The University of Western Sydney
It is the endless reversibility which Benveniste implies in the relations
which characterise "I" and "you" as partners in dialogue
(1971, pp. 223-30),
these the basis of discourse, which constitute the necessity and im/possibility
of community. For Merleau-Ponty the reversibility of conversation and
its relation to the subject constitute a kind of blurring, in which they
become impossible to pick apart: "the conversation pronounces itself
within me. It summons me and grips me; it envelops and inhabits me to
the point that I cannot tell what comes from me and what comes from it"
(1974, p. 19).
To the extent that writing has hopes to survive, it hopes to be judged as much as possible. The value of the classic, Kermode writes, is asserted by "a more or less continuous chorus of voices" (1975, p. 117). Canonisation, and continued inclusion in the canon, is the result of continuous judgement, the character of which is determined by the weight and force of all previous surviving judgements . If history consists of judged judgements (Lyotard 1988, p. 8) then this is no less the situation with that abstraction, literature, which we define by the contents of the canon. Canonic logic - the logic which determines survivals - is unavoidably at work in the process of writing.
Avant-garde aesthetic practices are in the paradoxical position which Bourdieu assigns to "permanent revolution" (1993, p. 188). Poetry, for instance, is in the position of having to "exclude from poetry all that makes up the 'poetic' ". What we call poetry is poetry because it is beyond the gates of a city which is encroaching on the foreign space outside. André Breton writes: "The embrace of poetry like the embrace of the naked body/ Protects while it lasts/ Against all access by the misery of the world" (in Rothenberg and Joris, p. 479). However, whenever its borders come to take charge of its others, new borders constantly devise themselves. There is always a new outside, there are always new refugees. The principle of avant-gardism is not so much that of seeing what art is, of its nature, beyond; but rather what art is immediately and practically beyond - generally the art of a last epoch, now resettled in the city as a part of its establishment. Poetry comes to that which is dislodged, dissuaded, which is collected to be discarded, discarded to be collected and so on, ad infinitum. Poetry's process is endless scavenging.
As speech is the beyond of haunting (and so the making of what will next haunt), poeisis is likewise an involuntary and spontaneous event, an Orphic facilitation. Poeisis is a process in which one is unable not to look, even when looking means that love must be cast back into hell, that one must be torn apart for love. As such it enables and disables practice and community. It lives in a circle. In Sonnets to Orpheus Rilke writes:
The tearing apart of Orpheus (rejection for his constancy) was made possible by his inconsolable heart. He was beyond consolation because afflicted now with the permanent loss of Eurydice. He lost Eurydice because he was unable to obey the directive not to look, not to bear witness. Orpheus was torn between the authenticity of his desire (one so profound that in Virgil's account, his death-chilled tongue finds yet a voice to call her name [Georgics, 1952, p. 98] ) and the consciousness of a higher order and its directive, disobedience to which ensured his undoing. His dismemberment is the punishment for the rejection to which he, who could charm the trees and the beasts and even rivers, subjects women after his final loss of Eurydice.
A limitless tropology, visited by way of Peirce and Eco and Benveniste, is in the perpetual process of inscribing a natural and involuntary community: the community of those who are or become intelligible to each other. That all beings should stand in such relation to each other is the basis of Menander's wish, that as a man nothing human might be foreign to him ; likewise of Aquinas' definition of the soul as "the being whose nature it is to meet with all other beings" (in Heidegger 1996, p. 12). A still broader and more recent version is found in Rubén Darío's dictum that "every form in nature has something to say to every other" (in Rothenberg and Joris, p. 89). Independent of these metaphysical prescriptions, the community of speech which comes into being and maintains itself by means of intelligilibity is an accomplished fact. It neither requires nor would it be moved by any campaigns to promote or destabilise or even imagine it. Those implied in such a community, by means of a mutual intelligibility, do however exercise choices, as entitled by their power or lack thereof. They have, for instance choices in making themselves more and less intelligible, not only with those with whom they are natively entitled to speak, but with others: those outside of their idiom whom they approach or shun as befits the complex of negotiations in which they relate or fail to relate. The process of these negotiations accounts for the manner in which the involuntary communities we know as languages, remain, however they appear, in a continuous process of flux. It is a voluntary community however which mediates between the authenticity and consciousness of languaged subjects.
As far as theory is concerned, any book, perhaps any mnemonic effort, constitutes a sharing of a language and a world and a halt in the dialogism which was there in speech before books were possible. It is an elaborate gift which, to be of any worth, must be reciprocal, living as it does in the hope of that cliché of a true marriage of minds.
The authorial we, so much now out of fashion, is a kind of declaration
or claim of solidarity and the line drawn by its means is one between
acknowledging who we are and how we come and dissolving these in a new
claim; a claim to be other than as made, a claim to make ourselves, to
wrest, as Jameson writes, in The Political Unconscious, "a
realm of Freedom from a realm of Necessity" (1981,
p. 19). We can make multiple authority, it
can draw attention to universalising efforts and serve as a kind of hailing
of the reader. The first person plural has this potential: of alerting
the reader to an effort at identification, thus to the prospect of community.
That situation, I would argue, obtains wherever a law is the possession of particular parties . The discursive regulation which constitutes a language (such as is abstracted by the term 'grammar') necessarily excludes those who follow another rule. Alfonso Lingis writes:
Quite apart from its claimed affinities with madness, poetry, because it subjects its own language to the exigencies of a position between languages, plays a role akin to that of bearing witness to differends.
Community is what lies, unselfconsciously, between differends. This word draws attention where attention cannot be maintained - to what lies between subjects as the process of their mutual self-creation. Community is the semiotic setting and event of life among humans, our inescapable sociality . What is authentic then is its invisibility to itself, its unavowedness (or the irrelevance of its avowals to how it is), its being known only by symptoms, by the metonym we call the differend. The differend is the symptom of community, the boundary by which the invisible is shown. Community is what differends show us in outline, the ineffable "we" which wastes our hopes of being who we are.
The other abstractions which the effort at its avowal falls into - nation, republic, council, club - these are necessarily flawed efforts to be who we are by knowing, by deciding, how to be. Of course these are necessary to us, as society is necessary to humans, civilised or otherwise. The efforts at deciding who and how to be are necessary means in dispelling the fiction that we are merely victims of a world-as-is, of the already-thus.
