stake? What might resist this hypothetical claim?

The situation of poetry in its world and in the world, in its reception and in the role still granted to it, remains governed throughout by the cultural course of things. Since I cannot discuss here, even briefly, my analyses of the cultural,[1] I will put it on stage, present it, frame it, with the help of two examples.

The municipal poet

The “poet”? In the cultural (main-)stream of society, he or she is something like a municipal employee: in Quebec, having been invited to meet with “poets,” all of whom of course were perfectly friendly,  in one of their ad hoc Centers I remember noticing posters and pickets against a wall.

I was told that a strike was being organized—a picket line of poets—for a march on Town Hall: a poets’ strike, like a street sweepers’ strike, demanding municipal settlement of their grievances; more sponsored events; or more radio exposure; or something along those lines.

Poet in the city, in the margins, incompetent in all things (since Ion, because of Socrates), slightly out of touch (often described as “absent-minded”); powerless, not “with it,” except at the epideictic fringe of occasional ceremonies, the poet will sometimes, for a brief while, feebly defend his or her rarefied employment. Not often invited, except for occasions like “poetry month” at the usual festive venues, or sometimes as an afterthought and when a figure is still needed to fill the role, the poet is applauded. A quarrel with [French poetry journal] Aujourd’hui poème (Parineau, Darras), about the possibility of offering poems to clients at up-scale Parisian restaurants, made me write in [the newspaper] Libération: “Un p’tit poème l’addition”  [ “A li’l poem the check”].

The global poet

We are in Shengdhu, provincial capital for some twenty million inhabitants. Enormous avenues still devoid of cars. Everything ready for the invasion, the ecological catastrophe. This is the China—“awakened,” far more than Alain Peyrefitte had foreseen—which will ravage the earth. Communism having failed, the Soviet empire destroyed, Maoism abolished, everything starts over: communism? capitalism. The peasantry? the proletariat of Capital, Book I.CEOs? official leaders (of the Communist Party). Q.E.D. The objective: China’s economic super-power; nothing less. If need be, the whole planet will be taken down.

As to the cultural, they don’t get it, cannot understand what we are talking about. Why? On one hand, the newspapers (Canton 2004) willingly assert: “Today poetry has lost all influence.” On the other hand, the municipality (we are in Shengdhu…) welcomes us with cultural fanfare to the tune of Tu-Fu, Li-Po, Su-Shi: the Masters, the Sages, the High Functionaries, who invented language and civilization. Precisely, the cultural dimension (which is not one aspect of, but affects the social phenomenon “totally” in the sense meant by Marcel Mauss, and not at all an ideological “superstructure” in the Marxist sense) is precisely the dimension in which traditional “culture” and multicultural neo-culture become indistinguishable, in which any minority holds on to, and by, its phenotype’s distinguishing feature.[2]

The cultural, which the majority of those concerned take solely for culture-continued-by-other-means, be it “modern” or “post-modern” (or even “post-human,” as recently argued by the journal Critique, which I will cite later) is that which makes possible—in a society where neither distinctions of language nor critical philosophical reflection have yet been able to discern the problem—the indifferent simultaneity of these two sides (“on one hand / on the other hand”):  the permanence-resurgence of the archaic within the illusion of the same and the irreversible diminishment, social insignificance, of poetry and poets. One can foresee in the short term that Chinese poetry, all the more globalized through “worldwide” exchanges (translations, colloquia, festivals, etc.), will continue to display its richness, its brilliance (etc.), while nonetheless “no longer existing.” Chinese intellectuals—and, of course, intellectuals from all countries trading across the global liberal marketplace—are not yet ready to ponder this concomitance. They must (we must) adopt a point of view “outside the system” in order to see ourselves as agents of the “global” cultural.

The future of this illusion dictates our social fate as just ordinary producers… manufacturers of “poetic products,” for example.”[3]

Of what use can poetry possibly be?

