Postmodern Culture v.6 n.1 (September, 1995)
For Nietzsche, the nature of the philosophical enterprise, which is simultaneously a poetic exercise, is imbued with the interrogation of the "strange," the "wicked," and the "questionable." The work of philosophy is a ubiquitous vielleicht, the "perhaps" of the circular question of value. In Nietzsche's own work, when "we finally come to a complete stop" we are, like Heraclitus, just beginning to revalue the stasis by which our questioning is marked. These opening fragments of Beyond Good and Evil have come to fascinate Derrida more and more in recent years, with their implicit questions not only of truth and value but of the transgressive desire for untruth that transparently shines through the cruder truth-questions with which we seem to occupy ourselves. This subtler work is addressed by Derrida as work toThe will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect -- what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! . . . until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance? (1)
But the collapse of the abyssal operation, described in such vertiginous language by Derrida (as both a fall and relève) does not and cannot occur, as Derrida shows, because of the laws of formalization beyond which the law, and the articulation of the law, cannot go, and which must therefore remain the nameless name. The fall and the relève are both consummate transgressions, by which the law of genre, and thus of aculturation, is formed. In Derrida's elliptical shard, as he economizes on the abyss, the fragment behaves as such: no grammatical sign to open, no period to close the period of its semantic passage: an imitative strategy of abyssal subversion. Thus is the shard, like fragmentarity itself, revealed as oxymoronic: as a parergon in the imperative voice; a parodic work outside the work operating, it seems, sui generis, within earshot of Blanchot's noli me legere but reading nonetheless.economize on the abyss: not only save oneself from falling into the bottomless depths by weaving and folding the cloth to infinity, textual art of the reprise, multiplication of patches within patches, but also establish the laws of appropriation, formalize the rules which constrain the logic of the abyss and which shuttle between the economic and the aneconomic, the raising and the fall, the abyssal operation which can only work toward the reléve and that in it which regularly reproduces collapse. (Truth in Painting 37)
Transgression means inherent structures and strategies of reversal and subversion in which, for example, Nietzsche aestheticizes the world ("a work of art that gives birth to itself"), but as a world of existential -- bodily -- proportions; he very strategically goes [not] beyond (another kind of jenseits, another dimension of [pas] au-delà), into a Dionysian collapsing together of aesthetic categories and genres that form the creative labyrinth of thought. This collapsing, a disordering and fragmented reconstruction of generic distinctions and definitions, is also a transgression of Derrida's law of genre, an admixture of sensory data and rational aesthetic. Codes of beauty, and even of being, threaten to shatter and fall before this Nietzschean reinscription, in becoming functions of parallax. Nietzsche's perspectivism, manifested in both "thought" and writing -- itself a synaesthetic disordering and yet the beginning of the transgressive order of the fragment -- originates in what appears to be the solipsistic madness of the anthological, in "radical, secular self-creation" and the "Dionysian impulse of self-submersion" (Aschheim, 51). Perspectivism is a function of experience in the world, of the moment of experience both Blanchot and Beckett seek so diligently and which is always chimerical. The chronicling of that metaphoric search produces the anthology of fictive selves and their stories, while simultaneously producing the generative conditions of work under which such stories can be produced. Since self-creation demands an accounting for excess in the form of that Dionysian impulse, such stories are always alien. The resultant radical synaesthesia produces incandescent fragments as enigmatic as Heraclitus's, and like the Heraclitan fragment simultaneously infused with wit and weight, with an unbearable lightness and an inconceivable portentousness.
1. (Transposing the modern; the paramodern permutation): addressing the paramodern means confronting the possibilities of a transgressive permutation of the modern, subtle but radical, from a humanistic, artist-centered revolutionary viewing of the world to a para-humanist, mediatized, theorized positionality which is not a worldview. The human being, as such, beginning with the body, is placed beyond the margin of the paramodern, and what remain are surrogates, echoes, mechanized topoi of the "space of the individual" in an economy of identification and consumption that cannot return to the subjective substance of the modern, but that floats next to the tenacious, energetic modernist world, a parasite on it and its transpositions from the Enlightenment and Romanticism.
