Michel Foucault: “Speech Begins After Death”

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..does the pleasure of writing exist?  I don’t know.  One thing I feel certain of is that there’s a tremendous obligation to write.  This obligation to write, I don’t really know where it comes from.  As long as we haven’t started writing, it seems to be the most gratuitous, the most improbable thing, almost the most impossible, and one to which, in any case, we’ll never feel bound.  Then, at some point – is it the first page, the thousandth, the middle of the first book, or later?  I have no idea – we realize that we’re absolutely obligated to write.  This obligation is revealed to you, indicated in various ways.  For example, by the fact that we experience so much anxiety, so much tension if we haven’t finished that little page of writing, as we do each day.  By writing that page, you give yourself, you give to your existence, a form of absolution.  That absolution is essential for the day’s happiness.  It’s not the writing that’s happy, it’s the joy of existing that’s attached to writing, which is slightly different.  This is very paradoxical, very enigmatic, because how is it that the gesture – so vain, so fictive, so narcissistic, so self-involved – of sitting down at a table in the morning and covering a certain number of blank pages can have this effect of benediction for the remainder of the day?  How is the reality of things – our concerns, hunger, desire, love, sexuality, work – transfigured because we did that in the morning, or because we were able to do it during the day?  That’s very enigmatic.  For me, in any case, it’s one of the ways the obligation to write is manifested.

This obligation is also indicated by something else.  Ultimately, we always write not only to write the last book we will write, but, in some truly frenzied way – and this frenzy is present even in the most minimal gesture of writing – to write the last book in the world.  In truth, what we write at the moment of writing, the final sentence of the work we’re completing, is also the final sentence of the world, in that, afterward, there’s nothing more to say.  There’s a paroxysmal intent to exhaust language in the most insignificant sentence.  No doubt this is associated with the disequilibrium that exists between speech and language.  Language is what we use to construct an absolutely infinite number of sentences and utterances.  Speech, on the contrary, no matter how long or how diffuse, how supple, how atmospheric, how protoplasmic, how tethered to its future, is always finite, always limited.  We can never reach the end of language through speech, no matter how long we imagine it to be.  This inexhaustibility of language, which always holds speech in suspense in terms of a future that will never be completed, is another way of experiencing the obligation to write.  We write to reach the end of language, to reach the end of any possible language, to finally encompass the empty infinity of language through the plenitude of speech.

Another reason why writing is different from speaking is that we write to hide our face, to bury ourselves in our own writing.  We write so that the life around us, alongside us, outside, far from the sheet of paper, this life that’s not very funny but tiresome and filled with worry, exposed to others, is absorbed in that small rectangle of paper before our eyes and which we control.  Writing is a way of trying to evacuate, through the mysterious channels of pen and ink, the substance, not just of existence, but of the body, in those minuscule marks we make on paper.  To be nothing more, in terms of life, than this dead and jabbering scribbling that we’ve put on the white sheet of paper is what we dream about when we write.  But we never succeed in absorbing all that teeming life in the motionless swarm of letters.  Life always goes on outside the sheet of paper, continues to proliferate, keeps going, and is never pinned down to that small rectangle; the heavy volume of the body never succeeds in spreading itself across the surface of paper, we can never pass into that two-dimensional universe, that pure line of speech; we never succeed in becoming thin enough or adroit enough to be nothing more than the linearity of a text, and yet that’s what we hope to achieve.  So we keep trying, we continue to restrain ourselves, to take control of ourselves, to slip into the funnel of pen and ink, an infinite task, but the task to which we’ve dedicated ourselves.  We would feel justified if we no longer existed except in that minuscule shudder, that infinitesimal scratching that grows still and becomes, between the tip of the pen and the white surface of the paper, the point, the fragile site, the immediately vanished moment when a stationary mark appears once and for all, definitively established, legible only for others and which has lost any possibility of being aware of itself.  This type of suppression, of self-mortification in the transition to signs is, I believe, what also gives writing its character of obligation.  It’s an obligation without pleasure, you see, but, after all, when escaping an obligation leads to anxiety, when breaking the law leaves you so apprehensive and in such great disarray, isn’t obeying the law the greatest form of pleasure?  To obey an obligation whose origin is unknown, and the source of whose authority over us is equally unknown, to obey that – certainly narcissistic – law that weighs down on you, that hangs over you wherever you are, that, I think, is the pleasure of writing…

