Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 256


European Connections
This volume of texts and images has evolved from papers given Lorna Collins and

Collins and Rush (eds) • Making Sense: For an Effective Aesthetics

at the inaugural Making Sense colloquium, which was held at
the University of Cambridge in September 2009. The chapters Elizabeth Rush (eds)
collected here reflect the multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary
sense made at this event, which became something of an
artistic installation in itself. The essay ‘Making Sense’ by Jean-
Luc Nancy provided the grand finale for the colloquium and is Making Sense
also the culmination of the volume. The collection also includes
articles that expound and critique Nancean theory, as well as
those that provide challenging manifestos or question the divide
For an Effective Aesthetics
between artist and artisan. The volume contrasts works that use
texts to make sense of the world with performance pieces that
question the sense of theory and seek to make sense through
craft, plastic art or painting. By juxtaposing works of pure theory
with pieces that incorporate poetry, prose and performance, the
book presents the reader with a distillation of the creative act.

Lorna Collins is a PhD student in French philosophy at the

University of Cambridge, where she is a Foundation Scholar at
Jesus College. Her philosophical work develops the concept of
Making Sense through the aesthetic theories of Gilles Deleuze
and Félix Guattari, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière and
Bernard Stiegler.

Elizabeth Rush is a PhD student in modern languages at

the University of Cambridge. She is currently researching
representations of care in Spanish and French fiction written
between 1890 and 1930, focusing on J.K. Huysmans, André
Gide, Ramón del Valle-Inclán and Gabriel Miró.

ISBN 978-3-0343-0717-8
Peter Lang 33

European Connections
This volume of texts and images has evolved from papers given Lorna Collins and

Collins and Rush (eds) • Making Sense: For an Effective Aesthetics

at the inaugural Making Sense colloquium, which was held at
the University of Cambridge in September 2009. The chapters Elizabeth Rush (eds)
collected here reflect the multi-dimensional and interdisciplinary
sense made at this event, which became something of an
artistic installation in itself. The essay ‘Making Sense’ by Jean-
Luc Nancy provided the grand finale for the colloquium and is Making Sense
also the culmination of the volume. The collection also includes
articles that expound and critique Nancean theory, as well as
those that provide challenging manifestos or question the divide
For an Effective Aesthetics
between artist and artisan. The volume contrasts works that use
texts to make sense of the world with performance pieces that
question the sense of theory and seek to make sense through
craft, plastic art or painting. By juxtaposing works of pure theory
with pieces that incorporate poetry, prose and performance, the
book presents the reader with a distillation of the creative act.

Lorna Collins is a PhD student in French philosophy at the

University of Cambridge, where she is a Foundation Scholar at
Jesus College. Her philosophical work develops the concept of
Making Sense through the aesthetic theories of Gilles Deleuze
and Félix Guattari, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière and
Bernard Stiegler.

Elizabeth Rush is a PhD student in modern languages at

the University of Cambridge. She is currently researching
representations of care in Spanish and French fiction written
between 1890 and 1930, focusing on J.K. Huysmans, André
Gide, Ramón del Valle-Inclán and Gabriel Miró.

Peter Lang 33
Making Sense
European Connections

edited by
Peter Collier

Volume 33

Oxford • Bern • Berlin • Bruxelles • Frankfurt am Main • New York • Wien
Lorna Collins and Elizabeth Rush (eds)

Making Sense

For an Effective Aesthetics

Oxford • Bern • Berlin • Bruxelles • Frankfurt am Main • New York • Wien
Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.
Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche
Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data is available on the
Internet at http://dnb.d-nb.de.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Making sense : for an effective aesthetics / Lorna Collins and Elizabeth

Rush (eds).
p. cm. -- (European connections 33)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-3-0343-0717-8 (alk. paper)
1. Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.) 2. Creative
ability--Philosophy. 3. Criticism, Textual. 4. Creativity in
literature. I. Collins, Lorna, 1981- II. Rush, Elizabeth, 1984- III.
Nancy, Jean-Luc.
PN56.C69M35 2011

Cover picture: Lorna Collins, ‘Flame’, 210mm × 148mm, acrylic on paper

ISSN 1424-3792
ISBN 978-3-0343-0717-8 E‐ISBN 978‐3‐0353‐0190‐8

© Peter Lang AG, International Academic Publishers, Bern 2011

Hochfeldstrasse 32, CH-3012 Bern, Switzerland
info@peterlang.com, www.peterlang.com, www.peterlang.net

All rights reserved.

All parts of this publication are protected by copyright.
Any utilisation outside the strict limits of the copyright law, without
the permission of the publisher, is forbidden and liable to prosecution.
This applies in particular to reproductions, translations, microfilming,
and storage and processing in electronic retrieval systems.

Printed in Germany

Acknowledgements ix

List of  Illustrations xi

Lorna Collins
Introduction 1

Part 1  Theoretical Approaches to Making Sense 7

Florian Forestier
Sens et composition: quelques remarques sur la pensée du sens
et de l’art chez Jean-Luc Nancy 9

Ian James
Af fection and Infinity 23

Ryosuke Kakinami
Making Sense of  the Fragment: A Reading of  The Literary Absolute 33

Part 2  Manifestos 49

Christopher Watkin
Making Ethical Sense 51

Patricia Ribault
Making Makes Sense: Craft as an Exploratory Mode of  Thinking 55

Hugues Azérad
Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images 63

Faith Lawrence
The Art of  Listening 77

Part 3  Poetry 87

Carol Mavor
‘Phantoms of  the Past, Dear Companions of  Childhood,
Vanished Friends’: Making Sense of  Sally Mann’s Trees 89

Benjamin Morris
On Bilingualism in English 113

Part 4  Performance Art 131

Susan Sellers and Elizabeth Wright

Painting in Prose: Performing the Artist in Susan Sellers’s
Vanessa and Virginia 133

Jennifer Milligan, Jean-Luc Moriceau and Victor Bellaich

I Could Only Tell, by the Skin of my Body 141

Alice Shyy
Making ‘Me’ Things Makes ‘You’ 149

Part 5  Making Sense as ‘Event’ 155

Caroline Rannersberger
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 157

Lorna Collins
Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event 185

Laura McMahon
Passage of  Sense: Anish Kapoor’s Memory (2008)
with Jean-Luc Nancy 199

Part 6  Conclusion 207

Jean-Luc Nancy
Making Sense 209

Jean-Luc Nancy, translated by Emma Wilson

Making Sense (Translation) 215

Notes on Contributors 221

Index 227

The editors are honoured and delighted to be able to host Jean-Luc Nancy’s
previously unpublished essay, ‘Making Sense’, within this book. Nancy’s work
is an openhanded endowment to the project of exploring sense across the
full spectrum of its significations. His thought calls upon academics and
artists to re-envision – creatively, and collaboratively – the systems of mean-
ing and range of experiences that inform our notions of community. The
contributors to this book have risen to Nancy’s challenge. We thank them
for refusing the identity politics of schism, for speaking together, rather than
as two camps, and for agreeing to share the fruits of  their discussion with
a wider public. In ref lecting on how to properly acknowledge the work of
so many individuals towards the material production of  this book, it has
become clear to us that it has generated its own set of – to borrow from a
Deleuzian view of sense mobilized in some of  the essays – ‘rhizomatic’ con-
nections. Emma Wilson championed our colloquium within the Department
of French at the University of Cambridge, and made it possible for us to host
it there. Her contribution resonates, however, in both the background and
the foreground of  this book; we cannot thank her enough for her lucid and
beautiful translation of  Nancy’s essay, which is included in this volume. Bill
Burgwinkle, Head of the Department of French and fellow at King’s College,
Cambridge, supported our petition for funding through both channels. We
are deeply grateful to him for his kindness and unwavering support. We must
also thank the bursar of King’s, David Munday, for granting additional fund-
ing in the final stages of  the project, and to Esther Palmer and Jacky Graves
in the Department of French for balancing out our books. We appreciate the
Society for French Studies for its willingness to support a colloquium with
an unorthodox, yet apposite, connection to contemporary research in French
literature, culture and thought. We owe a particular debt to Peter Collier at
Sidney Sussex College. Peter gave his editorial expertise unreservedly; this
book owes its existence to his strong promotion of our ef forts to convert the
colloquium into a manuscript. Peter put us in touch with the editorial per-
sonnel at Peter Lang, who gave us extensive assistance. Thus, heartfelt thanks
x Acknowledgements

go to Hannah Godfrey, for her inexhaustible patience with our queries, and
to Mary Critchley for her sensitive and thoughtful proofreading. We also
wish to thank Marisa Chandler for her interest in the manuscript and will-
ingness to create the index for it on short notice. Cecilia Falgas-Ravry and
her partner, Victor Falgas-Ravry, deserve special acknowledgment for their
roles within the original conference committee. We remain grateful to both
for their time, financial wizardry and great sense of  humour. Finally, many
thanks to our friends and families for listening to us describe this project at
various stages of its development. It may not have made sense then, but we
hope it does now.

Elizabeth Rush
Lorna Collins
July 2011

Figure 1 Anish Kapoor, Tall Tree and the Eye (2009), Royal Academy of 
Arts, London. Courtesy of the Royal Academy of Arts and Anish
Kapoor, 2010.
Figure 2 Sally Mann, Untitled (#1) (1998). Copyright Sally Mann. Courtesy
of  the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 3 Sally Mann, Untitled (1998). Copyright Sally Mann. Courtesy of 
the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 4 Sally Mann, Untitled (GA #15) (1996). Copyright Sally Mann.
Courtesy of  the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 5 Sally Mann, Candy Cigarette (1989). Copyright Sally Mann.
Courtesy of  the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 6 Vanessa Bell, Abstract Painting (1914), oil on canvas. Courtesy of 
the Tate, London.
Figure 7 Caroline Rannersberger, The Fold 6 Panel (2009), oil and encaustic
on African mahogany, private collection. Image courtesy of  the
Figure 8 Caroline Rannersberger. Parallel Worlds (2008), beeswax, pigment
and oil on paper, private collection. Image courtesy of  the artist.


This volume of  texts has evolved from papers written and performed at the
first Making Sense colloquium, which was held at the University of Cambridge
in September 2009. This event bought together artists and scholars from all
around the world, who gathered to build an interface between artistic crea-
tion, theoretical debate and academic scholarship. The underlying purpose
of  this event was to provoke and install the aesthetic encounter and an art
practice as media to help us understand and make sense of  the world. We
wanted to formulate new ways to frame and develop discourse, and found a
new way of making sense.
The chapters collected here ref lect the multi-dimensional and interdis-
ciplinary creativity and sense made at this event, which became something
of an artistic installation in itself. With a stimulating and sensuous economy
of mutual exchange and intimate debate, the colloquium deconstructed the
traditional hierarchy between the audience and the speakers, reassembling
participants who proceeded from the belief  that we can all be artists.
This book follows from one of  the underlying aims of  the colloquium,
which was to produce a new and creative form of academic scholarship. By
juxtaposing works of pure theory and philosophical texts with pieces that
incorporate poetry, prose and performance, Making Sense tries to present
the reader with a lozenge of  the creative act per se. This scholarship is new
because of its direct acquisition: each piece in this book presents itself as a
work of  literature or art, which performs making sense in the mind of  the
reader, who is inspired to begin searching for sense. Together, we transgress
the range of dif ferent genres from which the pieces included here emerge,
by the way that the process of reading instigates the process of sense-making
in the reader.
We include works that expose how one can make sense of the world from
texts of  Modern French aesthetic theory, alongside performance pieces that
question the sense of  theory and seek a making in craft, from plastic art or

the painting event. The essay on ‘Making Sense’ by Jean-Luc Nancy formed
the grand finale for the first colloquium, and it provides the heart of  this
Chapters are grouped into themes. The first three chapters present
‘Theoretical Approaches to Making Sense’. In this section we have works
that begin from the viewpoint of what sense is in the thinking of  Jean-Luc
Nancy. Florian Forestier’s ‘Sens et composition: quelques remarques sur la
pensée du sens et de l’art chez Jean-Luc Nancy’ discusses what ‘making sense’
means in terms of  the ontology and phenomenology implied in the process
of sense-making, whilst concentrating on singularities and art, to investigate
making sense through art in terms of the thought of Nancy. Then Ian James’s
‘Af fection and Infinity’ presents a theoretical thesis that sets Nancy’s think-
ing about sense, and making sense, in terms of  the philosophical registers of 
twentieth-century French and German phenomenological thought. James
argues that Nancy can be seen as a thinker of af fection who seeks to think
this question in relation to that of infinity. The thesis of  this chapter is that
making sense involves af fection and its relation to the infinite. The third
chapter in this grouping is by Ryosuke Kakinami, who asks what is a making
sense of art and a making sense through art? What does it mean to make sense?
What does a work of art that makes sense look like? To answer these ques-
tions Kakinami addresses Nancean sense in the terms of  ‘a sort of destiny of
modern subjectivity in art’. From this perspective Kakinami brings forward
the thesis that a fragmentary subjectivity appears in the thought of Nancy, at
the crossroads of literature, critique and philosophy. This theory of the frag-
ment then prepares a new concept of community, that is, making sense of the
way we inhabit the world.
The next group of chapters is presented as a set of ‘Manifestos’. By this we
mean to bring forward works that call the reader to think and make sense of
aesthetic objects and aesthetic practices dif ferently, calling for new aesthetic
situations or re-situations. Chris Watkin describes his piece, ‘Making Ethical
Sense’, as a ‘collaborative venture’, in which he makes a position on sense and
ethics in relation to Jean-Luc Nancy. Watkin argues that Nancean sense-
making brings with it an ineluctable ethical dimension. After making this
position, Watkin then asks what implications might this have for an artist,
sculptor, or filmmaker who is seeking to take Nancy’s thinking into account.
This chapter is juxtaposed with Patricia Ribault’s ‘Making Makes Sense: Craft
Introduction 3

as an Exploratory Mode of Thinking’. In this chapter Ribault works from her

own experience as a glass blower, and considers the making of making sense
in terms of  her own craftsmanship. Ribault exposes the dif ference between
art and craft by emphasizing the corporal dimension of craft, and by high-
lighting in particular the way that craft involves the sense of touch. She then
demonstrates how craft can be seen as a mode of  thinking as well as a mode
of production. Then Hugues Azérad presents the reader with a ‘Making Sense
of Epiphanic Images’, which explores images that present what Joyce defined
as a ‘sudden spiritual manifestation’ – a shock or profound emotion. Drawing
particularly from Modernist masters such as Tarkovsky, for Azérad the epiph-
anic image is a privileged, distinctive event of encounter because of the emo-
tion it produces in the viewer. The fourth manifesto is Faith Lawrence’s ‘The
Art of  Listening’. This chapter begins with Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Sonnets to
Orpheus’ and considers how this poem can help us learn to listen to sculpture.
Lawrence develops what she calls a ‘listening poetics’ as a method of engaging
with contemporary art, exploring a poetics weighted towards the possibilities
of fered by listening and sound, and by considering Jean Luc Nancy’s medita-
tion on listening alongside Rilke. Lawrence then applies her listening poetics
to contemporary art; the object being to replenish and renew, rather than
exhaust and reduce, the meaning of  the artwork.
Lawrence’s poetics provides an ef fective crossover point to the next
grouping of chapters, which explore ‘Poetry’. In this section we have works
by Carol Mavor and Ben Morris. Mavor’s essay, ‘“Phantoms of the Past, Dear
Companions of Childhood, Vanished Friends”: Making Sense of Sally Mann’s
Trees’, responds to the recurring theme of  the image of  the tree that is seen
in a selection of works by the contemporary American photographer Sally
Mann. Mavor’s text is intertwined with these images that she is directly making
sense with, so that her prose – touched by the images – at times becomes itself
moving stanzas of poetry. Underlying this aesthetic juxtaposition of poetry
and image is a theoretical investigation, which appeals to Nancy’s À l’Écoute,
bringing forward a rich sense that seeks a ‘listening to the beyond-meaning’.
In Mann’s piece the trees have agency; the images she uses in her piece could
be seen to answer back to the strong direction against arborescent, or root-
tree thinking, which is seen in Deleuze’s notion of  the rhizome. As such,
the images of Sally Mann’s trees in this work play a strong part in its agency;
they might even challenge the concepts we see in other chapters. This piece

is juxtaposed with Morris’s ‘On Bilingualism in English’, which is an essay

about making sense in terms of the relationship between critical and creative
work. Morris is a poet, and we sample his creative work in this chapter, which
includes The Names of Storms, a poem that came out of Morris’s making sense
of  his research experience.
Morris’s poetic praxis and work of  literature sets up the next group of
chapters, which involve and instigate ‘Performance Art’. First in this sec-
tion is Elizabeth Wright’s and Susan Sellers’s ‘Painting in Prose: Performing
the Artist in Susan Sellers’s Vanessa and Virginia’. This piece was originally
brought forward as a performance at the first Making Sense colloquium. In this
chapter they describe what happened in their performance, and use Nancy’s
scholarship to make sense through the dif ferent genres of novel, visual art
and performance that it involves. The second piece in this section, Jean-Luc
Moriceau’s and Jennifer Milligan’s ‘I Could Only Tell, by the Skin of my Body’,
is also based on a performance given at the first Making Sense colloquium, in
which Moriceau and Milligan set out to embody philosophy in performance
by layering Nancy, the work of  the Parisian photographer Victor Bellaich,
and personal experiences of  touch and resonance. In this chapter Moriceau
and Milligan replay the sense and impressions that they made during their
performative piece. The next chapter is brought forward as a performance in
itself. Alice Shyy’s ‘Making “Me” Things Makes “You”’ intrudes upon the mind
of the reader as they take in the cheeky musings on making sense that define
this impetuous piece. Alice Shyy describes herself as an artist and this piece
presents her ef forts to make sense from her profession. This piece does not
really fit into a specific genre such as theory, literature, poetry or criticism; by
expressing and following an imaginative conscious stream of thought trying
to make sense of  the present, Shyy brings us performance in praxis.
This writing as art and creative praxis bleeds into the next grouping of
chapters, which express ‘Making Sense as “Event”’. This section is heavily
inf luenced by the rhizomatic thinking of  Gilles Deleuze, and it begins with
Caroline Rannersberger’s ‘The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote
Northern Australia’. In this essay Rannersberger describes her own painting
practice as a landscape painter in the Northern Territory. She explores the
ways in which the remote north exists outside of  the traditional European
genre of  landscape painting, how she experiences the process of painting in
the remote north of  Australia, and how Deleuzian philosophy allows her to
Introduction 5

make sense of  her painting experience and of  the artwork itself. This theme
of making sense by making art is carried over into the next chapter, which is
Lorna Collins’s ‘Making Sense of Territory: The Painting Event’. This chapter
considers Deleuze’s ideas about geophilosophy, the event and subjectivity,
to think on a dif ferent register – through the painting event – about terri-
tory, i.e. how we inhabit the world. Collins demonstrates how we can make
sense with material forms and use the process of artistic creation to consider
the formation of  territory. Collins brings forward Deleuze and Guattari’s
notion of  ‘geophilosophy’ as a mode of  thinking that opens a topology and
territorial outlook, and interprets this term by applying it to an art practice.
By describing her own process of painting, Collins intends to think about
how the painting event – or the act of artistic creation – helps us make sense
of  how we encounter and inhabit the world.
The third chapter in this grouping is Laura McMahon’s ‘Passage of Sense:
Anish Kapoor’s Memory (2008) with Jean-Luc Nancy’. McMahon begins
from her own embodied encounter with the artist Kapoor’s Memory, drawing
out the ways in which ‘making sense’ may lie in an unfolding of  the specific
temporality and situatedness of  that encounter. She argues that Kapoor’s
installation discloses much to make sense of, in terms of  the specificity of its
location, the inaccessibility of memory and the destabilization of vision. These
ideas are considered in terms of  Nancy’s understanding of sense.
This return to Nancy sets up our grand finale, which is Jean-Luc Nancy’s
own ‘Making Sense’. This piece was written specifically for the first Making
Sense colloquium, and it presents Nancy’s ref lections upon the meaning
of  the phrase ‘making sense’. Nancy considers sense in terms of a process of
sensory reception, and argues that it then becomes an overf lowing of sense,
building sensibility, sensuality, and meaning. This chapter is a key text because
it extends Nancy’s acclaimed scholarship on sense, as it is framed specifically
for our concept of  Making Sense. We publish Nancy’s text next to Emma
Wilson’s translation of it. This translation is printed so that one can read
the original French as well as the English translation, enabling the sense to
be made during the reader’s ef forts to grasp the sensible meaning that tallies
through both versions.
From this grouping and selection of chapters we bring together pieces
interested in Nancean theory with those which are creating manifestos to
challenge us to do something dif ferently, and those challenging the divide

between artist and craftsman, or actually enacting performance art, poetry

or the painting event. The backdrop of  this is Making Sense the collective,
which is a loose and expanding group of artists and scholars who gather at
yearly colloquia to create a vital, international forum that crosses between
modes of  thinking and doing.

Select Bibliography

Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari, Mille Plateaux (Paris: Minuit, 1980).

——, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Minuit, 1991).
Nancy, J.-L., Le Sens du monde (Paris: Galilée, 2001).
——, À l’Écoute (Paris: Galilée, 2002).
Theoretical Approaches to Making Sense

Sens et composition: quelques remarques sur

la pensée du sens et de l’art chez Jean-Luc Nancy

L’objet de cet article, essentiellement didactique, est de mettre en perspec-

tive la pensée du sens de Jean-Luc Nancy, en décrivant le contexte auquel
elle répond, la stratégie qu’elle adopte, et les concepts qu’elle mobilise et
déplace. Ce faisant, il s’agit aussi d’expliquer de quelle façon Jean-Luc Nancy
fait de l’oeuvre d’art une forme exemplaire de déploiement et de mise en
jeu de la question du sens. Nous procéderons pour cela en plusieurs temps.
D’abord, nous ferons un point sur les problématiques plus globales au sein
desquelles la pensée de Nancy prend place et tâcherons de comprendre la
singularité de sa démarche dans ce contexte. Puis, nous nous attacherons à
caractériser plus précisément « l’ontologie » que propose Jean-Luc Nancy
en explicitant le rôle que jouent les concepts de sens, de monde et de sin-
gularité dans l’économie de sa pensée. Nous nous concentrerons enfin sur
la place spécifique de l’art dans ce dispositif, et proposerons quelques pistes
Pour plus de clarté, nous prenons le parti de nous référer essentiellement à
la famille de pensée à laquelle Nancy est af filié, de ne pas croiser, autant qu’on
le pourrait, sa problématique à celle d’auteurs d’autres horizons. Signalons
tout de même que les développements les plus avancés de la phénoménologie
sur la question du sens, en particulier dans l’oeuvre de Marc Richir, seraient
amplement susceptibles de donner matière à des remarques complémentaires.
Nous avons également choisi de simplifier autant que possible les concepts
techniques que nous utilisons pour conserver à cette présentation son carac-
tère didactique.

Des « significations directrices » au « sens nu »

La pensée de Jean-Luc Nancy est une pensée du sens après, ou par-delà, ce

qu’on a pu appeler la mort de Dieu ou la fin des significations directrices,
après, disons, les diverses figures de la transcendance auquel le sens devait sa
consistance, et qui ont constitué le régime de notre rapport à lui. Par figure, il
faut ici entendre un horizon récapitulant et fondant les autres interprétations
de cette transcendance, dévoilant et explicitant leurs propres implicites, leur
conférant leur propre intelligibilité. Pour Nancy par ailleurs, ces figures ne
sont ni de simples archétypes intellectuels, ni des formes transcendantales de
notre rapport au monde; elles sont aussi ce qui a fondé la communauté du
monde, les visages sous lesquels le monde se donnait comme une transcen-
dance commune à laquelle nous étions ensemble assignés et qui recueillait
nos pensées et nos actions sous l’horizon du commun. Dès lors, la crise des
significations directrices – de la possibilité même des significations directrices
– est tout aussitôt une crise de la communauté, que rien, dès lors, ne fonde
plus, et dont il s’agit pourtant de penser la possibilité.
Dans la double filiation de Hegel et de Heidegger, Nancy accorde un rôle
capital au Dieu chrétien qui, plus que de fournir une figure parmi d’autres,
incarne en quelque sorte la figure même de la figurabilité du transcendant
en sa transcendance, non simplement donc de la totalisation du sens mais
de l’idée même de totalisation comme horizon de sa compréhension. En un
sens, l’infigurabilité du Dieu unique, loin de laisser, comme les puissances
païennes, le divin reposer en lui-même, annonce paradoxalement son entrée,
comme horizon, dans le règne de la figuration. Ainsi ouvert comme possibi-
lité, le transcendant, en sa transcendance, devient la source invisible de toutes
ses manifestations et le principe de toute principialité. Celle-ci procède d’un
rapport au sens régi par une logique de principialité, par une recherche des
principes à partir desquels la pensée peut ordonner, poser, articuler ses objets,
ou tout simplement les appréhender, à partir desquels le sens peut être arti-
culé au « sens du sens ». De la sorte, la principialité, au « sens » le plus large
qu’on puisse lui donner (on peut sous ce terme placer les dif férentes figures
du fondement et du principe de la raison qui s’enchainent, dans l’histoire de
la métaphysique décrite par Heidegger, comme une ré-interprétation de la
principalité qui ne cesse d’en « déterminer » les mécanismes jusqu’à sa pure
Sens et composition 11

et simple dissolution), conduit toujours à chercher, à travers le sens, ce à quoi

il doit être rapporté et à partir de quoi seulement il peut être saisi comme tel.
Or, cette logique de la principialité culmine et s’exprime dans la figure de
Dieu, qui recèle à son tour la principialité de tout principe, saisie en deçà de
lui. Mais dès lors la principialité, vouée à se résoudre dans l’idée de Dieu, l’est
également à se perdre avec lui. Relevée par la figure de Dieu, la principialité
finit par s’y dissimuler tout à fait, et à déserter l’étant dont le sens, dépris de
sa source, s’épuise.
De quoi parlons-nous finalement quand nous évoquons la mort de Dieu ?
Moins, sans doute, d’une dissolution ef fective que d’une impuissance. Ce qui
est mort, c’est bien la capacité de Dieu à éveiller la foi, et celle-ci, privée de
toute possibilité de publicité, déserte ainsi le monde et la communauté car
la figure du Dieu chrétien est aussi une certaine figure de ce que Heidegger
appelle le divin, ce en quoi nous sommes appelés à la pensée, par quoi le réel
se donne à nous sous l’horizon de sa propre transcendance. Il ne s’agit pas
seulement donc d’une figure conceptuelle, mais également d’une figure de la
façon dont les dimensions qui structurent notre expérience du monde (dans
les termes de Heidegger, le Quadriparti structurant la co-propriation de l’être
à la pensée) se manifestent. Dieu – dont la figure, au moins possible, est en
germe dans la structure de la pensée occidentale avant sa manifestation réelle,
et est au contraire nécessaire pour comprendre réellement le « rapport à
l’être » des anciens grecs – incarne ainsi un mode du rassemblement du sens,
de l’ouverture à l’être et à l’expérimentable, qui a « fait son temps »: un mode
où la fragilité du sens a besoin d’être compensée parce qu’elle n’est pas saisie
comme une dimension intrinsèque de sa manifestation, où le sens, coupé
du tremblement de sa propre vie, n’est soutenu que par l’extériorité du divin
qui vient vers nous, nous appelle et nous impose la tâche de retisser vers lui
le sens du sens. Plus encore que l’épuisement des figures conceptuelles de la
transcendance à travers le concept de Dieu, l’actuelle crise des significations
directrices manifeste finalement un rapport au sens où sa faiblesse et son indé-
termination sont refoulées par son l’éclat. Même si ce n’est pas l’objet de notre
texte, rappelons que Didier Franck, dans Heidegger et le christianisme, montre
de façon précise comment, implicitement chez Heidegger, la « structure de
la pensée chrétienne » habite déjà implicitement la philosophie grecque
jusque dans ses moments présocratiques, comment la place du Dieu chrétien
et de son geste est déjà ouverte dans la logique de la Parole d’Anaximandre, et

comment il y a en quelque sorte co-appartenance originelle de ce qu’exprime

le Dieu chrétien et de la pensée grecque.
Il serait intéressant, mais ce n’est pas le sujet de ce texte, de comparer
les lectures que Nietzsche et Kierkegaard font d’un même phénomène. Pour
Nietzsche, la dite « mort de Dieu » entraine une modification définitive du
rapport au réel puisque tout absolu y est désormais contesté, et que l’appel
de l’absoluité doit, en quelque sorte, être incorporé à la dynamique de la vie.
Pour Kierkegaard, le nom de Dieu persiste au delà des institutions historiques
de sa présence; il persiste comme indiquant une transcendance irréductible,
mais aussi, incompréhensible, qui m’interpelle dans ma singularité et devant
qui il me faut faire un choix, un saut. En somme, la mort des figures visibles
et conceptuelles de Dieu n’abolit pas la foi, mais lui redonne la pureté des pre-
miers temps; la « mort de Dieu » rejoue le mystère de la croix qui constituait,
plus encore, un scandale face auquel la raison ne pouvait que vaciller.1
Pour Nancy, il s’agit dès lors de penser le sens au delà de toute figure
totalisatrice, et au delà même de la totalisation comme figure. L’épuisement
de la figure de Dieu, en ef fet, entraîne celui de toutes les autres figures et fait
paraître le sens nu par décomposition de la « figurabilité » en général:

C’est alors que ressurgit, plus impérieuse que jamais, l’exigence du sens qui n’est rien
d’autre que l’existence en tant qu’elle n’a pas de sens. Et cette exigence à elle seule est
déjà le sens, avec toute sa force d’insurrection.2

Dès lors, la question du sens tombe à notre charge, persiste, autrement dit, à
même son énigmaticité. Mais cette charge n’est ni notre « guise », ni notre
liberté. Ce serait précisément le pire contre-sens (ce que Heidegger, sans
doute à tort, croyait lire en Nietzsche et en quoi il discernait l’accomplisse-
ment ultime de la métaphysique) de croire que la charge du sens équivaut
à notre disposition. Pas plus les structures institutionnelles et techniques
de la circulation du sens que l’acte instigateur de la pensée constituante et
configurante ne prennent à proprement parler le relais de la transcendance
instituante du sens. Au contraire, le sens tel qu’il s’agit de le penser, garde sa
concrétude et sa résistance. Il est encore, si l’on veut, jeu de la transcendance

1 Sur ce thème, cf. aussi J.-L. Manon, Dieu sans l’être.

2 J.-L. Nancy, Le Sens du monde (Paris: Galilée, 1993), p. 20.
Sens et composition 13

et de l’immanence, même si ces concepts demandent dès lors à être saisis tout
autrement, et c’est en élucidant les modes et formes de son insistance qu’on
peut précisément aussi espérer saisir comment, et à quel prix, la pensée est
capable de poser du neuf, et comment, à l’inverse, elle est fondamentalement
intriquée à tout un réseau d’inscriptions et d’appartenances. Ainsi, la question
du sens est d’abord nouée à celle de la concrétude: elle prend la forme d’une
exposition et d’une ouverture, mais qu’il s’agit de penser en leur passer et leur
transitivité propre. Si le sens n’est plus indexé à rien, si la logique même de
son indexation totalisante est brisée, il reste pourtant ouvert au concret et
travaillé par lui de son propre dedans. Dès lors, « (…) concret désigne cela
dont la consistance, et la résistance, forme l’extériorité nécessaire d’un être-à,
donc d’un être-selon-le-sens ».3
Le geste instigateur de la pensée créatrice lui-même n’est rien sans cette
participation du concret, résistant mais aussi neutre, indif férent, qui est à la
fois proprement impensable et inscrite dans tout geste de pensée. Tout un
pan de la pensée du XIXe siècle, incluant Schelling et le jeune Marx, parmi
d’autres, a cherché à comprendre comment l’ef ficacité de la pensée, libérée de
ses assignations intellectuelles, reste liée à une concrétude au sein de laquelle
elle se forme, se déplie, se délie. Sous la forme spéculative (ou « outre-spécu-
lative ») de « l’imprépensable » développé par Schelling aussi bien que sous
la forme critique et scientifique de l’inscription des pensées dans les super-
structures exprimant les rapports de production, on retrouve bien à chaque
fois la tentative de penser la participation du réel et de la pensée autant que
la solidarité originelle du philosophique et du non-philosophique.4 Pour un
panorama plus complet, il faudrait encore inclure d’autres auteurs, comme
Trendelenbourg, dont l’aristotélisme réaf firmé contre la logique de Hegel,
joua un rôle déterminant, tant pour la formation d’un philosophe comme
Kierkegaard que pour le maintien de toute une lignée « autrichienne », abou-
tissant finalement à Husserl et Heidegger par l’intermédiaire de Brentano.
La question aristotélicienne de l’antériorité et de la primauté joue en ef fet
un rôle important dans la « survie du concret au-delà de l’idée » dans la
philosophie allemande. Le réel est logiquement et ontologiquement anté-
rieur à ce qui s’en dit selon la logique même de ce dire. Il s’agit précisément,

3 Ibid., p. 24.
4 Cf. entre autres, J. Colette, Kierkegaard et la non-philosophie.

pour des auteurs comme Heidegger, de saisir l’antériorité de l’être (donc, sa

concrétude) sans la thématiser à son tour, sans sacrifier le concret à ce qui
revient pour rétablir subrepticement la suprématie du concept. L’antériorité
du réel ne peut à proprement parler « pas se dire » et doit être manifestée à
la pensée d’une autre manière. Pour parler une autre langue philosophique,
on pourrait alors dire que la contextualité de toute manifestation appartient
au réel, que la perspective est ontologiquement inscrite dans la loi de tout
accès à l’être, ou encore que le rapport au réel doit être pensé comme une
inscription et une appartenance. De la sorte, il n’y a pas de mode de mani-
festation de l’être éminent et premier, et toute manifestation est engagée
de manière « feuilletée » et « plurivoque » dans l’être. Celui-ci ne donne
pas une « norme » ou une « loi » directement à la pensée, mais est inscrit
en son travail même comme un poids, une résistance dif fractée plutôt que
ponctuelle. On pourrait dire (mais ce serait le langage d’une autre tradition
encore) que le réel ne nous dit pas quoi faire, mais qu’on ne peut pas non
plus « faire ce qu’on veut » avec le réel.
Bien que les références de Nancy à Marx, Schelling ou Kierkegaard soient
sans doute moins fréquentes que celles à Hegel ou Heidegger, sa pensée tend
pourtant également à poursuivre leur enquête, car si la question du sens se
pose encore, c’est uniquement sous cet horizon de concrétude. Mais Nancy
porte de son côté l’accent sur ce qui, précisément, ne peut qu’échapper à
toute philosophie qui se veut d’ordinaire philosophie du concret: le sens lui-
même au lieu de son « ouverture », ou plus exactement de son « passer »,
le sens comme forme même de l’être-à. Le mot sens vise en d’autres termes le
« lieu » de l’existence tout à la fois finie et décalée de soi-même, la liberté
qu’est l’espacement de l’exister à même sa pesée. On peut parler de sens (et
non seulement de significations découpées, instituées, fixes) parce que le réel
n’est pas « muet »; naïvement, il « veut dire » quelque chose pour nous,
il nous concerne, il est quelque chose sur lequel nous pouvons parler, nous
aussi. Il y a dans l’idée de sens la triple dimension d’une exposition, d’un degré
de liberté et d’une forme de toucher (à) soi; le sens n’est pas nécessairement
et pas d’abord « sens de », mais il est toujours déjà « sens a », il retient
quelque chose de lui-même alors même qu’il s’en dépouille dans l’inassi-
gnable « tact » de son « passer ». Les dif ficultés à traiter à ce niveau du
sens sans le substantialiser, le déterminer ou le perdre expliquent alors que
la pensée de Nancy se déploie aussi sur le versant d’une critique du langage
Sens et composition 15

et des catégories de la métaphysique (et, en deçà, des refoulements et asso-

ciations qui ont permis la genèse de ces catégories) inspirée de la démarche
déconstructrice de Derrida.

