Archives de Catégorie: Zsuzsa Baross

Zsuzsa Baross est professeur au Programme d’études culturelles de l’Université Trent (Peterborough, Ontario).

Annonce d’une proposition de séminaire (printemps 2013) – Il y a du rapport sexuel: les « corps » de Jean-Luc Nancy et de Claire Denis

Par Zsuzsa Baross | Université Trent

Résumé

Le séminaire mettra en scène une rencontre qui a déjà eu lieu, plus d’une fois, dans le cinéma de Claire Denis et dans les textes de Jean-Luc Nancy. Irréductible aux influences mutuelles ou aux gestes réciproques (L’intrus de Denis et plusieurs textes de Nancy), la rencontre en question – subtile, presque imperceptible, et dans des œuvres elles-mêmes non-thématisée – se passe entre des corps de provenance radicalement différente. L’un est une invention cinématographique, l’autre, une création textuelle.

Le « corpus » qui « vient à la présence » dans l’écriture de Nancy y exerce une fonction extraordinaire pour une philosophie qui souhaite parler du « sens » comme ce qui vient avant le sens (la signification) ou est « sans sens ». Ce n’est pas peut-être par hasard si c’est son écriture sur l’art et l’image qui attribue à ce corps une fonction qui n’est autre que la création d’un « monde ».

Sur l’écran de Claire Denis (Beau Travail, 35 rhums), le corps se montre d’une façon tout autant extraordinaire : il est toujours déjà érotisé. Du moment où il apparaît, il respire (« inspire » et « expire ») quelque chose d’autre, quelque chose d’antérieur à ce que la psychanalyse appelle « le désir ».

Le séminaire se demandera : Comment ces deux corps – celui de la philosophie et celui du cinéma – viennent à partager une affinité profonde, malgré leurs différences? Est-ce que cette affinité peut être pensée dans le sens d’un autre thème (ou sens) chez Nancy, celui du toucher, qui repose précisément sur la différence? Ne lui a-t-on pas donné une expression visuelle, une actualisation, en effet, avec l’œuvre visuelle de Simon Hantai dans laquelle les deux écritures (celle de Nancy et celle de Derrida) se touchent l’une l’autre, littéralement? Cette affinité n’exprime-t-elle pas le « rapport sexuel » dans le sens où Nancy le définit : « Le sexuel n’est pas un prédicat, puisqu’il n’est lui-même pas plus une substance ou une chose que le rapport… Le sexuel est sa propre distinction. »

Le « corps » est une source d’obsessions (infinies mais) différentes pour la philosophie et le cinéma.

Dans le cinéma, où le corps ne peut pas ne pas apparaître, où il est exposé et exhibé, cette obsession apparaît d’emblée, avec Georges Méliès, ou même avant lui, avec les études du mouvement pré-cinématique d’Eadweard Muybridge. En même temps, reflétant cette même fascination du côté de la théorie du cinéma, le « corps cinématique » devient un motif persistant dans la critique, même si ce motif passe à travers une série de mutations, de la critique psychanalytique (le corps comme écran ou fétiche sur lequel est projeté le désir comme manque et comme angoisse de la castration) aux moments deleuziens (le corps sans organes), aux analyses poststructuralistes, avec le cinéma expérimental, du corps pris dans le mouvement de sa propre disparition.

Pour la philosophie, malgré le mépris de la métaphysique et la méfiance du cogito, tout commence effectivement avec le corps. (« Est-ce que tout n’a pas commencé par et comme un corps exposé », comme Jean-Luc Nancy lui-même le demande, « Socrate se grattant la jambe dans sa prison – et l’amant du Phèdre dont le désir hérisse furieusement les plumes? ».)

Si pour Nancy la philosophie commence avec le corps, ce n’est pas parce que le corps est l’origine, le fond originaire, ou la fondation, même si, d’un seul geste de la main, il lui est accordé le privilège de donner naissance au « monde », au « sujet » et à l’« art » tout à la fois (« Peinture dans la grotte »). Ni origine ni fondation, ni même le commencement du commencement, le corps qui surgit du texte, le corps que l’écriture de Nancy fait surgir (car ce n’est pas une question de représentation mais, comme le titre de la collection des essais en anglais l’annonce, il s’agit de donner « birth to presence ») n’est pas un objet identique à lui-même, fermé sur lui-même. C’est la blessure, l’ouverture  au cœur du dedans. Chacun de ses orifices —  « bouche, oreille, narine, anus, sexe, œil » – est une « voie d’accès » à du dehors : « le hors du souffle, celui du désir, celui de l’excrément, celui de la parole, celui des sensations de toutes sortes ».

Cette non-fermeture, cet espacement et cette suspension de la continuité – qui n’est pas de l’ordre d’un manque ou d’une négativité, mais d’un hiatus, d’un intervalle créatif (de la différentiation et de la pluralisation) au cœur du même – définissent le locus de l’obsession de Nancy en ce qui concerne le corps. Non pas un objet, mais un champ actif – un écart du soi (même) de soi (même) –, cela donne naissance à un ordre de réalité que Nancy appelle le « sens sans sens ». Sans sens: hétérogène avec du sens, de la signification, de la dénomination, dont ses principales modalités sont le toucher et le tomber de sommeil. (Levinas demande quelque part qui ou qu’est-ce qui en moi/près de moi ne peut pas tomber de sommeil?) Nancy écrira la cartographie de ce « réel », détachant cette couche précaire de chaque « sans sens » de sa colonisation par le sens, par la signification, par la dénomination : l’écriture libère la voix de la parole, la sonorité du langage, le timbre du son, l’écoute de la compréhension, la monstration de la représentation, le poids de la pensée de la pensée elle-même…

Quand on cherche en bibliothèque les livres de Jean-Luc Nancy sur/touchant le sujet du corps, la Library of Congress Catalogue nous renvoie à plusieurs étages différents, et sur ces étages, à plusieurs sections différentes : celle qui abrite Corpus, À l’écoute, 58 indices sur le corps correspond à la conception du bibliothécaire sur le corps comme objet d’étude (contre l’exigence du corps lui-même : « ne pas parler de lui mais lui parler et parler à même lui ou le laisser parler »). La section « métaphysique » contient les œuvres proprement philosophiques (curieusement, on y trouve Tombe de sommeil, mais pas Le sens du monde), viennent ensuite les livres dits « esthétiques » (Atlan, Noli me tangere, Visitation). Cette dispersion dans l’espace classificatoire n’est pas le signe d’une pensée dispersée, capricieuse ou agitée qui sauterait d’un sujet à l’autre. Au contraire, elle est la marque d’une profonde cohérence qui échappe à la pensée, voire à la « théorie du monde », constituée par la classification de bibliothèque.

