Following Generation

Author(s): Catherine Malabou and Translated by Simon Porzak
Source: Qui Parle, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring/Summer 2012), pp. 19-33
Published by: University of Nebraska Press
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Following Generation
catherine malabou
Translated by Simon Porzak
Les Colchiques [Autumn Crocuses]
guillaume apollinaire
Translated into English by Oliver Bernard
The meadow is poisonous but
pretty in the autumn
The cows that graze there
Are slowly poisoned
Meadow-saffron the colour of
lilac and of shadows
Under the eyes grows there your
eyes are like those flowers
Mauve as their shadows and
mauve as this autumn
And for your eyes’ sake my life is
slowly poisoned
Children from school come with
their commotion
Dressed in smocks and playing
the mouth-organ
Le pré est vénéneux mais joli en
Les vaches y paissant
Lentement s’empoisonnent
Le colchique couleur de cerne et
de lilas
Y fleurit tes yeux sont comme
cette fleur-la
Violâtres comme leur cerne et
comme cet automne
Et ma vie pour tes yeux lente-
ment s’empoisonne
Les enfants de l’école viennent
avec fracas
Vêtus de hoquetons et jouant de
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qui parle spring/summer 2012 vol.20, no.2
You’re reading Autumn Crocuses, that Apollinaire poem. You
didn’t notice anything special, you didn’t see anything, you passed
right by it. There is, in lines 10–11, a small mystery. This mys-
tery is held in the little phrase that runs: “autumn crocuses which
are like their mothers / Daughters of their daughters.” Now admit
that you’ve never asked yourself what this could really mean, these
“mothers / Daughters of their daughters.” You’re going to do just
that right now, you’re going to ask yourself that question now.
Now? Yes, now, which is to say, afterwards.
Following in his footsteps, after him, “he” being Lévi-Strauss,
one of the first to have felt the need to investigate, concerning the
Autumn Crocuses, the mystery of “A Small Mythico-Literary Puz-
zle” (a text published in The View from Afar). Lévi-Strauss does
not present a reading of Apollinaire’s entire poem, but only of this
“detail that has remained enigmatic to commentators. Why does
the poet equate with autumn crocuses the epithet mères filles de
leurs filles (‘mothers daughters of their daughters’)?”
You’re about
to discover this enigma, after Lévi-Strauss.
You are, we are, part of the “generation following” structur-
alism. The “generation following” structuralism, its “following
generation,” means first of all the descendants, the inheritors, the
sons and daughters. Next it means the process of education (for-
mation), of engendering, of constituting the following itself, the
Ils ceuillent les colchiques qui
sont comme des mères
Filles de leurs filles et sont cou-
leur de tes paupières
Qui battent comme les fleurs bat-
tent au vent dément
Le gardien du troupeau chante
tout doucement
Tandis que lentes et meuglant les
vaches abandonnent
Pour toujours ce grand pré mal
fleuri par l’automne
Picking autumn crocuses which
are like their mothers
Daughters of their daughters and
the colour of your eyelids
Which flutter like flowers in the
mad breeze blown
The cowherd sings softly to him-
self all alone
While slow moving lowing the
cows leave behind them
Forever this great meadow ill
flowered by the autumn
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Malabou: Following Generation
form of posterity. “Following generation” invites a reflection not
only on what it might mean to inherit, but also on the shaping
(formation) of the inheritance by its inheritor, on the fact that an
inheritance—no matter what it may be—far from being entirely
constituted, must again, in some way, be engendered, shaped, re-
generated to be what it is—to be something given. This double
game of passivity and of activity or spontaneity in inheritance will
once more evoke the menacing motif of autumn crocuses, the mute
cry of these flowers that arrive to interrupt the sequence of filiation
and education so as to poison the order of succession. Here, in the
fields of the poem, in its meadowlands, daughters are before moth-
ers, sons before fathers.