Sens, monde, singularité

Dans Le Sens du monde, Nancy propose une véritable ontologie de « l’être-à ».

Il s’agit précisément pour lui de penser le sens « au lieu » de l’espacement du
monde, ou plutôt du monde comme espacement, du réel dans son originaire
et irréductible pluralité sans laquelle il n’y aurait précisément rien, et sans
l’idée de laquelle rien n’est à proprement parler pensable. Il est en ef fet de
l’essence l’espace (de ce qui, dans l’essence de l’espace, reste quasi-impensable
pour la métaphysique) de toujours sur-exister à sa déconstruction. En deçà
de l’espace, ce qui insiste et résiste est déjà écartement. En deçà de tout ordre,
de toute présentation, la donation d’un monde est déjà disposition, configu-
ration travaillée par un insaisissable « jeu »; réciproquement (et naïvement)
l’existence n’est pas en adhésion aveugle à elle-même mais toujours déjà en
écart. Mais à revers de l’espace, c’est alors la question du sens qui est déjà ins-
crite, en filigrane, comme ce en quoi l’espacement est aussi « toucher », en
quoi la pluralité n’est pas la dispersion absolue. A travers l’espacement, le sens
est latent, disons, comme son frissonnement ou sa doublure. Ici, la marge de
manœuvre de Nancy par rapport à Derrida est faible puisqu’il s’agit, sans nier
ou refouler la pensée de la dif férance, de penser au fond de la dif férance le
contact, le toucher qui est impensablement dif fus dans la dissémination des
êtres. Il y a bien dès lors une complicité dif ficilement saisissable du sens et du
sensible. Au fond du sensible en ef fet repose déjà l’énigmes du contact et de
la passibilité réciproque des « étants » espacés; le jeu du sens est d’abord le
jeu de l’être s’écartant et se dif férant.
Il s’agit bien, aussi, de penser l’apparaître, la passibilité de l’apparaître
dans l’être, et le jeu de l’être dans l’apparaître. L’être nous est donné parce que
quelque chose apparaît, mais c’est aussi l’être qui se donne à travers son appari-
tion. Mais Nancy se garde bien de penser l’apparaître comme un « pouvoir »
de l’être: il n’y a pas de nécessité dans l’être qu’il apparaisse, il n’y a qu’une

passibilité de l’être à lui même attestée par l’apparaître, et qui se retrouve

enfouie en la sensibilité par laquelle nous accédons en ef fet à l’apparaître.
L’Apparaître n’est donc pas interprété à partir des catégories de la métaphysi-
que classique. Au contraire, l’apparaître est une dimension gratuite, froissé par
le fond insaisissable de l’être s’espaçant et se « touchant » en lui. A l’inverse
d’autres philosophes ayant également cherché à penser la complicité de l’être
à l’apparaître (Merleau-Ponty, Roger Chambon, ou Jean Petitot par exemple),
Nancy se retient sans cesse de poser l’immanence comme étof fe ou « chair
du monde »; tout l’enjeu est précisément de rester à la marge, sur la ligne de
crête du sens énigmatiquement hanté par la trace disséminée de l’être. De la
sorte, la dif ficulté principale est plutôt de demeurer sur ce fil en conduisant
une pensée qui ne peut se construire et se systématiser mais progressivement
s’indique, se déploie de façon à laisser place à ce dont elle trace un « cerne »,
à laisser pressentir son insistance aux points de rebroussements des phrases
et des concepts. Selon Derrida, ce qui distingue le travail de Nancy de toute
phénoménologie, c’est que ce dernier ne nomme pas une instance unificatrice,
ce qui le fait échapper au désir d’aboutir qui finit par enfermer toute pensée
dans la cécité de sa construction. C’est à partir de l’énigme du toucher qu’il
faut s’interroger: autrement dit, le toucher lui-même ne se comprend qu’au sein
de la frappe de l’existence, comme la résonance à travers laquelle elle ne cesse
de se relancer. Il y a ainsi chez Nancy un travail de l’écriture qui lentement,
répétitivement, rythmiquement, inlassablement, construit une rencontre avec
une concrétude avec laquelle elle ne fait que jouer. Le clair-obscur, ainsi, fait
résolument partie de la pensée la plus rigoureuse. Dans la ligne des romanti-
ques allemands, sa pensée se déploie comme une pensée du fragment et des
pouvoirs du fragment pour faire porter l’ombre d’une totalité impossible à
même la dispersion.5
La pensée du sens de Nancy est ainsi également une pensée de la singula-
rité, de la rencontre autant que de l’existence, car notre existence se « déploie »
précisément sous la forme de la rencontre. La singularité s’avère ainsi à la fois
une opacité absolue et une extériorité absolue puisque tout ce qui m’apparaît
en mon existence est déjà extérieur, emprunté, partagé, est déjà prothèse ou

5 Cf. Nancy et Lacoue-Labarthe, L’Absolu littéraire, présentant, traduisant et interprétant

un certain nombre de textes issus des principaux penseurs du romantisme allemand entre
autres consacrés à la question du fragment.
Sens et composition 17

gref fe. Je suis moi de façon absolument antérieure à tout, mon être-moi ne m’est
pas donné, pas même sur le mode heideggérien de la décision, l’apparaître de
mon expérience est déjà ouvert à sa propre contingence. Rien de ce par quoi
mon existence se manifeste n’est jamais proprement moi, et mon expérience
pourrait-être celle de n’importe qui. La singularité est précisément ce qui
s’excepte de toute position possible, ce qui ne se laisse pas rationaliser, c’est-à-
dire comprendre, au sens où je m’appréhende tel qu’un autre que moi pourrait
l’être, mais tel, pourtant, que je suis de fait absolument et irréversiblement
moi-même: ce qui est, c’est bien cela, et l’existence est bien la surprise que ce qui
est soit bel et bien cela. La singularité de l’existence n’est ainsi rien de manifeste,
mais elle traverse pourtant la manifestation, comme une trace dont l’écho se
dif fuse en elle. Si la sensibilité et l’af fectivité sont bien les « lieux hors lieux »
ou résonne cette trace, on ne peut pour autant pas parler non plus d’événement
du sensible chez Nancy, car la la sensibilité est antérieure à toute « ipséisation »
et à toute « donation », et son événementialité ne se manifeste que de façon
dif fuse et dif fractée.6 Le senti ne se possède pas, mais il ne se reçoit pas non
plus, même pas sous la forme de l’af fection pure, de l’af fecter de l’af fection:
en un sens, l’af fection est un déjà là et un a-venir originels.
Là encore, Nancy se distingue des penseurs de l’ipséité, de Heidegger,
même de Michel Henry, car la singularité, pour lui, vient précisément de ce
que rien ne vient marquer la « mienneté » d’une expérience que j’habite
en quelque sorte clandestinement, qui est mienne simplement parce qu’il
ne peut pas en être autrement, sans que l’intimité ne soit autre chose que
ce liseré d’ombre qui borde l’extériorité. Par contre, sa pensée rencontre, de
façon assez nette, celle des penseurs de l’aliénation, pour lesquels la subjecti-
vité en son sens fort ne s’éveille qu’à travers la rupture de ses objectivations.7
D’autres analyses encore étudient la façon dont le défaut d’origine, ou même
un deuil, un drame, une monstruosité fondatrice, fonde encore l’être-en-com-
mun de ce qui ne partagent sinon plus rien. Mais il faudrait réciproquement
montrer comment cette communauté sans commun est néanmoins capable
de produire du commun, comment, ressourcés par un commun néant, les

6 Au « sens » ou en parle, par exemple, Jocelyn Benoist dans son ouvrage, Kant et les
limites de la synthèse, dont la problématique est pourtant très proche des réf lexions de
7 Cf., entres autres, F. Fischbach, Sans Objet. Capitalisme, alienation, subjectivité.

hommes peuvent mettre en marge un mouvement commun. Sur ce point, les

philosophes se partagent selon qu’ils estiment que la dimension du pouvoir,
de tout pouvoir, doit être définitivement abandonnée, où qu’ils pensent au
contraire qu’une communauté incapable de produire un « corps » capable
d’agir et d’intervenir se condamne à une irréparable impuissance. Une véri-
table analyse des avatars de la singularité du sujet depuis Hegel, en passant
par Kierkegaard et Marx, puis par Lacan, Badiou, ou Marc Richir excède de
très loin le cadre de cette étude.
Enfin, c’est pour Nancy le défaut d’une figure objective du sens qui conti-
nue d’animer un « en-commun » privé de transcendance posée; en-commun
qui n’est rien d’autre que la solitude des êtres irrémédiablement abandonnés
au monde et qui n’ont finalement en partage que l’impartageabilité d’une
« mondialité » disloquée, que leur propre singularité justement incommuni-
cable, que la rencontre de leur propre vie qui leur échoit comme pouvant être
celle de n’importe quel autre de la même façon abandonnée et irremplaçable.
Il y a par conséquent dans cette pensée une triple dimension éthique, esthéti-
que et politique, même si Nancy répète que la politique n’a pas directement,
selon lui, le sens pour objet, mais plutôt la mise en oeuvre des conditions de
possibilité de la vie du sens.

La praxis du sens nu et sa composition

Nancy trouve dans le geste artistique la pratique meme de cette exposition du

sens nu. L’art devint la praxis de la perte d’évidence du sens, sa monstration
à même sa perte ou son absence. Les artistes interrogent le neutre, l’incertain
et le vide. Ils ne se donnent plus le sens comme une extériorité qui parle et
se manifeste d’elle-même, mais, dans leur pratique mettent en jeu la sur-exis-
tence de l’énigme à la disparition de tous ses cadres d’intelligibilité. Il y a, dans
cette vision de l’art, un tournant radical car l’oeuvre en elle-même ne joue plus
seulement sur sa profondeur, son indépendance, son irrécusable manifesteté.
En d’autres termes, l’art ne peut plus être la relève de la philosophie pour
la présentation d’un objet qui lui serait insaisissable. L’art ne révèle rien, et
surtout pas de figures enfouies ou voilées: il est seulement la praxis même du
Sens et composition 19

sens nu se montrant, s’enroulant sur elle-même, se ref létant en elle-même. Dès

lors, ce qui reste de l’oeuvre n’est que le creusement du mystère de son insis-
tance et de sa subsistance; et ce reste intègre aussi sa propre érection, af fiche
les traces du geste qui l’institue et les circonstances de sa rencontre avec un
« regard ». Ainsi, c’est du même coup la question du sens qui est « mise en
scène ». L’oeuvre a perdu son monde, et son aura se dif fuse comme un éveil,
en creux, d’une insaisissable mondialité. Elle est partie prenante d’un dispositif
plus étendu, qui ne se laisse pas rencontrer, parce qu’il est configurateur de
rencontres possibles, emportant, d’une certaine façon, le musée avec lui.
En d’autre terme, si l’art illustre ainsi exemplairement le jeu du sens et du
défaut de sens, il est de son côté loin d’être épuisé par une telle lecture. En ef fet
l’art est aussi un formidable réservoir de techniques et de dispositifs; pour une
grande part, ce n’est pas le sens qui est son af faire, mais la création d’ef fets, la
manipulation des af fects et des comportements, la configuration et la désarti-
culation des dispositions, l’ébranlement, la « désaturation », le métissage des
« contextes » et le carambolage des « formes de vie ». Autrement dit, il y a
dans l’art une dimension éminemment gestuelle, pragmatique, procédurale,
qui emprunte à Wittgenstein ou à Nietzsche bien d’avantage qu’à Derrida ou
Nancy. En l’art, la pensée du sens voisine aussi avec une pensée du corps et
de la chair, laquelle dévoile quelque chose comme une sphère d’action anté-
rieure à toute auto-donation et une puissance créative qui demande à être
directement mobilisée.
Il faut en conclure que le sens nu lui-même a besoin d’entrer dans des
configurations et des compositions; que la mondialité, fragmentée, n’est pas
sans structures et sans résonances, que l’oeuvre, sortie de sa Grande Histoire,
doit encore trouver les moyens de se donner un avenir, disons, de s’ouvrir la
possibilité d’un avenir, même si cette possibilité ne prend pas la forme de
la pérennité et de la substance. La spatialisation du sens, et le sens comme
spatialisation, sont selon nous dynamiques. Derrida a également insisté sur
l’irréductible solidarité du sens et du non-sens, du sens et du neutre, et appelé
au développement d’une philosophie de la prothèse.8 Comme la vie, l’art
et la pensée sont habités par des trajets et des engrenages, c’est-à-dire des

8 On trouve d’ailleurs une telle invitation à une philosophie également sous la plume de
Jocelyn Benoist qui y voit une des conditions fondamentales d’un réalisme permettant
de penser la contextualité de l’intentionnalité. Cf. son ouvrage Sens et sensibilité.

supports qui ne résistent pas même nécessairement, mais sont tout simple-
ment indif férents au sens qu’il habitent cependant, espacent, et dynamisent.
Le hasard, l’automatique, la machine, sont autant de dimensions internes à
toute praxis du sens, dont il s’agit de comprendre la paradoxale créativité: ainsi,
les traitements de textes af franchissent partiellement l’écrit de la continuité
stricte du livre, et inscrivent l’indécision du sens à même son inscription.
L’écrit est à la fois sens et matière. Dès lors, la composition d’un texte peut
combiner l’inspiration et l’hasard des couper-coller. Le livre n’est plus intou-
chable, mais il reste l’unité d’un théâtre. La mise en scène, ainsi incorporée à
la texture même de l’écriture, est elle-même un art qu’il faut maîtriser (même
si nous ne connaissons pas, pour le moment, d’usage véritablement convain-
quant de ce type de technique).
Si le problème de Nancy est de rester au croisement paradoxal de la
machine et de la vie, de l’organique et de l’inorganique, de la lettre et de la
voix, nous voudrions pour finir suggérer trois directions qui peuvent nourrir
une technique du sens:

1. La composition. La logique de la prothèse bien au-delà des corps et

des signes. Les actions et les significations elles-mêmes peuvent être
utilisées comme des prothèses. C’est une des richesses de toute pensée
de la complexité que d’insister sur le fait que la multi-stratification du
rapport à l’être implique un jeu de points de vue non congruents, voire
irréductibles, mais qui se répondent en échos pour soutenir un espace
d’intelligibilité plurielle. Cette absence de point de vue totalisant
n’implique cependant pas la simple juxtaposition. Il s’agit plutôt de
« tenir » une démarche à la fois souple et structurée, de façon à susci-
ter des ef fets de résonances et de renvois, des activations de contextes
articulés sans être solubles les uns dans les autres. Ici, les modèles qui
s’of frent à l’artiste viennent plutôt du théâtre ou de l’architecture; la
composition permet de rendre plus souple la relation de l’acte et du
sens sans toutefois la rompre.9 Il y a bien, ici, une dimension urbaniste
à la praxis du sens, puisqu’il s’agit toujours aussi d’y ménager la possi-

9 Cf. Le Change Heidegger: du fantastique en philosophie et La Plasticité au soir de l’écriture:

dialectique, destruction, deconstruction.
Sens et composition 21

bilité d’un oeuvre-ensemble, c’est-à-dire concrètement, d’élaborer des

espaces dans lesquels le sens puisse à la fois circuler et tenir.
2. La forme et la métamorphose. Le monde, privé de la stabilité des signi-
fications directrices, n’a pas besoin d’être vide, et l’art n’a nulle nécessité
de privilégier le dépouillement et la résignation. Comme Nietzsche
l’annonçait, la dissolution des figures stables de la transcendance dissé-
mine plutôt celle-ci dans toutes les formes ici-bas. Ce qui nous échoit,
c’est plutôt un monde baroque dans lequel un Dieu narquois cascade
et bouillonne réverbéré, masqué, dissimulé. Pour Catherine Malabou,
penser la dimension formante inhérente à l’informe est même une
nécessité si l’on veut pousser la déconstruction jusqu’à son terme. La
nudité du sens devient sinon une sorte de nouvel absolu, conduisant,
derrière l’épuisement de tous les masques, à la grise monotonie d’une
« informité » finalement synonyme de la grise monotonie du même.
De la sorte, la déconstruction implique moins la dissolution de toute
forme qu’une pensée de l’être comme métamorphose, comme protée.
3. L’Idéalité et la puissance instituante du langage. Dans une toute autre
direction, la pensée du « sens nu » nous semble paradoxalement
aussi pouvoir nourrir une pensé de l’idéalité et du concept, non plus
comme totalités herméneutiquement fermées, mais comme des hori-
zons ouverts comme des balises et des invitations à la vie du sens et
au creusement de sa créativité. Un concept comme celui de nombre
prend d’une part acte de l’arithmétique naïve existante, des nombres
concrètement utilisés lors des calculs, mais en s’abstrayant d’eux, il
ouvre aussi une forme de généralisation qui permet la définition de
nouveaux objets interprétés comme des nombres, ce qui, rétroacti-
vement, enrichit le concept qui a permis cette extension. Cette dia-
lectique de l’idéalité qui déploie, dans la structure conceptuelle au
sein de laquelle elle opère, un double jeu d’horizons qui permet à
la fois qu’on la relie à des objets déterminés et à un champ virtuel
d’objectités à définir, a été en particulier décrit par Desanti dans Les
Idéalités mathématiques. Elle nous indique que la vie du sens peut être
animée et canalisée par la puissance instituante des concepts, donc
du langage, lesquels puisent à la fois leur richesse dans la tradition
qui les nourrit et dans leur capacité à convertir les latences du sens
en infinité positive.


Benoist, J., Kant et les limites de la synthèse, Le sujet sensible (Paris: PUF, Collection
« Épiméthée », 1996).
——, Sens et sensibilité, l’intentionnalité en contexte (Paris: Cerf, 2009).
Colette, J., Kierkegaard et la non-philosophie (Paris: Gallimard, 1994).
Cugno, A., L’Existence du mal (Paris: Seuil, 2002).
Derrida, J., Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Galilée, 1998).
Desanti, J.-T., Les Idéalités mathématiques (Paris: Seuil, 1968).
Fischbach, F., Sans objet, Capitalisme, aliénation, subjectivité (Paris: Vrin, 2009).
Franck, D., Heidegger et le Christianisme (Paris: PUF, 2004).
Goetz, B., La Dislocation, Architecture et Philosophie (Paris: Verdier, 2001).
Malabou, C., Le Change Heidegger: du fantastique en philosophie (Paris: Léo Scheer,
——, La Plasticité au soir de l’écriture: dialectique, destruction, déconstruction (Paris: Léo
Scheer, 2004).
Marion, J.-L., Dieu sans l’être (Paris: Vrin, 2010).
Melot, M., Livre (Paris: l’Œil neuf, 2006).
Nancy, J.-L., Le Sens du monde (Paris: Galilée, 1992).
——, Etre singulier-pluriel (Paris: Galilée, 1996).
——, La Déclosion, déconstruction du christianisme I (Paris: Galilée, 2005).
Nancy, J.-L. and P. Lacoue-Labarthe, L’Absolu littéraire, Théorie de la littérature du romant-
isme allemand (Paris: Seuil, 1978).
Richir, M., La Crise du sens et la phenomenology (Grenoble: J. Millon, 1988).
——, Méditations Phénoménologiques, phénoménologie et phénoménologie du langage
(Grenoble: J. Millon, 1992).

Af fection and Infinity

If  Nancy’s is a thinking that works through and transforms the philosophi-
cal registers of  twentieth-century French and German phenomenological
thought, it needs, as a philosophy, to be placed in a specific trajectory of 
French philosophy. This trajectory develops and deviates from Husserlian phe-
nomenology and in so doing exceeds it in various ways, in particular through
questioning the possibility of carrying out the phenomenological reduction,
or through a critique of phenomenological presence and consciousness.
Bearing this in mind, one way to approach Nancy is as a philosopher of
af fection. In this light Nancy, particularly in the context of  his writing and
thinking such as it develops from the mid-1990s onwards, emerges as a thinker
of af fection who seeks to think this question in relation to that of infinity. It
is of af fection and its relation to the infinite that sense is made.
Various French thinkers, with whom Nancy engages either explicitly
or implicitly, might be said to share a specific gesture. What they share is a
thought that: every af fection is an af fection of the finite through the infinite
and that this is what constitutes the finite: finite existence. Or, in other words,
af fection is af fection by and through exteriority, ‘un dehors’ in French. There
is no af fection if not through exteriority.
Such a gesture can be discerned in dif ferent ways at dif ferent yet decisive
moments of French phenomenological and post-phenomenological thought.
In each case, a kind of thinking emerges which might be said to expose itself 
to, or gesture towards, an instance of alterity. Such alterity resists or exceeds
the phenomenological reductions as conceived by Husserl, and, indeed, any
horizon of being or possibility of ontological disclosure. Most obviously one
might cite in this context Lévinas’ thinking of  time, alterity and the il y a, as
elaborated, for instance, in his lectures of 1946 and 1947, published under the
title Le Temps et l’autre. Here Lévinas speaks of  the ‘Infini de l’absolument
autre’ and of the need to think time as a ‘relation à ce qui, de soi inassimilable,
absolument autre, ne se laisserait pas assimiler par l’expérience ou à ce qui, de

soi infini, ne se laisserait pas comprendre’.1 One might also mention in this
context Derrida’s thinking of ‘dif férance infinie’ in La Voix et le phénomène.2
In perhaps very dif ferent ways one could suggest that such a gesture is shared
with other French thinkers whose work critiques, deepens or transcends the
phenomenological account of presence, or of the manifestation of phenomena
to consciousness. Merleau-Ponty’s af firmation of a negative infinity of open-
ness in Le Visible et l’invisible might be mentioned in this regard, as might,
respectively, the evocations of  the auto-af fection of infinite life in Michel
Henry’s thought, and the delimitation of finite horizons in the phenomenol-
ogy of  Jean-Luc Marion.3
In this broad context af fection or af fections need to be thought as percep-
tions or representations, or perhaps more specifically as the af fective allure,
force or touch which is the condition of sense perception, and of  the per-
ceptual awareness of  both sense (thought as meaningfulness) and world.
Within the phenomenological thinking which defines this broader context,
af fection, should be thought of specifically in those terms used by Husserl in
works such as the Analyses Concerning Active and Passive Synthesis.4 As the
translator of this work, Anthony Steinbock, has argued, af fection, for Husserl,
lies at the heart of sense constitution, it inhabits the intentional structure of
consciousness in such a way that perceived phenomena and the system of 
horizonal and referential implications that are drawn in their wake impose
themselves on perceptual consciousness and beckon it in a certain manner.
Thus the prominence or coming into relief of perceived sensory phenomena
is not simply a result of the active directedness of intentional consciousness,
but a result also of the dynamic imposition of af fective forces, exercised upon

1 E. Lévinas, Le Temps et l’autre (Paris: PUF, 1983), pp. 9–10. These lectures lay the ground,
of course, for Lévinas’s later major work Totalité et infini (The Hague: Nijhof f, 1961).
2 J. Derrida, La Voix et le phénomène (Paris : PUF, 1967), p. 114.
3 M. Merleau-Ponty, Le Visible et l’invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 221, pp. 299–300;
M. Henry, ‘Quatre principes de la phénoménologie’, in Revue de métaphysique et de Morale,
pp. 11–12; see in particular, J.-L. Marion, Étant donné (Paris : PUF, 1997), pp. 280–96.
4 E. Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental
Logic, trans. A.J. Steinbock (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001).
5 A.J. Steinbock, ‘Af fection and Attention: On the Phenomenology of Becoming Aware’,
Continental Philosophy Review 37 (2004), 21–43, see in particular pp. 23–5.
Af fection and Infinity 25

For Nancy this interplay of sense constitution and af fective force is to

be thought in terms of  the way in which the senses, that is sensory experi-
ence, or what one might simply call the operation of sensing, always engage
sense (as meaningfulness), and do so always in a very specific movement of
referral, sending and return (‘renvoi’ in French) which he also characterizes
as a movement of resonance, echo or as a rhythm, or syncopated beat. It is in
this syncopated movement of referral or resonance, that the af fective force of 
finite sense perception is, for Nancy, exposed to, or passes through, the infinite.
Indeed, it is only in this exposure, this af fection of  the finite by the infinite,
that the awareness of self and world has its condition of possibility.
There are three key moments in which af fection and its relation to infinity
needs to be thought in Nancy. Firstly Nancy consistently af firms the radical
multiplicity or heterogeneity of sensing. Secondly, Nancy elaborates sensing
as a process, as an articulation, in terms of  the presentation and withdrawal,
or contact in distance of that which is sensed. Finally, this process or articula-
tion is conceived as a movement, itself infinite in a certain manner, of referral,
sending and return, which structures sense perception. It articulates the af fec-
tions of sense perception as resonance, echo, rhythm and syncopated beat.
Nancy’s meditation on sense perception and sensing is most often
developed alongside his thinking about art and aesthetics. In this context
his thinking more generally emerges as a sustained mediation on aisthesis,
that possibility of sensory experience that underpins both the existence of art
and conscious life in general. Key examples would be Nancy’s interrogation
of  the visual image in his work on the film of  the Iranian filmmaker Abbas
Kiarostami, L’Évidence du film;6 or more recently his interrogation of hearing
and music in the 2002 work À l’Écoute.7 He has also written various works
on painting, portraiture and visual art in general, and in particular, the two

6 J.-L. Nancy and Abbas Kiarostami, L’Évidence du film (Brussels: Yves Gaevert, 2001);
for a commentary on this essay and the relation of Nancy’s analysis to phenomenology
see I. James, ‘The Evidence of the Image: Nancy and Kiarostami’, L’Esprit Créateur 47.3
(2007), pp. 68–79.
7 J.-L. Nancy, À l’Écoute (Paris: Galilée, 2002).

volumes of  Les Muses dedicated to a sustained thinking of  the multiplicity
of art.8
The key term for Nancy in relation to sensing, the senses, and their irre-
ducible multiplicity, heterogeneity, exteriority and alterity is ‘le toucher’. In
many ways ‘touch’, for Nancy, can be seen to be another term for af fection
or the af fection of  the senses:9

Le toucher n’est autre chose que la touche du sens tout entier, et de tous les sens. Il est
leur sensualité comme telle […] le toucher présente le moment propre de l’extériorité
sensible, il le présente comme tel et comme sensible […] Le toucher est l’intervalle et
l’hétérogénéité du toucher. Le toucher est la distance proxime. Il fait sentir ce qui fait
sentir (ce que c’est que sentir) : la proximité du distant, l’approximation de l’intime.10

Touch is not, for Nancy at least, a governing principle which would resolve
the singular plural of sense into a unity or homogeneity. It functions rather
as a mode of relation by which the singular plural of sensing is articulated as a
non-totalizable, one might say infinite, singular plurality. It is also a principle
of unbridgeable distance or withdrawal that would exceed any finite limita-
tions of sensible experience or any of  logic presence or originary finitude.
This emphasis on the ‘infinity’ of sensing is repeated in Nancy’s more
recent work on hearing, À l’Écoute. À l’Écoute could be described as a medita-
tion on the phenomenology of hearing, or, more precisely, the excess of hearing
over any phenomenology. If, from Kant to Heidegger, Nancy suggests, the
stakes of philosophy have been to interrogate the appearance or manifesta-
tion of phenomena, world-disclosure one might say, and to circumscribe the
ultimate ‘truth’ of phenomenal appearance, why should this truth be some-
thing that is ‘seen’ rather than heard. As elsewhere in his thinking Nancy is
calling into question the dominance of a visual register in phenomenologi-
cal philosophy.

