Monday, February 21, 2011

Roland Barthes' Recantorium: The New Life of Writing

I write, I “finish” (the work), and I die; in so doing, something lives on: the Species, literature → Which is why the threat of decline or extinction that can weigh on literature tolls like an extermination of a species, a sort of spiritual genocide.


All of a sudden, then, this self-­evident truth presents itself: on the one hand, I have no time left to try out several different lives: I have to choose my last life, my new life, Vita Nova (Dante) or Vita Nuova (Michelet). And, on the other, I have to get out of this gloomy state of mind that the wearing effects of repetitive work and mourning have disposed me to → This running aground, this slow entrenchment in the quicksand (= which isn’t quick!), this drawn-­out death of staying in the same place, this fate that makes it impossible to “enter death alive” can be diagnosed in the following way: a generalized and overwhelming accumulation of “disinvestments,” the inability to invest anew → In the Middle Ages, a word: acedy. It can immediately be clarified that, if said and conceived of in a certain way, and despite the overuse of the word, acedy (a theme we’ll encounter again) is irreplaceable: the inability to love (someone, other people, the world) → Unhappiness often translates as the impossibility of giving to others.


So, to change, that is, to give a content to the “jolt” of the middle of life—­that is, in a sense, a life “plan” (a vita nova). Now, for someone who writes, who has chosen to write, that is to say, for someone who has experienced the jouissance, the joy of writing (not unlike the “first plea­sure”), there can be no other Vita Nova (or so it seems to me) than the discovery of a new writing practice. Of course, one can imagine changing topic, doctrine, theory, philosophy, method, belief (and some people do: major doctrinal mutations occur as the result of an event, a trauma). But to change ideas is banal; it’s as natural as breathing. To invest / disinvest / reinvest, there you have the very drive of intelligence in that it desires; Intelligence (a Proustian notion, what’s more) has no other means of displaying its desire than by bestowing / withdrawing love, because its object isn’t a form and therefore isn’t fetishizable; even inveterate militants are hard to come by (more and more so): they always get cited as examples ≠ “faith” is different: there are those who turn to it, those who withdraw from it, but, as a general rule, it’s tough, because it’s linked to death. Therefore, for someone who has written, the domain of the Vita Nova can only be that of writing: the discovery of a new writing practice. The New expectation is only this: that the writing practice should break with previous intellectual practices; that writing should be detached from the management of the earlier movement: the writing subject is under a social pressure to become (to be reduced to) his own manager, to manage his work by repeating it: it’s this daily grind that must be interrupted.


The New Work (new with respect to yourself: this is the postulation of the Work to be written) will probably only be possible, probably only get going in real terms when an old liking is transformed and a new one emerges → Perhaps what I’m waiting for, then, is for my Hearing to be transformed—­and perhaps that will happen to me, unmeta­phor­ical­ly, through music, which I’m so fond of → Then I might achieve the real dialectical becoming: “To become what I am”; Nietz­sche’s saying: “Become what you are,” and Kafka’s saying: “Destroy yourself . . . ​in order to make yourself into that which you are” → Thus, in this way, the distinction between the Old and the New would quite naturally be abolished, the path of the spiral marked out, and these words from Schönberg, who founded contemporary music and reinvigorated the music of the past, honored: it’s still possible to write music in C major. There, to bring things to a close, you have the object of my desire: to write a work in C Major.

-- Roland Barthes on "The Hope of Writing"

(Most people forget that in his very last lectures, Barthes spiraled away from the "death of the author" stuff.)

From: The Preparation of the Novel: Lecture Courses and Seminars at the Collège de France (1978-1979 and 1979-1980)

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