You are on page 1of 8

Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma University of Oklahoma

The Origin of the Text Author(s): Michel Butor Reviewed work(s):

Source: World Literature Today, Vol. 56, No. 2, Michel Butor Issue (Spring, 1982), pp. 207-208, 210, 212-215 Published by: Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma

Accessed: 26/10/2012 02:01

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

.

Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma University of Oklahoma The Origin of the Texty : Board of Re g ents of the Universit y of Oklahoma Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40137506 . Accessed: 26/10/2012 02:01 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma and University of Oklahoma are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to World Literature Today. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-42" src="pdf-obj-0-42.jpg">

Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma and University of Oklahoma are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to World Literature Today.

http://www.jstor.org

The Origin of the Text

By MICHEL BUTOR

First and last answers. Very

often people ask you, when

you write, where the things

which are in your books come from; what is the origin

of these things. It is as if, finding some lode inside,

they

would like to have a guide to lead them into the

mine so that they might dig for themselves in that vein

of ore.

But it

is

of course a

question which is very

evening*

to offer a few

difficult to answer. I'll try this

proposals. Most of the time when a writer is asked such

a

question,

he gives unsatisfactory answers, replies

which are at the same time almost unavoidable and to

which, even if he wants to be as generous as possible,

he has to return.

say the text comes from, and this is

if you want to write a text, it

something

perhaps it

to

possible,

say

His first answer is to

that he doesn't know where

quite natural, because

is because

you

have

With some

which has not been said before. Or

was not

is something that in some respects

or almost not possible,

to

say.

work and some luck the writer is able to tell what he

was not able to tell before. So when the

thing is done,

difficult for

way

it was

well, the

when at last he has said it, it is extremely

him to

go back to the preceding stage,

to the

when it was still obscure. So he can answer:

origin

When

of the text is what you can find in the text itself.

the

thing is done, somebody else -

can take

a

university

the result, and then

professor, for instance -

he can say,

well, this, which is quite clear here, comes

from this or that in literature or elsewhere. But for the

writer the textual "baby" has still with him the veil of

darkness and obscurity from which he comes.

When the text is there, it is something

it seems for many of us very obscure.

clear, even if

So it is possible

for the writer to have a more subtle answer and to say

that the text comes from itself. And when you see this

from the point of view of the student or the

means something quite precise.

for instance, the

first

drafts,

reader, it

When you compare,

the intermediate sketches

and the final product,

particular

where

sentence

it has to go,

is then very easy to see how a

it

will go

and it

somewhere. We know

is very

steps

easy

to order the

in which the text is

sketches and to see the

forming itself. So it is as if the words, the sentences,

were attracted

by

the final

product, by

that form which

of

many

writers

now stands clear. It is the experience

that the text exists before the

place - much as with a

sculptor

actual writing takes who sometimes says

that the statue is inside the block of marble and he has

only to take it out, that everything is already

very often have that experience, and

there. We

many writers "

It

have said, "The text was there before it was written.

is somewhere in the ether, in Eden, in paradise, with

the

gods,

and

you have only to copy it,

or the dictation.

or to obey what

is called inspiration,

But we have to go further than that. Sometimes the

text gives the impression of arriving suddenly. We

want to say something, we course, when it is there we

don't know exactly what; of

know what it is. Sometimes

it is

quite

sudden. In only a moment what was obscure

is now clear. Most of the time it takes some work, it

takes time. You have these drafts and corrections, so it

is evident that the structure which is already there will

impose

ally

itself on new pieces, and at the end

you gener-

begin-

a pub-

don't write what you wanted to write in the

to please somebody -

ning. Very often you try

lisher, for instance, or a teacher or the general public.

But when it is good, this doesn't work, because the text

itself is so imposing and what is most

new occurs. You

that you have to

change your mind;

interesting is that something really

need to have, for example, in

that

color or tone, and

you go

whole something of a specific

to look for it and attempt to insert it inside that ex-

tremely demanding structure. In

poetry

the con-

sciousness of that structural demand is what is called

prosody. Prosody,

literary genre,

or the

rules of versification of any

aspect

of the structure

is the way some

of the work being done appears to the consciousness of

the writer; and

that is generally what he

painter,

is able to speak

"What did you

is: "I did it in

of. When you ask ' a writer or a

want to convey?

very

" often his

such-and-such a way. '

stand the "what,

he

response In order to make you under- "

will

explain to you the "how,

because it is how the task is done which is the most

clear in the process of writing.

