The great task to which Mallarmé dedicated himself, right up to his death, is the one that dominates us now; in its stammerings, it embraces all our current efforts to confine the fragmented being of language once more within a perhaps impossible unity. Mallarmé’s project — that of enclosing all possible discourse within the fragile density of the word, within that slim, material black line traced by ink upon paper — is fundamentally a reply to the question imposed upon philosophy by Nietzsche. For Nietzsche, it was not a matter of knowing what good and evil were in themselves, but of who was being designated, or rather who was speaking when one said Agathos to designate oneself and Deilos to designate others. For it is there, in the holder of discourse and, more profoundly still, in the possessor of the word, that language is gathered together in its entirety. To the Nietzschean question: ‘Who is speaking?’, Mallarmé replies — and constantly reverts to that reply — by saying that what is speaking is, in its solitude, its fragile vibration, in its nothingness, the word itself — not the meaning of the word, but its enigmatic and precarious being. Whereas Nietzsche maintained his questioning as to who is speaking right up to the end, though forced, in the last resort, to irrupt into that questioning himself and to base it upon himself as the speaking and questioning subject: Ecce homo, Mallarmé was constantly effacing himself from his own language, to the point of not wishing to figure in it except as an executant in a pure ceremony of the Book in which the discourse would compose itself. It is quite possible that all those questions now confronting our curiosity (What is language? What is a sign? What is unspoken in the world, in our gestures, in the whole enigmatic heraldry of our behaviour, our dreams, our sicknesses — does all that speak, and if so in what language and in obedience to what grammar? Is everything significant, and, if not, what is, and for whom, and in accordance with what rules? What relation is there between language and being, and is it really to being that language is always addressed — at least, language that speaks truly? What, then, is this language that says nothing, is never silent, and is called ‘literature’?) — it is quite possible that all these questions are presented today in the distance that was never crossed between Nietzsche’s question and Mallarme’s reply.
from Section 1 (“The Return Of Language”) of Chapter 9 (“Man And His Doubles”) of The Order Of Things by Michel Foucault (pp 332-333)
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