Le corps est étendu, comme la psyché chez Freud est étendue, il s’étend sur toute l’écriture de Nancy. On pourrait être tenté de dire que le corps est central à sa philosophie, sauf que, comme le corps lui-même, elle ne possède pas de centre. L’écriture s’étend, avec une patience et une passion infinies, elle suit, sur des plans hétérogènes et discontinus, le passage du « sens sans sens » : le toucher, l’écoute, la voix, le tomber de sommeil, le rire, le poids de la pensée, d’une part, et de l’autre, le passage du sens lui-même lorsqu’il est renvoyé à lui-même comme altérité : « Dans un sens – mais dans quel sens – le sens est touchant. »

Le cinéma de Claire Denis, plus que tout autre, est un cinéma des « sensations », mais pas dans le même sens que Deleuze en définissait le concept : un effet pur qui survit à l’expérience. Si le cinéma de Godard est « une forme qui pense », alors le cinéma de Denis est plus proche à la définition que donnait Artaud de ce que peut faire le cinéma. Ce qui apparaît sur l’écran de Denis, ou plutôt ce que son cinéma fait apparaître (car on ne doit pas oublier la fonction écran, qui est un performatif : non pas une re-présentation, mais une manière de donner naissance à la présence), c’est l’« épiderme » de la réalité, la peau du monde, du monde sensuel, qui surgit avant sa colonisation par le sens (signification), avant que le regard habituel et distrait (Bazin) n’en ait neutralisé sa force. Le corps qui habite et circule dans ce monde est toujours déjà érotisé – en vertu de son être, d’être un « corps ». Du moment où il apparaît (par exemple, l’homme d’âge moyen debout à côté d’une voie de chemin de fer dans la scène d’ouverture de 35 rhums), il respire (il « inspire » et « expire ») quelque chose d’autre, quelque chose d’antérieur à ce que la psychanalyse appelle « le désir ». Cet érotisme est un excès plutôt qu’un manque, il n’a pas besoin d’altérité, il n’est pas (encore) inscrit dans l’économie libidinale du désir de l’autre, de l’objet du désir de l’autre. C’est-à-dire que le cinéma de Denis renonce au langage et à l’appareil narratif habituel qui permettent au cinéma de devenir « pornographique », d’interpoler  le spectateur dans les circuits du désir qu’il génère (ci-inclus le désir pour le cinéma lui-même) et qui traverse le corps du spectateur. Dans la mesure où le film est lui-même un corp(u)s – une « île », dira Saak Chakali, un des intervenants du séminaire, dans un essai éloquent –, il est agencé par des moyens complètement différents.

Comme Nancy l’observe à propos du film L’intrus – l’adoption plutôt que l’adaptation de son livre au film du même titre –, il y a « un système complexe et délicat des correspondances, des inspirations, ou des contagions » entre sa propre écriture et le cinéma de Denis. Et pourtant, le sens de la sensualité qui envahit et irrigue le cinéma de Denis n’est pas continu avec le « sens » qui vient du « corpus » (écriture) de Nancy. Le sens de deux « sens » n’occupent pas la même position sur le spectre sémantique. Ils sont discontinus, irréductiblement hétérogènes, mais non sans liens.

Le séminaire explorera cette « relation dans la différence » en quatre séances ou mouvements (à prendre également dans le sens musical du terme). La première prendra la forme d’un dialogue entre Jean-Luc Nancy et Claire Denis, elle sera suivie par des présentations et des interventions de la théoricienne de la culture et responsable du séminaire Zsuzsa Baross, le philosophe Peter Szendy, le critique de cinéma Saad Chalaki et le philosophe Denis Viennet.

***

Abstract

The seminar, whose title I borrow from a text of Jean-Luc Nancy, will re-stage the encounter Nancy-Denis / Denis-Nancy as an encounter that has already taken place, more than once, in the cinema of Claire Denis and in the texts of Jean-Luc Nancy. The concern, however, lies not with mutual influences or with the reciprocal and affectionate interpretations each figure offers of the work or corpus of the other, in L’Intrus of Denis, for example, and in several texts on the work of Denis by Nancy.

The encounter in question is takes place between bodies.

When I speak of “corps” or corpus, it is not only with reference to the text by Nancy that carries this same title; it is also with regard to the “body” made present –“given birth to presence”? — in the writings of Nancy, where it performs an extraordinary function for a philosophy that wishes to speak of “sense” as coming before sense (meaning) or is “sans sens.” Perhaps not by accident, the most striking example for this attempt is on the subject of the image. In “Painting in the Grotto,” the hand is assigned no lesser a function than the creation of the “world.” (“The [drawing] hand opens a distance that suspends the continuity and the cohesion of the universe in order to open up a world” ). Of course, such founding or originary act (“‘art’ is there in its entirety”) is inseparable from the other unique gift of the body: “touch” – a sharing that is unshareable and invisible, a sense that comes before any sense (meaning).

The “body,” on the other hand, makes an equally extraordinary but utterly different appearance in the films of Claire Denis. In Beau Travail, in 35 Rhums, and to a lesser extent in the last film, White Material: the body is always already eroticized, by virtue of its existence, or rather, by virtue of its appearance on the screen. For one should not forget the screen function here, which is the work or performative accomplishment of Denis’ cinema. From the moment it appears (for example, the middle aged man standing next to the railways tracks in the opening scene of 35 Rhums), it breathes (“inspires” and “expires”) something other, something older than what psychoanalysis calls “desire.”