So we have the

three traditional answers: first, we

don't know where it comes from, and

we

anyway,

even if

try, we will know only a part of it, and we have

always

to come back to that; second, the text comes

from what it will be; third, the text comes from what is

coming,

what it comes to be now. But when you are at

university professor, you

from an

the same time a writer and a

can try to see

the thing from both sides,

internal and an external

point of view; and any con-

that respect. When I

university professor can study

scious writer is ambiguous in

have finished a text, a

and compare it with others and be able to say that this

thing comes from that; but I can also do it

myself,

with

some difficulties, and do it even before the text is

finished. In some sense, the text is never

finished. When I

publish

completely

a book, it is not that I consid-

er it to be good; it is because I don't know how to work

any more on it. I publish it by a kind of despair.

It's not

really finished, and it has for me to be continued by

other people, by readers. It has to go on.

  • 208 WORLD LITERATURE TODAY

I) Where does the material come from? I certainly

am able in many cases to answer the

question

where the text comes from. But if I begin to

as to

think

about it, I see that it may have several different mean-

ings: 1) where the material comes from - the blocks

with which

you

will build

your construction; 2) where

you do things strangely,

writing

the

what is the

origin of

the difference comes from -

the energy you exert 1) It comes from the

and how does it happen that you are not

same things as other people do; 3)

in bringing out that difference.

dictionary.

For the first ques-

text is always

painters

said

made

of the

to

one day

tion there is an easy first answer. A

plenty

"It's not with ideas that

words." We write texts

with words. One of the great French

impressionist

era, Edgar Degas,

Stephane Mallarme,

poems.

I have

"I would very " much like to write

of ideas.

Mallarme answered,

you

make

poems.

It is with

with words which are all

around us. So when somebody asks where the text

comes from, you

can answer, "It comes from where

you are." You are inside that mine. Even if you invent

new words, as Joyce

did in

Finnegans

Wake, they are

made with old ones, and it is with the attention to these

words that the text begins.

It is

quite

easy to see this with the novel. A great

novelist is somebody who is able to make his characters

speak, to give them a voice, a recognizable

voice. With

a dramatist you have the mediation of the actor. When

you are all by yourself in your room reading a novel,

you are yourself all the troupe, all the actors of the

play.

In order to convey the

feeling

that a characterhas

specific voice, it is absolutely necessary that the choice of the words be made in such a way that the

a

combination of these words will lend itself

pronunciation, a specific tone. For instance,

to a specific one of the

great

achievements of Henry James is that in

give

to each

his novels

he is able to

person a different, distinct

possible

voice. It is the same with Proust. This is

because the writer does not start from a character

imagined, asking

goes

who, in reading

afterwardwhat will be his words. It

somebody

is able

of

especially in conversation,

certain frequencies

It is

the other way around. A novelist is

but

to pinpoint certain sentences,

words,

which in

writing will retain a personality.

from the personality of speech,

if you wish, that the

personality of the character will bud.

2) It comes from the

encyclopedia. But it is not of

course only

individual words. It is sentences,

it

is

ensembles of words; and it is of course texts, the entire

world of texts which are

already means that the big mine of literature is the library or the

written -

which

encyclopedia. Very

often you have to find a word, or

paragraph, a quote, a story,

the

shelves, the galleries

in

you have to find a whole

and you go to the stacks,

order to find that.

Before

coming

to Oklahomafor this

conference about

some of my books, I wanted, during my stay here, to make a small gift for the participants of this event; so I

looked around in Victoria and saw

plenty

of ravens in

the streets, and they were very interesting in many

ways. The raven called back to

things,

the

my

mind different

in different tiers of the library. I know that for

Indians of the Northwest Coast the raven was a

very important person, and I know that there was in American literature a famous poem about the raven -

famous not only in American literature but in French

literature as well, because it has been translated into

French by two of the greatest French poets,

Baudelaire and once

by

once by

Mallarme. So I went to the

library in quest of the translationof Poe's "The Raven"

by Mallarme, and fortunately

used the Mallarme

it was there. So I have

translation, with some very impor-

tant alterations. You know that that bird in Poe's poem

answers always "Nevermore"; that was not good

me, however, and I have changed

tell an Indian tale. I made

for

it to have the raven

eighteen versions of that

text, which is called "Reminiscences of the Raven,"

and to find

library and

found plenty

small metal.

