OR: CULMINATION IN THE ZERO DEGREE OF OBLIVION
I left off, in part one of this essay, on a thought that the book, in considering certain conceptual moves, is alive. Granted this is not scientific reasoning, but rather an interrogation of absence, of violence & the space of forgetting within the book qua book.
So let us repeat the larger interrogation that drives our quest before I approach questions 2 and 3 as presented in part one: How can we encounter an object that is both a book and the enigma of god’s impossibility?
In revising the book in its total form, is an insistence upon the book in itself revealed?
To consider the question with any sort of gravity, it is best to consider Bataille’s notion of expenditure in relation to poetics.
“The term poetry . . . can be considered synonymous with expenditure; it in fact signifies, in the most precise way, creation by means of loss. Its meaning is therefore close to that of sacrifice.”
And earlier in the same essay:
“In the etymological sense of the word, sacrifice is nothing other than the production of sacred things.”1
The idea of these authors’ revisions, a movement to explicitly contract the initial structure, implies that an amount of content was excessive. As such, to complete the sacred object—the book, the excess must be sacrificed. Bataille came to his idea of the notion of expenditure through anthropological studies, specifically through writings by Marcel Mauss. There is something insidiously transgressive about displacing the idea of sacrifice and expenditure from its communal function to import it into the form of the book—certainly a vessel of communication, though a book is most often considered in an autonomous circumstance, alone, separated from others. While there are exceptions, it is rare that one experiences a book in its entirety as a social activity.
But this trangession, of course, is what highlights a necessity. To consider the book in itself, we must consider the book as capable of functioning at a speculative level that lies outside the realm of ‘language as representation.’ Beyond language—for what we are considering here is not language itself—the removal of language, an absence.
“Everything connives at the deconstruction of meaning, the prospect of madness as much as ecstasy. It is always an experience which is communicated in negative terms, of tearing, of extreme anxiety, and which is expressed through illness or suffering, grounded now in love, now in radical solitude, now in echoes of warfare, now in violent destruction and now in writing.”2
The book as sacrifice is a step toward the book as experience. Not an empathetic experience mitigated by mimesis, mind you, but an experience at the zero degree of the book, recumbent at the void: an inherent experience for the reader. We are approaching magic.
“The impossible uses the object-as-lack as a medium to translate something irreducible, which makes it impossible to render it directly accessible.”3
To conjure the book as an experience in itself requires a vision. This vision a ritual, performing violence, a negation, a refusal. There is narrative, but there is also the realm that surrounds narrative, a space of affect infused with a conceptual interrogation.
What is the use-value of the book beyond simply as vessel for language?
The idea of use-value is the detritus of a capitalist society that just won’t quit. To demand value in a book is to mistake its role. Culture values narrative delivered via sympathy. There seems to be a pervasive idea that a literary canon sets out to establish a route where the publication of narrative echoes and reflects a “grand narrative” of human-kind. The authors I have invoked throughout this essay have said no to this, instead insisting upon absence. And in constructing absence, they have pushed the book toward the impossible.
(And the impossible is the realm where we can touch upon the future.)
We can sight this realm by experiencing absence, by the way we can touch death in considering the nature of a book. We must feel guilty to be alive.
“A violent interruption (the disruptive moment of wounding, of pain, of abandonment) is necessary for communication, for life. This is why we must seek out the sacrificial site and become ‘guilty’, keep the marks of the sinner to ‘win interest against God’. The confrontation between man and the void leads to a confrontation between man and God, ‘the limit of the Limitless’. We must no longer delay examining the void which indicates his name and ‘puncturing it with our laughter’. In order to reach out to the utmost limits of the mystical (secret and doomed) part, we must destroy all hope of salvation, exhaust all mysticism, thus destroying all refuge for religion.”4
The use-value of the book is all for naught. The book cannot be held as commodity, it should float like light. The future of the book should go beyond the limitations of language & into the realm of excess that is required to consider a sacrifice (expenditure), to consider death (the neutral), and the space that surrounds the diegetic experience.
It may seem that up to this point I have ostensibly ignored Tony Duvert, the third author mentioned. Blanchot & Bataille have clearly gotten their due, but what is to be said of dragging Duvert into this whole mess? While Duvert did indeed write brilliant critical essays, they deal less with the conceptual space that surrounds the book (which is an integral part of Blanchot’s praxis, and is easily invoked with Bataille), dealing instead primarily with the reception of books: the useless repetitions of a patrimonial culture. Speaking of French ads that sell the idea of learning how to write and sell a book, Duvert says:
“… If these ads express or caricature the status of literature in a literate society, it can be summed up in two negations: reading is useless; writing is laughable. The point of contact between the two acts, the book, justifies them only because it is the product of an industry that manufactures available objects and more or less rewards those who invent them. The only reliable value of the book from this market depends upon observing certain conditions: beautiful packaging, paper, images; familiar story by a famous author, a ‘giant’ whose fame reconciles popular success with academic esteem. Instead of any kind of opaque literary quality, more reliable grounds for investment, market value (the book as attractive object) and social value (its hallowed prestige) clearly expressed.”5
So we must now return to that question which sent us to embark upon these dark & rocky waves: How can we encounter an object that is both a book and the enigma of god’s impossibility?
First, let us create a map:
voice > language > book > object >
stone > god’s voice > empty signifier > absence >
[the neutral, the impossible, the void, the step beyond]
(Thus must we recognize the book.)
As I would hope has been demonstrated here, a book doubling into its own absent-other speaks to a larger concept of the book than simply editing or progress (the need for the latter a symptom of our late-capitalist hegemony). To see the book as an object that is alive that can then touch death, to experience the book as sovereign instead of several steps away, this, not tired but “new” forms of representation, is how we can consider the future of the book. It requires work, engagement, failure, rejection of a patrimonial literary culture, but it is achievable.
To conclude, I’d like to offer a fragment from Roger Giroux’s brilliant Blank (The Invisible Poem), a collection of fragments on poetics, a call to arms:
1 “The Notion of Expenditure,” tr Allen Stoekl in Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939
2 “The hatred of poetry in Georges Bataille’s writing and throught,” Marie-Christine Lala, tr Peter Collier in Bataille: Writing the Sacred
5 The Undiscoverable Reading, Tony Duvert, tr Bruce Benderson