2. (The Nietzschean World and Its Synaesthesia): Nietzsche synthesizes this permutated world in his aesthetic ("a work of art that gives birth to itself"), which consists of a strategic denigration of the Rational Positivist tradition of anthropomorphic agency written out of the elevation of reason, repression and suppression of emotion, circumscription of the imagination, and privileging of the artist-eye perspective. For Nietzsche the world consists of an absolute parallax, infinite points of view determined and defined by and within a fragmented poetic fabrication. Nietzsche's anti-representationalism sets the terms for the performative theoretical space of paramodern synaesthesia as a sensory disruption, a "euphoric disorientation" producing a "dizzying pleasure" (Auslander, 12).
3. (The nonmoral inherent in the Nietzschean paramodern): As Nietzsche lays it out in "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" and Beyond Good and Evil, the jenseits of the nonmoral sense transcends the longing, the guilty morality of which herd society (characterized by ressentiment) consists, and further of the apocryphal establishment of a higher plane of morality producing the ambivalent effects of, on the one hand, a soaring (and dizzying) freedom from guilty constraint (cf. "The Songs of Prince Vogelfrei") and, on the other, an acknowledgement that to be free of the constraints of conventional morality one must accept a refinement out of existence, assigning one's agency (as will-to-power) to language, narrative, and semantic/semiotic structures, which are now, in the paramodern, the loci of the primal drives-as-other.
4. (The Theoretical Tightrope): For the paramodern, this ambivalence itself consists of the theorization of the world, acceptance that experience is indeed virtual experience, hyper-experience, self-conscious without self, in the hypothetical fabrication of a self-position from which self-operations take place within the limits of discourse. If this is all-too-familiar familiar territory, it is chiefly because we paramoderns have accepted the theoretical frame of the world in which we live. In the paramodern, this relinquishing of the apparent substance of human power out of systems of sign-formation (which is not to say of communication) means that all immediacy is theoretical/hypothetical. The world is the space of theory that gives birth to itself.
At the same time, this is to say that it is poeticized, subject to and a function of its fabrication within that theoretical framework: "the world as a work of art that gives birth to itself;" and on which we gaze with indifferent passion, trying to understand who, where, and what we are in this discursive, theorized, and mediatized ("videated") world.
In the guise in which I want to discuss it here, this theorizing of the world is itself a Zarathustran tightrope, and since in this pervasively theorized paramodern world of hyper-fabrication and hyper-poetics, as Nietzsche pointed out so presciently, style is everything, I want to explore the nature of a possible paramodern style, and more particularly the aphoristic/fragmentary, "parergonal" style predicated in Nietzsche's and Derrida's aphoristics, and how their contribution to paramodern disruption illuminates the work and the world of paramodern poietes whose subject-positions are named "Maurice Blanchot's Le Pas au-delà" and "Samuel Beckett's How it is."
5. (Why and How Disruption?): But why the "disruption" of the paramodern? It is axiomatic that in the paramodern the ironic-modern becomes the parodic-postmodern, and that the permutation we generally call postmodernism concerns itself centrally with the parallel and orchestrated subversion of modernist strategies of world- and self-formation, "revealing" them as such. This is precisely what Arnold Toynbee had in mind for the term "postmodern" when, in the early 50's, he first used it: to indicate a disruption of the culminative and evolutionary humanist project of modernism which, however revolutionary and innovative its fringes might have been in the avant-gardes of the twentieth century, is always grounded in assumptions about the myth of artist-presence and the validity of the experientially-contexted poetic, however much it might be critiqued and, seemingly, undermined by the "Post-" (and this is why "Post-modern"is such a bad designation for the machinations of the paramodern-modern). Modern(ist) self-focus, that is a focus on the self, provides the culminative crisis of reality-formation that humanism fermented in the Premodern world; it requires a tendentious and strategic response. This is why Nietzsche did not "write a philosophy," as such, but always toward a philosophy of the future -- a future that could never come, since the very nature of "a philosophy," as a constellation of reasoned and ordered structures within the rational-positivist or, now, humanist, mode, is self-serving, myopic, and finally of questionable soundness, however much it may struggle to retain its validity. The paramodern, then, is disruption -- of meaning, of style, and of the philosophic and poetic project.