Hiatuses infest all subjectivities, and in this manner - of doubts as to who we are - is acknowledged the difficulty of approaching a community of the self. In like manner poetries face us with the problem of how to sustain or enable a community of dissent, one which is not only subject to its own doubts but actually exists for them. If poetry must doubt the possibility of its having purpose, has it at least the guarantee that such a lack is approached by means of doubt? Dada was the original of that reflexive modernity which dealt (or feigned dealing) with itself as phenomenon in just the terms it brought to bear on society and on art in general. Georges Ribemont-Desaignes writes in a piece titled "Artichokes":
Interrogating poetry's relation to society in a way which brings into question the efficacy of a poetic function, Ottó Orbán's poem, "Sinking Orpheus", written for Sándor Weöres on his 75th birthday, begins:
But a sober mind, precisely because it is annoyed with poetry's lack of purpose, may yet succeed in attributing one to it. Orbán ironically reminds us that the death of the poet might open a field of intentions, such as is confused by our not knowing whether it is poetry or the resident of the numbskull which sings of the doormat it puts by the door. The poem as process and artefact blurs the canonic personae which go into the making and the keeping of the poem. In the second stanza of "Sinking Orpheus" Orbán writes of the everyday creature who:
This artist's soul, reminiscent of the abomination of which Horace writes at the beginning of the Ars Poetica, is indeed a strange concoction of personae, no community at all, authentic only to the enigma of its gabbling angel.
And yet, whatever status we allow the artist, the soul, the poem, surely we acknowledge that they do participate in a community of sorts, even if of the outside, of strangers to themselves, perhaps Blanchot's community of those who have no community. As such they are borne in a common relation to society, and to the resident of the numbskull of which Orbán writes, and which they threaten by the means of the very rejection to which they - artist, soul, poem - are subject. Their community depends specifically on the rejection of that critical habitus which exists to exercise judgement over poetry and to conceal itself from the exercise of such judgement. And yet their community depends on that habitus and on the fact of judgement just as surely as judgement depends on its objects: in this case the poem-candidates for the canon. From the point of view of the production of poetry, here then is a principal site of ambivalence: to depend on what it must reject and threaten, i.e. the process by which the canon is kept.
The monstrous concoction of soul Orbán offers us demonstrates the arbitrary nature of the community which coalesces as both bound by differends and covering over where a differend has been. Myth and metaphor, the making of words in common, depend, however they are motivated, on the exercise of arbitrariness. The truth of a community is of a recognition in common which naturally generates meaning. The confusion of patriotism and its intellectual weakness is the assumption that a community is the result of a meaning it exists to generate. We did not, by and large, decide how to be a people. Rather we find ourselves in a certain position, with a particular range of meanings and actions constitutive of and available to us. Those antics, conventions and the like, by which we play at constituting ourselves as such, mainly function to conform to the observation that the doormat is by the door.
The (canon-conscious) poem as process, which commences in the knowledge of a contingent destination, though appearing as if on the outside, is as limited as any other discourse to the stock of signs constituting its milieu. But at least in recognising its situation, as an (always compromised) art of the outside, it has the opportunity to make betweenness its own community. Such a community would in its process articulate an ethics of presence for the larger community in the cracks of which or outside of which it falls. By such means poetry would, despite itself, be performing a function for the numbskull which, yes, it too inhabits.
A poem lives if it lives as a passion of traces. It is in those terms that Orbán declares poets the "haunters of the future" (1993, p. 18). Poem and those personae which make it and read it, do not survive above or aside the patterns of assumption - canonic patterns, grammatical patterns - from which the poem is cast. The personae whose work it is to understand the poem, are, as I have argued, never fully knowledged. Yet if the politics of the canon are necessarily hidden (unconscious in the terms of Jameson's thesis [1981, passim]), it remains the case that poetry allows, by means of indirection, a way past those traps which stand in the way of the completion of knowledge/s. Thus poetry allows futures which could not have been without it. What requires the faith of assumption is the metaphysician's received world-as-ever-thus. The faith in doubt required of the ironist is necessarily contingent. Modern, especially modernist, poetries, despite their failure to agree with each other, have often defined themselves and their notional community, if not as functional, at least in terms of the world changing work of words. In Marinetti's "Manifesto of Futurism": "We want to hymn the man at the wheel, who hurls the lance of his spirit across the earth, along the circle of its orbit" (in Rothenberg and Joris, p. 198). In Tristan Tzara's "Dada Manifesto on Feeble and Bitter Love": "Dada is the chameleon of rapid and self-interested change" (in Rothenberg and Joris, p. 304). Tzara's efforts to undermine the pretension of a purpose or a place for poetry or Dada are themselves, predictibly enough, undermined by the character of his own assertions:
Death and dictatorship are the leitmotifs of the community at its own throat which Dada very generally showed Europe in a likeness of its own image. In its more extreme manifestations (for instance in the cut-up techniques which Tzara promoted and which writers as various as Ern Malley's creators and David Bowie have adopted) the Dada poem which cannot communicate, by means of this refusal and disavowal of itself, is as or more polysemous than any intelligible text could be. By such disconcerting means as these, or the defamiliarisation of the Russian Formalists, texts model and draw attention to the invisible communities of those for whom speech sounds may be understood. Rejecting these as such they invent a more temporary community, of those who cannot be understood.
Communities of arbitrary and anti-social metaphor, rather than papering over differends, could have the effect of multiplying them, of locating them in otherwise indivisible entities, for instance in the body as in Anatol Stern's "this throng of raging bacchantes is one centimetre of my skin" (in Rothenberg and Joris, p. 260). But the body could be even more crowded and with the here-and-now of the world, the events by which Modernism itself was transformed, as illustrated in Apollinaire's poem "The Little Car":
The new and totally capable beings which Apollinaire feels in himself may have some setbacks to suffer but they represent the aesthetic of an age suddenly keen to show itself and to make its own way. Perhaps a best example of the culmination, in the thirties, of the spirit in which the past as accomplished fact is set aside in favour of taking possession of the future is in Auden's (later disowned) anthem for the Spanish Civil War:
The poet in this work has an undoubted role in the struggle as the one who, afflicted with yesterday's belief in the absolute value of Greece, begins by whispering, startled among pines, of his vision, wishing for the luck of the sailor. Tomorrow will be for "the young poets exploding like bombs" but today remains to the struggle, this poem in its here-and-now an act enabling it. And why? Because:
The century is not short of declared and decisive roles for poetry. But what the century has shown is that efforts at deciding either how to be or what is to be are a risk to those near them. Mandelstam, survivor and finally victim of Stalinism, in his "Last Poems" offers an antidote for Auden's "Spain", the life of resistance of the poet who becomes society's victim:
Do we reconcile these images of the poet as becoming legislator, of the poet as the victim of the operation of law? Is there a truth between the fiction that we decide the world and the fiction that we have no deciding? Lyotard writes:
Pound framed a similar problem in his manifesto, "Vortex":
Such differends are at stake as much for the rationalist sceptic as for the clairvoyant. They are the basis of lotteries, of all forms of gambling. They set off Modernism with a throw of the dice.
