Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Writing Is a Language Problem: A Bagatelle

Given the seriousness of recent events, including my diagnosis and surgery for colon cancer, my anticipation of my upcoming chemotherapy, and the death of my partner Robert's grandmother a couple of days ago, I thought that it might be appropriate to post something a bit light-hearted. As its subtitle indicates (the word bagatelle literally means "trifle," and refers to a short, light piece of music), this piece, modeled after some of William H. Gass's essays in his wonderful collection Fiction and the Figures of Life, is not meant wholly seriously, but I don't think that it's without substance. I hope that you enjoy it.


In his essay “How I Wrote Certain of My Books,” Raymond Roussel tells us that books are made out of words, and we are shocked. As William H. Gass writes of one’s discovery that one’s favorite character is mere literature, it is as if one were to discover that his lover were made out of rubber. Yet one has spent all these years living with this man made out of words, just as the unfortunate lover has spent years living with his rubber-made man. And they were happy together, were they not? A literary character does not one day turn into mere words, one’s lover does not one day turn into rubber: he has always subsisted in this medium, and to know this need change nothing about the relationship, which has been going along so well under these conditions. (And of course it has been going well, or one would have closed the book, found another lover.) Why, new vistas of possibility for the relationship are opened up, if one is imaginative. (And we are all imaginative, are we not?)

Roussel writes as if, in certain of his books (hoping perhaps that the qualification will mitigate the audaciousness of the claim), he has invented a new kind of book: the book made out of words. He implicitly tells us (or his interpreters tell us on his behalf) that there is nothing in his books but words. (That is, in certain of his books, as if books could be divided into those made of words and those made out of Something Else, Something More Important: and if Roussel did not say that, you may be assured that someone did.) But words are all that any book contains: words, and the reader’s mind. Yet the mind of the reader is exterior and posterior to the work itself (which is what it is, like Yahweh), just as the mind of the author is exterior and anterior. Otherwise the author would be pestering one day and night with intentions, his intentions, as if readers had none, when the only intention the text itself recognizes is the intention of language to form phrases, sentences, paragraphs.

As Alain Robbe-Grillet writes, language is, it does not function. That is to say (maintaining a wary distance from totalization), language does not function as anything other than language: essence and existence are one and the same, neither preceding or following the other. Sentences do not emerge from the “creative mind,” they emerge from sentences: as anyone who has ever faced a blank page or screen with the intention of filling it with the riches of his “creative mind” well knows. Works of literature do not spring from the joys and sorrows of the artist, though these may serve as an extremely useful pretext and alibi, even as justification (why is one wasting one’s time playing with words?). Works of literature spring from other works of literature. How could one write a poem if one had never read a poem, if the idea of “the poem” had never been presented to one in the form of actually existing poems? (There are, hélas, fountain-penned, word-processing hordes attempting at this very moment to answer, all too prolifically, that very question.) For once Harold Bloom did not take a dictum far enough: it is true that the only proper response to poetry is more poetry, but poetry itself (the “original” poem, the one to which one responds by means of a poem) is only the proper response to other poetry. The literary art is the play with words; the literary pleasure is the pleasure of that play, of witnessing and participating (as a writer and as a reader/rewriter) in such play of and with words.

Roussel became for Robbe-Grillet and his compatriots at the Café Nouveau Roman the very type of the pure writer not because this knowledge was unique to him but because he claimed this linguistic play as the only motive of his writing, eschewing other pretexts. (Though he undoubtedly had other, less “pure,” motives—his “feeling of universal glory” sounds suspiciously like something Shelley might have rhapsodized about—they are of no concern to literary discourse, being part of that nothing which Derrida has helpfully informed us exists outside the text.) Roussel’s works were read as texts which, uniquely, said only what they said: writing as an intransitive verb, an example of Roland Barthes’ zero degree of writing. Viewed in the proper, clarifying but not harsh light, all texts, as texts, say only themselves. What the author “says” or the reader “hears” between, around, beneath, or above the lines need be of no concern to anyone besides the parties concerned. The text is an innocent bystander to such accidents.