Seminar will ask: how these two bodies — the one, philosophical; the other, cinematic – come to share a profound affinity, despite their differences? Can this affinity perhaps be thought in the sense of another theme (or sense) in Nancy, that of Touch, which is predicated precisely on difference? Has it not been given a visual expression or, indeed, actualized in Simon Hantai’s graphic works where the two handwritings (Nancy’s and Derrida’s) literally touch one another? Is this affinity not an expression of the “rapport sexuel” in the sense that Nancy defines it in the text of eponymous title: “le sexuel n’est pas un prédicat, puisqu’il n’est lui-même pas plus une substance ou une chose que le rapport … Le sexuel est sa propre distinction” (27).

The body is the source of (infinite but) different obsessions for philosophy and the cinema.  In the cinema, where the body cannot not appear, where it is both exhibited and exposed, the obsession appears right away. With Meliès, or even before that, with the pre-cinematic motion studies of Muybridge.  At the same time, mirroring this same fascination on the side of film theory, the “cinematic  body”  is a persistent motif in critical writing, even if it passes through a series of mutations, from a psychoanalytic critique (the body as screen or fetish onto which desire as lack and the fear of castration is projected ) to  Deleuzian  moments ( body without organs), to poststructuralist analyses of  the body caught in the movement of its disappearance in experimental cinema.

For philosophy, despite the contempt of metaphysics and mistrust by the cogito, everything begins there, with the body. (Est-ce que tout n’a pas commencé  par et comme un corps  exposé, as JLN  himself asks : Socrate se grattant  la jambe dans sa prison, et l’amant du Phèdre dont le désire hérisse furieusement les plumes ? [Entretient, JCM])

If for Nancy, philosophy begins with the body, it is not because the body is origin, originary ground, or foundation (even if, in a single geste of the hand, it is granted the privilege of giving birth to “world,” “subject” and “art” all at once (“Peinture dans le grotto”).  Neither origin, nor foundation, not even the beginning of the beginning, the body that surges forth in the text, for it is not a question of representation but, as the title of a collection of essays in English says, of giving “birth to presence,” is not the self-same object, identical with itself, enclosed upon itself.  It is a wound, a tear, opening to an outside at the heart of the inside. Each of its orifices – “bouche, oreille,  narine,  anus,  sexe,  œil » — is a « voie d’accès » to an outside : “le hors du souffle,  celui  du désire, celui d’excrément,  celui de parole, celui des sensations de toute sortes.”

This non-fermeture, espacement, suspension of continuity—which is not a lack or negativity, but a hiatus, a creative interval (of differentiation and pluralization) at the heart of the same – defines the locus of Nancy’s obsession with regard to the body.  Not an object but an active filed – a departure (un écart) of the self (same) from self (same) – it gives birth to an order of reality that Nancy calls the “sens sans sens.  Sans sens:  heterogeneous with meaning, signification, naming. Le touché and Tombe de sommeil (text and experience) are its principal modalities. (Levinas asks somewhere, who or what is it in me/next to me that cannot fall asleep?)  Nancy will write the cartography of this “real”; peeling off the precarious layer of each “sans sens”  from its colonization by sense, signification, naming,  the writing sets free voice from parole, sonority from language, timbre from sound, hearing from understanding, monstration from representation, the weight of thought from thought itself….

When one searches the library for the books of JLN on / touching the subject of the body, the Library of Congress Catalogue sends one to several different floors and on those floors to several different  sections:  the one holding Corpus, A L’ecoute, 59 Indexes sur le corps corresponds to the librarian’s conception of the body as an object of study (against the exigence of the body itself: “de ne pas parler de lui, mais lui parler et parler a meme lui on laisse le parler” [Entretien , JC M) ; in the “metaphysical” section, the works deemed properly philosophical (curiously, Tombe de sommeil  but not  Le sense du monde),  then  Atlan, Noli me tangere, Visitation, among books on aesthetics. This dispersion in classificatory space is not the sign of a dispersed, capricious or restless thought that jumps form subject to subject.  On the contrary, it is the mark of a profound coherence that escapes the thought or indeed the “theory of the world” that the library classification is.

The body extends, as Freud psyche extends [étendu], spreads all over Nancy’s writing; one might be tempted to say that it is central to his philosophy, except that, like the body itself, it has no center. It spreads out, with infinite patience and passion it tracks –on heterogeneous, discontinuous planes – the passage of the “sens san sens”:  touch, listening, voice, falling asleep, the weight of thought, on the one hand, and on the other, the passage of sense itself as it is returned to itself as other:  “in a sense – but in what sense – sense is touching.”

The cinema of Claire Denis, more than any other, is the cinema of sensations, albeit not exactly in the same sense as Deleuze defined the term:  a pure effect that survives the experience. If the cinema of Godard is a form that thinks (une forme qui pense), then Denis’ cinema is closest to Artaud’s definition of what the cinema can do. What appears on her screen, or rather what her cinema makes appear (for one should not forget the screen function, which is a performative: not a re-presentation, but a form of giving birth to presence) is the “epidermis” of reality, the skin of the world, of a sensuous world, which is made to appear, surges forth, before it would be colonized by meaning (sens/ signification), before the habitual, distracted regard (Bazin) would have neutralized its force. The body that inhabits and circulates in this world is always already eroticized. By virtue of its being, of being “body.” From the moment it appears (for example, the middle aged man standing next to the railways tracks in the opening scene of 35 Rhums), it breathes (“inspires” and “exhales”) something other, something older than what psychoanalysis calls “desire.” This eroticism is an excess rather than lack, it needs no other, it is not (yet) inscribed in the libidinal economy of the desire of the other, of the object of the desire of the other.  In other words, the cinema of Denis dispenses with the habitual language and narrative apparatus that permit the cinema to become “pornographic,” to interpolate the spectator into the circuits of desire it generates (including the desire for the cinema, and its lure) pass through the spectator’s body.  In so far as the film is itself a corpus and a corps – an “island,” says in an eloquent essay one of the seminar’s intervenants, Saak Chakali – it is assembled by wholly other means.

As Nancy himself observes apropos the film L’Intrus, an adoption rather than adaptation of his book of eponymous title, there is a “un system complex et délicat des correspondences, des inspirations, ou des contagions” between the cinema of Denis and his writing. And yet, “sens” in the corpus of Nancy  is not continuous with,  it occupies a different position on the semantic spectrum than the sense of sensuousness that invades and irrigates  Denis’ cinema. Discontinuous, irreducibly heterogeneous, and yet not without a relation.

