We sleep in language, if language does not come to wake us with its strangeness.
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I consider myself in my minutiae. I put my finger on the precise point of the fault, the unadmitted slide. For the mind is more reptilian than you yourselves, messieurs, it slips away snakelike, to the point where it damages our language, I mean it leaves it in suspense.
I am the man who has most felt the stupefying confusion of his speech in its relations with thought. I am the man who has most accurately charted the moment of his most intimate, his most imperceptible lapses. I lose myself in my thought, actually, the way one dreams, the way one suddenly slips back into one’s thought. I am the man who knows the inmost recesses of loss.
The only sure thing [in me] is a desperate resistance to any reductive system. For each time, having resorted to any such language (expressive or critical, and at the heart of the critical, the several discourses of sociology, of semiology, and of psychoanalysis) to whatever degree, each time I felt it hardening and thereby tending to reduction and reprimand, I would gently leave and seek elsewhere: I began to speak differently.
Roland Barthes, Critical Essays
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite.
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The symbolic view of things is a consequence of long absorption in images. Is sign language the real language of Paradise?
There are grammatical errors even in his silence.
The words emerge from her body without her realizing it, as if she were being visited by the memory of a language long forsaken.
Marguerite Duras, Summer Rain
The urn of language is so fragile. It crumbles and immediately you blow into the dust of words which are the cinder itself. And if you entrust it to paper, it is all the better to inflame you with, my dear, you will eat yourself up immediately.
Jacques Derrida, Cinders
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Language always betrays us, tells the truth when we want to lie, and dissolves into formlessness when we would most like to be precise.
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What is in a word? What lies at the core of language? It can only be the silent, empty[.] Nothing of the tomb, the pyramid of the dead letter, as in the letter A. For language abstracts from things, it memorialises life, it voids presence. Yet, language says this nothingness in so many beguilingly soft, sweet, subtle and insinuating ways. The textures of words make it palpable, their sonorities render it audible and their suggestively shapely letters display it graphically. At the core of a word, beneath the crust of its consonants, is the liquid of its vowels, and these vowels in effect liquidate the word until it flows into the ocean of nothingness.
Was it language robbed yes of its yesness?
That sand into which we bury ourselves in order not to see, is formed of words…and it is true that words, their labyrinths, the exhausting immensity of their “possibles”, in short their treachery, have something of quicksand about them.
Georges Bataille, L’expérience intérieure, translation by Leslie Ann Boldt
Everyday language calls a cat a cat, as if the living cat and its name were identical, as if it were not true that when we name the cat, we retain nothing of it but its absence, what it is not.
Reading is anguish, and this is because any text, however important, or amusing, or interesting, it is empty - at bottom it doesn’t exist; you have to cross an abyss, and if you do not jump, you do not comprehend.
Could it be that the meaning of a word introduces something else into the word along with it, something which, although it protects the precise signification of the word and does not threaten that signification, is capable of completely modifying the meaning and modifying the material value of the word? Could there be a force at once friendly and hostile hidden in the intimacy of speech, a weapon intended to build and to destroy, which would act behind signification rather than upon signification? Do we have to suppose a meaning for the meaning of words that, while determining that meaning, also surrounds this determination with an ambiguous indeterminacy that wavers between yes and no?
[A] language that speaks through enigma, the enigmatic Difference, but without complacency and without appeasing it: on the contrary, making it speak, and, even before it be word, already declaring it as logos, that highly singular name in which is reserved the nonspeaking origin of that which summons to speech and at its highest level, there where everything is silence, “neither speaks nor conceals, but gives a sign.”
Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature
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In order to suggest, delicately, that I am suffering, in order to hide without lying, I shall make use of a cunning preterition: I shall divide the economy of my signs.
The task of the verbal signs will be to silence, to mask, to deceive: I shall never account, verbally, for the excesses of my sentiment. Having said nothing of the ravages of this anxiety, I can always, once it has passed, reassure myself that no one has guessed anything. The power of language: with my language I can do everything: even and especially say nothing.
I can do everything with my language, but not with my body. What I hide by my language, my body utters. I can deliberately mold my message, not my voice. By my voice, whatever it says, the other will recognize “that something is wrong with me.” I am a liar (by preterition), not an actor. My body is a stubborn child, my language a very civilized adult…
Language can only begin with the void; no fullness, no certainty can ever speak; something essential is lacking in anyone who expresses himself. Negation is tied to language. When I ﬁrst begin, I do not speak in order to say something, rather a nothing demands to speak, nothing speaks, nothing ﬁnds its being in speech and the being of speech is nothing.
Maurice Blanchot, “Literature and the Right to Death,” The Gaze of Orpheus
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