Tuesday, January 29, 2008

AWP and Me

For anyone who will be attending the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference in New York City later this week, I will be chairing a panel on Saturday, February 2 from noon to one fifteen on Gay Male Poetry Post Identity Politics, featuring “emerging” poets Christopher Hennessy (whose wonderful blog Outside the Lines focuses on the relationship of identity and creativity), Brad Richard, Aaron Smith (whose entertaining blog focuses on anything but poetry), and Brian Teare. Here is the description of the panel from the conference schedule, and the "statement of merit" from the panel proposal, both written by moi:

What does it mean to be a gay male poet today, after gay liberation, the somewhat domesticated gay rights movement, the revived radicalism of Queer Nation, the AIDS epidemic and ACT UP, and intellectual interrogations of “queerness” and identity itself? Contemporary gay male poets can take their gayness for granted on several levels. They also can explore, question, and even explode that identity. On this panel, four emerging gay male poets discuss what the words gay male poetry mean to them.

Despite the much greater social openness in the almost thirty years since gay liberation began, homosexuality is still a contentious topic in America, and gay writing is still a marginal presence in American literature. It’s important for writers to see not only that can one be an openly gay writer, but also that there is no set way in which to be a gay writer. This panel explores some of the things that gay poets have done with their new freedoms and their continuing constrictions.

I hope that all interested parties will attend. Let’s make this panel a party!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

My New Book of Essays

My first book of prose, Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry, is just out in the University of Michigan Press Poets on Poetry series, and I have to share the news. This is a project on which I’ve been working for several years, and I’m incredibly excited that it’s finally come to fruition. I got my advance copies about a week ago and have been cradling the book in my arms as if it were my baby. Which it is.

Noted poet and critic James Longenbach generously writes on the back of the book that “Orpheus in the Bronx not only extols the freedom language affords us; it embodies that freedom, enacting poetry's greatest gift—the power to recognize ourselves as something other than what we are. These bracing arguments were written by a poet who sings.” I’m grateful to him for the wonderful endorsement.

The essays in Orpheus in the Bronx argue against ideological evaluations of art as either bourgeois mystification or social critique, focusing on the one hand on the liberatory possibilities of the autonomy of art and on the other hand on art’s relationship to social context and particularly to questions of social identity. For some time it’s been the fashion to see literature as a social symptom, or at best an epiphenomenon, to think that social conditions and social identity completely determine the nature and value of a piece of writing. But art’s utopian potential lies exactly in the degree to which it exceeds social determinations and definitions, bringing together the strange and the familiar, combining otherness and brotherhood.

The book includes, among others, a piece on the imbrication of homosociality and homosexuality in the libidinal economy of Jean Genet’s novel Querelle; an essay on Jorie Graham’s book Erosion which interweaves an admiring discussion of her poetry’s traversal of intellectual boundaries with a critique of the problematic relations between art and politics that her poetry often enacts; an essay arguing against the imposition of ideological or political agendas, particularly those of identity politics, on poetry; a somewhat polemical survey of the contemporary American poetry scene’s still all-too-operant binary between “mainstream” and “avant-garde” poetry which proposes the possibility of a third mode that I call, after Wittgenstein, lyrical investigations; an essay exploring the relationships of perception and conception, presence and representation, force and form in the work of Wallace Stevens; and “To Make Me Who I Am,” a longish, more personal piece on my development as a writer and a thinker, starting with my childhood in the tenements and housing projects of the Bronx. (An abridged version of this piece appears in the January/February issue of Poets and Writers Magazine.) The book also includes appreciations of individual writers whose work has meant much to me, including Samuel R. Delany, Alvin Feinman, and Linda Gregg. It concludes with an essay called “Why I Write,” which originally appeared on this blog, in which I lay out some of my motivations and ambitions as a writer, including the perhaps unfashionable desire to live forever in some form.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Readers Wanted

Early last November, just before my hospitalization for colon cancer, I had the privilege of participating in a fascinating symposium co-sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the Columbia University School of Journalism called “Make It News,” on poetry and journalism. My panel, “Covering Poetry: Past, Present, and Future,” discussed both whether the amount of public coverage of poetry (mostly in America) has changed (mainly since the nineteenth century) and the ways in which the kind of coverage poetry receives has changed (mostly due to the Internet).