8 J.-L. Nancy, Les Muses (Paris: Galilée, 1994); J.-L. Nancy, Multiple Arts: The Muses II,
ed. S. Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).
9 In his seminal work published in 2000, Le Toucher Jean-Luc Nancy, Derrida aligns the
motif of touch in Nancean thought very explicitly with the phenomenological category
of  ‘originary intuition’ and the primary presence or givenness of sense experience and
perception. See Derrida, Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Galilée, 2000).
10 Nancy, Les Muses, p. 35.
Af fection and Infinity 27

In this context he returns once more to the general question of sens-

ing – to aesthesis – and reminds the reader that since Aristotle sensing has
always had a ref lexive structure: ‘le sentir (l’aisthesis) est toujours un ressentir,
c’est-à-dire un se-sentir-sentir: ou bien, si l’on préfère, le sentir est sujet, ou
il ne sent pas. Mais c’est peut-être sur le registre sonore que cette structure
réf léchie s’expose le plus manifestement.’11
À l’Écoute is an interrogation of  this ref lexive structure of sound, and
its relation to perceptual awareness, awareness of self and world. Nancy is
exploring here the relation of sensing to the possibility of a sense of self and
of sense understood as meaningfulness or that that makes sense. In so doing
he suggests that such a ref lexive structure of sensing is the condition for both
perceptual awareness and any sense of self. Nancy comes to call this ref lexive
structure or movement an ‘accès au soi’:

[T]ous les registres sensibles composent cet accès au ‘soi’ (c’est-à-dire au ‘sens’). Mais
le fait qu’ils soient plusieurs – et sans totalisation possible – marque ce même accès,
d’emblée, d’une dif fraction interne, laquelle peut-être à son tour se laisse analyser en
termes de renvois, d’échos, de résonances et aussi de rythmes.12

This formulation both repeats and gathers together key motifs of  Nancy’s
thinking of sensing which are developed elsewhere, in, for instance, Les Muses
and L’Évidence du film. Once again the making of sense consistently emerges
in and through the non-totalisable heterogeneity of  the senses and of  the
operation of sensing and internal dif fraction, contact in distance, presenta-
tion in withdrawal, proximity in separation etc.
The movement here is always one of referral, echoes, and resonance: This is
where infinity is always at play. Nancy picks up on Hegel’s distinctions regard-
ing infinity. He is very careful to repeat Hegel’s distinction between ‘good’
and ‘bad’ infinity. ‘Bad’ infinity would imply the infinity of a progression or
unending expansion. ‘Good’ infinity is actual and as it were already traversing
the finite; it is ‘l’instabilité de toute determination finie, l’emportement de la
présence et du donné dans dans le movement de la présentation et du don’.13

11 Nancy, À l’Écoute, p. 23.

12 Ibid., p. 31, n. 1.
13 J.-L. Nancy, Hegel: L’inquiétude du négatif (Paris: Hachette, 1997), p. 19. Interestingly
Nancy’s distinction with regard to the infinite here repeats the distinction made

The self of sensing-sensing-itself is not a subject in the sense of an autono-

mous self-posing consciousness – it is not a Cogito, nor a phenomenological
subject, nor a subject of an enunciation, nor of any symbolic order, nor any
form of substratum which would found or ground consciousness or percep-
tual awareness. It is, for Nancy, the vibration or resonance of a sensing body
or corpus, that corpus of sensing, which, we might recall from Les Muses: is
one body with sensing, that makes of sensing a body, that is simply the corpus
of  the senses. Nancy puts this in the following terms:

Accès au soi : ni à un soi propre (moi), ni au soi d’un autre, mais bien à la forme ou à la
structure du soi en tant que tel, c’est-à-dire à la forme, à la structure et au mouvement
d’un renvoi infini, infini puisqu’il renvoie à ce (lui) qui n’est rien hors du renvoi.14

In this context, Nancy’s, ‘access to self ’ is always passing through an exterior-

ity, or outside, an alterity which would be the alterity of that which is sensed,
its sense, and the af fective force with which it imposes itself upon the body
of sensing.
Sound emerges here as a privileged figure of  this reverberative, resonat-
ing, and infinitely referred model of sensing and of self. Sound, for Nancy,
exceeds key qualities of visible appearance or manifestation. Key oppositions
of  the visible and invisible, of  light and dark, of clarity and obscurity, and of
disclosure and concealment are all transgressed:

Le son n’a pas de face cachée, il est tout devant et derrière et dehors dedans, sens dessus
dessous par rapport à la logique la plus générale de la présence comme paraître, comme
phénoménalité ou comme manifestation et, donc, comme face visible d’une présence
subsistant en soi. Quelque chose du schème théorique et intentionnel réglé sur l’opti-
que y vacille.15

Once again, a key Nancean gesture is repeated: his writing works at the limits
of the philosophical figures which structure phenomenological discourse in
order to expose thinking that which exceeds all finite limits or possibility
of  limitation. Here thought moves towards and opens onto without fully

by Merleau-Ponty between the infinite of  ‘openness’ and the ‘unending’ infinite
(‘Of fenheit’/‘Unendlichkeit’) in Le Visible et l’invisible, p. 221.
14 Nancy, À l’Écoute, p. 25.
15 Ibid., p. 33.
Af fection and Infinity 29

grasping that which is in excess of conceptualization or phenomenological

and ontological disclosure. Here, finite sensing is always and already passing
through an actual infinity of referral, or put another way, finite sensing is
always traversed by or exposed to an in-finitude of af fection.
The main thrust of  Nancy’s argument in À l’Écoute is that the structure
of sensing in general, most clearly articulated in the structure of  listening
takes us beyond the phenomenological subject:

Le sujet de l’écoute ou le sujet à l’écoute […] n’est pas un sujet phénoménologique, c’est-
à-dire qu’il n’est pas un sujet philosophique et, qu’en definitive, il n’est peut-être aucun
sujet sauf à être le lieu de la résonance, de sa tension et de son rebond infinis.16

Ultimately what is at stake in Nancy’s thinking about sensing is the ques-

tion of sense, in the double register of  that which is sensed and that which
makes sense, and subjectivity. And yet here, if sense is, then it is prior to
any relation of signifier to signified, or any economy of exchange within a
symbolic order. Subjectivity, also, is not a ground or foundation, but the
exposure of a heterogeneous and internally dif fracted corpus of sensing
within a movement of infinite referral, of sending and return, resonance
and echo, of  that which is sensed. Something here resembles perhaps, a
crossing of the body-subject or f lesh of Merleau-Ponty’s Phénoménologie de
la perception and Le Visible et l’invisible, a crossing of  these, with Derrida’s
thinking of dif férance.
This thinking of sense, subject, and infinity directly underpins Nancy’s
reading of Hegel in Hegel: l’inquiétude du négatif. In fact, this work arguably
marks a decisive moment in Nancy’s thinking, a certain shift or turn which
resonates into his works of the late 1990s and into his more recent work at the
beginning of the twenty-first century. Nancy stresses that his short book did
not intend to be, nor can it succeed in being, a simple gloss on ‘Hegelianism’.
nor a restitution of Hegel’s thinking. Rather, he insists, ‘on lit Hegel, ou on le
pense, tel qu’il fut déjà relu ou repensé jusqu’à nous, tel qu’il s’est déjà rejoué
dans la pensée’.17 This is not a simple exegesis of the Hegelian text, therefore,
but rather a rereading of Hegel which occurs in the wake of, and can only be

16 Ibid., p. 45.
17 Nancy, Hegel: L’inquiétude du négatif, p. 11.

understood in the light of, a prior (largely French) tradition of interpretation.

What emerges from Nancy’s reading is not a Hegel for whom the operations
of dialectical thought and the thinking of  ‘absolute knowledge’ constitute a
desire for totalization. This is not Hegelianism viewed as a totalizing gesture
by which dif ference and alterity would be appropriated by the logic of  the
Same. This is a Hegel for whom the negative, or the ‘work’ of negativity, rep-
resents a ceaseless restlessness that ruptures temporality and the presencing
or presentation of the present. Negativity, here, does not determine the finite
present through the work of concrete negation; rather, it traverses existence
in a manner that exposes it to the instability of any and all finite determina-
tion. This is the ‘good’ infinity that was alluded to earlier. Nancy appeals,
then, to the Hegelian restless negative, to the infinity of finite determination.
The manner in which the finite is traversed by the infinity of  the negative is
articulated very clearly by Nancy himself when he speaks of:

L’actualité pleine et entière de l’infini qui traverse et qui travaille et qui transforme le fini.
Ce qui veut dire : la négativité, le creux, l’écart, la dif férence de l’être qui se rapporte à soi
par cette dif férence même, et qui est ainsi, de toute son essence et de toute son énergie,
l’acte infini de se rapporter à soi, et ainsi la puissance du négatif.18

Again the notion of infinite relation, of renvoi or referral, is key here. The
thinking of  Hegel, negativity, and determination brings together, or repeats
in a dif ferent philosophical register, the Nancean thinking of sensing, sense,
self and subjectivity, a thinking that has been circumscribed throughout this
discussion. The Hegelian negative, for Nancy, can be thought as another way
of  figuring the passing through of all finite determination through the infi-
nite, the exposure of all sense and sensing through an exteriority or outside
irreducible to any finite determination. Nancy puts this as follows:
Telle est la première et fondamentale signification de la négativité absolue : le négatif est
le préfixe de l’in-fini, en tant que l’af firmation de ce que toute finitude (et tout être est
fini) est en soi excédante de sa determinité. Elle est dans le rapport infini.19

18 Ibid., p. 15.
19 Ibid., p. 19.
Af fection and Infinity 31

The nothing, the absolute negativity of  the Hegelian negative, is thought as
infinitude or the infinite relation of all finite existence to itself.
Nancy, then, of fers a philosophical meditation on the af fection of senses,
on the touch in distance, which forms the corpus of sensing, and on the
ref lexive structure of sensing-self-sensing through which access to a self 
that makes sense can occur. Without this complex structure of sensing, of
resonance, and infinite referral there would be no subject or self of sense
perception and perceptual awareness generally. All this comes together in
Nancy’s thinking of the Hegelian negative and the actual infinity. Taking all
this together, it should be clear that Nancy’s philosophy emerges not just as
an extension and repetition of phenomenology or of existential phenomenol-
ogy in particular. Specifically extreme care must be taken not to confuse his
thinking with, or reduce it to, a Heideggerian thinking of originary finitude.
Rather, like the thought of  Derrida, Levinas, Blanchot and others, Nancy’s
thinking seeks to think at or in excess of  the limit of  thought and at or in
excess of  the limits which circumscribe the phenomenological account of
world disclosure.
As it does in Derrida, Levinas and Blanchot, the thinking of  the infi-
nite or of excess in Nancy may lead to a replying of  the fundamental ques-
tions of ethical and political relationality or of the status of literature and of 
the work of art. As these questions are engaged and pursued it is clear that
Nancy’s attempt to engage the making of sense in terms of infinity needs to
be taken into account. His philosophical writing enacts a complex marshal-
ling of diverse philosophical registers, which are woven together, repeated,
and transformed. Nancy’s thinking inhabits various discourses, Heideggerian
yes, but also Cartesian, Kantian, Husserlian, Hegelian, and Lacanian to name
just a few. It repeats and transforms their terms in order to push at and exceed
their limits and to think them anew. It is in such instances of repetition and
transformation that Nancy’s writing helps us to make sense, philosophically,
of making sense.

Select Bibliography

Husserl, H., Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental
Logic, trans. A.J. Steinbock (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 2001).
Nancy, J.-L., Multiple Arts: The Muses II, ed. S. Sparks (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2006).
——, À l’Écoute (Paris: Galilée, 2002).
——, Les Muses (Paris: Galilée, 1994).
——, Hegel: L’inquiétude du négatif (Paris: Hachette, 1997).

Making Sense of  the Fragment:

A Reading of  The Literary Absolute

Many of  the works of  the ancients have become fragments. Many modern
works are fragments as soon as they are written.
— Friedrich Schlegel 1


What constitutes making sense of art and making sense through art? What
does it mean to make sense? What does a work of art that makes sense look
like? We are grounding these questions in, but also around, the thought of the
philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy wrote that ‘[w]e do not “have” meaning
[sens] anymore, because we ourselves are meaning – entirely, without reserve,
infinitely, with no meaning other than “us”’.2 Nancy’s ontological philosophy
insists that it is ‘we’ who are sense and who make sense: we produce sense and/
or produce ourselves as sense. Sense is production, exposition or presentation
of our selves as singular existences. Nancy insists on the power of production

1 F. Schlegel, Philosophical Fragments, trans. P. Firchow (Minneapolis: University of 

Minnesota Press, 1991), p. 21. I take the occasion of the first note to express my gratitude
to those who invited me to the colloquium, and to Mr David Taylor who helped me to
correct my English.
2 J.-L. Nancy, Être singulier pluriel (Paris: Galilée, 1996), p. 19; Being Singular Plural, trans.
R. Richardson and A. O’Byrne (Stanford : Stanford University Press, 2000), p. 1.

by poetry and contemporary art.3 Thus becoming and representation, theory

and praxis, are tied together, or indeed, refer to the same thing.
Our present study, however, does not try to apply Nancy’s thinking to
the representation of  being in art, but to show the fact that art was already
apparent in Nancy’s early work as a problem, visible in certain recurrent themes
such as the problematization of the subject through the language of modern
literature. Through the panorama of  Nancy’s research, we see one sort of
destiny for modern subjectivity in art that is fragmentary, at the crossroads
of literature, critique and philosophy.4 The theory of the fragment presented
here attempts to link Nancy’s concept of the unworked community of subjects
to the act, at once theoretical and practical, of making sense as an endlessly
unfinished acts of sense- and self-production.
The fragment was a theme privileged in German romanticism, to which
Nancy devoted a book in cooperation with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, namely
The Literary Absolute.5 In this study of romanticism, Nancy and Lacoue-
Labarthe produced a translation of, introduction to, and commentary about
the theoretical texts of this movement. As the title of the first chapter shows,
the importance of the fragment in their study is evident. But there is another
reason we should pay attention to this work, and in particular to its opening
chapter. It is in this earlier work on romanticism that the word désœuvrement
(translated variously as unworking or inoperation), which will mark Nancy’s
thought after the 1980s, first appears. In this article, the motif of unworking is
used to trace the development of the concepts of the fragment and the frag-
mentary in The Literary Absolute. The discussion that follows suggests that

3 Cf. J.-L. Nancy, ‘Technique du présent: essaie sur On Kawara’ in Cahiers Philosophie de
l’art (Paris: Institut d’art contemporain, 1997), p. 5.
4 Concerning the usage of  the word ‘fragment’, see I. James, The Fragmentary Demand.
An Introduction to the Philosophy of  Jean-Luc Nancy (Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2006).
5 P. Lacoue-Labarthe and J.-L. Nancy L’Absolu littéraire: Théorie de la littérature du romant-
isme allemande (Paris: Seuil, 1978); The Literary Absolute: The Theory of  Literature in
German Romanticism, trans. P. Bernard and C. Lester (New York: State University of 
New York Press, 1988). In following citations, I use the abbreviations LA and AL with
page references, and sometimes modify the English translation. With regard to the
context of  their study on romanticism, see ‘Entretien avec Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe
sur Hölderlin’, in Hölderlin, ou, la question de la poésie (Paris: Sillage, 1987).
Making Sense of  the Fragment 35

the fragment, seen from the standpoint of unworking, yields a philosophical

account of the self as expressed, and undone through the theoretico-practical
gesture of sense-making within a community.

On the Inoperative Community

The word unworking is the key term in The Inoperative Community, which
was originally an article published in the review Aléa.6 In 1986, this famous
article, which inspired Maurice Blanchot to write his last theoretical work
The Unavowable Community, became a book that contained other articles. It
has since been dif ficult to ref lect upon the problem of community without
reference to this work. In The Inoperative Community, following the thought
of ‘community without community’ that fascinated Georges Bataille, Nancy
reconsiders Heideggerian ontology, especially the discussion on ‘being-with’
(Mitsein). One might sum up his argument in a criticism to the logic of  the
community that participates in or shares State, Nation or God, but also in a
consideration of  the logic of  ‘immanentism’, auto-suf ficiency by which one
would found oneself, that is a parallelism between this logic and that of  the
self-identical subject.
In this context, the act of the subject is a work that unifies community and
individual. In Nancy’s French, the word work, œuvre, indicates a task and its
result.7 This term is important all the more because it is contained – though

6 J.-L. Nancy, La Communauté désœuvrée (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1986); ‘La

Communauté désœuvrée’ in Aléa (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1983).
7 The etymology of œuvre is the Latin word opera, the plural of opus, from which French
verbs such as opérer (to produce an ef fect) also derive. One might tell the importance of 
this motif by the fact that, in the first chapter ‘System-Subject’ of The Literary Absolute,
the logic of the auto-production of subject is examined minutely, and that the title of this
study was indicated at first as a ‘literary operation’. On the back cover of the issue 34 of 
Poétique, it is mentioned as a ‘forthcoming titles of books’: L’Opération littéraire, Théorie
littéraire du romantisme allemand, choix et présentation par Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe
et Jean-Luc Nancy (see Poétique. Revue de théorie et d’analyse littéraires, 34, 1978). The
back cover of  the next issue announces the actual title of  the book ‘L’absolu littéraire’.

in a negative form: ‘dés-œuvré’ – in the title. To criticize being as oeuvre is to

criticize the logic of immanentism that characterizes the subject as the absolute
auto-suf ficiency of the human to itself. In this sense, thinking on community
after Heidegger, who, although he had had a glimpse of  the possibility of 
‘being-with’, was captivated by the concept of the Volk (Nation or People), is
a principal philosophical point at issue in The Inoperative Community.
Such an attempt at critique is articulated through the adjective/predicate
désoœuvré in the title, and in the noun désœuvrement. Usually these signify
the state of  being ‘at loose ends’ or existing with ‘nothing to do’, and are the
negation of œuvre. Nancy uses it positively in order to think of a community
that would not aim to make and dwell in a common Idea, Work or Nation, a
community that does not demand a fusion or union, a community of  those
who are present without working; imagining this sort of paradoxical com-
munity will develop into the elaboration of a new first philosophy, namely
an ontology outlined in Being Singular Plural.
Where did the term désœuvrement come from? It was not Nancy who
coined it, but Maurice Blanchot, who uses the term throughout his many
essays. With this in mind, we begin our reading of  The Literary Absolute,
through which we see other authors borrowing the word from Blanchot.

On The Literary Absolute

The Literary Absolute, as has been mentioned, is the book Nancy and Lacoue-
Labarthe published in 1978, a book that, one could say, of fered a theoretical
framework for all their activities subsequent to its publication. As shown in
the subtitle ‘Theory of the Literature of German Romanticism’, The Literary
Absolute is a work that presented texts of early romanticism, a movement

Lacoue-Labarthe also refers to this word in his essay: ‘“the literary operation” (that is, the
invention of literature as its own theory or auto-conception)’. See P.  Lacoue-Labarthe,
L’Imitation des modernes (Paris: Galilée, 1986), p. 46; Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy,
Politics, trans. C. Fynsk (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 214.
Making Sense of  the Fragment 37

of critics and writers like the Schlegel brothers or Novalis, who edited and
published a review called Athenaeum from 1798 to 1800. Nancy and Lacoue-
Labarthe translated, and added detailed commentaries and introductions to,
the principal texts of romanticism that were unknown in France at the time.
Nevertheless, they have not only edited but also ‘coauthored’ their study,
judging from the proportion of the commentary made after the distribution
or reformation of  texts under the headings ‘The fragment’, ‘The Idea’, ‘The
Poem’ and ‘Criticism’.
Yet one might ask the following central question: why romanticism?
Why, in particular, the philosopher Nancy, who reread before and after the
period of The Literary Absolute various philosophies of the subject like those
of Descartes, Kant and Hegel, and who, moreover, carried out the project of 
the ‘deconstruction of  Christianity’ writing many books concerning post-
romantic art? Rather than focusing on the cause of this choice, we will focus
our discussion here on its signification.
What does romanticism refer to? Even the romanticists themselves
were not able to give a precise answer – though they did not take the name
‘romanticist’ nor could they define romanticism as any ‘ism’ (AL 15/LA 6).
Nevertheless, Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy say the inheritance is evident.
An account by the authors on the back cover of  The Literary Absolute is

Before it establishes a period in literature and in art, before it comes to represent a

sensibility or style (whose ‘return’ is regularly announced), romanticism is first of all a
theory. And the invention of literature. More precisely, it constitutes exactly the inaugural
moment of literature as production of its own theory – and of theory that thinks itself as
literature. With this gesture, it opens the critical age to which we still belong.8

Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe position romanticism at the inception of  liter-

ary theory – or just ‘theory’. The importance of romanticism, however, is not
limited to critique. The expression of a ‘critical age’ puts the time of political
crisis at around 1800, when romantics like the Schlegel brothers were active
in response to the chaos caused by the French Revolution, and when a philo-

8 English version is also available (LA xxi–xxii). This citation contains another important
question: who are ‘we’? For this question, see: S. Bernstein, ‘Re-re-re-reading Jena’, MLN
110.4 (1995).

sophical crisis was opened by the reception, in literary circles, of Kant’s three
Critiques. Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe indicate this clearly in the chapter
‘Overture’, where he writes that ‘Kant opens up the possibility of romanti-
cism’ (AL 42/LA 29). We will follow this discussion brief ly.9
Within Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), the form of time ‘permits
no substantial presentation’, and thus the ‘I’ or subject is no more than the
‘empty form’ that accompanies representations, and this form is in turn no
more than ‘a function of unity or synthesis’ (AL 43–4/LA 30). This function
is the transcendental imagination, a function that must form (bilden) the
unity and form this unity as image (Bild), representation or phenomenon.
Thus, what is formed by the transcendental imagination is ‘an object that
may be grasped within the limits of a priori intuition but is nothing that
can be thought under the concept of eidos or Idea’. From this one obtains ‘a
cognition within the limits of possible a priori experience, but such a cogni-
tion is incapable of restoring anything like a subject’ (ibid.). In the Critique
of  Practical Reason (1788), the subject seems to be restored as the subject of
morality, but finally and negatively as what is not a subject of  knowledge –
even if the subject is that of freedom, this freedom is not an object of cogni-
tion. Thus, the question of  the unity of  the subject ‘is brought to its most
extreme tension’.
The Critique of Judgement, here, seems to resolve this tension. In the third
Critique, it is through art that the presentation (Darstellung) of an Idea in the
sensible form or the Beautiful is possible. The resolution, however, dif fers from
the logic of identity or dialectics, and remains a regulative Idea. Ultimately,
there is substance neither for the subject nor for the Idea.
Consequently, because of  the absence of subject presented to itself  by
intuitus originarius, the totality of  knowledge and world, or the system as a
system, is lacking. The hiatus introduced at the heart of the subject, the authors
suggest, will have exacerbated ‘the will to system’. The crisis, or problem, of 

9 On the relation between Kant and romanticism in our context, see C. Chase, ‘Introduction’
in Romanticism (London: Longman, 1993), pp. 12–13; D.J. Hoolsema, ‘The Echo of an
Impossible Future in The Literary Absolute’, MLN 119 (2004).
Making Sense of  the Fragment 39

the subject is Kant’s endowment to romanticism.10 Romanticism seeks to

overcome the limits presented by Kant.
The first text in The Literary Absolute concerning this inheritance is not
of romanticism in a narrow sense. It is a brief  fragment entitled ‘The Oldest
System Program of German Idealism’. Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy translate
the text, considering it a foundation for the horizons of romanticism. Within
it they detect a characteristic proper to romanticism, the aesthetic presenta-
tion of the philosophy of subject in a passage entitled ‘The philosophy of the
Spirit is an aesthetic philosophy’ (AL 49, 54/LA 34). It is here that one can
understand a link between The Literary Absolute and Nancy’s other works
on Kant.

The Concept of  Fragment

From this argument comes the next question: how is the presentation of the
Idea of the beautiful possible? The answer leads to an account of the emergence
of the fragment. The fragment is considered a genre inseparable from works of
romanticism and, beyond being merely a literary genre, that which embodies
romanticism and its ambitions. The first chapter entitled ‘The fragment’ of 
L’Absolu littéraire contains the complete translation of  Friedrich Schlegel’s
fragments. In this section, we follow the theory of  the fragment that Nancy
and Lacoue-Labarthe locate in reference to these texts.
The genre of  the fragment is not an invention of romanticism. In par-
ticular, it is a biographical fact that writers such as Chamfort, Montaigne and
Pascal inf luenced Friedrich Schlegel. The Essais of  Montaigne and Pensées
of  Pascal are characterized by their incompleteness and absence of discur-
sive arguments, and the variety of subjects that each individual text treats.
What then is the key feature of the romantic fragment? It is embodied in the

10 As for the ‘system’ in German idealism and the expression ‘will to system’, Nancy
and Lacoue-Labarthe are grounded in Heidegger’s reading of  Schelling (AL 46, 66).
Heidegger’s understanding of system as relation between free beings and a totality seems
to inf luence Nancy’s conception of community.

‘Fragments’ published in the review Athenaeum, namely the non-assignment

of any particular textual subject and the composition by more than one author
or anonymity (AL 59/LA 40). A fragment is not limited by particular titles,
epigraphs or conclusions, but stands absolutely by itself.
Despite the absence of definition of the fragment by romantics themselves
(AL 61/LA 42), its features are grasped in their practice of fragmentary writ-
ing. A fragment is not a remainder left after the breaking of a totality. Indeed
Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe evoke the fragment in the ‘philological’ sense,
which is the image of a fragment tied up with a ‘ruin’, but we can consider the
remark as follows: the fragment here plays a role of monument or recollection,
and what is presented as lost is a living unity of author or work. It is evident
that this element of  ‘lost’ coincides with the discussion in The Inoperative
Community: ‘What is “lost” in and for the community – the immanence and
the intimacy of a communion – is lost only in the sense that such a “loss” is
constitutive of “community” itself ’.11 In this way, Nancy’s critique of the ‘lost’
unity will be decisive in his theory of community.
On the one hand, a characteristic that distinguishes the fragment from
other genres such as the maxim is its incompleteness or its being unfinished
(inachevé). On the other hand, there is an apparently incompatible defini-
tion that each fragment is closed and finished, as shown in fragment 206 in
Athenaeum: ‘A fragment, like a small work of art, has to be entirely isolated
from the surrounding world and be complete in itself like a hedgehog’.12 But
this fragment shows indeed that ‘fragmentation’, though understood as sepa-
ration or isolation, coincides also with perfection or totality. Fragmentation
does not indicate any fixed state but a process, and in this sense it joins to
fragment 116, which is a kind of manifesto of romanticism: ‘The romantic
kind of poetry is still in the process of  becoming; that, in fact, is its real
essence; that it should be forever becoming and never be perfected.’ Nancy
and Lacoue-Labarthe read this fragment as that which defines ‘the totality
of  “romantic poetry,” that is, the totality of poetry, as “fragment”, and vice
versa’ (AL 63/LA 43).

11 La Communauté désœuvrée, p. 35; The Inoperative Community, trans. Peter Connor et

al. (Minneapolis: University of  Minnesota Press, 1991), p. 12.
12 Schlegel, Kritische Schriften und Fragmente [1798–1801], p. 123 (cited in AL 63/
LA 43).
Making Sense of  the Fragment 41

The object of a further investigation is the relation between the whole

and its parts. This relation is not merely the subsumption of individual parts
by the whole, because the individuality of  fragments is also a multiplicity
inherent to this genre. As the authors say, ‘to write in the fragment is to write
in fragments’. Plural fragments incarnate the whole Idea of the fragment, but
not when taken as parts of a larger whole:

The totality is the fragment itself in its completed individuality. It is thus identically
the plural totality of fragments, which does not make up a whole […] but replicates the
whole, the fragmentary itself, in each fragment. […] the whole should be not the sum but
the co-presence of parts […]. (AL 64/LA 44, my emphasis)

The fragment is separated from the nostalgia for a lost totality, and is evalu-
ated in its presence. It would not be too much to say that this passage pre-
drafts Nancy’s writing of ‘being-in-common’ in Being Singular Plural, which
lays the groundwork for his original ontology: ‘the singular is each time for
the whole, in its place and in light of it. […] A singularity does not stand out
against the background of  Being; it is, when it is, Being itself or its origin’.13
Thus, a transfiguration or reconsideration of the relation between a whole and
parts (not the whole and its parts) is found in this ontological philosophy. In
Nancy’s ‘first philosophy’, the fragment becomes a completely reformed con-
cept for the individual, which no longer needs the guarantee by the whole and
which would no longer be individual. The relation now is thought through
a relation between plural whole(s) or between the absolute parts, which is
another name for the fragment.
It is significant that, through Nancy’s way of introducing plurality into
totality, the problem of ‘collective writing’ (écriture collective) is also treated.
Referring to the Athenaeum fragment 344 (‘To philosophize means to search
mutually the universal knowledge’14), Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe write, ‘[t]he

13 Être singulier pluriel, p. 52; Being Singular Plural, p. 32.

14 Schlegel, Kritische Schriften und Fragmente [1798–1801], p. 140: ‘Philosophieren heißt
die Allwissenheit gemeinschaftlich suchen’. The French translation reads: ‘Philosopher
veut dire chercher de façon communautaire la connaissance universelle’. In his new trans-
lation of  Schlegel’s Fragments, Charles Le Blanc adopts similar words. See: F. Schlegel,
Fragments, trans. C. Le Blanc (Paris: Corti, 1996), p. 189. In some contexts, omniscience
and connaissance universelle are not very dif ferent words. But Denis Thouard thinks

community is part of the definition of the philosophy’ (AL 65/LA 45). They
compare this community to the ‘method’ of  Descartes. The Allwissenheit in
the original German text, which would usually be translated by omniscience
in French, is substituted by a more abstract term, ‘universal knowledge’, and
by this operation, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe stress the idea that the object
and subject of philosophy coincide. The fragments of Athenaeum are consid-
ered as the collectivization of  Discours de la Méthode.
It is from the point of view of community, as method, that the problem
of system is approached. Thinking the system in the wake of  Heidegger’s
Schelling – thought of ‘systasis’ (standing-with) – or Walter Benjamin’s pioneer
work, they confirm that romanticism was ‘thinking of the System’ though it
was not ‘systematic thought’ (AL 67/LA 46).
And for this reason, because the System itself must be grasped absolutely,
the fragment as organic individuality implies the work, the organon. ‘Systasis’
necessarily takes place as the organicity of an organon, whether it be a natural
creature (a hedgehog), society, or a work of art. Or rather, that it be all these
at once, as is indicated by the absence of a specific object for the totality of 
the [Athenaeum] Fragments. (AL 67/LA 46)
In other words, a system itself, or the totality of works, comes to be grasped
as a work of art. They write that ‘[f ]or the romantics, the work never ceases to
imply the fundamental motif of completion’, but paradoxically, ‘the work in
this sense is absent from works – and fragmentation is also always the sign of 
this absence’ (ibid.). The work that is a system of fragments is an individual;
it is itself a fragment or is grasped only through the fragment, and it is only
in the fragment that a work is grasped. Romanticism entertains a meditation,
or a dialectic, of  the system, though it does not converge in a final synthesis,
unity, or whole. Thus, fragmentation is a certain way of  thinking about the
world that keeps thoughts of unity or wholeness permanently at bay.
Now that we have used the concept of ‘unworking’ to approach the frag-
ment, locating its conceptual grounding in Romanticism, we can shift optics,
and use the fragment to consider the way unworking functions in Nancy. In
the last part of the chapter ‘Fragment’, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe refer to
the essay on romanticism by Maurice Blanchot, and reference his key word,

that their choice hides the theological motif. See D. Thouard, ed., Symphilosophie.
F. Schlegel à Iéna (Paris: Vrin, 2002), p. 57, n. 1.
Making Sense of  the Fragment 43

désœuvrement. The authors, in regards to this term that Blanchot adopts to

emphasize the importance of  the fragment in romanticism and to suggest
the interruption of totality, comment as follows: ‘Unworking is not incom-
pletion [inachèvement], for as we have seen incompletion completes itself
and is the fragment as such; unworking is nothing, only the interruption of 
the fragment’ (AL 80/LA 57). To understand this sentence, which seems
to separate the possibility of fragmentation from the simple fragment, or to
remark on the insuf ficiency of a mere opposition of  the fragment to work
(un-working, dés-œuvre-ment), we will consider the essay by Blanchot on

Blanchot, Unworking and Fragment

Maurice Blanchot wrote a short essay on Romanticism entitled ‘Athenaeum’.