The paramodern is para- rather than post- because of the collusive element at its core. The law, in this case subject-centered modernism, is in a necessary collaboration with its violation. Thus, transgression and its re-inscription are always, as John Gregg shows, incomplete: "the law always survives the infraction because the latter is in the service of the former" (13). The most telling transgression in the paramodern is precisely where Blanchot and Beckett mark it: at the inception of the subject-claim they want to subvert. Gregg claims that Blanchot -- and the same is as true or truer for Beckett -- "situates the origin of reading at the very moment that the author is dismissed from the work. . . . Reading is thus the disappearance of both a personal author and a personal reader" (57). In this emergent disruption lies the origin of the noli me legere which characterizes all four of these writers' works, and which begins in the very (de)structure of the text itself.
The work of art where it appears without an artist, e.g. as body, as organization. . . . To what extent the artist is only a preliminary stage. The world as a work of art that gives birth to itself. The phenomenon "artist" is still the most transparent -- to see through it to the basic instincts of power, nature, etc.! Also those of religion and morality! "Play," the useless . . . . All art exercises the power of suggestion over the muscles and senses. . . . The aesthetic state possesses a superabundance of means of communication, together with an extreme receptivity for stimuli and signs. It constitutes the high point of communication and transmission between living creatures -- it is the source of languages. The artist who began to understand himself would misunderstand himself. One is an artist at the cost of regarding that which all non-artists call "form" as content, as "the matter itself." To be sure, then one belongs in a topsy- turvy world: for thenceforth content becomes something merely formal--our life included. We possess art lest we perish of the truth. (The Will to Power 796-822)
Here Nietzsche borrows shards and fragments from Goethe's Chorus Mysticus at the conclusion of Faust, Part Two, where Goethe makes precisely the opposite claim: "what is destructible is but a parable." Nietzsche's appropriation from and parody of Goethe's parabolic song, here in the song of the free-bird, compounds the transgressive nature of the vogelfrei, who is not only a freigeist but also (as Nietzsche points out) an escaped criminal, a bird who has broken free and who can (and should) be killed on sight; that is, whose freedom is dramatically curtailed by the sentence of death and marked by a double transgression, commission of a crime and escape from prison. The freigeist is a quintessentially liminal figure adumbrating those in Blanchot, Beckett, and the paramodern.Das Unvergängliche Ist nur dein Gleichnis! Gott der Verfängliche Ist Dichter-Erschleichnis . . . [The intransitory Is but your parable! God the ineluctable Is poetic pretension . . . ] (Gay Science, 350)
This juxtaposition emphasizes the atomism and synaesthesia -- the poetic violence -- of the Nietzschean disruption which, as a disruption of the senses, is for Nietzsche a gateway to pre-semiotic writing drives, and at the same time a strategic and parodic juxtaposition of (not) logical discourse, another step (not) beyond. Thus art, for Nietzsche, in its very subjectivity is an exploding of the subject as chimerical aesthetic object, an ontological de-realizing that undermines and destroys the law-as-subject and replaces it with the tension of and in language-as-other(ing), a "reduction of the subject to an effect of antagonistic forces" (Slöterdijk, 16), the drives by which writing operates.(222) Poet and Liar. -- The poet considers the liar a foster brother whom he did out of his milk. Hence his brother remained weak and wretched and never even attained a good conscience. (223) Vicarious senses. -- "Our eyes are also intended for hearing,"said an old father confessor who had become deaf; "and among the blind he that has the longest ears is king."
