more on tom mccarthy and the international necronautical society

Symbolic Remainder

Tom McCarthy

Interviewed by Jeffrey Inaba

On behalf of the International Necronautical

Society, novelist Tom McCarthy and

philosopher Simon Critchley recently released

their ‘Interim Report on Recessional

Aesthetics’ to President Obama in the

pages of Harper’s Magazine. Among

their suggestions to the US leader was

to read the recession allegorically, as

‘the intimate space at the heart of all

economics, its muted truth’, and celebrate

it ‘as you would the revelation of godhead

itself ’. Volume spoke with McCarthy

about representing crisis and trauma –

whether assaults against the economy

or the body – and the death-driven

compulsion to repeat these moments of

intensity in seeking catharsis.

Jeffrey Inaba Can you explain the process of creating Remainder?

Tom McCarthy
Well, in a way the writing of the book

came about by happy accident. I was just passively looking

at a crack in the wall and had this moment of déjà vu

during which I remembered a similar room with a similar

crack. I remembered a building or I kind of half-remembered

– it was like the composite memory Proust describes

in which you can remember a staircase in a house that

never existed because you make a collage in your head from

other houses you’ve known – and I thought it would be

good to reconstruct this moment: to make the house and

to put the crack in the wall.

So that’s what happened in the book. The hero, or antihero,

starts by reconstructing a building he’s remembered.

And by making everyone – all of his neighbors who he’s

remembered – move to the rhythms he’s created as they

cook liver or play piano . Then he expands the parameters of
that reenactment zone until
he’s reenacting shoot-outs
in the street and bank heists.
By the end he’s making planes
fall out of the sky.

JI The hero/anti-hero of Remainder goes into a coma as a

result of an object falling from the sky and hitting him on

the head. How did you arrive at this device as a departure

point for the novel? Was it immediately apparent that this

was how the novel should start out?

No, initially I had to consider that if the hero’s going

to do all this stuff, he needs a lot of money to pay for it.

So he could win the lottery or inherit lots of money from

an uncle like the character Jean Des Esseintes in that

wonderful Huysmans novel Against Nature, which was

definitely an influence on Remainder, but I just wasn’t

convinced. Then I looked into compensation

culture, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder, and it perfectly

tarried with his whole reenactment

compulsion. For Freud, and for almost all psychologists,

trauma is always linked to repetition afterwards: the

reenactment and repetitive behavior. And so, yeah, it just

kind of made sense. The idea of something falling from

the sky is just straight Blanchot. One of the first things

he points out in The Writing of the Disaster is that

the word comes from ‘des astre’, literally, ‘from the stars’.

It’s the Fall. You can read that as the death of god, the

collapse of metaphysics or in a Newtonian way, in the

sense of gravity: things fall. And in Remainder you have

lots of things, not just airplane parts or bits of technology,

but also undisclosed matter and the share prices of stocks,

falling. He’s somehow reacting against this entropic

universe and trying to delay the inevitable, but of course

he ultimately fails.

He does get his memory back, but what’s lost is a sense of

authenticity. I conducted a long interview with someone

who’d been in a very serious accident resulting in motorneuron

damage and he had to relearn how to do everything

– from walking to lifting a glass.

And interestingly, he said ‘I can do it now, I can lift up

the glass and walk, but it seems fake. It seems like I’m

simulating.’ Warhol said the same thing after he was shot.

He said he felt like he was watching TV for the rest of

his life.

JI In this issue of Volume we think about how narratives of crisis are

told: what structures are employed to convey our experience of a world

in flux? It seems that Remainder is not about narrative per se, rather it’s

about constant confrontations with the elements of storytelling and in

particular the objects that percolate as confrontations within a larger

symbolic order.

Yeah, the character keeps on going on about a carrot

that won’t stay still. That’s a metonym for the whole

material world: this thing that cannot be controlled. And

I suppose, you know, objects are really important. They’re

always really important in Freud.

JI Remainder is about all of these encounters with

estranged objects. During moments of crisis, while we

might obsess over how we construct logical explanations

of the situation, it seems that crisis is really when

things can’t be explained. It’s when there’s a breakdown

of a given symbolic order. We question the relationship

between the things we experience in the world and the

way that the world is described. In that sense do you see

the post-traumatic reencountering of objects the protagonist

goes through as analogous to crisis moments?

Yes. He has to not only reprogram himself in

terms of kinetic stuff and movement, but it’s also about

movement and language. He has a large staff and he

keeps having them look up words in the dictionary and

text him the definitions. That informs his behavior.