enough

dug in

Indian tales for that, I went to the

Franz Boas's ethnography,

where I

of marvelous ore in order to make my

Something was dormant in the library,

waiting to be awakened by somebody, and the struc-

ture of the text, which was already in Poe's

in Mallarme's translation, asked

poem

and

me to seek a certain

number of texts. I have made eighteen different ver-

sions because in Poe's poem there are eighteen stan-

zas, and so it makes for me a nice symmetrical block.

3) It comes from travel. But even all the libraries of

the world are insufficient, and that is why

we write.

We write because the books are at the same time too

numerous and unsatisfactory. We have plenty

of books

but not the books we would like to have. There is a

discrepancy

between what is inside the library and the

one

between all

general conversation, and a bigger

human

language and what I may call the language of

things. We feel always that something remains not

said. We see almost everything through language, but

we see through language that language is inadequate.

When we look at something

the first thing we

say

which is very interesting,

is that it is indescribable. Then

the writer comes and tries to describe the indescrib-

able, to augment

the whole sphere

of language

from

the want which comes from without and from within at

the same time.

II) Where does the difference come from? You start

from words, but you

make new combinations of words.

unread. You travel in quest

origin

of this differ-

In the library you of different places.

ence? What is the

read the

What is the

origin of the originality of the writer?

(And of course these two words are quite closely re-

lated.)

* "The Origin of the Text" was delivered in English by Michel Butor on the evening of 12 November 1981 at the University of Oklahoma, concluding two weeks of seminars and lectures on his work by Butor for the Eighth Puterbaugh Conference on Writers of the French-Speaking and Hispanic World. An earlier version of the

lecture was presented in September 1981 at the University of Victor- ia in British Columbia.

  • 210 WORLD LITERATURE TODAY

1) It comes from childhood. The first answer to this

second question

discrepancies

literature and

in itself because

is: the difference comes from the

inherent in language,

already

a world

which are already

landscape. Any

it

word is

has numerous attachments with

other words and with other

things,

so numerous that

they are extremely difficult to handle; and these con-

nections among words are not the same for

everybody.

There are such complicated associations that it is abso-

lutely necessary in ordinary life to cross out the biggest

part of the meaning

of a word; otherwise life would not

many

different

things

most

be able to go on. A word means

for different people,

cases, for practical

but these differences in

purposes, must be hidden. So we

tend to be univocal

act as if words were univocal.

They in science but not at all in general language, and litera-

ture works upon the ambiguity of words, a dangerous

ambiguity.

When you begin

in a dangerous

our

society

to look

properly at words, you

are

situation, because all the differences in

are reflected inside the complications of

to understand

situations it is easy.

level of society it is quite easy to under-

said, but

if

you

go to another

quite

part

of the

a different mean-

vocabulary. We act as if it were easy

what somebody says, and in some

Within a

given

stand what is

city,

ing.

the same word will have

The fact is much more evident when you think

about the plurality of languages: one word in French,

even if it is the same spelling, or almost the same, does

not have the same meaning

as it has in English or in

German, and so on. If you speak two languages, you

are already upon a linguistic

flicts arise, and you

frontier where

many

con-

must keep these conflicts down in

order to go on, in order not to have always a war within

yourself or with other

with

shield

people.

When a

word is charged

problems and ambiguities, you need a kind of

against

that. Under the surface of that word you

have a turmoil which goes on and on, an accumulation

of

problems,

and the difference between interior and

and

stronger. The shield

the upturning

of the

surface

becomes stronger

stiffens, and someday

it will crack. It is

appearance difference in the text, the origin of a new text. I will

of the word which will mark the

give you an instance of that.

bols, and you

"stop" -

ated

because in Western

with danger. During

China some

young

asking

In traffic lights you need to have very simple sym-

know what

they are: green

mythology

is

"go," red is associ-

red is

the Cultural Revolution in

petitioned

Mao Tse-tung

Chinese

him to reverse the traffic lights because red had

of revolution, of

to mean "go," since it was the color

progress

so strong that still in China

and so on; but the surface of the symbols was

today

red means

"stop."