But what does “structuralism” mean? Without seeming to,
that’s fundamentally what Lévi-Strauss is asking himself here. The
phrase “mothers daughters of their daughters” corresponds to no
existing kinship structure, no facts of lineage that the anthropolo-
gist might be able to study. Which is to say that, by building this
phrase into the nucleus of its poem, Lévi-Strauss designates this
imaginary family tie as a structure to come. The structure will
come after, will follow kinship. This structure will certainly be one
of new relationships between mothers and daughters, mothers and
sons, mothers and fathers. Now, as you will see, by thus opening
structure onto its future, Lévi-Strauss anticipates the very decon-
struction of structuralism.
Afterward, you will no longer be able to come from, to follow
from, to return to a tradition, to return to (your) reading in a state
of perfect peace. You will no longer know what to keep and what
to reformulate or re-create in an inheritance. You will no longer
be certain of coming afterward, of following, and of making up
the posterity of these reading traditions that directly influenced
your generation: structuralism, deconstruction, the thought (or
thoughts) of difference. To read or understand a text may very
well mean, even today, drawing out its structural nucleus. But this
structure, as we will know forevermore, is not originary; it erupts
in the text as a result, as the result of its own deconstruction. Struc-
ture, or the structural nucleus, thus arrives in some sense after that
which it structures. Structure would then be that which remains of
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qui parle spring/summer 2012 vol.20, no.2
a text after its deconstruction. Structure therefore names that ele-
ment of a text which survives its own deconstruction, something
I call form, and which comes to light like an a posteriori meta-
morphosis. In this way, for example, I was able to read Hegel, or
Heidegger, in the days that followed their deconstruction, begin-
ning with or following on from that deconstruction, so as to see
develop, through a work of generation—that is, an a posteriori
engendering—if not something like a reconstruction (which would,
strictly speaking, be nonsensical in this context), then something
like a scar, tugging the skin of the text to distribute its meaning dif-
ferently, to reveal within it a new organization, to make possible in
the very text different movements and different effects of truth. It
is precisely this regenerative force of reading that I call plasticity.
You are going to discover, at work in a single autumn crocus, all
sorts of plastic strategies of anticipation that make it difficult to pin
down the time of generations. You are going to read the unrecord-
ed history of this flower that speaks the truth of postmodernity.
So, how are we to understand “the autumn crocuses that are like
mothers daughters of their daughters”? Lévi-Strauss begins by
putting aside those readings of this phrase given by various com-
mentators that prove to be untenable. According to some read-
ers of the poem, “mothers daughters of their daughters” would
mean “Mothers so outrageously made up that they would be mis-
taken for the daughters of their daughters” (“SMP,” 211). Or, in
yet another reading, the phrase would allude to some botanical
peculiarity of the autumn crocus about which “modern botanical
works offer no enlightenment.” These interpretations, Lévi-Strauss
says, are “disarming,” first of all because “the autumn crocus has
a discrete, delicate coloring” that would make it impossible to as-
similate their tint to an excess of makeup, and then because the
autumn crocus indeed has a very unique botanical peculiarity that
the author of the second interpretation doesn’t seem to have taken
the time to study.
The anthropologist will put forward three registers for under-
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Malabou: Following Generation
standing the mystery, thus constituting, as we have already sug-
gested, the structural nucleus of the poem. Three different registers
that are nevertheless tightly imbricated, each one in the other two:
a botanical register, a theological or mystical register, and a for-
mal symbolic register. We find ourselves, with these three registers,
at the very heart of the question of the after that follows, which
will reveal itself according to the law of a strange reversal. The
daughter, once more, does not follow after the mother; instead, the
mother follows after the daughter, is engendered by the daughter.
Anteriority and posterity intermingle in troubling ways. But, seen
in another light, this intermingling is not what is truly disruptive.
After all, if we understand that an inheritance is always to be re-
generated, we can then say that the testator, meaning the author of
the testament, is in some way a product of the legatee, and that—to
return to the problem of reading—to interpret a text will always,
one way or the other, require engendering it like a child of whom
the reader would properly be the father or the mother. No, what’s
really troubling is the way Lévi-Strauss shows that the generation
of an after to follow is something so complex that it must be un-
derstood through several different orders—not merely the order of
a reversal. When we investigate these orders, we’ll see that the so-
called “structural analysis” developed here, far from being “clas-
sic” or “as expected,” will de-constitute itself, by itself, somehow
preventing us from thinking about its succession or about what it
might be followed by.