By the end, he’s more or less killing people

because of dictionary definitions . So all of that is borne
out of crisis, out of catastrophe.
As he’s moving away
from the catastrophe he’s trying
to remaster the symbolic
order. But what for him is the
happy ending – the euphoric,
orgiastic ending – comes
not through resolution, but
through provoking an ultra
crisis. It’s when everything goes
wrong, spectacularly
wrong, when people are dying all
around him and planes
are crashing. At that moment,
everything comes together.
He’s at one with catastrophe.

Trauma studies report that only trauma is real. The trauma is

the moment-in-time. It’s always excluded from

Narratives and histories of time because it’s always censored:

the actual kernel of the disaster is always withheld

from consciousness or narratable memory. And yet it’s

the only moment which is true, which is real. Therefore

trauma victims often try to recover that moment, as if

it were some lost nirvana. The whole of Remainder is less

a movement away from – or resolution of – crisis than

it is an attempt to reenter crisis and retrigger it. In that respect

it’s successful. I mean, in the end, he gets

his disaster.

–from Volume Magazine

an autibiographical story from blanchot on bearing witness

"The Instant of My Death"

By Maurice Blanchot


I remember a young man—a man still young—prevented from dying by death itself—and perhaps the error of injustice.

The Allies had succeeded in getting a foothold on French soil. The Germans, already vanquished, were struggling in vain with useless ferocity.

In a large house, (The Château, it was called) someone knocked at the door rather timidly. I know that the young man came to open the door to guests who were presumably asking for help.

This time, a howl: "Everyone outside"

A Nazi lieutenant, in shamefully normal French, made the oldest people exit first, and then two young women.

"Outside, outside." This time, he was howling. The young man, however, did not try to flee but advanced slowly, in an almost priestly manner. The lieutenant shook him, showed him the casings, bullets; there had obviously been fighting; the soil was a war soil.

The lieutenant choked in a bizarre language. And putting the casings, the bullets, a grenade under the nose of the man already less young (one ages quickly), he distinctly shouted: "This is what you have come to."

The Nazi placed his men in a row in order to hit, according to the rules, the human target. The young man said, "At least have my family go inside." So it was: the aunt (ninety-four years old); his mother, younger; his sister and his sister-in-law; a long, slow procession, silent, as if everything had already been done.

I know—do I know it—that the one at whom the Germans were already aiming, awaiting but the final order, experienced then a feeling of extraordinary lightness, a sort of beatitude (nothing happy, however)—sovereign elation? The encounter of death with death?

In his place, I will not try to analyze. He was perhaps suddenly invincible. Dead—immortal. Perhaps ecstasy. Rather the feeling of compassion for suffering humanity, the happiness of not being immortal or eternal. Henceforth, he was bound to death by a surreptitious friendship.

At that instant, an abrupt return to the world, the considerable noise of a nearby battle exploded. Comrades from the maquis wanted to bring help to one they knew would be in danger. The lieutenant moved away to assess the situation. The Germans stayed in order, prepared to remain thus in an immobility that arrested time.

Then one of them approached and said in a firm voice, "We’re not Germans, Russians," and, with a sort of laugh, "Vlassov army," and made a sign forhim to disappear.

I think he moved away, still with the feeling of lightness, until he found himself in a distant forest, named the "Bois des bruyères," where he remained sheltered by trees he knew well. In the dense forest suddenly, after how much time, he rediscovered a sense of the real. Everywhere fires, a continuous succession of fires; all the farms were burning. A little later, he learned that three young men, sons of farmers—truly strangers to all combat, whose only fault was their youth—had been slaughtered.

Even the bloated horses, on the road, in the fields, attested to a war that had gone on. In reality, how much time had elapsed? When the lieutenant returned and became aware the young chatelaine had disappeared, why did anger, rage, not prompt him to burn down the Château (immobile and majestic)? Because it was the Château. On the facade it was inscribed, like an indestructible reminder, the date 1807. Was he cultivated enough to know this was the famous year of Jena, when Napoleon, on his small gray horse, passed under the windows of Hegel, who recognized in him the "spirit of the world," as he wrote to a friend? Lie and truth: for as Hegel wrote to another friend, the French pillaged and ransacked his home. But Hegel knew how to distinguish the empirical and the essential. In that year 1944, the Nazi lieutenant had for the Château a respect or consideration that the farms did not arouse. Everything was searched, however. Some money was taken; in a separate room, "the high chamber," the lieutenant found papers and a sort of thick manuscript—which perhaps contained war plans. Finally he left.
Everything was burning, except the Château. The Seigneurs had been spared.

No doubt what then began for the young man was the torment of injustice. No more ecstasy; the feeling that he was only living because, even in the eyes of the Russians, he belonged to a noble class.

This was war: life for some, for others, the cruelty of assassination.