…I’m not an author.  First of all, I have no imagination.  I’m completely uninventive.  I’ve never even been able to conceive of something like the subject of a novel…I place myself resolutely on the side of the writers [in distinction – Roland Barthes – from authors] those for whom writing is transitive.  By that I mean those for whom writing is intended to designate, to show, to manifest outside itself something that, without it, would have remained if not hidden at least invisible.  For me, that’s where, in spite of everything, the enchantment of writing lies…I’m simply trying to make apparent what is very immediately present and at the same time invisible…I’d like to reveal something that’s too close for us to see, something right here, alongside us, but which we look through to something else…to define the proximity around us that orients the general field of our gaze and our knowledge…

So, for me, the role of writing is essentially one of distancing and of measuring distance.  To write is to position oneself in that distance that separates us from death and from what is dead…I’m in the distance between the speech of others and my own…In exercising my language, I’m measuring the difference with what we are not, and that’s why I said to you earlier that writing means losing one’s own face, one’s own existence.  I don’t write to give my existence the solidity of a monument.  I’m trying to absorb my own existence into the distance that separates it from death and, probably, by that same gesture, guides it toward death…

I’dd add that, in one sense, my head is empty when I begin to write, even though my mind is always directed toward a specific object.  Obviously, that means that, for me, writing is an exhausting activity, very difficult, filled with anxiety.  I’m always afraid of messing up; naturally, I mess up, I fail all the time.  This means that what encourages me to write isn’t so much the discovery or certainty of a certain relationship, of a certain truth, but rather the feeling I have of a certain kind of writing, a certain mode of operation of my writing, a certain style that will bring that distance into focus…

Foucault saisi par la révolution - Vacarme | Michel Foucault | Scoop.it

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Signifying Writing – Figure 2

Sign-language

Figure 2

A relief in the unreality.  A kind of re-sign-ation and release…capitulation…to the impossible.

“how we find our way in the unknown by drawing on invisible maps of the invisible and by following…”

(Gunnar Olsson, Abysmal)

Sign-language.  Gesturing.  Ambivalent approximations.

At times unbearable.  At times a satisfaction of “all we have” and the effort of maximizing it.  At times re-solve (for x?).  At times a re-linguishing abandonment:  despair.

I study her, hair splitting and spreading, trailing inky-green over the vein-passages, delicately swollen, along the backs of her hands, superfluous and jewelry-like wrist-bones, concatenation and symphony of muscled, cartilage-limned lineations from thigh to knee-bend to calf, turning into sun-drenched marble of ankle, tendon, toes…painted, dusted, perfection…

The beauty will not hold to term.  Will never be contained.  It was impossible before it began.  Eventuated, erupted, but was not “meant” or realized for any capture.  It’s irreducible and indescribable, and I always already knew that – thus a torment, self-torture, a suicide term-inating – necessary failures I will elect to die trying: inconceivable, yet experienced; an incalculable worthless worth because unshared and uncommon.  Just perception, experience, singular…impossible.  Not factual.  Incommunicable.  HER.

To simply see (receive, perceive, conceive) – non-transferable, i.e. ‘unreal,’ unrepeatable, or ‘not the same’ as that.  Untranslatable.

Yes, it starts to map.  A conjecture of imaginary spaces, places, locations.  Lines drawn wobbly and around, surround, what mystery?  To dialogue and dream – hypothesize, surmise, polygraphy.  I.e. to fail.

Ends in its begins, becoming something ‘else,’ as self might with each other – between showing new unknowns.

Not sure its believed in any more: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

It goes on.