The seminar will take upon itself explore this “relation in difference” in four sessions or movements (also in the musical sense of the term), the first of which will take the form of a dialogue between Jean- Luc Nancy and Claire Denis, to be followed by presentations and interventions by the cultural theorist Zsuzsa Baross, the convener of the seminar, the philosopher Peter Szendy, the film critic and theorist Saad Chalaki.

***

Bibliographie sélective

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Tombe de sommeil, Galilée, 2007

__________. Corpus, Métailié, 2006

__________. 58 indices sur le corps, Nota Bene, 2004

__________. À l’écoute, Galilée, 2002

__________. L’Intrus, Galilée, 2000

__________. « L’Intrus selon Claire Denis », <Remue.net/spip.php?article679>.

__________. « Areligion », Vacarme, 2001

__________. « Peinture dans la grotte », Les Muses, Galilée, 1994

__________. «Le rire, présence », Une pensée finie, Galilée, 1990

__________. « Un entretien sur le corps » avec Jean-Clet Martin, jeancletmartin.blog.fr

__________. « La blessure, la cicatrice», remue-net/spip.php

Chakali, Saad, « À corps ouvert(s) », Les Cahiers du Cinéma, 2004

Filmographie

Denis, Claire. J’ai pas sommeil, Arena Films, 110 min, 1994.

__________. Nénette et Boni, 103 min, 1996.

__________. Beau travail, 90 min, 1999.

__________. Trouble Every Day, 101 min, 2001.

__________. L’Intrus, 130 min, 2004.

__________. 35 rhums, 100 min, 2008.

__________. White Material, 106 min, 2009.

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On the task of the translator: Postscript to a review

By Zsuzsa Baross | this article is available in pdf

Preface

This polemic piece was occasioned by the review I had been asked to write of the first volume of Julia Kristeva’s work on Hannah Arendt, Le Génie féminin. When I began to work on the text in Paris I had access only to the French edition, and only upon my return to Toronto did I begin to look at the English translation. The text below is the result of this encounter. It was rejected by several journals at the time, including Critical Inquiry, Theory and Event, International Studies in Philosophy… even by a journal, whose name I no longer recall, dedicated to translation issues. As the major part of the text is a factual documentation of a long series of gross errors in the translation of a major author, and by consequence, of the publisher’s and editor’s negligence, I cannot assume that the reason for the refusal lied in the quality of the writing.

I am grateful for Trahir for allowing the text to appear at last and commend its editors for bringing attention to an issue that is symptomatic of the general malaise ailing our academia, today as much as it did almost a decade ago. [This article is available in pdf.]

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Letter to a young author, Or The Uses and the Abuses of Philosophy for Life

By Zsuzsa Baross | this text is also available in pdf

It is not without trepidation that I begin writing this letter, fearing that its lessons – for it must be about lessons of some sort, yours and mine – will be not be heard well or will be misread.

Let me begin with your lesson, or perhaps reminder would be better term for what your writing showed me as missing, since long, from so many text by peers, colleagues, and certainly by many of my students. Passion and energy are again not the most accurate words, although your writing is driven by both; they have been used up and have become clichés of praise precisely for weak, obligatory, dutiful writings. I should rather say that what in your text reminds me of youth – in the best sense, as a lived experience – is the act of writing itself, which gives expression and comes as response to something irresistible, is carried by an exuberance, and – yes – by a glorious arrogance.

I do not fault your piece for the latter and would hope that learning of one’s ignorance need not necessarily dull arrogance, one’s impatience with banal stupidity.

I’m reminded of a magnificent little piece in Deleuze épars. Approches et portraits (Hermann Éditeurs, 2005): Raymond Bellour is dreaming of Deleuze. In an amphitheater, Deleuze listens to someone defending her dissertation. She says odd things of Bergson. Suddenly, Deleuze grabs the microphone and exclaims in rage: “I wrote five books about Spinoza and I cannot let such things be said.” In a progressive furor he falls on his back to the floor. The image reminds the dreamer of Kafka’s overturned insect in Metamorphosis. I cannot tell you how often I felt the irresistible need to imitate this scene and express my impotent rage with legs and arms in the air rather than with words as does Kafka’s Gregory Samsa.

Although your piece is full of what must be considered as reductive misreadings, too fast formulations, not once did I feel to urge to repeat the scene described above.

So let me come to my lesson, which would have to be about the uses of philosophy for life. Or simply what philosophy is good for. I have mentioned your arrogance. On the one hand, it is an admirable quality: the geste of valuation/revaluation (of Nietzsche). On the other hand, it holds the danger of being simply a vehicle for judgment, for sitting in judgment – over life, the masses, society, the present. Doubtless, you remember how fondly Deleuze cites Artaud: “To have done with the Judgment of God.”

So what philosophy is not good for is to change the world, to give expression to one’s chagrin about the world. The philosophy of Deleuze especially does not address itself to “errors” of society, it does not legislate what desire is or is not, what life is or is not. It does not address itself to what is. The creation of concepts is a different sort of undertaking. For a concept is or corresponds with a possible world. Which is why it is so difficult to create one. It requires the act of creating a world.

So what does the concept say? It simply says, to think desire not as psychoanalysis does, as a lack, requires not another definition but a concept with the power to conjure up another world; to think life as not my life, but as that which passes through me, is to give life to another life. It is not the philosopher who judges life, it is rather life that judges itself, tastes itself. But letting this happen is not an easy task.

Zsuzsa Baross

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The “Bastards” of Deleuze

By Zsuzsa Baross * | also available in pdf

The ironic reference to illegitimacy in the title is not an invitation for a renewed maieutics to judge whether or which of the “several Deleuzes” is/are legitimate offspring(s) of the master’s work, deserving life. The bastardy of the master’s own creations, his Spinoza, Nietzsche, Leibniz, and so on, casts doubt precisely on the legitimacy of any such enterprise. Instead of passing judgment, I will try to develop in three steps the meaning of another question: “what does it mean to be ‘Deleuzian’”?