For something to have happened there must be a story (a thousand stories). Take the case of a soccer game: the next day’s newspapers create the game (as with Pindar’s The Olympiads, if you recall). Now, film (“la pellicula,” as the Spanish say), in all its forms, answers to this need with mind-boggling diversity and power. The novel too, still
a bit. Poetry no longer does, after having done only that for centuries—indeed, up to  the time of Apollinaire, Cendrars, Claudel… and even, one could show, with Surrealism, which by fomenting Revolution (which was really its own revolution) wanted to coerce reality by striking small blows against it. Lautréamont’s “par tous” [“(poetry… made) by all”] gave rise to the Surrealist “group”: there needs to be an “us” for action to have a subject, and thus for action to occur. Rimbaud’s farewell, his defection and abdication, were a warning, a warning not heeded. Posterity reintegrated that second half of his life into the work, an integral lifein order to make the legend: one of poetry’s last legends. Defeat becomes mythic victory.    

Does the present still belong to poetry? Or, say, what Mallarmé called “le phénomène futur.” The contemporary lyrical-I, a swarming autobiographical, “auto-fictional” mass, decomposes the “circumstance,” dissects it and refracts it in an idiosyncratic field of refringency: these sorts of “poems,” most often refractory to any philosophical or theoretical thought that would open onto the present of the world, are of interest to almost no one except the “author” (despite his/her announced death in the French 1970s) and friends.

“Poets, all?” declared a recent poster advertising the publication of the Poésie / Gallimard series. Too late! Certainly, the cultural re-socialization of poetry (about which I still have a word to say) authorizes this recuperative optimism, but only by way of the “show-and-tell” dear to the pedagogues and school psychologists—and the “right to self-expression” proper to each and everyone’s “spontaneous creativity,” under whose invoked rule all “personalities” share the same worth. All are equal under this new law. A way of euphemizing the death of the Poet, the end of the Work, even if Rimbaldian Genius stays on the college syllabus. “And me! And me!” say the children and the makers of chapbooks.

Last week, on the Paris metro, I observed the following: in a space reserved for the “Poetry in the Subways” campaign, where typically a four- or five-line quotation (which has to fit in the panel under the ceiling) is offered for casual reading between stations, a bold “tag” across the selected text (whether by Lao or Mao, Char, Heraclitus or the quasi-anonymous “contemporary poet”) displayed the thick black letters of the word ZILCH. My taste is not your taste. The game is scoreless; the score, zilch indeed. The seats are expensive and the winners arbitrarily chosen.

The fate of poetry in advanced contemporary societies is anthological and thematic. Put through this grinder, in time even Dante will hardly survive. And yet, as soon as a society “advances,” as in China for example—or, if you prefer, gets on board the capitalist train of globalization—poetry obsolesces, its market value falls flat, its “influence” ceases (The Canton Journal).

Can it escape this fate to become something other?

The question of the medium

I am reading through an interview with Eduardo Kac, just recently published in the review Critique, the issue on “Mutants” (June-July 2006, p. 533 and ff.), and Igo straight to “Ce qui est en cours” [“What is happening now”], where poetry is “mutating.” What is the mutation? (And, by the way, the belated sympathizers of the revolt against genetic engineering, behind the “eco-crowd” [“les écolos”] in France, would do well to read this whole issue. “Genetic engineering” is the “global”phenomenon, whether José Bové understands it or not.)

Here is what Kac has to say regarding “the artistic use of mutation:”

“It is because of poetry that I started to use new media, starting in the early 80s.”

“…we are by nature genetically engineered beings.” (p.556)

“Bio-art is an art in vivo.”

“There are no norms. There are only mutants. What’s important is that you feel alive.” (p.563)

“Mutation is first of all a medium on the same order as oil in painting.”  (p.555)


It is about nothing less than poetry’s exit from the sphere of the logical, understood in the archaic Greek sense, of speech (logos), of language and the linguistic (logikon), or even about what Barthes (in his last course at the Collège de France) called the sentence [“la phrase”]. In other words, about the poem as proposition, judgment, grammatical and logical articulation interested in truths and in truth. The sentence, the stanza, the book (etc.) have become modalities of a “medium”… among others! One could say, to (counter-) paraphrase Réne Char, the earth is self-ejecting from its literate (literal, and “cultivated”) parentheses.*

Can we (inheritors of Western poetry) entrust the fate of poetry to a medium other than its own: language (“Sprache”)? No. Because language is not a “medium.” We will have to underscore this point amply.