A trace, congesture, autography.

Experience.

Signifying Writing, Figure 1

Opicinus De Canistris World Map
Figure 1

Opicinus De Canistris World Map

*

The map began as a scribble, a doodle.  Begins as a failure to write, to “compose.”

In lieu of a word there’s a wiggle of pen wandering aimless in search.  Cartography-graphology-psychology – a loitering for logos.

Begins this way – in hope of words, a sort of squiggle.  A body desiring a mind.  To show up, to take over, provoke or convince – to appear, make a meaning, disclose – to figure toward sign.  Some unconcealing.

The signal’s not there, so it moves: the hand, the instrument, the breath and the heart – are they tools?  And for what?  A cartographer’s dream.  Of no training, no knowledge, even reason is lacking.

A pen making marks on a page, mapping none.  Tracing nonsense.  It begins in this way, and it leads, so he hopes (it hopes, is hope, is desire).

The scrawl travels over the page – given borders and boundaries, arbitrary and set – 6”x9” and lined with a soft viscous grey.  He (it) slows down.  Just a hand and an arm and a shoulder – in motion – holding a technical device filled with fluid – black, yes, like bile, but less tacky, diluted – it flows, threading lines – it’s con-fusion – yet taking, biting, inscribed.  Something happens.  Drawings are locked to a medium stock.  Incomprehensibles stained on a page.

It crawls on.

*

This mapping begins in a loss.  He is lost.  It is lost.  Doesn’t “know.”  Just beginning, because – with desire.  It is driven, compelled, WRITER WANTS (for to write) with “nothing to write, and no means to write it” yet constrained to keep writing, to expunge merely SOMEthing, some THING.  Which is NO thing, no THING, but to mark.  It goes on.

Makes a map, a map-ping, tangled series of lines meaning nothing, no THING, but creating TO-WARD.  Ward off absence, off void, ward off death, this is to – .

It (he) is tired.  Is forlorn.  Is an absence and loss, a re-mission, re-cursion, re-morse.  And not even that clear.

Scribbles on.  NOT a map.  NOT directions.  For NO where to go – NOW here, now HERE, no-where.  Which begins all the longing, for “he’s” heard it said, found it written – in signs, in-scribed, sign-i-fied: but NOT HERE.  Not in him or this body.  NOT THIS.  No sense.  Non-sense.  “It’s” not “working.”

Trail dwindles along cross the page.  It’s a map.  Just of being.  NOW here.  Now.  HERE.  Looks like this – some electrocardiomusculoskeletalpsycognilinguadigital-gram.  From this angle, this tool, these techniques.  As a Ouija.  No meaning.  Saussurating.  Arbitrary.  Mediate.  Only markings.

It falters.

And so it begins – as a failure to write – as a scribble – an assay – a tribute to write – that cannot, that will not, that does not…quite occur.

 

I-Native Writing: Attempt at a Self-Portrait

Ouroboros

Things one realizes about oneself when one is “partnered” or loved well.  That seems to be the theme for me of late.  The differences between “automatic” self-recrimination when the Other speaks of an annoyance or a threat to useful relating vs. a kind of awareness and curiosity about one’s own behaviors that opens up understanding and attention related to the same habitual practices…

For instance.  For years, the only tattoo I got that was not an author or artist’s name / signature / or self-portrait, was a whim of “…and then there’s me…”: and I had a simple Ouroboros inked into my shoulder.  The snake eating its own tail.  Sign of health, sign of destruction.  Sign of…

What’s in a “sign?”  A fundamental query ruling the bulk of my waking hours, and carried over from my sleep.