First, I cite an exchange with René Schérer, a colleague and friend of Deleuze at Paris VIII, and certainly a reader of his work. Returning from a conference in Latin America, infected by the enthusiasm of “disciples,” “deleuziens inconditionnels” (both are Schérer’s terms), Schérer writes to G. D.: “nous deleuziens,” to which Deleuze replies: “je ne crois pas que tu sois ‘deleuzien,’ mais, en revanche, que nous sommes amis, donc dans cet état d’entente préalable, ou, encore mieux, dans cette hospitalité.”[1]

Now, we know that “hospitality” is a concern close to Schérer. He wrote in praise of hospitality (éloge de l’hospitalité)[2]. But as we develop the meaning of “Deleuzian,” we will have to ask what unique inflection Deleuze himself gives to this term “hospitality” as his preferred alternative, not only to the “unconditional” or the “zealotry” of whose danger in the future the ghost of the master, Bergson, writing from one ghost to another, so presciently warns him in his third and last “letter,” penned by – or was it dictated to? – a disciple of Bergson.[3] As one suspects, in fact, knows, Deleuze would also object to the title “disciple,” whether in relation to Bergson or Schérer, a precursor, a contemporary, or a successor.

My second step takes the form of another question: how are we to live, work, and write in a desert time (“traverser un désert ce n’est pas grand-chose, ce n’est pas grave, ce qui est terrible c’est naître dedans, c’est grandir dans un désert”[4])? Or, to ask a related question, or the same question with a different inflection, this time borrowing from Badiou, who himself adopts a phrase of Frederick Worms: how does one live/write/work after the “‘fort’ moment philosophique” of the ’60s and the ’80s (this is Badiou’s dating) – that is, after the disappearance (disparition) of the great generation – Blanchot, Deleuze, Althusser, Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, Lacan, and the list is long – whose “capital” works, now our heritage, destabilized the field constituted by modern thought, and with it, every concept of tradition, legacy, and heritage?

To be sure, the “desert” does not mean the drying up of works and words[5]. On the contrary, there is great industriousness, an industry (in every sense of this word), a feverish but artificial and excessive productivity – the cult, the fetish of productivity[6]. The scene of writing is one of uninhibited proliferation, as if the rules regulating the production of discourse defined by Foucault in his “discourse on language” were suspended; as if precisely the rarefying functions were allowed to lapse in the absence of the vigilance exercised by those whom Cixous called “les incorruptibles.”[7] The condition of the desert applies (“you do not notice that what you do not know about is not there,” “quand les choses disparaissent, personne ne s’en aperçoit, quand quelque chose disparait, ça ne manque pas”[8]) because production, like the ashes of time, covers over everything.

This proliferation takes different forms on the two sides of the Atlantic. In Badiou’s diagnosis of the French predicament, philosophy is everywhere. There is no space here to develop either the French situation (which may fill Badiou’s “American friends” on the other side of the Atlantic with envy) or the very different form the desert takes on the North American continent. But whatever the form, the very real problem this excess, this fever, “le mal de production” to paraphrase Derrida on archive fever, poses is how to resist this powerful productive machine, which, like capital, turns everything into its own nature, appropriates any and every gesture of resistance, every “writing-against” as product to its own machinery. (A no longer hypothetical case in point is this very writing, destined to be counted as proof of my worthwhile productivity. Needless to say, those who will count it as such will not have read it and, even if they should, would not change either their habit or method of counting because of it.)

To be sure my text here is not the resistance I speak of or an example of counter-productivity, for resistance cannot be silence, the withholding of writing. I confess that I do not know what forms either may take or whether I am capable of it (I doubt it). I would however advance, as hypothesis, that it would need to affirm – or indeed, perform, for resistance is also production, although not of a thing but of an effect – the “Yes” that closes Badiou’s “Introduction” to his Second Manifeste pour la philosophie: “Oui, la philosophie peut être ce que vous désirez qu’elle soit,”[9] and that such a philosophy would be, would be still, a response to the ultimate question, which I have recently and posthumously posed to two great actors of the “fort moment,” Derrida and Deleuze[10]: “qu’est-ce qu’une vie digne de ce nom?” What is a life worthy of this name?[11]

My third step returns to where I was planning to begin a year ago at the Cardiff conference[12], and I do not think that the condition of our speech situation have changed much since. It is not that Deleuze, a little over a decade after his death, is forgotten. (We may recall the oblivion into which Bergson’s name fell: for the last twenty years of his life he is practically forgotten; only after this death, in 1967, does the Republic make amends by designating, in the presence of Malraux, the minister of cultural affairs at the time, February 23 a day in Bergson’s memory and placing a plaque honoring him in the Pantheon[13]. At the same time, that is to say, in our desert time, how could we not be impressed by such a gesture of recognition, even if belated, paid not just to a philosopher, but to philosophy itself?) Today, Deleuze is not only not forgotten but is everywhere. A glance to the session titles of the Köln conference, “Connect Deleuze,” will confirm this fact. So does the list of titles received a day before the conference courtesy of amazon.fr: Deleuze, une introduction; Aux source de la pensée de Gilles Deleuze; Deleuze, La passion de la pensée de Gilles Deleuze; Deleuze, philosophie et cinéma; Deleuze et une philosophie d’immanence, followed by Matérialisme d’aujourd’hui: Deleuze et Badiou, which opens yet another inexhaustible series, the comparative one.

 

 

It is against the background of this disquieting phenomenon that I frame my text here, against the “phenomenon ‘Deleuze’,” that is, the “event” of Deleuze, or better still, the “Deleuze-event” being flattened out and dispersed over many fields (gender studies, education, political and film theory, art history; in one particularly bizarre example, an essay on theology invokes Artaud’s famous formula “to have done with judgment” – which it attributes to Deleuze – to claim that Jesus is the end of judgment). It is in the context of this reduction – the singular (“zig-zag”) effect that the proper name designates turning into a generic case that cor-responds to a common noun – that I take my third step and introduce here two citations. The first is a question by Lacan: “how can we be sure that we are not imposters?” (emphasis in original)[14]. The second is a “thesis” of Blanchot: the relation between master and disciple, “le rapport maître/disciple,” is one of infinity, “un rapport d’infinité.”[15]

I begin with Lacan, whose question regarding imposture certainly pertains to the phenomenon of proliferation, but not exclusively so. In any case, I will not reduce it to this one concern alone. In fact, I will not spend more time on the “phenomenon” itself.