The critic and poet Adam Kirsch, with whom I’ve disagreed in the past (see my post "Final Thoughts on Blogging," in which I take issue with his sweeping and uninformed dismissal of literary blogs), asserted that poets don’t write to be read and don’t desire to be “popular” (he made this statement particularly about Emily Dickinson and the Modernists as a group), that they write for “posterity,” and that only “history” will sort out which poets matter. I had to disagree on all counts. When I asked him about the role of literary institutions in these decisions of “history,” he had no reply. As I should have pointed out at the time, “history” isn’t an agent; “posterity” isn’t an actor. They are the products of people’s individual and collective decisions. “History,” both prospectively and retrospectively, is what we make it.

Furthermore, it’s a myth that Emily Dickinson didn’t care about readership or publication. She was intensely ambitious and wanted to be read; she published ten poems in her lifetime (admittedly out of nearly eighteen hundred), and sent her poems to literary critic Thomas Wentworth Higginson in the hope that he would take them up. She also distributed her poems among friends and family.

The modernists all wanted to be read and appreciated, and they strenuously engaged in the work of producing their audience, of teaching readers how and why to read their work, through essays, manifestoes, and anthologies. They didn’t disdain popularity per se; they disdained the poetry that was popular at the time. Ezra Pound, for one, definitely wanted his poetry to be popular, and though he often doubted it would be—“Will people accept them?/(i.e. these songs)”—it disappointed him that it wasn’t. He wanted his work and the work he supported to supplant the “ladies’ verse” that he so despised. Though in one poem he wrote, “I join these words for four people,” in the next line he wrote, “Some others may overhear them,” and one may be sure that he hoped they would.

Pound’s work as an editor (for Poetry, The Egoist, The Little Review, The Dial, and finally of his own journal The Exile, a well as of the anthologies Des Imagistes and Profile), and as an essayist and propagandist played a crucial role in publishing, publicizing, and disseminating the work we now call “modernist.” As Lawrence Rainey notes, “[Pound’s] gifts as an impresario were…impressive. Much of the coherence of modernism as an institution derived from his canny capacity to bring together patrons, journals, and authors, creating and then exploiting institutional opportunities” (Modernism: An Anthology, 39).

As music historian Arnold Whittall has noted of some of Pound's contemporaries in another medium, “Even the concept of music as ‘bourgeois entertainment’ was not rejected out of hand by most avant-garde composers, whose belief in the rightness of their radicalism was based on the conviction that sooner or later the value of their music would be publicly, culturally accepted, and that such acceptance meant performance in conventional concert environments” (Musical Composition in the Twentieth Century, 21).

Pound also very much wanted his social, political, and economic views to be heard and taken seriously. Pound admired Mussolini’s ideas (if they can be called that), but he also admired Mussolini because he believed that Mussolini took his ideas seriously. It was Pound’s commitment to those ideas, to social credit and the like, and his desire to disseminate them more widely, that led him to broadcast over Radio Rome during World War II.

Just as every good boy deserves favor, every writer wants to be read: otherwise there’d be no reason to write. To say that one writes for posterity is just to say that one wants an audience in the future as well as in the here and now: one wants a permanent readership.

I have no wish to change the way that I write in order to appeal to a wider audience, that mythical “common reader,” nor do I think that such attempts to guess what other people want are usually successful. But I very much want my work to reach every reader who might be interested in what I do write, however few or many such readers there might be.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

H Is for Harriet

For those who are interested, for the next few months I will also be posting pieces on the Poetry Foundation's Harriet group blog. Although these pieces will be shorter and more informal than most of what I post here, they will still be carefully thought-out and written, or so is my hope.

The Harriet blog can be found here on the Poetry Foundation website.