In this text, he writes that romanticism could leave only a poor result in the
form of work, while it presented rich programs of theory. He attempts to grasp
the failure of the Romantic Movement as something positive, an attitude that
would be connected to Blanchot’s own view of  literature:

And certainly it is often without works, but this is because it is the work of  the absence
of (the) work [l’œuvre de l’absence d’œuvre]; a poetry af firmed in the purity of the poetic
act, an af firmation without duration, a freedom without realization, a force [puissance]
that exalts in disappearing and that is in no way discredited if it leaves no trace, for this
was its goal: to make poetry shine, neither as nature nor even as work, but as pure con-
sciousness of  the moment. (EI 517/IC 353, my emphasis)

It is this ‘work of  the absence of (the) work’, a positive force of  the negative,
that Blanchot handed down to Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe (AL 80/LA 57).
Against the criticism of romanticism as a series of incomplete works, Blanchot
describes a new mode of realization that romanticism introduced:

[T]he power, for the work, to be [le pouvoir … d’être] and no longer to represent; to be
everything [être tout], but without content or with a content that is almost indif ferent,
and thus at the same time af firming the absolute and the fragmentary; af firming

totality, but in a form that, being all forms – that is, at the limit, being none at all –
does not realize the whole [le tout], but signifies it by suspending it, even breaking it.
(EI 518/IC 353)15

Blanchot does not use here the noun ‘fragment’. But we can confirm that he
also avoids the binary of  the whole and the subsumed parts. Early roman-
ticism, which could not leave finished works like novel, poetry or drama,
nonetheless tried to express its own Idea in the form of a fragment, that is
genre that is not a genre. Blanchot reads in each creative act of  the fragment
the emergence of a pure faculty of words. But he pays attention to the fact
that this faculty is not ‘the glorification of  the instinct or the exaltation of 
the delirium’ but ‘almost abstract demand [exigence]’ posed by poetry. While
Goethe blesses Nature, Blanchot maintains that ‘Romanticism is excessive,
but its first excess is an excess of  thought’ (EI 517/IC 353). In other words,
literature in romanticism does not come into existence by the ‘spontaneity’
of genius but becomes a part of  ‘(auto)conscience’. Blanchot, at least here,
understands literature as ‘all its forms of expression, which is to say also the
forces of dissolution’ (EI 520/IC 354).16 Here is the birth of a literature that
has its own conscience and consequently consists in its own production and
manifestation. Literature that manifests or communicates itself (EI 521/IC
355) is the literary act that Blanchot continued as his lifework. This act, how-
ever, is also ‘the dissolution of the movement [of romanticism]’ as suggested
in the 51st fragment of  ‘Athenaeum’ (EI 522/IC 356).
Blanchot’s essay passes from the confirmation of  this ‘dissolution’ to
the diagnosis that romanticism obtains in a totality inf luencing all things
but including nothing. It is here that Blachot’s term désœuvrement appears.
Quoting a passage of  Novalis’ Monologue, which deals with the autonomy
of speech – that is, the characteristics of words without contents, and speak-
ing for the sake of speaking – Blanchot detects in this text a non-roman-
tic essence of romanticism: ‘[T]o write is to make (of ) speech (a) work

15 The word ‘parole’ that appears just before the citation is substituted by ‘écriture’ in the
later version.
16 In the original text: ‘La littérature (j’entends l’ensemble des formes d’expression, c’est-
à-dire aussi forces de dissolution) […]’, the words ‘c’est-à-dire’ and the following are the
addition in the 1969 version.
Making Sense of  the Fragment 45

[faire œuvre de parole]’, but ‘this work is an unworking’ (EI 524/IC 357). The
word unworking indicates the reverse side of  the work, namely, the concept
of an event or a language that no longer has anything to say – even such a lan-
guage is not the object treated by any subject; otherwise, it would be dif ficult
to distinguish it from the narcissism of narration – and that dissolves as soon
as one tells. Thus, unworking is not a mere idleness but an uncontrollable
force that operates inside the language.
As has been suggested above – in the af firmation of  the fragmentary,
though it is not fragment as such – Blanchot seeks the possibility of the frag-
ment. Yet he also perceives through the figure of  Friedrich Schlegel the risk
of withdrawal in an isolated self, which accompanies the form of  the frag-
ment. For Blanchot, a fragment is not only the form, but also the response
to the fragmentary exigency (exigence fragmentaire): ‘an exigency that does
not exclude totality, but goes beyond it’.
But it would not be easy to respond to this exigency or demand. In The
Step Not Beyond, Blanchot explicitly distinguishes the fragmentary from the
The fragmentary: what comes from it, question, demand, practical decision? To no longer
be able to write except in relation to the fragmentary is not to write in fragments [écrire
par fragments], unless the fragment is itself a sign for the fragmentary.17

In this fragment-style book also, he is on the watch for the danger of the frag-
ment as has been mentioned above. Between the unity of work and the chaos
of dissolution, it is the ‘neuter’ that drives Blanchot’s works, and this neuter is
in close relation with the unworking: ‘Something is at work [à l’œuvre] by way
of the neuter that is immediately the work of worklessness [désœuvrement]’.18
The closely connected, the neuter and the unworking designate the non-
human power of  language.

17 M. Blanchot, Le Pas au-delà (Paris: Gallimard, 1973), p. 61; The Step Not Beyond, trans.
L. Nelson (Albany: State University of  New York Press, 1992), p. 42.
18 Le Pas au-delà, p. 105; The Step Not Beyond, p. 75.

Conclusion: Continuing the Fragment(s)

Now we have two readings or interpretations of romanticism: an interpreta-

tion of fragment in The Literary Absolute and that of Blanchot. We would like
to reformulate their connection. That the Jena romantics could not theorize
the thinking of the fragment despite their practice would look like a setback
for the romanticism that Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe mark as a theoretical
movement. But, considered as the work of critique, the fragment is none other
than the heritage of romanticism. Blanchot also, who picked out the imper-
sonal or neutral work and the unworking as work of dissolution associated
to it, is a thinker who faced sincerely the invention of romanticism though
he detected its ‘non-romantic’ essence.
Nancy’s fragmentary practice would be more complicated. Ten years later,
at the end of The Experience of Freedom, adding a chapter entitled ‘Fragments’,
he qualifies the philosophical discourse itself.

In principle [en droit], the fragment can be, even should be, singular [unique] and con-
tinuous. It should be a single, continuous fragmentation – neither ‘just one’ [un seul]
fragment nor detached fragments. I would even say: philosophical discourse today is
fragmentation itself.19

After this quasi-manifesto of  his own philosophical writing style, Nancy
writes his book Corpus (1992), a text constituted by fragments ‘sans queue ni
tête’.20 He seeks in the form of fragment a textual practice to deconstruct the
organized body – the challenge of  the ‘body without organs’.21
The point of view that Nancy’s work is a philosophy response to the
‘fragmentary demand’ made by Romanticism on the subject/object of phi-
losophy captures a significant aspect of  Nancy’s thought. We would have to
ask the question that haunts this thought: does philosophy respond to the

19 J.-L. Nancy, L’Expérience de la liberté (Paris: Galilée, 1988), pp. 191–2; The Experience
of  Freedom, trans. B. McDonald (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993,) p. 148.
20 See J.-L. Nancy, Corpus (Paris: Métailié, 2000), pp. 14, 15, 18.
21 In the original English version collected in The Birth to Presence, a note refers to this
point. See J.-L. Nancy, The Birth to Presence (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993),
p. 413.
Making Sense of  the Fragment 47

fragmentary or fragmented world, or fragmented experience? Does philosophy

trace over this world? In other words, can we trust in the fragment to copy
the world or disclose it? If it does so, a desire to imitate the world and things
in language – a romantic and ancient desire – would remain in the Nancian
practice of  the fragment.
But such a kind of opposition would suppose a stable connection or
scheme: world-language-writer. That is, there would be a supposition that a
writer or philosopher could use and control language as tool to transcribe the
world. It is Blanchot more than anyone else who insisted upon the autonomy
or anonymity of  language and liberated its force – it will henceforth make
sense by itself, without support by the subject – and handed down to Nancy
and Lacoue-Labarthe the discovery of  the force of unworking. Comparing
romanticism with Kantian Critique, Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe suggest a
romantic response to the critical situation left by Kant, as was demonstrated
above. Without any substance for the subject, which is a merely logical or
grammatical function, it is the fragmented words that make possible, or make
sense of, the experience of the world. Or rather, it is these words that seem to
obtain the status of substance and make possible the experience of the world.
However, this substance must not be a kind of  font of material for Nancy,
who continues to insist on the absence of  the process of  ‘singularization’,
namely, the absence of common foundation for plural singularities.22 The
fragment is precisely the model of absolute singularities: all the fragments
in ab-solution though they are touching each other.23 The touch is a figure
Nancy invokes to indicate the possibility of communication between singu-
larities.24 Communication is not a simple transfer of existing meaning, but an
apparition of sense: sense, in Nancy’s terminology, is an excess of existence in
relation to the signification ruled by the system of signifiants and signifiés. The
apparition of sense is also that of  the world, and of communication, whose

22 See La Communauté désœuvrée, p. 70; The Inoperative Community, p. 27.

23 Nancy will develop the thought of sharing (partage) in relation to the body in his Corpus:
‘The sharing is itself ab-solution’ (The Birth to Presence, p. 204).
24 We would have to understand ‘communication’ in the sense that Blanchot suggested
in the verb ‘se communiquer’ as we have seen above, while Nancy refers to Bataille’s
usage of  this term. See: La Communauté désœuvrée, p. 51; The Inoperative Community,
p. 157.

possibility will be developed further by the ref lection on sharing (partage),

another name for this experience of the world. Thus, the sharing of the world,
or world as sharing, is a making sense modelled upon the concept of the frag-
ment developed in The Literary Absolute.

Select Bibliography

Blanchot, M., ‘L’Athenaeum’, in L’Entretien infini (Paris: Gallimard, 1969).

Hoolsema, D.J., ‘The Echo of an Impossible Future in The Literary Absolute’, MLN 119
James, I., The Fragmentary Demand: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy
(Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006).
Lacoue-Labarthe, P., and J.-L. Nancy, L’Absolu littéraire: Théorie de la littérature du romant-
isme allemande (Paris: Seuil, 1978).
Nancy, J.-L., La Communauté désœuvrée (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1986).
——, The Inoperative Community, trans. P. Connor et al. (Minneapolis: University of 
Minnesota Press, 1991).
——, Être singulier pluriel (Paris: Galilée, 1996).
——, Being Singular Plural, trans. R. Richardson and A. O’Byrne (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 2000).
Schlegel, F., Kritische Schriften und Fragmente [1798–1801], ed. E. Behler and H. Eichner
(Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 1988).
——, Philosophical Fragments, trans. P. Firchow (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1991).

Making Ethical Sense

My intention for the short chapter is that it be a collaborative venture. I will

brief ly stake out a position on sense and ethics in relation to Jean-Luc Nancy,
and then pose a set of questions to which I do not have the answer, in the
hope that I can generate the beginnings of a discussion. The position I want
to stake out is this: that Nancean sense-making brings with it an ineluctable
ethical dimension. And the question I want to pose to you is: what implica-
tions might this have for an artist, sculptor, or filmmaker who is seeking to
take Nancy’s thinking into account?

Does Art have a Justification?

What is the ‘justification’ of art? If  there is such a thing, is it ‘ethical’? No

doubt this question will raise conf licting responses. Some may hold a position
like the following: art can only be free if there is no ethics of art production!
Ethical or political art soon becomes propaganda; the spectacle of the literary
trial is obnoxious, and trying to shoehorn artistic production into an ethical
matrix is as dangerous as it is futile.
Others, perhaps, would say: art without any ethical import is speaking
in a vacuum! It is decadent, self-indulgent, self-deluded, self-defeating. But in
the ‘Ouverture’ in La Déclosion, Nancy splits the horns of  this dilemma:

Ce n’est pas un hasard si celui-ci [l’art] ne se trouve plus aujourd’hui, le plus souvent,
d’autre légitimation que ‘politique’ ou ‘éthique’, c’est-à-dire s’il se dénie, en fait, toute
légitimité propre. Or il ne peut en avoir qu’une, qui est l’attestation et l’inscription sen-
sibles du débordement du sens.1

1 J.-L. Nancy, La Déclosion (Paris: Galilée 2005), 13n.


Nancy is at pains here to stress that art requires no justification from ethics
or politics, that is: from any determinate ethics, as opposed to what Lévinas
would call ‘ethnicity’, or what Nancy himself might call an ethics of significa-
tion as opposed to an ethics of sens. And the politics that Nancy evokes here
is the party politics of  la politique, not le politique.
Nevertheless, we should not conclude that art has no justification whatso-
ever. The legitimation of art, according to Nancy, is the attestation and sensible
inscription of the excess, or overf lowing, of sense. That is the first element of
my brief reconstruction of ethics and sense in Nancy: the legitimation of art
is ‘l’attestation et l’inscription sensibles du débordement du sens’.2

Does Art have an Ethical Justification?

The second element is to ask: is this ‘sense’ ethical? And, a fortiori, is the jus-
tification of art ethical? In his 2003 essay on Roland Barthes in La Déclosion,
entitled ‘Une exemption de sens’,3 Nancy insists that sense is an absolute
value. Indeed, he says that sense and value are ‘the double name of  the same
concept’.4 But sense/value is threadbare today, either absorbed into the general
equivalence market exchange or packed of f into irrational mysticism.
In order to navigate through this double shipwreck of sense/value, Nancy
draws on Barthes’ ‘moralité du signe’, which seeks to avoid both the reifica-
tion of sens solide and the mysticism of sens nul. Sense must be neither full
nor empty:

2 Ibid., p. 14.
3 Nancy, ‘Une exemption de sens’, in La Déclosion, pp. 179–88.
4 ‘[…] le sens s’entend comme concentration et cristallisation d’une valeur absolue : il faut
une valeur qui vaille pour elle-même, qui ne soit relative à rien d’autre, pour que s’apaise,
s’accomplisse et s’achève le mouvement par lequel le sens ou la valeur (qu’on prenne ces
mots, ou ce double nom d’un même concept, sur le registre de la langue, de l’éthique ou
de la métaphysique) renvoie à un horizon ou à un sujet dans lequel il s’absorbe et dans
la substance duquel, pour finir, il se « réalise », comme on le dit d’une valeur financière
ou d’un capital’ (ibid., p. 179).
Making Ethical Sense 53

Roland Barthes plaçait l’ensemble de son travail à l’enseigne d’une préoccupation qu’il
nommait de ‘moralité du signe’ et qu’il caractérisait comme un souci du sens réglé par
un double refus : celui du ‘sens solide’ (de la signification acquise et fixée) et celui du
‘sens nul’ (celui, dit-il, des mystiques de la libération). Garder, préserver le sens d’être
rempli aussi bien que d’être vidé, voilà l’ethos.5

Therefore, making sense is always an ethical undertaking; ‘faire du sens’ is an

imperative, Nancy insists.6 But by itself it is always an imperative to produce
a final sense, a unique sense, to produce signification as a finished work. It is
perhaps a temptation with which all philosophers wrestle, especially when we
have the privilege of addressing a group of artists on the subject of art.
Nevertheless, if  this imperative to ‘make or produce sense’ is simply
obeyed, and nothing more, then all that will be achieved is a pyrrhic closure
of sense that, far from providing an ethical justification of art, exposes it to
the grossest political and ethical propagandistic abuses.
The imperative to make sense is not satisfactorily fulfilled in the creation
of sens solide and/or of sens nul. And this is why the ethics of sense-making
cannot rest on this imperative alone. There must be an exception to this obliga-
tion to make sense; something that escapes this imperative. And that is what
Nancy after Barthes calls an ‘exemption of sense’: Not a triumphant dialectic
of sense and non-sense, not a cancellation of all responsibility to make sense,
not a making of nonsense, but a punctual and singular exemption from the
economy of sense-making.
With the exemption of sense, instead of a final word sense withdraws to
a vanishing point, an opening and an appeal. Sense is announced not with a
‘j’ai dit’, but ‘dis-moi’ or ‘laisse-moi dire’. And so it is with the imperative of
sense and this exemption of sense together that the ethical import of sense-
making lies.
Nancy concludes his short paper on Barthes by indicating what he calls
a morality for our time.7 It is not simply to make sense, for that will always
either end up circulating in a general equivalence or being swallowed up in a
mystical inef fability, but the morality for our time is rather to understand and
practice the sharing of sense. Not simply by engaging in dialogue, which all

5 Ibid., p. 180.
6 Ibid., p. 184.
7 Ibid., p. 188.

too often produces only a consensual ‘final word’, but rather in a realization
that sense must exempt itself from itself in order to be what it is: neither the
final word nor a mystical silence.
So there is – and with this I conclude – an unavoidable ethics of making
sense. Making sense is always ethical. But this ethics is not simply the obliga-
tion to make sense. It is to acknowledge, to allow for the exemption of sense
that forecloses, on the one hand, the final word of a determinate sense and,
on the other hand, the silence of an inef fable mysticism.

And this is where I need to hand the presentation over to the reader:

1. (How) is this ethics of sense-making to be welcomed by artists?

2. (How) could this ethics of sense-making provide a way of reading all
art without geographical or historical restriction?
3. How successfully does Nancy’s position as hastily reconstructed here
resist the charge of being just one more weary example of philosophy
colonizing art and reading it only through a philosophical matrix?

Select Bibliography

Derrida, J., Le Toucher, Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Galilée, 2000).

James, I., I.D. Alena Alexandrova, L. ten Kate and A. van Rooden, eds, ‘Incarnation and
Infinity’ in Retreating Religion: Deconstructing Christianity with Jean-Luc Nancy
(New York: Fordham University Press, forthcoming).
Nancy, J.-L., La Déclosion: Déconstruction Du Christianisme, 1 (Paris: Galilée, 2005).
——, L’Adoration, Déconstruction Du Christianisme, 2 (Paris: Galilée, 2010).
——, Visitation (De La Peinture Chrétienne) (Paris: Galilée, 2001).
Watkin, C., Phenomenology or Deconstruction? The Question of  Ontology in Maurice
Merleau-Ponty, Paul Ricoeur, and Jean-Luc Nancy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University
Press, 2009).

Making Makes Sense:

Craft as an Exploratory Mode of  Thinking

‘Making Sense’ is a concept that is particularly relevant and personal to me.

The word ‘making’ takes me back to my experience as a glass blower and the
title itself, ‘making sense’, was the purpose of my studies in aesthetics at the
Sorbonne: to make sense of my ‘making’. Therefore, I will try to address
the subject by telling you a little bit about my praxis as a craftsperson and
about some of the numerous questions it raised and which I tried to respond
to in my PhD entitled ‘Pour une ontologie du geste: À notre corps défaillant’,
which you could translate as ‘Ontology of Craft’, ‘craft’ being a very conven-
ient word, because it has such a broad meaning.1 Unfortunately, we don’t
have an equivalent in French, as artisanat only means craft as a trade, as a
socio-professional category.
To start with, I will brief ly describe what the dif ference between art and
craft is by emphasizing the corporal dimension of craft and the way it involves
the sense of  touch. Then I will try to demonstrate how craft can be seen as a
mode of thinking as well as a mode of production. Finally, I will submit some
ideas that lead towards a better understanding between the arts and those
who speak and write about them.
Twelve years ago, after I studied Design and Ceramics in Paris, I started
to learn glassblowing, first on the Isle of  Wight, then in the Black Country

1 ‘Pour une ontologie du geste: À notre corps défaillant’ was defended in June 2009 at
the Sorbonne. Bernard Stiegler (philosopher and director of  the Institute of  Research
and Innovation at the Centre Pompidou), André Guillerme (professor of  history of 
techniques and director of the Centre d’Histoire des Techniques et de l’Environnement
at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in Paris), Marc Jimenez (professor in
aesthetics at the Université de Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne and director of the Laboratoire
d’Esthétique Théorique et Appliquée) and Pierre-Damien Huyghe, my advisor (profes-
sor in aesthetics at the Université de Paris I) constitued the degree committee.

near Birmingham, then in Murano (Venice), and finally in Tunisia. I was –

and I still am – very passionate about the technique, I enjoyed very much
learning the craft and developing my skills but I also knew two things: one,
that I was not an ‘artist’, and two, that I could not spend my life only ‘making’.
I also needed to think and build up a theory about was I was doing.
I did not consider myself an artist because I was not as interested in the
end result of my work, as I was in the process of making, just making. I loved
the experience of making, the learning process, the gestures and movements
involved in the craft, the resistance of  the material, the heat of  the furnace,
much more than the project or the finished pieces. The problem with art, craft
and applied art schools is that they encourage students to express themselves,
to build up a démarche artistique. They have a conceptual approach. They want
their students to be artists rather than craftsmen. But the truth is that most
artists-artisans have to make compromises between their everyday production
and their artistic experiments. So no matter what, they are craftspersons in the
old sense of the word, as ‘serial producers’. This was not a problem for me, on
the contrary, but I had to resist the pressure of a system that emphasizes crea-
tivity in the finished product rather than invention in the process of making.
As a ‘non-artist’, I’ve always enjoyed the repetitive process of making series of
objects, of perfecting my technique, which is why I went to Murano to learn
the craft. There, it was the opposite of an art school: the glassblowers work
like workers in a factory. Working all day long, they make series of objects that
they haven’t designed, and end up working and behaving like machines. So
one day, I wondered why I was doing this too, and I asked myself: why should
I become a craftsperson or even an artist-artisan? Why should I produce or
reproduce more and more objects, even if it was by hand? Basically, I had to
ref lect on the sense and the essence of craftsmanship and to understand if it
was still meaningful both to me and to the time we live in. I suspended my
practice, returned to university and started thinking about it.
In a way, I was more like an interpreter of the material and the technique
than a composer, or a designer. I enjoyed experimenting with molten glass,
pushing it to its limits, and mixing it with other materials. It was my way of 
being inventive, but I wouldn’t say that I was an artist, because I didn’t aim
to make art. This might be the biggest dif ference between art and craft: if art
is dedicated to expression or composition, whichever form it takes, it means
that materials and techniques are means to an end. Art is so free that it has
Making Makes Sense 57

virtually no limits and artists don’t necessarily need to know the technique
and materials they are dealing with. In fact, many of  them work with crafts-
men or technicians to make the pieces they conceived. I am not saying that
art doesn’t deal with making and many artists still make their artwork, but
I mean to say that art can be considered as art without being made by the
artist. Jef f  Koons is an artist, even if  he didn’t make his giant pieces Balloon
Dogs and Inf latable Rabbits himself.
On the other hand, craft involves certain limits, such as knowing the
material(s) and practising the technique(s). A craftsman has to possess his
craft, which requires years and years of  learning, during which he (or she)
repeats the same gestures lo learn the craft. The process of  learning the craft
then imprints his body and changes his perception of things. This very special
and unique relationship with the material af fects the body because it is dressé
(as Marcel Mauss would say), or trained and tamed to integrate a new techni-
cality, but it also inf luences a way of feeling and thinking. When you practise
a technique regularly (whatever it is: music, photography, dance, wood carv-
ing), you develop a new sensitivity to sounds and music, to frames, light and
colours, or to movement. You become an interpreter of  the material you are
working with and in this way, making – even just making – makes sense.
Craftspeople are particularly sensitive to touch. Not only because they use
their hands to take, to make, to transform the world, but also and especially
because they relate to the material by touching it, and being simultaneously
touched by it, which involves a certain degree of confusion, of emotion. The
sense of touch doesn’t have the distance with the object that sight, hearing or
even smelling have. It is the sense of presence, what Maurice Merleau-Ponty
describes as a ‘saisie des coexistences’, where the body is directly exposed to
alterity, or as a sensation before being a cognition or a recognition.2 The sense
of  touch is necessarily open. Jean-Luc Nancy added to Corpus a marvellous
text entitled ‘De Anima’ where he demonstrates that the soul can only be
conceived as experienced by the body, as being touched.3 Touch considered
in this way can be about emotion, in terms of something that moves you
and that makes you move. From there, one can imagine that the relationship
between human beings and material is a deep, essential one, based upon a

2 M. Merleau-Ponty, Phénoménologie de la perception (Paris: Gallimard, 1975), p. 268.

3 J.-L. Nancy, ‘De anima’, in Corpus (Paris: A.M. Métaillié, 1992).

‘resonance’: being touched by a material creates a reaction, both bond and

stimulation at once. Touching precedes acting, holding, then making. To be
present through the sense of  touch makes particular sense today, in a world
dominated by hearing and sight, with all the audiovisual means of expression
and communication.
If we try to think like Gaston Bachelard, who wrote five books on ‘mate-
rial imagination’, we could say that the sense of  touch is at the origin of our
history as great producers. According to him, touching and feeling the ele-
ments around us developed a ‘material imagination’, that is to say images
related to our environment that opened up in our bodies and minds the
possibility of manipulating it, like for instance all the images and sensations
attached to mud: mixing or kneading it like dough. The sense of touch is like
the antechamber of gesture or movements of  the body carrying intentions
and expressions. This is why and where technique and art are indissociable:
they are at the origin of any kind of  human production.
In the process of making, there are also a number of almost unexplain-
able links between the body and the material, a network of  ‘underground’
connections mostly created by habit, that are very dif ficult to speak or write
about, therefore dif ficult to mention in the aesthetic experience. Language
cannot always explain art’s expressive paths because they cannot necessarily
be reduced to concepts and discourse. When you know your technique and
when you get to the point of not having to think about what you are doing,
you can actually disconnect your mind and let you body pilot your gestures.
It doesn’t mean that you are working automatically, because if ever there is
a slight dif ference in the quality of  the raw material, or in the machine you
are using, or simply in your routine, then your well-trained hand will notice
it before your mind and you will have to adapt to the new circumstance.
Dancers and performers also experience this kind of connection-disconnection
between the brain and the body. It is as if  the body had developed a specific
relationship with its environment, which Gilbert Simondon calls ‘a technical
subconscious not expressed clearly by ref lexive activity’ and connects it to the
instinctive knowledge that animals have of their environment.4 I tend to agree

4 G. Simondon, Du mode d’existence des objets techniques (Paris: Aubier, 1989 [1958]),
p. 89.
Making Makes Sense 59

with him, as I have myself experienced this operational mode of being that is
not related to the intellect. After all, we are animals as well!
As a craftsman, you also develop a specific intelligence, that the Greeks
called the ‘mètis’. It is a very f lexible and highly adaptable form of intelligence,
like the one Ulysses used during the Odyssey to defeat stronger enemies and
to survive against all odds. In French it’s called ‘la ruse’, ‘cunning’ in English.
Together with ‘techné’, it is supposed to be specific to craftsmen (Daedalus
being the most famous one), or to gods who use techniques, like Héphaïstos
the blacksmith or his sister Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom. As a
matter of fact, craftsmen always have to adapt to new circumstances, to vari-
ations in their work conditions; they constantly have to invent new ways of
conceiving and making things. In other words, they have to be ingenious. We
often see craftsmen as simple makers who follow tradition and models from
the past, but even if not all craftsmen are as inventive as Antonio Stradivari
or Bernard Leach, they all have to invent or reinvent the ways of making
objects, according to technical changes, market needs and so forth. It is a
mental attitude, a versatility that is specific to people who have to deal with
a certain amount of unknown.
The Italian philosopher Luigi Pareyson built up his Aesthetics on the
concept of ‘formativity’, which corresponds very well to this frame of mind.
According to him, any human activity is an ‘inseparable mix of production
and invention: to form means to do while inventing the way of doing’, which
is to say that any productive process (and, of course, especially in the field of
art), any human gesture is potentially creative and inventive.5 Therefore, this
unique ‘way of doing’ corresponds to an interpretation of  the techniques
interiorized by the body, which works like a matrix giving birth to a unique
gesture. Let’s not forget that originally, the word ‘gesture’ comes from the
verb ‘to gestate’, therefore to prepare, to carry and build up something that
will eventually come out. This is the reason why if you bring up the same
drawing or the same project to ten dif ferent craftsmen, it will result in ten
dif ferent objects. This is also why the same ballet, the same theatre play,
the same piece of music will always be interpreted dif ferently according to
the dancer, actor or musician. Finally, this is why great works of art always

5 L. Pareyson, Esthétique, théorie de la formativité, trans. G. Tiberghien (Paris: ULM,

2007), p. 24.

remain ‘open’. Open like Umberto Eco theorizes it in The Open Work, to
interpretation by the viewer, the reader, or the actor. In fact, Eco was a stu-
dent of  Luigi Pareyson’s.
We could take it from there and imagine new ways of creating bonds
between the worlds of theory and practice in the arts, by developing multi-
disciplinary projects based upon the idea that materials and techniques
shouldn’t be used but practised and interpreted. To start with, we could
organize a symposium with academics, philosophers, curators, artists, crafts-
men, designers, architects and why not engineers around the idea of ‘forma-
tivity’ as the exploration of new ways of expressing materials, techniques and
inventions, whichever they are. They can be classic materials like metal, wood
or paint, as well nanotechnologies, TTCIP networks, numeric images or
any kind of material. The main idea is to do some sort of ‘basic research’ (as
opposed to applied research), like the scientists do, with a playful and creative
purpose. It could take the form of a meeting between a philosopher and a
choreographer like Jean-Luc Nancy did with Mathilde Monnier, or between
two artists from dif ferent backgrounds like a potter and a film director, or
a scientific researcher and a designer etc, etc. For instance, a glassblower
friend of mine recently contacted an eminent professor in chemistry at le
Collège de France named Jacques Livage, who invented the recipe to make
cold glass. She wanted to design a architectural project with his discovery
and they have been collaborating for a few months now. It could also take
the form of a new subject to be taught at university, or in art and applied
art schools.
The concept of touch could also provide a possible way of understanding
the aesthetic experience, if we consider under a new light the historical figure
of the ‘amateur’ in the sense of ‘celui qui aime’, ‘the one who loves’. Originally,
the amateur was a nobleman at ‘la cour du Roi’ in Versailles who was supposed
to speak about the arts without being a professional artist. But very often, he
would also be an amateur practitioner as well, which means that in order to
be able to understand and to judge the arts, he would have to ‘touch’ them
himself in a way. This idea of giving a new place to the amateur, considered
like an intermediate figure between the art consumer and the art producer
is one of the goals of the Institute of Research and Innovation at the Centre
Making Makes Sense 61

Pompidou, directed by the philosopher Bernard Stiegler,6 with whom I will

be working on this project.
I am tempted to conclude with a bold statement and say that one of 
the possible ways to better understand the arts and the artistic praxis might
be to accept that they cannot be reduced to words and interpretations. I am
not saying that we should stop thinking and writing about the arts, quite the
contrary, but I think that we should moderate our tendency to explain things
that are not necessarily subject to intellectual knowledge. We should try to
see and say where language is limited, insuf ficient or reductive compared to
the creative experience that involves a deep, unspoken and complex body
language related, among other things, to technicality and perception, as well
as emotions, intuitions and so forth. That’s why I also believe that a better
understanding between those who make art and those who speak about it
can be reached with a certain degree of commitment to a practise, through
the figure of  the amateur (for instance), or at least by being more in contact
to the poïesis, the process of conceiving and making the arts.

