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Absence/Presence in Language & Writing

from Augustine’s Confessions XI.6, translated by John K. Ryan. New York and London: Doubleday, 1960.

God’s Voice

But how did you speak? Was it in the way that the voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son?” That voice went forth and went away; it began and it ceased. The syllables were sounded and they passed away; the second after the first, the third after the second, and the rest in order, until the last one came after all the others, and silence after the last. Whence it is clear and evident that a creature’s movement, a temporal movement, uttered that voice in obedience to your eternal will. These words of yours formed for a certain time, the outer ear reported to the understanding mind, whose interior ear was placed close to your eternal Word. Then the mind compared these words sounding in time with your eternal Word in its silence, and said, ‘It is far different; it is far different. These words are far beneath me. They do no exist, because they flee and pass away. The Word of my God abides above me forever.’

Therefore, if you had said in audible and passing words that heaven and earth should be made, and had so made heaven and earth, there was already some corporeal creature by means of whose temporal movements that voice would run in time. But before heaven and earth, there was no bodily thing. Or if there were one, you surely had made it without a passing voice by which you would say, ‘Let heaven and earth be made.’ Whatsoever that thing might be, from which such a voice could be made, it could not be, from which such a voice could be made, it could not be at all unless it were made by you. By what word, then, did you speak, so that there might be a body from which these words would be uttered?”

from Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, translated by Richard Howard. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1994; reprinted from Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1977.

Sa voix ~ His Voice

(No one’s in particular. Yes, in particular! It is always someone’s voice.)

I try, little by little, to render his voice. I make an adjectival approach: agile, fragile, youthful, somewhat broken? No, not quite; rather: overcultivated, having a faint British flavor. And how about this: clipped? Yes, I expatiate: he revealed in his clipped quality not the torsion (the grimace) of a body controlling and thereby affirming itself but on the contrary the exhausting collapse of the subject without language, presenting the threat of aphasia under which he struggles: contrary to the first, this was a voice without rhetoric (though not without tenderness). For all these voices, the right metaphor would have to be invented, the one which, once encountered, would possess you forever; but I fail to find any such thing, so great is the gap between the words which come to me from the culture and this strange being (can it be no more than a matter of sounds?) which I fleetingly recall at my ear.

Such impotence has a reason: the voice is always already dead, and it is by a kind of desperate denial that we call it: living; this irremediable loss we give the name of inflection: inflection is the voice insofar as it is always past, silenced.

Whereby we may understand what description is: it strives to render what is strictly mortal in the object by feigning (illusion by reversal) to suppose it, to desire it living: ‘as if alive’ means ‘apparently dead.’ The adjective is the instrument of this illusion; whatever it says, by its descriptive quality alone, the adjective is funereal.

from Hélène Cixous, The Book of Promethea, translated by Betsy Wing. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

In the “Introduction,” Betsy Wing writes, “Cixous, however, in The Book of Promethea is working to repair the separation between fiction and presence, trying to chronicle a very-present love without destroying it in the writing” (x).

“Write on what is alive? But up to now I thought of myself as writing on paper. Sometimes the paper was thick enough, in fact, for me not to feel the blood flowing under the skin, under the paper. […] I warn her: ‘I am writing on you, Promethea, run away, escape. I am afraid to write you, I am going to hurt you.’ […] But rather than run away, she comes at a gallop. Through the window she comes, breathing hard, and alive as can be, she flings herself into the book, and there are bursts of laughter and splashes of water everywhere, on my notebook, on the table, on my hands, on our bodies” (Book of Promethea, 15).

How does Cixous attempt to unsettle absence in writing, “to repair the separation between fiction and presence”?
What relationship between l’amour (love) and la mort (death) is developed in the Book? Why? What relationship does ‘writing’ have with ‘death’, as presented by Cixous in the essay “Coming to Writing”?

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