also she dreamed she danced with bears:

Confronting the Non-Fact, Pt. 1,306

“…perhaps clean, well-lighted subjectivity is a dead end…”

There you have it: the opening salvo of the review of  this funny little book.

I haven’t read it, but I can’t ignore it. Perhaps, like some other young thesis-writers out there (more interested, at times, in theorizing discipline, than in engaging its ball-game from within its particular, wrought-iron fences), this is the the face that I never thought would appear: half horror, half dream, published, and yet (and this is no rarity!) so ambiguously book. Falling back on my sloppy late-high school training (Baudrillaird, and cranky anarchists in Cleveland), I’m tempted to hold up my weights and mirrors: is it real? Is it legitimate? Clearly, being is no fit standard for legitimacy–judgment, acceptance, celebration, or (perhaps the most non-moralizing of the lot?) criticism is a secondary thing, some process of extended attention that the project asks, and is always asking.

So: this Dyer guy seems to gore us on the horns of genre–he doesn’t seem (and again: I haven’t read the thing) to be making an appeal for his work’s own acceptance so much as a cranky post-modern diatribe against the laxity of a publishing/reading/writing culture that would allow such a thing as his book to exist. Immanent critique, but the joke’s on us (maybe it always was)–and Mr. Dyer, unsafe at any speed, slips out the trap door.

But do (literary) intentions matter? It’s certainly one thing to set out to write a book like Out of Sheer Rage; another to write a Lawrence biography or “academic book” on Lawrence and instead to turn in a meta-account of the difficulties of producing either that looks and feels and has the bulk of a book. (There are so many ways to put flesh on the bones…). It’s one thing to give up said end product, and quite another to submit the product (Frankenstein product?) as substitute for the intended. I suppose it all depends on the type of work we’re trying to get done… and while Dyer might shock me into a more conscientious method of criticism (learn to love yourself those iron fences), he’s certainly not the best place to go for text-y reflections on Lawrence. Seafood, maybe (or so the review would have us believe)… but even then, why would anyone trust a book with D.H. Lawrence in the title to give us anything useful about prawns?

Every time I open up one of my mother’s Alternative Health Food You Need More Ginseng magazines, I encounter yet another smear campaign between the fish-oil companies. The first thing that they say is that you want to know why what you’re getting matters. Then, of course (and this is especially delicious in the two-page spreads) they give you their brand logo, and tell you why they’re the ones who can tell you. Ergo, if they know, and if they care enough to know, surely the cod livers squeezed into their little bottles (shatterproof!) will be plumper and more brain-boosting than those of the competitors. Whether we stand to risk exposure to food-bourne illness or more misconceptions about Mr. Lawrence’s fiery, amorous philosophies, authority matters. Or at least pretensions of authority do.

Enough of the postmodern for now–it’s getting late. More soon: on trauma, memory, fish oil, and the burp as the embodied site of repetition.


Aporetic Structure: Three Iterations
April 6, 2009, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

What binds “Choreographies,” “Otobiographies” and “The Time of the King” together is what Derrida calls “aporetic structure.” They all confront the aporia at the heart of the thought of sexual difference, of signature and authorial legacy (and pedagogy, too), and, of the gift. Of the three, “Choreographies” is foundational. There, Derrida confronts the question of truth as living feminine, and the underlying question of sexual difference: How is it that we come to think “sexual difference” at all?

Derrida begins by establishing that “sexual difference” has comm0nly been thought as a subset of an overarching “human” problem (a problem that we will see figured again and against as a slippery neuter, since the “neutral term” always seems to conceal a phallocentric assumption). This human problem is the ontological difference. Derrida asserts that we are not to treat sexual difference as a regional difference of the ontological. He reasserts this later in the essay when he confronts Christie McDonald on the question of topologies: she is interested in the woman’s “place”–that is, how to get women out from the kitchen–but Derrida is interested in something else entirely. He proposes, for feminism, the notion of atope— an anarchic dancing without place, which allows for productive confrontation with past tradition. 

Changes in language

When McDonald asks Derrida a predicable–indeed, necessary, question about “…the complicated relationship of a practical politics to the kinds of analysis that we have been considering (specifically the \’deconstructive\’ analysis implicit in your discussion)” Derrida turns to language for the future of feminism. He asserts that some sorts of feminism have taken up the cry of a neutralization of sexual difference as a sort of Hegelian Aufhebung–the final countenancing of the asymmetry of sexual difference. However, Derrida argues that this Aufhebung of neutralization erases sexual difference in an alarming way. Neutralization of the vocabulary of sexual difference is not at all neutral: “One insures phallocentric mastery under the cover of neutralization every time…and such phallocentrism adorns itself now and then, here and there, with an appendix: a certain kind of feminism” (175).

Thus, the danger out of which feminism must wrestle its saving power is a linguistic danger–a danger of terms, a danger of too careful desire to protect against bad dissimulation. By denying the terms of sexual difference their dissimulation, feminism also prevents that necessary first step of différance, in which the marginalized terms can be taken up against the dominant, sedimented terms. The second step of différance is the production of new terms. Derrida is vehement about one thing: this second step does not look like a Hegelian synthesis–it is no negation. The problem with the synthesis/neutralization of sexual difference model is that it holds itself to the purificatory power of the single word–the monolithic word on sexual difference, on the success of feminism, that binds one to thinking of a place for sexual difference.

Derrida gives two models of a “neutralization” of sexual difference that each do violence against the promises of feminism in different ways. The first account belongs to Emmanuel Levinas. According to Derrida’s Levinas, the question of sexual difference invites a thinking that has two strata. The first is the the level of humanity as the initial space of ethical obligation, not asexual but nondifferentiated. This neutral strata, paradoxically, receives the male marking. Second order is the space of sexual difference. As Derrida clarifies in his footnote, Derrida develops Levinas’s idea of the secondariness of sexual difference even more in his Textes pour Emmanuel Levinas. Here, we get Levinas’s story of Ish/Isha, the first man and woman in Genesis. For Levinas, “the female Isha begins with Ish: not that the feminine originates in the masculine, but rather the division into masculine and feminine–the dichotomy–starts with what is human […]” (177). Thus, it is not “woman who is secondary,” but rather the “relationship with woman as woman, and that does not belong to the primordial level of the human element” (177). 

Heidegger, by contrast, is silent on the matter of sexual difference, yet “…the pauses coming from his silence on these questions punctuate or create the spacing out of a powerful discourse” (179). Derrida seems to praise Heidegger, in some ways, for risking so much with his bare discourse of silence. “Dasein is neither the human being (a thought recalled earlier by Levinas) nor the subject, neither consciousness nor the self [le moi] (whether conscious or unconsious). These are all determinations that are dervied from and occur after the Dasein” (179). In lectures later, Heidegger disrupts this silence to say that Dasein is definitively neuter: “…Dasein is neither of the two sexes. But this a-sexuality is not the indifference of empty invalidity, the annuling negativity of an indifferent ontic nothingness…” (179). Heidegger’s conception of the neuter at first appears to treat sexual difference as secondary two and derivative from ontological difference. In fact, sexuality is one of the may “anthropological” characteristics that is bracketed out by the determination of Dasein (“Geschlect I: Sexual Difference, Ontological Difference,” 11). However, Heidegger later establishes that this neutrality is not a negation: in other words, the neutral Dasein is not (precisely) neuter in terms of being a-sexual, without sexuality. Rather, Heidegger calls the sexual neutrality of Dasein a “positive charged power”–it is the power of the origins. What is derivative or secondary to this “positivity” [Positivität] and “potency” [Mächtigkeit] of Dasein as origin is instead sexual duality itself–precisely that which is produced by the language of sexual binarism. In “Geschlect I: Sexual Difference, Ontological Difference,” another examination of Heidegger’s treatment of the “dissemination” of original Dasein into sexed being, Derrida argues that neutral Dasein is a certain sexual “something else”: Dasein is the promise of multiplicity (19). 

Binarism and Doubleness

Here, we have a move that we do not see in the rest of our Derrida essays–doubleness is something that is supplementary, is secondary; or at least this is how we find the terms that point out the doubleness. The doubleness of Nietzsche’s signature (comprised of the patronym of the dead father, and the promise of the living feminine) or the doubleness required by a University student, are more difficult to spot. This is because they dissemble under the mark of a single sign–under one signature which looks both forwards and backwards; under a single date which marks both the limited biology of the author and the immorality of his biography. 

How is it then, that we are to avoid the dissemination of the neutral Dasein, of originary ontological difference, into the marked binary of sexual difference? Derrida argues that we must learn a different way of speaking of sexuality—a sort of polysemy of multiple signatures that will bring about a radical polysexuality: “it has always seemed to me that the voice itself had to be divided in order to say that which is given to thought or speech…” (183). This polysemous discourse itself becomes a kind of guarantor of the multiple disseminations of sexual difference, and preserves the wild, choreographic dance of the living feminine: …I have felt the necessity for a chorus, for a choreographic text with polysexual signatures. I felt this every time that a legitimacy of the neuter, the apparently least suspect sexual neutrality of \’phallocentric or gynocentric\’ mastery, threatened to immobilize (in silence), colonize, stop or unilateralize in a subtle or sublime manner what remaisn no doubt irreducibly dissymmetrical” (183). This is in keeping with the dream that we may push beyond binarism into a life and expression of sexual difference that is “no longer discriminating,” but is instead “sexual otherwise, beyond the binary difference that goerns the decorum of all codes, beyond the opposition feminine/masculine, beyond bisexuality as well, beyond homosexuality and heterosexuality…” (184). Derrida’s dream does not just mark a hope for a different perception of sexually marked bodies. Rather, his dream is a dream for the break-up of a compensatory binarism in the way that we speak about sexuality. His dream is a dream of movement, in which multiple sexualities blend and divide, and “multiply the body of each individual’” (184). In short: “I would like to believe in sexually marked voices” (184).