A very important word in our own society is white;

it

is related to

almost everything. It has

It is

enormous im-

prob-

pact in political science.

lems, to morality,

education and in

related to racial

to cleanliness and so on. And in

everyday life we have generally the

equation: white is right. White is good,

cetera.

elevated, et

In some cases we know that white is not so

good,

but most of the time we have to ignore these

They are very dangerous ground. In Amer-

striking

instance of the

instances.

ican literature you have a very

upturning of the iceberg of the word white. It is the

famous chapter (seventeen) in Herman Melville's

Moby Dick " which is called "The Whiteness of the

Whale.

is in

As

you know, Moby Dick is a white whale and

Melville, in this

many ways a symbol of evil.

chapter, tries to explain this, to make this understand-

able. He takes from the

clopedia greatly white and good

library

and from the

ency-

diverse instances of the link between

in order to make that link as universal

as possible, and at the apex

says, "Yet

. . .

of a wonderful sentence he

." This is the hinge.

Though in many natural objects, whiteness

refiningly

enhances beauty, as if imparting some special virtue of its

own, as in marbles, japonicas, and pearls; and though

various nations have in some

way recognised

a certain

royal pre-eminence in this hue; even the barbaric, grand old kings " of Pegu placing the title "Lord of the White

Elephants

above all their other

magniloquent ascriptions

of dominion; and the modern kings of Siam unfurling the

same snowy-white quadruped

in

the royal standard; and

the Hanoverian flag bearing the one figure of a snow-white

charger; and the great Austrian

Empire, Caesarian, heir to

color the same

overlording Rome, having for the imperial

imperial hue; and though this pre-eminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man ideal mas-

tership

this,

over

every

dusky tribe;

and though, besides all

significant

of

glad-

whiteness has been even made

ness, for

among the Romans a white stone marked a joyful

day; and though in other mortal sympathies and symboliz-

ings, this same hue is made the emblem of many touching,

noble things -

the innocence of brides, the benignity of

age; though among the Red Men of America the giving of

the white belt

of wampum was the deepest pledge of

many climes, whiteness typifies the

the ermine of the Judge, and contrib-

kings

and

queens

drawn by

higher mysteries of

symbol

of

honor; though in

majesty of Justice in

utes

to the

daily

state of

milk-white steeds; though even in the

the most august religions it has been made the

the divine spotlessness and power; by the Persian fire

worshippers,

the white forked flame being held the holiest

mythologies, Great Jove

on the altar; and in the Greek

himself being made incarnate in a snow-white bull; and

though to the noble Iroquois, the midwinter sacrifice of

the sacred White Dog was by far the holiest festival of their

theology, that spotless, faithful creature being held the

purest envoy

annual

they could send to the Great

Spirit

with the

tidings of their own fidelity; and though directly

from the Latin word for white, all Christian

priests

derive

the name of one part of their sacred vesture, the alb or

tunic, worn beneath the cassock; and though among the

holy pomps of the Romish faith, white is

ployed

in

specially

em-

the celebration of the Passion of our Lord;

though in the Vision of St. John, white robes are given to

the redeemed, and the

four-and-twenty

elders stand

clothed in white before the great white throne, and the

Holy One that sitteth there white like wool; yet for all

these accumulated associations, with whatever is sweet,

and honorable, and sublime, there

yet

lurks an elusive

something in the innermost idea of this hue, which strikes

more of panic to the soul than that redness which affrights

in blood.

  • 212 WORLD LITERATURE TODAY

Then he makes another visit to the library and takes

some

striking

instances of bad whitenesses, thus being

able to make the word white and its associations turn

upon

itself and reveal to us its own other side, and also

many

other words

and of all history. It

society,

the other

the other side of

is of course the other side of our own

side of not only the word white but of whiteness itself

and what we mean by that. Such an inversion of mean-

ing in

a word or

in

a story will provoke

extensive

reorganization of the library and the emergence of new

texts.

This is

urgency

possible when

of

everyday

you

become free from the

life. You have to take a look from a

distance. You have first to dissolve the ordinary asso-

ciations. You have to unbind the chains and play with

the words and the structures. You must

If a painter has asked me

catalogue for an exhibition,

generally

things.

say yes;

I

for a text

agitate

to

go

them.

with a

am always flattered and

I see a few

and I'm interested,

But at the beginning I don't know at all what I'll

do. The day of the exhibition comes nearer and nearer,

so I have

to find something. Then I go out and walk.