There remained, however, at the moment when the shooting was no longer but to come, the feeling of lightness that I would not know how to translate: freed from life? the infinite opening up? Neither happiness, nor unhappiness. Nor the absence of fear and perhaps already the step beyond. I know, I image that this unanalyzable feeling changed what there remained for him of existence. As if the death outside of him could only henceforth collide with the death in him. "I am alive. No, you are dead."

Later, having returned to Paris, he met Malraux, who said that he had been taken prisoner (without being recognized) and that he had succeeded in escaping, losing a manuscript in the process. “It was only reflections of art, easy to reconstitute, whereas a manuscript would not be.” With Paulhan, he made inquiries which could only remain in vain.


What does it matter. All that remains is the feeling of lightness that is death itself, or to put it more precisely, the instant of my death henceforth always in abeyance.


—Maurice Blanchot, The Instant of My Death. Originally published in French as L’instant de ma mort (1994).

maurice blanchot on authorial anxiety and the inevitability of writing

Maurice Blanchot conceives of the author’s relation to the book as one of incomprehension, inevitable alienation, and ultimate failure: hence the ongoing need to repeat, to write yet again.  




lt seems we have learned something about art when we experience what the word solitude designates. This word has been tossed around much too freely. Yet what does it mean to “be alone”? When is one alone? As we ask ourselves this question’ we should not simply return to thoughts that we find moving. Solitude on the level of the world is a wound we do not need to comment on here.


Nor do we have in mind the solitude of the artist, the solitude which he is said to need if he is to practice his art. When Rilke writes to the Comtesse de Solms-Laubach (August 3, 1907): “Except for two short interruptions, I have not pronounced a single word for weeks; at last my solitude has closed in and I am in my work like a pit in its fruit,”‘ the solitude he speaks of is not essentially solitude: it is self-communion.


The Solitude of the Work


In the solitude of the work — the work of art, the literary work — we see a more essential solitude. It excludes the self-satisfied isolation of individualism, it is unacquainted with the search for difference; it is not dissipated by the fact of sustaining a virile relationship in a task that covers the mastered extent of the day. The person who is writing the work is thrust to one side, the person who has written the work is dismissed. What is more, the person who is dismissed does not know it. This ignorance saves him, diverts him and allows him to go on. The writer never knows if the work is done. What he has finished in one book, he begins again or destroys in another. Valéry, who celebrates this privilege of the infinite in the work, still sees only its easiest aspect: the fact that the work is infinite means (to him) that although the artist is not capable of ending it, he is nevertheless capable of turning it into the enclosed space of an endless task whose incompleteness develops mastery of the spirit, expresses that mastery, expresses it by developing it in the form of power. At a certain point, circumstances — that is, history — in the form of an editor, financial demands, social duties, pronounce the missing end and the artist, freed by a purely compulsory outcome, pursues the incomplete elsewhere.


According to this point of view, the infinity of the work is simply the infinity of the spirit. The spirit tries to accomplish itself in a single work, instead of realizing itself in the infinity of works and the movement of history. But Valéry was in no way a hero. He chose to talk about everything, to write about everything: thus, the scattered whole of the world diverted him from the rigor of the unique whole of the work — he amiably allowed himself to be turned away from it. The etc. was hiding behind the diversity of thoughts, of subjects.


Nevertheless, the work — the work of art, the literary work — is neither finished nor unfinished: it is. What it says is exclusively that: that it is — and nothing more. Outside of that, it is nothing. Anyone who tries to make it express more finds nothing, finds that it expresses nothing. Anyone who lives in dependence on the work, whether because he is writing it or reading it, belongs to the solitude of something that expresses only the word being: a word that the language protects by hiding it or that the language causes to appear by is appearing into the silent void of the work.


The first framework of the solitude of the work is this absence of need which never permits it to be called finished or unfinished. The work can have no proof, just as it can have no use. It cannot be verified — truth can lay hold of it, renown illuminate it: this existence concerns it not at all, this obviousness makes it neither certain nor real, nor does it make it manifest.


The work is solitary in that does not mean that it remains incommunicable, that it lacks a reader. But the person who reads it enters into that affirmation of the solitude of the work, just as the one who writes it belongs to the risk of that solitude.