Strangely, Derrida shuts this hope down by the last paragraphs of “Choreographies”—he says that this dream of the innumerable is only a dream. These last utterances deserve a special sort of close reading:

But where would the “dream” of the innumerable come from, if it is indeed a dream? Does the dream itself not prove that what is dreamt of must be there in order for it to prove the dream? Then, too, I ask you, what kind of a dance would there be, r would there be one at all, if the sexes were not exchanged according to rhythms that vary considerably? In a quite rigorous sense, the exchange alone could not suffice either, however, because the desire to escape the combinatory itself, to invent incalculable choreographies, would remain (185).

A number of things are happening here: Derrida asks how it is possible that we could “dream” of radical polysemy, of an infinite multiplicity of sexually marked voices, against the fear of a “merciless closure” that locks us back in the binary and asks us instead to learn to “love instead of dreaming the innumerable” (185)? Derrida argues that this may be because there is something of the dream already present–how else could we dream it?  Derrida’s final question, then, is one of the possibility of the system of “rhythms that vary considerably” making up this dance of sexual multiplicity. He thinks that they must come through a sort of exchange–the multiplicity of rhythms, the dissemination of multiple-voiced sexuality and multiple-sexed bodies seems to rely on an exchange of rhythms. Derrida’s fear, at this juncture, is that this system of exchange begins to look, once more, much like a Hegelian Aufhebung–a synthesis of one sexual rhythm into the next–instead of a multiplication. 

What is it, then, that makes possible the dream of the choreographic? Derrida argues that “exchange alone could not suffice…because the desire to escape the combinatory itself, to invent incalculable choreographies, would remain…” (185). Derrida’s dream, at the very least–a dream which he is willing to countenance–is of a sexual multiplicity that keeps on giving, like the dream of the inexhaustible gift. This sexual multiplicity, this atopical, non-regional choreography, marks its behavior with erratic leaps. It cannot be circumscribed into an economy of exchange; it is too lithe for combinatory logic. 

Derrida does not solve the problem of the origins of our dream of multiplicity in “Choreographies.” But, if we turn to “The Time of the King,” we are faced with a startlingly similar problem: how is it that we can dream of the absolute gift (and its correlates–time, Being, the es Gibt of presence), despite said gift’s being already implicated in a perverse economy of exchange? Before we head into “King,” I want to make a brief remark towards the naming of a war: these two structures appear to be fundamentally at odds in the Derrida essays we have read. How might the anarchy of the dance, the exceptional status of the living feminine, of sexual multiplicity, of the gift, be reconciled with the perpetual stasis of the circle of economy, of exchange? In spite of the circular economy’s pervasiveness, Derrida argues (in “King”) that we can still think the aporetic–we can dream (and speak) about the placeness, endless progress of th dance that leaps in the blinks, or can speak of the impossible gift which requires a double-forgetting to even be thought. How is it, though, that the thought of the gift can escape from the circle? How does this impossibility work? 

III. “The Time of the King”

“If [time] shares this aporetic paralysis with the gift, if neither the gift nor time exist as such, then the gift that there can be cannot in any case give time, since it is nothing. If there is something that can in no cas be given, it is time, since it is nothing and since in any case it does not properly belong to anyone; if certain persons or certain social classes have more time than others–and this is finally the most serious stake of political economy–it is certainly not time itself that they possess” (28). 

“Perhaps there is nomination, language, thought, desire or intention, only there where there is this movement still for thinking, desiring, naming that which gives itself neither to be known, experienced, nor lived–in the sense in which presence, existence, determination regulate the economy of knowing, experiencing, and living. In this sense one can think, desire, and say only the impossible, according to the measureless measure of the impossible” (29).

In this section of the essay, Derrida grows terribly confusing. He seems to insinuate two things: first, that the phenomenon of gift is impossible. As he reminds us earlier in the essay, the gift annuls itself–if the donor “recognizes it as gift, if the gift appears to him as such, if the present is present to him as present, this simple recognition suffices to annul the gift” (13). This constitutes what Derrida calls a “problematic displacement”–where is the site of the gift; and what is it that makes it possible our constant speaking and desiring of a pure form of gift giving? Why can Madame de Maintenant express her desire to give all her time–time which she does not anyway have, time which she cannot anyway give–to Saint-Cyr–when it would take a certain sort of double-forgetting beyond even repression (“absolute forgetting–a forgetting that also absolves, that unbinds absolutely and infinitely more, therefore, than excuse, forgetting, or acquittal”) to even make the gift not appear to itself?

(Even so, Derrida tells us that this absolute forgetting is not even pure. There is alsways some sort of preservation involved in forgetting. We must remember that a repression of the idea of the gift is not enough: even this puts the thought of the gift “in reserve, by keeping or saving up what is forgotten, repressed, or censured” (16). This repression is rather a “systematic or topological move” which “keeps” the meaning of the gift in the unconscious, and thus effects its annulment in language. 

What is this dream of absolute forgetting? Derrida tells us that this dream of absolute forgetting is itself as impossible as the dream of pure gift, since this forgetting must happen “in an instant, in an instant that no double does not belong to the economy of time, in a time without time, in such a way that forgetting forgets, that it forgets itself, but also in such a way that this forgetting, without being something present, presentable, determinable, sensible or meaningful, is not nothing” (17). Derrida reminds us that the space of this absolute forgetting is not any of the normally thinkable categories of philosophy or psychology. Rather, gift and absolute forgetting are bound up in one another: “the gift would also be the condition of forgetting” (17). Moreover, the possible impossibility of these two co-related terms comes from the fact that we can speak the word gift: “it is on basis of what takes shape in the name gift that one could hope thus to think forgetting” (17). Our problem then–both with the gift and, as we saw earlier, in “Choreographies,”–is a problem of language. 

And it turns out that language is also a problem for Being. This is because Being is also a spectral effect of language, which “gives itself to be thought on the condition of being nothing (no present-being, no being-present)–and of time which, even in what is called its ‘vulgar’ determination, from Aristotle to Heidegger, is always defined in the paradoxia or rather the aporia of what is without being, of what is never present or what is only scarcely and dimly” (27). 

Derrida seems to be making room for the possibility of the dream–the possibility that an impossible hope might want to be spoken, and might cut across the limitations of presence just enough to spur us to move presence into some other form, to press it against its limits. These are the many dreams of Derrida: the dreams of a more careful and full realm of interpretation, the dream of a doubled and disseminated signature, the dream of the dual risk and responsibility of the author who makes his signature and at the same time wills all dissimulation, all intention and all perversion in its many returns, who wills his own death and his own continuing life in a changed form–who wills his life, as Nietzsche did, to the masks of posterity, to the Nazis, to Derrida, to the multiple body of the living feminine. This is the dream that we might will affirmation. So too does Derrida hold the dream of the impossible multiplication of sexually marked voices: this is the dream of a radical polysemy that can slip the yoke and spoil the joke of combinatory logic; this is the dream of a wanting-to-say, of a speaking of the gift and of time, as Madame de Maintenant did, that circumvents the impossibility as it articulates it. This is Zarathustra’s dream of the great noon, which he must affirm at the same time as he acknowledges that he has never grasped it, that he slept through it, that it is his to own and claim only insofar as he is man enough to affirm that it was never his, that claiming is merely a willingness to dream, the strength to dream, the audacity to own up to hope, to wanting-to-say. 

Thus it is that Derrida can say: “For, finally, if the gift is another name of the impossible, we still think it, we name it, we desire it. We intend it. And this even or because or to the extent that we never encounter it, we never know it, we never verify it, we never experience it in its present existence or in its phenomenon. The gift itself–we dare not say the gift in itelf–will never be confused with the presence of its phenomenon” (29). 

Thinking–the desire to speak–is the will to the impossible. This will does not demand presencing of the impossible, but is rather accepting of the possibility of play: “One can desire, name, think, in the proper sense of these words, only to the immeasuring extent that one desires, names, thinks still or already, that one still lets announce itself what nevertheless cannot present itself as such to experience, to knowing: in short, here a gift that cannot make itself (a) present” (29). 

There is a gap between gift and economy, between what can be desired, thought, and spoken and what can be known and presented: “This gap between, on the one hand, thought, language, and desire and, on the other hand, knowledge, philosophy, science and the order of presence is also a gap between gift and economy. This gap is not present anywhere; it resembles an empty word or a transcendental illusion. But it also gives to this structure or to this logic a form analogous to Kant’s transcendental dialectic, as relation between thinking and knowing, the noumenal and phenomenal…” (30). 

Derrida then sets the course for what the rest of Given Time will do–it will seek to engage this gap, this aporetic structure, the impossibility of speaking of gift and time which we nonetheless are always already doing. Derrida will do this not from within a theory of the gift, but rather from within something like an anticipatory resoluteness to wrestle with and sit in the difficulty of the gap, without trying to resolve it. In other words, Derrida’s rigor is not one of reduction, but one of submitting oneself wholly to the game. In other words, “one must promise and swear” (30). 

We must, in short, think all kinds of things in order to let ourselves go in the project that Derrida proposes–which is a response to the invocation of the gift that is both faithful and rigorous (30). We must continue to overturn the victories of what we think we know–we must learn to know still, in spite of, and along with. This is a multiplicity of knowledges that escapes combinatory logic: “Know still what giving wants to say, know how to give, know what you want and want to say when you give, know what you intend to give, know how the gift annuls itself, commit yourself even if commitment is the destruction of the gift by the gift, give economy its chance” (30). 