To offer further insight into the full meaning of this claim—which should certainly not be confused with those statements proceeding from the regressive, fundamentalist attachment of the religiously-minded to their religion—I would point to the following: tell a believer of the Revelation that the Koran-book was but “a medium,” the Bible, “a medium,” to be added to, or changed even, in the form today of a cartoon or video (and that, besides, if God were to do it again, it would be in favor of some other medium instead) and witness the “anger”…

To characterize the book (par excellence The Book)as a medium among other media is to lose the book altogether. How, then, to “profane” the religions of the book without losing the book—Mallarmé’s endeavor—is the question.

The book is the indivisibility of “the letter and the spirit.” According to tradition, one “kills,” the other “brings to life.” But since there can be no “spirit” without scrupulous literalization, the guardians of the letter make the coming-to-life, or interpretation (reading), or translatio (other words are available, e.g. resurrection) possible. The hermeneutic, the exegetic and heuristic come full circle—circle or wheel that advances,  through transference. So that one can say: the letter brings to life, while the “fundamentalist” spirit sentences reading to death. Life and death trade places.

Of course, the much-vaunted binomial spirit/letter, in which the duo (the dualism) idealism/materialism is reflected, is to be deconstructed (in the rigorous Derridean sense, now threatened with hollow inflation through its indiscriminate use). Deconstruction is not an operation that ends as disassembly, and has taken place. It is that which is never-ending: the great terminological oppositions—whereby “metaphysics,” the sensible/intelligible divide are re-negotiated—still resist. “Overcoming metaphysics” is “work in progress,” alwayswithout end.Of which the above remark is a minute example.

Critical return to the terms of your inquiry

Your position is too exclusively Bourdieusian. You believe that “as long as the select groups entrusted with the cultural heritage maintained their hegemonic position, poetry was able to preserve its prestige, while expressing the worldview of a very scant minority”(etc.). Having nowhere nearenough room here to deploy the appropriate argument, I think this way of seeing (which, let me note, restricts the interest of poetry to versification and its content to self-referentiality), although it exactly registers the reduction of poetry to its asocial or marginal existence, leaves the essential absolutely untouched, outside, and in this respect it cannot really understand what accounts for the fact that poetry has meaning in the same way that it always has, and that certain writers/thinkers (who still go by the name of poet, which keeps up the misunderstanding…) pursue an interest in poetics and parabolic writing.

What is missing in Bourdieu is the mediation, certainly not of a thorough attention to the cultural, but of a radical thinking-through of this “total” phenomenon.

For lack of having taken on (I am not saying to comment upon respectfully, but to swallow whole, assimilate) Heideggerian and Derridean-Steiglerian thought about the cultural phenomenon, a task from which the famed sociologist turned away decisively because he had lost all faith in philosophy, he does not take the true measure of that phenomenon—that is to say, finally, of the age in the phase of nihilism where we find ourselves. He believes it is the “dominance” of discrimination that operates culturally—machinery and process designed to recreate apartheid between the dominant, sub-dominant and dominated classes. He believes that we can break free of it, as if the cultural were “right-wing”: an illusion symmetrical to that of Fumaroli (his colleague at the Collège de France!), who believes that the cultural, after Malraux and Lang,[4] is “left-wing.”

I suppose that your conjecture regarding song as relay, avatar and “new culture” would meet with Bourdieu’s approval. My thinking is different. That contemporary poetry, become asocial, has “lost all collective legitimation” does nothing to change what poetry was, what it means and what it can do… provided poetry is understood in the German sense of “Dichtung,” and, of course, that one strives to promote its translatio, through the invention of an “ark” that would carry it (perhaps) along the waters of our Flood (Arendt’s “Dark times”). Poetry will not overcome its predicament on its own, and the time has passed for “turf wars,” or, if you prefer, for laying claim to genres, for the redefinition of the differences separating poetry from its Others (be it prose or novel or whatever) ; now, the time is for the coming together of the aforementioned “arts” between themselves and with new “techniques,” and for a generalized writing, which I  call parabolic, and which “hesitates” (as Valéry would say) between “mythème, théologème, philosophème” and “poème.”