Monday, January 14, 2008

On Andre du Bouchet (1924-2001)

The prolific contemporary French poet Andre du Bouchet, though considered a major figure in France (along with poets like Yves Bonnefoy and Jacques Dupin, with whom he edited the literary review l’Ephémère)—in the introduction to his collected translations, Paul Auster calls him “one of the most radical and innovative poets of the post-War generation”—has hardly been translated into English at all. I first came across his work in Paul Auster’s Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, a volume that, focusing on the interactions of French and English-language poetry, features many translations by British and American poets, emphasizing the poetry of the poetry. Du Bouchet has three short poems in Mary Ann Caws’ Yale Anthology of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, and is not represented at all in Stephen Romer’s 20th Century French Poems. His elliptical, highly compressed poems, intensely focused on objects and objecthood, have a compelling spareness and lyric intensity (critic John Stout writes of his “stark, elemental lyricism”).

In his introduction to The Random House Book of Twentieth-Century French Poetry, Paul Auster writes of du Bouchet that he, in contrast to Bonnefoy, “shuns every temptation toward abstraction. His work, which is perhaps the most radical adventure in recent French poetry, is based on a rigorous attentiveness to phenomenological detail. Stripped of metaphor, almost devoid of imagery [Actually, du Bouchet’s imagery, especially the lushly bare mental landscapes through which his speakers wander, is very vivid—RS], and generated by a language of abrupt, paratactic brevity, his poems move through an almost barren landscape, a speaking ‘I’ continually in search of itself. A du Bouchet page is the mirror of this journey, each one dominated by white space, the few words present as if emerging from a silence that will inevitably claim them again.” Patrick Kechichian, the author of Du Bouchet’s obituary in Le Monde, writes that “Anecdote, biography or mundanity in fact find no place in his oeuvre…the oeuvre has no room for explication, no space of expression for the personality, the thoughts or opinions of the poet” (translation by Tom Orange). (Imagine such a thing appearing in an American newspaper!)

Du Bouchet’s family fled to the United States when the Nazis occupied France, and he received his BA from Amherst College and his MA from Harvard, where he was friends with poet Richard Wilbur, whose first book he helped publish. He returned to France in 1948. Du Bouchet was deeply versed in English-language literature, and translated such writers as Shakespeare, Hopkins, Joyce, and Faulkner. He also translated Mandelstam and Pasternak from the Russian and, from German, Hölderlin and Celan, who was a close friend and who also translated him into German. Given his connections with America and with Anglophone literature, du Bouchet’s almost total absence in English translation is particularly striking.

As far as I know, only two of du Bouchet’s books have been translated into English (one twice); luckily, all three translations have been by poets with acute and distinctive ears and sensibilities. In 1966, Cid Corman published a complete translation of du Bouchet’s Dans la chaleur vacante (his first major book), a book which has been called “an investigation of light and that which is associated with it: fire, white, wind, sky, air, sun, and flame,” under the title In Vacant Heat in volume three of the third series of his journal Origin. I have not had the chance to read it, though Corman’s anthology The Gist of Origin, now out of print, contains a selection of his translations of other du Bouchet poems also published in Origin. Paul Auster published a book of du Bouchet’s selected poems (culled from his first two major books) called The Uninhabited in 1976 with the tiny publisher Living Hand; that volume is long out of print. It was reprinted in Auster’s collection Translations from Marsilio Publishers in 1997, also out of print.