Ouroboros2

THIS NIGHT.  Reading others’ words it dawns on me…”My biography is my catalog.  But the man who was there before I decided to become a reader is missing.  I, in short, am missing.” [Vila-Matas – Dublinesque]

I, in short, am missing.  So long accustomed to defining and describing myself in relation to world, others, children, parents, education, travels, experiences, friends…roles, behaviors, actions, theories, ideas, feelings…and so on…

Each scenario, event, surround, circumstance, company : co-creating WHO / WHAT I am – with no idea what “I” might be stripped of literature, philosophy, family, knowledge, accomplishments, relationships, language, interpretations, and so on…

I had marked myself with “signs” of who I “am” for my children postmortem.  OTHERS.  Read these people, look at these artists, think about these things…and you will have some idea of who your father “was” – Nathan Filbert – a bibliography.

Infinite Ouroboros

Hmmmm.

I AM what I am related to.  Never being able to come to the end of it…I do not know what/who I am.

I can say something of the how…which felt like a revelation on me of why the most off-handed permanent mark I requested to be inscribed into my body has come to feel most adequate / representative / apt / true?

The how is like this.  I recognize in intimacy and dialogue with a loving other (my partner) over time habits of mind: annoyances, arrogancies, logorrhea, unwise knowledge-sharing (always borrowed)…INSECURITY, self-doubt, terror, UNCERTAINTY.

In most seconds of my awakeness two things are tangled, wound, immediate, simultaneous, recursive and self-devouringly going on: WHAT AM I DOING/WHAT AM I? and WHY?

My children run in, blast a request that feels like a demand – at the kitchen counter I: what am I hearing?  What am I feeling about what I’m hearing?  Why am I feel-hearing that?  What should I do?  Why do I think ‘should’?  How should I respond?  Why do I think there’s a ‘should’-how to respond?

On the porch reading with coffee:  Why do I cross my legs?  Why do I like coffee?  What am I looking at?  Why does a squirrel catch my eye?  Why did I choose these glasses?  Why am I thinking about these things?  Is this what others think about?  What ‘should’ I be thinking about?  Why ‘should’?  How should I work?  How should I think?  Why do I think I should have a way of thinking?  Why do I think about the way that I sit?  What kind of being thinks about the way it sits when it thinks on a porch and is distracted by a squirrel?

WHAT AM I?/WHAT AM I DOING?  and WHY? leading to HOW?

What am I doing?  Looking at letters on a screen.  Why do I look at these letters on a screen?  Why does language move me, draw me, resonate?  What is resonating?  Why?  Should other things be resonating?  I enjoy looking at my love.  Am I looking in the ‘right’ way?  Why do I enjoy looking at my love?  How should I look at my love?  Why do I look at my love?  What kind of thing is drawn to gaze at his love?  What is love?  Why do we love?  How should we love / might we love?  Why do I hold books certain ways.  How do I hold them?  How might I hold them?  Why?  What kind of thing thinks about how and why and what he holds?  What was that tone?  Why that tone?  What kind of being uses that tone?

And so on.  Moment after moment.  I get a drink.  Why did I get a drink.  Why was I thirsty.  What does it mean that I was thirsty.  How should I vary what I drink to my thirst?  Why?

Rarely do I consider “Who” does these things.  It’s too far removed.  Too unknowable – beyond any what/why/how I can even begin to contemplate.

But constantly constantly constantly WHAT AM I DOING?  WHAT AM I? (in this situation, this situation, this situation) and WHY?  HOW?

tangled ouroboros

And this is how my days pass.  Finding myself moving, teaching, listening, talking, drinking, eating, loving, avoiding, forgetting, imagining, smelling, saying, wishing, regretting, ashamed, confused, uncertain, unknown…but always searching, observing, inquiring, scrutinizing…

WHAT AM I DOING?  WHAT AM I that DOes such things?  WHY am I doing them?  HOW ‘should’ I do them and where/why/what/who thinks of ‘should’?  WHY?

And finding nothing but infinite tangles, recursive spiraling production and reduction, endless context surrounding every moment that is constructed only of questions and hypotheses…

I chose a good tattoo.

Permanently self-devouring and regurgitant.

Self-Imitations of Myself. (Gordon Lish)

doubleourobors

perhaps shed light on through an-other?

“A single voice raises the clamor of being”

Gilles Deleuze