Poetry's authenticity is in the bearing witness of selves to differends, such as lie between communities, between their disparate and becoming realities. Poetry bears witness to a continuous manifestation of loss: the manner in which the world, by means of words, conducts itself away from words and worlds that were real and which haunt the here-and-now. Lyotard writes of the real: "a swarm of senses lights upon a field pinpointed by a world" (1988, p. 50). If the real is the weltanschauung of the unavoidable community in which mutually intelligible subjects participate, then poetries are acknowledged as picking holes in it, as picking the scab where the real heals together; that place where, by means of a metaphor, differends vanish.
Poetry is a theft of words in which other thefts are shown. It is along these lines we may frame poetry's rejection of the economic world, its rejection of those real-world premises from which it does not extricate its own dependence. In W.S. Rendra's "Prostitutes of Jakarta - Unite!" the least organised and most exploited segment of the workforce is exhorted by the most articulate segment to do, allegorically, what all of the people being screwed ought to do:
Is this easy advice for a man to give? Is this the voice Richard Rorty (1989, p. 94) insists on as required by those oppressed who cannot speak for themselves? Where do we draw the line between solidarity and Syed Manzrul Islam's othering the other? Islam writes:
One asks again: does poetry make difference by proclaiming a new world? Or, can it only render itself outside of worlds, by proclaiming difference? Is the voice of the poet that of an authentic outside/r? Is the community of poetry a nomadic one? Or is it one which goes through such motions in order to make possible its later canonic inclusion?
In Deleuze and Guattari's vocabulary, does this war machine live with the intention of achieving a place in the economy of a state apparatus? The opposite of a fifth column, poetry then could be the barbarian legion, the legion which with its special knowledge is best able to defend the empire from barbarians. But for Deleuze and Guattari the nomad exists only in becoming. Once under the State's sway then it might be assumed that barbaric cunning would quickly be lost. What "history does is to translate a coexistence of becomings into a succession". Deleuze and Guattari write that "collectivities can be transhumant, semisedentary, sedentary or nomadic, without by the same token being preparatory stages for the State, which is already there, elsewhere or beside" (1987, pp. 430-1). But if the State (or canon) is already elsewhere or beside then how is it refused? For Bourdieu, the economic universe which art inhabits is one:
Yet he argues, these (behaviours) "contain a form of economic rationality (even in the restricted sense) and in no way exclude their authors from even the 'economic' profits awaiting those who conform to the law of this universe" (1993, p. 76).
In The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed Bourdieu writes that the "economy of practices" in his "autonomous sector of the field of cultural production" amounts to a reversal of the economic world "in a generalized game of 'loser wins', on a systematic inversion of the fundamental principles of all ordinary economies" (1993, p. 39). Poetry, Bourdieu writes is "the disinterested activity par excellence" (1993, p. 51). The rejection of poetry or the posture of such a rejection with which society has been saddled is met with the fact or posture of poetry's rejection of society and of its ordinary economies. The moment we claim to be beyond the city wall is the moment, were we in a position to look, we would see that the wall has shifted behind us. Perhaps there are true nomads out there. But if there are we may sensibly ask what their reality has to do with the art of writing, or more particularly, with that sedentary art, history (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p. 23). Perhaps the true nomads are, from our point of view, as those people Lyotard imagines: "human beings endowed with language... placed in a situation such that none of them is now able to tell about it" (1988, p. 3).
That destruction of every voice and point of origin with which Barthes (1977, p. 148) associates writing, becomes itself the condition of the possibility of writing's origin and community. Sartre writes "the permanent possibility of abandoning the book is the very condition of the possibility of writing it and the very meaning of my freedom" (1989, p. 37). Rejection then is the originary and reflexive possibility of writing which exists only onthe basis that it may dissolve itself. A first condition in which the canon-inhabited author lives out her or his judgement on the canon is the possibility of total rejection from the outset and from every setting out thereafter. By way of her/his own works s/he can withhold what little is in her/his power of the canon's next possibility.
How then do we account, from this negative possibility which the permanent threat of rejection constitutes, for the fact of aesthetic expression itself? Hegel writes of the need from which art springs, that it "has its origin in the fact that man is a thinking consciousness, i.e., that man draws out of himself and puts before himself what he is and whatever else is" (1975, Vol I, p. 31). Michael Dransfield's poem "Like this for Years", despite "the failure of language" and the fact that "no good comes of singing or silence", rejects rejection in favour of an ultimate commitment for survival:
Is a reason necessary or possible for such a commitment? Shu Ting writes in "Perhaps..." a poem dedicated "for the loneliness of an author":
Because a community is bounded by differends we can say that it depends
on rejection and that its truth must be a lie (or at least be misunderstood)
from the outside. This is especially so from the point of view of those
who bear witness to the differend which a community builds over. Such
bearing witness always risks (whether it attempts in its own right) the
foundation of a new metaphoric and a new community. It involves the becoming
foreign of those bodies which, by this means, inhabit prospectively a
community which cannot yet be theirs. Such a community would in its turn
have buried differends, could in its turn lose its borders and eventually
its self, to other such burials. Community then reveals itself in the
image of Fortunatus' purse: where outside and inside unceasingly become
each other. Someone else's sovereignty lies under the risk of erasure
merely by virtue of being someone else's thought. And is it not already
erased, in the manner of an orientalism, by the means which make it someone
else's, by its always already having been othered? Can community then
exist only from the outside? Is it always mythic, a greener grass? Or
is it only ever where we are?
How should poetry deal with such a prescription when its work is to uncover how a word, a metaphor, tells us to be? Perhaps Islam's conditions function as a Description of what poetry does do in its business of bearing witness to differends. "Becoming other in encounter" is the becoming foreign of the body which lives as a theft in a community it denies in order to make its own. As indirection of consciousness the poem is a gift to a community which cannot yet be because the poem will make it possible, complete it or allow its completion. Perhaps it is the kind of unknowable gift which W.S. Merwin foreshadows in writing of a most certain and intimate unknowable event.
Death being the ultimate community in the dissolution of community and for which no prescription or avowal makes difference. Death entailing the incomprehensible dissolution of the self of which Orpheus reminds us.
There is no writing able to exercise its authenticity by means of not having a sense of itself. All sorts of discourse are always invading each other. That is in the nature of the living word, the word which unfolds in dialogue and as the interaction of languages (Bakhtin 1994, p. 119); (cf., that dialogue which, as Levinas writes, "proceeds from absolute difference" and has in language "the power to break the continuity of being or of history" [1969, pp. 194-5]).