The Work, The Book


If we want to examine more closely what such statements suggest, perhaps we should look for their source. The writer writes a book, but the book is not yet the work, the work is not a work until the word being is pronounced in it, in the violence of a beginning which is its own; this event occurs when the work is the innermost part of someone writing it and of someone reading it. We can therefore ask ourselves this: if solitude is the writer’s risk,  doesn’t it express the fact that he is turned, oriented towards the open violence of the work, never grasping more than its substitute, its approach, and its illusion in the form of the book? The writer belongs to the work, but what belongs to him is only a book, a mute accumulation of sterile words, the most meaningless thing in the world. The writer who  experiences this void simply believes that the work is unfinished, and he believes that with a little more effort and the luck of some favorable moments, he — and only he — will be able to finish it. And so he sets back to work. But what he wants to finish, by himself, remains something interminable, it ties him to an illusory labor. And in the end, the work ignores him, it closes on his absence, in the impersonal, anonymous statement that it is-and nothing more. Which we express by remarking that the artist, who only finishes his work at the moment he dies, never knows his work. And we may have to reverse that remark, because isn’t the writer dead as soon as the work exists, as he himself sometimes foresees, when he experiences a very strange kind of worklessness.*


* This is not the situation of the man who works and accomplishes his task and whose task escapes him by transforming itself in the world. What this man makes is transformed, but in the world, and he recaptures it through the world, at least if he can recapture it, if alienation is not immobilized, if it is not diverted to the advantage of a few, but continues until the completion of the world. On the contrary, what the writer has in view is the work, and what he writes is a book. The book, as such, can become an active event in the world (an action, however, that is always reserved and insufficient), but it is not action the artist has in view, but the work, and what makes the book a substitute for the work is enough to make it a thing that, like the work, does not arise from the truth of the world; and it is an almost frivolous thing, if it has neither the reality of the work nor the seriousness of real labor in the world.



—from The Gaze of Orpheus and other Literary Essays, ed. P. Adams Sitney. Translated by Lydia Davis (1981). Originally published in Blanchot’s  L’Espace littéraire (1955).


hegel, levinas & kojève: understanding the novels of maurice blanchot



Literature, scepticism, nihilism: Blanchot after Kojève

 The opening pages of Faux Pas make it clear, then, that for Blanchot nihilism is a form of naïvety in relation to the negative that is to be radically distinguished from the experience of the negative in literature.

 That this conception of nihilism as a naïve calculation is no passing whim in Blanchot’s theorization of the literary becomes evident as soon as one turns from this 1943 text to his next major general essay on the literary, ‘Literature and the Right to Death’, first published in 1948 and then included as the final essay in the collection The Work of Fire (1949).4 Here, Blanchot establishes what will remain a fundamental distinction between two conceptions of the negative in his work. On the one hand, there is the negativity of the Hegelian dialectic; that is, negation as a power ( pouvoir) for the production of being in its meaning and truth. It is through this labour of the negative that ‘existence is detached from itself and made significant’ (Blanchot 1995: 343). The figure for this meaning- and truth-producing negativity, which Blanchot draws from the preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), is death in its possibility:

that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, what is bound and is actual only in its context with others, should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom – this is the tremendous power [ungeheure Macht] of the negative; it is the energy of thought, of the pure ‘I’. Death, if that is what we want to call this non-actuality, is of all things the most dreadful, and to hold fast what is dead requires the greatest strength. Lacking strength, Beauty hates the Understanding for asking of her what it cannot do. But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative, as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then, having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being. (Hegel 1977: 19)

As glossed by Blanchot: ‘Death ends in being; this is man’s hope and his task, because nothingness itself helps to make the world, nothingness is the creator of the world in man as he works and understands’ (Blanchot 1995: 344).

Combining Hegel – read by way of Alexandre Kojève’s commentaries on the Phenomenology in his Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (1947) – with Mallarmé, Blanchot argues that this power is the negativity of language as naming, and again it is a matter of the feminine, although this time as that which is stripped of being:

For me to be able to say, ‘This woman,’ I must somehow take her flesh-and-blood reality away from her, cause her to be absent, annihilate her. The word gives me the being, but it gives it to me deprived of being. The word is the absence of that being, its nothingness, what is left of it when it has lost being – the very fact that it does not exist. . . . when I say, ‘This woman,’ real death has been announced and is already present in my language; my language means that this person, who is here right now, can be detached from herself, removed from her existence and her presence, and suddenly plunged into a nothingness in which there is no existence or presence. (Blanchot 1995: 322–3)

This negation of being effected by language goes for the speaking as well as the spoken being: ‘When I speak, I deny the existence of what I am saying, but I also deny the existence of the person who is saying it’ (Blanchot 1995: 324).