“Collective legitimation” is not what invents an art. The cultural is also the product of an abasement of popular culture. It is even the name of an era when the old culture—in which the people, as they were once called, were profoundly cultivated—becomes engulfed in restoration or even “restitution of the same.” One would need to change peoples, goes the Brechtian joke. Yes; unfortunately, “the people” are no longer there to be changed, “the people” has been replaced by a “population.” The established super-power of advertising’s iconographic mass-media regimen for the consumption of cultural goods[5] extends the monotonous (hegemonic) empire of multi-cultural, “Americanized” vulgarity.

Song is not the emergency exit. Let us keep looking.

Poetics recovered

A basic description of the state of affairs is quite simple, provided its proposition is seen as twofold:

From the sociological perspective, poetry as phenomenon—measurable, therefore, by means of various statistics (bookstore sales, estimated number of readers, poetry events)—reveals itself in the “indifferent” juxtaposition of these two exact, factual, contradictory observations:

1. Poetry barely exists anymore: by the standards of the major media (“prime time” TV (and 3 G technology),  large radio audiences, the widespread distribution of corporately-owned newspapers and magazines) poetry, and especially the poem, are no longer happening. “People” need not hear of them, or know about them, or even pay attention to them.

2. Poetry keeps growing. On a different scale: that of the little media (small presses, chapbooks, readings, “workshops,” broadsides, etc.) “Y a d’la poésie” [“ ’n yet… there’s poetry”] as [singer] Charles Trenet might have said. “Small is beautiful.” Generallyassigned this secondary place by the cultural,  it can struggle along there indefinitely.

What hope now is still permitted, as Kant used to say? What is to be done (Lenin)? What good are poets (“Dichter”) in obscure times (Heidegger)? At this point, and since we are choosing to follow, that is, to replay the hand of great Western poetics (and in my case to go back to Baudelaire and to his question,[6] in order to revisit the argument between Celan and Heidegger), we are no longer talking about poetry in terms of its social reception, copies sold, special events, pedagogy. If we are considering poetry in terms more philosophical than linguistic, more historical than journalistic, more theoretical than socio-economic, we cannot be content to simply retrace the fluctuations of its sociological existence.

. . . . . . . . . .

Let me condense in a few axioms the principles that confirm the possibility, and govern the basic regimen of so-called poetic thought, or, more simply, of this poetics.

We are WHAT we are like.* The experience of things in language gives the existential characters (the “original print” [“estampe originelle”] says Mallarmé) that configure and confictionalize our life.

“We are a dialogue,” the quotation from Hölderlin, also means “today” that in the field of action (which includes the political) men in their “togetherness” stand opposed to each other. Yet, finally, most “basically,” in any dialogue, i.e. in any conflict, the matter concerns  judgment of a situation, a decision on the question of knowing whether two (or more) “things” (the motifs or theses of contention) brought into mutual proximity are homological (can be subjugated to the “same”), or not. In an ordinary dispute: one and the other see eye to eye, or have nothing to see at all. The struggle of the same inthe renderingof judgment—that is the business (praxis) of humans.  “Practical” thought is approximate; its approach is made through associations, comparisons, and through the comparisons of things associated, or analogies. At its heart, the operation is poetic.

The responsibility of writing, taking one’s contemporaries as witnesses in publica-tions  where the meaningfulness of existence, and even its truths, are in play, implies, requires that the poet (if we continue to make use of this term) answer, for himself and before others, the question: “When are we?” (its trivial variant: where do we stand?).

My answer, as a datemark: what is finished is only just beginning. The movement that consists in pursuing (preserving while transforming)—whose Hölderlinian leitmotif (“Was bleibet, stiften die Dichter”) [“Poets found what endures”] had been noted by Heidegger, and that we must now completely re-interpret—I call palinode. The “ode” (and the road…) loop back in order to take a post-Heideggerian step forward.

The material cause of the poetic (the ancient hylê of Aristotle, become a “medium” in contemporary aesthetics) is the beauty of language. In the folds and enfoldings of the idiomatic, the untranslatable—to be translated—is concealed; seeking the poem of its prose, vernacular thought returns to its roots.

The homonym that is “poetry” covers a swarm of heterogeneous processes. Yet, it is incumbent upon a minimal de-ontology of poeticrisis to not “abide confusion” : many tempters are free to “mutate” by means of  the “medium;” but we (and that we, for example, refers to the affinities of contributors to the review Po&sie) conserve the element in which the poem invents and writes itself: the “logikon”—which is not a medium among others.