When the weather is fair, that is very good for me

because I can go

outside, and there things occur.

Walking provokes a sweet agitation of the landscape

and with it a

movement inside the vocabulary,

the

ideas; and then at some

there, I know how it will

turning, well, it occurs, it's

be. I had some problems

I had a

when I began drafting this lecture, for example.

few ideas but didn't

know exactly how to put them

together.

began to

So I went into the woods, and the things

organize themselves into a neat structure.

That link between inspiration and play points

very strong link between inspiration

It's quite

to a

and childhood.

understandable. You had these difficulties

with words. You knew that a word was linked with this

or that, but after some time you had to act as if it were

not. You ' knew before that "white" was not always

"good,

but in order to be an adult, you had to act as if

it were. When you look on the other side of the word,

you go back to

Things forgotten

something which you had forgotten.

wait

in

the

library, and you

have

mind.

to me about one of

what I have written in that

plenty of things waiting in the library of your

The

begin

coming back of some forgotten experience.

Very often when people speak

books, I have forgotten

moment when inspiration occurs, when things

to take form, is

very generally linked with the

my

book. They know much better than I do, because I

have to forget

they speak

it in order to make new things. When

precision,

it comes back like a

many other things. It

with some

thunderstorm. And with it come

is a kind of memory cyclone,

tling; but it is fascinating.

appears at that

opening

and it can be very unset-

It is a new "myself

which

time. You know of course the famous

perdu. Proust

of

dipping

cup

of tea.

of A la recherche du temps

describes a memory storm coming

from the

a small French cake called a madeleine in a

With the taste of it a whole forgotten portion of his

childhood comes flooding back.

2) It comes from the

night. The text comes, then,

from a special connection between the writer and his

past, through language and

through

some

experience. That agitation of the material in

types of

order to

bring out the differences needs some leisure, and the

deepest leisure we can have in our life is the one we

find in

sleep

have

sleep, deepest sleep,

where the

great

in that profound level of

appear.

In dream you

material, as if your

dreams

a kind of wholesale agitation

of

experiences,

memory, your

were transformed into

dice and these dice were thrown and formed new

combinations. In these new

combinations your feel-

ings - and especially the repressed feelings - will find

a way to express themselves. In dream,

things

can be

turned around much more than in the wakefulness of

day, because in that

profound recess, that dungeon of

sleep

are like guards to

sleep, all the other levels of

protect you. In that deep dungeon of sleep your brain

experiences a special

kind

of freedom.

When what

occurs can

pass through the awakening, you

very often

English "

have new works of art. The classical instance

in

literature is of course

Coleridge's "Kubla Khan,

which was written entirely in a dream state.

3) It comes from silence. The origin is in childhood

and in dream; and of course

you

know that in dream

many forgotten aspects of our childhood come back,

and many repressed aspects

of our affective life and of

very important to be

our language can return. It is then

able to preserve or to establish a link between the

dream and the writing and to make the

writing which is

recognized

but which was well

tures - in classical

writing a kind

already

of awakened dream. Prosody, of which I have

spoken, is extremely

physical

element in

useful in that

today

respect. There is

a

almost

forgotten

in other litera-

Greek and Roman literature, for

instance. There is a kind of

dancing in writing, and

generally

believed. In

much more manualwork than is

order to establish that link between dream and writing

and to maintain that

interplay during the day,

necessary.

a suffi-

cient amount of silence is

you

this and try

wipe

your

You have to work,

you

have to

try

have to find things here and there,

that, but you

also have to wait. You need to

mind clean, make it a blank, establish a

certain quality of silence, obliterate some references.

You have to go through a kind of ordeal.

You have to be able to go into uncharted waters, and

that is one of the reasons why I give lectures which are

not readings. I never read a lecture, because I want to

take advantage of the stage fright. I always have stage

fright, and I know it can be very useful. When I

I find myself into it, and in this
I find myself
into it, and in this

facing a kind of white fog; I

begin,

have to plunge

trespassing, things occur. The stage

in the silence before and

fright will engender agitation

during the lecture, and so

things

will

happen.