For Derrida, as for Nietzsche, the fragment's fragmentation is both limit and ineluctable transgression of the limit. Derrida's playful anthropomorphism in this passage operates as a paramodern reminder of the modernist notion of immanent meaning, itself fragmented in the paramodern and pointing toward an evolutionary developmental step (not) beyond Nietzsche: as Derrida remarks, "if Nietzsche had indeed meant to say something, might it not be just that limit to the will to mean which, much as a necessarily differential will to power, is forever divided; folded and manifolded" (133). The "differential will to power" to which Derrida points finds its difference (and of course its différance) in the gulf between text (as other) and decoder of text, but also within the tensions and textures of difference within the fragment-heap of the paramodern text itself.knows of no proper itinerary which would lead from its beginning to its end and back again, nor does its movement admit of a center. Because it is structurally liberated from any living meaning, it is always possible that it means nothing at all or that it has no decidable meaning. There is no end to its parodying play with meaning, grafted here and there, beyond any contextual body or finite code . . . . Its secret is rather the possibility that indeed it might have no secret, that it might only be pretending to be simulating some hidden truth within its folds. Its limit is not only stipulated by its structure but is in fact intimately con-fused with it. (133)
In this impossible simultaneity of thinking, what I have called fragment-thinking, lies the seed of the "impossible presence" which, as "irreparable loss of presence," reveals the death instinct as a theoretical condition at the center of every human exchange, every "economy." Thus the death instinct is not merely nihilistic nor morbid, which would be but another inscription of modernism, but a parallel or virtual subject-position for the concept, as Derrida has shown:How are we to think simultaneously, on the one hand, différance as the economic detour which, in the element of the same, always aims at coming back to the pleasure or the presence that have been deferred by (conscious or unconscious) calculation, and, on the other hand, différance as the relation to an impossible presence, as expenditure without reserve, as the irreparable loss of presence, the irreversible usage of energy, that is, as the death instinct, and as the entirely other relationship that apparently interrupts every economy? (Margins of Philosophy, 19)
Any play of differences must of course involve both space and time, and must involve the re-theorization of the space in which it occurs. In "Aphorism Countertime," some reflections on writing, time, and the fragment within the context of a critique of the proper name in Romeo and Juliet, Derrida disfigures the proper name of aphorism by calling attention to the fact that the apocryphal originary whole of any fragment is built not only on the death but on the denial of the/any whole and on the destruction of sequential logic, even while recalling a sequential logic that hovers like a shadow across the texts Derrida's aphoristic fragments from "Aphorism Countertime"show:The signified concept is never present in and of itself, in a sufficient presence that would refer only to itself. Essentially and lawfully, every concept is inscribed in a chain or in a system within which it refers to the other, to other concepts, by means of the systematic play of differences. ( Margins, 11)
Not only so-called interiorities are disjointed by fragmentary separation; the law of the fragment is not one of absolute disintegration nor of erosion but of proliferation and expansion. The paramodern fragment is a network transgressing without transforming, opens without ending, just as the last aphorism in a series is not closed but hangs suspended, as Nietzsche and Derrida show, truncated and never concluded. As Nietzsche so emphatically declares, any seeming finality of content is undermined and synaesthetized by form.
Enter the tightrope walker.
Blanchot's is a fragmentation of oscillatory complexity, a play of arching connections and non-sequituurs that inserts itself into the textual space and into narrativity, producing there a virtual narrativity and a radically undermined mimetic theory of literature and of narrative. Blanchot enters the marketplace of reversal in which "nothing is absolutely assured, neither the linking nor the order, that "gives and carries . . . a sentence of death" but which at the same time "suspends death, . . . stops it once more." This space is prohibition and transgression, denial and passing (not) beyond of the subject, just as Nietzsche's paramodern aesthetics enacts at once the prohibition/denial and the transgression/displacement of the subject/artist. We see before us the potential for a metalepsis to the "sentence of death:" if subjectivity is now a "contained, agonistic entity" (Slöterdijk, x), then any pretense to representation is the result of this agonistic, a function of the inherent tensions between forces, and is not mimetic. Here, the positionality named "aesthetic subject" or "aesthetic object" is a purely dialectical constellation emphatically not a mirror or reflection of a "self" emphatically not "unified" but unrepresentable and contaminated.