Nor will I associate it with the charge of imposture that is common to “schools” (something G. D. did not want to found[16]), movements, and founded communities, but also, as warns Badiou, to “survivors and inheritors of a great epoch.”[17] (Is there a schism already diving “us, Deleuzians”?) I am certain that a genealogy of schisms could trace the latter all the way to the evangelists, while also linking it to all the vanguards and their “isms”: christianisme, Leninism, Marxism, surrealism. “Sectarianism” is itself a sectarian charge. Freud experienced it in his own life-time. The “Lacan school” was itself a “schism,” split off from the dominant tendency of ego-psychology, claiming to be the true inheritor of Freud’s teaching. And after the death of Lacan, it was the Lacanians’ turn to splinter into competing factions, each claiming to be the guardian of the teaching of the master.

All this is well known and does not come as a surprise. Freud himself taught us that the thought of murder is never far away wherever there is a founder. (Derrida was keenly aware of this problem: at one place, in Circumfessions, he laments: “they are already writing my writing”[18]; at another, in a seminar, he asks: “how would you like me to die?” “Comment voulez-vous que je meure?[19]) But it is not in this direction, of the meta-psychology of individuals or groups, that I wish to take Lacan’s question. It is as a singular, a limit and extreme case that Lacan’s example interests me. With regard to our question “what does it mean to be Deleuzian?” it is more than just instructive, it is exemplary: Lacan is the disciple par excellence, the Freudian to our figure of the Deleuzian. He dedicates his life-work, the life of his seminars, to a massive but single corpus of a single founder, Freud, whose teaching he never ceases to interrogate.

The possibility of imposture – that the unique reading practiced by Lacan, by virtue of which he claims the title of the unique (only) successor to Freud, may in fact constitute a falsification of the work, or worse, be non-work – arises in the milieu of these interrogations. The question – how can we be certain of knowing what we are talking about? that the obtuse discourse of our critique which claims to contribute to the master’s work is not just empty speech, a clever trallala? – is interior to the discourse of the seminar; it is addressed to a reading of Freud, in the course of reading Freud. It is in fact already a reading of Freud in the sense Blanchot gives to this term: “the form in which thought advances to encounter that which it seeks.”[20]

The limit case, however, is not without precursors; it gives a new expression to an old concern. As we learn from Deleuze, the anxiety over deception is a quasi-permanent theme at the heart of philosophy. Plato’s question in the Sophist, “how not to be deceived by others?,” returns to or is inverted by Descartes: “how not to deceive myself?”[21] With Lacan, it receives a new and double inflection. First, the question is asked by someone who positions himself in a particular way in relation to an inheritance, a precursor and a “master”: it asks what does it mean to be Freudian in a rigorous and precise way? What does it mean to speak after Freud, that is, after the interventions of Freud in the field, and, at the same time, in and through a rigorous reading of Freud? And the two requirements do not overlap and are not continuous. Second, the question is posed by someone in a particular speech situation, in face of a vexatious paradox: the unique science of the founder, his inheritance, is the “science of non-knowledge” (Blanchot).

It is not the case therefore that Lacan would suspect his own motives, or that he be insecure about his own talents. Far from it. It is because he has already encountered Freud (“to encounter is to find, to capture, to steal,” says Deleuze, “but there is no method for finding other than a long preparation”[22]) that he understands the difficult conditions the founding work imposes on anyone who will claim to speak both after it and following it. It is not just the matter of the truth that the founder’s work communicates regarding truth as such – the truth of the subject and, in so far as it is human endeavor, the truth of the work itself: that it communicates by negative signs, evasions, displacements, slippages, negations, forgetting; or that the master’s work is itself inscribed in an economy wherein the truth it seeks flees from its science and will not let itself be “dis-covered” or “unveiled.” The other lesson Lacan “finds” in, or “captures” or “steals” from Freud, which lesson is more instructive with regard to that which concerns us here in so far as we too are inheritors, is that the truth of the work, the truth-effect it is, transforms, like an earthquake, all at once, the terrain of discourse. Or to phrase it in the language of Deleuze: “a clean break is something you cannot come back from; that is irretrievable because it makes the past cease to exist.”[23] To speak after Freud (or Deleuze) cannot be the same as speaking as Freud (or Deleuze). It is to speak in the aftermath, or in even stronger formulation, it is to speak without guidance. Such is the difficult condition of faithfulness that is imposed on the disciple.

Lacan’s question thus is literally fundamental. It concerns the foundation, the ground of his own discourse. But rather than representing or repeating the orthodox gesture of a self-reflective turn, the question arrives from, is inspired or whispered to Lacan, by Freud; in fact, it constitutes a reading of the missive of Freud; it is because Lacan has advanced “toward that which it seeks” that he understands that the risk of imposture is inherent in the disciple’s relation to the founding work, which will not authorize his discourse, will not serve as its ground and origin. The seminar will not trace its reading back to the work, for whoever speaks after and following Freud speaks over an abyss that his or her own very discourse opens between itself and the master’s work, which is irretrievable and unrepeatable.

 

 

Something always remains – inaccessible, inappropriable. It remains not unsaid but unsayable. In the case of Freud, the singular form the remainder takes is precisely the meaning of the teaching of Freud. Or as Blanchot, whose thesis is still ahead of us, will say: the master does not give to know anything which would not remain determined by an “inconnu indeterminable” that he represents. The disciple is all alone. The infinite distance that separates him from the master is the abyss of an interval, which is the very condition of his reading him. Not because the master is wiser, has a great erudition, but because the master himself is inseparable from the unknown that his “research” encounters. The disciple therefore does not know and cannot know whether or not he is an imposter, cannot know, that is, outside the evidence of his own groundless discourse, which he knows speaks over an abyss.

The question regarding imposture is a symptom of this void, this vide. And the vide itself is a symptom of truth.