Of

course I have made hundreds and hundreds of lec-

tures, so I know that it works; but I still

times the lecture is

get stage fright.

subject,

When I give several lectures about the same

each time I

try

to

do something different; but after ten

permanently

fixed. At that

point

I

feel like a tape recorder, and I simply wait until the

BUTOR 213

tape

is finished. That is boring for me, and it becomes

boring for the audience. It is then that I know I must

not give

that lecture

any

more, that it is time

to write it

and publish it; the text is there. If one day I should no

longer have stage fright,

lectures, because

well, I would

it would not be useful -

stop giving

it would not

be useful for me, nor would it be useful for anybody.

Ill) Where does the energy come from? The use of

stage fright is the use of silence, of shock, and of course

it is the

use

of a kind of

anguish.

It is a reversal of

anguish in the same way that the use of dream is a

reversal of

nightmares.

And here we arrive at the most

unfortunately

time

few very rapid hints about

difficult part of the lecture; but

flies, so I will just give you

a

where the energy comes from.

1)

It is misery becoming wealth . It is not enough to

have different things appearing to you. You need also

to

struggle

in order to make them

appear, be pub-

lished and so on; and it takes an enormous amount of

energy, because when you turn upside down a very

important word, a very important element of society,

you generally get a very

angry reaction. It is a struggle,

and you have to keep

struggling. We are very sur-

prised, when we look at the works of great writers or

musicians or painters, to see the amount of work

they

were able to do. No one works as much as did Bee-

thoven, or Schubert in his very short life, or Mozart.

What made them able to do

that? What was the urge?

Of course, behind all that is a kind of suffering. It is a

want, a misery,

misery into

and in art

you

have a transformationof

wealth. It is not only an overflow of life.

deep urge,

one which is not

society.

It is the

No. It must come from a

only an individual urge.

contradiction in

society

It is a want in

which becomes embodied in

some part of this society and sometimes in one indi-

vidual in

particular.

What other

people can stand, that

it, or

individual is not able to tolerate. He is crushed by

he finds in it the energy to change it - generally

with

the help

Very

of some other

people.

often at the origin of a work of art

you

expressed order. Someone commissioned

have an

Michel-

angelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That

means there was something lacking in that building, a

sense of absence which was becoming worse and worse

for someone. And there was a

possibility

to fill that

want, a possibility which could then be expressed in

the

language of money. Money for us is a very impor-

of language with its contradictions, and when

tant kind

you have too many contradictions in the monetary

language, you have a revolution somewhere. And you

have not only contradictions inside

monetary language

but plenty of contradictions as well between monetary

language and other languages.

In order to

make a work of art, the

artist has to

survive; so there must be, somewhere in the monetary

flux, a kind of pool wHere some leisure can be found.

BUTOR 213 tape is finished. That is for and it becomes the audience. It is then

BUTOR AUTOGRAPHING BOOKS FOLLOWING NORMAN SEMINAR (Photo: William Riggan)

  • 214 WORLD LITERATURE TODAY

This need is related to all the

ities and contradictions of the

all the economic systems.

also to the basic urges

complications, complex-

monetary system and of

And of course it is related

of human nature, or animal

nature. It comes from

hunger, thirst, sexuality, the

to see and know. From

wish to move and the wish

these sources the energy will come. But there will be

sufficient energy only

when the contradictions in soci-

ety will have matured to such a point that it becomes

possible

to use the contradictions against themselves,

against themselves, to

to make the differences work

make the hatred of novelty itself work against itself in

order to produce something really new. After some

time the accumulations and the waste become such

that the abscess bursts, and then you have that tur-

moil, thunderstorm and revolution

instigated by writ-

ing or painting or anything

else.

2) It is madness becoming reason. But it is not only

words which must be turned upside down, or trans-

formed into much more complex figures. It is also the

person himself.

In order to have that

energy, you

have to be the

center of a kind of cyclone of energy, of latent energy

working inside society. You are yourself an embodi-

ment of contradictions. In the classical literature of the

seventeenth century, for instance, any writer was al-

ways

sical

between two

languages -

languages. He or she had the clas-

Latin

and Greek - and his or her own

language.

These were like two poles in an electric arc,

and sparks were continually occurring between them.

These conflicting languages led,

in

turn, to conflicting

in socie-

have conflict-

personalities. And you have conflicting parts

ty.

Even in a

single individual you may

ing

behavior:we all have

split personalities

good

always

because we

all think both that white is

something

else.