Blanchot is here troubled by the dialectical tension not only of impossible transcendence and impossible transgression but also between the fragmentary elements of Blanchot's book (i.e. its contiguity) and whatever "message" the text offers us (i.e. its continuity). This particular fragment occurs in a section of the text exploring the notion of "luck," and is immediately followed by the statement, at the beginning of the next fragment, that "it is not only with the law that luck has a remarkable relationship" (27). Blanchot goes on to point out, very much within the context of his suggestion of the slippage of "transcendence" into "transgression," that desire and luck operate within the ineluctable slippage between law as limit and transgression, the transgression of the law being the inception of another law, etc,. as Derrida so clearly points out.Transcendence, transgression: names too close to one another not to make us distrustful of them. Would transgression not be a less compromising way to name "transcendence"in seeming to distance it from its theological meaning? Whether it is moral, logical, philosophical, does not transgression continue to make allusion to what remains sacred both in the thought of the limit and in this demarcation, impossible to think, which would introduce the never and always accomplished crossing of the limit into every thought. Even the notion of the cut in its strictly epistemological rigor makes it easier to compromise, allowing for the possibility of overstepping (or of rupturing) that we are always ready to let ourselves be granted, even if it is only a metaphor. (27)
Blanchot's impossible claim of "self-effacement" ("I efface myself in language, and therefore am and am not its master") occurs in the discursive play of desire, luck, and transgression.I am not master of language. I listen to it only in its effacement, effacing myself in it, towards this silent limit where it waits for one to lead it back in order to speak, there where presence fails as it fails there where desire carries it. (30)
Here, early in Le pas au-delà, Blanchot has read the fragment-world as Beckett will read it, as a virtual series, a Möbius strip that demonstrates the "passion of the fragmentary effects of effects" and is always the "effect of separation." In this passage, Blanchot narrates the enervation of the fragmentary, down to the helix of self-referential repetition: since the fragment cannot take place in any present, it cannot be part of experience and, further "would remain without subject if it took place." This future conditional is the most unreliable of markers, a double exclusion, refusing presence and to be present. Its referent: nothing. "Nevertheless," Blanchot teases, the non-reference of the paramodern fragment (which we are reading; a double immersion in subject-denial) continues to "attest" to reference in "pieces that do not compose themselves" and "are not part of any whole."The fragment. There is no experience of it, in the sense that one does not admit it in any form of present, that it would remain without subject if it took place, thus excluding every present and all presence, as it would be excluded from them. Fragments, marks of the fragmentary, referring to the fragmentary that refers to nothing and has no proper reference, nevertheless attesting to it, pieces that do not compose themselves, are not part of any whole, except to make fragmentary, not separated or isolated, always, on the contrary, effects of separation, separation always separated, the passion of the fragmentary effects of effects. (49)
In "folding" itself, that is in its articulation, the slippage of the paramodern fragment, the pas or ne pas, unfolds itself, revealing itself as a nonreferential space whose relativism is "completely passive" and internalized with no duration and no presence. What Blanchot calls the "transgressive passivity" of the fragment and of fragmentivity, as a constitutive "dying in which nothing is suffered, nothing acted" brings us abruptly face to face with the fragmentary strategy of The Unnamable. In "taking a name only by neglecting the dying of others," the liminal and transgressive step onto the tightrope of the paramodern, then, signals the entrance to the realm of the unnamable, the paramodern jester.The "pas" of the completely passive -- the "step /not beyond"? -- is rather the folding back up, unfolding itself, of a relation of strangeness that is neither suffered nor assumed. Transgressive passivity, dying in which nothing is suffered, nothing acted, which is unconcerned and takes on a name only by neglecting the dying of others. (122)
To be silent (further echoes of Hamlet), one must possess a silent "I," or cease to operate in a world of différance; one must erase the differend. Alternatively, one might float at the very edge of silence with impunity, even transgress its law. And indeed, Beckett has here produced not paragraphs, not aphorisms, but paragraph-elements declaring that if meaning is in the surface of the text (if it is anywhere), if the representative or mimetic quality of the text is truly eradicable while not eradicating the text itself, as Nietzsche called for (i.e. if the subject disappears, leaving only the "base metal" of writing itself), then this is the result: an insular, hermetic, self-conscious prose that, while radically self-aware, remains subjectless and interstitial. Or, as the characterless voice of the unnamable occupying the subject position in The Unnamable says:Can one be ephectic otherwise than unawares? I don't know. With the yesses and the noes it is different, they will come back to me as I go along and how, like a bird, to shit on them all without exception. The fact would seem to be, if in my situation one may speak of facts, not only that I shall have to speak of things of which I cannot speak, but also, which is even more interesting, but also that I, which is if possible even more interesting, that I shall have to, I forget, no matter. And at the same time I am obliged to speak. I shall never be silent. Never. (291)