The horizon is that of a generalized literature, or parabolic writing, an upheaval rather than a retrieval of literary and linguistic relics—in other words, of the canon’s past. A resolution that counts solely on its own energies, figurative energies, without religious or metaphysical props.

. . . . . . . . . .

Intellectual passion, in which sublimation attaches itself from above, “gives a meaning to life.” It becomes all the more compelling and stable (whatever its setbacks from failure, and, in general, its “melancholy”) in that its object, “ingenious invention,” appears to discover something new, a “new continent.” What would change life gives a meaning to life.

Let us take the example of Lou Andrea Salomé and “psychoanalysis,” who writes for over a quarter of a century to Freud. I open the correspondence to page 57: “…when each passing year has drawn to a richer, more fruitful close, and every added item has called for attention, all melancholy ceases and, at the end of a new decade, there will be a new and joyous celebration.” Coadjutrix of Freud, who considers her to be the one who understands (“Versteherin”), she participates in an anthropological revolution.

Now, could something similar happen in “poetry”?  In regard to poetry, that very old thing, could there be the same sort of occurrence, a “future vigor” [“future vigueur”] (Rimbaud)? What discovery would rekindle the passions? For many the reply is affirmative, the tone enthusiastic, and, precisely, the mutation of the medium is the new continent. The first tremors of this change were felt 30 or 40 years ago, and at first they didn’t seem like much, starting with declarations (not yet theories) about orality.In France, according to the cliché, people don’t declaim enough, don’t perform enough at “readings,” etc. But, poetry is voice… that must be clamored in order to be heard. I will not discuss here the underlying ambiguity hidden behind the use of “voice” in this insurrection’s  (resurrection’s ?) program—but before summing up the historical phase, I  offer two comments.

—There were many at the time who thought they could throw people off track [“donner le change”] (Jean-Pierre Faye) by heading in a different direction. Flanked by a few auxiliaries (the magazine TX5, and others), Tel Quel—inwhich theory and textuality anchored political thought in the great writings of 19th-20th century revolutionary revelation[7]… a magazine completely blind, therefore, to the question of the Technological (at once in its Heidegerrian language and its astounding technical revolution[8])—launched itself into “the production called text.” One knows what happened to the “text.” I bet that no student today has the textual or “textic” years in sight. THE concept of text was swallowed by the workshops of “textual genetics” and engulfed by the printer. The text is what the printer prints out, or what piles up on the Net, on blogs and individually, and whose infinity is bound to present archival problems.

—The pleasant hopefulness, retraceable between the lines of Semicerchio’s inquiry (“song, born in the realm of mass communication [achieves] a remarkable cultural dignity […]  development of a new culture […] destined to invade the territory occupied by traditional culture”), does not seem to have taken the measure of the total cultural phenomenon. The song, technology of the concert, of the CD, of downloading (etc.) is the very chant, the definite, victorious soundtrack of the cultural. As for a post- or trans-cultural culture, it has yet to be invented, and may well never come to pass.

. . . . . . . . . .

Mutation announced its coming with the invocations of spoken word, of diction and of performance, i.e., in the final analysis, of the body: an insurrection of the body, a body too neglected, therefore fatally accusatory of intellectuality, and adorned with anti-“metaphysical” quotations easy to get in the Nietzschean store. The prodromes to the medium’s mutation toward bio-art will have been the celebration of techno-enabled voci-feration in highly successful sound sessions that are well-equipped, undeniably innovative, and seductive. Diction and technology, orality of electro-acoustic voices captured, transformed, reproduced; sound poetry “readings” with synthesizer, etc. All this prepared the age, which we are entering, of the prosthetic body, of the entirely new (“post-human”) symbiosis of “genetic” living matter and digitalization (data processing) in general.  In other words, everything happening now takes its lead from biochemistry and medicine: the awesome and incessant progress of imagery, scanning technology, engineering, genetic nano-technology command not only esthetic metaphoricity, imported from science, but also the effective syncretisms that put art back “into the body”: the cyber becoming of the body. We will no longer say along with Nietzsche, “the soul is the body,” but “the mind is the body.” The metaphysician’s dualism (res cogitans, res extensa) melts down; religious dualism (mortal body, redeemable immortal soul), persists, protests, becomes stronger, “fundamental.” So-called humanistic, materialistic  dualism, triumphant, takes over the sphere of worldwide ideological advertising… every body get down. The two bodies of “man” are:

a. the “body,” trademark of bi-sexualized unisex humanity, the Benetton look, Oréal, whatever, the thousands of posters, at kiosks everywhere, male-and-female, athletic, svelte, tan, immortal… to be imitated, to be built (“building”), tended to.