The gift, like the dream of presence, like the dream of time and Being, like the name of the self-present self, like the dream of sexual multiplicity, is both exterior to the annuling economies in which it is already embroiled, and motivates that contract (31). One question then remains: how to reconcile the exemplary and the economic, the exterior and the circuitous? “…how does [the gift] contract itself into a circular contract? And from what place? Since when? From whom?” (31).

I don’t know exactly what this means, but I am trying to lay out what I do know before you. I am aware that the limitations in my knowledge will show–and aware moreso that these limitations, perhaps like, perhaps unlike your own, are also important for the magical boundaries of Derrida’s project. I am always responsible to speak: as Derrida reminds, “even if the gift were never anything but simulacrum, one must still render an account of the possibility of this simulacrum and of the desire that impls towards simulacrum. And one must also render an account of the desire to render an account” (31). 

So what does it mean that I am writing this paper? More the remarks that I have sometimes made this weekend–that Derrida demands the proper form, that one cannot write a “standard” philosophy paper (whatever that might mean) “about” Jacques Derrida, since his content is in the obligations and new laws placed upon form. Yet one must still write. Derrida asks us whence this law–this law that demands multifaceted response in the face of problematic calculations, that compels me “to answer still for a gift that calls one beyond all responsibility” (31)? 

Perhaps this law is something like the living feminine–the hope that hope rests in the risks of dissimulation, of getting it wrong and being gotten wrong; and the only careful, protected alternative is the grave–the strong patronymic, the locked tomb of meaning. 

It is strange that at the height of this call to responsibility–this question of rigor and of play, and of the origins of the law of responsibility to exegesis that forbids forgiveness to those who refuse to enter into a certain sort of hermeneutic play–we should then turn to fiction. The Baudelaire story at the end of Derrida’s essay perhaps might turn us to an instantiation of the sort of responsibility with which the rest of the essay leaves us: a responsibility to craft good fiction–fiction which resonates as true, which desires-to-speak that which is not present, that which has the structure of the aporia, and might nonetheless inscribe a hopeful sort of possibility over the impossible.


But, there is still a bit more avenir…


language, impossibility of the gift

what does it matter that we can think and speak the gift, even if the structure of gift and forgetting aren’t phenomenologically possible

does this impossible speaking have anything to do with hope

what this might have to do with the future of feminism, with the signature–


GIFT–desire to escape the circle of the economy 

What Ish My Region; Gaps Is Good

The thrust of Derrida’s “Otobiographies”–a reading of reading, a reading of the always-double and always proliferating legacies of the signatures of Nietzsche–rests in the space between two opposing fragments. As Derrida tears (lovingly, I think) from Nietzsche, so too must I tear from both of them, and find in this new opposition a stucture that I’m going to call the same, and which is also going to be a bit different. The first is a fragment from Ecce Homo that Derrida holds “on reserve” until the end of his essay; the second is an admonition from Derrida himself:

“I find it necessary to wash my hands…”

“The future of the Nietzsche text is not closed…” (31).

With full knowledge that it may well be a “reductionist” account to single out these two moments in “Otobiographies” as a critical juncture for examining some of the important moves that Derrida is showing (more often then telling) us how to make, I’ll proceed to argue two things: first, that the quote from Nietzsche is ironizing. Even so, it represents a fundamental–human? readerly?–desire: the desire to roll the stone in front of the tomb, to have one’s meaning limned and bound, to close it finally. To control meaning is to wash one’s hands.

By Nietzsche’s figuration, this hand-washing becomes a kind of obsessive symptom–the “it is necessary” is a drive that nonetheless recognizes the possibility that it could be thought otherwise. It is as if by figuring it as such–this hunger to have one’s hands clean of readings that diverge from intention, this admission of the impossibility and idiocy of the dream of a single, self-present intentionality–Nietzsche opens  up the impossibility of the dream.


Derrida’s statement stands in less sharp contrast than it appears to: he warns, in a characteristic move, that the significations of any signature cannot be locked down. The date, the anniversary, cannot account for all of the other possible anniversaries on which it will be resuccitated. The signature, Derrida seems to say, makes a pact with the living feminine on the strength of the name. It allows the living author to send out countless birthday invitations that he won’t ever be able to attend–not, that is, precisely in the form that he (may think he) is in the moment of the signature. This is because the signature stands between the biology and the biography, between the dead language of the father and the “living feminine” who will always already bury her authorial son; this is because the name delivers up a return, but not a return that the author, as living author, as being both and between, can ever cash in on. 

The author perishes. Nietzsche’s body has, irrevocably, broken down. And meaning, in dissemination, dissimulates. But there is still a deliver of this “both and between,” this space between the life of the author and his word, that must be considered. “Otobiographies” argues that it is the reader that is delivered over into the space, and who is charged with this reckoning.

The interesting turn in “Otobiographies”–interesting, if baffling, is that it isn’t just the reader alone. There is also something called the State–the institutions and pedagogical methods designed to keep us on this way of this sort of complicated interpretation, or, in some cases, to hold us to a more simplified reading. As Derrida says at the beginning of the essay, “Otobiographies” is a struggle with three questions: (1) academic freedom, (2) the ear, and then, last of all, (3) autobiography. As of yet, we haven’t seen the state play a significant role in the debates. Why is it, then, that we must speak about academic freedom, about the institutions that deal with the politics of reading and pedagogy? Why can’t we just assume that “states” and universities are comprised of readers–unmanaged ears–just as much as any reader picking up a volume of Nietzsche or Derrida from the streets?

Derrida argues that this is because the structure of the Signature is one of Eternal Return. It is a willing of impossibility. It is a willing of everything that has come in futural affirmation, which also invited everything that may yet come. Nietzsche’s signature is, in effect, a declaration of risk–a contract sworn against himself–that offers forward infinitely responsibility–including the responsibility to and for said signature’s perversion.

The difficulty with Eternal Return is that it effaces itself. It does not show up as a part of the metaphysics of presence. I can’t tell, from Nietzsche’s “I find it necessary to wash my hands,” that he is also making the bold affirmative that understands that one can never fully wash one’s hands. Derrida calls this structure of Eternal Return the “annulus”–it annuls itself by coming into the light, and as such, does not even appear as trace. The “annulus” of Eternal Return is the structure and law of the Signature, of autobiography and authorship, just as much as the “aporetic structure” of the impossible gift is the force “outside” the circle of economics that nonetheless closes the circular economy. Eternal Return cannot be thematized. It is thus that it needs an institution.

It’s unclear why this is. Institutions arise to tell people how to read, in the hopes that people learn to read better. But it’s clear to Derrida that institutions cannot get it right by also thematizing Eternal Return or the annulus of the signature; rather, institutions can themselves embody the structure of the annulus. By providing “closed” pedagogies of reading that mine the (literary, historical, philosophic, &c.) past for the ‘secrets’ of their forms, the institutions of the University guarantee a certain necessary kind of paying attention to the structure of the Signature. However, Derrida argues, there is something more basic that Institutions forget.

This is that the structure of the Signature–not just its interpretation–is also doubled. On the flyleaf after the preface in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche signs his name against the already-absent dead patronymn, and in sight of the living feminine–that body of language who guarantees the return of the name, and who must be “taken care of” in signature. Institutions, Derrida says, forget this–they attempt to turn themselves to the dead tongue of the father instead of to the living language. Institutions demand “right knowing,” but they should really be demanding “right action.” 

Derrida draws up a number of protocols of reading to try to push Institutions as workhorses of the future:

1. Posthumous order: we must consider, in reading any text, that the text may have been written (and especially, published) against the author’s intention. 

2. Ghostly demarcations: We must also pay attention to the markings of genre; to the moments in which intent ironizes itself and shows its contradictions, the vital gap between its possible limits and its impossible desires.

The bigger question, then, us what we should do with a text. What is it that we should do when we read? How is it that revitalization–not only of the Signature itself, as “dead patronymic,” but of culture, of the “living feminine”–the masks to which the name returns the inheritance of the (now-dead) author, can come through pedagogy? Not incidentally, Derrida selects the Nazi’s reading and appropriation of Nietzsche for a case-study. What are we to make of the fact that Nietzsche can be read both ways? That he is irrevocably double, in ways he couldn’t have intended, but in ways, also, which he strangely and prophetically seemed to intend? Is Nietzsche off the hook merely for having written the thing–in short, for having been a bad writer, for having left too much of his work open too the future, for not taking seriously enough the strong authorial ethics demanding that he batten down the hatches, fix all the side nails on that flapping tent of his corpus? Or are the Nazis to blame, for having found in the select idiomatic vocabulary of Nietzsche’s works an entirely other, (unintended?) set of meanings–in short, for having been bad readers, too uncareful of the powerful limitations on dissemination embedded in the corpus they took up?

Derrida’s example is intractable–it binds us in our attempt to make these determinations; importantly, it slips away. Just as the corpus that is biology cannot be fixed–its molecules only temporarily holding the shape that they can, only temporarily pumped through with the microbes and fixtures to ward off the body’s transformation into dirt, water, rust–neither can the corpus that is biography, signature, bolt the door on the particles that make up its configuration. Every signature, every corpus, is always doubled– Nietzsche is both dead and alive, his words both towards the freedom of the state and towards the awful destining of the Führer, open to the winds of unbounded reappropriation and wishing to wash the hands. 

To be taken back up again, forever: the condition of the body, of the body that becomes author, of the body that desires to give itself to itself by the only pact that even resembles that–by giving itself up not to itself, but to the logic of the dead father, to the moving body of the living feminine. Logic of the death knell: a doubleness that cannot be overcome by sublimation, and must be overcome another ay. 

