Certainly there subsists a presence of difficulty in the works of Dante, Mallarmé and Joyce, a difficulty that is both constituted and aggravated by the critical traditions of each writer. These traditions form and inform an admirable archive. Each further contribution to this archive--each new reading, each additional gloss, each supplementary exegesis, each fresh explication du texte--seeks to remove or clarify the obscurity that it has highlighted or enframed. Difficulty and obscurity are the critical prepositions of Dante, Mallarmé and Joyce and of their wake. In the case of Dante, scholarship is fortunate to have at its disposal a long heritage of commentaries which has itself been canonized in various forms: Guido Biagi's three volume commentary of commentaries (1921-40), the esteemed volumes of the Enciclopedia dantesca (1970-8), and more recently the "On-line" Dartmouth Dante Project (under the sure guidance of Robert Hollander) which makes six (nonconsecutive) centuries of commentary available to any and all hooked up to that most Medieval of fin-de-siècle contributions, the "Internet." Joyce and Mallarmé studies are not quite as fortunately documented yet, but there is in each case more than a bare minimum of critical meta-commentary. Impressively, Joyce has cast a shadow upon all the gore and road-kill of the "Information Superhighway" and there are even those--following the path of Joyce's influence upon the neurons in the dead Canadian brain of Marshall McLuhan--who maintain that the Joycean revolution, such as it was, is being fulfilled in and by these new and formidable media technologies. Commentary loves communication, but nature, still.... Each new commentary, such as this one, feeds upon its predecessors, digests their discoveries and regurgitates these in ever-growing piles at the "tumptytumtoes" (FW: 003.21) of its feet, all in hopes of someday, some glorious day, becoming a citation itself in some newer, forthcoming commentary. Tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à une apostille. A thesis is thus excreted through a twisted path laden with the residue of past theses.
As for Joyce, Dante and Mallarmé, it is neither our intention nor our desire to write an influence study, nor shall we undertake a study of common themes or tropes,such work has already been done, and done well. In brief, our essay is to read the works of Dante, Mallarmé and Joyce under certain of the propositions of Maurice Blanchot concerning silence, accomplishment (cunning) and communication (exile). To take seriously Blanchot's notion of silence here means that there will be some aspect of the text--Dantean, Mallarméan, Joycean--that does not submit to a judicious reckoning, some aspect that is fundamentally apart from sense and sensibility. One could merely call this aspect "obscurity," purse one's lips and gloss away. Instead we will be asking how these texts can be said to be "difficult," their apartness from normal and normative discourse, and then we will address certain implications of this apartness for critical methodologies. Ultimately we will be claiming that Dante, Mallarmé and Joyce discover in language an ability to say nothing and thus for them literature, the literary work becomes an interval of nul iteration.
Le don d'écrire est précisément ce que refuse l'écriture. Celui qui ne sait plus écrire, qui renonce au don qu'il a reçu, dont le langage ne se laisse pas reconnaître, est plus proche de l'inexpérience inéprouvée, l'absence du 'propre' qui, même sans être, donne lieu à l'avènement. Qui loue le style, l'originalité du style exalte seulement le moi de l'écrivain qui a refusé de tout abandonner et d'être abandonné de tout. Bientôt, il sera notable; la notoriété le livre au pouvoir: lui manqueraient l'effacement, la disparition.The only authority possible is to its unworking or fragmentation (the don d'écrire: writing's giving itself over to fragmentation). The gift of writing is predicated as a silence, the burning whiteness of the page that admits no speaking and no authority (and to no mark of an auctor such as stylistics). Writing is thus not exactly productive. Even within the work of culture there might be an inachieved or neutral term: a crisis in which silence resounds, an enunciation that dissimulates silence through an operation of unworking.
Ni lire, ni écrire, ni parler, ce n'est pas le mutisme, c'est peut-être le murmure inouï: grondement et silence (Blanchot 1980, 154-5).
