Monday, March 13, 2017

The Pleasure and Bliss of the Text by Roland Barthes

[The pleasure of the text ‘for me’, for Roland Barthes- individual- and therefore by degrees, recondite.]

No “thesis” on the pleasure of the text is possible; barely an inspection (an introspection) that falls short. Eppure si gaude! [yet he rejoices]. And yet, against and in spite of everything, the text gives me bliss*.

At least some examples? One envisions a vast, collective harvest: bring together all the texts which have given pleasure to someone and display this textual body in something like the way in which psychoanalysis had exhibited man’s erotic body. However, it is to be feared that such a labor would end explaining the chosen texts; there would be an inevitable bifurcation of the project: unable to speak itself, pleasure would enter the general path of motivations, none of which would be definitive (if I assert some pleasures of the text here, it is always in passing, in a very precarious, never regular fashion). In short, such a labor could not be written. I can only circle such a subject – and therefore better to do it briefly and in solitude than collectively and interminably; better to renounce the passage from value, the basis of the assertion, to values, which are effects of culture.

As a creature of language, the writer is always caught up in the war of fictions (jargons), but he is never anything but a plaything in it, since the language that constitutes him (writing) is always outside-of-place (atopic); by the simple effect of polysemy (the coexistence of many possible meanings for a word or phrase) the warrior commitment of a literary dialect is dubious from its origin. The writer is always on the blind spot of systems, adrift; he is the joker in the pack, a mana, a zero degree, the dummy in the bridge game: necessary to the meaning (the battle) but himself deprived of fixed meaning; his place, his (exchange) value, varies according to the movements of history, the tactical blows of the struggle: he is asked all and/or nothing. He himself is outside exchange, plunged into non-profit, the Zen mushotuka, desiring nothing but the perverse bliss of words (but bliss is never taking: nothing separates it from satori, from losing.) Paradox: the writer suppresses this gratuitousness of writing (which approaches, by bliss, the gratuitousness of death): he stiffens, hardens his muscles, denies the drift, represses bliss: there are very few writers who combat both ideological repression and libidinal repression (the kind, of course, which the intellectual brings to bear upon himself: upon his own language).

No significance (no bliss) can occur, I am convinced, in mass culture (to be distinguished, like fire from water, from the culture of the masses, for the model of this culture is petit bourgeois. It is characteristic of our (historical) contradiction that significance (bliss) has taken refuge in an excessive alternative: either in a mandarin praxis (result of an extenuation of bourgeois culture), or else in an utopian idea (the idea of a future culture, resulting from a radical, unheard-of, unpredictable revolution, about which anyone writing today knows only one thing: that, like Moses, he will not crossover into it).

For hours on end I read Zola, Proust, Verne, The Count of Monte Christo, the Memoirs of a Tourist, and Sometimes even Julian Green. This is my pleasure, though everyone can testify that this pleasure of the text is not certain: nothing says that this same text will please us a second time; it is a friable pleasure, split by mood, habit, circumstance, a precarious pleasure (obtained by a silent prayer addressed to the Desire for ease, and which that Desire can revoke); when the impossibility of speaking about this text from the point of view of positive science (its jurisdiction is that of critical science: pleasure is a critical principle.)

This is my pleasure but not my bliss: bliss may come only with the absolutely new, for only the new disturbs (weakens) consciousness (easy? Not at all: nine times out of ten, the new is only the stereotype of novelty.) The bliss of the text is not precarious, it is worse: precocious; it does not come in its own good time, it does not depend on any ripening. Everything is wrought to to a transport at one and the same moment. This transport is evident in painting, today’s painting: as soon as it is understood, the principle of loss becomes ineffective, one must go on to something else. Everything comes about; indeed in every sense everything comes - at first glance. The text is (should be) that uninhibited person who shows his behind to the Political Father.

Emotion: why should it be antipathetic to bliss? It is a disturbance, bordering on collapse: something perverse, under respectable appearances; emotion is even, perhaps, the slyest of losses, for it contradicts the general rule that would assign bliss a fixed form: strong, violent, crude: something inevitably muscular, strained, phallic. Against the general rule: never allow oneself to be deluded by the image of bliss; agree to recognize bliss wherever a disturbance occurs in amatory adjustments (premature, delayed, etc.): passionate love as bliss? Bliss as wisdom (when it manages to understand itself outside its own prejudices.

If it were possible to imagine an aesthetic of textual pleasure, it would have to include: writing aloud. This vocal writing (which is nothing like speech) is not practiced, but it is doubtless what Artaud recommended. Let us talk about it as if it existed.

In antiquity, rhetoric included a section which is forgotten, censored by the classical commentators: the action, a group of formula designed to allow for the corporeal exteriorization of discourse: it dealt with a theater of expression, the actor-orator ‘expressing”: his indignation, his compassion, etc. Writing aloud is not expressive; it leaves expression to the pheno-text, to the regular code of communication; it belongs to the geno-text, to significance; it is carried not by dramatic inflections, subtle stresses, sympathetic accents, but by the grain of the voice, which is an erotic mixture of timbre and language, and can therefore also be, along with diction, the substance of an act: the art of guiding one’s body(whence its importance in Far Eastern theaters). Due allowances being made for the sounds of language, writing aloud is not phonological but phonetic; its aim is not the clarity of messages, the theater of emotions; what it searches for (in the perspective of bliss) are the pulsional incidents, the language lined with flesh, a text where we can hear the grain of the throat, the patina of consonants, the voluptuousness of vowels, a whole carnal stereophony; the articulation of the body, of the tongue, not that of meaning, of language.

A certain art of singing can give an idea of this vocal writing; but since melody is dead, we may find it more easily today in the cinema. In fact, it suffices that the cinema capture the sound of speech close up (this is, in fact, the generalized definition of the “grain” of writing) and make us hear in their materiality, their sensuality, the breath, the gutturals, the fleshiness of the lips, a whole presence of the human muzzle (that the voice, that writing, be as fresh, supple, lubricated, delicately granular and vibrant as an animals muzzle), to succeed in shifting the signified a great distance and in throwing, so to speak, the anonymous body of the actor into my ear: it granulates, it crackles, it caresses, it grates, it cuts, it comes: that is bliss.

*   Richard Miller  has come up with the readiest plausibility by translating jouissance ( for the most part: Barthes himself declares the choice between pleasure and the more ravaging term to be precarious, revocable, the discourse incomplete) as “bliss”; but of course he cannot come with “coming”, which precisely translates what the text can afford. The Bible  they translated calls it “knowing” while the Stuarts called it “dying”, the Victorians called it “spending,”  and we call it “coming.”… Pleasure is a state, bliss (jouissance) an action, and both of them, in our culture, are held to be unspeakable, beyond  words. Here for example is Willa Cather, a writer Barthes never heard of, putting in a plea of nolo contendere, which is, for all its insufferable air of customary infallibility, no more than symptomatic:

The qualities of a first-rate writer cannot be defined, only   experienced. It is just the thing in him which escapes analysis that makes him first rate. One can catalogue all the qualities that he shares with other writers, but the thing that is his very own, his timbre, this cannot be defined or explained any more than the quality of a beautiful speaking voice can be.

In the puritanism of our expressivity, what can be said is taken to be no longer experienced, certainly no longer enjoyed.

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