Let’s start with the first, botanical register. The phrase “moth-
ers daughters of their daughters” might first of all be explained by
the peculiar way the autumn crocus has of being a kind of veg-
etal time bomb. We are in fact dealing here with a peculiar plant
whose flowers appear before its leaves and whose leaves appear
before its seeds: “the flowers of the colchicum appear in autumn,
several months before the leaves and the seeds, which come in the
springtime of the following year” (“SMP,” 212–13). This time de-
lay would itself be enough, the author continues,
to explain the epithet “mothers daughters of their daughters.”
Botanists once used the term Filius-ante-patrem not only for the
colchicum but also for the colt’s-foot (Tussilago), the butter-
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bur (Petasites) [Encyclopédie Diderot-d’Alembert, article: “Fils
avant le père”], and the epilobium or willow herb. The term
may have been used either because the flowers of all these plants
or their stems appear before the leaves, or because their fruit is
wholly visible even before their blossoms open. Apollinaire was
erudite enough to have encountered and chosen to employ these
old terms. And, as I shall show, he had every reason to make
them feminine. (“SMP,” 213)
Here, the inversion of the order of succession would seem obvi-
ous. In this botanical phenomenon, the after comes before the be-
fore. This confirms the hermeneutic law explored earlier by which
a structure would not preexist a text but instead would somehow
follow after it, as its a posteriori shaping. One single biological,
poetic, and structuralist fact becomes clear: sometimes, the seed
comes last, the seeding (semence), a seminal reason, appears after,
“That’s what I’d call a catastrophe,” Derrida confirms in
The Post Card.
Meaning, in the literal sense of the Greek word
catastrophè, a reversal. There’s an “initiatory catastrophe,” an
originary reversal: the son comes before the father. Writing pre-
cedes speech, Plato comes before Socrates: these flowers had al-
ready been saying this, as were poems. A deconstructive drive is
at work, everywhere: “The one in the other, the one in front of
the other, the one after the other, the one behind the other . . . this
catastrophe, right near the beginning, this overturning that I still
cannot succeed in thinking was the condition for everything” (PC,
19). It’s so strange to follow up on a reading of Lévi-Strauss’s text
by rereading The Post Card, to follow Apollinaire’s poem with Lé-
vi-Strauss and then Derrida. A seed has already been planted, but
where and how?
Indeed, how exactly? Because catastrophic inversion isn’t the
autumn crocus’s only ruse. Lévi-Strauss writes: “As we have not-
ed, the flowers of the colchicum appear . . . several months be-
fore the leaves and the seeds. . . . Yet the seeds seem to play only
a circumstantial role in reproduction” (“SMP,” 212–13). Thus in
the case of the autumn crocus we can’t really speak of reproduc-
tion through seeds, or through seeding. We learn that the autumn
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Malabou: Following Generation
crocus is a hermaphroditic flower with the distinctive property of
reproducing itself underground through a doubling of the corm, a
splitting of its bulb:
Every year, the corm that has produced flowers and fruits is ex-
hausted and is destroyed after this period, and replaced by an-
other corm, which has developed right next to it; as a result of
this annual renewal of the corms, which always occurs on the
same side, the plant moves each year a distance the thickness of
its corm. (“SMP,” 212)
So there are two orders to be understood in the expression “moth-
ers daughter of their daughters”: a vertical order, preceding an in-
version—flower before leaf before seed; and a horizontal order—
an underground doubling, which has nothing to do with inversion
but instead proceeds through reproduction of the identical. Lévi-
Strauss continues:
[T]he autumn crocus belongs to the large family of clones; and
we know how difficult, if not impossible, it is to distinguish the
mothers and daughters among several individuals. Certain grass-
es of the Gramineae family form a clone hundreds of meters long
and going back more than a thousand years. In the United States,
they have found a clone forest of almost fifty thousand aspens
covering a total of nearly two hundred acres; another forest of
aspen clones has been estimated to be eight thousand years old.