This brings us to a strange passage in “Otobiographies,” which I will recapitulate in full. Derrida begins by asking a rather simple question, which I intimated above–how is it that the Nazis could end up with the exact same words the Nietzsche used (Gehorsamkeit/obedience; Führer), and yet mean something so radically contradictory with what (we think) Nietzsche intended? Derrida says that “…it still remains to be explained how reactive degeneration could still exploit the same language, the same words, the same utterances, the same rallying cries as the active forces to which it stands opposed…” (29). He says, too, that Nietzsche anticipated this question:

“The question that poses itself for us might take this form: Must there not be some powerful utterance-producing machine that programs the movements of the two opposing forces at once, and which couples, conjugates, or marries them in a given set, as life (does) death? (Here, all the difficulty comes down to the determination of such a set, which can be neither simply linguistic, nor simply historic-political, economic, ideological, psycho-phantasmatic, and so on. That is, no regional agency or tribunal has the power to arrest or set the limits on the set, not even that of the ‘last resort’ belonging to philosophy or theory, which remain subsets of this set.) Neither of the two antagonistic forces can break with this powerful programming machine: it is their destination; they draw their points of origin and their resources from it; in it, they exchange utterances that are allowed to pass through the machine and into each other, carried along by family resemblances, however incompatible they may sometimes appear…

The “programming machine” that interests me here does not call only for decipherment but also for transformation–that is, a practical rewriting according to a theory-practice relationship which, if possible, would no longer be part of the program. It is not enough just to say this. Such a transformative rewriting of a vast program–if it were possible–would not be produced in books (I won’t go back over what has so often been said elsewhere about general writing) or through readings, courses, or lectures on Nietzsche’s ritings, or those of Hitler and the Nazi ideologues of prewar times today. Beyond all regional considerations, (historial, politco-economic, ideological, et ctera), Europe and not only Europe, this century and not only this century are at stake. And the stakes include the “present” in which we are, up to a certain point, and in which we take a position or take sides.

All variety of interesting things are happening here, but in deference to the selective logic of my vigor, I’m going to talk about what happens at the end: notably, Derrida tells us the places where the demands of this weird-ass “doubled” machine are not going to be worked out. He tells us that we are at stake–this present, as well as “not only” the present, or this Europe (we are not Europeans!). He modifies the extent to which we are present (or European)–as he will do much more profoundly in “The Time of the King.” More importantly, he tells us that wherever that place is, it is there that we “take up a position or take sides” (30).

The rub?: there is no place that Derrida describes. Or, rather, in the formalized mode of the structural logic of the aporia, the circle without the center, Derrida describes no place. It is not incidental that the word that appears here, when he turns our eyes away from the State and the University as the source of this transformation in readership that might be able to brook doubleness, to think doubleness without resolution, is region. This is the same word that haunts “Choreographies”–there isn’t a place for women. It isn’t so much that asking about the woman’s “place,” as Derrida’s haphazard interviewer does, is the wrong question–it’s just that there’s so much wrong in the form of the question that limits the usefulness of what the answer could get right. In that essay, as we will explore momentarily, Derrida says that the place of the woman, like the place of the gift, and of this sort of hearing that sees double, is atopoi: no place. 

I’ll return in a bit to what this might mean–we’ll need to explore the place of the ear (which ear cannot be shut, as Sigmund-via-Jacques reminds), the continued presence of the State in this essay, and, importantly, how to choose and practice the difference between “listening with small, finely tuned ears” and becoming “all ears for this phonograph dog” of the State (35). 

But, before we part, it’s important to come back to something I’ve (already! always) forgotten, that Derrida brings back home (thanks, Bob) on pp. 35: we are, after all, asking questions of ears. Of listening, of hearing, of interpretation. (cf. a book I just received via Interlibrary Loan). And “the ear does not answer.” 

That looks like closure–fini, the band falls silent. But it’s not enough. We’ve still got some contending to do. In other words:




That the glass would melt in heat,
That the water would freeze in cold,
Shows that this object is merely a state,
One of many, between two poles. So,
In the metaphysical, there are these poles.

Here in the centre stands the glass. Light
Is the lion that comes down to drink. There
And in that state, the glass is a pool.
Ruddy are his eyes and ruddy are his claws
When light comes down to wet his frothy jaws

And in the water winding weeds move round.
And there and in another state--the refractions,
The metaphysica, the plastic parts of poems
Crash in the mind--But, fat Jocundus, worrying
About what stands here in the centre, not the glass,

But in the centre of our lives, this time, this day,
It is a state, this spring among the politicians
Playing cards. In a village of the indigenes,
One would have still to discover. Among the dogs
and dung,
One would continue to contend with one's ideas.
Wallace Stevens.


We've still got to get to omphalos. 

Forgive and Forget; Time for Kings
April 5, 2009, 2:05 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

First Whore: I would like to give my time to the King.

Second Whore: I have already thought this. It cannot be done.

FW: But what is it about my time that so resists the giving? Is my time fixed in its particular activities? That is, when I sew up the sleeve of a coat, or take out the weave of yarn across this silk, is this coat-sleeve time, this yarn-taking time, a time unto itself? Is there no general economy of time, across which I might make reallocations? This portion of time, unwoven from its incidents, or that–could I not take this substratum, this ultimately malleable thing, and make of it a gift for our bright kind?

SW: You are a git, Louisa. Time does not exist as such–not, at least, as you have thought it. Not, at least, in any way that you could think. Time is displaced. It exists in an aporetic paralysis. You may look across to the future in relation to the “now,” or to the past billowing back from it, but this “now” itself–the nun of old metaphysics–is the worst sort of illusion: an illusion that is necessary for us to think, to speak. 

FW: You tell me that this time which I so long to give the king is not only not mine to give, but that it is not? Whence, then, this desire of mine to give? Whence, then, myself, standing firmly in what very much does seem like a now–the metaphysician’s nun of dreams–even if if I am sure of it only in speaking it?

SW: This is precisely it, Louisa. Do you remember how old Zarathustra, having made yet another return up his high mountain, slept all through his great noon? The time of the great noon was the time of the dream, the time of the blink of an eye. In that blink, Zarathustra remembered the before of the dream and the after–he woke in the instant of its beginning, which some strange certainty of its content, its having-happened. But Zarathustra himself slept through the eye of his noon–he did not see it. So too can we never stand so firmly on the pedestal of the now. Your time is not yours to give.

FW: What may I then give, to this king who has so awed me with his glories?

SW: You may not give. But, since you have asked it–since you are already shot through with this illicit desire for giving–you may as well begin again. But be careful to avoid economies.

FW: Economies? Do not economies imply some give, some taken? A gift given and some counter-gift returned? No hortus conclusus but rather a sort of endless zag across time, like the march of the mercantile ships across the spice seas? This is not what I want. I want–my time, transferred from me to the king. I want to remain open to this debt. I want to feel the time that has left me–to live in the space of the having given.

SW: So you too want a gift. There is no simple giving, Louisa. One can only have a gift if the gift defies all economies–if the gift really does travel from one place to some other without looking back, without signaling back useful scribblings of its long journeys as indices that might prove more fruitful to those back at home. A gift must turn away from collaterals of loss. 

FW: So I will give to the king, and think no more of it.

SW: No–thinking it is enough. Thinking it, speaking it, even desiring it as such is enough to bind you back into the circular economy. There is really no escaping it.

FW: So how might I then give freely?

SW: By not thinking it. By forgetting your act of giving.

FW: So I must not only not think my gift, but forget that I have given.

SW: And you must forget this, too.

FW: So. There is a double forgetting.

SW: It is only this double forgetting that guarantees that giving will really fall of the shelf of conscious awareness–that it will disappear entirely. Then, giving becomes a shut eye. Then, it would be safe to give. Safe from all economies.

FW: Where do I find this impossible gift?

SW: Not the impossible gift–to give, impossibly.

FW: It seems, then, that I can make no gift unto the king.

SW: No gift, unless we enter into further economics.

FW: But you have just said that the structure of the economy is denied by the gift–that the gift is the violent interruption of the circular rotation of the economic, of its blind return to itself. You have told me, in some other words, that the gift is that which shows the circularity of economy and all its relentless logic to itself. Why do we look back to economics? Why can we not just make gifts–gifts, regardless of what they disrupt or displace?

SW: You speak from a strange desire, Louisa. And this desire will be important for what we are trying to reach. “Why desire the gift, and why desire to interrupt the circulation of the circle? Why wish to get out of it? Why wish to get through it” (8)? 

FW: You are, I take it, asking for my personal psychological account.

SW: In some ways, yes.

FW: I suppose I wish to flee it because it seems crude–and because I would like to step back from it, the endless giving-taking, to see whether anything might be really given. I would like to believe in a gift without returns.

SW: It is you, Louisa, who returns to yourself in the time of the gift.

FW: What is it that you mean? How is it that I could come back to myself, in giving my time to the king?

SW: Because your gift to the king is your confirmation of yourself as giver. The return and the sending come in the same instant and issue from the same thunderclap. You are always rewarding yourself under the table. The moment that you think it–the moment that you desire, gift, you turn yourself over and turn yourself in to desire for your own self-homecoming.

FW: You paint me as selfish.

SW: No more selfish than any who give. And certainly no more selfish than those who do not–those who live and exchange freely in the marketplace of trade, who know no tune other than “my bread for your rope,” “my fish for your horse.” You are not alone in your guilt–your indebtedness. We stand with all of Phoenicia.