The mythic freedom and openness of art which Flaubert celebrated (in a letter to Louise Colet in 1852), depends on the construction of an aesthetic (meta-)subjectivity outside of life and whatever constructs it:
But this game of Art with a capital A, as the outside of the real of life, is a reflexive game. It is one which is subject to its own subjecting, one where position is confounded with disposition. It is a game which exercises the betweenness and slipperiness of words, the doom of their diaspora, in the cause of confounding what Bourdieu describes as the space of possibles. The ideal, expressed by Bayle in the republic of letters, of a subjectivity to which all are subject, manages to elide the problem of subjections within the self:
Bourdieu reminds us here that the subject of the work of art is not one of these characters ("the producer who actually creates the object in its materiality") "but rather the entire set of agents engaged in the field" (1993, p. 261).
We may describe the personae which inscribe the possibility of writing
(and its survival) as canonic. The canon is the arrangement of words and
of voices to which the breath or the eye returns. The canonic personae
comprise the community of habitus in which writing is practised. These
include such varied functions as writing, teaching, reading, reviewing,
editing, anthologising, workshopping, mentoring, funding, judging, selecting,
supporting (in various ways), badmouthing, gossiping and on. Personae
in such functions are ranged around every possible work of art. And while
thoroughly entangled with each other (and at times indistinguishable)
as a result of being, as it were, splits in a continuity of subject (of
the work of art), all of their positions may be broadly aligned as leaning
more or less in the direction of, on the one hand, making the canon, and
on the other hand of keeping it.
Canonic logic, in tending to present the field as a unified one, drowns personae -- the very personae on which it depends for its life. The monolithic logic of the canon establishes one reading position, that position which is formed by the reading of the canon. And yet the characters which the canon contains are, by and large, diverse and unpredictable. We know how they behave once their texts are finished. But they are not finished, they haunt those after them. They are available for this haunting because they are canonised. To assume, as Kermode does in The Classic, that the naïvety of texts as to their future readings allows them to become classics (1975, p. 130), is to assume that the centuries of judgement which keep the canon have been uniformly pluralist and democratic. Yet he is arguing such a view with an imperialist foe of only decades before his own, in the form of T.S. Eliot - a maker and keeper of the canon if ever there was one. It is difficult to swallow the idea that the canon should have generally over time buried without a trace, as insufficiently naïve, all that did not survive. More likely that, rather than the canon providing a home for the open text, the openness of particular stories or characters over time and for us now, is the result of inclusion and retention in the canon. Canonisation - or more particularly the revisiting it implies - ensures that texts are opened to the contexts in which they survive. The point is not that Homer and Joyce play respectively with a flat and a round character. What is remarkable is that there is a sense in which they play with the same character and at opposite ends of the one canon.
Paradoxically, from this example one can see that canonic logic, while imposing a vertical and hierarchic community on those (personae) under its sway, may have the function of opening all of the contents of a canon to the whims of a community (such as that of poems) which specifically exists not to have a function. In Kristevan terms we could say that a bivalent logic, imposed on the productions of literature, has nothing to allow but the work of ambivalence. Ottó Orbán concludes his poem "Sinking Orpheus":
Efforts at reclaiming a significance from the wrecks of the past, efforts at a canonic sentience, serve to recover only the darkness within things. And yet there is a kind of mastery to avail those reading in the canon, a mastery founded on the reciprocity in which Orpheus and his age scrape each other. It is both difficult and futile to imagine fire on the ocean floor. And yet a star is sunk there, light pulses above us. We are in these delusions, in the facts which betray them, as in the air of suffering which fills this diver's cylinder, a sort of community: a community of impossible subjects which only exists where community is impossible. Such is the Orphic position to which the bearing witness of differends brings us. Such is the canonic necessity of surpassing the contents of the canon. By means of this necessity the canon lies open to what it cannot contain: its foreign becoming body - its future. And so a circuit of text and flesh sustains the positions from which these are read, from which these are written.
We are here because of (and despite) crimes against humanity, crimes which allowed us to become, which allow us to continue. The question of guilt relates, not to what we ourselves never did, but to our unavoidable life long complicity and collaboration against the truth, that collaboration which characterises lives lived in the absence of any intention to act: lives which fail to dissent, lived in the graves of meaning on top of everything. This question of bad faith is notwithstanding the fact that others may have hearts as dark as ours, is notwithstanding the ceaseless exchange of bodies between a community of excluded others and a community of excluding others. Freud, in "Thoughts on War and Death" writes that:
To be situated by crimes past is an aspect of the human condition. It is the universal ethical in media res. No one arrived at their present position through a lineage of exclusively pure volitions, consensually exercised in conditions of equal power and sentience. Religions obviated such ideal intersubjective conditions with the idea of an imposed and therefore necessarily hierarchic harmony. Knowledge of our position is in this way ethically immobilising. To the extent that we act, it will always have been out of ignorance. Nietzsche's guilt as the mark of reactive thinking, the bad conscience of Christian invention, he regards as the condition of peaceful society (1977, p. 116).
We wonder, as the Claudius of Hamlet wondered, whether we can find ourselves pardoned and yet retaining the offence. The canon, in profane as in sacred literature, is thus as the receptacle and validation of the crimes by which we now mis/read and in which we are mis/read. And yet the immensity of the crime enabling, the powerlessness of individuals in the face of it, the security of a collective amnesia (these in the forms of myth, religion, legislation) - all haunt the propensity to act. The future fades into our fading to past. We are impossible to pick apart: as victim, as perpetrator, as ignorant, as fully knowledged. There is a community of differends where individuals, all haunted in like manner, blur. In Paul Celan's "Fugue of Death" we find the apotheosis of such a community as Hegel's master and slave together make up.
Death is what dwells between the oppressor and the oppressed. It is the manner of their community. Where there is no justice to come between them a poem may bear witness. To witness is a decision among undecidings. A poem is the community of this witnessing and in it the oppressed may show their way, may evolve the solidarity of knowledge by which liberation is effected. Celan's haunting phrase "it is ample to lie there" shows us a beyond of irony in which what is said overpowers the situation which saying represents. What is there for the dead but lying there? But these words are neither from nor for the dead. At least they cannot be entirely so. It is by deciding to witness that poetry grabs hold of the future. It is by such decidings, as in Jayne Cortez' poem "Rape", that words may change the world:
Imagining the other way, the other world, has been the legendary, if clichéd, work of fictions and poetries, as celebrated in Frost's "The Road Not Taken". But it is also, as in Cortez' poem above, the work of poetry to witness where there is no other way; to witness a necessity which, if it speaks for justice and against a silence which amply lies there, yet has nothing utopic about it.