In such cases, the distinction between absolutely or relatively ad-
jacent generations loses all meaning. (“SMP,” 213; my emphasis)
We should remember that a clone, a word deriving from the
Greek klôn, meaning “shoot” or “sprout,” originally signifies the
offspring of an individual as produced through vegetative repro-
duction (apomixis). This suggests that the autumn crocus’s mode
of reproduction consists in the union, in one single individual, of
genealogical generation and generation by cloning (which we have
called a vertical and a horizontal order), in such a way that the re-
versal, or the catastrophe, which makes the daughter precede the
mother, is not only in the order of inversion but also that of repeti-
tion. Wouldn’t that mean that we, ourselves part of “the following
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generation,” would henceforth become beings capable of repro-
ducing themselves in two ways, through “natural” biological filia-
tion and through cloning?
Lévi-Strauss, in his interpretation of Apollinaire’s phrase that
explores all of its duplicitousness—the monstrous extent of which,
comparable to that of the aspen clones, we are only now beginning
to measure—reflects (hence the importance of eyes in the poem) his
position of reader and anthropologist. It’s as if it were not possi-
ble to dissociate the reproductive peculiarity of the autumn crocus
from the way in which the flower, somehow, investigates us inves-
tigating it. Now this specularity reveals that generating a reading
comes back to letting oneself be poisoned by the double aporia of
a genealogical inversion and the production of a stereotype. It’s
as if the poem reminds all those who might believe that they have
produced a reading that they have done nothing more than come
before the texts that they read, and, what’s more, that they can do
nothing else but clone those texts, mime them, ape them. Derrida
also says this, in his way. The distinguishing feature of a postcard
is (to be) always double: first, it is reversible (no front, no back, no
father, no son); second, it is reproducible, and there will always be
multiple copies of it, perfectly identical ones. But what brings us
back, comes back to us, is the task of producing the reading of this
simultaneity, of this contemporaneity of two types of reproduction
in one single subject, in one single biological and symbolic body.
To come after or to follow would have, speaking literally, no
meaning, but two possible directions: the father and the clone.
Where, then, might plasticity reside, the plasticity that signifies
suppleness, the possibility of receiving but also of giving form?
What is a plastic reading, if it can form or re-form nothing without
marking dates or without cloning?
Let’s turn to the second register of meaning that Lévi-Strauss brings
out in the phrase “mothers daughters of their daughters”: the theo-
logical or mystical register. The author begins by reminding his
reader that in the Christian tradition the Virgin Mary is simultane-
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Malabou: Following Generation
ously named “daughter of God, mother of God.” We can read in
the pseudo-Augustinian that “The creator has birthed the creator,
the serving-girl has birthed the master, the daughter has birthed
the father: the daughter, from her divine nature; the mother, from
her human nature” (“SMP,” 213–14). Lévi-Strauss highlights the
phrase’s general signification as an eternal auto-generation, evok-
ing the case of the phoenix or certain Eastern gods. The autumn
crocus would resemble these divine agencies who regenerate them-
selves without aging.
In a different, though still theological context the figure of
speech is ancient: “The Vedic Indians,” notes Georges Dumézil,
“thought about the ability of fire . . . to renew itself, to engender
itself endlessly.” Also, they called it Tanu¯ napa¯t, “descendent of
itself.” (“SMP,” 214)
The theme of auto-regeneration and auto-engendering appears
here. The autumn crocus would somehow find itself invested with
the power to be born again from its ashes. By the same token, the
poem would become unattainable, unimpregnable, since it would
be constantly regenerated, as if it weren’t possible to open it, to
tear open its fabric, as if reading had no power over it: no power
to penetrate, hack into, or hold authority over it. The autoplastic
text—since plasticity also designates the capacity of tissues to re-
form themselves after an injury—would have no need for an allo-
plastic reading. Here again, but in a different way than we encoun-
tered above, there would be neither before nor after. “Thus, the
crocuses figure as the stable and permanent element”—paradoxi-
cally, at once immortal and without any lineage—“and, as such,
give the poem its title” (“SMP,” 216). A poetic element that puts
us at the heart of the question of childbirth, the motif of the au-
tumn crocus, through its double generative dimension, paradoxi-
cally dismisses the play of life and death; it dismisses family, child-
hood, descent.