We will, in this introductory chapter, begin our study by investigating the implications of the critical presupposition that these three writers are difficult and obscure, since it is this assumption that underlies much of the work on these authors, either individually or in combination. Indeed the early critics of both Joyce and Mallarmé are united in their leveling of charges of pointless, sterile and excessive obfuscation. There is something there--some muddle--that is unclear and therefore scandalous to the refined tradition of commentary. The riposte would be that that muddle can be accounted for by critical methodologies; that there is a tradition of difficulty and that tradition can and should now welcome a new, happy member upon the bookshelf. Such criticism, at its most facile, finds "l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle" (Par: XXXIII.145) hidden within "una selva oscura" (Inf: I.2), lurking like some infantile prize. Even Sade has been numerated by the Dewey-Decimal Aufhebung. Maurice Blanchot--himself no stranger to obscurity--characterizes this work of restitution as follows:
La culture travaille pour le tout. C'est là sa tâche et c'est une bonne tâche. ... Pour elle, la signification d'une oeuvre, c'est son contenu, et ce qui est posé et deposé dans les oeuvres, leur côté positif, c'est la représentation ou la reproduction, d'une réalité extérieure ou intérieure. ... L'idéal de la culture, c'est de réussir des tableux d'ensemble, des reconstitutions panoramiques qui permettent de situer dans une meme vue Schoenberg, Einstein, Piacsso, Joyce--et, si possible, Marx par-dessus le marché et, mieux encore, Marx et Heidegger: alors, l'homme de culture est heureux, il n'a rien perdu, il a ramassé toutes les miettes du festin (Blanchot 1969, 587-8).Restitution is inevitable. One is always already spoken for in the first-person plural of culture and exegesis; one can always be swept up by the latest technologies. However there may be some interval temporarily unassimilable to this happy work of restitution, that which Blanchot, following from Bataille's notion of la dépense, calls "l'exigence fragmentaire de l'oeuvre" (Blanchot 1969, 507). Instead of being a work obscure, perhaps the work--the work of, say, Joyce, Dante and Mallarmé--stands apart from the very possibility of sense and nonsense. Calling a work obscure assumes that there is already a sense and meaning there in the work that has beenobscured.
Blanchot directly addresses this issue in his review of Charles Mauron's Mallarmé l'Obscur: "La poèsie de Mallarmé est-elle obscure?" Surprisingly, Blanchot's answer to this question is a counterintuitive no: Mallarmé's poetry is not obscure, or more precisely, obscurity is not the issue here. Blanchot rigidly distinguishes between signification poetic and normal, or rational: "Le premier caractère de la signification poètique, c'est qu'elle est liée, sans changement possible, au langage qui la manifeste" (Blanchot 1943, 127). Unlike normal language, poetic language is inseparable from its words: "Ce que le poème signifie coïncide exactement avec ce qu'il est" (Blanchot 1943, 128). The poem reveals itself as a singularity void of communicative imperative. Blanchot characterizes rational language as a language of transparency in which individual words bear no tangible effect upon communication and that explication--by translating obscurity into discourse--obviates the poetic utterance (130). In contradistinction, in poetry language is not communicative, it ceases to be a tool. "Et l'on comprend un poème, non par lorsqu'on en saisit les pensées ni mêmes lorsqu'on s'en représente les relations complexes, mais lorsqu'on est amené par lui au mode d'existence qu'il signifie, provoqué à une certain tension, exaltation ou destruction de soi-même" (129). The overtly Heideggerian phraseology of the first portion of this statement yields a decidedly non-Heideggerian punch-line: destruction de soi-meme. That which appears obscure threatens intelligibility, to the extent of even threatening its own intelligibility, if not its ontological status.
Then, this shall be our thesis: in language--in the languages of Joyce, Dante and Mallarmé--there is an enunciation, a difficult, tortuous enunciation that aims towards some achievement, and in so doing it aims towards the very destruction of itself-as-enunciation. Each writer set out to write a book of all earthly experience, the book, and indeed each, in their own manner, wrote that book, each acheieved their promise. Yet each achievement, each handsome volume, can only be said to have been achieved because of some formidable negation. There is, there, in achievement, the utterance's silencing. These are thus three different works that work upon a neutrality. This is a precarious affinity to describe in that it is suceptible of becoming a trait around which one can organize three highly disparate works, that it can become, that it has always already become, a totalzable and archivable genre of difficulty and of silence. Derrida, in an uncharacteristically strong Blanchotian register calls this force:
la voix de M. Blanchot nous rappelle avec l'insistance de la profendeur qu'il est la possibilité même de l'écriture et d'une inspiration littéraire en général. Seule l'absence pure--non pas l'absence de ceci ou de cela--mais l'absence de tout où s'annonce toute présence--peut inspirer, autrement dit travailler, puis faire travailler. Le livre pur est naturellement tourné vers l'orient de cette absence qui est, par-delà ou en deçà de la génialité de toute richesse, son contenu propre et premier. Le livre pur, le livre lui-même, doit être, par ce qui est en lui le plus irremplaçable, ce'livre sur rien' dont rêvait Flaubert. Rêve en négatif, en gris, origine du Livre total qui hanta d'autres imaginations. Cette vacance comme situation de la littérature, c'est ce que la critique doit reconnaître comme la spécificité de son objet, autour de laquelle on parle toujours (Derrida 1967, 17).The works of Dante, Mallarmé and Joyce are, by simple virtue of being works, subject to force: they can be called obscure. Yet, even as much as this is the case (and we make no pretense otherwise), and indeed, precisely because this is the case, these works effect a negative interval upon discourse. This is what we call their silence. This is what, lamentably, we will be restituting into discourse for our own personal gain.
Je ne donnerai qu'un example de mot glissant. Je dis mot: ce peut être aussi bien la phrase où l'on insère le mot, mais je me borne au mot silence. Du mot il est déjà, je l'ai dit, l'abolition du bruit qui est le mot; entre tous les mots c'est le plus pervers, ou le plus poétique: il est lui-même gage de sa mort (Bataille, 28).[segment on Blanchot and the neuter omitted]
In an essay admirably contra-thetic (actually two distinct essays yoked together under a similar thesis), Jean-Luc Nancy, following very closely from Bataille and Blanchot, names this bibliophilic negativity "exscription" and describes the paradoxical problem of fragmentary irruption, which always risks becoming a force, becoming a book, just another book:
In order--but the gesture of writing is never satisfied with a teleology--to dissolve--but in a dissolution itself dissociated from the values of solution always conferred on it by metaphysics--not only the ideal identity inscribed in the blinding whiteness of the Book (for in the depth of eternal light, everything scattered throughout the universe is reunited, as if bound by love, into a single book; Dante) but to dissolve even the privation, which also forms the privation, the privitization, of the Book. The Book is there--in each book occurs the virgin refolding of the book (Mallarmé)--and we must write on it, make it a palimpsest, overload it, muddy its pages with added lines to the point of the utter confusion of signs and of writings [here we muddy Nancy's unconvoluted prose and add the name Joyce]: we must, in short, fulfill its original unreadability, crumpling it into the shapeless exhaustion of cramp (Nancy, 322).Nancy's proposed imperative of fulfilling an originary unreadability is impressive, and under other circumstances perhaps we would listen to it. But it would seem, following from Blanchot's argument above, that this original unreadability is not an origin after all. Unreadability is the preposition of reading that cannot be agrapher. In the happy reuniting of the book there is an intervallic dissolution, and this intervallic dissolution--rather than sunder unity--is also the mark of the possibility of the book. Dante, too, dissolves the privation. Meaning (an absolute achievement of auto-coincidental being), as such, is not even possible for Dante (reader of Aristotle and witness to God!).
The subject, then, of our dissertation is this interval of exscription, an interval which--as Paul Celan noted--"shows a strong tendency towards silence" (Celan, 48). As Nancy implies, this tendency is the tendency of the book, the book as conceived by Mallarmé, and also by Dante and Joyce, a project "à ne donner force et existence poétique qu'à ce qui est hors de tout (et hors du livre qui est ce tout), mais, par là, à découvrir le centre même du Livre" (Blanchot 1959, 304). Our thesis then is that the book for Dante, Mallarmé and Joyce is this interval apart, the interval of silence.
Henri Mondor, in his biography of Mallarmé, makes a slightly florid claim: "Sa fidélité aux engagements de sa jeunesse lui a fait commencer, remplir et finir par l'amour une vie que la recherche de la Beauté et la vocation de Poésie ont seules fascinée" (Mondor, 7-8). Stripped of a certain nostalgia, this claim could be easily applied to Dante and Joyce as well. All three writers--whilst engaged in writing the works that are now called, for better or worse, their "masterpieces"--followed from certain tenets and implications of their early work. The results of these delineations--in as much as they could be claimed to have faithfully fulfilled the original notions and plans of their projects--involved a silencing or an annulation of the very idea subtending their work. To really follow the logic of the originary idea entails its silencing or desistance. They all fulfilled their promises faithlessly, by, in a certain way, exscribing the originary idea. They each wrote their book by proffering the withdrawal of its possibility. Though thine own exscription be true....
We begin then with Dante. There is much to be careful with the Divina Commedia, as Philippe Sollers astutely warns: "Peu d'oeuvres sont aussi séparées de nous que la Divina Commedia: plus proche dans l'histoire que l'Éneide, où elle prend sa source, elle nous paraît cependant plus lointaine; commentée et répétée avec une érudition maniaque, elle garde à nos yeux son secret" (Sollers 1968, 44). The reason for this, perhaps, is that there is no secret there--in the Commedia--to be revealed, at least not one that could be called, after the fact, a secret. In a text so apparently concerned with approaching a definite and definitive revelation (and a divine one at that), there may be very little that can be revealed. To be sure there will always be myriad matters to gloss and annotate, but such commodious comprehensiveness alone will not recover the Commedia's trajectory for us.
As Curtius notes, Dante reconfigures the trope of the book into a summum of human knowledge, a summum that leads to God (Curtius, 326). The trope of the book appears early in Dante's work, from the poem E' m'incresce di me sí duramente: "Lo giorno che costei nel mondo venne, / secondo che si trova / nel libro de la mente che vien meno" (R: 65, ll. 57-9). From such wishful beginnings, Dante opens up the problem of the book: the book as the pentecostal path of access to divinity and he figures his own work as the inscription of this codex that leads him to God. The Vita Nuova opens by announcing that it is a transcription of the opening of this path:
In quella parte del libro de la mia memoria dinanzi a la quale poco si potrebbe leggere, si trova una rubrica la quale dice: Incipit vita nova. Sotto la quale rubrica io trovo scritte le parole le quali è mio intendimento d'assemplare in questo libello e se non tutte, almeno la loro sentenzia (VN: 1).The life of Dante is inscribed as this transcription of "the book of the opening of the mind to light" (FW: 258.31-2), an opening figured throughout the book byDante's evolving appreciation of the beatific quality of Beatrice. Domenico de Robertis has called the Vita Nuova the first book in Italian literature because it gathers and articulates a set of poems into a narratologically coherent unity or sequence (de Robertis, 18). Its novelty is its unity, the subsumption of a life into a life under God. The act of transcribing the book of memory makes a unity out of disparity. However the transcription of the divine inscripting is left incomplete, at the end of the Vita Nuova the scribe breaks off and announces that he has yet to undertake his work:
Appresso questo sonetto apparve a me una mirabile visione, ne la quale io vidi cose che mi fecero proporre di non dire più di questa benedetta infino a tanto che io potesse più degnamente trattare di lei. E di venire a ciò io studio quanto posso, sì com'ella sae veracemente. Sì che, se piacere sarà di colui a cui tutte le cose vivono, che la mia vita duri per alquanti anni, io spero di dicer di lei quello che mai non fue detto d'alcuna. E poi piaccia a colui che è sire de la cortesia, che la mia anima se ne possa gire a vedere la gloria de la sua donna, cioè di quella benedetta Beatrice, la quale gloriosamente mira ne la faccia di colui qui est per omnia secula benedictus (VN: XLII.1-2).In concluding the book of his memory, the poet announces that he has not yet accomplished his task of properly praising Beatrice. Literally this passage states that an interval of silence is to be required in order to represent Beatrice. It is as if at the moment he is unable to undertake the final step of his spiritual pilgrimage. The Vita Nuova then could be called a book in its very emphasis upon its lack of an autotelic conclusion. In place of a conclusion it proffers silence, tentatively. The slowly progressing figuration of Beatrice throughout the narrative remained inadequate to Beatrice. However, perhaps out of tact, the mirabile visione named in the final chapter does not even lie within this rarefied economy of adequate signification, it stands apart.
The Vita Nuova began by resuscitating the images of memory and ends with a visionary venture into the future. The future is a project of writing which cannot be subsumed by the present. In the open-endedness of this conclusion the poet gives us the thought of another, futural poet who awaits inspiration to speak of Beatrice in an absolutely new way. Once inspired, all that the poet can affirm is that there is nothing to affirm and nothing that he can write about. In this sense Dante's inspiration by Beatrice is not without analogy to Mallarmé's crise. The poet is he who cannot write, the figure of a writer surrendered to a crise de vers, a crisis of inspiration. To be a pilgrim then is to be a poet, to venture forth into darkness and submit (submit by transgression) to the economy of the interval. This could then be the project of the Commedia. The book begins with disjunction, it begins as a figuration of this disjunction.
Our concern with Dante in the following chapter is to show that the Paradiso does not redress this disjunction, rather it is written in the wake of the impossibility of a book of pentecostal resolution. The Paradiso ends just as apart from divinity as the Vita Nuova. Through the manipulation of languages, through the marks of the separation of human tongues from a divine plenitude, the path to God remains impassable even as this transversal is transcribed. Indeed, the transcription both denies and is the mark (inscription) of this denial of transversal. The experience of the book is post-babelian and this leads to a rupture or generative discontinuity, the book is already inscribed by the plurality and plurability of languages. Through an unparalleled access to God (an access without possible analogue) at the close of the Paradiso, Dante writes the désoeuvrement of the book.
This experience of désoeuvrement then comes to be the major problem for Mallarmé: the necessary inability to write the book. Chapters 3 and 4 will detail the poetic manifestations of this inability. At the beginning of Le livre, instrument spirituel, Mallarmé wrote that "tout, au monde, existe pour aboutir à un livre" (OC: 378), even then that which has not been subsumed into the project of the Grand OEuvre, impacts into a book. All the fragments that Mallarmé has left behind (including the essays concerning the book, such as Le livre, instrument spirituel) end up in a book. The book then is the planning and reckoning that he had formulated vers le livre. As he wrote to his friend Henri Cazalis in July 1868: "Mon oeuvre est si bien préparé et hiérarchisé, représentant comme il le peut, l'Univers, que je n'aurais su, sans endommager quelqu'une de mes impressions étagées, rien en enlever" (CII: 99). This hierarchy had been well planned, as testified to by the notes Mallarmé had left behind and that have been collected and edited by Jacques Scherer. Scherer claims that the book would have been autotelic: "Le Livre est réel dans toute la mesure où il est superposable à lui-même. Sinon, il n'est que fantasie gratuite, jeu de ce hasard que la fonction première de la littérature est, très exactement, d'abolir" (Scherer, 94; cf. 84-94). These notes are thus framed as an imperfect record of a thinking of and towards the book, Scherer has then defined them by some missing book which would have been their fulfillment. But Mallarmé never wrote this book, never was able to write this book. In its never-present place is another book, the crise de vers, vers le livre.
