Foucault On Nietzsche And Mallarme

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)

Strangers Thoughts

From “People Are Stranger: Listening To Graham Foust” by David B. Olsen:

If there are to be strangers at all, we cannot know them — but we also cannot ignore them. The stranger simply must be there, and we must see or sense him, there, with us, lingering at the far margins of familiarity. There are no strangers in isolation. Rather, the encounter with the stranger — this moment of the register — is also an affirmation of our own strangeness.

From “A Conversation With Robert Fernandez” at/with THERMOS:

Lyric language might as convincingly be described (and accessed) as a kind of haunted singing which makes that which is most familiar to us, language, strange, and in so doing reveals the human being’s essential strangeness—reveals that one is constituted by difference and always at home in otherness.

(The title of this blog entry refers to a song I liked a lot in the ’80s.)

Peter Nicholls on George Oppen

Here are two points on Oppen’s poetry that have made a significant impact on how I think about my own work.

On the multiplicity of voices that speak in a single poem:

“Quotations are everywhere in Oppen’s poetry, especially in his later work, where he began to distinguish them by using italics rather than quotation marks, thus marking them not as speech but as another layer of text. Increasingly, the incorporation of ‘foreign’ materials does not point outside the poem, but functions rather to disrupt any sense of unified poetic ‘voice’ even though sources are often obscured.”

On poetry as a form.of knowing:

“The poet may recall a past experience, then, but that experience is fundamentally recast, perhaps so as to be almost unrecognisable, when caught up in the force-field of present perception. We are dealing not with a situation in which a given subject appropriates something other as an object of knowledge, but rather one in which (as for Heidegger) thinking and being are somehow elided. In this sense, the poetic imagination intuits rather than knows…”

From “George Oppen and the Poetics of Quotation” by Peter Nicholls