As we have seen, this Hegelian form of negation has for its end the production of being in its meaning and truth, and just such a negation constitutes what Blanchot terms one of literature’s two slopes (pentes, versants): ‘One side of literature is turned toward the movement of negation by which things are separated from themselves and destroyed in order to be known, subjugated, communicated’ (Blanchot 1995: 330). In short, negation of this kind produces ‘meaningful prose’ (Blanchot 1995: 332). In so far as it is governed by negation in this Hegelian sense, literature’s ‘only concern is true meaning; its only preoccupation is to safeguard the movement by which this meaning becomes truth’ (Blanchot 1995: 333). For Blanchot, Mallarmé is the ‘master of this art of negation’ (Blanchot 1995: 333). Continue reading

levinas on existence: “imagine all beings, things and persons, reverting to nothingness”

From Emmanuel Levinas, Existence And Existents:



Let us imagine all beings, things and persons, reverting to nothingness. One cannot put this return to nothingness outside of all events. But what of this nothingness itself? Something would happen, if only night and the silence of nothingness. The in-determinateness of this “something is happening” is not the indeterminateness of a subject and does not refer to a substantive. Like the third person pronoun in the impersonal form of a verb, it designates not the uncertainly known author of the action, but the characteristic of this action itself which somehow has no author. This impersonal, anonymous, yet inextinguishable “consummation” of being, which murmurs in the depths of nothingness itself we shall designate by the term there is. The there is, inasmuch as it resists a personal form, is “being in general.”

We have not derived this notion from exterior things or the inner world — from any “being” whatever. For there is transcends inwardness as well as exteriority; it does not even make it possible to distinguish these. The anonymous current of being invades, submerges every subject, person or thing. The subject object distinction by which we approach existents is not the starting point for a meditation which broaches being in general. 

We could say that the night is the very experience of the there is, if the term experience were not inapplicable to a situation which involves the total exclusion of light. 

When the forms of things are dissolved in the night, darkness of the night, which is neither an object nor the quality of an object, invades like a presence. In the night, where we are riven to it, we are not dealing with anything. But this nothing is not that of pure nothingness. There is no longer this or that; there is not “something.” But this universal absence is in its turn presence, an absolutely unavoidable presence. It is not the dialectical counterpart of absence, and we do not grasp it through thought. It is immediately there.

There is no discourse. Nothing responds to us, but this silence; the voice of this silence understood and frightens like the silence of those infinite spaces Pascal speaks of. There is, in general, without it mattering there is, without our being able to fix a substantive to this term. There is is an impersonal form, like in it rains, or it is warm. Its anonymity is essential. The mind does not find itself faced with an apprehended exterior. The exterior — if one insists on the term — remains uncorrelated with an interior. It is no long given. It is no longer a world. What we call the I is itself submerged by the night, invaded, depersonalized, stifled by it. The disappearance of all things and of the I leaves what cannot disappear, the sheer fact of being in which one participates whether one wants to or not, without having taken the initiative, anonymously. Being remains, like a field of forces, like a heavy atmosphere belonging to no one, universal, returning in the midst of the negation which put it aside, and in all the powers to which that negation may be multiplied.

There is a nocturnal space, but it is no longer empty space, the transparency which both separates us from things and gives access to them, by which they are given. Darkness fills it like a content; it is full, but full of the nothingness of everything. Can one speak of its continuity? It is surely uninterrupted. But points of nocturnal space do not refer to each other as illuminated space; there is no perspective, they are not situated. There is a swarming of points.

Yet this analysis does not simply illustrate Professor Mosch Turpin’s thesis, in the Tales of Hoffman, that night is the absence of day. The absence of perspective is not something purely negative. It becomes an insecurity. Not because things covered by darkness elude our foresight and that it becomes impossible to measure their approach in advance. For the insecurity does not come from the things of the day world which the night conceals; it is due just to the fact that nothing approaches, nothing comes, nothing threatens; this silence, this tranquility, this void of sensations constitutes a mute, absolutely indeterminate menace. The indeterminateness constitutes its acuteness. There is no determined being, anything can count for anything else. In this ambiguity the menace of pure and simple presence, of the there is, takes form. Before this obscure invasion it is impossible to take shelter in oneself, to withdraw into one’s shell. One is exposed. The whole is open upon us. Instead of serving as our means of access to being, nocturnal space delivers us over to being.

The things of the day world then do not in the night become the source of the “horror of darkness” because our look cannot catch them in their “unforeseeable plots”; on the contrary, they get their fantastic character from this horror. Darkness does not only modify their contours for vision; it reduces them to undetermined, anonymous being, which sweats in them.