And in fact, having become “the stable and permanent ele-
ment,” the motif of the autumn crocus finds itself between “two
slopes—the one ascending and the other descending” (“SMP,”
216): on the one hand, the children—“children from school come
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with their commotion”—and on the other, the cows destined to
be poisoned—“slow moving lowing the cows leave behind them
forever this great meadow ill flowered by the autumn.” The chil-
dren (the “male” element, Lévi-Strauss tells us), who “will grow
up and go away,” are indeed—as full as they are of futurity—on
the ascending slope. The cows, the female element, who “are graz-
ing to the slow beat of the anapest and will soon be slaughtered or
poisoned,” figure descent.
The author adds: “Between these two
slopes—the one ascending and the other descending”—and we can
clearly see how the orders of anteriority and posterity are mobi-
lized in both cases—“only the autumn crocuses will remain, on a
horizontal level, both literally and figuratively: by being stationary,
or almost so, on the surface of the ground (the successive plants
being displaced by the thickness of a corm); and by reproducing
themselves as identical entities” (“SMP,” 216). This potential of
the autumn crocus to annul precisely that which they figure by
their excess (reproduction, birth, and death) drives Lévi-Strauss to
tackle the final register of meaning of the phrase “mothers daugh-
ters of their daughters”: the formal symbolic register. “Here, con-
sequently, only the autumn crocuses have full and complete value
as a sign” (“SMP,” 216).
We have to hear, in this word “sign,” the resonance of the structur-
al understanding of the sign as a reversible entity, through which
signified and signifier can invert or reverse themselves in turn. The
autumn crocuses do indeed appear, in the light of a structuralist
reading, simultaneously as the signifier of the poem (its metaphor,
its most eloquent or meaningful element) and as its signified; this
reversibility poses the question of descent or lineage, or rather of
the impossible possibility of lineage or of following generation(s).
From this formal value of reversibility, Lévi-Strauss turns to the
mathematician René Thom, who declares:
In the interaction of signified and signifier (signifié-signifiant) it is
plain that, swept along by the universal flow, the signified emits,
engenders the signifier in an uninterrupted, ramifying wilder-
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Malabou: Following Generation
ness. But the signifier re-engenders the signified every time we in-
terpret the sign. And, as exemplified by biological forms, the sig-
nifier (the offspring) can become the signified (the parent); all it
takes is a single generation. (“SMP,” 216, translation modified)
As we are remarking here, what is truly vertiginous in Lévi-
Strauss’s analysis and in his reference to René Thom is that the
affirmation of the reversibility of the signified and the signifier
is already in itself a deconstructive affirmation. Indeed, Derrida
ceaselessly affirmed that the signifier is not, as was traditionally
thought, the simple double, the simple representative, with no con-
sistency of its own, of the signified, that the signifier’s value is not
merely that of referring to an idealized presence. Particularly in
Of Grammatology, Derrida demonstrates how signifier and signi-
fied are at bottom the two—reversible—faces of a single reality. To
affirm that signified and signifier can invert themselves, can take
each other’s places, is to attack the privileged position of the signi-
fier and to trouble the value of presence assigned to the signifier:
“What broaches the movement of signification is what makes its
interruption impossible. The thing itself is a sign.”
Now this is what Lévi-Strauss sees, perfectly, here, and he might
see even further by helping us discover that the reversibility of sig-
nified and signifier leads us back to the divine, royal motif of in-
finite regeneration and immortality: presence. A presence that is
somehow impossible to deconstruct, because it springs from its
own deconstruction; a presence always renewed, because it holds
the secret and power of its own cloning of itself. Between the chil-
dren and the cows, the autumn crocuses don’t budge, don’t die,
they remain, immutable horizon of meaning, seemingly capable of
reconstituting themselves ad infinitum, death without death (mort
sans mort). The profanation of God practiced by structuralism and
deconstruction here turns on itself to reveal a sacredness hidden in
the poem, going by the name of the reversibility of signified and
signifier, stitching itself together even as it undoes its weave. And
here again, Derrida will himself observe—running ahead of or fol-
lowing after Lévi-Strauss—the text’s astonishing power to regener-
ate itself. In Dissemination he declares that the text reconstitutes
itself “as an organism. . . . There is always a surprise in store for
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the anatomy or physiology of any criticism that might think it had
mastered the game, surveyed all the threads at once.”