Select Bibliography

Détienne, M., and J.-P. Vernant, Les Ruses de l’intelligence. La mètis des Grecs (Paris:
Champs Flammarion, 1974).
Guérin, M., Philosophie du geste (Arles: Actes Sud, 1995).
Huygh, P.-D., Le Dif férend esthétique (Paris: Circé, 2004).
Leroi-Gourhan, A., Le Geste et la parole. Tome I: Technique et langage. Tome II: La
mémoire et les rythmes (Paris: Albin Michel, 1964/5).
Nancy, J.-L., ‘De Anima’ in Corpus (Paris: A.M. Métaillié, 1992).

6 Bernard Stiegler is a very prolific French philosopher whose work includes the book La
Technique et le temps 1. La faute d’Epiméthée (Paris: Galilée, 1994) about the notion of 
‘technique’, considered as the essence of  the human ‘devenir’. In 2006, he created the
Institute for Research and Innovation at the Centre Pompidou, which he now directs
and he is also the director of  the Association Ars Industrialis.

Pareyson, L., Esthétique, théorie de la formativité, trans. G. Tiberghien (Paris: ULM,

Plato, Timée, Critias, trans. L. Brisson (Paris: Garnier Flammarion, 2001).
Simondon, G., Du Mode d’existence des objets techniques (Paris: Aubier, 1989 [1958]).
Stiegler, B., La Technique et le temps 1. La faute d’Epiméthée (Paris: Galilée, 1994).

Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images

[L]’autre image qui laisse apparaître ce sans-image qui est, selon Benjamin, le
refuge de toute image, c’est dans cette dif férence que ce jouent toute l’éthique
et la politique du cinéma.1

[C]e qu’on appelle image est, un instant, l’ef fet produit par le langage
dans son brusque assourdissement. Savoir cela, ce serait savoir que, dans la
critique esthétique comme dans la psychanalyse, l’image est arrêt sur le
langage, l’instant d’abîme du mot.2

The recent research that has been done in philosophy, history of art and
film studies on the notion of  the image (one has only to think of  Rancière,
Didi-Huberman and Bellour) has redefined it contours.3 Moving away from
Plato’s dismissal of images as simulacra, and from the dichotomies of pres-
ence and absence and resemblance and representation, this research focuses
on the way that images, as Nancy intimates in Évidence du film, Kiarostami,
can provide us with an access to the real: ‘The image opens onto the real, the
reality of  the image is given in the very fact that it gives access to the real:
that which of fers the same resistance and the same substance as either death
or life for instance’.4 Nancy adds that ‘the image is like a theft which removes
reality from the real, before handing it back to the real, but rendered stronger,

1 In G. Agamben, Image et Mémoire (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 2004), p. 76.

2 In ‘Le souf f le indistinct de l’image’, F. Pierre, Le Site de l’étranger. La situation psychana-
lytique (Paris: PUF, 1995), p. 188.
3 See in particular R. Bellour, L’Entre-images (Paris: POL, 1990); G. Didi-Huberman,
L’Image ouverte (Paris: Gallimard, 2006); M.-J. Mondzain, Homo Spectator (Paris:
Bayard, 2007) and V. Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts (Berkeley: University of  California
Press, 2004).
4 L’Évidence du film. Kiarostami (Brussels: Yves Gaevart, 2001), p. 17 (my translation).

confirmed, sealed in all its strength’ (35).5 Moreover, from Gilles Deleuze’s
commentary on Beckett’s text about the image (L’Épuisé),6 through Maurice
Blanchot (‘Deux versions de l’imaginaire’ in L’espace Littéraire),7 to Pierre
Fédida, this re-imagined image seems to have a substance only insofar as it
almost immediately abolishes itself or reabsorbs itself. As Fédida suggests in
his very inf luential article ‘Le souf f le indistinct de l’image’, ‘[l]es images se
forment, se transforment, ne restent pas’ (220).8
But for other thinkers such as Ricoeur, closer to phenomenology and
hermeneutics, images are iconic, a term borrowed from Byzantine iconography,
meaning they provide a cognitive, embodied and emotional experience, based
on recognition, engaged spectatorship and interpretation. In brief, the image
does not reveal a reality, but allows the invisible to become visible, to come
to full presence, to present itself in the very substance of  the image. What is
real in the icon is the material of  the icon; in the icon, the image draws our
attention to itself as mediation through materiality. This mediation is the
reality of  the image. The icon is an imprint, what Andrei Tarkovsky calls an
imprint of  time: ‘The cinematic image cannot be divided and segmented in
conf lict with its temporal nature; continuous time cannot be removed from
it. The image becomes authentically cinematic when (among other things)
not only does it live within time, but time also lives within it, even within
each separate frame’.9
The two broadly defined schools of  thinkers alluded to here may not
be so dif ferent as it initially appears. Both theoretical camps apprehend the
image in relation to a privileged and distinctive moment, and whilst it remains
evanescent and fragile, its truth content cannot be denied or easily dismissed.
Indeed, whether it is linked to absence, death, emptiness and unreality, or to
presence, resurrection and augmented reality, the image is still seen as a vessel
for cognitive and emotional experience.

5 J.-L. Nancy, Au Fond des images (Paris: Galilée, 2003), p. 35.

6 G. Deleuze, L’Épuisé (Paris: Minuit, 1992); postface in S. Beckett, Quad (Paris: Minuit,
7 M. Blanchot, L’Espace littéraire (Paris: Gallimard, 1955).
8 ‘Images take shape, are transformed and disappear’, in P. Fédida, Le site de l’étranger
(Paris: PUF, 1995), p. 220.
9 A. Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time (Austin: University of  Texas Press, 2000), p. 224.
Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images 65

The aim of this article is to use these recent theories in order to reconcile
two modernist conceptualizations of  the image’s cognitive and emotional
dimensions: the first, as epiphanic, a-historical and disengaged from social,
historical and political realms, and the second, as image-montage/image-
emotion, contextually bound up with the avant-garde.10 The article contends
that it is only by scrutinizing early notions of modernist images (in poetry,
prose and cinema) that we can grasp their cognitive and emotional nature. It
will present a genealogy of  the image, which spans genres and artistic move-
ments, to argue that images are inextricably linked to the process of making
sense, in modernist art and thought.

The Epiphanic Image as Photogénie

The two kinds of modernist images I would like to elicit in the course of 
this article, that of image-montage, image as shock (Eisenstein/Godard) or
image-emotion (Reverdy), and that of epiphanic images, which James Joyce
defined as ‘a sudden spiritual manifestation’ in Stephen Hero,11 spring from
the theories and practices of poetry, prose and film during the golden age of 
Modernism. A perfect example of such an encounter between artistic practices
is found in an article Virginia Woolf wrote on cinema in 1926. Woolf imme-
diately perceived how cinema brings about a form of emotion that is at once
personal and impersonal. It is impersonal, she writes, since ‘at the cinema we
behold events as they are when we are not there. We see life as it is when we
have no part in it’.12 Woolf qualifies this by adding that, ‘if into this reality,
the film-maker could breathe emotion, could animate the perfect form with
thought, then his booty could be hauled in hand over hand […] sometimes
at the cinema, in the midst of its immense dexterity and enormous technical

10 Cf. ‘Le cinéma de Guy Debord’ in Agamben, Image et mémoire, pp. 65–76; for Agamben,
montage is defined by two principles, those of  ‘la répétition et l’arrêt’.
11 J. Joyce, Stephen Hero (London: Grafton, 1988), p. 190.
12 V. Woolf, Crowded Dance of  Modern Life (London: Penguin, 1993), p. 55.

proficiency, the curtain parts and we behold, far of f, some unknown and unex-
pected beauty. But it is for a moment only’.13 Her definition of the epiphany in
To the Lighthouse is strikingly visual: ‘The great revelation perhaps never did
come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck
unexpectedly in the dark’.14
At roughly the same time, but on the other side of  the Channel, poet
and filmmaker Jean Epstein was drafting his definition of  the cinematic
image, expanding Delluc’s notion of cinematic photogénie.15 In a lecture
given in 1924, he cannily says that ‘one racks one’s brains in wanting to define
photogénie: Face of  beauty, it’s a taste of  things. I recognize it like a musical
phrase […] photogénie is a value on the order of the second’.16 In fact, Epstein
was eliciting the iconic dimension of  the image, its capacity to ‘augment’
reality: ‘Photogénie augments the moral quality of  things by cinematic
reproduction […] any aspect that is not improved by cinematic reproduc-
tion is not photogenic […] The click of a shutter makes a photogénie which
did not exist before’.17 According to him, cinematic reproduction enables
the spectator to experience the world anew and see ‘the well-springs of  life
gush out of corners that one believed sterile and explored […] on-screen,
we re-see what the cinema has already seen once’.18 The ef fects of distanc-
ing and estrangement induced by the cinematic image create an interval or
gap, which allows at once for the creative appropriation of  the image by
the spectator’s imagination, and the creative re-figuration of  the sensory
relation to the image. As Leo Charney suggests, ‘[s]pectatorship becomes

13 Crowded Dance, p. 56.

14 V. Woolf, To The Lighthouse (London: Penguin, 1992), p. 397.
15 See ‘De quelques éléments de la photogénie’, in J. Epstein, Écrits sur le cinéma, vol. 1
(Paris: Seghers, 1974), pp. 6–8. On Photogénie, see also Abel, Richard, French Film
Theory and Criticism, vol 1 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), J. Aumont, ed.,
Jean Epstein (Paris: Cinémathèque, 1998) and L. Charney, Empty Moments (Durham,
NC: Duke University Press, 1998).
16 Quoted in Charney, Empty Moments, p. 153.
17 Charney, Empty Moments, p. 153. On the concept of iconic augmentation, see P. Ricœur,
‘The Function of Literature in Shaping Reality’, in A Ricœur Reader, ed. Mario J. Valdés
(London: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1991), pp. 123–35.
18 Charney, Empty Moments, p. 153.
Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images 67

a creative appropriation of  the film, an imaginative construction […]

Comprehension has no tangible, corporeal presence and thus becomes, like
the film itself, “a phantom”’.19
In short, photogénie would be cinema’s early form of epiphanic image,
comparable to those discursive forms found in prose and poetry. Epiphanies,
whether in prose or film, are thus not only ephemeral and enigmatic experi-
ences that allow for a brief encounter with what we thought we knew but
has been made unfamiliar, but they are also an encounter between two art
forms, literature and cinema, one which was reinventing itself, and the other
which had just been invented and was still inventing itself.20 This encounter
af forded by the image will be of great importance for what is known as the
Bazinian school of thought, and for the conception of the image in Tarkovsky
in particular, to whom I will turn shortly.


The notion of image-montage was also being theorized in the early 1920s,
by a significant but poorly read Modernist poet, Pierre Reverdy, and by the
theoretician of montage, Sergei Eisenstein. While the latter’s notion of mon-
tage is well known, Reverdy’s theory has attracted far less attention, despite
Godard’s extensively use of it since the early 1980s as exemplified by Passion
(1982), King Lear (1987) and, more recently, Histoire(s) du cinema (1998).21
Let us examine the premises of  Reverdy’s theory of  the image.

19 Charney, Empty Moments, p. 156 (my emphasis).

20 See D. Trotter, Cinema and Modernism (London: BFI, 2008) and L. Marcus, The Tenth
Muse (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
21 See P. Harcourt, ‘Analogical thinking: organizational strategies within the work of 
Jean-Luc Godard’, <http://cineaction.ca/harcourt.htm> (last accessed 19 September
2010); see also D. Païni, ‘According to Godard’, <http://www.rouge.com.au/9/> (last
accessed 19 September 2010).

The image is a pure creation of  the mind. It cannot be born of a comparison, but only
from the bringing together of  two more or less distant realities.
The more distant and apposite the relations between the two realities, the stronger the
image will be, and the more emotive power and poetic reality it will have.
Two realities which have nothing in common cannot be brought together fruitfully.
No image is created.
Two conf licting realities cannot be brought together. They oppose one another.
An image is not powerful because it is stark or fantastical, but because the association
of ideas is distant and apposite.
It is not the image which is powerful, but the emotion it creates; the strength of  the
emotion is proportionate to the force of  the image.
The emotion thus created is pure, poetically speaking, because it was born without
recourse to any imitation, evocation or comparison.
One is surprised and filled with joy when faced with something completely new.
A powerful image, fresh to the mind, can be created only by bringing together two
distant realities whose relationship has been established by the mind alone.
To remain pure, this kind of poetry demands that all the means combine to bring about
a poetic reality.
One cannot use direct means of observation which would only destroy the whole by
introducing clashing elements. These direct means stem from another source and serve
another purpose.
Dif ferent aesthetic means cannot combine to bring about a work of art.
Only pure means can shape pure works of art.
The purity of an aesthetic stems from this rule.22

We can draw a few key principles from this text. First, Reverdy does away
with the traditional notion of poetic analogy, since he posits the mind as
the organizing force behind the image. The image is not a random fusion of
separate elements, but a movement which brings together, which conf lates,
juxtaposes two separate entities, leading to a third entity, unspecified, and
uncontrollable this time, which is the image. The poet’s mind wrests elements
of reality from their state of separateness. It does not create similarities; it does
not force the relation. It identifies what is otherwise unidentifiable in reality:
the dormant state of  things that remain ensconced in isolation.
A second principle for Reverdy is that the image is nothing if it is not
emotion. Emotion is the invisible third term, borne of the conf lation of two

22 P. Reverdy, ‘The image’ in ‘Nord-Sud’, ‘Self defence’ et autres écrits sur la poésie 1917–1926
(Paris: Flammarion, 1975), pp. 73–5. (This quotation is translated by H. Azérad and
A. Brown.)
Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images 69

separate terms. Emotion is the end result of  the image, and the guarantor of
its validity. Finally, the image remains impersonal, its powers relying solely
on the emotion it creates. This paradox can become clearer if we think of
cinema’s impersonal quality, which is linked to the mechanical way it records
reality without relinquishing its emotion-inducing power. Similarly, the mind
would be the impersonal and mechanical instrument that would enable real-
ity to appear in its pure state. The image is expressive, but it does not stem
from a personal expression or feeling. Reverdy’s understanding of emotion
is based on the capacity of  the image to create surprise and joy at something
that is both ‘seen anew’, and properly ‘seen’ as new. The image makes us see
and feel anew, and it also makes us think anew. Emotion’s guarantee reveals
a dual ontology, being that which ensures the unity of  the image, and what
unites us with the image.
Reverdy’s third principle is an insistence on the notion of purity. The
notion of purity does not mean an indif ference towards reality or emotion,
but a concept of dif ferentiation and integrity. It thwarts any attempt to hier-
archize the arts, either to make one art subservient to another, or to view the
implementation of a new technique as an act of  ‘borrowing’ from the art to
which it is ‘proper’.
Reverdy’s theory of the image elicits the more complex relation between
the dominions of art and reality. As is the case in Bazin’s theory of cinema,
reality is in an asymptotic relation with the artwork. What Reverdy calls
‘poetic reality’ lies in the state of in-betweenness that the image opens up both
for the artist and the viewer. The image becomes a passage between dif ferent
levels of reality, but it does not express or privilege one reality over another.
In the 1930s and 40s, the last and most important aspect of  Reverdy’s aes-
thetic is revealed in Cette émotion appelée poésie, in which Reverdy discusses
the choc poétique involved not only in the creation of  the image, but in the
way the reader engages with it. If  the image is a place of encounter between
realities, its validity depends on the poetic shock it can create in the reader,
and thus ‘it is not the image which is powerful but the emotion it creates’. This
spark or shock is similar to the metaphorical shock created by the bringing
together of  ‘distant and apposite realities’. [same thing here] but the validity
of  the image ultimately depends on the shock encounter with the reader.23

23 In P. Reverdy, Sable Mouvant (Paris: Gallimard, 1974), p. 105.


Reverdy’s image-emotion is a poetic form of image-montage: the shock it cre-

ates is not gratuitous, but cognitive.
This modernist conception of the image as image-emotion or choc-émotion
was to be neglected in favour of  the more dazzling Surrealist images which
held sway in the 20s, even though Breton’s theory of the image as fulgurance,
‘explosante-fixe’, was heavily inf luenced by Reverdy’s theory (divesting it of
its appositeness and privileging the ‘chance encounter’ aspect). It is perhaps
no coincidence, however, that Godard – the great proponent of montage
– juxtaposes a phrase from Reverdy’s text on the image with a painting by
Bosch in the printed version of his Histoire(s) du Cinema.24 Reverdy’s theory
was already present in Godard’s book JLG/JLG, more straightforwardly
presented and interspersed with Godard’s own comments. But in the film
Histoire(s) du Cinema, it is ironic to see Reverdy’s most anti-Surrealist phrase
‘[a]n image is not powerful because it is stark or fantastical, but because the
association of ideas is distant and apposite’ used in montage (an editing table).
The image-montage created could be seen as apposite, linking cinema with
Bosch’s apocalyptic figure and with Godard’s own apocalyptic tone and fables
with which the films are studded. In the film, however, Godard’s whispering
and barely audible voice is overlaid by two other voices, and stops short at
finishing Reverdy’s sentence, repeating instead ‘lointaine, lointaine’ and thus
evacuating the juste or ‘apposite’.
Jacques Rancière is particularly enlightening on Godard’s aesthetics in
his book La Fable Cinématographique. He calls Godard’s aesthetics his poet-
ics: ‘The Histoire(s) du cinéma proclaim a poetics – that of pure presence
– which cinema is guilty of  betraying. In order to show this, Histoire(s) du
cinéma must establish metaphorical montage as their new poetics’.25 But this
poetics of presence, as Youssef  Ishaghpoor noted, is not synonymous with a
return to unity, but proceeds instead through a deepening of disjunctions, the
creation of  hiatuses, ef facement and ellipses, the opening up of chasms and

24 J.-L. Godard, Histoire(s) du cinema (Paris, Gallimard, 1998); JLG/JLG (Paris: POL,
25 La Fable cinématographique (Paris: Seuil, 2001), p. 227 (my translation). See also his Le
Destin des images (Paris: La Fabrique, 2003).
Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images 71

intervals.26 This is why Godard establishes an analogy between image-montage

and Benjamin’s aesthetics of interruption. In ef fect, Godard carries forward
Reverdy’s poetic image-émotion into a form of Benjaminian montage, more
apt for the work of a Historian, but also more apt for an enterprise of artistic
redemption which remains concerned with History. Via the image and the
shock encounter it creates, Godard is clearly advocating an aesthetics, however
autonomous it may seem, which calls for an engaged and enlightened form
of spectatorship. In that sense, Godard implements Reverdy’s theory of  the
image in order to bring about an historical reality that is always elusive.

Modernism Reconciled: Tarkovsky and the Iconic Image

Godard also provides a possible link between image-montage and the image,
thus reconciling the dichotomies between avant-garde and Modernism.
Indeed, ‘epiphany’ is a word Rancière does not hesitate to use in his book
to describe Godard’s Histoire(s), and which fits the auratic images of  the
film. Perhaps the classification of cinema in the terms of image-montage or
those of  Bazinian anti-montage and one-shot sequences does not do justice
to the complexity of  the cinematic image and its relation to knowledge and
emotion. Perhaps what we have learned from Modernism and the role of
images in poetry and prose could also be relevant to our appreciation of  the
cinematic image.
Now, it is left to us to turn to Tarkovsky, the most Bazinian of all direc-
tors, for whom the cinematic image is an imprint of  time. Tarkovsky draws
inspiration from the Byzantine icons to elaborate a filmic ‘spiritual naturalism’,
a form that openly dismisses montage and favours long takes. I draw from a
sequence extracted from the 1966 film Andrei Rublev, which I call epiphanic.
How else could we define a sequence in essence so elusive, a set of images

26 Y. Ishaghpour and J.-L. Godard, Archéologie du cinéma et mémoire du siècle (Paris, Leo
Scheer, 2000), pp. 112–13.

that ef face themselves as soon as they are perceived, yet repeat themselves
whenever we watch the film?27
In the extract, Tarkovsky establishes a smooth transition from Rublev’s
life to his imagination of the crucifixion of Christ. The mise-en-scène and cin-
ematography contribute to making the sequence stand apart from the rest of 
the film: the grain of  the image, the overexposure of  light, the whiteness of 
the décor, and the possible use of slow motion all create a form of  halo. The
careful, often low-level framing, the painterly quality of  the frames (clearly
inspired by Brueghel’s The Way to Calvary), and the contrasting uses of shal-
low focus and deep space are directly linked to the heretical questions Andrei
Rublev, the icon painter, asks himself about the immanence of  the Christ
figure, his human dimension, and his place in the community. At one stage,
the cross is carried by someone else, and the figure of Christ often disappears
and recedes into the background, sometimes isolated or holding centre stage,
sometimes invisible or cut of f  by the frame. The epiphany of  the crucifixion
deals directly with the iconic dimension of the image, eikon being the Greek
term used to talk of the image of the resurrection.28 As spectators, we are forced
to become part of a community of viewers whose gaze circulates between the
strata of  the visible, but is ultimately alerted to the ‘hidden potential within
the visible field’.29 As in Epstein, the sequence is a nexus of  time and space,
but it is suspended in its own time-space.
Soon, the image will abruptly cut to the preceding sequence and the
spectator will reenter the diegetic time-space of  the film. Other techniques
involve the slow, almost static rhythm of  the images and of  the movement
of  the actors, the medium to long takes, the slow movements of  the camera,
always at a fixed angle, alternating between long shots, medium shots and
close ups, combined with fixed low and high angle shots. The use of shal-
low focus and shallow depth of  field, in combination with the careful use
of deep space, create a constant oscillation between distance and proximity,

27 On this notion of self-ef facement of  the image, see M.-C. Ropars-Wuilleumier, L’Idée
d’image (Paris: Vrin, 1995).
28 This sequence reminds us of  Bazin’s famous analogy of  the camera as Veronica’s veil
‘pressed to the face of  human suf fering’, in A. Bazin, What is Cinema? Vol. 1 (Los
Angeles: University of  California Press, 1965), p. 163.
29 R. Bird, in N. Dunne, ed., Tarkovsky (London: Black Dog, 2008), p. 218.
Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images 73

as if our eyes were looking at an icon at close range and from a distance, but
never at the same time. All techniques are deployed to augment the auratic
dimension of each shot. However, this epiphanic sequence is not a religious
one; on the contrary, it is the human aspect of the crucifixion that is empha-
sized. Rublev’s diegetic voiceover commentary accompanies the vision we
are presented, which is all about human suf fering, the sheer indif ference of 
the community, but also the belief in a community which could care about
and understand what it sees. Taken as a whole, the sequence is an image of
immanence f leetingly made present. The significance of the image lies in the
halo of presence the film constructs before destroying it.
I would suggest that this sequence places us in front of  the invisible
through the visibility of  the image. But it goes one step further: the viewer
may or may not see a figure (or perhaps even two), barely distinguishable in
the whiteness of  the snow, which clearly designates another, totally imper-
sonal perspective on the scene. To interpret the scene as merely symbolic
or religious would be a mistake. On the contrary, Tarkovsky is wary of  the
dangers of any single vision, of ideology and of Christological allegories. The
iconic image is an invitation to choose, to contemplate, to interpret and to
question. The image is an of fering to cognition, not a message; the iconic
image invites us to discover what looking truly means, thus helping us to
become free and ‘emancipated spectators’.30 This is not emancipation from
the facticity of material mediation, but an invitation to approach and explore
it. As Robert Bird put it, ‘[t]o exclude the possibility of direct knowledge,
to acknowledge the ubiquity of mediation, is not to relinquish any concept
of  truth; rather it means to begin to acknowledge the truth of mediation
itself ’.31 The power of  the imprint is that it overcomes the dichotomies of
permanence and transience, and of presence and absence. If it bears the
physical impress of material forces and historical actors, it does so only in
the negative. It works by eliciting the viewer’s agency to constitute a poten-
tial meaning. As Tarkovsky said about Andrei Rublev: ‘for us the story of 
Rublev is really the story of a taught and imposed concept which burns up
in the atmosphere of  living reality to arise again from the ashes as a fresh

30 J. Rancière, Le Spectateur émancipé (Paris: La Fabrique, 2008).

31 Supra note 28.

and newly discovered truth’.32 Here, Tarkovsky makes of a visual art – that
is, the mechanical and neutral reproduction of cinema, and all the artificial
means involved in its crafting – the handmaiden of  the invisible. Rublev’s
epiphanic vision is meant to be experienced, not seen, and passive spectator-
ship is metamorphosed into an iconic relation: we no longer watch a film;
we lose ourselves in a moving icon.

Conclusion: The Imageless Image

Whether it be in Godard’s image-montage (which uses the Apocalypse to inti-

mate redemption) or in Tarkovsky’s iconic image (which nearly intimates the
opposite), the image does not draw attention to itself or to an absent reality;
instead, it draws our attention to the image(less), auratic presence within the
image. Our gaze is directed towards a potentiality that can only come about
through our interpretation. This image within – or beyond – the image is
technically invisible, but it would be what makes it auratic: the image keeps
itself, and our prying gaze, in abeyance. But we are made to sense it through
artifice, through the materiality of  the mediation. It is this imageless image
that confers its aura to the films of other directors such as Grif fith, Stroheim,
Renoir, Mizoguchi, Murnau, Satyajit Ray, Nicholas Ray, Pasolini, Fassbinder,
Cassavetes and Garrel. It is also this imageless image which randomly appears
(or rather ‘leaps out’) in the complex language of modernist authors, from
Woolf, Musil and Proust to Joyce, Faulkner and Lima.
This is how aesthetics truly calls for our ethical engagement. It is by invit-
ing, almost enticing us, to look at what we tend to ignore, that the image, in
the very act of arresting our gaze, almost immediately disappears from our
field of vision, better to enter the field of thought. This is what Ricœur meant
when, whilst talking of images in fiction, he wrote, ‘to form an image is not
to have an image, in the sense of  having a mental representation; instead, it
is to read, through the icon of a relation, the relation itself ’.33

32 Tarkovsky, p. 218.
33 A Ricoeur Reader, p. 127.
Making Sense of  Epiphanic Images 75

I would thus propose that epiphanic images and image-montage, preva-

lent in Modernism but also in current artistic practices, should be perceived
as two names for the iconic relation. Our encounter with the icon, whether
through the specific cinematic techniques of  the epiphanic image or image-
montage, results in an augmentation of our sense of seeing, and being, which
poets, filmmakers, and philosophers have called Hope.34 Epiphany and Image-
montage, ultimately, return us to the same animating potential: the paradox
of the ‘imageless’ and ‘negative’ core of the icon, a core which grants the time
and distance we need in order to sense and make sense of the apposition which
the icon stages between seen and unseen, thought and unthought, and finally,
imagined and unimaginable.

Select Bibliography

Bonnefoy, Y., Lieu et destin de l’image (Paris: Seuil, 1999).

Didi-Huberman, G., Devant le temps (Paris: Minuit, 2000).
Frodon, J.-M., ed., Deleuze et les images (Paris: Cahiers du Cinema, 2008).
Marion, J.-L., La Croisée du visible (Paris: PUF, 1996).
McCabe, S., Cinematic Modernism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Mondzain, M.-J., Voir Ensemble (Paris: Gallimard, 2003).
——, Le Commerce des regards (Paris: Seuil, 2003).
Nancy, J.-L., Au Fond des images (Paris: Galilée, 2003).
Neyrat, F., L’Image hors l’image (Paris: Leo Scheer, 2003).
Reverdy, P., Sable Mouvant (Paris: Gallimard, 1974).
——, Nord-Sud et autres écrits sur l’art et la poésie (Paris: Flammarion, 1975).
Wunenburger, J.-J., Philosophie des images (Paris: PUF, 1997).
Zimmermann, L., Penser pas les images (Nantes: Cécile Defaut, 2006).

34 See G. Deleuze, Cinéma, 2, L’Image-temps (Paris: Minuit, 1985) and S. Cavell, The World
Viewed (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970). I would like to thank Marion
Schmid, Martine Beugnet, Lorna Collins and Elizabeth Rush, who greatly contributed
to the writing of  this article.


Godard, J.-L., Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1998).

Tarkovsky, A., Andrei Rublev (1966).

The Art of  Listening

Rilke and Anish Kapoor

A tree rose from the earth. O pure transcendence –

Orpheus sings: O tall oak in the ear!
All was still. And then within that silence
he made the sign, the change, and touched the lyre.1

This is the opening of a ‘version’ of  the first of  Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets
to Orpheus, translated from the German by the poet Don Paterson. You may
recognize one of  the lines as the inspiration for Tall Tree and the Eye, Anish
Kapoor’s pile of seventy-six silver spheres that was on display in the court-
yard of the Royal Academy in September 2009 (see figure 1). I was struck by
the irony of  the sculpture’s title when I saw Kapoor’s artwork on the news.
Why irony? Because Rilke’s achievement in the Sonnets is the cultivation of
a rich set of metaphors and relationships based on the notion of  the poet as
a listener, a receiver, rather than a ‘seer.’ Yet here we have Kapoor translating
the poem back into visual terms, replacing the pivotal, (and for Rilke) almost
talismanic word ‘ear’ with ‘eye’ (Tall Tree and the Eye). In the context of what
I want to share with you today it’s fascinating to note that Kapoor has chosen
to invert the poem’s major achievement.
So why does Rilke come to site himself as a listener, to develop what I
have come to call a ‘listening poetics’, and what does this have to do with find-
ing ways to engage with contemporary art? I would like to suggest that by
exploring his move towards a poetics weighted towards listening and sound,

1 Orpheus: A Version of Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus, trans. D. Paterson (London: Faber,
2005), p. 3.

and by considering Jean-Luc Nancy’s meditation on listening alongside Rilke’s

achievement, we may find a ‘listening’ strategy of our own that can help to
replenish, rather than reduce the meaning of a given art-work.
First, we must consider why it is that Rilke becomes fascinated by the
potential of a listening sensibility. In the Orpheus Sonnets alone we find the
lines (rendered here by Paterson), ‘could we become true/ and hear the earth,
to sing of what she sings’, ‘Marmoreal circumstance.2 Listening rock/ An
ear of  Earth’s’.3 It is in this sequence that Rilke characterizes the poet as a
‘receiver’ implying a level of openness particularly associated with the sense of 
listening. As Jean-Luc Nancy has written, one of the distinctive characteristics
of listening is openness, which is why he goes on to cite the French aphorism
that ‘the ears have no eyelids’.4 It is also significant when he makes the com-
ment that ‘the human body is not constructed to interrupt at its leisure the
sonorous arrival’.5 We hear things we don’t always want to hear, but at least
that leaves us open to the new and surprising.
It’s not the idea of the poet literally listening for inspiration that matters
to Rilke – though he did claim to have heard the words with which he begins
the Duino sequence whilst out walking on the rocks (he went on to state that
the Sonnets to Orpheus came about through ‘enigmatic dictation’), it is more
that listening becomes for him an increasingly fertile imaginative stance.
There was a time earlier on in his career, however, when he was preoc-
cupied with the gaze as a means of poetic inspiration. In 1914 he wrote to the
woman he was in love with,
I love in-seeing. Can you imagine with me how glorious it is to in-see a dog, for example,
as you pass it – by in-see I don’t mean to look through which is only a kind of  human
gymnastic that lets you immediately come again on the other side of  the dog […] what
I mean is to let yourself entirely into the dog’s centre, the point from which its begins
to be a dog.6

2 Orpheus, trans. Paterson, p. 28.

3 Ibid., p 45.
4 J.-L. Nancy, Listening, trans. C. Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007),
p. 14.
5 Ibid., p. 14.
6 Ahead of all Parting, p. 232 (Rilke’s letter to Magda von Hattingberg, 17 February
The Art of  Listening 79

But although Rilke seems to be giving a clear endorsement here of ’ ‘seeing’

as a poetic strategy, the high water-mark for this particular approach has
already been reached. In a poem of  the same year called ‘Turning Point’ he
writes: ‘For there is a boundary to looking,/And the world that is looked at
so deeply/wants to f lourish in love./Work of  the eyes is done’.7
The interesting word here is boundary. Rilke positions much of his verse
on the boundary of understanding. His later poems in particular might be
said to sit exquisitely on this fault-line. As Paterson has commented ‘for all his
obscurity Rilke makes a lot of plain sense.’8 I would argue that the intuition
that we cannot exhaust the sense of  Rilke’s oeuvre explains why there is so
much interest in this German poet throughout the English-speaking world.
It is surely no coincidence that the works which still seem rich after multiple
readings are those which are infused with his ‘listening poetics.’ Some explana-
tion for the fertility of  this stance is to be found in the thinking of  Jean-Luc
Nancy, who proposes that listening is hearing’s ‘anxious state […] to listen is
to be straining towards a possible meaning and consequently one that is not
immediately accessible’.9
The most important attribute of  the listening sensibility then, for us as
art critics, is its role as a threshold activity. We listen to find out what we don’t
already know – we listen, in Jean Luc Nancy’s terms, for the ‘alterity’ alluded
to by the presence of the poem or the artwork. Linked to this notion of ‘alter-
ity’ is the redressive potential of dif ferent forms of writing and artworks. I
see this as allied to Nancy’s notion that art today ‘has the task of responding
to or taking responsibility for this world’.10 The conviction that an ethic of 
‘redress’ is the responsibility of the true poet is still much in evidence within
contemporary poetry. Seamus Heaney finds an analogue for his own interest
in this imperative in Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, which he describes as
informed by the idea of counterweighting. Heaney argues that in the activity
of poetry, ‘there is a tendency to place a counter-reality in the scales – a real-
ity which may be only imagined […]. This redressing ef fect of poetry comes

7 Ibid., p. 129.
8 Orpheus, trans. Paterson, p. 65.
9 Nancy, Listening, p. 6.
10 J.-L. Nancy, The Muses, trans. P. Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996),
p. 93.

from being a glimpsed alternative, a revelation of potential that is denied or

constantly threatened by circumstances’.11
By considering the poet primarily as a listener rather than a seer, Rilke is
very much engaged with Nancy’s ambitious proposition. Since listening has
been construed as a neglected practice and discourse since at least the late
nineteenth century, one can argue that any poet who has professed a particular
interest in listening in the intervening years is ‘taking responsibility for the
world’ by betraying an orientation towards ‘redress’.
A close reading of  Rilke’s essay ‘Primal Sound’ written in 1919 shows
that the redressive possibilities of  listening had long been a preoccupation
for Rilke.