For Levinas silence is the greatest violence. May we regard silence
as a technology for forgetting? The jolly singalong of national culture,
in which we pass the billy round and drink our own health, is a process
in which we manage to miss all those absences which are the signs of our
enabling, the means by which we have come. It is easy to see the desirability
of forgetting that which makes us culpable. In his essay "Holocaust"
Baudrillard writes: "Forgetting extermination is part of extermination,
because it is also the extermination of memory, of history, of the social,
etc. This forgetting is as essential to the event, in any case unlocatable
by us, inaccessible to us in its truth" (1994, p. 49). Once we ask
the question as to sources we have opened a Pandora's box: the same one
which Rousseau opened in his Essay on the Origin of Languages and
which Derrida re-opened, in following Rousseau, in On Grammatology.
Of silence and forgetting one needs to ask: if something is never translated or written down how can it join this community of outsiders? Or is such a community necessarily, markedly, more evanescent than the community which memorialises itself in writing? Poetry is an ambivalent art, one in which inside and outside do not escape each others' conditions. Poetry is a hesitation, for instance between sound and sight; between sound which conjures vision and sight in which speech lives. Poetry, in its modern role of having to suffice for the amorphous outside of other discourses, in its scavenging role as witness of the unsaid and unsayable, bears witness to rejection. Because its work is unfinalisable it is doomed to generate more of its kind; doomed equally to an infinite regression into the canon and the labyrinth of silences which conceal its means. These conditions commit the canon makers to a process and not to the unknowable of what will for a time be saved as the elements of a next bricolage.
With what ethical set can one approach the ongoing originary silence in which words bear witness? Writers, artists of any sort, have the clearest responsibilities where agendas are unspoken. Art perhaps in this sense shares the goal which Wittgenstein has identified for philosophy, that of supplying remarks on the natural history of human beings, remarks "which have escaped remark only because they are always before our eyes" (1994, pp 200-1). In poetry's case there is a vocation to tell what is meant but will not be said, to speak the silence in which the crime goes on because it goes on covering itself in the manner of those accepted facts which are always before our eyes. In Australia the effect of the terra nullius doctrine is that the land has been emptied (albeit retrospectively) of its ethical contents: realising this means realising that there is no ethical basis for the state. In this circumstance the only way to build the state, if there ought to be one, is from the outside in.
If Aborigines are the new fifth columnists in Australian society, the agents of a barbarism which the big owners (of land, of capital) claim as foreign to our way of life, then we should remember that poetry begins inside an idiom, though in the spirit of an expulsion (as in the Republic), with an affinity for the outside. As that discourse, that version of events which has been shown the door, its job is to live up to a fierce mongrel logic, a logic of reconciliation.
In Australia today, in the great amorphous debate which is emerging over the culture of identity and rights of possession, it appears more and more to be the case that the languages spoken (and unspoken) by the antagonists in this debate are mutually unintelligible. They represent the differend between two mythologies: of terra nullius and the Dreaming, of land which is possessed and land which possesses. Both are claimed as aboriginal myths in that they both posit their bearers as the autochthonous Australians, inheritors of a right. But, in the terms Lyotard articulates, the differend between these positions throws into question the very idea of rights of inheritance. This is because just as "it is in the nature of a victim not to be able to prove that one has been done a wrong" so the perfect crime consists, not in killing the victim, but in "obtaining the silence of the witnesses, the deafness of the judges, and the inconsistency (insanity) of the testimony" (1988, p. 8). This scenario assumes that the law is able to stand between plaintiff and defendant. While this may be becoming true, such a separation has not been constitutive of the law in this case, but rather of the image the law has promoted of itself. Lyotard writes that a plaintiff loses the means to prove having been done a wrong, "if the author of the damage turns out directly or indirectly to be one's judge" (1988, p. 8). If in the colonial world this can be generally claimed as the pattern, it is because one law buried another, buried the differend between it and its other . Because it is in the nature (or de-naturing) of laws to be one. And it is in the culture (or it could be said, the grammar) of ones to have others, to be stood outside of and neither to comprehend the differend beyond themselves nor the differends within: enabling as they must have been of the synthesis by which the law became one.
In Strangers to Ourselves Kristeva writes: "The foreigner is within us. And when we flee from or struggle against the foreigner, we are fighting our unconscious - that 'improper' facet of our impossible 'own and proper'" (1991, p. 191). For Kristeva psychoanalysis is a journey into two strangenesses: that of the other and of the self (1991, p. 182). Kristeva asks us how we could tolerate foreigners if we did not know ourselves as strangers.
Levinas writes of a gift which founds community and explains us with respect to itself as a kind of teaching (1969, p. 98). But what kind of a gift is it where the words are not or cannot be received, where nothing is shared or understood of the gift? What kind of a potlatch which can never be reciprocated? What kind of teaching where the student is deprived of language? Aboriginal Australia, read and written as a silence and emptiness, never had the opportunity to welcome strangers or to offer them such a gift as Levinas imagines. Is this opportunity (to offer something of our own) now available to that community which never allowed it before, which could never receive but only seize? Can we go by the way we never came? Whose law would authorise that?
Lyotard believes that "the activities of thought have a...vocation: that of bearing witness to differends" (1993, p. 10). This I would argue is also, not the duty, but the essential activity of an ethically engaged poetry. Such a poetry is a community in bearing witness to differends. This bearing witness is achieved by becoming foreign. Bearing witness is what the body of foreigners cannot help but do, yet need not articulate. In Lyotard's terms it implies an art of not knowing which in turn constitutes a resistance (1988, p xvi). This recognition necessitates neither a descent into obviousness nor a flight from polysemy. Nor should it excuse the withholding of compassion from those who know none. Bearing witness to differends is not a means of subjecting them to a new law or totality.
And it is for this reason that we need to seriously ask how possible (conversely how difficult) it is to bear witness to differends. If history is a dialectical progression then does that progression not always represent the victory of one party over another? What kind of voice does the culture have which lies under another allowing it? How much of a voice does a Caliban get to have? Whose voice is it he has? Spivak has put the question more eloquently: 'Can the subaltern speak?' The problem with the idea that the vocation of thought is the bearing witness of differends is precisely that differends are what bury the means of witness which constitute a language, a culture, a position.
In "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte", the immediate analogy which Marx presents for the forgetful process by which men make their own history ('in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language') is the language of the learner who moves freely in a new idiom only to the extent that he (if momentarily) forgets his mother tongue; whose freedom, to this extent, depends on his becoming foreign:
What kind of speech is there from the silence in which one lies forgotten? What kind of witness is borne in a speech which entails forgetting what one was to witness, forgetting one's self as witness? In Australia a question arises as to what extent an English language literary tradition might be able to bear witness to the differends which mark its own boundaries, in this case the boundaries between indigenous community and the canonic literary community constellated around the traditions of the English language in Australia. The fact that we have translated texts, the fact that Aboriginal writers write in English tempts us toward too easy a transcendence, too easy a passage over a silence which may thus be consigned into the work (or failure) of someone else's witness.