There are those who would deny the seriousness of Roussel’s texts: he is simply playing linguistic games, “he does not deal with the Human Condition.” (Even Robbe-Grillet finds that phrase oozing from the tip of his pen, when he defends the nouveau roman as a more “true” reflection of la condition humaine.) Need it be said that there is no Human Condition? There is my condition and your condition and Robbe-Grillet’s condition and Roussel’s condition (no doubt rather decayed by now). To the extent that such an abstraction may be said to exist, it exists in the medium without which, like all abstractions, it could not have come into being: language. Man (as opposed to you and to me and to Robbe-Grillet: and presumably as opposed to any individual of the female gender) is not conceivable without language, though one can’t blame language for conceiving of him (or should I rather write, Him?). That is what language keeps itself busy at: making words, making phrases. What we make of those words and phrases is our own affair, though habitually neglected, attended to in a haphazard and slipshod fashion, as if we did not live (and, too often, die) in language.

Roussel plays language games: so do all true writers. It is the definition of the vocation, and even of the trade. Let us neither bury Roussel nor praise him. I don’t personally care to be a spectator to or participant in Roussel’s games, but either to condemn or to praise writing because it is a game of and in language would be like condemning baseball because one’s favorite team has lost every game this season or praising it because one’s favorite team always wins. In neither case is it to see the thing for what it is. Let those who dislike literature say so and be unashamed, just as those of us bored by baseball say so. There are other diversions in either case.

13 comments:

Alice C. Linsley said...

I am truly sad to read about your troubles and sorrows. I will remember you in my prayers each day.

DL said...

I am quite saddened to hear about your difficult times. I will definitely keep you in my prayers.

It is excellent to read your intelligent and original words in this piece. It brings to mind Barthes' short treatise "From Work to Text" where he posits that the "text" is not limited to the tangible work but is rather a constant and never ending discursive movement. He uses it much like you use the word you use the word "language" here. And this Barthesian "text" or your "language" are in opposition to the "work" or the tangible book which is limited to the confines of the book covers. It is intriguing to allow "language" or "text" its proper realm by keeping it out of the philosophical box that some place it in. Alas, i am probably ranting. Take care.

scotland said...

Dear Reginald, It must have been as I lay on a gurney,already sedated,half unable to speak,that I first remember being able to see myself in the visual picture of surrounding events. I saw myself trying to tell one of the nurses I was going to throw-up. A four year sent to wierd heaven, with promises of ice cream,no ear-aches and a surprise. Only now do I realize that you need to have something in your stomach to vomit back up regardless of how sick you feel. The black mask came down followed by the dream of my life up to this moment. I can think of many things to yet spread on my beautiful warm crispy bagatelle.

Feeling much affection for you. Love SPH

Adi said...

Oes Tsetnoc one of the ways in which we can learn seo besides Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa. By participating in the Oes Tsetnoc or Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa we can improve our seo skills. To find more information about Oest Tsetnoc please visit my Oes Tsetnoc pages. And to find more information about Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa please visit my Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa pages. Thank you So much.
Oes Tsetnoc | Semangat Mengembalikan Jati Diri Bangsa

s said...

搬家公司 月子中心 seo 關鍵字廣告 關鍵字 google關鍵字廣告 關鍵字行銷 網路行銷 通姦 徵信社 外遇 桃園房屋仲介 桃園房屋買賣 桃園房屋 醫學美容診所 淨膚雷射 雷射溶脂 飛梭雷射 微晶瓷 植髮 團體服 團體服訂做 醫學美容診所 肉毒桿菌 肉毒桿菌瘦臉 醫學美容 整型診所 美國月子中心 徵信 徵信公司 出軌 清潔公司台北搬家公司 整形 韓風整形 整形 韓風整形 老人癡呆症 情緒管理 訂房網 線上訂房

s said...

宜蘭民宿 宜蘭住宿 網路訂房 宜蘭飯店 新娘祕書 清潔公司 植牙 裝潢 室內設計 油漆粉刷 油漆工 油漆工程 洗鞋加盟 洗包包加盟 洗包包 創業加盟店 早餐店加盟 開店創業 創業開店 結婚金飾 鑽石婚戒 通水管 通水管 通馬桶 抽水肥 包通 馬桶不通 通馬桶 通水管 清水溝 沙發 室內設計公司 室內設計 室內裝潢設計 裝潢設計 澳門自由行 搬家公司 搬家公司 台北搬家公司 新竹搬家公司 桃園搬家公司 香港自由行太陽能熱水器 三久 櫻花牌熱水器

s said...