One can also speak of different forms of night that occur right in the daytime. Illuminated objects can appear to us as though in twilight shapes. Like the unreal, inverted city we find after an exhausting trip, things and beings strike us as though they no longer composed a world, and were swimming in the chaos of their existence. Such is also the case with the “fantastic,” “hallucinatory” reality in poets like Rimbaud, even when they name the most familiar things and the most accustomed beings. The misunderstood art of certain realistic and naturalistic novelists, their prefaces and professions of faith notwithstanding, produces the same effect: beings and things that collapse into their “materiality,” are terrifyingly present in their destiny, weight and shape. Certain passages of Huysmans or Zola, the calm and smiling horror of de Maupassant’s tales do not only give, as is sometimes thought, a representation “faithful to” or exceeding reality, but penetrates behind the form which light reveals into that materiality which, far from corresponding to the philosophical materialism of the authors, constitutes the dark background of existence. It makes things appear to us in a night, like the monotonous presence that bears down on us in insomnia.The rustling of the there is … is horror. We have noted the way it insinuates itself in the night, as an undetermined menace of space itself disengaged from its function as receptacle for objects,as a means of access to beings. Let us look further into it.

Continue reading

maurice blanchot on writing in one’s (live) journal!

 “the recourse to the journal indicates

that he who writes doesn’t want to

break with contentment”


recourse to the “journal”

It is perhaps striking that from the moment the work becomes the search for art, from the moment it becomes literature, the writer increasingly feels the need to maintain a relation to himself. His feeling is one of extreme repugnance at losing his grasp upon himself in the interests of that neutral force, formless and bereft of any destiny, which is behind everything that gets written. This repugnance, or apprehension, is revealed by the concern, characteristic of so many authors, to compose what they call their “journal.” Such a preoccupation is far removed from the complacent attitudes usually described as Romantic. The journal is not essentially confessional; it is not one’s own story. It is a memorial. What must the writer remember? Himself: who he is when he isn’t writing, when he lives daily life, when he is alive and true, not dying and bereft of truth. But the tool he uses in order to recollect himself is, strangely, the very element of forgetfulness: writing. That is why, however, the truth of the journal lies not in the interesting, literary remarks to be found there, but in the insignificant details which attach it to daily reality. The journal represents the series of reference points which a writer establishes in order to keep track of himself when he begins to suspect the dangerous metamorphosis to which he is exposed. It is a route that remains viable; it is something like a watchman’s walkway upon ramparts: parallel to, overlooking, and sometimes skirting around the other path — the one where to stray is the endless task. Here true things are still spoken of. Here, whoever speaks retains his name and speaks in this name, and the dates he notes down belong in a shared time where what happens really happens. The journal — this book which is apparently altogether solitary — is often written out of fear and anguish at the solitude which comes to the writer on account of the work.


The recourse to the journal indicates that he who writes doesn’t want to break with contentment. He doesn’t want to interrupt the propriety of days which really are days and which really follow one upon the other. The journal roots the movement of writing in time, in the humble succession of days whose dates preserve this routine. Perhaps what is written there is already nothing but insincerity; perhaps it is said without regard for truth. But it is said in the security of the event. It belongs to occupations, incidents, the affairs of the world — to our active present. This continuity is nil and insignificant, but at least it is irreversible. It is a pursuit that goes beyond itself toward tomorrow, and proceeds there definitively.


The journal indicates that already the writer is no longer capable of belonging to time through the ordinary certainty of action, through the shared concerns of common tasks, of an occupation, through the simplicity of intimate speech, the force of unreflecting habit. He is no longer truly historical; but he doesn’t want to waste time either, and since he doesn’t know anymore how to do anything but write, at least he writes in response to his everyday history and in accord with the preoccupations of daily life. It happens that writers who keep a journal are the most literary of all, but perhaps this is precisely because they avoid, thus, the extreme of literature, if literature is ultimately the fascinating realm of time’s absence.


The Space of Literature (ペーパーバック) 




deleuze says le clézio’s act of becoming via fabulation reveals his pedigree—melville, kafka, céline

Gilles Deleuze, "Literature and Life"  


Translated by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco

Critical Inquiry 23 (Winter 1997)