FW: But is it right to admit that? It seems that what I must do is continue to protest: I am not like them. I am no Phoenician, no self-conniving trader. My time to the king. If I give myself back to myself in the process, this is no worry of mine–neither worry nor intention.

SW: We are all Phoenicians. And you should not run from that place. Try not running. “One must, in a certain way, of course, inhabit the circle, turn around in it, live there a feast of thinking, and the gift, the gift of thinking, would be no stranger there” (9).

FW: But you have told me two disparate things: that the gift stands outside the economy, and that the gift, being impossible, cannot help but inhabit the economy, as if indistinguishable from normal economic dealings. Tell me now: is or is not the gift exceptional? Does it stand outside the circle? Or is it implicated in it?

SW: We must remember what Heidegger reminds us–that the gift may exist as a peculiar sort of nodal, a “coiling up or interlacing,” on that outer delimitation of the circle. This, he calls Geflect. We must also be reminded that Geflect, as interruption, is an interruption of the temporal sort.

FW: What do you mean?

SW: Only that, when the gift appears, it is out of time.

FW: You are saying that there is not enough time for the gift?

SW: On the contrary–that the instant of the gift is itself paradoxical, itself structured like Zarathustra’s great dream: it sits in the no-seat of the blink of the eye. There is no “now” for the gift. It denies its instant. 

FW: But how is it that I may still say “I am giving…”?

SW: This is a strange incident, is it not? What is another word for the gift?

FW: Why, cadeau. In English, also, present. To give a present.

SW: Is this not strange? That at precisely the juncture when Zarathustra is sleeping–the impossible now–we get the word, also, for taking space, for setting out in time: the present? We have a word for that. The word is what makes the impossible gift thinkable. 

FW: How is it that we can hold this word? 

linguistic logic and structure of the gift


linguistic possibility of the gift

“There is gift, if there is any, only in what interrupts the system as well as the symbol, in a partition without return and without division, without being-with-self of the gift-counter-gift” (13).

Felt Necessity for the Chorus; Dance Macabre
April 5, 2009, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Truth as feminine

Sexual difference as \”regional difference\” of the ontological

Topologies: problem with the question of women\’s \”place\”

Atope: \”to dance otherwise\”; to challenge the place of past traditions

Politics of \”Negotiation\”: how to bring the \”dance\” in line with the steps of the revolution? 

\”…the complicated relationship of a practical politics to the kinds of analysis that we have been considering (specifically the \’deconstructive\’ analysis implicit in your discussion).\”

Sexual difference as Aufhebung or \”Neutralization\”: oppositional schemes of sexual difference set out to erase sexual difference–

\”One insures phallocentric mastery under the cover of neutralization every time…and such phallocentrism adorns itself now and then, here and there, with an appendix: a certain kind of feminism\” (175).

Some views of neutrality and sexual difference:

(1) Levinas: two strata–level of humanity as the initial space of ethical obligation, not asexual but nondifferentiated. This neutral strata, paradoxically, receives the male marking. Second order is the space of sexual difference.

(2) Heidegger: silent on the matter of sexual difference, yet \”…the pauses coming from his silence on these questions punctuate or create the spacing out of a powerful discourse\” (179). Derrida seems to praise Heidegger, in some ways, for risking so much with his bare discourse of silence. \”Dasein is neither the human being (a thought recalled earlier by Levinas) nor the subject, neither consciousness nor the self [le moi] (whether conscious or unconsious). These are all determinations that are dervied from and occur after the Dasein\” (179). In lectures later, Heidegger disrupts this silence to say that Dasein is definitively neuter: \”…Dasein is neither of the to sexes. But this a-sexuality is not the indifference of empty invalidity, the annuling negativity of an indifferent ontic nothingness…\”

Polysexuality, Polysemy and Multiple signatures: \”…it has always seemed to me that the voice itself had to be divided in order to say that which is given to thought or speech…\” (183). …I have felt the necessity for a chorus, for a choreographic text with polysexual signatures. I felt this every time that a legitimacy of the neuter, the apparently least suspect sexual neutrality of \’phallocentric or gynocentric\’ mastery, threatened to immobilize (in silence), colonize, stop or unilateralize in a subtle or sublime manner what remaisn no doubt irreducibly dissymetrical. 

The \”Sexual Otherwise\”/ double dissymetry: \”I would like to believe in the multiplicity of sexually marked voices\” (184).

Exchange/escape; Economy/exception: \”In a quite rigorous sense, the exchange alone could not suffice either, however, because the desire to escape the combinatory itself, to invent incalculable choreographies, would remain\” (185).

Otobiographies: On (Re-)Reading Nietzsche as Educator
April 5, 2009, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized


Signature: proper names/homonymic marks -vs.- the labyrinthine of the era

Autobiography as a gift to oneself, as gratitude:

“Well, you can see what an impossible protocol this implies for reading, and especially for teaching…” (14)

Signature as date: Topos, anniversary

Dead father/living mother: “the mother who is living on, and who will moreover outsive me long enough to bury me” (16).

“Double origin”: biology, Rätelsform– (1) double; (2) netural

“Logic of the death knell”

“Double provenance”/ second sight

Lebendig als Lebendig: “act correctly rather than know correctly” (22); to treat the living as living; to treat the living feminine as not-a-male

The Future of Our Educational Institution: how to read it? not to neutralize it or clear it? “Indecency is de rigeur in this place”

Protocols of reading:

(1) Not posthumous; interrupted (24)

(Other) “One must allow for all the ways intent ironizes or demarcates itself demarcating the text by leaving on it the mark of genre” (25): reading slowly? taking time? context of the invited lectures on academia to an academia context is an “infraction of the laws of genre and academism” (26).

Destruction: “To forget and destroy the text, but to forget and destroy it through action.” One must prepare the degenerate for rebirth–this is the site of self-overcoming. 

Double loss in degeneration?: “All degeneration dessignates botht he loss of vital and genetic or generous forces, and the loss of … (?)…: the Entartung.”

“Nietzsche corporation”/the State: the sign; the dead father; attempts to pass itself off as the living  mother

Listening, danger of hearing: “listening with small, finely-tuned ears–your ear which is also the ear of the other…” 

The (dissimulating?) umbilical: “Dream this umbilicus: it has you by the ear, umbilical cord instead to the dead father distancing of mouth from ear, all reading and hearing, transcribing…” 

Hermeneutics/politics: reading not as hermeneutics but as political intervention–“the ear is uncanny” (33), it cannot be closed. 

Reappropriation of Nietzsche: Nazi reception, “if one no longer considers only intent” (30), questions of Nietzsche’s politics:

“We are now, I believe, bound to decide. An interpretive decision does not have to draw the line between two intents or political contexts…” (32)



“And if life returns, it will return to the name, but not to the living…” (9).

Dissimulation: “Ich bin der und der…” — system of the philosophical signature (11).

Opacity, A Place To Be; On Difficult Texts

A better title for this would be: the beautiful problem of literary intractability.

Reading Speech and Phenomena, as most people are occasionally wont to do, I can’t help but consider a question that’s been breaking in from elsewhere (namely, from four years of struggling with the momentary and siren-slick break-ins of meaning that come–and come lately, or more often, don’t come at all, but tease within the promise of a faked memory of having-come, promising-to-return–from meditation and bad married like with troubled poems. Cf., Hart Crane’s The Bridge). What on earth are we doing reading difficult texts? I could attempt to answer a thousand-odd questions here, foremost (and most annoying) of which is that perennial, Bloom-esque question about canonization and difficulty, &c &c. Have you heard of Alain Bourdieu? Have you taken him out for tea? (He’s dead.) Have you heard the sociology students complain about him in the halls? (He grows more dead.) Alain, I’m going to leave you alone for now–kudos to your graphs and charts, your ability to distinguish among fine jazz, but I don’t really think what’s at stake in a — my, this — question of literary intractability is really a question of cultural power, insidious capital, or the things that Rockefeller bequeath’d unto the generations. So. I bracket you! (Now please go back to the basement.)

How do we see and get around lacunae in our reading? How, especially, since coming to see these lacunae, in a fairly (unrigorous) Hegelian sense, is the act that is itself the moment of, the process of, overcoming? Seeing our own difficulties is a monument to getting beyond them–once we know them, we’re not there. (Once)(If) we can speak them, we’re carving on a grave–Here my textual difficulties used to be,/ dead for my (surprise!) having come (now!) to see. Easy enough, right? This seems like a simple question of contextual literacy, right? Pay attention and the meaning will come home to you, right? Sleep in your bed and smell like a soldier, right? But does it really work like that? Does meaning, if it returns to you at all, really remember your name? Can you actually sleep with your difficulties, hold their stupid wooden claws at the ferris wheel deck? Or is the closest that we can come the act of burial, the choice of hymns as testament to our knowing them, to what we thought we knew?

Clearly, this is not just a simple question of literacy. (I am lying to you right now. I am lying to you with my rhetoric.) This is not just a simple question of literacy because there are no simple questions of literacy–there are, I would suppose, simple speakings of questions of literacy. There are utterances which simplify, which ‘give clarity.’ But we must remember that they do just that: add on clarity–clarity as supplement, as additive–more like a transparent veil than like a dissolving away. And isn’t what we want the dissolving away?