At one period, when I began to interest myself in Arabic poems, which seem to owe their
existence to the simultaneous and equal contributions from all five senses, it struck me
for the first time, that the modern European poet makes use of these contributors singly
and in varying degree, only one of them – sight overladen with the seen world – seems
to dominate him constantly; how slight, by contrast is the contribution he receives from
inattentive hearing […].12

He goes on to take pleasure in recounting a recurrent but curious fantasy,

inspired by the occasion he and some classmates made a working model of a
phonograph. It enabled him to hear recorded voices for the first time. Years
later, as an adult, he comes to meditate on a skull borrowed from an anatomy
class. The skull and the memory of the class eventually coalesce in a startling

What if one changed the needle and directed it on its return journey along a tracing
which was not derived from the graphic translation of a sound, but existed of itself
naturally – well: to put it plainly along the coronal suture, for example. What would
happen? A sound would necessarily result, a series of sounds, music …
Feelings – which? Incredulity, timidity, fear, awe – which of all the feelings here
possible prevents me from suggesting a name for the primal sound which would then
make its appearance in the world …

11 S. Heaney, The Redress of  Poetry (London: Faber, 1995), pp. 5–6.

12 Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘Primal Sound’ in Rodin and Other Prose Pieces, trans. G. Craig
Houston (London: Quartet, 1986), p. 130.
The Art of  Listening 81

Leaving aside that for the moment: what variety of lines then, occurring anywhere,
could one not put under the needle and try out? Is there any contour that one could
not, in a sense, complete in this way and then experience it, as it makes itself  felt, thus
transformed, in another field of sense?13

It’s clear fantasy, and Rilke claims to be embarrassed recounting it – but there’s
something a little disingenuous in this embarrassment as it is said that he used
to read this essay to bring his poetry readings to a close. As we think about
listening as a way to approach artworks, it is interesting to note that for Rilke
too there was something compelling about appropriating the sense of listen-
ing and then applying it to the material world.
Nevertheless, there would be no merit in applying the properties of  lis-
tening as a strategy of redress for its own sake, if it did not result in something
worth reading. Why should the notion of the listening self turn out to be so
useful for Rilke? A listening approach seems to of fer him creative possibili-
ties that other sense perceptions simply cannot match. Unlike touch, taste
or smell, listening is a distance sense, but in common with them it requires
the whole body to be profoundly af fected by the world. As Nancy com-
ments, ‘it is always in the belly that we man or woman end up listening, or
start listening – the ear opens onto the sonorous cave that we become’.14 To
listen is to be embodied, to be subject to the world, to resound with it, and
in Rilkean terms, to be the glass that shatters with its own ringing. Listening
properly troubles our subjectivity, disrupts the rigid self  that tries to write,
and ‘exposes’ us to sense.
Unlike the one who gazes, the Rilkean listener tends to be represented
as free of  the desire to master, or indeed the tendency to be subordinated.
He frequently admires his great friend and former lover Lou Andreas Salome
for her great accomplishment as a listener. The activity of listening, in Rilke’s
mind, allows for intimacy, mutual generosity and awe. In those of his poems
where listening occurs, these qualities are often found. In ‘Primal Sound’, an
evocative description of  the experience of  listening to oneself (or ourselves)
takes place near the start of  the essay,

13 ‘Primal Sound’, in Rodin and Other Prose Pieces, p. 129.

14 Nancy, Listening, p. 37.

The sound which had been ours came back to us tremblingly, haltingly from the paper
funnel, uncertain, infinitely soft and hesitating and fading out altogether in places. Each
time the ef fect was complete. Our class was not exactly one of the quietest and there can
have been few moments in its history when it had been able as a body to achieve such a
degree of silence. The phenomenon on every repetition of it, remained astonishing.15

The word ‘complete’ to which we have already alluded is significant in this

context, for it is a surprising unity that is generated here, indicated by the
boys’ silent amazement. Amazed listening unites the class as one ‘body’ and
lets them ‘achieve’ the rapt attention Rilke so admires. There is a strong con-
nection between Rilke’s interest in listening and his interpretation of it as a
unifying approach. His desire to attend fully to the world is in keeping with
this sense that fosters a collective interested engagement, the transcendence
of individual egos.
These Nancean and Rilkean notions may be seen to comprise some-
thing of a ‘listening manifesto’ when brought together. I decided to allow
this manifesto to inform my own engagement with contemporary art, and to
write a poem that adhered to it. In summary: The listening poem should not
attempt to replicate the artwork, but to listen, to intercept it at the threshold
of its expression, to gesture at its alterity. To extend rather than exhaust its

[t]he poem should come from a listening position as an expression of  the imperative
to redress. To imagine what is not said in the artwork as well as what is said. To be
attentive to its silences. For in Nancy’s words, silence can be seen as ‘an arrangement
of resonance.’16

The poem should come out of a kind of attention which, like listening, impli-
cates the whole body, and which respects the fact that we are resonant beings.
Nancy’s emphasis on the role the whole body plays in listening should be used
as a prompt – a reminder not to allow oneself to be reduced to a disembodied
pair of eyes in an art gallery, but instead to be as conscious as possible that one
is a breathing, listening, touching creature. This tallies with Nancy’s definition

15 ‘Primal Sound’, in Rodin and Other Prose Pieces, p. 127.

16 Nancy, Listening, p. 21.
The Art of  Listening 83

of listening as ‘methexic’, i.e. tending towards mixing, contamination and can

be seen as a way of moving beyond individual idiosyncratic concerns.
It may be foolhardy to attempt to write to such a prescription, but in
honour of this conference I tried this approach, and out of the various artists
I attempted to write about (including Louise Bourgeois, Katy Moran, Ben
Nicholson) there was one sculptor whose work seemed to yield more than
the others as result of this approach, and that was Barbara Hepworth. When
I visited her sculptures on display at the Tate St Ives and in the garden of her
old workshop, I discovered that not being able to touch them had the pre-
dictable ef fect of heightening other senses. I also noted that she was the most
stylistically abstract of all the artists I attempted to engage with (perhaps this
abstraction left more alterity, more silences and absences to listen for).
This listening approach made me attend to the acoustics of  the gallery,
to the other people there, to the gallery as a gallery, and myself as a body in
dialogue with the artwork. This had the ef fect of estranging my experience of
it, and made the space feel more alive. I made many notes, ninety per cent of
which were sacrificed to the needs of the poem as it evolved, but I hope that
in the process, the poem I am about to read to you has become a truer echo
to the sculpture than my first notes would have been. It’s called ‘Bone’ and is
written in response to a composite of the Hepworth sculptures I ‘listened’ to
at St Ives, but particularly relates to ‘Single Form Antiphon.’


After Barbara Hepworth

Here is the truth of  bone

and the pity; it dreams
of  being free of  the body –
like the wingwalker
with nothing to anchor her,
or the jet that dips in mid-air
and forgets the weight
of its passengers.

Bone is the last of us

and the loneliest –
it envies our f lesh, our skin,
and the bright bracelet of  hair
that tethers us so beautifully,
which makes us ordinary.

On re-reading Jean-Luc Nancy, I felt this poem did resonate with his writ-
ings on the body. He argues that ‘the thickness of the body; far from rivalling
the world, is on the contrary the sole means I have of going to the heart of 
things, by making myself world, and my making them f lesh’.17 I don’t think
this is because I was writing to his ontology, but perhaps there is something
in Hepworth’s work that chimes with these concerns, i.e. that to think about
the self as a ‘listening’ body is perforce to incorporate oneself as a body in
dialogue with the sculpture. It might seem counterintuitive that a ‘listening
poetics’ should culminate in a poem with something as tangible as ‘bone’ for
its subject, but it must be remembered that listening functions here partly as
a metaphorical strategy (though the ear of course does itself contain bones
– the malleus, incus, and staples).
The strategy of  listening to art also meant my attention was directed
to certain aspects of  Hepworth’s form and practice I might otherwise have
ignored. I was astonished to find that many of  her sculptures actually seem
to draw on the form of  the ear. It transpires that she became friends with a
surgeon and as a result she was allowed to witness an ear operation in 1948
that she recorded in a series of sixty drawings.
Finally, one of the most startling references to listening I found was this:
‘The left hand, the thinking hand must be relaxed, sensitive. The rhythms of 
thought pass through the fingers and grip of  this hand into the stone. It is
also a listening hand, it listens for basic f laws or weaknesses in the stone; for
the possibility or imminence of fractures’.18 If such eminent artists and poets
are telling us they find it useful to think about their relationship to their
own work in terms of a ‘listening’ sensibility, perhaps it’s time to allow that
sensibility to resonate through our own approach to art.

17 Jean-Luc Nancy in I. James, The Fragmentary Demand (Stanford: Stanford University

Press, 2006), p. 128.
18 B. Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography (Bath: Adams and Dart, 1970), p. 79.
The Art of  Listening 85

Select Bibliography

Fiumara, G.C., The Other Side of Language: a philosophy of listening (London: Routledge,
Heaney, S., The Redress of  Poetry (London: Faber, 1995).
Hepworth, B., A Pictorial Autobiography (Bath: Adams and Dart, 1970).
Houston, C.G. (trans.), Rodin and other Prose Pieces (London: Quartet, 1986).
Mitchell, S., ed. and trans., Ahead of all Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of  Rainer
Maria Rilke (New York: Random House, 1995).
Nancy, J.-L., Listening, trans. C. Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press,
Paterson, D., trans., Orpheus: A Version of Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus (London: Faber,

‘Phantoms of the Past, Dear Companions of Childhood,

Vanished Friends’: Making Sense of  Sally Mann’s Trees

I tell you. I fell in love with a tree. I couldn’t not.

— Ali Smith, ‘May’

Falling (for a) Tree

‘I tell you. I fell in love with a tree. I couldn’t not.’1 It spoke to me and I started
falling. I fell for a tree. My tree lives in an untitled photograph, taken by Sally
Mann in 1998. It is a tea-toned gelatin silver print, made (like a nineteenth-
century photograph) from a wet-plate glass negative (see figure 2). It is a large
photograph (38 inches × 48 inches).

Its bark is scarred with a slash that marks it wound as mouth.

The roots of my tree sink their great claws in to the ground, like the majestic
toes of an aged, but still heroic, regal lion.

A wire fence with wooden posts blurs its way behind my tree. On this fence
hangs an unknowable small dark mass, like a tiny dress: it beckons me with
its littleness.

A vagueness made of  trees resides behind the blurred fence.

1 Ali Smith, ‘May’, in The Whole Story and Other Stories (London: Penguin, 2004),
p. 53.

I think I see a swing hanging from a branch, just peeking its way into the left
frame of  the photograph. But I may never know. Nevertheless, I hear the
creak of  the unseen strong branch that holds the swing that waits for the
child to come.

The colour of  this photograph audibly breathes the hushed warm-coolness
of morning fog: silvery brown, creamy yellow-grey and almost grey-brown

Mother Land Mist.2

Mother Land Missed.

My trees lives amongst a forest of other trees from Mann’s pictures of Georgia,
Mississippi and Virginia, in her series entitled Deep South.

But this one is my chosen one. The one that speaks to me. The one that mur-
murs sweet (nothings) to me.

‘To be listening’. Jean-Luc Nancy tells me, ‘is to be inclined toward the opening
of meaning, hence to a slash, a cut in un-sensed indif ference’.3 I am inclined
toward the slash of my tree.

But I wasn’t the first one to hear from this tree. This tree spoke to Sally Mann
before me. As she wrote to me:

I’m keen to hear what you say about the trees. They’ve always had plenty to say to me
and any chance I get to be in the same sentence with Proust, I’m happy.

2 Mother Land was the title of an exhibition (and accompanying catalogue) of  Mann’s
landscapes shown at Edwyn Houk Gallery, New York, 25 September to 8 November, 1997.
See also C. Mavor, ‘Mother Land Missed: The Becoming Landscapes of  Clementina,
Viscountess Hawarden and Sally Mann’ in Singular Women: Writing the Artist, ed.
K. Frederickson and S.E. Webb (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of 
California Press, 2003), pp. 66–79.
3 J.-L. Nancy, Listening, trans. C. Mandell (New York: Fordham Press, 2007), p. 2.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 91

The scarred tree materialized from a heavy morning fog in the backyard of an
old anti-bellum home where I was staying down in Mississippi. I had come
in late the night before, too dark to see anything, and was blearily squinting
out the window as it materialized, like Wallace Steven’s Jar on the Hill in
Tennessee, commandingly. Imagine my dawning realization of its massive
power, metaphorically and physically, and my mad scramble to find shoes,
socks, camera, film, tripod, etc., etc. … as though it was going anywhere!? I
didn’t want to lose the fog, and didn’t.4

When trees speak, they murmur. To murmur is to talk in a hushed and indis-
tinct voice.

This Mississippi tree murmured to me.

‘Mur-mur’ is a replay sound to make a phoneme. It is a remarking. It is an

echo of Freud’s Grandson Ernst who spinned the sound of fort and da into a
wooden spool thrown back and forth, gone and there, on a string. He played
fort-da with ma-ma.

Ernst made wood into sense, into phoneme, into yo-yo, a further development
of  his likely first utterance of  ‘ma-ma’.5

First words, like the rhythmic maternal ma-ma and the rhythmic paternal
da-da and the rhythmic grandparental na-na and pa-pa, are words that grew
out of reduplicating sounds. (They are doubles: like a mother and child, like
the referent and its photograph, like a photograph of a tree reprinted over
and over to make a forest out of paper. Paper comes from trees that grow in
the forest.)

4 Correspondence through email with Sally Mann, July 2010. The poem is entitled
‘Anecdote of  the Jar’ (1923) as found in W. Stevens, Harmonium (London: Faber and
Faber, 2001), p. 92.
5 See R.E. Krauss, ‘Yo-yo’, in Y.-A. Bois and R.E. Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New
York: Zone, 1999), pp. 219–23. S. Mann, Deep South (New York, Boston and London:
Bullfinch Press, 2005), p. 49.

For Sally Mann it was Gee-gee. Gee-gee took care of  Sally as a child and of 
Sally Mann’s children. Gee-gee’s full name was Virginia Franklin Carter.
Reduplicatively, she was af fectionately called Gee-gee. Mann claims her as
‘an African American woman whom I loved past speech’.6 In a family snap-
shot, Sally sits in a tree swing, while Gee-gee pushes and guards. Far in the
background of  the picture, a pile of  felled trees and branches are piled up
like bodies. A stepladder in the foreground reaches up to, perhaps, a recent
amputation of a tree limb.

Mann, who lives in a farm in Virginia, who grew up in Virginia, named

her daughter Virginia after Gee-gee. Sally Mann’s Virginias, one Virginia
in another Virginia in another Virginia, endless repeat themselves. Mann’s
Virginia is en abyme.

‘A photograph is’, as Craig Owens has rightly argued, ‘en abyme’.7So are,
as might be deduced from Rosalind Krauss and Roman Jakobson, our first
reduplicative babbles.8 Photographs and first words reproduce ‘in miniature
the structure of  the text [or its sound] in its entirety’.9

In The Two Virginias No. 4, 1991 little Virginia, her mouth but a tender leaf,
is but a sapling of old and twisted Virginia, whose hands have become the
gnarled branches of a tree. The hair of old Virginia is made of Spanish moss,
like the kind that drips from trees in the deep south, like the kind that drips
from Mann’s photographs of  trees in Georgia.

Speech is an acoustic instrument, a song of wood, to cope with ‘here-gone’

mama or whomever or whatever you are longing for.

My tree’s first words to me were a mur-mur.

6 Ibid.
7 Craig Owens, October 5 (Summer 1978), p. 75.
8 Krauss, ‘Yo-yo’, pp. 219–23. R. Jakobson, ‘Why Mama and Papa?’ in Selected Writings,
vol. 1 (The Hague: Mouton, 1962), pp. 538–45.
9 Owens, October 5, p. 75.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 93

A Tree is a Tree is a Tree

Living in the South often means slipping out of  temporal joint, a peculiar
phenomenon that I find nourishes and wounds. To identify a person as a
Southerner suggests not only that her history is inescapable and formative
but that it is also impossibly present. Southerners live uneasily at the nexus
between myth and reality.

Sally Mann, Deep South.

The American South is a myth.

A tree is a myth.

Stories of  the American South come from the mouth of my tree.

As Roland Barthes writes in ‘Myth Today’: ‘Every object in the world can
pass from closed, silent existence to an oral state. Open to appropriation by
society, for there is no law, whether natural or not, which forbids talking about
things. A tree is a tree. Yes, of course’.10 But, a tree, expressed by Sally Mann
is ‘no longer quite a tree’.11 I am sure that Barthes would agree.

It is a tree that is dipped, wounded, fed, always in proximity, of the winding,

wet, collodion-like mud of the once wild Mississippi River, which even in black
and white is a coloured image. After all, the taming of  the feral Mississippi
was dependent upon slaves to clear the wild forest and subdue it with levees.
As the contemporary African-American artist Kara Walker points out in

10 R. Barthes, ‘Myth Today’, in Mythologies, trans. A. Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang,
1972), p. 109. Barthes is playing with Saussurean linguistics here, a topic taken up later
in my essay. Barthes is claiming that a tree is no longer quite a tree, especially when it
is expressed in a poem by the French little girl Minou Drouet: a cause célèbre of  the
1950s. The once-famous child-writer is nearly forgotten today. Her most famous poem
was entitled ‘Tree that I love.’
11 Barthes, Mythologies, p. 109.

response to her post-Katrina project at the Metropolitan Museum of  Art

(2006), entitled After the Deluge: the black body has long had a ‘bad relation-
ship with water;’ it began with ‘the trans-Atlantic slave trade’.12 The sludge
of  the South, past and present is the glug-glug of  Mann’s dark, Deep South,
photographs, ‘past speech’.

Wounded Tree

In a dif ferent context, but one also punctured with its own unspeakable
violence, Jean Cayrol, explains the impossibility of describing life in a Nazi
concentration camp: ‘We can show you nothing but the bark’.13

Mann gives us nothing but the outer bark. To get any further, you will have
to close your eyes and listen to her photographs, her writing with light.

Ref lecting Trees

Some wounds never heal, never become, even, scar. This is Mann’s photograph
of what remains, the wet remains, of the young African-American boy Emmett
Till, who was violently killed in the state of Mississippi, in 1998 (see figure 3).
Here, Mann’s trees are gone, save for their ref lections in muddy water. Like the

12 K. Walker, interview, ‘The Eyes of  the Storm’ in Modern Painters: International Arts
and Culture (April 2006), p. 58.
13 J. Cayrol, Nuit et brouillard (Paris: Librairie Arthème Fayard, 1997). The line in French
is: ‘Nous ne pouvons que vous montrer l’écorce’, p. 24. The text became the voice over
for Alan Resnais’s famed film Nuit et brouillard (1955).
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 95

trees of  Atget, they stand as witnesses of a crime that has already happened,
as well as crimes to come.14

As Mann writes of  Emmett Till and her picture:

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my family pictures that the name
Emmett means a great deal to me. The murder of  Emmett Till has haunted me since I
first became aware of it, early in my life. Till’s murder, which shocked most of sentient
America, took place in 1954; I was three years old at the time. [This photograph] […]
was taken one serenely mote-f loating, balmy, yellowish October afternoon at the very
spot from which the fourteen-year-old Emmett, naked and necklaced with a cotton-
gin fan, was heaved into the Tallahatchie River. I had help bushwhacking a path to the
now abandoned boat lock from the daughter of the former owner of the land. Pushing
through the undergrowth at the river’s edge, we stared in amazement at the humdrum,
backy-washy feeling of the place. How could a place so fraught with historical pain appear
to be so ordinary? Turning from the river, we came across a piece of  lined paper with
schoolgirl handwriting inexplicably nailed on a tree, there in the middle of nowhere,
admonishing us to Confesss Your Sins to Jesus!15

The trees blurrily mirrored in the back-washy water of the no-place where Emmett Till
was killed, cause me to ref lect. When I look closely, I think they are gesturing to me
to try to understand. Mann’s trees can be heard as an echo of  that moment in Proust’s
Search, when the Narrator (while travelling in a carriage) is struck by an image of three
trees. The trees are strange and poignant to him. The trees are familiar, giving rise to
bodily feelings, yet they are untied to a knowable specific memory. They are pleasur-
able, but full of something sad. The only thing certain is the fact that they are trying to
tell him something. The Narrator sees them as ‘waving their despairing arms, seeming
to say to me: What you fail to learn from us today, you will never know.’16 Likewise,

14 Walter Benjamin famously described Eugène Atget’s pictures of Paris streets, devoid of
people, as ‘scenes of crime’. Benjamin makes no reference to Atget’s trees. Nevertheless,
I think that Atget also photographed many of  his trees as ‘scenes of crime’. See
W. Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in Illuminations:
Essays and Ref lections (New York: Schocken, 1969), p. 226. One can see Atget’s photo­
graphs of  ‘crime-scene’ trees, taken at Parc de Sceaux, Saint-Cloud, Versailles, etc.,
beautifully reproduced in John Szarkowski’s Atget (New York: Museum of  Modern
Art, 2000).
15 S. Mann, Deep South (New York, Boston and London: Bullfinch Press, 2005),
pp. 50–2.
16 M. Proust, In Search of  Lost Time, volume II, Within a Budding Grove, trans. C.K.
Moncrief f and T. Kilmartin, revised by D.J. Enright (New York: Random House, 1992),

these trees in the back-washy water of  the no-place where Emmett Till was killed are
‘waving their despairing arms, seeming to say to me: What you fail to learn from us
today, you will never know’.17

Saussure’s Tree

The word ‘tree’ is not made out of wood, with leafy branches. Words, unlike
trees, have no indigenous origin. The word tree has nothing to do with trees.
Words, as everyone knows, are but arbitrarily connected to the pictures
they represent. This common sense concept was deeply rooted as semiotic
theory, long ago in Ferdinand Saussure’s 1916 General Course in Linguistics.
He famously used a tree to make his point.

An exception to the arbitrary nature of  language might be onomatopoeia.

As Saussure admits, words like glug-glug, bow-wow, tick-tock, sizzle, bang
and, perhaps even, murmur seem to ‘prove that the choice of  the signifier is
not always arbitrary’.18 Yet, Saussure will go on to say that onomatopoeia is
nevertheless cultural and arbitrary. He notes the often very dif ferent sounds
prescribed to the cry of the animal in dif ferent cultures. Furthermore, by trac-
ing the Latin roots to words whose meaning and sound are the same thing,
he shows that onomatopoetic words, even though their sense seems to make
sense, are simply cases of cultural, ‘fortuitous […] phonetic evolution’.19

This tree with its whipped-tar mouth barely open speaks to me with its own
‘fortuitous […] phonetic evolution’.

p. 407. There are six volumes to the Random House edition. My references are to the
American edition; the British edition has dif ferent pagination.
17 Ibid., p. 407.
18 F. de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, ed. C. Bally and A. Sechehaye with the
collaboration of A. Riedlinger, trans. R. Harris (Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court,
1997), p. 69.
19 Ibid., p. 69.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 97

Its mouth is a wound, which strangely nourishes.

Its mouth is a swollen eye, like Jessie’s long ago, when she was bit by a summer
gnat that lived in the wetness of  home. Jessie’s mother photographed it and
called the picture Damaged Child (1984).

Its mouth is a cut above Jessie’s left eye: she needed stitches. It bled. Jessie’s
mother photographed her daughter being stitched and called it Jessie’s Cut

Its mouth is Jessie’s mouth that opens in the bark of a smooth birch in close-
up of  Jessie (all grown) from the series What Remains (c. 2003).

The South is a place where trees grow thick, especially in summer.

The summer air, it too, is thick, too thick. Too hot. The air, soaked with the
rain of  the nearly-everyday big thunderstorms, is so thick that you can hold
it in your hand. The air is so thick that you can keep it in a jar, like lighten-
ing bugs.

The air is soaked with the sound of  living things.

The sound of  the strangling kudzu vines that grow so quickly, seemingly
overnight, that you can hear their big broad leaves opening, a quiet popping
followed by the shudder of  the tree that is being squeezed by the relentless
wrapping, twisting of  the creeper.

The sound of  the softness of spiders the size of  large hummingbirds.

The sound of  the wetness of  long snakes and slow turtles.

The sound of  the tiny eyes of  long snakes and slow turtles.

The sound of rubbery saucer-sized mushrooms, which grow overnight in

response to those almost-everyday thunderstorms.

The sound of  the long black toenails and the comical black mask of

The sound of  the hoot of  the owls.

The sound of bluebirds, out of the blue, which shoot before us and back into
the warm black interiors of  the wooden nesting boxes that Southerners love
to put in their trees to attract these marvellous specimens.

The sound of dark crows, of mud, of night in a dense forest.

The sound of alfalfa, f lies, and the twitching coat of  kept horses.

Alongside the sounds of living things are the sounds of dying things and the
sounds of surely dead things, which are really not so much dead as they are
rotting things, rich with life: maggots, fungi, deteriorating gunk. Living dead:
not seen, but smelled. A smell so strong that it carries sound. It curls your
nose. You can hear these acrid, putrid, deteriorating smells. These sounds are
stronger than vision. But perhaps all sound is stronger than vision. At least
that is what Nancy thinks. He writes:
The sonorous, on the other hand, outweighs form. It does not dissolve it, but rather
enlarges it; it gives it an amplitude, a density, and a vibration or an undulation whose
outline never does anything but approach. The visual persists until its disappearance;
the sonorous appears and fades away into permanence.20

I hear the summer smells of  the South.

And, I hear the rolling smell of  Sally Mann’s dark room (womb) on wheels
that she takes out into the trees. It is a heady bouquet of collodion, ether, grain
alcohol, silver nitrate, ferrous sulfate, plain sodium thiosulphate.21

20 Nancy, Listening, p. 2.

21 Sally Mann, interview with the American television public broadcasting channel PBS,
for their series entitled Art 21: Art in the Twenty-First Century. The transcript can be
read online at <http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/mann/clip2.html> (accessed 11 June
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 99

And, I hear the voice of  Mann. She murmurs metaphoric things to me. I
listen. I hear ‘that collodion was used in surgery during the Civil war to bind

The slit of my Mississippi tree gives birth. This slit has given birth. It is life
and death, like a photograph.

Perhaps on the other side of my Mississippi tree, the names of  lovers have
been inscribed. Or, perhaps there is a note nailed to the tree admonishing us,
in great Southern Baptist tradition, to confess our sins to Jesus.

Sartre’s Tree

Jean-Paul Sartre’s masterpiece, Nausea (1938), is a philosophical novel on

the non-meaning of  the world. The narrator, Antoine Roquentin, lives in
a place called Bouville (which translates as Mudtown). Life is random and
meaningless, to the point of nausea. While Roquentin will never reach a
resolved understanding of life, he is able to accept the arbitrary nature of real-
ity through his encounter with the absurdity of a chestnut tree in a municipal
park. Focusing on the strange root of a chestnut tree (‘soft, monstrous masses,
in disorder – naked, with a frightening, obscene nakedness’23), Roquentin
proclaims: ‘I had found the key to Existence, the key to my Nausea, to my
own life. In fact, all that I was able to grasp afterwards comes down to this
fundamental absurdity’.24

Sartre, like Saussure, used a tree to make his point. Likewise, you could say that
Sartre’s chestnut tree was a recasting of  Proust’s ‘three trees’. from the point
of existentialism. Although Sartre, the anti-Proust, would deny it.

22 Ibid.
23 J.-P. Sartre, Nausea, trans. R. Baldwick (London: Penguin, 2000), p. 183.
24 Ibid., p. 185.

Saussure asks us to ref lect on the arbitrariness of  language. Sartre asks us to

ref lect on the arbitrariness of existence. Proust focuses on the impossibility of
a fully recovered meaning as, in fact, the most meaningful. All three focus on
the arbitrary meaning of  the tree. There is a certain joy, a kind of jouissance,
to this arbitrariness times three.

A Tree is a Tree is a Family Tree

A tree is a tree is a family tree, like Mann’s series of pictures that she called
Immediate Family, which featured her three saplings: Jessie, Emmett and
Virginia Mann.

Trees Mutter Bones

My mother had a tree.

My mother was born in the sound of the South. A Depression Era Southerner,
she was very poor. The cotton that her parents grew in Arkansas was worth
nothing. It embodied its own light nothingness. Two sisters and a brother,
along with a mother and father lived on nothing. One brother died before
he reached the weight of a boy. They lived in a deteriorating home under the
trees of a dense forest. Their place was no-place in the state of Arkansas’s own
nothingness. No street. No address. Mostly, just trees. People called their
‘No-Place’ the ‘Lewis Place’. The Lewis Place was nowhere near a town, but
they called the nearest little No-Town near them, with its one tiny nothing
store, ‘Cross-Roads’. The tiny store, with a crumbling in roof, and no name,
sold bottles of Coca-Cola and f lour for baking Southern biscuits and Southern
cornbread, in big sacks made of calico-printed cotton that you could make
dresses out of, when the f lour was all gone. Cross-Roads was called Cross-
Roads, because nearby the roads crossed.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 101

My mother’s family had the most money when ‘Daddy’ had a job at a lumber
mill. He made some money from the trees. Yet, as we all know, and as my
mother would later tell me over and over: ‘Money does not grow on trees.’