Henceforth our starting question—what does “following after”
signify?—receives more and more complex answers that all point
toward the complicated problem of a reproductive dualism that
seems, through its excess, to bring reproduction to a halt, to ar-
rive at the impassible serenity of a full yet deconstructed presence,
a presence full of its own deconstruction. All certitude about the
order in which generations succeed each other is impossible. All
escape from cloning—hermeneutic or otherwise—is impossible.
These two impossibilities, which mark our generation, infinitely
blur, as we clearly see, the concept of inheritance or heritage which
provided us with our departure point. The children will grow up,
they will die, cows will be slaughtered, autumn crocuses will re-
main, semantic venom, symbolic venom that, by its very fragility,
its paleness, resists like scutch grass (un chiendent), that weed of
the neverending. This resistance, another absence of any way out,
sets up once more, back to back, in yet one more reversibility, the
eternity of presence and the profane banality or finitude of the post-
card: signified on one side, signifier on the other. Vedic god, Virgin
Mary versus floral stock photos on a merry-go-round. Indivisibility
of the phoenix, infinite divisibility of the cards that can always be
cut. Same difference. Like those eyelids that open and close them-
selves, “which flutter like flowers in the mad breeze blown.”
“It is a matter of causing the form that follows presence to arise
in works”—that’s what I affirmed in my text-manifesto Plasticity
at the Dusk of Writing.
But what could such a phrase really mean
if it’s true that the recall of presence produced when we discover
the reversibility of the sign’s compositors perhaps re-engenders not
presence itself but a troubling permanence? In the end, in another
aporia, what would it mean to want to think the after, the follow-
ing of structuralism and deconstruction, if it’s true that, as his read-
ing of “Autumn Crocuses” testifies, Lévi-Strauss reveals himself to
be a few steps ahead of Derrida? The so-called structuralist reading
of Apollinaire’s poem is a lecture which, in many respects, inherits
its strategies from deconstructive reading, which, nevertheless, fol-
lows after it. A place is staked out, in a text, for its off-center or
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Malabou: Following Generation
eccentric center, and the analysis of this text finds something like its
most efficient and most deficient, its most manifest and most hid-
den point. By fingering the autumn crocuses as what Derrida will
name “supplement,” hasn’t Lévi-Strauss anticipated those develop-
ments (which will be found mainly in Of Grammatology) concern-
ing the “exorbitant” character of all offensive—which is to say,
truly critical—readings?
And, for that matter, how could we forget that Of Gramma-
tology develops a criticism of Lévi-Strauss according to which he
would not have thought of precisely the transcendental anteriority
of writing to speech? Doesn’t the text we’re reading here undo this
criticism by going all the way to the very deconstruction of struc-
tures of kinship? Aren’t we being confronted by a reversibility of
structuralism and deconstruction, something that would be like the
echo of the reversibility of signified and signifier?
In this way, for us to follow after, there would only be two pos-
sibilities. The first would be pure and simple rumination, cloning
understood in its most primary meaning of faithful copying. We
would infinitely return to an assessment made in Dissemination:
To a considerable degree, we have already said all we meant to
say. With the exception of this or that supplement, our questions
will have nothing more to name but the texture of the text, read-
ing and writing, mastery and play, the paradoxes of supplemen-
tarity, and the graphic relations between the living and the dead.