There is

and that white is also

a hidden face of

ourselves which communicates with hidden faces of

society,

times

the dark waters of society which are some-

so dangerous that a boundary has to be placed

around them, that they must be removed to a reserva-

tion.

The text comes from the reservation. It comes from

any kind of jail, and it comes from any kind of hospital.

The text comes from the madhouse. And the writer, or

the

painter,

is a madman who has succeeded. We are

all madmen, and some of us are so mad that we have to

be

put

inside an enclosure. That enclosure is some-

burning.

A writer or a

thing extremely active. It is

painter

is

somebody

who is able to be at the same time

manage

the reserva-

mad and reasonable. He is able to

tion inside himself. Your dreams are the madhouse in

yourself. But you have plenty of other reservations,

and that is

why I go to the special

in

ies. There are reservations

collections in librar-

the library, and in

French we have the same word reserve for special

collections of a library and for an Indian reservation.

Both are gold mines, mines of something

precious than gold. In working seriously

are always touching madness, and from

much more

with art you

all the forces

that are linked in order to make that madness quiet

comes a reserve of

energy

that

you can upturn, that

you can use in a completely different way.

3) It is sickness becoming health . And it is not only

the hospital of the mind or the hospital of society, but

also the hospital

of the body, because all these contra-

very strange personality

extraordinary that

dictions are embodied in that

that we call an artist. I have said it is

people

like Mozart, Schubert and others have done

especially

had

such an enormous amount of work, and it is

extraordinary because all of them seem to have

problems with their health, often culminating in early

death. The contradictions occur inside the

is in the fever, if

body, and it

you wish, that the energies gathering

around are accumulating inside the writer. Here we

can really speak

of

"expression," because you have a

explosion of that pressure

pressure inside and then the

to make an issue. In art illness is transmuted in a new

health.

Last and first

misery.

tion,

questions . Inspiration

the madhouse,

comes from

from

segrega-

If

you

It comes from

frustration, and it comes from sickness.

take all that together, if you go all the way along that

path, you

will find that there is a strong relation be-

tween literature and death. You can say the text comes

from the dead. It is a way the dead may speak.

write, it is not only

with your words,

help, I speak

I who am writing.

and I write

with

I write

When I

with you,

for you, I write with your

If you were not here,

my

lecture in

your help.

there would not be such a lecture. I read

your eyes. The lecture I give depends upon the way

you are listening;

namely the

are many

very

but

something else comes through,

voices of the dead. Because in the library

dead writers, and in our society the dead are

legacy

from the dead, and

efficient. Words are a

the biggest

the dead.

contradiction is that between the living and

The dead are not only dead; they

are still

and

here. They knew things that we have forgotten

must find again. We do not go back only to our child-

hood; we go also to our parents and grandparents.

There is something very comforting

that when we write or paint we

in

the thought

accomplish in many

ways the design

wanted, we

of the dead. What these dead

people

begin to make. But it is at the same time a

to accom-

very nagging thought because, if we begin

plish their desire, they will not have enjoyed it. There

will

always be a gap

will

always

in

that realization, and that means

there

always

be new texts, because there will

and

dead but who will die

be these contradictions between the dead

yet

ourselves, who are not

someday and are dying every day. Plato says that

"philosophy

is a

preparation to death," and Montaigne

of

one of his essays ("Que

made that line the title

philosopher, c'est apprendre a mourir"). Writing is

also a contemplation

of death. It is a changing of death

into life; but that transformationwill never be finished,

and in a way that is nice. We will never finish writing.

The

great

abstract painter Mondrian said that when he

doing

what he wanted, then there

had succeeded in

would be no more art. Art would no longer be neces-

sary because society

and the world would be entirely

always

be some kind of art,

from what we know to-

beautiful. But there will

perhaps completely different

day;

and there will

always be something like writing,

because the dead will never be satisfied.

The link between death

and literature is a very

prosodical urges

in

has to finish

somewhere,

very

often the

traditional one, and one of the

writing

is the fact that the text

even if the matter is infinite. You have

comparison between a text and the life of a man: it has a

CHRONOLOGY 215

birth and a progress, and it ends. This text which I am

delivering is nearing its end. It will not be completely

dead, I hope. I hope that it will live in

your

mind. It is

recorded, embalmed, and it will be written,