Nor does acknowledging the problem does not get us out of its grip. The effort of bearing witness to a differend does not absolve us of the past or the acts of silence or forgetting which make us possible. Nor does it free us of their means, of the fact of theirs as being our means. Bearing witness is the beginning, not of absolution, but of responsibility. Levinas writes in Totality and Infinity:
Herein lies the pastoralist's (and the prime minister's) nightmare: indigenous claims will always be the thin edge of the wedge, the crime enabling can never be expiated. Is this not also the true aim of genocide: that there be no more victims? But as perpetrator I do not succeed in wishing myself away any more than a photographer of wilderness succeeds in erasing the track by which s/he came and which s/he does not show. If the land were emptied of invaders tomorrow, if the descendants of the invaders were to divest themselves of the spoils, what would they be giving back, how would the land returned resemble the land invaded? That land no longer exists. How would we tell its new old inhabitants (and their means of possession) apart from their dispossessors? Indeed how can we now? When everyone puts the empire behind them, when nobody wishes to be a colonist, how viable (and for whom) is the indigene's persona? Oodgeroo Noonuccal writes in her poem "The Past":
But the past is never simply chosen or simply recognised, aside from an accidental present. For those whose fate it is to live out a differend, for those victims who must also expiate, by their resolve, the crime inflicted on them, haunting will never be unidirectional:
"Now" may constitute a small part of time and that fact is important to the reality of claims of indigeneity. It is important to an understanding of the scale and meaning of dispossession. But it needs equally to be acknowledged that means of access to the time prior to dispossession is by virtue of present knowledges and technologies: the episteme in which one questios whether the subaltern can speak. Becoming "one with all old Nature's lives" may indeed be the work of a dream. But it is a dream which has been worked over by hauntings other than those thus here reclaimed. Others have, in their genealogy, sat by a thousand thousand fires, in forests elsewhere, which share an absence with the forest here imagined. And there are other dreams which infest the consciousness of black Australia, dreams such as those suggested in writing by Robert Walker (1958-1984), before he was beaten to death in Fremantle Prison:
Time circled Robert Walker like a vulture. Oodgeroo Noonuccal saw herself living on time's iceberg tip. Was adopting a tribal name for her a way of reclaiming some of the vast continuity taken from her? Both longed for a return to conditions prior to those mediated by the words in which their longing was expressed. If European Australians ask what sort of country makes me mine(?), they acknowledge that pride still shows in the cracks now, shows the pragmatist works by considered rights, distressed at the fraying of the law which made my country mine. The kingdom of vast regrets remains one. It is the bland voice resigned to its spoils, to its great good fortune, which consoles itself saying there's no going back. And yet, as Lionel Fogarty writes in his poem "The Worker Who, The Human Who, The Abo Who":
Subject to the absence of limits which dwells in the universality of the judgement I now cannot help but exercise, what I omit to recognise is that only the other can belong, can be placed. I myself am doomed to the exile of an everywhereness in which my I consciousness over and above the world and my place in it is exercised at the expense of the possibility of dwelling (of being of) anywhere in it.
Such a recognition imperils as well the indigeneity of the other, threatens it with the prospect of reduction to, not merely an atavism of my present state, but its barbaric outside (an outside, that is, which knows enough of me to threaten me, to be my own outside).
Poetry stands as a differend in the gulf of unintelligibility which is constituted by those languages (and we should say lects of any sort) which are foreign to each other. The dialectic of our age entails the challenge of passing beyond the differend between civilisation and barbarism into the condition foreshadowed by Menander, in which nothing can be foreign to us. This would be the (now impossible) condition of worldwide indigeneity.
Except for the hymn singers and praise sayers, the laureates and anthem-grinders, poetry's community has been established (following Romanticism and Shelley's Plato into the Modern) by tradition as on the outside, in exile. To ask how can that outside be taught or learned or even become, not belonging anywhere, is to ignore the facts of its presence (the facts that is, of its being learnt everywhere, of its teaching itself).
Poetry, all literature, is reflection on (in Bahktin's terms, refraction of) the conditions from which it emerges. The general and permanent condition of the spoken animal is dialogic and polyglossic. The betweenness which we attribute, as intertextuality, to particular discourses, is characteristic of all instances of discourse: language is between people as languages are between peoples. We may say (with Nietzsche, 1993, p. 41) that poetry casts off the supposed reality of culture. It proposes a barbarising of the inside of a language (thus culture) such as is unavoidable for those coming to a culture (and language) from its outside. But poetry does this from the inside and in the spirit of its enabling, with all the resources of the particular language which haunt this next considered saying. Poetry makes itself foreign because it takes what is within its grasp and sets it at distance. It takes itself apart with doubt, with undeciding. From the inside, then, poetry draws out the exile of words, confounding as is with as may be. Poetry, as fiction, is a gamble against common sense. Such is the nature of daring not to know.
Bakhtin credits the novel, via Dostoyevsky, with rediscovering the polyphony which is the natural condition of human voices when they arrange themselves in conversation. Mythic, monologic and automatic instances of language and literature all participate in the rule of unspoken assumption in the interest of and with the effect of reifying the status quo as that which goes without saying. They are all in the manner of what has generally been considered concealed by ideology. The dialogic, the de-automatising, the poetic, similarly are, in the terms of this analogy, in the manner of what has been considered liberating, de-mystifying, as if exhuming the truth from the very process of its burial. Foreign speech is one in which nothing can go without saying. The mistakenness of the foreigner where s/he gets beyond her/himself in words is demonstration of this. The foreigner only gradually becomes responsible for the words of the language s/he has borrowed. Poetry, too (paradoxically because of the degree of native skill expected of it), exercises, as does the foreigner, a practice of becoming responsible for words, one in which, indeed, nothing must go without saying. In doing so it merely plays out as practice the fact, to which Sartre alerts us, that the meaning of my expressions always escapes me (1989, p. 373).
To be escaped by one's meanings, to escape one's potentials in the effort of meaning, the givenness of what one is allowed to mean: these are the volitional parameters of poetry's community, of the differences made both of and by its participants.
Blanchot's community is not only one of making but equally one of unmaking, of "not doing", of "unworking" (1988, p. 23). His unavowable community is one which:
In a circular logic differend and community propose each other. A community is when humans participate with each other. What is between borders, however it absolves or undefines itself, is some kind of community.