I’m not lying anymore–what I’m attempting to configure may be fairly familiar: we think that the text ‘knows’ something (something something–a secret substance, a secret message–something…about itself?) that we do not. We think that we are caught up in the interim, knee-deep in the swamps, standing in the vine, distracted by the neighbor’s mare, pulled back to our Uncle’s house because cherubim was a word he used to use. We think it’s us, and not the text, that’s lost in the mire of it. We think it’s us, moreover, who need to get free of it–out from our confusion, the world, the embodiment of our readership, all of those unsightly little traces of our finite specificity, in order to be with the text. It’s like a story my friend once told me, about a book I swore I’d never read (and never have): once in Arabia there was a young girl in a brothel who kept herself pure and bathed with myrhh (and probably birch beer) every night, in preparation for the arrival of her Lord. All of the other whores eventually gave in, and took lesser suitors with bright suits and…well, presence. They were around; whoever she was waiting for obviously wasn’t coming, on account of his always having been not-here-yet. But the young not-whore under the mark of the whore persisted–resisted? endured?–and, eventually, her Lord came. And presumably ravaged her. (Also, I think his name was Jesus, but this part of the story was highly unclear. Perhaps it was because we were both sixteen, and in a car.) Insofar as there is an ethics–some element of responsibility–to the project (who would even call it that? do we dare? with what consequences) of readership, it’s one of the order of the parable: to prepare ourselves, in what Heidegger would call anticipatory resoluteness, for the coming of the unknown God.

The trouble with this expectant-pietistic approach towards reading is that we’re not exactly waiting for whatever it is that’s to come. We’re expecting to better be able to explicate what’s already there. In short, we’re affecting a sort of perfectionist archaeology under the neon lie of futurity. Nobody waits on the text–not like Jeeves waits on the table or Heidegger’s shepherd-watchmen keeps vigilant over the land. If we bow before the text, it’s not to kiss or feel–it’s to scratch.

What is this scratching? What marks it as practice? Most notably, this hermeneutics of scratching manages to both be preemptive and defensive. We keep both eyes closed. As Walker Percy argues in “The Loss of the Creature,” we lose the dogfish for the lab manual. At the price of our own encounter with the text, we enter into an economy of exchange. The boon? Strategies, methods; codes of signification, a fluent recognition of chunks of form and meaning. We get: Strophe! Trochee! Allegory! Slant rhyme! And what we lose are our own eyes–eyes that have already been places, seen things like texts before (and even, I hope, things unlike texts)–eyes that, even if ‘impurely,’ could stand to be up for the task of reading. Thus armed, the text does not reveal itself to us. It sits closed up inside its openness because we dig with tools that order and arrange, that see based on a predetermination of the scope of recognition. We develop a thousand measurements for the shell of the clam–how long would it take us to forget that we could pry it, eat it, break our small feet into it, or drop it back and free?

What drives us out from the garden and into this bear market? A certain fear. But–a fear of what? Surely not of the text, and surely not of our own eyes. What seems to mediate here is instead a certain horizon of expectation–a publicness that makes demands of what is worth seeing and what is not worth seeing. (That’s how we read it, anyway. I’m going to argue that most demands that look like claims of value and worth may well just be descriptive sediments of historical occurrence–how we have read. Not that tradition’s descriptions don’t [leer/glow] with the power of the normative!) To be more explicit: we scratch at texts because we’re taught that we’ll be dumb if we’re not to. We scratch at texts by a shadow power that twins the “anxiety of influence” that Bloom argues holds sway among authorship, and accounts for the coherence (and, not quite sui genersis, but creeping close, its formations) of the literary canon: there exists an anxiety of readership that makes our primal (ontically primal–not ontologically primordial) encounter with the text an encounter with two questions: is this good? and is this how i’m supposed to be doing this? Under the pale of this anxiety, the reader encounters no text: she encounters herself, threatened, desperate for evidence but too terrified to look.

How do we see a text, then? How do we read?

(1) First, a detour: we have to be careful how we (even) ask these questions. I almost wrote–and still want to write–something like the following: How do we really see (the) text? How do we (come to) actually read?

These questions assume a whole lot of presence on the part of the text. As Derrida argues, probably through Freud or experiences with his own faeces, these questions are themselves symptomatic of the anxious disease that still grips the reader. It’s sort of like how John Keats coughed up his lungs–what we think we want is actually what’s killing us.

So we won’t ask those questions. And thus–of course, I mean, this blog has a picture of a bear in a canoe on it–this means we’ll have to dispense with all delusions of mastery or univocity. If we can’t ask about the way to read, or the real way to read, what on earth are we doing? I almost feel that…no, it couldn’t possible be that…: yes, we’re just making shit up. The methods aren’t less clear, so of course I can’t yet tell you if it’s true. Anyway, that’s not my horizon: bottoms-up, let’s just hope this thing is useful. It’s rather long, so it had better be at least as useful as your time. In fact, your time is the usefulness of this exercise. Clap your hands.

(2) Jesus was said to have said something about how “he who loses his soul will gain it.” I don’t have a citation for that, which will either tell you something about what sort of a Religious Person I am or what sort of a scholar I am not, but it’s important: it seems that, if we let go of the Ideal of the Pure Presence of the Textual Object as something Pre-Endowed with a Coherent and Self-Contained Meaning that can be Explicated By the Well-Training Scholar (er, Formalist), we’ve got to let go of something bigger (in the general sense). In order to (begin) read(ing), we must abandon the text.

We must abandon all ideas of what a text looks like and does. We must face it as we’d face death. What do we know about how we face death? What I know about that is that I’ve a whole lot of ridiculous fears and crazy assertions (and a collection of fairly vivid images), none of which connect up in any sort of particularly compelling system, and almost all of which exist in bizarre juxtapositions of contradiction and affect. I see chains and hell, I am a strange vantage from a cloud, I remember Harding’s tomb, or how I was made to dress as a clown for my grandmother, dying; I remember the chipmunk that I buried and dug up three times one spring, because my mother let me. I can’t sort through these notions in any conventionally “productive” way. That is, I can’t make decisions among them, or judge which to adhere to, which to let scare me, which to let stand hopeful in the citadel of my (postmodern) heart–at least not in any conventionally coherent way. That is, to use some Husserl-via-Derrida, there is no immediately available object of experience (my death; O ma-mort!) to fulfill my tentative judgments, to allow me to cast some to the dustheaps and some (for later use) to the broom closet. I’ve got to deal with the mad pick of faith, or with contingency (or aesthetics, maybe–more on that later).

To approach a book like death, then, means to feel the weight of all of our unfulfilled expectations. This isn’t just neutral weight, either–it’s the stammering weight of a thousand demands on us, from us, from elsewhere. When we withhold our inclination to scratch, to-read-as-to-dig, to read as teacher taught, we are the being that confronts those expectations. We gain our subjective readership back when we abstain from reading as such. There is first an ‘I’ that declines; then there is the ‘I’ who might begin to cast off; and through (and only through) this casting off of the heavy husks and holding armors of reading strategy (the most insidious code word ever for “bad gift from the public nowhere”) we might start to read. (Of course, we can’t really give any of that up. But it’s only by engaging that fantastic possibility that we can know the weight of what constrains us, that we can learn to shift it, or even–hold pause, hold pause–to begin to use it. To really use it!)

But that’s just part of it.

Parts of the text will still confound me–me, conscious-of-tradition me, me, the subject suspicious of my own historicity. But we want it that way. This is the specific difference that makes literature literature. Literature offers us a theory of the useless–a sort of post-childhood myth of the holding room for lost objects, for the lost parts of experience, for the differences that ‘bounce’ and seem not to register.

Parts of the text just won’t make sense. Most of these parts may confuse me or bore me–these I’ll weigh in the moment. Parts of the text will break in on me violently–this is how Faulkner moved me before I knew anything about the differences in narrative monologue, or how Joyce took away an entire April when I was fifteen. As Robert Hass once said, “It hardly had to do with her.” What got me in those books was the intractability of the strangeness, the irreducibility particularity and will-to-stick-together of certain persistent phrases: Quentin’s “Oh. Abestos,” his tripping over Dalton’s name (“Dalton Ames Dalton Ames Dalton Shirt Dalton Ames”–another day, we’ll re-read this passage as the breaking-in of the material, but I’m much too hungry and tired, and I’ve already typed James Agee’s name too many times and too superficially this weekend to justify any further violence. Well, of that sort, anyhow–); or Joyce’s “agenbit of inwit” (which, it turned out, meant just that). Poems, too, may mean in all sorts of ways, but the ones that I remember had quivering voices in them: my tenth-grade English teacher’s impassioned bass over the last lines of Keat’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn”–how interpollated, and willfully, I felt in that instant!–or Marilyn Brownstein’s strange treble as she closed her eyes over the cusp of morning and into the final hopes of Ashbery’s “Hop O’ My Thumb.” Affect. Their voices, breaking, broken in on, softened, modified, made strange by the occasion. My body riveted, the trace of the voice in my head longing to speak.

Rhetoric’s got a name for that (I’ll look it up for you)–an utterance, the sole purpose or effect of which is to drive its audience to speak. Boom: now you want to make a sound too. If it’s a good boom, maybe you want to make a sound just like mine. Maybe you want to read my poem–this very one I’ve just read. Maybe you’ll shout it alone in the shower. The so-called “affective theory” of readership has its numerous proponents–in fact, who could really object to what Richard Eldridge, via Houlgate and Stanley Cavell, calls the “sensuous immediacy” of the reading experience as a part of the reading experience we wouldn’t want to forget? Importantly, then, affect is the bearer of memory: I remember Ulysses having been that way, and if I really clear my hopes, and can reclaim that attic, I think that Moby Dick–different, yes, but in the order of the same, strange enough to be a neighbor–might be that way for me, too.