This "I" to which the writing in The Unnamable refers, as "a quite different thing," is in fact something quite différant, inscribed as other, precisely as Beckett indicates in his non-characterological narrative. Important, further, to remember that The Unnamable is written in the "first person impossible" Beckett adopts for his subject-less texts of liminal subjectivity in which the upright pronoun does not represent any subject but the voided subject position, "this dust of words." Indeed, Beckett further inscribes the otherness of the subject-position in this dizzingly detached anti-space by going on (without going on):I'm all these words, all these strangers, this dust of words, with no ground for their settling, no sky for their dispersing, coming together to say, fleeing one another to say, that I am they, all of them, all of those that merge, those that part, those that never meet, and nothing else, yes, something else, that I'm something quite different, a quite different thing" (386)
Et que j'ecoute, et que je cherche. . . A poetics of desire, of remnants and remains. Here, any notion of the transcendental teleology of aphorism is eradicated; what remains, as remains, is the impossible heap, in equivalency, transmuting and permutating before our eyes into their own negations, authorizing the page on which they are to be found, and simultaneously, opaquely, remaining behind, earthbound yet afloat. Beckett operates here as the ironist on a tightrope of paramodern discourse, a perpetual-motion machine poised at the threshold of the abyss yet always slipping on away from it, forcing us to rely on these substantial and insubstantial words. And why? Toward what end?: the storyesque, as we have confronted it in Blanchot:. . . I'm something different, a quite different thing, a wordless thing in an empty place, a hard shut dry cold black place, where nothing stirs, nothing speaks, and that I listen, and that I seek . . . . (386)
Beckett's pseudo-teleology here, the death-wish parodied into the word-wish for silence beyond the door, the threshold, of words which, like the door of the Law in Kafka's parable, cannot be and cannot but be transgressed, permits only the slippage of discursive permutations back into the fold of words, even if they take the form of quasi-words mechanically anthropomorphosed -- murmurs, always "far from here" and always "too late," but with the tendentious possibility of "carrying me [the objective pronoun] into my story," always in the future conditional. In this notion of the transgressive fragmentation of language, the door of sense can only be opened (transgressed) in the storyesque, and always operates to occlude the subjecthood of experience that would cross over. This dialectic of limitation and limitedness, of the possible and the impossible, points toward the nameless non-transcendence of the fragment. Indeed, as Beckett concludes, "how would I know?". . . to have them carry me into my story, the words that remain, my old story, which I've forgotten, far from here, through the noise, through the door, into the silence, that must be it, it's too late, perhaps it's too late, perhaps they have, how would I know, in the silence you don't know, perhaps it's the door, perhaps I'm at the door, that would surprise me, perhaps it's I, perhaps somewhere or other it was I, I can depart, all this time I've journeyed without knowing it, it's I now at the door, what door, what's a door doing here, it's the last words, the true last, or it's the murmurs, the murmurs are coming, I know that well, no, not even that . . . (413)
"The chains of substitutions of names" define Beckett's strategic effacement as the signature of a radically problematic presence of law as separation in the condition of an eternal simulacrum. For Nietzsche, Derrida, Blanchot, and Beckett, poiesis is unavoidable simulacrum, what Derrida calls ineviterability. The othering at the center of paramodern poiesis, and its inscription of the unnamable, is, Derrida claims, "prenomial"(Margins, 26), ineviterable, transgression that "dislocates itself." Thus Beckett's impossible heap, what Linda Hutcheon calls "a flux of contextualized identities" (A Poetics of Postmodernism, 59), wanders, refusing to follow lines of symmetrical and integral inverses, at play, announcing or testifying to "the unity of chance and necessity in calculations without end" (Margins, 7).There is no name for it. . . . This unnamable is not an ineffable being which no name could approach. . . . This unnamable is the play which makes possible nominal effects, the relatively unitary and atomic structures that are called names, the chains of substitutions of names. (Margins of Philosophy, 26)
No discussion of Blanchot, Beckett, the marginal, and transgression can proceed without reference to Bataille who, throughout his work, explores the nature of excess and the creative negativity of the margin. Bataille's discussion of the economy of transgression (general and regional) can be found in the Oeuvres complètes VII-VIII. See also Joseph Libertson's Proximity: Levinas, Blanchot, Bataille and Communication (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), Chapter Two, for a discussion of transgression in Bataille and Blanchot.