b. the brain: neuronic man. There too a major model for comparison, the computer, rules the day: the post-human supercomputer is no longer “master of the world”… but, of the universe: all “energies” are my “back-ups” [“supports”], my prostheses. And, waiting for the new Orwellian order, my paranoia keeps tabs on this universe.

Theatre becomes choreography. Naked dancers bent over backwards to help forget the text. Computers ran the sound and light show.

Now, what powerful reasons do we, the traditionalists, have to maintain a time-to-come for writing, the perpetuity of the book-logos, the eternity of truth, as Badiou would say; refusing an exit from the logikon into other “media”?

In the end, I see no reason other than the one drawn from the identity of thought and speech [“le parler”]. Speech-to-oneself [“le se-parler”] is the stuff of consciousness. The “silence” bearing down on us is the ideological enemy-construct of this thought about thought-speech that founds humanity; and not the silence of someone ending a  monologue, but the physiological respiratory silence of the apprentice guru. Silence, refuge of souls and killers, harbors evil behind the alibi of “feeling.” “Silence, killers at work!” I feel that, and that…”  One mustn’t feel, one must judge, my boy, one must compare in order to understand, elaborate, anticipate…! There is no thinking that is not intimately linguistic, in concatenated judgments, and not at all in “one has the feeling.” Intuition is an altogether different faculty from “impression”-sensation. The book and writing are based on this underlying premise, a principle derived from “inner” experience. Speaking (-to-oneself) is not an alternative medium of consciousness, an interchangeable back-up. It is the wherein of one-self [“le en quoi du de soi]. There is no other justification for logic and literature, in which poetry (“the pearl of thought,” as [Alfred de] Vigny once said) is included. Revelation, “illumination,” is not silent. It is a book (which does not imply the belief that “God” is the book-writing author of a typographic creation); the revelation is that it speaks—the revelation of thought to itself in the language of a “mother” tongue. To foreclose it would be to take leave of humanity, and to enter the post-human indeed.

Which is why it is fitting that—while some here, others there (some other “generation,” as they say today, beatifically, as if being born fifteen years later was all it took to invent  escape hatches) freely invent and propose another etiology (material, formal, final, efficient) for “poetry,” taken as homonym—“we” (the conservationists) should make sure  that the writing gets through: parabolic writing, the parable of writing.

Let me further emphasize the point behind the motive for my resistance: what is most important in regard to consciousness, its virtus and its entelechy, is not so much its intentionality (because one can always pre-suppose this same perceptive-appetitive disposition (to use the Leibnizian attributes of the monad) in any number of living species), but rather the consciousness of consciousness: whose enabling condition is speech (-to-oneself).  This consciousness, “moral ipseity,” is not only a (re-)folding-back on itself (“dédoublement redoublant”), dialysis of the inside, but dislocation, genitive dehiscence, the setting apart of a detached (Archimedean) “view” together with a particular view (correlated to its “object”). The principle: there has to be an inside within, for there to be a within: a consciousness of consciousness for there to be consciousness. This “view” of itself (or grasp, or overview…?) may be had only insofar as it is said, spoken, thematized in language: a constituent “logical” schematism. All consciousness is consciousness of consciousness saying so to itself. As the philosophers, sages, moralists have maintained, the “view” of itself from above is the voice of consciousness. What does a voice do? It speaks: speech to oneself is interiority’s element. Interior silence, as Mearleau-Ponty reminded us, is rustling with words. To speak is to speak in language. With or without capital letters, dramatized or not by the Vicar, whether Savoyard, Breton or Eskimo, the Voice of consciousness, from Socrates to Montaigne to Rousseau, from Kant to Heidegger to Merleau-Ponty, is not the exogenous soft speaking of an episodic “demon,” but self-understanding in the realm of logos. Immediately, or identically, an instance of judgment—of me by I.