To write is certainly not to impose a form (of expression) on the matter of lived experience. Literature rather moves in the direction of the ill- formed or the incomplete, as Witold Gombrowicz said as well as practiced. Writing is a question of becoming, always incomplete, always in the midst of being formed, and goes beyond the matter of any livable or lived experience. It is a process, that is, a passage of Life that traverses both the livable and the lived. Writing is inseparable from becoming: in writing, one becomes-woman, becomes-animal or -vegetable, becomes-molecule, to the point of becoming-imperceptible. These becomings may be linked to each other by a particular line, as in J. M. G. Le Clézio’s novels; or they may coexist at every level, following the doorways, thresh- olds, and zones that make up the entire universe, as in H. P. Lovecraft’s powerful oeuvre. Becoming does not move in the other direction, and one does not become Man, insofar as man presents himself as a dominant form of expression that claims to impose itself on all matter, whereas woman, animal, or molecule always has a component of flight that escapes its own formalization. The shame of being a man—is there any better reason to write? Even when it is a woman who is becoming, she has to become-woman, and this becoming has nothing to do with a state she could claim as her own. To become is not to attain a form (identification, imitation, Mimesis) but to find the zone of proximity, indiscernibility, or undifferentiation where one can no longer be distinguished from a woman, an animal, or a molecule—neither imprecise nor general, but unforeseen and non-preexistent, singularized out of a population rather than determined in a form. One can institute a zone of proximity with anything, on the condition that one creates the literary means for doing so. André Dhôtel, for instance, makes use of the aster: something passes between the sexes, the genera, or the kingdoms.1 Becoming is always "between" or "among": a woman between women, or an animal among others. But the power of the indefinite article is effected only if the term in becoming is stripped of the formal characteristics that make it say the ("the animal in front of you .. ."). When Le Clézio becomes-Indian, it is always as an incomplete Indian who does not know "how to cultivate corn, or carve a dugout canoe"; rather than acquiring formal characteristics, he enters a zone of proximity.2 It is the same, in Kafka, with the swimming champion who does not know how to swim. All writing involves an athleticism, but far from reconciling literature with sports or turning writing into an Olympic event, this athleticism is exercised in flight and in the breakdown of the organic body—an athlete in bed, as Henri Michaux put it. One becomes animal all the more when the animal dies; and contrary to the spiritualist prejudice, it is the animal who knows how to die, who has a sense or premonition of death. Literature begins with a porcupine’s death according to Lawrence or with the death of a mole in Kafka: "our poor little red feet outstretched for tender sympathy."3 As Karl-Philipp Moritz (1756-1793) said, one writes for dying calves.4 Language must devote itself to reaching these feminine, animal, molecular detours, and every detour is a becoming mortal. There are no straight lines, neither in things nor in language. Syntax is the set of necessary detours that are created in each case to reveal the life in things.


To write is not to recount one’s memories and voyages, one’s loves and griefs, one’s dreams and phantasms. It is the same thing to sin through an excess of reality as through an excess of the imagination. In both cases it is the eternal daddy-mommy, an Oedipal structure that is projected onto the real or introjected into the imaginary. In this infantile conception of literature, what we seek at the end of the voyage, or at the heart of a dream, is a father. One writes for one’s father-mother. Marthe Robert has pushed this infantilization or "psychoanalization" of literature to an extreme, leaving the novelist no other choice than that of the Bastard or the Foundling.5 Even becoming-animal is not safe from an Oedipal reduction of the type "my cat, my dog." As Lawrence says, "if I am a giraffe, and the ordinary Englishmen who write about me … are nice, well-behaved dogs, there it is, the animals are different…. The animal I am you instinctively dislike."6 As a general rule, fantasies simply treat the indefinite as a mask for a personal or a possessive: "a child is being beaten" is quickly transformed into "my father beat me." But literature takes the opposite path and exists only when it discovers beneath appar- ent persons the power of an impersonal-which is not a generality but a singularity at the highest point: a man, a woman, a beast, a stomach, a child…. It is not the first two persons that function as the condition for literary enunciation; literature begins only when a third person is born in us that strips us of the power to say "I" (Blanchot’s "neuter").7 Of course, literary characters are perfectly individuated and are neither vague nor general, but all their individual traits elevate them to a vision that carries them off in an indefinite, like a becoming that is too powerful for them: Ahab and the vision of Moby Dick. The Miser is not a type, but on the contrary his individual traits (to love a young woman, and so on) make him accede to a vision: he sees gold in such a way that he is sent racing along a witch’s line where he gains the power of the indefinite—a miser…, some gold, more gold…. There is no literature without fabulation, but, as Henri Bergson was able to see, fabulation—the fabulating function—does not consist in imagining or projecting an ego. Rather, it attains these visions, it raises itself to these becomings and powers.


One does not write with one’s neuroses. Neuroses or psychoses are not passages of life but states into which we fall when the process is interrupted, blocked, or plugged up. Illness is not a process but a stopping of the process, as in the "Nietzsche case." Moreover, the writer as such is not a patient but rather a physician, the physician of himself and of the world. The world is the set of symptoms whose illness merges with man. Literature then appears as an enterprise of health; not that the writer would necessarily be in good health (there would be the same ambiguity here as with athleticism), but he possesses irresistible and delicate health that stems from what he has seen and heard of things too big for him, too strong for him, suffocating things whose passage exhausts him while nonetheless giving him the becomings that dominant and substantial health would render impossible.8 The writer returns from what he has seen and heard with red eyes and pierced eardrums. What health would be sufficient to liberate life wherever it is imprisoned by and within man, by and within organisms and genera? It is like Spinoza’s delicate health, while it lasted, bearing witness until the end to a new vision whose passage it remains open to.


