Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Obviously I had opened this bottle first

From Roland Barthes, The Neutral: Lecture Course at the College de France (1977-1978), trans. Rosalind E. Krauss and Denis Hollier (Columbia UP, 2005):

I return to "Tact" because I have the persistent feeling that I haven't really explained the reason why I gave so much importance to all the sophisticated protocols of Japanese tea. I thus return to "Twinklings," "Minutia." Going out, evenings at dusk, sharply receiving tiny, perfectly futile details of street life: the menu written in chalk on the windowpane of a cafe (chicken mashed potato, 16 francs 50--kidneys creme fraiche, 16 francs 10), a tiny priest in a cassock walking up the rue Medicis, etc., I had this vivid intuition (for me, the urban dusk has a great power of crispness, of activation, it's almost a drug) that to fall into the infinitely futile helps one's awareness of the feeling of life --> (it's after all a novelistic rule). --> Tact is thus on the side of vividness, of what allows life to be felt, of what stirs the awareness of it: the utterly pure taste of life, the pleasure of being alive --> of course, one must agree on what one means by "life," all-purpose word --> life: (1) as power, will-to-possess, will-to-pleasure: life has nothing to do with tact, it has contempt for it, suppresses it as siding with the decadent, the deliquescent, the exhausted, of what is on the verge of dying; (2) but also life as lived time: that whose very duration is a pleasure --> duration of life: Tao value (cf. the magic immortality of the real body): the infinititely futile becomes then so to speak the very grain of this vital duration --> tact = fabric of life.

Concerning "Affirmation." I said: writing is in and of itself affirmative (more so than speech): unfortunately, it doesn't help to add rhetorical caveats as softening devices ("in my humble opinion," "it seems to me," "according to me," etc.). However, a typically arrogant sentence I read in the newspaper this week made me miss the presence of a "softener" --> it could have been about politics, but no: about music --> Telerama, March 11, 1978: "Do you remember? It's not so distant; eighteen years ago. When the greatest French pianist of this century died, June 15, 1962, there was, as one would say, 'a feeling of unease'" = it's Cortot --> three remarks:

a. The reader is himself responsible for the arrogance as well: I don't find that Cortot is the greatest French pianist of the century; besides, this type of improvised rating is unacceptable: in art, no "greatest," because, as a subject, I can always disagree, and no criteria of ranking on which to agree.

b. I had the impression to discover that, curiously, but in an interesting way, the arrogance of the judgment comes in large part from the obliqueness with which the syntax smuggles it in: "Cortot is the greatest pianist of the century" = altogether more a provocation than an arrogance; but the incident clause naturalizes the affirmation: it goes so much without saying that it is enough to allude to it in passing: as if it were a natural attribute. --> To study: what I have called the "Moussu trope."

c. Unbearable arrogance, perhaps precisely because it is not really writing: it's fake writing (journalistic writing): no use of the "I" (an egotistical writing is not arrogant) and yet a kind of verbal fat ("Do you recall?" "as one would say," etc.). To study one day this journalistic writing.

Finally, a personal incident, which will nicely introduce the figures to come: Thursday, March 9, fine afternoon, I go out to buy some paints (Sennelier inks) --> bottles of pigment: following my taste for the names (golden yellow, sky blue, brilliant green, purple, sun yellow, cartham pink--a rather intense pink), I buy sixteen bottles. In putting them away, I knock one over: in sponging up, I make a new mess: little domestic complications. . . . And now, I am going to give you the official name of the spilled color, a name printed on the small bottle (as on the others vermilion, turquoise, etc.): it was the color called Neutral (obviously I had opened this bottle first to see what kind of color was this Neutral about which I am going to be speaking for thirteen weeks). Well, I was both punished and disappointed: punished because Neutral spatters and stains (it's a type of dull gray-black); disappointed because Neutral is a color like the others, and for sale (therefore, Neutral is not unmarketable): the unclassifiable is classified --> all the more reason for us to go back to discourse, which, at least, cannot say what the Neutral is.

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