One must distinguish between Bataille's notion of transgression as general economy and of "failure as a virtue" (Gregg 15) and Foucault's notion of transgression, as laid out in his "A Preface to Transgression," published in 1963. For Foucault, as Roy Boyne points out, transgression is "magnetic, wonderful, unnameable, and waiting to reveal the face of the absolutely unacceptable" (Boyne 80-81). Many of the themes developed in this essay are adumbrated in Foucault's transgressive which, though it at first appears to be a metaphysical or transcendental phenomenon, is finally an issue of identity and madness: "our face in an other mirror, not the face of the other seen through our mirror, the mirror of reason" (Boyne 81). For Foucault as for Bataille, an uncrossable limit cannot exist except as a "non-positive affirmation," which is just the sort of abyssal space Blanchot and Beckett introduce.Back
Gregg has a good deal to say, very usefully, about the relationship between the transgressive and the economy of the law. His Maurice Blanchot and the Literature of Transgression (Princeton, 1994) is a fine study of the ways in which Blanchot relates, through Bataille's regional and general economy, to the Nietzschean world of contingency. Gregg adumbrates a thorough sense of the paramodern in his work, particularly in his sense of the vertiginous inherent in Blanchot's writing. Gregg states that at the heart of the aesthetic experience is the transgression of the law. This is emblemized in Orpheus' turning -- for the second time -- to look at Eurydice, thus losing her forever. That turn is the unavoidable, endemic transgression of the divine law, the turn "marks the point at which power and mastery cease to be his overriding concerns and are replaced by the dispossession of fascination" (47). This turning symbolizes for Gregg the central elements of transgression: impatience and desire. Orpheus' glance is in fact the success of the aesthetic process, since in it he maintains the distance between the impossible figure of Eurydice and himself, producing the perpetual "approach to an ever-receding horizon that remains perpatually out of reach" (47). This transgression of success itself -- the "failure"of art is indeed its success, as Gregg shows Libertson pointing out, renders art a "mobilization of possibility which . . . realizes too late its essential rapport with impossibility, and realizes that its only unwavering trajectory toward failure is its only 'authenticity'" (146; Gregg 48). This inversion of so-called success and so-called failure is an emblematic marker for both Blanchot and Beckett, as it is for Nietzsche and Derrida.Back
As a parody of the noli me tangere with which Jesus confronts Mary Magdalene immediately following the resurrection, this noli marks the exclusion of any possible "writer" from any conceivable text. If Christ is the inspiration for the transgressive nature of the disruptive texts of Nietzsche/Derrida/Blanchot/Beckett, Mallarme is the catalyst: "the volume takes place all alone: done, been" (Gregg 57). As both limit and unavoidable invitation to transgress the limit/law, the text circulates between these poles in a series of looped returns concentrated in the aphorism.Back
For Blanchot and Beckett, the issue of transgression and the fragment is integrally enmeshed with the theme of death. Transgression, in writing, is a spectacle in which culture witnesses the illegal without committing it. But the transgression -- the "text itself," and in the texts in question this is compounded by the paramodern strategies of fragmentation and parody -- leads finally to sacrifice, in which death itself is transferred to a figurative other [See Gregg 14]. The fragment takes the form of the emblematic sparagmos, parodying the nature of the sacrifice without giving up its agency.Back
For Blanchot, as we have seen, "transgression" is a "less compromising way to name" "transcendence," since "transgression" always re-introduces the notion of the limit and the law "into every thought." In this circularity, every advance is a regression, every success a failure, every completion another opening. The same strategy of reversal takes place in Beckett's work.Back
Bataille, George. L'Expérience intérieure. 1943.
-----. Oeuvres complètes VII-VIII. Paris: Gallimard. 1973.
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