Now, we know Lacan’s response to this void – it is to protect it in all its multiple forms, to shelter it as the essential discovery of Freud’s work. The discourse of the seminar will cultivate it, develop it, take up residence over the void of the abyss. Yes, Lacan will say, psychoanalysis is an encounter with the unknown, which, in the unique case of the human situation, flees from knowledge, assisted by an arsenal of ruses, strategies, evasion, forgetting, repression, denegation, condensation, distortion. The texts of Freud trace this flight of truth (as flight, in the movement of flight), but in so far as they themselves are part of that endeavor, they are simultaneously sites where another truth flees just as invisibly, just as actively. This latter, however, becomes visible only in light of the former, itself ungraspable without a remainder.

 

 

How does the thesis of Blanchot intervene in this singular formulation, in the unique and aporetic case of succession that is Lacan’s? It intersects with it in the space of the concept of the unknown, where it depersonalizes this most personal and intense of relations. For what does Blanchot say of the relation master/disciple? That it is one of infinity, “un rapport d’infinité.” [24] Not infinite but infinity. The master is not placed at an infinite distance by virtue of his prestige, infinite erudition, wisdom, virtue, courage, etc., from the disciple, whose lack of the same qualities in turn prevent him from ever being at the same place, meeting him in the same space, and even more so, from taking his place (which, however, remains the eternal desire of the son who is also a disciple. Derrida provides an illustrious example for both sides, for the “uneasy conscience/consciousness of the disciple” who rises in the public to unseat his master, Foucault[25], and for the anxiety of the master himself, conscious of the sons seeking to appropriate his future, the grammar of his writing.) The relation master/disciple is not inter-subjective or inter-personal. It corresponds to an original structure, in which master and disciple are two terms. The “infinity” of their relation refers to an anomalie, a distortion and curvature of the interactional space such that the distance between the two is not the same in both directions. Asymmetrical and irreversible, the two are without a common measure.

In other words, the obstacle to a discourse that would be continuous and homogeneous with the master’s discourse is structural. This in turn explains the predicament of the disciple, of which I recently wrote:

She must begin to speak (for speak she must) in the virtual or actual presence of the master, or better still, after his interventions have radically reworked the field, changing the very condition of speech itself.

One temptation – which only intensifies with the death of the master, in the face of a future without more future words or works to come – is a false (corrupting) faithfulness. Foucault called it ‘commentary’. Deleuze himself contemptuously described it as turning the master’s works into a container of content to be mined for ‘significance’. Ironically, such reading (writing) too opens the path towards an infinite: the infinite exhaustion/rarefaction of the work. ‘One will comment, one will interpret, one will ask for explanations, one will write the book of the book, to infinity.

The other temptation is disputatious contrariety – a re-activity whose self-deceiving comedy Deleuze ever so gently but mercilessly exposes in a patient and long letter to his ‘severe critic’. Needless to say, both of these tendencies fail to break with and out of the binding asymmetry[26].

Given the slightly different case that I am trying to develop here, a modification to the formulation of the dilemma is required. Accordingly, the disciple may choose the Sisyphean labor of filling the gap, of laying his carefully woven discourse over it. Against Deleuze’s advice, he may enter the text that leaves no way out other than the way in and “won’t stop returning to the question in order to get out of it.” (“But getting out never happens like that. Movement always happens behind the thinker’s back, or in the moment when he blinks.”[27]) In other words, the disciple may choose to embark in vain on straightening the curvature that is the unique mark of the discourse of the master (subjectification: “bringing a curvature to the line”[28]). Hence we may speak of the other “bastards” of Deleuze – the false prophets of clarifications, of explanations, explications (“Deleuze for beginners”), who promise to give nothing less than that which the master does not give but in relation to which his discourse is situated and becomes possible: the “inconnu.”

Or, on the contrary, the disciple may choose to say “Yes” to the interval as opening the space of hospitality, the hospitality of which Deleuze speaks in his letter to Schérer, of which Blanchot writes: “une bienveillance qui ne saurait être limitée à nos personnes.”[29] Hospitality to what? To the future or futures to come. For this interval is creative, productive of differences. The abyssal separation from the master that the disciple laments is also the structural possibility of the future, that the master’s word and work – even though they may determine the conditions of speech – will not legislate the future, but leave open the space precisely for finding, theft, abduction, in short, for discourse to speak after the founding event as a Paul rather than a John, situating itself right away on the other side of the interval. (“Getting out is already achieved, or else it never will be.”[30]) This is certainly what Lacan does: he writes the future of psychoanalysis, or rather, a future for psychoanalysis. This is what the clever ghost writer, himself a ventriloquist for a ghost writing to another ghost, means by suggesting that Deleuze has “philosophical talents”:

En bien des passages, vos mots expriment si bien le fond de ma pensée qu’il me semble me lire ou me relire moi-même. Mais cette espèce de ventriloquie s’accompagne, d’un bout à l’autre, de toutes sortes de glissements, de décentrements et parfois de cassures, qui me font penser que ce “bergsonisme” […] porte déjà toute une philosophie personnelle[31].

“Questions are aimed at a future.” But the real question is how to think of this “future,” or rather, how to think this future, since the condition that pertains to the “multiple” applies here as well. The Bergson who is fantasized by Elie During in his letters understands this well, he ventriloquizes Deleuze himself: “Il ne suffit pas de crier ‘Vive le multiple!’; le multiple, il faut le faire.”[32] The future needs to be made, although it cannot be arbitrary, a sheer willful invention. If continuity is never continuous enough, discontinuity is never discontinuous or divergent enough, as Blanchot says. The future difference/divergence is the question of a clinamen, a however minor and imperceptible deviation from the model. Or as the ghost of Bergson in the passages already cited above suggests: slippages, decenterings, and sometimes breaks, forceful cuts and violent interruptions which drag the model in another direction.

Now you may say that Deleuze did not give a hoot about the future of his work. This is certainly debatable. He intended L’Abécédaire as a posthumous missive, only for the future (“Je parle après ma mort,” he muses as the recording begins).