The most “human”—which cannot be said to apply to the ostrich or the mouse—is that “I” am not at one with what I am and what I do. I am other, yes, very intimately. I am other than what I feel, signify, express. “I” judges “me.” Rousseau,  judge of Jean-Jacques, or however you want to tell it. View of the part by the whole which “soars overhead” [“survole”], as the philosopher Raymon Ruyer will say. This capability coincides with speech-to-oneself in language, which enables it—and which irreparably alienates men from each other. The intimate consciousness of time that passes “through me” (or rather, through which I pass…) is Spanish or French, English or Tamil. Mono-lingualism of the self. We are very foreign to “one another.

Here is a human belief, richly conveyed by Christian Jambet, the Iranologist. “One would need many pages to expound on the history of this major Shi’ite theme, concerning the divine writing of letters, constitutive of the book of the world, the book of the soul and the holy book, all three symbolic of each other” (La grande résurrection)[The Great Resurrection]. Try explaining to a Muslim that his Book is a back-up become interchangeable; that the Koran could just as soon be issued as a video, a comic book…

We, moderns, no longer believe—no longer think—that the world is a book written in a divine alphabet; nor even as a book. A religion is an archive of vestigial beliefs waiting,  not for their destruction or oblivion, but for their translation, their transformation. The religious fundamentalist is someone who refuses this transition. He even separates the letter from language. He regresses.

It is reasonable to profess this non-credence, or disbelief, because “I,” Cartesian subject become modern, can only propose “truth” if I consider it to be universally shareable.

The divine writing of the cosmic book is that great fable, constitutive of humanity, certainly, but become un-believable; thus, to be transposed, in-eradicably. The writer, however, is one who does not believe that the book (the book to come, writing) has become a back-up, a medium.

The difficulty, therefore, consists in contending with these two acquired truths; to invent a thought that holds them together; that renounces God as typographer, and that does not abandon grammatology.

Believing—without beliefs.



Translated by André Spears


. . . . . . . . . .

* Translator’s note: I would like to thank my wife, Anne Rosēn, and Wilson Baldridge, the preeminent  translator and exegete of Michel Deguy’s work, for their help in improving this translation.

[1] The most recent of these can be found in the chapter entitled “Du culturel dans l’art” [“Of the cultural in art”] from my book La Raison politique  (Galilée, 2000) [untranslated].  [Translator’s note: As suggested by Wilson Baldridge, “the cultural,”  a recurring subject of discussion in Deguy’srecent work, can be translated alternatively as “mass media culture.” Cf. also Pound’s “kulchur.”]

[2] Elsewhere, I have remarked that patrimoniality in terms of the genotype’s re-traceability is what adds  identifying cultural value to any given instance of being: a characterization not at all superficial, therefore, but exactly onto-logical.

[3] The use of quotation marks here and in general points to homonymy, i.e. complete and total difference concealed under the guise of the same, “vampirization.”

* [Translator’s note,  based on an email from the author] Cf. René Char, “ La terre s’éjecte de ses parenthèses illettrées” (“The earth self-ejects from its illiterate parentheses”).

[4] André Malraux; Jack Lang , “inventors” of the political institution (ministry) of cultural affairs.

[5] The most recent artifact, in which means and ends become indistinguishable, is the third generation (3 G) device that provides for the “visio- phonic”[“la visio-phonie”], the downloading of videos and music, online gaming—and to watch television, all TV, nothing but TV.

[6] Réouverture après travaux [Reopening after construction](Galilée; forthcoming  in 2007)

* [Translator’s note:  In conversations with Wilson Baldridge, Michel Deguy  points to both Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in the Republic and to the Parable of the Fisherman  in the Gospel of Matthew
to illustrate this statement (“Nous sommes CE comme quoi nous sommes.”)

[7] Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao. One recalls [Philippe] Sollers’s book on Mao’s Hunan speeches.

[8] One knows how Sollers’s conversion finally led him to the philosophical consideration of nihilism (Heidegger, Technology) (cf. the latest issue of Infini).


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