What sort of community can poetry or its makers achieve when the work of art is torn between conforming and not, between making and unmaking sense? However art conforms to its canonic necessities, however canons bend to the shape of what they next contain, community is the canon's structural opposite. Its principles are horizontal and metonymic. It is always beside itself, never arrived, never over or under. The frustration of community and of everything we share, of everything which is between us, is precisely in this failure of community to coincide with itself.
The work of making and the work of choosing/keeping the canon are contiguous and in some ways homologous. The makers of poems have no other model outside of their practice from which to derive an editorial process for their work than those processes by which works like theirs have been given or deprived or have had truncated/disturbed a place in the canon. The keeping of the canon has no model outside of its practice but the deciding which goes into the finishing of individual works. As énoncé, canon and work participate in the same illusion as to how stillness is attained. This is the illusion of Macleish's declaration that "A poem should not mean/But be" (Allison et al, 1983, pp. 1029-30). To the extent that canon and poem are able to be considered in their own right these have no model and no context outside of each other. Nothing becomes by merely being, nothing merely is. It is only together, as a two sided track, that we are able to speak of the context which canon and its contents share.
And yet while we say that there is no model for each but the other, if we allow the two completely to co-incide, there will be no model for either. This blurring, however desirable it may be, is a real risk to both processes. The industry of standing between the reader and the author (and in which neither of these parties is able effectively to withdraw consent) is doomed to survive in the fact that however these are made or are allowed to overlap, they ultimately remain the only two necessary positions. The industry of standing between reader and author is likewise frustrated by the wandering of these personae.
Authorial wandering is a tropic refusal to settle or find a last frame, it is a telling which, whatever credulity it immediately demands of its audience, always opens onto a new story or a new telling, by virtue of which it acknowledges, not the particularity of its own antecedents, but the fact that its context is canonic. Living myth in an oral culture we guess may have been like this.
A culture tends towards coherence in its manner of resolving against aesthetic wandering : in the forms of decision that it chooses to assume, or that it cannot help but assume, where these are given it. Such aesthetic wanderings are away from past knowledges, knowledges passing. That is to say that the objective stillness of accounting arises from a subjective base of experience and practice, practice which entails a testing and a passing of limits. A canon's resolving against indirection performs a function for a community which cannot otherwise know itself and it may perform this function in the service of a textuality (such as poetry's) which disallows itself a function.
But the canon's accounting only succeeds in numbering the virtues by which it designates itself as the place of greatness (a singular place). It does not recognise itself as the place of the word between (a vector or movement, a non-place), such as all words are. So the canon is a kind of faith which makes and owns us and, if we agree with it (as does Bloom's Third World coming to understand itself through Shakespeare [1994, p. 38] ), we may be forgiven our foreignness in this ready-made home, the heimlich of word, of text. We may forgive ourselves because the canon will then be all our own work. It will bring to life those ghosts which acknowledge us.
Yet the mistakenness entailed in authorial wandering (necessary to the production of literary works) is not the mistakenness of divergence from the ideal to which the canon and the next thing it implies, conform; but rather the sort of mistakenness which anyone experiences in trying to explain a new place to themselves. This is the mistakenness of a Columbus who will not recognise the New World he is in. It lives or dies in the work uncorrected. If it is to be a mistakenness from an historic point of view then we note that Deleuze and Guatarri declare the multiple narratives of Nomadology to be the opposite of history. History for them is always written from a sedentary point of view (1987, p. 23). Like Columbus, the artist of any persuasion, to the extent that s/he is canonised, is the agent of a future agenda, to which s/he can have no privileged access, however it is later claimed that s/he was ahead of her/his time. But it is not primarily in relation to that unknowable agenda that we claim that the artist is mistaken. Mistakenness is necessitated by the impossibility of knowing the true nature of the work's relation to its material. Merleau-Ponty describes this position in terms of a wrong-sidedness:
All the words with which we approach the business of making with words are from the wrong side of the track: a track which like the Mobius strip turns out if one follows it, to be continuous, a ceaseless return; both sides of which seem wrong simply because they are the same, because it is a one-sided loop. The poem (and any work of art) and its metabusiness (the business about its business) interanimate to achieve a community, if they can, on the basis of such a blindness to reversibility. The problem for metabusiness is that the authenticity of transcendence is always frustrated by its being said somewhere, by its having to refer. Perhaps this problem was never more clearly demonstrated than in "Mayakovsky's Suicide Note":
There is something terrifying in the calm assurance of the poet at work till the end which is his own work. One's own death at one's own hand, fashioned with poem for footnote, does not escape, but rather assures and cultivates, community. In a related final fragment, published as "Unfinished" in the Selected Verse, Mayakovsky writes of the embodiment of words, of their force ringing through centuries:
The bringing of worlds into being (work of backbone, heart and tongue) is a collectivity in which the body and the outside are in the condition of perpetual reversal we know as community; that community which Irigaray expresses as infinitely neighbouring, and which we have noted, for Levinas lives in the epiphany, in which God is reached through the face of alterity. This interaction is what ensures that, however civilised we become, we will always, to the degree that we know anything of our selves, find those selves foreign.
Regardless of what alterity assumes of us, of our words, of the community of their failing to get across, their failing to leave well alone, we live in an assumption of foreignness which is as good as the heeding of a prayer. This itinerance of wishes provides an endless spring of scavenging. Becoming foreign is the impossible work of scavenging self, forgetting whose skin one is in. Dialogue (however foreign to each other its partners are) is the act of faith and doubt which institutes, restores and allows the word between as community.
Speech models the failure of sentience to ever catch up with itself.
Just as Levinas tells us that consciousness tears us away from the there
is (in Lechte, 1994, p. 117),
so in speech as it unfolds with others an authenticity is established
from the defeat of consciousness because the sentience which lives in
speech cannot take in all that is meant. The ongoing of speech is thus
always borne in mistakenness. That mistakenness by which we makers of
context manage never to be fully apprised of our haunting, provides the
specific breech which enables authentic freedom. Hence the need for all
of the abstractions (grammar, semantics, the canon) which serve to take
in meaning. When Levinas writes that "the word is a window; if it
forms a screen it must be rejected" (1979, p. 205) it must be replied
that unfortunately we are not privileged with the means of judging between
these. We speak and judge and go into the future, certain only of a degree
of mistakenness wherever we apprehend these processes. What forges community
is the failure of the reflective/reflexive capacities behind speech to
keep up with any of its manifestations. Herein lies the fascination of
the transcendence in which speech participates: that the between of us
remains perpetually beyond consciousness, that what we say is always beyond
the means of apprehension which are at our disposal; that we are, if in
community, always beyond ourselves.