熱水器 省電熱水器 衛浴設備 節能減碳 電熱水器 中古車 義賣 義賣活動 二手車 環保袋 環保袋 環保袋 十分瀑布 台北旅遊網 月子餐 飛梭雷射 太陽能熱水器 太陽能 三久太陽能 三久 身體檢查 健康檢查 台北民宿 平溪 景觀餐廳 薰衣草花園 花園餐廳 螢火蟲 渡假村 鐵道之旅 團體服 滷味 滷味加盟 滷味批發 滷味食材 滷味宅配 滷雞翅 滷雞腳 健康滷味 魯味 加盟創業 慈善慈善機構 公益彩券

s said...

健康食品 慈善基金會 公益團體 愛心捐款 捐款 美白 皺紋 減肥 禿頭 醫學美容 電波拉皮 雷射溶脂 肉毒桿菌 玻尿酸 痘疤 婦產科診所 室內設計 埋線 內分泌失調 黃體不足 針灸減肥 坐月子中心 婦產科 月子中心 全身健康檢查玫瑰花束 盆栽 網路花店 花店 鍛造 樓梯扶手 欄杆 鐵門 採光罩 清水溝 通水管 通馬桶

部落格資訊站 said...

馬桶 馬桶不通 國外旅遊 國外機票 團體旅遊 直航機票 簽證熱水器 蘭花 化糞池 抽化糞池 便宜機票 國內旅遊 抽水肥 太陽能 水管不通 洗水塔 消毒 通水管 通馬桶 馬桶 馬桶不通 上順旅行社 五福旅行社 大興旅行社 天喜旅行社 天福旅行社 日本旅行社 日本旅遊 日本機票 日本自由行 日本訂房 包通 抽化糞池 抽水肥 水管不通 洗水塔 自由行 訂房 雄獅旅遊 汽車美容 汽車美容 三久太陽能黃金價格查詢 貸款 信用貸款

部落格資訊站 said...

房屋貸款 剖腹生產 姓名配對 星座 星座運勢 算命 素食料理 素食水餃 開運印章 風水 外遇 徵信 壁癌 屋頂防水 屋頂隔熱 抓漏 油漆 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 外遇 徵信 徵信社 清潔公司浴室 漏水 舊屋翻新 裝潢 防水工程 壁癌 健康飲食 台北素食餐廳 吃素 團購美食 水餃 素食素食食譜

部落格資訊站 said...

素食餐廳 交友 婚友 婚友社 婚友聯誼 愛情公寓 相親 相親銀行 聯誼 命理網 姓名學Hook and Loop 婚禮佈置 情人花束 新竹花店婚友聯誼社 愛情會場佈置 氣球佈置二手車健檢 醫學美容 淨膚雷射 汽車美容 法拍屋 水餃 清潔公司 塑膠袋批發 塑膠袋工廠 實驗動物 到府坐月子 坐月子 坐月子中心 坐月子餐 孕婦 月子餐 到府坐月子 中古車 今日金價 坐月子中心 坐月子中心台中 坐月子中心台北 台北人力銀行

部落格資訊站 said...

金價查詢 月子餐 月子中心 坐月子餐 月子餐外送 月子餐食譜 統一發票9 10月 金價 統一發票9 10月 找工作 統一發票7 8月 求職 1111求職人力銀行 104求職人力銀行 104人力銀行 統一發票5 6月 104人力銀行 104求職人力銀行 塑膠袋 統一發票1 2月 金價 黃金價格 金價查詢 黃金買賣 環保袋 肉毒桿菌 黃金 統一發票3 4月 坐月子 sum中古車 1111人力銀行 104求職人力銀行 1111人力銀行求職 黃金價格查詢 中古車買賣 塑膠袋 統一發票9 10月 塑膠袋批發 中古車 中古車買賣消防公司 地板施工 網路廣告 網路行銷

finding said...

徵信社
徵信