What cannot be claimed, however, is that Deleuze did not care about the future. He had no other concern. He may not have wanted disciples and had no plans to become the “little leader of a little school.”[33] But we know the importance that teaching and his seminars – “this noble manner of being together and thinking together according to the division of master and disciple,”[34] says Blanchot – had for Deleuze.[35] He may have shown infinite patience toward his interlocutors and their often interminable questions, the thinking however is thinking according to the division. (As he often pleads with his audience before the brief question period: pas de théorie, rien que du sentiment!) The thinking gives birth to the future – the future of Bergson, Spinoza, Leibniz and to the future Bergson, Spinoza, and Leibniz, who are our contemporaries today.

Now these figures or philosophical portraits are not pure inventions but resemblances (“it seems [il me semble] I am reading or rather rereading myself,” writes the ghostwriter for the ghost of Bergson who read so well Deleuze). The resemblances, however, are absolutely new: incalculable, at once unforeseen and unforeseeable. (You have invented me, suggests the same very perceptive ghost in his last letter.) A resemblance of this kind does not imitate or copy but instead re-claims (from “behind”) the other, forcing it to become a posteriori the model for its own originality.


 

Notes

* The essay was prepared for the Second International Deleuze Studies Conference, “Connect Deleuze,” Universität zu Köln (University of Cologne), August 10–12, 2009. It also makes reference to the first of these now annual gatherings of Deleuze scholars, which took place at the University of Cardiff the year before (August 11-13, 2008), with the question “One or Several Deleuzes?” serving as theme and title.

[1] René Schérer, Regards sur Deleuze, Paris: Éditions Kimé, 1998, p. 7.

[2] Zeus hospitalier: éloge de l’hospitalité, Paris: Armand Colin, 1993.

[3] “Il me semble que le livre que vous projetez d’écrire devrait en quelque sorte devancer les objections qu’on ne manquera pas de vous faire, et ce qui est peut-être pire, les déformations que vos propres zélateurs feront nécessairement subir à votre pensée” (emphasis added). The author of the three fictional letters of Bergson to Deleuze, one can presume, is the Bergson scholar Elie During. If I rely on them, despite their fictional character, it is because their critique anticipates mine. Moreover, During so masterfully uses the double prosopopoeia as device – the mask of Bergson from behind which he writes itself masks the presence of Deleuze – that it is the latter who appears to have inspired the letters; it is as if Deleuze hallucinated a Bergson who anticipates, projects into the future, the appropriation of his work. Indeed, phrases in the letters are often citations from Deleuze.

The three letters were first read at the Centre Georges Pompidou on the occasion of an evening in homage to Gilles Deleuze and were subsequently reprinted as “Trois Lettres ‘inédites’ de Henri Bergson à Gilles Deleuze” in Critique, no. 732, May 2008, p. 408. Henceforth cited as “Trois lettres…”

[4] According to Deleuze three conditions define the desert: journalists write the books; writing is generalized, is a private affair, “une petite affaire privée”; the “client” is the editor and the distributor. L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze, 1996, letter C.

[5] Deleuze’s counter metaphor is not the luxurious garden, the great forest, or the fertile river bed. It is the steppe. “Steppe, the grass and the nomads are the same thing.” “The steppe always grows from the middle, it is between the great forest and the great empires.” Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues, trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam, New York: Columbia University Press, 1987, p. 31.

[6] “The Conspiracy of Imitators,” a section title laments in Negotiations. “What gets imitated is always itself a copy. Imitators imitate one another, and that’s how they proliferate.” Gilles Deleuze, Negotiations, 1972–1990, trans. M. Joughin, New York: Columbia, 1995, p. 128.

[7] Cited by J. Derrida in Apprendre à vivre enfin, Paris: Galilée, 2005, p. 28.

[8] L’Abécédaire, letter C.

[9] Alain Badiou, Second Manifeste pour la philosophie, Paris: Fayard, 2007, p. 13. Henceforth cited as Second Manifeste.

[10] Zsuzsa Baross, “Lessons to Live (1): Posthumous Fragments for Jacques Derrida,” Derrida Today, 1:2, 2008; “Lessons to Live (2): Deleuze,” Deleuze Studies, 3:2, 2009.

[11] Second Manifeste…, op. cit. p.21.

[12] The First International Deleuze Studies Conference, “One or Several Deleuzes?,” Cardiff University, August 11–13, 2008.

[13] “À Henri Bergson, 1859–1941, dont la vie et l’œuvre ont honoré la France et la pensée de l’humanité.”

[14] Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, trans. Alan Sheridan, Penguin Books, 1977, p. 263.

[15] Maurice Blanchot, “La parole plurielle,” in L’Entretien infinie, Paris: Gallimard, 1969, p. 5. “Plural Speech,” in The Infinite Conversation, trans. S. Hanson, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

[16] “A school is already terrible: there is always a pope, manifestos, representatives, declarations of avant-gardeism, tribunals, excommunications, impudent political volta-faces, etc.” Dialogues, op. cit., p. 26.

[17] Second Manifeste…, op. cit. p. 8.

[18] Circumfession, trans. G. Bennington, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, p. 26. French edition by Seuil, 1991.

[19] Cited in Hélène Cixous, Insister. À Jacques Derrida, Paris: Galilée, 2006, p. 60.

[20] “Plural Speech,” op. cit. p. 5.

[21] L’Abécédaire, letter P.

[22] Dialogues, op. cit., p. 7.

[23] Dialogues, op. cit., p. 37.

[24] “La parole plurielle,” op. cit., p. 5.

[25] I am referring to Derrida’s own “severe critique” of what may be considered Foucault’s inaugural and founding work, Madness and Civilization.

[26] Zsuzsa Baross, “Lessons to Live (2): Deleuze,” op. cit., p. 179.

[27] Negotiations, op. cit., p. 1.

[28] Ibid., p. 113.

[29] L’Entretien infini, op. cit., p. ix.

[30] Negotiations, op. cit., p. 1

[31] “Trois Lettres…”, op. cit., p. 402-403.

[32] Ibid., p. 408.

[33] “The two dangers are the intellectual as master or disciple,” warns Deleuze in the Dialogues (op. cit., p. 28). On the other hand, he dedicates a text to a great precursor with the title, “Sartre, my Master.”

[34] “Plural Speech,” op. cit., p. 5.

[35] “A course is a kind of Sprechgesang, closer to music than to theater […] I never told that audience what they meant to me, what they gave me,” in Negotiations, op. cit., p. 139.

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