The borders which make the body and which articulate its place in speech at once make it foreign. To choose to be in community with others is to choose to be changed. Community exists only in the circle of alterity by means of which bodies apprehend each other only ever from the outside, in the gap which sensate experience broaches and makes common.
If poetry finds no community but the one which Blanchot suggests, of those who have no community, we may argue that this is because it is the art of being lost between, because it is (or rather it has long since become, in the movement from Romanticism to Modernism) an art of homelessness, the art (to go back to Plato) of the one disallowed from the city. The particularity of its dissonances establish the frame in which are found those affinities and disaffinities which work at making community.
In dreams, Cixous writes "foreignness is absolutely pure, and this is the best thing for writing. Foreignness becomes a fantastic nationality" (1993, p. 80). Dreams for Cixous are states for which there is no transition, states in which we experience an "extreme familiarity with extreme strangeness" (1993, p. 80).
Language is the site between us in which we become participants in a
community which opens onto rejection, the risk which has, as Blanchot
writes of the community of lovers, "as its ultimate goal the
destruction of society" (1988, p. 48). Does a differend paper over
that risk? Is in its place a word, a phrase indispensable? Nation, republic,
legacy? What type of community is the invisible wishing to name, to see
itself, to say its differends by unpronouncing them, by making that is,
unintelligible, those who disagree with it?
The betweenness which makes possible culture also constitutes a risk to which it is subject: the risk of violence. It is in the exercise of this risk that civilisations build and threaten their others and as well the calm they cultivate, the idleness for which they live.
The mistake of phenomenology - we could call it Europe's mistake - is to assume, over the splits in and between subjects, too easy a passage of transcendence. The mind Marvell imagines in "The Garden" as one which, transcending its pleasures and resemblances, creates "far other worlds", may indeed have the effect of "annihilating all that's made" (1972, p. 101). But what it mainly cannot help but annihilate is its others. The mistake with which the human rights campaigner may have to contend is not so much in having generalised a particular polity as virtuous, but rather in assuming that her or his freedom (the freedom to disturb an order) is welcome; that our freedom will welcome us wherever we go.
If freedom is Europe's gift to the world, we may straightforwardly employ here Sartre's dictum: to give is to enslave. To give, he writes is "to appropriate by destruction while utilizing this destruction to enslave another". For Sartre "the craze to destroy which is at the bottom of generosity is nothing else than a craze to possess" (1989, p. 594). The context of these remarks is a discussion of two sides of possession (we may gloss these as ownership and haunting) which meet in the assertion that "a ghost is only the concrete materialization of the idea that the house and furnishings 'are possessed' " (1989, p. 587). For Sartre the possessor is the one I meet in and through the object he possesses. Generosity is a destructive function and destruction "realizes appropriation perhaps more keenly than creation does, for the object destroyed is no longer there to show itself impenetrable."
The totalising mind rewrites the world in the name of its freedom and by means of the illusion that the world was a blank slate to be inscribed. Of the result of the world-making transcendence Marvell describes: "Annihilating all that's made/ To a green thought in a green shade" (1972, p. 101), how can we not ask - whose thought, whose shade?
These destructions are in the spirit of rejection in which artwork and canon participate in order to have a world theirs: they abolish the past and other worlds that these might be made objects in their image. The process of the canon provides just such an object (as it finds in itself) for the ideal consciousness which knows only and entirely what it ought to know: itself. But does a practical consciousness know its self when it knows no other selves? Or do consciousness and community turn out to be the same track?
In The community of those who have nothing in common Lingis writes:
But is death for the artist or the writer like this? Is Mayakovsky's death like this? What of a Keats, what of a name 'writ on water'? Acknowledging alterity is intimation of mortality. But what of the canonic implications of death? Death closes the corpus, makes it uequal to others, bars the possibility of its becoming equal. Death reduces that life of process to its products and leaves those products notionally open to unending judgement.
Levinas claims that the welcoming of the Other is the consciousness
of my injustice. And Levinas' Other may not necessarily be a foreigner.
But while the foreigner may not necessarily be in proximity with me, my
knowledge of that Other, foreigner or otherwise, demands a proximity borne
of opening, in the face to face, a consciousness of the same. Yet it remains
to ask what if the Other should not welcome me? What if the face should
not summon me, what if it should turn away? There would still be these
words, whether windows or screens, and they would still lie between us;
move with us by the means in which they are made infinite and by which
we offer to ourselves our choosing, our desire. Desire in any case cannot
escape the permanent seesawing yearning of exile - to be elsewhere in
my home, and to know the foreigner's face in the body in the mirror. Blanchot's
"impossible community" is one which can never be finished and
which always and necessarily risks disappearance.
It is in that failure to decay (corollary of never arriving), which can be said of none of us personally, that we discover a community which condemns itself and in which we are, as Sartre claims, condemned to freedom.
The problem of community may be best expressed in the fact that it is not only we humans who are condemned to our freedom. For Lyotard the animal is the paradigm of the victim (1988, p. 28). In dealing with the effects of our freedom we would stand towards that most unavowable of our communities, that with which humanity never ceases to build its most fundamental differend, a gulf over which it is only our own words which we can hear. If consciousness was the characteristic of mind/fulness which served as a vehicle for that centring of ourselves in which all species have come to be threatened, then what the decentring now required depends on is its lack. In the mythology of the modern world it is Copernicus who begins us on this means by which we may learn to dwell among and not over. Robinson Jeffers writes in his poem "Carmel Point" of the extraordinary patience of things:
What of the gap between the languaged and other sensate beings, even insensate beings, (the fellow created of certain religions, the others deserving our compassion, as in Buddhism)? It is true that we cannot let them speak. Does this fact diminish our need for their voices, our need to meet ourselves in them? We push toward too easy a transcendence when the goal of seeing less of ourselves simply involves our lessening, our retreat; at least the retreat of humanity's most virulent strains. That virulence can just as well be measured by genocidal effects as by the reduction of bio-diversity: two extreme monoculturalisms. If we get there, if we manage to order that retreat; we only get there by means of speech, by means of those technologies which seem to surpass but which do not succeed in abolishing speech. And it is speech which, like the missionary's love, abolishes what it cannot see and abolishes what allows it.
How are we divided: as selves and between selves, between communities and languages? To what extent are we entitled to speak or write as if these were mannered or modelled after each other? Or is this the same mistake phenomenology makes in assuming too easy a passage among subjectivities: is it the strategy of the imperial, inclusive, pronoun we?
In Merleau-Ponty's formulation of we as (becoming) the question and of the world as reply, we discover a community, inevitably of speech, the function of which cannot help but be heuristic, because it is only in such an open and dialectical movement that speech is possible.
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Vol 4 No 1 April 2000
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady