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I would really like to have slipped imperceptibly into this lecture, as into all the others I shall be delivering, perhaps over the years ahead. I would have preferred to be enveloped in the words, borne way beyond all possible beginnings. At the moment of speaking, I would like to have perceived a nameless voice, long preceding me, leaving me merely to enmesh myself in it, taking up its cadence, and to lodge myself, when no one was looking, in its interstices as if it had paused an instant, in suspense, to beckon to me. There would have been no beginnings: instead, speech would proceed from me, while I stood in its path – a slender gap – the point of its possible disappearance.

Behind me, I should like to have heard (having been at it long enough already, repeating in advance what I am about to tell you)  the voice of Molloy, beginning to speak thus: “I must go on; I must go on; I must say works as long as there are words, I must say them until they find me, until they say me – heavy burden, heavy sin; I must go on; maybe it’s been done already; maybe they’ve already said me; maybe they’ve already borne me to the threshold of my story, right to the door opening onto my story; I’d be surprised if it opened’.

A good many people, I imagine, harbour a similar desire to be freed from the obligation to being, a similar desire to find themselves, right from the outside, on the other side of discourse, without having to stand outside it, pondering its particular, fearsome, even devilish features.

Inclination speaks out: ‘I don’t want to have to enter this risky world of discourse; I want nothing to do with it insofar as it is decisive and final; I would like to feel around me, calm and transparent, profound, infinitely open, with others responding to my expectations, and truth emerging, one by one. All I want is to allow myself to be borne along, within it, and by it, a happy wreck’.

Intuitions reply: ‘But you have nothing to fear from launching out; we’re here to show you discourse is within the established order of things, that we’ve waited a long time for its arrival, that a place has been set aside for it — a place which both honours and disarms; and if it should happen to have a certain power, then it is we, and we alone, who give it that power’.

– Michel Foucault



“If our thinking always occurs within a system, are we condemned to repeat what the system imposes?

Figures of speech, of course, are not the only way to bring systems of thought into question. Victims of political, economic, or sexual power often acquire by harsh experience the kind of skepticism I’m promoting.

But the advantage of focusing on figures in this critical way is that it places language at the center of our attention, just as language plays a central role in the enforcement of all those forms of power. Language and culture provide us with ways of thinking about ourselves and our experiences. And any political or social program must come to terms with the power of language if it is to affect our lives deeply.

Figures and the system they imply should not, however, be condemned as brainwashing techniques by which those in power control our thoughts and feelings. Figures and systems are inevitable in any use of language and are not the exclusive property of those in power….

The possibilities for combination are not limited to those with which we’re familiar, and the value systems they imply need not be those currently in power.

Two of the great benefits of poetry are the pleasure of meditating on these challenging, rich figures and the insights that they provide into the power of language itself.

Of course, figures can be used to mislead or to enforce questionable values, but they can be – and are daily – used to question those values and to oppose them with new systems of thought and value. If figures tell us anything, it’s that meaning is up for grabs, that the world can be shaped in an endless variety of forms, that language is a battleground of value systems. The challenge of figures is to make sure we are aware of their presence in discourse and their effects on our thought  – but also to engage in the production of figures ourselves, in service of our own values.”

Thomas Mclaughlin



Ask yourself:

How do you make meaning circulate when what comes forth is the signifier, the scene, the unfurling of hallucinating carnal sounds? Who surges up in your throat, through your muscles?

How what affects me comes into language, comes out fully worded, I don’t know.  I “feel” it, but it is a mystery itself, [that] which language is unlikely to let through.

All that I can say is that this “coming” to language is a fusion, a flowing into fusion; if there is “intervention” on my part, it’s in a sort of “position,” of activity — passive, as if I were inciting myself: “Let yourself go, let the writing flow, let yourself steep; bathe, relax, become the river, let everything go, open up, unwind, open the floodgates, let yourself roll…”

A practice of the greatest passivity.

At once a vocation and a technique.

This mode of passivity is our way — really an active way — of getting to know things by letting ourselves be known by them.

You don’t seek to master. To demonstrate, explain, grasp. And then to lock away in a strongbox. To pocket a part of the riches of the world.

But rather to transmit: to make things loved by making them known. You, in your turn, want to affect, you want to wake the dead, you want to remind people that they once wept for love, and trembled with desires, and that they were then very close to the life that they claim they’ve been seeking while constantly moving further away ever since.

– Helene Cixous



Full Citations

Cixous, Helene. Coming to Writing and Other Essays. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Univ. Press, 1991.

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.

Lentricchia, Frank, and Thomas McLaughlin. Critical Terms for Literary Study. University of Chicago Press, 1995.

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