In 1996, the engagingly idiosyncratic poet David Mus published a translation of Dans la chaleur vacante, including an informative, incisive, and lyrical essay called “Translating Andre du Bouchet,” as Where Heat Looms with Sun & Moon Classics; that book is, again, out of print, and Sun & Moon is defunct, though succeeded by Green Integer, which has reprinted many Sun & Moon titles, but not this one. Amazon.com also tantalizes with a listing for David Mus translation of du Bouchet’s Aujourd’hui c’est called Today Is the Day, supposedly published by Sun & Moon in 1998 and of course currently unavailable. But aside from a listing in the back of Where Heat Looms as a title “in preparation” in the Sun & Moon Classics series (along with another book called The Indwelling, presumably a translation of du Bouchet’s 1967 book L’inhabité), I have found no other sign of such a book. Given Sun & Moon’s spotty track record of actually publishing announced titles, and despite their avowed intention to publish all of du Bouchet’s major books in English, it clearly never came out, which is a shame. Du Bouchet’s Contemporary Authors profile (which, though ostensibly updated in 2003, doesn’t note that he died in 2001) taunts with a listing of a translation of Aujourd’hui c’est by Cid Corman (who, as noted earlier, published substantial amounts of du Bouchet’s work in Origin) called Today It’s, published by Origin Press in 1985, but I have been able to find no sign of such a book. The only English language du Bouchet volume in the Library of Congress catalogue is Where Heat Looms.

Du Bouchet’s poems tend to be rather long, and they use the entire page as their field of action. I don’t know how to reproduce their spacing and indentations in Blogger. I include four of his shorter and less typographically complex poems below. A selection of his poems translated by Geoffrey Young can be found in a PDF of the anthology of contemporary French poetry Violence of the White Page on the duration press website.

Cession (translated by Cid Corman)

The wind,
in the waterless lands of summer,
leaves us on a blade,
all that remains
of the sky.

In several cleavages, the earth grows keen. Earth
stays stable in the breath that strips us bare.

Here, in the motionless blue world, I’ve almost
attained this wall. Day’s depth is still before
us. Depth aglow with earth. Depth and surface
of the brow,
leveled by the same breath,
this cold.

I recompose myself at the foot of the façade
like the blue air where the plow puts down.

Nothing quenches my step.

Plain (translated by Paul Auster)

Grown until white

the age
the piece of earth
where I slip

as if radiating from cold

in the jolting day.


When I say coal
I want to say

what it would have wanted to say
through this squall

the cough


everything set like a wound

the motionless plate

objects born from the hands
at the bottom of air



by a tip-cart

the blue air

everywhere my brow

the earth

or the brow of the earth.


In a cold
gilded from afar

the light is a fold

I see it
without sinking

almost under the wheels

like the mulberry
the road whitens

Meteor (translated by Paul Auster)

The absence which takes the place of breath in me begins again
like snow to fall upon the papers. The night appears. I write
as far away from myself as possible.

Threshing (translated by David Mus)

Haystacked, some other summer’s shine. Millstoned. As the face of earth no one sees.

Setting out again I start over this road doing so
well without me. As giddy firelight embedded in air,
air eddies over the sunken road. Every-
thing goes out. Already day’s sheer heat.

Storm blowing dry-eyed. Lost to view the frosty freeze
breath. Without having set ablaze the litter of strewn

These four walls, the other storm raging. As cold, cold as a midsummer wall.

These straws. Whole sheaf. Turned towards one wall of several summers. Gleam of straw caught in the thick of summer. Chaff.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Robert Philen on Art Music and Popular Music

Robert Philen has a new piece on his wide-ranging and always-fascinating blog on some of the interactions between art music and popular music. In this piece, titled simply Art Music and Popular Music, Philen lays out three modes or methods that art music composers use to bridge the gap between popular culture and high art (and also points out that this traffic travels along a two-way street, with popular music composers and performers drawing on art music as well). Along the way, he makes the important point "that there are at least two different ways of conceptualizing the popular, the popular in the sense of folk culture and music or in the sense of modern 'pop culture' or 'mass culture.'" These two tend too often to be conflated by practitioners of what used to be called cultural studies.

I encourage everyone to read this stimulating piece.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Thinking About Authorship with Barthes and Foucault

I'd like once again to thank everyone who has written with their support and good wishes; it means a lot to me. I just finished my second round of chemotherapy, and this time the fatigue has just flattened me. But I did want to post something.