Blanchot criticized Scherer's volume in the essay "Le livre à venir" (published in the book of the same name). He only directly addresses Scherer's project in two lengthy footnotes but the entire essay could be construed as a rebuttal against Scherer's project. In the first of these footnotes Blanchot notes the editorial difficulty of subsuming the heterogeneous fragments under the title of a single project. Further he notes the Apollinairian dictum to publish all (also an Apollinian dictum, as well as one suggested by Sade's Juliette). Blanchot articulates this injunction concerning communication as the exigency that communicates: "L'écrivain n'a aucun droit sur elles et il n'est rien en face d'elles, toujours déjà mort et toujours supprimé.... Quelle est cette puissance?... [Mallarmé] l'a appelée le Livre" (Blanchot 1959, 314 n.1; cf. 312-314 n.1). In the second footnote on Scherer, Blanchot points out that Scherer's claims that the published work points to a singular ontogenetic Livre-as-idea is untenable because the performative aspect to the Livre (which are most extensively detailed in the notes) guarantees that the Livre will always be iterated variably, with no original. The Livre is always process and "est toujours autre... il n'est jamais là, sans cesse à se défaire tandis qu'il se fait" (330 n.1). The book remains conjugated in the conditional, and this conditionality is what has impacted into a book, which is still, always, a livre à venir. The book thus oscillates between manifestation and disappearance, a disappearance of what never had been.
Like Dante, Mallarmé planned a book, the evidence of which is fundamentally discontinuous with the conception. Indeed, it is this very discontinuity which informs the book that has been left behind to read. In chapter 3 we will pursue this notion of oscillation in Mallarmé's critical work and in some of his poems (Salut, Brise marine, Le vierge, le vivace et le bel aujourd'hui, and À la nue accablante tu). The poems Salut and À la nue accablante tu--which both concern tempestuous sea-voyages--were planned by Mallarmé to serve as the beginning and end for the edition of his collected poems published in Brussels in 1899 by Edmond Deman (OC: 1406, 1341). The poems fall as book-ends to a book Mallarmé did write. We will argue that these poems constitute an interval (a legible trace) of the illegibility of the book: how, through lexical manipulations, these poems retract the possibility that they might be read and understood as complete iterations. These sea-faring poems entail some of the possibilities of traversal that haunted Dante (specifically the disastrous and "folle volo" [Inf: XXVI.125] of Ulysses), but instead of iterating a progression-towards-disaster (or, for that matter, salvation), instead of iterating a teleologically bounded and defined passage, the poems iterate a neither/nor experience of the interval, an interval unsubsumed by an economy of completion. The interval is neither calamitous nor knowable.
L'écriture fragmentaire serait la risque même. Elle ne renvoie pas à une théorie, elle ne donne pas lieu à une pratique qui serait définie par l'interruption. Interrompue, elle se poursuit. S'interrogeant, elle ne s'arroge pas la question, mais la suspend (sans la maintenir) en non-réponse. ... L'exigence fragmentaire, liée au désastre. Qu'il n'y ait cependant presque rien de désastreux dans ce désastre, il faudra bien que nous apprecions à le penser sans peut-être le savoir jamais (Blanchot 1980, 98-9).In chapter 4 we will discuss how Un coup de dés extends this fragmentary intervallic illegibility to include the notion of the Livre itself. Explicitly playing words against the whiteness of the page, the possibility of the book is suggested only to undergo perdition. By being a contested fragment of the Livre,Un coup de dés puts into play the generative discontinuity of the Livre. As with Dante, the book is discontinuous with its legible form, and this discontinuity is precisely what there is left to read.
And then, in the wake of Dante and Mallarmé, Joyce. Despite Dante and Mallarmé's obvious influence on Joyce, the Joycean oeuvre seems, at first glance, to be entirely different, overloaded as it is with all manner of detail and stylistic eccentricity. Finnegans Wake is neither a clear albeit convoluted pilgrimage to divinity like the Divina Commedia, nor is it a brazen lexical tempest like Un coup de dés. Yet there are some affinities between this triad of works in their exploration and exploitation of the post-babelian possibilities and implications of language. The Wake begins from the possibility of a discontinuity between language and the plenitude that is named by the Book. Like the Paradiso and Un coup de dés, the book is the interval of this discontinuity. All of these works are derived from their ceaseless deferral of a linguistic pentecost.