The question about affect, then, concerns its situation: how much does strategy hollow out, or pre-prescribe, our ability to be affected by a text? If there’s some bare wax stratum of how we read–some tabule rasa awaiting Locke’s pen, the realtor’s mark of closing, my name and my education–then won’t the cuneiform of my education and my anxieties come to compete with whatever fire might jump up from that block upon meeting John Updike or Jack Gilbert or William Gass? Are these experiences of “pure affect” every really pure? I mean, is my ability to read fucked up because I’ve read all this criticism? Can I ever get back John Donne without the chiasmus, Dickinson without the slant? Enough to discover–oh, Lord; to re-discover?–the crossings in him, the difference of her rhyme?

Yes, and no. As I’ve said (everybody’s spit in my mouth), we can’t ever get out from our worldliness–from tradition, from our mother’s cooking, from our father’s stubby eyelashes that are glued all over our goddamned pug-nosed faces. There’s going to be a fight anyway, so there may as well be a feasting. What I mean by that is this: literary criticism is important. The act of literary criticism (writing it and reading it), far from inscribing strategy, is actually the ‘dissolving agent’ which saves reading. Actually, I’ve lied again: it does both. It puts us back in the circle of readership, the inevitable hermeneutics of always already looking for and being anxious about something. (Meaning’s like my kindergarten teacher told me about her leprechaun sighting: there it is! Gone around the corner of the building.) And, by being woken up in that circle, by looking at those scores and marks on our little wax blocks of readerly substratum (“after the virgin, before a discourse,” quoth Kristeva), we prepare the ground for the arrival of new affect, for the awakening of our ability to be affected, which has been scored up, marked down, long slumbering under the brighter demands to find metaphor and is that part about the thighs going walking metonymy? Let me say it again, louder: you can’t get it back! You can go home again! But you can’t get it back. It might not be your home. In the case of my home, it is my willow tree; but it is also fifty-five ugly condominiums and streets named after the adult children of the neighbors who betrayed my family in a time of zoning-related crisis. So, I mean, like I said, you can go home again. But you’re not going to get rid of the marks. You’re going to soften them, make them transparent sometimes, as they would have made you transparent before. You’re going to pay attention, to be vigilant. You’re going to have to fight with yourself sometimes, to say, I like this part best, where Olson says “fish fish fish,” and I don’t even care why.

It’s sort of like how Jesus comes into the hearts of the sinners and knocks on the closed doors first. Because, really, where are there any opened doors? Where are we looking, save empty ideality, we when (I) utter this awful deferral: really?

So you’re a reader now. One question remains (again– for later): do you write about it? If you yourself turn the critic that you already are, do you write about it? What do you write about? Do you tell us about Olson and his fish? Do you get them into the open? Do they dry up under the weight of the apparatus? Are they augmented by it? Do you cook them on the fires of your longings, on the spurs of your application of continental hermeneutics? Are they good for that? Are they better than that? Are they fish anymore? Are they beautiful?

But now we’ve got to talk about blind spots–I’ve almost forgotten them three times now, and that’s the only way I’ll remember. (Write it down: about the forgetting.) All of this is well and good: beautiful fish, and the occasional annoyance (acrostic poetry) or bad memory (teaching Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Recuerdo” to seventh-graders for an entire summer, some of whom insisted that “Recuerdo” was a poet who had a whole bunch of interesting stuff to say about New York and her mother).

But most of it isn’t at all. I’d proffer that a whole lot of the average (and even above-average: yes, academia, I am talking at you) reading experience doesn’t register at all. We lose what we don’t understand–we can’t even see it, so how could we register it as loss? All our songs of mourning look towards whatever’s just passed–those scant few agenbits and angels that catch on the lip of our fleeting incomprehension. But most of it we don’t see, and don’t remember. And this, I think, is the more interesting problem with textual difficulty. Am blind, but now: to see?

The trouble with blindness–and we, I, must be careful with this metaphor, since it is only impartially ripped from the real, and both junctures are a wound–is precisely that: one can’t see, one cannot know (insofar as seeing ever constitutes knowing; consult John Berger or Martin Jay on that one) the things one’s not seeing. I mean this in two ways: literary blindness–the regular aporiae of the everyday reading experience–covers over what’s there to see, and also the fact of our own blindness or concealing-ness, which we might otherwise expect to appear relationally, through contradistinction. This becomes even more seamy when we deal with so-called “difficult texts” (Rilke in the German or Crane in the English) because we do still receive affect: not “from” the text, in any transparent or incarnadine way, but from the near side of our blindness–from our frustration

Now, I guess I’ve given it away with that little architectonics of différance in the phone–phone–phone–telephone wires. (Whew, got there!): I’ve sewed you up a strawman. But I’m no worse than most metaphysicians (not that that ever convinced St. Matthew.)(I am, however, marginally better than most highbrow comediennes. I’ll defend that margin.) So, really, truly: we must decide what blindness concerns. Is blindness about the things to which we are blinded, or about the us blindered from the things of our desired, blocked seeing? It seems, here, that we can’t have the one without the other: neither the sight of things or my sighted being become present to me in the moment of my blindness. There’s a boon, though. This blindness is not without knowledge: what returns to me, a battered loot, is the knowledge of my own blindness. Which is really (once more) two separate knowledges: the knowledge of what I want to know, the imagination or ideal construction of what I think I should be seeing; and the blockage. 

Now, you may be starting to see something peculiar: from this, it looks like we may well be able to read texts blind. How’s that? Well–we ignore the blockage, and make due with the strong imagination of what we think we should be seeing. I know this well: I used to suffer from a persistent dream, in which I’d be on my side, in a forest, some yards away from a riverbank. People were always doing something in the river–talking, laughing, yelling. Sometimes terrible things were happening to them. I always had my head turned away, right eye (the riverside eye) closed. I could see–the forest, my hand, perhaps, a rock– and I could hear just about everything that came from the river (the invitations; the cries for help), but I could not, for the life of me, open up that right eye to the river. The sight I had didn’t help me deal with the sound, and the sound just called me to want that blinded-out sight. But I knew the names of the characters. I could eavesdrop well. And I knew that I was in a wood. So I always spent the rest of my dream, lying still and half-blind on the dank leaves, reconstructing the story against the pain of the acknowledgment that I could not participate. (Or fully participate, rather–participate in the way I was imagining, was desiring to imagine; for all I know, I could have been the centerfold, the real heart of the scene).

I tell this story because I think it is also an unexpected antidote. We could read, as before, bracketing off the foundational substratum of our blindness, reducing the movement of the différance that is our (impossible) desire to see texts clearly, to read books purely, to become the body of the virgin hermeneutics, forgetting, willfully, that frustration that troubles us. Or we could read like I was forced to read the riverbank: frustrated, blind but with an eye to what I did see before me, entrenched in the difference between sight and sound, desiring my own intended participation while suspicious of my prostrate involvement. 

Can you hold two balls at once? Have you ever approached a house from two directions at night and failed to see it cohere? Do you remember the narrator’s initial confusion in Bruce Springsteen’s My Father’s House? I ask that you bear with me for a moment, because Heidegger is needed here to clarify an important structural component of this blindness-difficulty, but I’m going to have to split apart from myself (kisses, temporality) to try to do the trick. You’ll notice something about the structure of the blindness described above: it is doubled, split from itself within itself, at the very seat of itself. (So too, for Derrida, is différance itself the very movement of the split origin, the root that roots its identity in difference, its sameness in temporal-spatial discontiguity. Différance lives everywhere, but only in the between. If it could be anything, it would be the voices in the telephone wires–differing, distancing, deferring, delivering.) We can’t see (1) the stuff that we want to see, and we can’t see (2) the “fact” that we cannot see, our “blindness itself.”  In “The Turning,” Heidegger further elaborates the structure of the “Concealed” which is the secret, mysterious realm of Being. Man is usually so concerned with the setting-forth of the demands of the order of science (stellen)–putting the material of the world to human uses for purposes, as could be defended by reasons–that he loses himself in the order of the Unconcealed. In wanting desperately to unconceal, man suddenly encounters only himself–without the Concealed, what else remains for him to order, to explicate? But, Heidegger turns back: here, setting-forth man, technological man, does not really encounter himself everywhere. In fact, quite the contrary: man sees, finds himself nowhere. This is because technological man, in setting stuff forth for purposes, forgets himself–as Heidegger phrases it, he forgets that he, uniquely, is the claimant of being. Man has been chosen by Being to do Being’s work. How can man know what work there is to be done? How can he play the midwife to a Being that is Concealed, and that does not speak his language? Heidegger gives us only this: be vigilant

Later, in his essays on language, Heidegger matches this ocular admonition with the aural: he modifies the “anticipatory resoluteness” of Being and Time to “anticipatory listening.” Man shepherds Being by listening carefully, openly–for whatever comes next, for whatever is to come. (More on this, with some Benjamin and more of my lapsarian-literati nonsense, avenir!) That’s beautiful. That’s true, that’s Good, that’s Just. And that happens all the time! Not. Heidegger’s not shy to point out that man lives and breathes and dies (not consciously, of course) in the slime and muck of his own forgetting. I bring this up because it brings us to completion of the first half of the magic trick (remember that? It was the yellow handkerchief–): forgetting, for Heidegger, also has a double structure. At the end of “The Turning,” he tells us of the double falling-off of awareness of the Concealed as Concealed: 

The coming-to-pass of oblivion not only lets fall from remembrance into concealment; but that falling itself falls simultaneously from remembrance into concealment, which itself also falls away in that falling (Turning, 46).