This is a piece that I wrote some time ago. I’m not sure that I agree with all of it (and if I were to write it today, I would definitely go easier on the theory-speak), but as literary critic Peter Heller once said, ideas can be divided into the interesting, the useful, and the true (the ascending order is mine). Even if they don't all rise to the heights of the true, I find the ideas this piece explores both interesting and useful. They are, in anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss's phrase, good to think, and serve as a useful counterpoint to the still-prevalent criteria of authenticity, sincerity, and personal expression by which literary works are understood and judged, both by writers and by readers.

“..writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin. Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing.”

Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” The Rustle of Language

“The problem may be put in the following ways: To what extent is a text itself not something passively attributable, as effect is to cause, to a person? To what extent is a text so discontinuous a series of subtexts or pre-texts or paratexts or surtexts as to beggar the idea of an author as simple producer? If the text as unitary document is more properly judged as a transindividual field of dispersion, and if—as Darwin, Marx, and Freud respectively read natural history, economic history, and psychological history as textual fields of dispersion—this field stands as the locus princeps of research, where does it begin if not in a ‘creative’ or ‘producing’ individuality?”

Edward W. Said, Beginnings: Intention and Method

As Donald F. Bouchard, editor of Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, a book of "selected essays and interviews" by “Foucault” but not by Foucault (it does not exist in French, he neither compiled it nor proposed it: this “work” by “Foucault” is by a reader), writes, Foucault's essay “‘What Is an Author?’ concerns the curious fact of a text without an author; it reverses the ordinary priority of author over text through the argument that the role of the author is the product of a particular discursive function, that the author (like the concepts of sexuality, death, and madness) is not a constant through [human history], that [the concept and definition of] the ‘author’ has known countless invasions [of] its domain” (“Introduction,” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, p. 21).

For us, the idea of the text and the idea of the author are inseparable. This has not always been the case, nor need it continue to be: the author is only one possible specification of the subject. “The author-function is not universal or constant through all discourse” (“What Is an Author?,” LCP, p. 125). Not only has the importance of the attribution of a given text to a specific subject varied widely from one historical period and/or discursive field to another, but in many discursive fields (the oral tradition of ballad and folk-tale, for instance) there can be no attribution of a particular text to an individual author. We think of a discrete text as invariably produced by a discrete author, but many texts are what might be called negotiated texts, the products of far more numerous and disparate determinations than are taken into account in the blanket application of the author concept as causal or explanatory.

To quote Roland Barthes for the first of several times, “As soon as a fact is narrated no longer with a view to acting directly on reality but intransitively, that is to say, finally outside of any function other than that of the very practice of the symbol itself, this disconnection occurs, the voice loses its origin, the author enters into his own death, writing begins. The sense of this [ever-present] phenomenon, however, has varied; in ethnographic societies the responsibility for a narrative is never assumed by a person but by a mediator, shaman, or relator whose ‘performance’—the mastery of the narrative code—may possibly be admired but never his ‘genius’. The author is a modern figure, a product of our society insofar as, emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism, and the personal faith of the Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, of, as it is more nobly put, the ‘human person’. [If one considers the importance of the concept of auctoritas in Classical culture, it isn’t exactly true that the author is a modern product. RS] It is thus logical that in literature it should be this positivism, the epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology, which has attached the greatest importance to the ‘person’ of the author” (“The Death of the Author,” The Rustle of Language). The idea of genius, a personalized version of the theory of inspiration proposed in Plato’s Ion, reveals the complicity of Romanticism in the ideologies of rationalism and (implicitly) private property it ostensibly opposed. The “authority” to which one looks in a text is not the personal authority of the writing subject, but derives from Nature; yet authority still inheres in the person of the author, even if only as privileged vehicle or vessel.

The author is not the origin of a text, except in the most immediate sense, but an element of a discursive formation out of which both the text and the author-function are produced. In Aristotelian terms, the author, as Paul Bové notes, is a necessary but not a sufficient cause. The individual auctorial subject is a location within an already constituted discourse, concretized in the form of the text. The text is not the product of “the author,” a particular unitary and discrete subject, but emerges from a particular and unrepeatable nexus within a discursive formation. The author is the point of convergence of cultural and discursive codes.