My mother played funeral as a kid. So many people were always dying. Kids
too. She made a small cof fin for her one and only doll: a Shirley Temple doll,
the kind that can open and shut their eyes. You could hear the tiny clicking
of the lids when the doll was turned from upright to lying down. My mother
buried her doll under the big oak of  the Lewis Place. For a little while, she
forgot about Shirley. It rained, as it does nearly every day in Arkansas summer.
The rain, so loud and relentless on the family’s tin roof, eventually triggered
my mother’s memory with its pounding drops, like the beat of a calligraphic
poem by Apollinaire, metred in black raindrop letters, but it was too late.
The doll, once cherished, was ruined before my mother could unbury her.
She refound her in the sludge. Shirley was covered in the tobacco spit of  the
most recent deluge. Her eyes pasted shut with gunk. It was so trivial, yet too
big for words. She loved that doll ‘past speech’.

The earth is a devouring terrible mother.

In the words of  Mann:

When the land subsumes the dead, they become the rich body of earth, the dark matter
of creation. As I walk the field of  this farm, beneath my feet shift the bones of incalcu-
lable bodies; death is the sculptor of  the ravishing landscape, the terrible mother, the
damp creator of  life, by whom we are one day devoured.25

When I was twelve years old, I went back to the Lewis Place. The house had
been devoured. All that was left was the big oak tree and the remains of an old
fireplace. (To twist the words of  Barthes, like kudzu, on his Winter Garden
Photograph: I cannot reproduce my mother’s tree. It exists only for me. For
you, it would be nothing but an indif ferent tree, one of  the thousand mani-
festations of  the ‘ordinary’. In it, for you, no wound.)26

25 S. Mann, What Remains (Boston, New York, London: Bullfinch Press, 2003), p. 6.
26 Barthes’s actual words can be found in Camera Lucida on page 73.

When I looked closer at the ground before the open yawn of  the fireplace, I
heard the tiny yellow eye of a big box turtle eyeing me. My heart skipped a
beat. Hearing me hearing the gaze of  the turtle, my mother’s tree did more
than murmured, it muttered. In the shadow of my mother’s tree, I heard the
word for mother in another language, a language I did not then know and
do not, still, today.

Like my mother who buried Shirley on the Lewis Place, Sally Mann buried
her beloved greyhound, Eva, on her own farmland. But unlike my mother,
she had no intention of digging Eva up. But then she had to. Mann writes,
‘[s]he [the terrible Mother] devoured Eva in much less time than I expected
[…] [I] found what looked like a stick drawing of a sleeping dog … back on
the f loor in the studio I reassembled her, head to tail; bone by bone’.27

A tree is a tree. Yes, of course. But a tree that grows on the Lewis Place is no
longer quite a tree. It is a tree decorated with an early end to a girl’s play with
dolls, the stare of a box turtle, mud and rain. There you can hear the echoes of
rain on a tin roof, the glug-glug of mud, along with the ‘shift of incalculable
bodies’ (including dolls), as you walk from tree to tree.

A tree is a tree. Yes, of course. But a tree that grows on the Mann farm is no
longer quite a tree. It is a tree decorated with a woman’s ef fort to see what
remains after death, a cache of wet-collodion, glass-plate negatives from
just after the Civil War, the white crow of  light left after a father’s death.
There, you can hear the weeping of  Eva’s owner, the last breath of  father,
along with the ‘shift of incalculable bodies’ (including dogs) as you walk
from tree to tree.

Trees are bones (see figure 4).

27 Mann, What Remains, p. 6.

Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 103

A Tree is a Camera

As Barthes explains, cameras were once made of wood and were a kind of
cabinetry. Sally Mann uses an antique camera made of wood.

Stilts are Felled Trees

By the end of Proust’s long, long In Search of Lost Time (indeed, in the final
paragraph), the Narrator has grown old and is terrified by the thought that
he has become so stretched, as to be ready to fall:
[…] as though men spend their lives perched upon living stilts which never cease to
grow until sometimes they become taller than church steeples, making it in the end
both dif ficult and perilous for them to walk and raising them to an eminence from
which they suddenly fall. 28

Stilts, of course, are made of wood.

In a 1989 photograph, Mann has pictured daughter Jessie with a candy ciga-
rette (see figure 5). Behind Jessie is a dark mass of  trees. Because of  Jessie’s
studied mimicry of older women who smoke, she looks as if she truly is hold-
ing a bona fide, lit fag.

Jessie’s ruf f led dress is backless: it is ‘little girl’ and woman at once. It is her
sartorial ego,29 just as the cigarette is child’s candy and adult vice at once. (Not
to be forgotten is the fact that the state of Virginia was once the big producer
of the huge tobacco leaves that became Winston and Salem cigarettes.) Little
sister Virginia stands akimbo and turns her back towards us. But it is the child

28 Proust, In Search of  Lost Time, volume VI, Time Regained, p. 531.
29 I borrow this phrase from J. Copjec’s essay, ‘Sartorial Superego’, as found in her Read My
Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994), pp. 65–116.

on the wooden stilts who interests me. He represents something to me, akin
to Barthesian ‘punctum’. but unlocatable. Like Proust’s image of  the three
trees, this boy on stilts overwhelms me with ‘profound happiness’ tinged in
sadness.30 He conceals something which I cannot ‘grasp, as when an object
is placed out of reach, so that our fingers, stretched out at arm’s length, can
only touch for a moment its outer surface, without managing to take hold
of anything’.31 Yet, I can hear the sonorous wooden clump-clump with every
rigor mortis step he takes, as the boy on tall, tall wooden legs inches her way
away from us, until he reaches Death: that terrible mother, who awaits him
of f-frame.

I look at this nearly transparent figure, stretching into the future and I cry
out: ‘What, am I hearing light?’32

If one were to turn this scene of empty-child-sugar-time inside out, the result-
ing picture would be Mann’s image of the roots of a fallen tree. Mann’s fallen
tree is an Atget tree twisted by collodion and the uneasy air of the American

I was in a hurricane in North Carolina; her name was Fran. Huddled inside
my home with too much glass. I heard the pound of rain, the train of winds
that did not stop all night long, the blast of lightening. I also heard the sound
of giant trees – falling trees – the fall of trees that had been there long before
my lifetime – before the life of my mother, before the life of my grandmother,
before the Civil War, before the end of slavery. The trees were being ripped out
from the wet ground by their very roots. They were plucked from earth – as if 
they were meaningless lives, as if  they were soldiers in America’s civil war, as
if  they were Africans axed from their own land and piled on a wooden ship,
using cruel mathematical precision to fill the boat as full as possible. Humans
as felled trees. Trees felled as humans.

30 Proust, In Search of  Lost Time, volume II, Within a Budding Grove, p. 404.
31 Ibid., p. 405.
32 Words of  Tristan in Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, as quoted by Nancy in Listening,
p. 46.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 105

A Tree is Knowledge

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of  the
garden thou mayest freely eat:
But of  the tree of  the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it:
for in the day that thou eatest thereof  thou shalt surely die.
— Genesis 2:9

A tree is knowledge that is part of its threat. It holds knowledge in its rings of 
history and its branches of the sciences and the arts. Come spring and summer,
many of the trees of the South-Eastern United States are covered with layers
and layers of  those afore-mentioned Adam-and-Eve kudzu aprons, covering
up knowledge, their otherwise secret trunks and branches, like genitals to be
hidden, as if the poplars and the oaks and the maples had discovered shame in
their wisdom.33 Eve ate the fruit from the tree of  knowledge and Kudzu ate
the South, a Jack-in-the-Bean-Stalk-foot-a-night vine, or in top conditions,
the mile-a-minute vine.
A tree is a library full of leaves of knowledge. That is why Charles Renee
Mackintosh constructed his gorgeous, gloomy, wild-but-practical library at
the Glasgow School of  Art, like a forest. Timbered with dark wood, it is a
woodland supported by columns of pines that retain their treeness as they
stand erect and reach to towards the dusky, moonlit sky beyond the canopy
of trees, towards the opening of meaning. It is a silent place, like most librar-
ies. As Nancy writes: ‘Sense opens up in silence’.34

33 Kudzu was introduced from Japan to the United States in 1876.

34 Nancy, Listening, p. 26.

‘Three Trees’ Means Nothing

Proust lovers, myself included, are hooked on the madeleine cake as the most
poignant sign of  In Search of  Lost Time. But the little scallop-shell-shaped
cake, the sign of involuntary memory, which magically returned the Narrator
to the time of his childhood through a rush of forgotten memories, really did
not work that well. The experience was over after a nibble. The Narrator of the
Search could not make it happen again. Gilles Deleuze has argued that even
Proust’s presentation ‘cites the madeleine as a case of  failure’.35

Apart from the madeleine, the three trees are forever unattached to any

Proust’s three trees are roaming, wandering, roving, peripatetic, nomadic and
dark; so much so, that the Narrator begins to doubt their very materiality. ‘I
looked at that the three trees; I could see them plainly, but my mind felt that
they were concealing something which it could not grasp […] I sprang further
forward in the direction of the trees, or rather in that inner direction at the end
of which I could see them inside myself […] Where had I looked at them before?
[…] were they merely an image freshly extracted from a dream of the night before,
but already so worn, so faded that that it seemed to me to come from somewhere
far more distant? Or had I indeed never seen them before […]?’ 36

The Narrator is made dizzy by the three trees. A sense of vertigo. Where had
he seen this madeleine-imposter before?
‘I was never to know what they had been trying to give me nor where else I had seen
them.’37 The three trees will remain forever obscured and that is their power. Perhaps the
only way to really see them is to cover one’s eyes, as the Narrator does, in order to better
understand his vision: ‘I put my hand for a moment across my eyes.’38

35 G. Deleuze, Proust and Signs: The Complete Text, trans. R. Howard (Minneapolis:
University of  Minnesota Press, 2000), p. 12.
36 Proust, In Search of  Lost Time, volume II, Within a Budding Grove, pp. 405–6.
37 Ibid., p. 407.
38 Ibid., p. 405.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 107

Cover your eyes and listen to the trees.

The three trees are never over. Their meaning is never resolved. Never swal-
lowed. Never finished. They just keep growing. Their appeal to us is never-
ending. As Proust writes:

They were phantoms of  the past, dear companions of my childhood, vanished friends
who were invoking our common memories. Like ghosts they seemed to be appealing
to me to take them with me, to bring them back to life.39

Proust’s three trees are Emmett, Virginia and Jessie standing, steeping, grow-
ing, dissolving in deep water, in the dark. They, too, are ‘dear companions of
my childhood’. loved ‘past speech’.

In a close-up of  Virginia all grown: she is as all mouth. Eyes and nose are
dissolved, deteriorated, gone. Her mouth, again, is like a leaf. Her mouth is
all that remains in this picture from What Remains. This mouth is a leaf in
waiting to rustle.

I hear a murmur.
‘Once again, the birthing cry, the birth of  the cry – call or complaint, song, rustling of
self, until the last murmur’.40

A Tree is a Historical Clock of  Long Time

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, features a giant sequoia cut that is exhibited

in California’s Muir Woods: it reveals one historical ring within another,
within another many times over. On this cut sequoia, the character played
by Kim Novak, who is named Madeline (one can only smile at the Proustian-

39 Ibid., p. 407.
40 Nancy, Listening, pp. 27–8 (my emphasis).

inf lection of  her name) traces the short distance between two of  the con-
centric circles that measure the age of  the tree and says, ‘Here I was born …
and here I died’.

Chris Marker’s favourite film is Vertigo. It is no surprise, then, that in his famed
La Jetée, the male protagonist of  the film takes on the role of  Hitchcock’s
Madeleine, by nearly reduplicating her words in Paris’s Le Jardin des Plantes,
which has its own sequoia cut. Speaking to the woman who wears her hair
in a spiral, like Madeleine, the protagonist points to the sequoia cut in Le
Jardin des Plantes and the voice-over explains, in an echo of  Hitchcock: ‘As
if in a dream, he shows her a point beyond the tree, hears himself say, “This
is where I come from”’.

In the spring of 2006, I went on a pilgrimage to Paris, in part, to find the ringed
sequoia in Le Jardin des Plantes, which appears in such enchanted beauty in
La Jetée. After two days of wandering and questioning numerous employees
of the gardens with my own little sketch of  the circles of  the ringed sequoia,
I finally found it in a mostly uninhabited building, where it had been sadly
placed. A plaque on the tree informs the viewer that it is ‘a souvenir’ and ‘a
gift’ from the people of  California to the people of  France. In the spirit of 
Madeleine’s ‘here I was born […] and there I died’ – little brass plaques label
and date the tree’s concentric circles, which include: AD 79, Destruction of 
Pompeii; 1039, First Crusade; and 1865, Abolition of Slavery. One historical
scar after another.

One spiral leads to another to another. I find myself as a child with yet another
giant sequoia: the year is 1964. My family is driving our car through a tunnel
cut out of California’s famous Chandelier Tree. Named for its colossal branches
on both sides of its fat trunk, which themselves are the size of small trees, the
famous tree looks like a candelabrum, hence the name, if a little inaccurate,
Chandelier Tree.

I am eight years old. My former self and the branches of  this tree, which
reach far outside the parameters of my life, wave their despairing arms at me:
‘phantoms of  the past, dear companions of my childhood’.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 109

I am not Southern

I am an only child. My mother, my father and I: we are three trees. My mother

gave birth to me in California, far from Arkansas. She had left the South
to try to forget that she ever lived there. Then, to the surprise of my entire
small family, I ended up moving to the South to teach at the University of 
North Carolina. It is the oldest public university in the United States. Many
of its original stones were laid by slaves. Soldiers who fought on the wrong
side during the Civil War are buried on campus. My parents eventually came
across the country and moved to the South to be with me.

Now I have left.

My mother is still there.


Today she has Alzheimer’s.

She hates the sound of  the trees.

‘The ears do not have eyelids’.41

The murmur of  the trees shudder her with all of  the horror and the beauty,
all of  the horrible beauty of  her Southern childhood. As if in a bad dream,
her Alzheimer’s strangely makes her remember only the past, an unforget-
table South. She no longer can make words into sentences; but, remarkably,
she is able to sing the old songs that she used to sing as child in the Baptist
church, which she learned by heart. She does not speak to me, she sings to
me: admonishing me to confess my sins to Jesus. I do not know her songs. I
have never heard them before. She sings them to me from some tree ring of 
the past outside of my life.

41 Nancy, Listening, p. 14.


Again: ‘Once again, the birthing cry, the birth of the cry – call or complaint,
song, rustling of self, until the last murmur’.

Timber, Timbre

Barthes, always old-fashioned, appealingly out-of-date, he describes the warm

sound of wooden toys as follows: ‘when the child handles and knocks it, it
neither vibrates nor grates, it has a sound at once muf f led and sharp. It is a
familiar and poetic substance, which does not severe the child from close
contact with the tree’.42

The Oxford English Dictionary defines timbre as a ‘sonorous quality of any

instrument or of a voice’. For a tree, its timbre is a sonorous murmur. The leaves
of my tree rustle with language; it has a particular timbre. Trees as the source
of  timber, produce the timbre of  the violin, the cello, the viola da gamba.

Timbre and timber almost make a homograph.

Playing with the sound of words give me joy. They open up what Nancy calls
‘listening to the beyond-meaning’.43

Jouissance sounds like j’ouïs sens (I heard meaning). A prime example of  this
‘listening to the beyond meaning’.44

42 Barthes, from his essay ‘Toys’. Mythologies, p. 54.

43 Nancy, Listening, p. 31.
44 As Leon S. Roudiez writes of  Julia Kristeva’s use of jouissance: in her ‘vocabulary, sen-
sual, sexual pleasure is covered by plaisir; “jouissance” is total joy or ecstasy […] also,
through the working of the signifier, this implies the presence of meaning (jouissance –
j’ouïs sens – I heard meaning), requiring it by going beyond it.’ Roudiez, ‘Introduction’
to J. Kristeva’s Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. L.S.
Roudiez, trans. T. Gora, A. Jardine and L.S. Roudiez, p. 16.
Making Sense of Sally Mann’s Trees 111

‘Listening to the beyond meaning’ is a way to cut open myths, in order to make
new ones, like an enthused gardener axing the devil’s shoestring to make way
for the trees. Like Sally Mann’s father: now dead, but ‘an oddball, a character,
an eccentric’.45 Here is a photograph of  him axing the devil’s shoestring to
make way for the trees. Sally Mann can hear the sound of  his axe:

His garden […] how to talk about it: thirty acres with giant oaks, ponds in the lowlands,
and hillsides of orchard. It was wilderness when he bought it in 1950. I remember the
grim energy with which he worked, ripping out the devil’s shoestring … sweating in the
heat. As he cleared each acre, he planted tress he had purchased in England, the Orient
– the rarest of  the rare […]. The sound of  the axe.46

Barthes has a name for it: semioclasm.47

I look at my tree. Its scar murmurs ‘the sound of  the axe’. Again and again, I
hear: ‘the birthing cry, the birth of the cry – call or complaint, song, rustling
of self, until the last murmur’.

Select Bibliography

Barthes, R., ‘Myth Today’, in Mythologies, trans. A. Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang,
Mann, S., What Remains (Boston, New York and London: Bullfinch Press, 2003).
Nancy, J.-L., Listening, trans. C. Mandell (New York: Fordham University Press,
Proust, M., In Search of  Lost Time, volume II, Within a Budding Grove, trans. C.K.
Moncrief f and T. Kilmartin, ed. D.J. Enright (New York: Random House, 1992).
Sartre, J.-P., Nausea, trans. R. Baldwick (London: Penguin, 2000).
de Saussure, F., Course in General Linguistics, ed. Charles Bally et al., trans. R. Harris
(Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1997).
Smith, A., The Whole Story and Other Stories (London: Penguin, 2005).

45 Mann, Immediate Family, ‘Introduction’, no pagination.

46 Ibid.
47 Barthes, ‘Preface to the 1970 edition’, Mythologies, p. 9.

On Bilingualism in English


It was the one thing I couldn’t write about. Name another genre and by the
end of  the research it had shown up somewhere: fiction, nonfiction, journal-
ism, film, music, photography, painting, sculpture, theatre – they’re all in
there. The final text is shot through with them – as examples, as reference
points, as ways of  thinking – but there’s not a single poem to be found until
the very last page. And that one was written years before the event that occa-
sioned the work in question, and had nothing to do with it whatsoever until
it was recruited for that purpose. Why it waited so long to be addressed I
still don’t know, but one thing I do know is: of all the arts that I researched,
I couldn’t write about the one that is dearest to my heart. I couldn’t write a
word about poetry.
I’ve never been much for the term academic. Even at the graduate level,
the level of the academic-in-training, I prefer the term researcher, because it is
both more – what exactly is research? – and less – why, it’s whatever question
one is trying to answer at the time – vague. Part of  this distaste stems from
an innate fear of  loneliness: to call a particular question academic in nature
seems to quarantine it somehow. (The same is true of academics as individu-
als, the ivory tower and the gilded cage sharing the same of fice block.) In
practice, however, academics simply tend to want to find out answers to the
questions that compose our world, and when there are no answers available,
find better questions. So in attempting to answer the specific question I did,
I wanted to ensure that I never thought of it in academic terms. Rather, in
order to ‘make sense’ of this question, I tended towards the narrative: towards
the idea of research as storytelling, a practice that is inherently creative – and
in the case of a good story, a story worth sharing over and over, not just crea-
tive but re-creative too.

My father, who served as a medical doctor in the United States Navy

during the Vietnam War, has a saying that he is fond of: You may not be
interested in war, but war is interested in you. For the past five years I’ve felt
the same way about natural disasters: you may not be interested in hurricanes,
but … In other words, I didn’t choose my research: it chose me. From the
moment Hurricane Katrina entered our lives – striking New Orleans on
29 August 2005, bringing with it a storm surge and a volume of water that
would overwhelm the already poorly-constructed municipal levee system,
resulting in the near-total f looding of  the city, the forced evacuation of its
residents, and the loss of  lives and livelihoods across the region – it’s safe to
say that in those first few days, even weeks or months, nobody had any idea
what would happen to the city. But what was clear was that within the first
few days the questions that began to arise over the future of New Orleans all
swirled around one main issue: the city’s culture.
There is no way to sum up the culture of  New Orleans. It has its pillars
of  tourism – its world-famous food, music, and architecture, often referred
to as ‘the Holy Trinity’ – but more than just that, it has a unique history
(with inf luences from all over the world), a fascinating and complex land-
scape, a distinctive approach to life (wry and laconic one moment, fiercely
passionate the next), a beautifully intertwined sense of  hospitality and civic
pride, and a particular knack for af fording the visitor, the resident, and the
native extraordinary experiences presented as ordinary, everyday occurrences.
As the playwright Gabrielle Reisman once put it in conversation: ‘In New
Orleans, art isn’t something you have or something you make. It’s just a way
of  life’. This quality has inspired legions of artists and writers over the past
three hundred years to capture those experiences in a variety of media, and
to simultaneously celebrate and extend the city’s mystique. And this culture
therefore seemed most in jeopardy after the storm, and served as the basis for
a national conversation about New Orleans’ future: as evidenced in essays by
Anne Rice, Richard Ford, and Wynton Marsalis immediately afterward,1

1 A. Rice, ‘Do You Know What It Means To Lose New Orleans?’, New York Times (2005),
<http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/04/opinion/04rice.html> (last accessed 11 June
2011). R. Ford, ‘A City Beyond the Reach of Empathy’, New York Times (2005), <http://
www.nytimes.com/2005/09/04/opinion/04ford.html> (last accessed 11 June 2011).
On Bilingualism in English 115

and later volumes by David Rutledge, Roger Abraham, and M.B. Hackler,
among others.2
The question that I wanted to answer, then, in the wake of this national
conversation, was simple: how can the arts rebuild a place after disaster? As
I travelled through the ruined streets of  the city, other examples of  the arts
responding in times of crisis kept echoing through my mind: San Francisco
after the earthquake, or Sarajevo during the siege. But the specific means
by which they contributed to recovery were still unclear: paintings are not
bridges, and gas lines and waterworks cannot be mended with ink. I knew,
however, that the question would be impossible to answer in those terms,
and that to try to do so would be to falsely delimit the rebuilding process of
a city at the same time as misrepresent the nature of artistic practice itself,
conscripting it for political or economic ends. So I resolved to watch, to
approach the rebuilding process with as few preconceptions as possible, and
over the next year that one simple question grew into three: how does culture
rebuild a place after a disaster, how is culture itself rebuilt after disaster, and
finally, how is culture transformed as a result of  that disaster?
These three questions gave me a point of entry to the work, which ended
up being more about interactions than it did about any one piece of art in
particular – about the ways events, people, objects, traditions, practices, and
places all collide and change one another – leading to my view of  the rela-
tionship between the city and its disaster as an ecological one.3 This view
could not be divorced from my own personal, ongoing practice as a writer,
however, so in the spirit of  those interactions, in what follows I revisit what
aspects of my creative practice informed my critical practice, and then reverse

W. Marsali, ‘Saving America’s Soul Kitchen’, Time (2005), <http://www.time.com/time/

magazine/article/0,9171,1103569,00.html> (last accessed 11 June 2011).
2 D. Rutledge, ed., Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? (Seattle: Chin
Music Press, 2008). R.D. Abraham, N. Spitzer, J.F. Szwed and R.F. Thompson, Blues
for New Orleans: Mardi Gras and America’s Creole Soul (Philadelphia: University of 
Pennsylvania Press, 2006). M.B. Hackler, ed., Culture after the Hurricanes: Rhetoric and
Reinvention on the Gulf  Coast (Oxford, MS: University of  Mississippi Press, 2010).
3 B.A. Morris, ‘Culture Après le Déluge: Heritage Ecology after Disaster’ (unpublished
PhD thesis, Department of  Archaeology, University of  Cambridge, 2010), <http://
www.dspace.cam.ac.uk> (last accessed 11 June 2011).

that formula to consider what aspects of my critical practice gave material

to my own and others’ creative work. In so doing I hope to contribute to
a wider conversation about how artists and researchers in any discipline,
medium, or field make sense out of  their work. And in putting these ref lec-
tions forth I intend not to be definitive, but simply to write from experience
of  the way that cultural practices undergo transformation. Bilingualism in
this essay therefore refers to writing in both ‘academic’ English and creative
English, two dif ferent languages and two separate crafts that – rather than
being adversaries or opposites, as it is tempting to characterize them – in truth,
have much to contribute to one another. After considering these contribu-
tions, I ref lect on what I never could until everything else was done: the role
of poetry after the storm.

From the Creative to the Critical

There’s a saying, I forget where it comes from now, that we can send all the
astronauts we want up to the surface of the moon, and bring back everything
we want to know about it – all the measurements and all the data, all the
numbers and all the charts – and from this information construct a reason-
ably accurate picture of what life is like up there. But then one day we’ll send
a poet, and they’ll come back and they’ll tell us what it’s really like. I have long
held this lesson dear even here on Earth: to get to know a place, go read the
poetry of  the people who live there. Only by doing so can the specific local
features in a landscape – physical, emotional, political, and symbolic – which
make a place what it is, and which gives its people their identity, be under-
stood. (If only travel guides were more proactive about publishing poetry, we
might not have so much culture shock, and therefore misunderstanding, in
the world.) Reading poetry is useful and rewarding for students, researchers,
and travellers alike, no matter their level of experience. But there are lessons
to be learned from the writing of poetry that are useful for researchers as well,
three of which I explore here: negative capability, the power of revision, and
the space of  the page.
On Bilingualism in English 117

In a letter to his brother dated 21 December 1817, the English poet John
Keats, then only twenty-one years old, described the formation of a theory of
writing, detailing ‘what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially
in literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously – I mean Negative
Capability, that is when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries,
doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason’.4 The capacity for
the human mind not just to be aware of but to deliberately entertain its own
limitations, contradictions, and gaps is for Keats a crucial part of  the writ-
ing life, and has become one of  the most well-known and richly considered
theories of writing since he first set it down. And it is a skill that researchers
in any field would do well to cultivate: to borrow again from astronomy, just
as the position of a black hole is only determined by tracing the rays of light
as they disappear into it, only by thinking around the questions that we hold
in our minds can we more fully engage them.
Not only does negative capability keep the research question in play
nimble, but it keeps the researcher in their native environment receptive to
moments of surprise and serendipity as well, surprise that ref lects back upon
one’s practice. Another way of putting this is expressed by one of my favourite
local landmarks in New Orleans. Hand-painted and posted on various light
poles in the city, these signs simply say Think That You Might Be Wrong, an
injunction not just for humility in one’s life and in one’s work, but for the
prospect of a radical reconsideration of  the self on any grounds on which
it might be needed. (My favourite of  these signs, formerly on Claiborne
Avenue, was followed on the light pole immediately behind it with another
hand-painted sign that read Think That You Might Be A Robot – a perfect
example of  the local humour and local culture that we so feared losing after
the storm.) Unfortunately, Doug MacCash has recently reported that the
signs, an expression of negative capability distilled into six short words, have
largely disappeared from the streetscape, but the message remains: writers
and researchers alike should not fear failure either of method or result but
should consider it a very real and very welcome outcome.5

4 D. Wu, Romanticism: An Anthology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005), p. 1351.

5 D. MacCash, ‘Think That You Might Be Wrong sign replaced’, New Orleans Times-
Picayune (2009), <http://www.nola.com/arts/index.ssf/2009/08/think_that_you_
might_be_wrong.html> (last accessed 11 June 2011).

On failure, two adages regularly spring up: Beckett’s pair, ‘Fail again’,
and ‘Fail better’, from Worstward Ho, and Auden’s ‘Poems are never finished,
only abandoned’. While these statements maintain a tongue-in-cheek respect-
ability, they suggest a fundamental commitment to the act of revising, to
the sense of working through one’s material in order to find the clearest,
tightest expression possible, with the maximum ef fect in a minimum of
space. This commitment is of course why writers and artists refer to an indi-
vidual’s output as their work; if you haven’t left any sweat on the desk then
you haven’t shown up for the job. The poet Yusuf  Komunyakaa has often
described his writing process for poetry as first putting everything down on
the page, then ‘lifting the poem out of the verbal debris’ – and the same can
be said in the practice of research of assembling data, making arguments,
and drawing conclusions. For deciding what story to tell out of the mass – a
seething, writhing mass that changes shape and texture even as you plunge
your mind inside it – accumulated throughout the process is a central part
of  the act, as John Law and Andrew Pickering have both noted.6 It is, per-
haps, the most dif ficult part of all. But there is another insight at play: only
in actually writing do you learn what you are writing about. And that entails
beginning with the blank page.
The space of  the page is best described in metaphor: the page is a table,
a window, and a bench; it is its own self-contained laboratory. It is a pair of
walking shoes, and an open field. It is at once a cage one enters, and the key
one uses to unlock the cage. And in this regard it is also, crucially, bounded:
because the page has edges – because the words upon it must at some point
end – it serves as a reminder of  the entire scope of work. The writer and the
researcher alike are reminded by the edges of the page that the thoughts that
take shape upon it must be arranged in the most precise and crystalline way
possible, no matter the kind of mess from which they have come. If drafting
is the way to arrive at a finished work – the exact number of drafts themselves
being dictated, always, by the nature of  the project in hand, and by no other
factor – the writer and the researcher must not be afraid to view the space of 

6 J. Law, ‘Making a Mess with Method.’ in W. Outhwaite and S.P. Turner (eds), The
Sage Handbook of  Social Science Methodology (London: Sage, 2007), pp. 595–606.
A. Pickering, The Mangle of  Practice: Time, Agency, and Science (Chicago: University
of  Chicago Press, 1995).
On Bilingualism in English 119

the page as the space of opportunity, serendipity, and discovery. Nor must they
be afraid of the fact that the number of drafts required is always unknown at
the outset: the poets William Wordsworth and Walt Whitman both revized
their most significant works – The Prelude and Leaves of  Grass, respectively
– throughout the entirety of  their working lives.
This is an experience somewhat at odds from one described by Italo
Calvino. In his Six Memos for the Next Millennium, he speaks of one Chuang-
among whose many skills was that of an expert draughtsman. The king asked him to
draw a crab. Chuang-tzu replied that he needed five years, a country house, and twelve
servants. Five years later the drawing was still not begun. ‘I need another five years’ said
Chuang-tzu. The king granted them. At the end of  those ten years, the king came, and
Chuang-tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he drew a crab,
the most perfect crab ever seen.7

Most writers who know this fable tend to find it supremely beautiful, and
more than a little annoying. (What bastard out there actually works like
that? He better not come drinking in my bar.) The beauty, however, comes
from the lie buried within: Calvino understood that this drawing, contrary
to what he has recounted, had been begun long before the king approached
Chuang-tzu, because Chuang-tzu had been preparing the whole of  his life
for the commission. The years between the commission and the execution
were a mere formality, for the three tools of  the trade I have explored here
– the mind, the draft, and the page – are all bound up in a tightly-woven,
lifelong relationship with one another, a relationship that, as Richard Sennett
and Matthew Crawford have recently argued,8 is less able to be described or
engineered a priori than discovered in practice.

7 L. Calvino, ‘On Quickness’, in Six Memos for the Next Millennium, trans. P. Creagh
(London: Vintage, 1988), p. 54.
8 R. Sennett, The Craftsman (London: Penguin, 2008). M.B. Crawford, Shop Class as
Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of  Work (New York: Penguin, 2009).