So it all falls apart–and not just apart, but away. Heidegger’s double falling (perhaps an infinite falling?) strikes me as incomprehensibly sad. It is a warning against a slumber from which we cannot awake–a deafness which learns no other signs, a blindness that does not goes on, ripping up the earth and ravaging the page, as if it were sighted. I once dreamed a dream that fit this sadness–there was simply a single mule, standing, eyes closed. The mule rotted away to dust before my eyes–no blood, no maggots, just dust. I struggle to describe it: it was as if he simply slept into himself. Or sloughed off into himself. Or forgot himself, but heavily. Heavily, because, I think, he was still there, and just too tired, too already fallen in, to take responsibility for that last thing: his body, his rotting, his death. 

What might this–O mule of clay, O time that slows and then eats us–have to do with an ethics of reading? It articulates a fear: mine, Heidegger’s, maybe your own. This is the fear that we cannot be converted. This is the fear that our deaf hunger to listen better will prevent us from hearing. This is the fear that our blindness will make us pretend we are sighted so that we are blinded a second time to what the text might do for us. This is the fear that I’ll run from the parts of Stephen Dedalus’s monologues that I don’t understand; this means that, when my Gadamer comes in the mail, I leave it sitting by my bedside, every day waiting, wanting, everyday cowering in fear of its supposed “difficulty.”

This, you’ll note, is still a provisional approach. I’ve circled around, but cut the tractor across the middle: we’re back to boring aesthetics thesis no. 1: literary criticism is good for us. But–I keep forgetting! Before I forget for good!–I want to carry us back to the hopeful messianic ethics of reading formulation; which we will call, after the miracles of the New Testament, second sight. (I’ve just recalled–much forgetting tonight–that Ricouer looks for a “second naiveté”–I suppose I’m not so clever.) I promised two moments of Heidegger. So too did Heidegger promise some hope: he said that the moment of forgetting, when it becomes really bad (and the text is silent here, so note that I’m improvising)–when the atom bomb comes, or when my death breaks in on me because my elbow has shattered extraordinarily while I was on my most living and ordinary way–calls us by two names: the danger and the saving-power. They go together, structurally, like Heidegger’s ontic and ontologic, or the estranged-loving movements of Derrida’s différance; and they are important for ethical readers: the danger is the saving-power. Working our way out of our blindness–my sound and fury, the spittle of my insignificant, unsignifiable struggles at the site of Absalom, Absalom!–does not require the mediation from some above. Wayne Booth won’t help us; not, at least, until we help ourselves. 

So what do we have in our old-tool kit, ready-at-hand in those moments of being assailed by a text’s difficulty? What about the times when I hate Charles Olson–radically hate him, hate him for his passenger’s lists, hate him for his dumb travails around Gloucester, hate him because he gives me those moments of clarity, I sd, like mountain flowers so rarely–and have, want,  nothing to do with him? I could pretend that it was beautiful. I could try to see it differently. I could pray. I could talk about it. I could make recourse to criticism. 

Of all of these options, only the latter two are “concrete.” The first, I think, happens more often than we would like to think it does; the second, too, but often violently. These first two strategies, I think, are the medium of a whole lot of the comments that get piped up in undergraduate literary classrooms, where expectations of some mysterious but deeply felt obligation to “get it right” (seem to) howl louder than ghosts in the attic. The third, I think, happens least of all. In Biblical scholarship, yes. (It might, after all, do us some good to remember that hermeneutics comes out of Biblical hermeneutics–it was only after some folks made a fuss about and dismissed the primacy of the Bible as an absolutely locked system of signification that angsty folks like Bakhtin and Eagleton and Greenblatt moved on to other fullnesses.) 

How can reading be prayer? First, I want us to look back at all of those possible responses–which I’m sure are only some of the possible responses to these moments of absolute frustration with difficult texts. What do they have in common. As per my (now almost-forgotten; I am constantly rescuing things from the quick-falling sediments!) question, what tools do we have at hand, in the throes of the text, when the text isn’t there? Our frustration. 

I repeat: you, reader. You own your frustration.

And here’s where prayer comes in. It would seem that if you sit in that for awhile–it’s trouble, I know–and meditate on that trouble; if you ask out, with or without address, and love that frustration through the focusing struggle of a prayer or question’s asking; you will get an answer that changes the substratum of the question. You will change your expectations. Perhaps we will all become numinous with patience. We will find that our shovels have changed into our opened ears. 

What all of that means may be mightly “unclear”–and, my friends, perhaps it must be that way. I fought with Heidegger for weeks over this line of solution. He calls it meditative thinking. It is the way of thinking of prayer, of the question. God might live there is God lives still; the poets, too. He sets it apart from calculative thinking. This latter kind of thinking builds factories and drains the swamps, builds fine cities and is Jane Jacobs; the former tends and cultivates, is with the self-presencing of meaning as if the thinker weren’t there at all. Thus, techne is a form of physis in which the watchmen of being–us, Dasein, men, you, you and your hipster running shoes–effaces himself, in love, in partnership, in–necessity. He sinks, like a positive image of my tragic dream mule, into the surety of his claim. He has been chosen. The poet, thus, fades–and helps Being become. 

Now goodness, I’m all creeped out. You’ve gone and turned all objectivist on me. I’ve gone and turned all formalist on you. No, no–we’re still pals. Here’s why: just as the poet fades in and out of the poem, just as our self-conscious subjectivities (our persistent myths of the self-present now, God bless us all and our lies and our time!) are by this season lucid, by this season pale, so too is man-the-shepherd never gone for good. It’s like Rilke says (and I hate this poem; it just happens to be so damned illustrative):

The Archaic Torso of Apollo
Rilke, trans. Stephen Mitchell
We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could 
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast's fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

So: let’s get things straight. You’re still a subject (phew!); you are helping Being do its thing; you are hopeful and skeptical, just like the movement of différance; you are trying to get open, to be awake, to hear the specificity of the text–its difference, its difficulty. You give it your face when it plagues you. It is unknowable other: what do we do with Rilke’s Apollo, with brilliance or marble or fur? And what do we do with the fact that, from that, we’ve received this directive?:

You must change your life.

I suppose that we do. We try. Letting texts change us–letting their difficulties be beautiful and frustrating, letting them break in on us–requires an open comportment. Although this open comportment–the open ear of tolerant readership, which sounds alot less like trumpets and strident than ethical reading; but I think the soft underbelly of justice is very important–demands a future-orientation, a smile for future struggle (and it will come), one can’t “get” open by struggling into it. I think Heidegger’s right here–at least for reading: getting open may well look like a “letting go,” a breath out, a letting being be. Does that mean that we must abandon all rigor when we read? No. That we must conflate our precise practices with the structure of the koan, the attitude (but not “logic”) of “beginner’s mind”? Yes. That too. Both and. 

If we could only get open. My friend Liza wrote that in a wonderful poem about a trip in a car with her father. It’s funny what we remember from poetry. That seems about right. It’s a little thing, and it’s everything. Or, Jack Gilbert on the devil: 

For the Devil is commissioned
to harm, to keelhaul us with loss, with knowledge
of how all things splendid are disfigured by small
and small. 

But saved there, too. Paying attention. To details. Learning the word that you hear that you can’t say. It took me two months in the classroom to realize that Tschüss was just that. There are other words that I have carried for years–sometimes mistaking them, sometimes making the other mistake of carrying them sleeping, of sleeping when they are so awake and full of the fragile spice of other places. Or was it me who was fragile? Who must be afraid of the fragility of difference? The reader, or the text? Poems–novels too, probably–get their form, their book, by a miracle. That difference is sedimented. It’s not going anywhere. It’s probably not talking straight, either. But this is OK–and important for an ethics of readership. Because an ethics of readership, one in which we’ve concomitantly given up and been given our shovels for ears, is more or less an ethics of preparation. As in, get out the brooms and sweep the temple porches. As in, read as much as you can, listen to as much as you can, because there are all sorts of differences. As in: pay enough attention so that you can be arrested by the idiom, so that you can repeat it in justice or keep it as its secret-need demands.

“Make every moment the straight gate through which the Messiah can enter.” A professor of mine always said that. He attributed it to Derrida, but I think it really comes from somewhere else. Someone Derrida read, or talked to. I always blanched at this mistake; but I now wonderful if it was not intentional. Even if not intentional, it seems somehow still (yet) necessary. 

So reading: how do we do it? Is it too mystical to say that the text has a strange grace? A grace that it holds tightly, that it bestows, not as a mica its shards, but like a glow that reduplicates. The thing about grace (I’ve been told) is that you can’t work for it: it comes over you. It assails you. But, not entirely askance, we can work for one other thing that helps for grace. We can do this by acknowledging that we’re working within it: patience, that responsibility that hones our waiting. 

And if the text does not come? Does not throw up its full meaning? This is beginning to sound more and more like a primer for the taming of wild animals. The thing is, they’re always running away. You are going to be approaching a fleeing object. What you will be possessing will not be the woman in the next room–maybe you will be in the room, and she outside without you. Desire is different than getting. Of course you can’t have it to keep. Look at your body. Look at what’s left of Plato. The intractability of the literary is not the closed door of the house of meaning. That strange and drawing sign–Hass’s blackberry, Ashbery’s Undine, the “plastic parts of poems” that cannot be reduced–it is not a wreath on the door. 

But you’re outside? The poem, then, has evicted you from your house of meaning? Look up. Derrida, via Benjamin, speaks of the structure of the “weak messianic”–this is to prepare the tomb for the king who has fled for the return of the unknown king, who may be the same, who may be iterated differently, who may yet come, who may defer infinitely in coming.

But this preparation is itself a way. We have forgotten the Sumerian votaries–those painted without eyelids. We may never know “who squired the glacier woman down the sky.” But in waiting for that to come we make ready our ears and eyes in the present. In waiting, hoping, listening, are we there? Are we (finally) ready to read?