The author is a speaker, in the mechanical sense of a device for articulation; the text is the manifestation of the play of the rules of utterance which converge at and emerge from that locus we call, for example, “Michel Foucault.” The author is not a person but a function; his body is the text, his voice the phrases of each text. “Michel Foucault” is he who comes into being when the essay “What Is an Author?” is written: or rather, he who comes into being when the text designated “What Is an Author?” is read. He comes to exist in the performance of the author-function, existing at no point other than that of the act of utterance, which is repeated each time the text is read. Thus the subject Michel Foucault, like the subject Lewis Carroll, may be proven non-existent without in any way negating the existence of the author “Michel Foucault.” The author lives as language rather than as human body. “Linguistically, the author is never more than the instance writing, just as I is nothing other than the instance saying I: language knows a ‘subject’, not a ‘person’, and this subject, empty outside of the very enunciation which defines it, suffices to make language ‘hold together’, suffices, that is to say, to exhaust it” (Barthes, “The Death of the Author”).

“The function of an author is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society [as mapped onto and by a field of discourse]” (LCP, p. 124), and the name of the author, as sign of the author’s existence as a particular discourse, refers not to a person but to a text or a body of texts. It designates a person only insofar as she is an identifying factor joining texts through origin or linking a text to other texts designated as of the same origin. “Michel Foucault” is not a person born in Poitiers in 1926, dying “of complications relating to AIDS” in Paris in 1984, with much biographical data in between, but the organizing principle of several texts designated as belonging to “the history of systems of thought,” including the text nominated “What Is an Author?.” The name of an author is descriptive of a text, the nominative of what Foucault (or rather, “Foucault”) calls a “subjecting function.”

The concept of the author is thus closely linked to that of the work, for the author’s name can be descriptive only if it is attached to more than one text. If each possible text were ascribed to a different author and no author had more than one text attributed to him, the effect would be equivalent to that of the complete lack of attribution of texts, of a practical anonymity of discourses: the author, rather than serving to link texts, would function as one more element of the text’s particularity. Both the idea of the author and the idea of the work (the corpus of texts, the body of a particular author) serve to mediate between the reader and a given text. Too often, the work becomes a pattern into which may be fitted any given text, by means of which that text’s meaning is constructed. Shakespeare’s sonnets, for example, mean differently if they are taken to be productions of the author of The New Atlantis and the Novum Organum. As “Hugh Kenner” writes, “…when Shakespeare replaced the very shaky classics as the moral oracle of Anglo-Saxonry, Shakespeare the lecherous actor [himself a literary-historical construction] had in turn to be replaced by some weightier person, to underwrite those insights; and high-mindedness was soothed by a newly-invented Francis Bacon, playwright, whose principal invention in turn was a playwright named William Shakespeare” (The Counterfeiters: An Historical Comedy, p. 21).

The text, no longer a discrete entity, is now merely a component of an oeuvre. The work protects the reader against the text at hand. “Once writing-as-text is thought of as energy on the one hand, or as a monument belonging to a specific series of like monuments on the other, authority cannot reside simply in the speaker’s anterior privilege. Either authority is, as Foucault has been trying tirelessly to demonstrate, a property of discourse and not of writing (that is, writing conforms to the rules of discursive formation), or authority is an analytic concept and not an actual, available object. In either case authority is nomadic: it is never in the same place, it is never always at the center, nor is it a sort of ontological capacity for originating every instance of sense. What all this discussion of authority means is that we do not possess a manageable. . . category for writing--whether that of an ‘author’, a ‘mind’, or a ‘zeitgeist’—strong enough on the basis of what happened or existed before the present writing to explain what is happening in the present writing or where it begins” (Said, Beginnings, p. 23). The work is such an attempt to explain the present happening of the reading of the text, by means of origin, “where it begins.” This quotation from Said may be taken as a gesture toward acknowledging that the philosophical question of authorship is implicated in the political question of authorship: a gesture that, in this essay, shall remain incomplete.

