In his short essay, “Two Forms of Mute Speech”, from The Aesthetic Unconscious, Jacques Rancière has this to say: “The silent revolution that we have called aesthetic opens the space in which an idea of thought and a corresponding idea of writing can be elaborated. This idea of thought rests upon a fundamental affirmation: there is thought that does not think, thought at work not only in the foreign element of non-thought but in the very form of non-thought. Conversely there is non-thought that inhabits thought and gives it a power all its own. This non-thought is not simply a form of absence of thought, it is an efficacious presence of its opposite. From whichever side we approach the equation, the identity of thought and non-thought is the source of a distinctive power [...] In opposition to this living speech that provided the representative order with its norm, writing is the mode of speech that keeps silent at the same time, that both knows and does not know what it is saying. But there are two major figures of this contradictory mode, corresponding to the two opposite forms of the relation between thought and non-thought [...] Mute writing in the first sense is the speech borne by mute things themselves. It is the capability of signification that is inscribed upon their very body, summarized by the “everything speaks” of Novalis, the poet-mineralogist. Everything is trace, vestige or fossil. Every sensible form, beginning from the stone or the shell, tells a story. In their striations and ridges they all bear the traces of their history and the mark of their destination [...] The second form of mute speech is likewise at work here [the work of logos and pathos in literature, CE]. In place of the hieroglyph inscribed on the body and subject to deciphering we encounter speech as soliloquy, speaking to no one and saying nothing but the impersonal and unconscious conditions of speech itself” 31-39).

Today I was thinking that Rancière may be a latter day Wittgenstein, apart from myself, of course, and who, although speaking of the significance of Freud's theories today, can be said to elaborate in fact on the controversial Wittgensteinian statement: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” The premise for Wittgenstein's formulation, and which has baffled philosophers ever since, in my opinion is precisely this one: “everything speaks.” Only in this light can we understand what Wittgenstein also means when he says that all his writing is meaningless. It is meaningless in the sense that it always relies on a form of mercy, being at the mercy of interpreters. So, it comes down to an interpreter's ability to match both the thought and non-thought in Wittgenstein, the “everything speaks” already, if Rancière's “power” is to be enforced. The subtler implication of such an ability is this: insofar as one has the power to raise himself above meaningless discourse, one also has the power to descend to the lowest level of signification when signification is precisely least signifying. This means that one goes down on one's knees, and instead of stretching an arm, saying, here's a writing tool that will get you out of the gutter, use my hand—one says instead, I have mercy. I give you not writing, but the mute speech of my presence, right down there with you. This descent is the cost of power. Power over the silence that signifies nothing and everything at the same time. With this power comes the obligation to answer to the ethical call: “do not remain silent.” Why? Because mercy must be shown when total surrender has been proven. Mercy for two, oneself and the other, both forms of mute speech, the “everything speaks” and the silent story of “I love you.”


Manna Hojda said…
So, you remembered mother's lesson, today, exactly 12 years since she died. Good. I think she would have liked to read your post.

Popular Posts