Health as literature, as writing, consists in inventing a people that is missing. It is the task of the fabulating function to invent a people. We do not write with memories, unless it is to make them the origin and collective destination of a people to come still ensconced in its betrayals and repudiations. American literature has an exceptional power to produce writers who can recount their own memories, but as those of a universal people composed of immigrants from all countries. Thomas Wolfe "inscribes all of America in writing insofar as it can be found in the experience of a single man."9 This is not exactly a people called upon to dominate the world. It is a minor people, eternally minor, taken up in a becoming-revolutionary. Perhaps it only exists in the atoms of the writer, a bastard people, inferior, dominated, always in becoming, always incomplete. Bastard no longer designates a familial state, but the process or drift of the races. I am a beast, a Negro of an inferior race for all eternity. This is the becoming of the writer. Kafka (for central Europe) and Melville (for America) present literature as the collective enunciation of a minor people, or of all minor peoples, who find their expression only in and through the writer.10 Though it always refers to singular agents [agents], literature is a collective assemblage [agencement] of enunciation. Literature is delirium, but delirium is not a father-mother affair; there is no delirium that does not pass through peoples, races, and tribes and that does not haunt universal history. All delirium is world historical, "a displacement of races and continents."11 Literature is delirium, and as such its destiny is played out between the two poles of delirium. Delirium is a disease, the disease par excellence, whenever it erects a race it claims is pure and dominant. But it is the measure of health when it invokes this oppressed bastard race that ceaselessly stirs beneath dominations, resisting everything that crushes and imprisons, a race that is outlined in relief in literature as process. Here again, there is always the risk that a diseased state will interrupt the process or becoming; health and athleticism both confront the same ambiguity, the constant risk that a delirium of domination will be mixed with a bastard delirium, pushing literature toward a larval fascism, the disease against which it fights—even if this means diagnosing the fascism within itself and fighting against itself. The ultimate aim of literature is to release this creation of a health or this invention of a people—that is, a possibility of life-in the delirium. To write for this people that is missing … (for means less "in the place of" than "for the benefit of").


We can see more clearly the effect of literature on language: as Proust says, it opens up a kind of foreign language within language, which is neither another language nor a rediscovered patois but a becoming-other of language, a "minorization" of this major language, a delirium that carries it off, a witch’s line that escapes the dominant system. Kafka makes the swimming champion say, I speak the same language as you, and yet I don’t understand a single word you’re saying. Syntactic creation or style—this is the becoming of language. The creation of words or neologisms is worth nothing apart from the effects of syntax in which they are developed. So literature already presents two aspects: through the creation of syntax, it not only brings about a decomposition or destruction of the maternal language but also the invention of a new language within language. "The only way to defend language is to attack it." "Every writer is obliged to create his or her own language."12 Language seems to be seized by a delirium, which forces it out of its usual furrows. As for the third aspect, it stems from the fact that a foreign language cannot be hollowed outin one language without language as a whole in turn being toppled or pushed to a limit, to an outside or reverse side that consists of Visions and Auditions that no longer belong to any language. These visions are not fantasies, but veritable Ideas that the writer sees and hears in the interstices of language, in its intervals. They are not interruptions of the process but breaks that form part of it, like an eternity that can only be revealed in a becoming, or a landscape that only appears in movement. They are not outside language, but the outside of language. The writer as seer and hearer, the aim of literature: it is the passage of life within language that constitutes Ideas.


These three aspects, which are in perpetual movement, can be seen clearly in Antonin Artaud: the fall of letters in the decomposition of the maternal language (R, T, . . .); their incorporation into a new syntax or in new names with a syntactic import, creators of a language ("eTReTé"); and, finally, breath words, the asyntactical limit toward which all language tends.13 And even in Céline—we cannot avoid saying it, so acutely do we feel it: Journey to the End of the Night, or the decomposition of the maternal language; Death on the Installment Plan, with its new syntax as a language within language; and Guignol’s Band, with its suspended exclamations as the limit of language, as explosive visions and sonorities. In order to write, it may perhaps be necessary for the maternal language to be odious, but only so that a syntactic creation can open up a kind of foreign language in it, and language as a whole can reveal its outside, beyond all syntax. We sometimes congratulate writers, but they know that they are far from having achieved their becoming, far from having attained the limit they set for themselves, which ceaselessly slips away from them. To write is also to become something other than a writer. To those who ask what literature is, Virginia Woolf responds, To whom are you speaking of writing? The writer does not speak about it, but is concerned with something else.


If we consider these criteria, we can see that, among all those who make books with a literary intent, even among the mad, there are very few who can call themselves writers.