Our Joycean investigation will begin with a consideration of the narrativity of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. We will argue that Ulysses, in that it remains within a genre of narrative, still follows the ("Ulyssean") path of a progression, that it remains circumscribed within some teleology, albeit a teleology under the absence of a telos, "the apathy of the stars" (U: 17.2226). In Finnegans Wake this becomes "the irony of the stars" (FW: 160.22). It is here then--with a withdrawn and ironic absentation of a telos--that there is obscurity and difficulty, the dissolution or suspension of the possibility of meaning achieved in the interval of a tenebrific play of writing, "every splurge on the vellum" (179.30-1). The irony is there unrelieved, a bottomless rupture dès astre:
Si la rupture avec l'astre pouvait s'accomplir à la façon d'un événement, si nous pouvions, fût-ce par la violence de notre espace meurtri, sortir de l'ordre cosmique (le monde) où, quel que soit le désordre visible, l'arrangement l'emporte toujours, la pensée du désastre, dans son imminence ajournée, s'offrirait encore à la découverte d'une expérience par laquelle nous n'aurions plus qu'à nous laisser ressaisir, au lieu d'être exposés à ce que se dérobe dans une fuite immobile, à l'écart du vivant et du mourant; hors expérience, hors phénomène (Blanchot 1980, 92).Our final chapter will argue how Finnegans Wake stands apart from an economy of completion by redegenerating writing one splurge at a time. We will argue that through the dense concatenations of diverse meanings, the Wake lacks both whither and whence, that it remains apart from a defining and delimiting meaning precisely because it engorges so many meanings and possibilities of meanings into its pages. Finnegans Wake assimilates so many disparate meanings that it effects a disparition of meaning. Finnegans Wake stands as the work of writing an indefinite cyclical prolongation of the recounting of a cryptic loss: the memorial (or crypt) indistinguishable from the ostensibly memorialized (or en-crypted). "Only for that these will not breathe upon Norronsen or Irenean the secrest of their soorcelossness" (023.18-9). The deepest, most arcane and cryptic secret is soorcelossness: a preterite loss of origin which remains most secret. The crypt does not merely conceal but also hides the event of its concealing as a secrest. The crypt, as such, is effaced and re-marked by cryptic marks.It is a palimpsest of dissimulated marks in-scribed over a still illegible writing. The crypt is at once intelligible and illegible. Each word--whether one would be so crude as to call it Joycean, Mallarméan or Dantean--utters a suggestiveness (an expansion of evocative referentiality) encrypted. The world is proffered and yet nothing is there on the page except words.
From L'action restrainte: "L'encrier, cristal comme une conscience, avec sa goutte, au fond, de ténèbres relative à ce que quelque chose soit: puis, écarte la lampe. Tu remarquas, on n'écrit pas, lumineusement, sur champ obscur, l'alphabet des astres, seul ainsi s'indique, ébauché ou interrompu; l'homme poursuit noir sur blanc" (OC: 370). The inkpot purveys the possibility of darkness which disturbs the clarity of the blank page into a wake or écume of suggestions. However this inkpot--l'encrier--is also that which submits crise; to write is to surrender to the interval that is subsisted by the totality of inscription--the purlieu of the alpha to omega of the alphabet des astres. The Books then are these "obscure" and "secrest" stellar crypts, the writing that takes place after the Book is no longer possible. These books--Paradiso, Un coup de dés and Finnegans Wake--are books that take the place of the possibility of the Book. Yet, despite their pervasive difficulties (which we will attempt to reckon with in the body of this dissertation), there is still enough of a book there to read. These books remain subject to force; despite their silences they are made to speak, as if they had secrets to be unconcealed and lessons to teach. Even, especially, exscription comes to be reinscribed into an archive. But by being written and bound into folio, these books perturb and pervert the insouciant stellar silence whence they ironically and perpetually speak. These books prematurely give themselves over to silence with only the preterite traces of perjured perdition left in their perilously periphrastic wakes. These books perplex their readers precisely because they perpetuate this discontinuity in perishable words inflicted upon the arrogance of a blank page.
Giorgio Agamben, "Il sogno della lingua: per una lettura di Polifilo," Lettere italiane 34.4 (1982): 466&endash;481.
Dante Alighieri, Rime, ed. Gianfranco Contini, Turin: Einaudi,
1939, 1995. (R + page.line)
--. La divina commedia, ed. Fredi Chiappelli, Milan: Mursia, 1965. (Canticle + canto.line)
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