. . . Since we have already said everything, the reader must bear
with us if we continue on a while. If we extend ourselves by force
of play. (D, 71)
Nothing would remain for us but to say how a text is made, how
its texture is elaborated, according to the law of a reversal of before
and after between structure and arche-writing. What Lévi-Strauss,
speaking of the autumn crocuses, calls the “generative cell” of the
poem or text would reveal, as an end result, nothing but a genera-
tion of the identical, not leaving very much space for or not giving
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qui parle spring/summer 2012 vol.20, no.2
much of a chance (in the sense of formative possibility) to succeed-
ing or inheriting readers. In fact, we can very well ask ourselves if
it’s even relevant today for us to try to produce new readings—for
us, who follow after thinkers, writers, or authors who have all pro-
duced so many clones. Consequently, it’s clear that to recover the
generative cell of a text, its structure or its cornerstone, for all that
it is an indispensable move, cannot all by itself produce novelty—it
cannot in itself produce posterity.
The second possibility hangs on a change in the way we’re look-
ing at things. If it’s true that our works are always older than us,
if it’s true that we mime what we read, if it’s true that we chew the
cud, if it’s true that a text always regenerates itself like a phoenix
or like an everyday postcard that always holds one side back, then
maybe we can’t escape these aporias—but we might try to sidestep
them. It’s time to stop thinking of cloning in terms of the pure
and simple identical replica. The clone clearly has something of
difference in it, and the chief issue of the times to come will be to
draw out the proper site of this difference. It suffices to remark that
Lévi-Strauss says nothing about the poem’s melancholy, which is
certainly linked to the amorous suffering being expressed but also
to the ineluctable necessity of leaving the autumn crocuses, of leav-
ing behind forever this great meadow ill flowered by the autumn.
Which is to say that duplication leaves us a chance, lets us go. Lets
us follow along with our own lives.
Clones (and you shouldn’t limit yourself to hearing, in this
word, the name given to certain plants; it includes also the pos-
sibility of reproductive cloning and its accessories) are certainly
conforming copies. But, fundamentally, the fact that it’s possible
to become daughter of your daughter, to be simultaneously older
and younger than yourself, to auto-clone yourself in some way,
effectively creates a displacement by the thickness of a corm, it
produces difference not in the sense to which we’ve become ac-
customed by good old DNA and other such kinds of code—a dif-
ference between individuals—but a difference between code and
message. What allows us to think about the transfer of the nucleus
in cloning is not so much the repetitive and stereotyped character
of the results of this transfer, as scientific doxa repeats over and
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Malabou: Following Generation
over again, but the fact that the nucleus is, precisely, transferable,
displaceable, that birth can follow from a demobilization, from a
non-disseminatory difference between the nucleus and itself. The
question, consequently, is no longer one of knowing how to dif-
ferentiate between two individuals who resemble each other but of
knowing how to interrogate the way in which the same transfers
itself to remain the same in the other. We might not ask ourselves
anymore if clones are really twins, but instead how the phenom-
enon of cloning allows us to take twinness as the model of truth.
Plasticity, from the perspective of such an investigation, would no
longer be linked to the movement of an eternal post-postmodern
ruminating rehearsal, but to the eruption of a reversibility between
before and after that modernizes posterity by giving new forms to
atomized, nuclear sameness—whether it be vegetal, logical, or on-
tological. Following this, it will be the atoms that split us.
1. From Guillaume Apollinaire, Selected Poems, trans. and ed. Oliver
Bernard (1913; London: Anvil Press, 2004), 36.
2. Claude Lévi-Strauss, “A Small Mythico-Literary Puzzle,” in The View
from Afar, trans. Joachim Neugroschel and Phoebe Hoss (New York:
Basic Books, 1985), 211. Hereafter cited as “SMP.”
3. Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond,
trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 28.
Translation modified. Hereafter cited as PC.
4. Anapest (from the Greek anapaïstos, “struck back, reversed”) is an
ancient term of poetry referring to a metrical foot consisting of two
short syllables followed by a long one.
5. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Balti-
more: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 49.
6. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (London:
Continuum, 2004), 69. Hereafter cited as D.
7. Catherine Malabou, Plasticity at the Dusk of Writing, trans. Carolyn
Shread (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 57. Transla-
tion modified.
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