The concept of an “author” cannot be taken as the transcendental signified of a group of texts described through the same proper name, as in “the works of Aristotle,” nor may it be used to subsume a text into the mythic totality of “the work.” As Barthes writes, “To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing” (“The Death of the Author”). The author is the condition of the coming into being of an entity unbound by any determinate origin: “a text can neither be effectively read as commentary nor described by commentary. A text has no central point [toward which it moves] or central trajectory: it imitates no spatial or temporal object.... A text, then, seems especially just itself--a text, with its own highly specialized problematics—[rather] than a representation of anything else” (Said, op. cit., pp. 10-11).

Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, to take a perhaps too-famous example, absorbs all extratextual reference into itself, literalizing Derrida’s notorious maxim: there is indeed no outside to this text. It is a book including and equivalent to the world, a discourse that converts its belatedness (the scandal of representation) into the condition of existence of the world it constitutes by representing it: “no longer a commentary on life or reality, but containing life and reality in a system of verbal relationships” (Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism, p. 122). Not only is there is no world beyond the text, there is no world before the text, whose representation is the only trace of an impossible (here, “lost”) original presence. To quote Barthes once more: “Proust himself, despite the apparently psychological nature of what he called his analyses, was visibly concerned with the task of inexorably blurring, by an extreme subtilisation, the relation between the writer and his characters; by making of the narrator not he who has seen and felt nor even he who is writing, but he who is going to write (the young man in the novel—but, in fact, how old is he and who is he?—wants to write but cannot; the novel ends when writing at last becomes possible), Proust gave modern writing its epic. By a radical reversal, instead of putting his life into his novel, as is so often maintained, he made of his very life a work for which his own book was the model; so that it is clear to us that Charlus does not imitate Montesquiou but that Montesquiou—in his anecdotal, historical reality—is no more than a secondary fragment, derived from Charlus” (“The Death of the Author”).

In the negative of the same image, Flaubert’s texts deny the possibility of their being products of a particular subject, claiming an absolute and uncreated acceity. Flaubert’s perfectionism is comparable to that of the Deist God: the aim of both is to eliminate the need for the author. Whether or not God is dead, the world remains; whether or not the author is dead, the text remains. As “Northrop Frye” writes, “creation, whether of God, man, or nature, seems to be an activity whose only intention is to abolish intention, to eliminate final dependence on or relation to something else, to destroy the shadow that falls between itself and its conception” (op. cit., pp. 88-89).

If Derrida is correct in asserting that there is nothing (not even Nothing, notably more “present” to the French than to the Anglo-American intellectual tradition) outside the text; if de Man is correct in similarly asserting that all experience is in fact the experience of reading, while reading is the condition of the commonly-imagined-to-be-primary realm called “experience,” then Barthes’ epigraph to Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes—“It is all to be taken as if spoken in a novel”—is merely a piece of accurate advice. That is, it is all to be taken literally (as how else could one take a text, read it?): the author is a character in and of his text, produced by and within the text.

I am reminded of Borges’s infinite library of Babel, “The universe (which others call the library),” or the hypothetical book of all Jesus’ deeds mentioned at the conclusion of the Gospel According to John that could not be contained by the world. The text contains the world.

Returning to Proust, the writer’s withdrawal from “life” is simply a representation of his performance of a particular function associated with (but neither caused by nor causing) a particular point on the grid of specification: the author’s function within the grid is to utter discourse, nor is he, as author-function, anything but this uttering function. The writer as subject is effaced, diffused into the text: “I am writing a text and I call it [Roland Barthes]” (Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes). A text, unlike a statue, can have no inside nor outside (what is the author but the “outside” of the text that serves paradoxically to guarantee its interiority?): all that there is, is on the surface, on the lines not between them; all that there is are the lines themselves.

As “Borges” writes, in the voice of Borges, “The other one, the one called Borges, is the one things happen to....he has achieved some valid pages…but what is good belongs to no one, not even to him, but rather to the language and to tradition” (“Borges and I,” Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings, p. 246).