From the Critical to the Creative

Back from China in the past to New Orleans in the present: As I noted above,
the city is a bottomless well of material. It has never failed to provide artists
of all genres with inspiration; its enigmatic nature, its unexpected pleasures,
and its perpetual dance with death render it a place where the creatures the
mind sequesters feel much more free to roam. One unforeseen side ef fect
of  the storm was the way it revitalized the genre of  the urban cri de couer:
the storm inspired artists and writers to champion their beloved city once
more, wherein the acts of publicly declaring their love for it and defending
its unorthodox existence became dif ficult, if not impossible, to separate.
But this overwhelming emotional and aesthetic response was seconded, if
not governed, by the changes to the physical landscape of  the city, and the
emergence of  the new and surreal symbols and elements that hadn’t existed
prior to the storm. Markers such as the famous spray-painted security X,
the f lood waterline on the side of  the house, the mountains of debris, the
abandoned staircases attached to vanished structures, the mould, everywhere
the mould – all of  these elements are now permanently inscribed onto the
aesthetic imagination of  the city.
The disaster gave the arts a sense of newfound urgency as well. Less than
five months after the storm, Tom Piazza wrote and published his impassioned
defence, Why New Orleans Matters, which has become a mainstay in the local
and national conversation about the past, present, and future of  the city.9
Novelists, poets, playwrights, nonfiction writers, and essayists – and this is
just to peg those working in the literary arts – have rushed to the scene of the
crime (for the collapse of  the levees and the f looding of  the city was a crime
– of negligence, corruption, and indif ference) to document it, understand it,
and bring it to a wider audience. Here, then, lies the beginning of an answer
to the research question posed above: the arts contribute to the rebuilding
process after a disaster by telling not just what happened but what happened
in the clearest, most vivid, and most immediate way; they do not just describe
the disaster, they immerse the viewer or the reader inside it, eliciting both

9 T. Piazza, Why New Orleans Matters (New York: Regan Books, 2005).
On Bilingualism in English 121

horror and empathy in the same stroke. And they do so with the moral force
of  truth-telling. A novel may not contain the facts of what happened – or it
may only rely on an architectural framework of facts around which its fictional
story develops – but it does not need to in order to bear the truth.
This tension between fact and truth in the context of disaster is not a
tension; instead, it is a space for opportunity, a space that researchers and
writers alike are able to exploit. Furthermore, it of fers choices for a literary
writer in the way they approach their material, choices about how to use the
specific content of  the disaster in fiction or in art to serve as core elements
(crudely put, the plot in a novel, the figuration in a canvas, or the subject in
a photograph) around which the respective forms emerge. To my mind, two
options emerge. Both James Lee Burke and Tom Piazza made one choice in
writing their novels about Katrina, The Tin Roof Blowdown and City of Refuge
respectively, in which both novels depict the well-known and public events
of  the storm as lived through the experience of  their characters.10 Not only
do those works owe their existence to the storm, but they repay this debt by
naming it, and anchoring their narrative development specifically within the
context of  that disaster – these two works thus serving as the vanguard of
what has come to be known as a ‘Katrina novel’. In the dramatic arts, John
Biguenet’s play Rising Water, one of  the first ‘Katrina plays’, was set in the
attic and rooftop of a f looded house – two of the iconic images (and spaces)
of  the disaster.11
The creation of this kind of genre is not so newsworthy as my argument
would enjoy – there are Vietnam novels and miner’s strike novels, just as there
are Katrina novels12 – but nevertheless this genre stands at some distance from
another kind of  literary writing about the storm, which is the consequence
of  the other choice. This approach involves regarding the storm not as the
core or the focus of  the artistic work but rather as a stage on which other
narratives are played out. (In the context of  the landmark performance of 

10 J.-L. Burke, The Tin Roof  Blowdown (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007); T. Piazza,
City of  Refuge (New York: Harper, 2008).
11 J. Biguenet, Rising Water (2007), <http://biguenet.com/Plays.aspx> (last accessed 11
June 2011).
12 T. O’Brien, The Things They Carried (New York: Random House, 1998); D. Peace, GB84
(London: Faber, 2005).

Waiting for Godot staged by Creative Time Productions in New Orleans in

2007, this approach was taken literally.13) In this kind of work the disaster
itself  becomes subservient to its landscape – most often the landscape of its
aftermath – and the specific events that gave rise to that landscape play little
to no part in the execution of the rest of the work. Two debts are levied here
– the debt of  the act of writing to the disaster (writing any story after the
storm), and the debt of  the specific narrative that is told to a disaster which
itself is never rendered (telling this story after the storm) – but only one is
paid. Richard Ford’s short story ‘Leaving for Kenosha’ is an excellent example
of this latter kind of approach: the story depicts a family relocating from New
Orleans to Wisconsin after it has become apparent, two years after Katrina,
that they will not be able to rebuild their lives in the Lower Ninth Ward.14
Ford focuses on the characters – a father, his daughter, her friends – and the
choices and struggles they confront, understanding that the storm need not
be shown on the page for it to stalk its prey.
Certain questions remain: for a writer or an artist, what makes a work a
‘Katrina work’, and what are the moral and aesthetic consequences for those
works that omit the event in order to imply it? Do they gain or lose ef fect by
refusing to name their landscapes, or is it possible to depict an ur-landscape
of disaster that nevertheless owes something to the aftermath that inspired
it? As the years pass, will one kind of writing dominate the other, or will
there emerge an entirely dif ferent genre than the two I have just described?
In my own creative work that has come out of  Katrina – poetry, nonfic-
tion accounts, and a stage play – I have largely tended towards the second
approach, preferring instead to write around disaster, considering it as a back-
drop against which other tensions emerge, rather than attempt to depict the
events for which I was not in person present. In my literary work I have felt
a great aversion to writing somebody else’s experience, even in the context
of  having undertaken academic research in which I have heard those experi-
ences recounted firsthand.

13 D. Cuthbert, ‘For New Orleanians, “Waiting For Godot” hits the spot’, New Orleans
Times-Picayune (2007), <http://blog.nola.com/davidcuthbert/2007/11/for_new_orle-
anians_waiting_for.html> (last accessed 11 June 2011).
14 R. Ford, ‘Leaving for Kenosha’, The New Yorker, ASDF (2008).
On Bilingualism in English 123

This is an old saw, of course, the attempt of a writer to place themselves

into a context on which they have no omniscient perspective, but in our
newly technologized age of instant and plentiful digital media, it is increas-
ingly possible to trawl through the masses of information, traverse the virtu-
ally ruined streets of  the disaster, and use it in one’s work – all without ever
having been to the place itself. The long-term consequences of  this practice
are still unclear. While we are now at the point where writers are publicly
and unashamedly copying other texts into their own works in the name of 
‘mixing’ or ‘mashups’ (a practice the scholar Lawrence Lessig has championed,
and that Helene Hegemann’s novel Axolotl Roadkill recently illuminated15),
the wider implications of  those ‘mixed’ texts remain to be seen, as Michiko
Kakutani argued.16 My own personal bias towards research for any sort of
writing – that it is always better to go to the place one is interested in (while
reading its poetry) than to read or write about it secondhand – would once
have made me suspicious of this kind of activity: oh, there go those young people
again. But I also feel as though the cusp of  the era on which we now stand
makes those four words, ‘remain to be seen’ some of the most thrilling words
in the language. This excitement is leavened, however, by my experience of
disaster, and the moral obligation that exposure to suf fering imparts; in my
ef forts to make sense out of these choices and possibilities, the opportunities
to use material collected during research and the unrestricted license to do so
should not be mistaken for one another.

The Gold Mine Saloon

The first thing you see when you walk inside are arcade games: vintage free-
standing machines from the 1980s, the kind that take a quarter and give you
in return a few aliens to blast with a ten-pixel ship. (I may be a few years older

15 L. Lessig, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (New York:
Penguin, 2008); H. Hegemann, Axolotl Roadkill (Berlin: Ullstag, 2010).
16 M. Kakutani, ‘Texts Without Context’, New York Times (2010), <http://www.nytimes.
com/2010/03/21/books/21mash.html> (last accessed 11 June 2011).

than I once was, but a pocketful of quarters can still vanish just as quickly.)
The bar is relatively small in dimensions but feels like a cavern, cool and dark
and altogether apt for its name, The Gold Mine Saloon. Nestled on the corner
of  Dauphine and St Peter in the French Quarter, the Gold Mine is owned
and operated by New Orleans poet, publisher, and activist Dave Brinks, who
along with his wife Megan Burns and his colleague Jimmy Ross have been
hosting the weekly ‘17 Poets!’ reading series there since 2003.17 Throughout
the week the Saloon is supported largely by the sale of  the bar’s infamous
‘Flaming Dr Pepper Shots’, as well as the local college students, convention-
goers, and other patrons who, through their thirst, unwittingly support the
work of  the reading series. And in some cases, when these revellers stumble
in on a Thursday night, poetry night, they have even been known to stay.
The series usually features a headline poet or performer, sometimes two;
the main act is accompanied by a sheet with fifteen or sixteen additional spaces
for which anyone in the bar can sign up to perform. The stage is simple and
to the point: a small lectern and a microphone at the back of  the room face
a dozen upturned barrels serving as tables for the audience, on which a scat-
tering of candles tickles the darkness. A democracy of aesthetes, anyone can
take part any night they choose, and even on the slowest of nights, new faces
typically outnumber regulars. The quality of the work is, by nature, variable,
but that’s the point: rather than hosting an event where the work is staid and
reliable, the pleasure of attending 17 Poets! is precisely that you never know
what you’re going to get, whether it turns out to be mind-blowing or mind-
blowingly awful. (For those who aren’t interested in poetry, there’s always
Zaxxon and Dig-Dug.) Eager to explore New Orleans’ literary culture firsthand
when I first moved to the city, I poked my nose inside in 2006, started par-
ticipating not long afterwards, and over the intervening years have come to
regard the Gold Mine as a place where it is possible to witness firsthand the
rebuilding of  the city’s culture after Katrina. (In 2010 the Gold Mine began
hosting benefits for relief ef forts for the BP oil spill in the Gulf of  Mexico –
the work is ongoing.)
When listening to the work of poets such as Chuck Perkins, Bernadette
Mayer, and Bill Lavender – in some cases over and over, as regulars frequently

17 D. Brinks, ‘17 Poets! Reading Series’, <http://www.17poets.com> (last accessed 11 June

On Bilingualism in English 125

read both new and old work – it quickly becomes apparent how crucial the
act of  telling one’s story, of  being voiced, can be to recovery after a disaster.
Perkins’ poems in particular, bearing f luid rhythms and tight, muscular deliv-
ery, reveals the depth of the anger underlying his love of the city and his attack
on those who would rather it drown.18 They show in no uncertain terms that
the human voice is a powerful tool in the recovery process – a tool of protest
and of praise, the first musical instrument. The question of voice in poetry is
an ancient one across countries, contexts, and languages; who in a poem is that
I when the I stands up and speaks? No two poets will answer alike, much less
any two critics. But inside the Gold Mine those considerations seem to fade
away like the street noise in the Quarter outside, as the years since Katrina
have seen an outpouring of individuals writing their experiences and telling
their stories, the ones that rarely make it into the daily newspaper or onto
the nightly broadcast. And the opportunity to listen to those stories, regard-
less of whether they are delivered in poetry or in prose, is equally rare – for
the writer seeking inspiration and the researcher seeking data alike. This is
why, returning to my opening theme, I have thought of research work as a
form of storytelling, witnessing how stories travel and intersect, and equally
why I urge students to get to know the poetry of a place. The most interest-
ing forms of data are found in the unlikeliest of places, in a corner bar with
vintage video games, for instance. The only tools required are an open mind
and a sturdy liver.
The poetry of post-Katrina life does not begin or end at the Saloon doors,
however. Other poetry readings take place regularly and have since the storm,
such as at the Maple Leaf  Bar on Oak Street, or at Fairgrinds Cof feehouse
of f  Esplanade Avenue. Each week the two main local newspapers, the New
Orleans Times-Picayune and the Gambit Weekly, provide listings of  literary
events taking place across the city. And these are just the live events: as Susan
Larson noted three years after the storm, the volume of poetry that has been
appeared in other formats is staggering.19 Some of the best – such as Patricia

18 C. Perkins, ‘Chuck Perkins’, <http://voices.e-poets.net/PerkinsC/> (last accessed 11

June 2011).
19 S. Larson, ‘After the Deluge, Poetry’, New Orleans Times-Picayune (2008), <http://www.
nola.com/books/t-p/index.ssf ?/base//living-0/1219814619189800.xml&coll=1> (last
accessed 11 June 2011).

Smith’s Blood Dazzler – re-tells the story of  the storm in such a sharp, fresh,
and shocking way, and from the points of view of the most marginalized and
overlooked members of society, as to make us see the whole disaster anew.
Smith’s book begins with the voice of  the storm itself (here, for once, an I
around which poets and critics alike can gather), describing her growing anger
in the poem ‘5 P.M., Tuesday, August 23, 2005’:

A muted thread of gray light, hovering ocean,

becomes throat, pulls in wriggle, anemone, kelp,
widens with the want of it. I become
a mouth, thrashing hair, an overdone eye. How dare
the water belittle my thirst, treat me as just
try to feed me
from the bottom of its hand?20

Bilingualism, Revisited

To conclude, a confession: poetry was not the only thing I couldn’t write
about. The other was the storm. Katrina. The event itself. To try to tell the
story of  the disaster would have been to recreate it, to bring it to life all over
again. It would have been to sketch a faithful rendition of  Borges’ map, and
to give form to Blanchot’s imagined disaster.21 It would have been to make the
mistake avoided in by the character of the father in Cormac McCarthy’s The
Road, a novel set in a burned-out, post-apocalyptic landscape, wherein the
father realizes why he cannot tell his son how the world has ended: ‘He could
not construct for the child’s pleasure the world he’d lost without constructing

20 P. Smith, Blood Dazzler (Minneapolis: Cof fee House Press, 2008), p. 1.

21 J.L. Borges, ‘On Exactitude in Science’ in Collected Fictions, trans. A. Hurley (London:
Penguin, 1999), p. 325; M. Blanchot, The Writing of  the Disaster, trans. A. Smock
(Lincoln: University of  Nebraska Press, 1995).
On Bilingualism in English 127

the loss as well’.22 This numinous spiral of wind and wave was in fact the black
hole at the centre of  the research, the force that organized and arranged the
whole work – it was, in Derridean terms, the centre, ‘that very thing within a
structure which governs the structure, while escaping structurality’.23 The eye
of  the storm stares and stares unblinking; how, then, to stare back?
Making sense is about making choices, and realizing that the page must
end somewhere. I chose to leave the Katrina section for last, once I had included
all the other stories for which there was room, a number that remains a mere
fraction of the stories that I wish I could have included. And failing that, even
then I could only point to a range of perspectives addressing the storm, multi-
ple gazes at the side of that star. That we were five years in our understanding
of the disaster was less an opportunity than a provocation: what did we know
now that we did not know then? Much, but not enough: about the construc-
tion of municipal levees, about the rates of soil subsidence, about the cycles
of storm patterns, and about the ambitions of man. And indeed, about the
arts: how they move and cut through a mind, how they confront the bodies
of power and give voice to a people, how they hone their edge and f lense the
surfaces from our beliefs. Academically I remain unsure as to how exactly the
arts, poetry included, help rebuild a society after a disaster. But I know that
they do. Nor am I sure that ‘research’, however defined, is the best means of
answering this question. The tools of witness, experience, and engagement
seem far more fit for purpose.
I will conjecture that the answers to these questions never emerge imme-
diately after a disaster, even though the individual artworks (the novels, poems,
paintings, and photographs) themselves might. Rather, they take years to be
formed, to wander, to find their destinations and leave them once again. I can
hear my father now: You may not be interested in art, but art is interested in you.
For now, the issues that remain unresolved between writing and researching
remain to my mind largely those of  the choice of stance: how to approach a
moment, an event, an insight, or a place with a view towards understanding it
more (to deepen one’s knowledge) or possibly understanding it less (to deepen
one’s creativity). But even that choice is hollow: in either context, the point

22 C. McCarthy, The Road (New York: Vintage, 2006), p. 163.

23 J. Derrida, ‘Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’ in Writing
and Dif ference, trans. A. Bass (London: Routledge, 1966), p. 278.

is to strive towards being, as Henry James once put it, someone ‘on whom
nothing is lost’. In thinking about the two dif ferent languages in which I have
lately written – in rehearsing them in the mind, their varying rhythms, rules,
and syntaxes – more questions, as usual, arrive than answers. But this too is
an opportunity: to think I might be wrong yet again.

The Names of  Storms

Some we speak of as friends,

reminding us how to prepare
for their arrival – fill the tub

with water, stock the cupboard

with cans. That there are never
enough batteries. Others we recall

as old neighbors, who left the axe

in the tree, forgot to feed the dog.
Breezing back into town, gone again

just as soon, we can forgive

their itinerance, stopping by just
to check on the lilacs. But the last

we speak of as lovers –
Camille, Andrew, Isobel –
turning our houses upside down,

cutting our power, our water

in their fury, leaving our lives
strewn all over the yard,

knowing that in years to come

we will be ravished again
each time we murmur their name.
On Bilingualism in English 129

Select Bibliography

Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, trans. A. Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska
Press, 1995).
Hackler, M.B., ed., Culture after the Hurricanes: Rhetoric and Reinvention on the Gulf 
Coast (Oxford, MS: University of  Mississippi Press, 2010).
Piazza, T., Why New Orleans Matters (New York: Regan Books, 2005).
Sennett, R., The Craftsman (London: Penguin, 2008).
Smith, P., Blood Dazzler (Minneapolis: Cof fee House Press, 2008).
Tretheway, N., Beyond Katrina (Athens: University of  Georgia Press, 2010).
Performance Art

Painting in Prose: Performing the Artist in

Susan Sellers’s Vanessa and Virginia

Our contribution to the first Making Sense colloquium at Cambridge began

with Susan reading from her novel Vanessa and Virginia (Two Ravens Press,
2008, and Houghton Mif f lin Harcourt, 2009), an imaginative exploration of 
the relationship between sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. In the pas-
sage Susan’s fictional Vanessa is portrayed working on Bell’s Abstract Painting
of 1914 (see figure 6). The reading was followed by an excerpt from the staged
adaptation of  Vanessa and Virginia by Elizabeth Wright, which included an
animated visual score of Bell’s canvas. Elizabeth Wright and Julia Bevan per-
formed the roles of  Vanessa and Virginia.

SUSAN: Making sense, according to Jean-Luc Nancy, resides in the act of

making, not in the object made.1 Writing a novel about the real historical
figures of  Bell and Woolf was, for me, already a praxis of  ‘making sense’ in
the way Nancy interprets it, where what was at stake (Nancy might say ‘at
play’) was precisely an attempt to understand and communicate my own sense
(intuited and imagined) of both women’s lives. It was a ‘sense’ derived in part
from years of reading and viewing all the available extant materials: in the case
of  Woolf, numerous published texts, unpublished drafts, corrected proofs,
notebooks, diaries, personal correspondence; in the case of  Bell, paintings,
sketches, murals, room and furniture décor, a few essays, some correspond-
ence. Yet it was also driven by an increasing ‘sense’ of ellipses in the surviving
records, as well as a number of unanswered but crucial questions that seemed
possible to address only through fictional forms. The passage I chose for per-

1 All references are to Jean-Luc Nancy’s paper ‘Making Sense’, delivered at the colloquium
in the translation by Emma Wilson.

formance draws not only on my familiarity with Bell’s art, but also from an
endeavour to explore what I ‘sensed’ might be the experience of painting – the
multiple sensory resonances of colour, the tactility of brush stroking paint on
canvas, a struggle against the received templates of design – coupled with my
knowledge of the women’s histories. Then again, even this knowledge (taken,
for instance, from written avowals by both sisters of  the freedom their new
house in Bloomsbury af forded) was apprehended (sensed) in terms of its
probable emotional repercussions: here, Vanessa’s irritation with inhibiting
detail; her revelling in audacity prompted by her release from the confinements
of  the parental home. Red, with its blaze and intimation of anger, becomes
a symbol of sibling rivalry. What Nancy describes as a necessary ‘immersing
of myself ’ in the act of making produced a suggestive synaesthesia that could
allow interpretations – without foreclosure or distortion of  ‘known’ facts.

ELIZABETH: The majority of what we know (or what we don’t know) about
Bell comes from her works of art and in this extract from the novel, Susan
of fers a prose translation of  the mind of  the artist at work on her Abstract
Painting of 1914. My stage adaptation of this scene was an alternative attempt
to shade in this detail; inspired by, but not in imitation of, Susan’s interpreta-
tion. Initially, the representation of  the painter’s mind in a public medium,
such as the stage, posed a problem – how to demonstrate the development
of, and inspiration behind, a painting in actions as well as words. I chose to
show the evolution of Bell’s 1914 Abstract Painting as a representation of Bell’s
feelings towards her new and freer life in Bloomsbury, and used the artwork
as a symbol of its inf luences, rather than as an exploration of  the painter’s
process. In many ways this decision exemplifies Nancy’s definition of sensa-
tion, which is ‘a simultaneous af firmation of  the outside and the inside, of 
the body and of  the soul’. Bell’s painting, for her, is the Nancean ‘green tree
shining in the sunlight’, of which she might justly say: ‘I am in it, I pass into
it, I merge with it’.
The impetus behind Bell’s painting was, to my mind, connected with
the artistic milieu of Bloomsbury and thus I decided to represent an example
of a Bloomsbury evening beneath the image, an evening that was invariably
spent trading socio-political anecdotes and artistic philosophies around the
fire. Instead of using Bell’s reaction to the process of painting, as delineated
by Susan’s words, I used the painting to speak for itself and set it against the
Performing the Artist in Susan Sellers’s Vanessa and Virginia 135

type of intellectually agile conversation at which those who comprised ‘Old

Bloomsbury’ were adept.2 In order to do this I had to make my own additions
to Susan’s text. The speeches, which the stage character of  Virginia Woolf
makes, were adapted from her memoir papers, some of which she performed
to the group (though at a later date). I selected these extracts from Woolf ’s
memoirs primarily because they helped to exemplify the intellectual, artistic
and sexual daring of  the circle (which Susan’s extract dwells on), but also
because they dealt with the sisters’ childhoods, which helped to shed light
on their relationship (the focus of  the play as a whole). It was this type of
evening’s entertainment that I saw ref lected in Bell’s 1914 Abstract Painting.
The light-hearted nature of the scene was also developed in response to a very
real theatrical need to create a moment of  light relief at a time when Leslie
Stephen (the sisters’ father) has just died and when Thoby Stephen (their
brother) is about to die. The painting and dialogue of fer a moment for the
audience to ‘push away’ the pain.

SUSAN: Nancy writes that it is in the ‘relay’ – in the exchanging and shar-
ing of making – and not in the sealing of meaning that sense is made. When
thinking about which elements to present at the colloquium, it seemed to
‘make sense’ to me to start with me reading the passage from the novel. This
enabled not only a personal (re)performance of words I had already writ-
ten, but an opportunity to reproduce and relay some ‘sense’ of  the original
process of making to others. The decision not to supply the audience with a
transcript of the words but to rely on their aural comprehension was taken so
as to arouse a first evocative impression mirroring the impression of the paint-
ing. Because this relied on listening (with its rich interweaving of signifiers,
sound patterns, and associative resonances) we hoped this initial presenta-
tion would be suggestive – and instigate a collective process of sense-making
– rather than finalizing. It could then be augmented by the performance of 
the corresponding passage in Elizabeth’s stage adaptation, ‘played’ by the
actresses, and accompanied by the slow, visual slideshow of  the constitutive
elements of  Bell’s image.

2 ‘Old Bloomsbury’ being the original group of family and friends sitting, as Vanessa says,
‘around a fireplace’.

ELIZABETH: When I first approached the adaptation of  Susan’s novel for
the stage I was very aware of  the danger of merely translating the novel and
putting its words straight into the mouth of the stage incarnation of Vanessa
Bell. Listening to an actress describing her painting on a stage, which itself
is a form of visual art, would have been somewhat dull for an audience, so
I adopted the position of  ‘show, don’t tell’. Bell’s Abstract Painting of 1914,
which evolves in the background of the staged scene, corresponds to certain
words, sentences and sentiments being uttered by the actresses (which then
jettisoned the need for the actress to describe her painting process on stage).
Instead I allowed the painting to speak for itself and to act as a visual score
to the action. The developing painting is, to use Nancy’s logic, the process
of  ‘making’; the piece of art that it eventually becomes is ‘not really dissoci-
able from the process of  the “making”’, which is part of  the scene’s attempt
to ‘make sense’ of  Bell’s life through her art. Each block of colour that fades
onto the screen is triggered by certain thoughts suggested by the dialogue,
and it was my role to ‘make sense’ of  the painting by selecting which shapes
and colours mirrored which part of  the sisters’ words.
The orange background that appears as Vanessa says her first word
‘Bloomsbury’ suggested to me the area in which they lived and in which
they felt free of  their staid Victorian childhoods. The white square overlaid
with pink stands for the circle of  friends and is counterbalanced by the two
thin blue rectangles, which symbolize Vanessa and Virginia. These two rec-
tangles are set slightly apart from the group and, standing side-by-side, they
are united in their desire to become independent artists; Vanessa in paint,
Virginia in words. The large blue rectangle represents Clive Bell, whose pres-
ence is weightier than both the sisters and who eventually calls Vanessa away
from Virginia.
The first red rectangle indicates the f light of Virginia’s agile mind, which
we see exemplified in the amusing anecdotes that she is elaborating onstage.
The last red rectangle I took to represent the growing passion between Vanessa
and Clive and, at the end of  the animation, the rectangle bleeds across the
canvas isolating the blue rectangle that symbolizes Virginia; who felt, fol-
lowing Vanessa’s marriage to Clive Bell, that she had been abandoned by her
beloved sister. This painting is a work of art which I have ‘made sense’ of  to
suit my interpretation of  Susan’s novel. The colours are elements of  Bell’s
consciousness and in this instance they ‘becom[e] a work of painting’ and
Performing the Artist in Susan Sellers’s Vanessa and Virginia 137

‘a work of words’, but they could have become ‘a photo [or …] a rhythm, or a
sonority, etc’. I saw Bell’s Abstract Painting as catching ‘the gleams, ref lections,
shadows which change values, which enhance or diminish each other’ and
I tried to assign meaning to these ‘gleams, ref lections, shadows’; but there
is no way for me, as a playwright, to dictate or lay out the meaning behind
this painting.
Once performed, the painting and the performance become the property
of  the audience. They are filtered through each individual consciousness (‘le
sentiment’) and each must ultimately make their own connections or ‘sense’
out of the picture and the actions that take place before it. In this regard the
evolving painting and its ref lection in the words and actions of  the actresses
represents a process of  ‘making sense’ and is ‘nothing other than the pursuit
of … communication in another register’.

Extract from the Novel

A wall of orange ablaze in the sun, the glow of hot coals. My colours have the
sheen of silk, the rough textures of  Hessian. In the top right-hand corner of
my painting is a pale pink square, edged in blue. The clash between the pink
and orange is violent, compelling, gorgeous. I mute it by adding a daub of
white to the pink, but only slightly. I do not want to diminish the ef fect. On
the left of my canvas I paint a series of rectangles. Some interconnect, some
stand alone. I paint two of  them blue – one a potent aquamarine, the other
paler and tempered with the same hint of whiteness as the pink. I am careless
with the outlines. I have had too many years of cloying detail. What interests
me is the impact of colour.
In the centre of my picture I paint a single rectangle. It is a rich, crimson
red with traces of darker vermilion. It dazzles and sizzles against the orange.
It is the corollary of Father and I revel in its daring. I turn my attention to the
two remaining bars. I paint one green, a blue-sage, slightly chalky. For the other
I choose a strong burgundy. I am fascinated by the way the dif ferent reds shun
and call to each other. Sometimes, when I stand back from my canvas, I can
see nothing else. The way the orange recedes against their impact astonishes

me. I cannot believe the past has already lost its power. I turn my attention
to my central rectangle. I am audacious. I will create the spaces I need. I will
be mistress in my own house.

Extract from the Stage Adaptation

Vanessa moves to her easel.

Vanessa: [Confiding in the audience] Bloomsbury has become so infamous!

At the time, its main attractions were that it had a house we could
af ford and that it was not in the neighbourhood of our aunts.
As I look back now I see that moving there was a turning point.
Time has wrapped layers of myth and envy round what started
very simply. A handful of young men, Thoby, Saxon, Lytton,
Leonard and Clive and two nervous, ill-at-ease women seated
round a fireplace. [She crosses the stage, Virginia enters and
sits, Vanessa sits opposite] I was as entertained as anyone by
your originality. We were conspirators once again. I, welcoming
and presiding, you, intellectually agile, eloquent and daring.

Virginia: [as though speaking to her circle of friends] As children Nessa and I
played in the dark land under the nursery table, in a gloom encir-
cled by firelight, peopled with legs and skirts. We drifted together
like ships in an immense ocean and Nessa asked me whether black
cats had tails. And I told her they did not.

Vanessa: [indulgently] Virginia.

Virginia: Then there was her passion for art. When she won the prize at
her drawing school, she hardly knew how to tell me in order that
I might repeat the news at home. ‘They’ve given me the thing –
I don’t know why’ she said. ‘What thing?’ ‘O they say I’ve won
it – the book – the prize you know.’ She was awkward as a long-
legged colt.
Performing the Artist in Susan Sellers’s Vanessa and Virginia 139

Vanessa: Virginia please.

Virginia: [playfully] Oh, would you rather I talked of myself ? Well, I’ll
tell you all about the French actors instead. Lady Carnarvon
had tickets. I paid little attention to the play. But after a while
I noticed that Lady Carnarvon on one side of me, and George
on the other, were both agitated by the same sort of convulsive
twitching. What could be the matter? I looked at the stage. The
hero and heroine were pouring forth a f lood of  French which I
could not disentangle. Then they stopped. To my great astonish-
ment the lady leapt over the back of  the sofa, the gentleman in
hot pursuit. Round and round they dashed, the lady shrieking,
the man groaning and grunting. It was a fine piece of realistic
acting. Suddenly, the actress dropped exhausted on the sofa, and
the man with a howl of gratification, loosening his clothes quite
visibly, leapt on top of her. The curtain fell. Lady Carnarvon and
George rose simultaneously. Not a word was said. Out we filed.
And as our procession made its way down the stalls I saw Arthur
Cane leap up in his seat like a jack-in-the-box, amazed and con-
siderably amused that George and Lady Carnarvon of all people
had taken a girl of eighteen to see the French actors copulate on
stage. We parted, with great embarrassment on their side, and
Lady Carnarvon said she hoped I wasn’t tired – which meant
she hoped I wouldn’t lose my virginity. Here’s the play, let me
find the scene for you. [Virginia f licks through a book trying
to find the scene]

Vanessa: Clive stares at me intently. His eyes hold mine for a moment, and
I feel a sudden dizzying exhilaration, like seeing a Tintoretto for
the first time. I am voluptuous, a love goddess, carnal and bold.
You do not like this unfamiliar sister. But I have rejected Clive’s
proposal of marriage. I do not want marriage. I do not want to
relinquish our newfound freedom. We are only just beginning
our journey. I am not ready to turn back yet.

Select Bibliography

Sellers, S., Vanessa and Virginia (London: Two Ravens, 2008).

Wright, E., ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ (Bath Spa University, unpublished script, 2010).

I Could Only Tell, by the Skin of my Body

In a collision of cross-cultural collaboration, Jean-Luc Moriceau and Jennifer

Milligan (French/American, Academic/Artist, Man/Woman) set out to create
a performative piece about their impressions of Jean-Luc Nancy for the 2009
Making Sense conference in Cambridge.

Introduction. A Dialogue

J-L: I am moved by how Nancy renders his concepts touchable. We feel, we

touch, we make sense; we are filled, touched, sensed intimately. A text on
photography reminded me about Blanchot’s novella of a narrator being inter-
rogated by an eye doctor and a specialist in mental illness.

J: I work from intuition and questions that inspire deeper questions … I

leave it to ‘others’ to make sense. My process was a dance in deconstructing
dualities around resonance and making sense inspired by Nancy’s thoughts
on Listening.

J-L: I wrote a short beginning of a Blanchotesque interrogation.

J: I imagined a friend’s photo exhibit as the backdrop for this interrogation.

The images are beautiful and disturbingly real. Women looking at Man, both
the singular ‘man’ as photographer and the plural ‘man’ as society. Looking
directly into the eyes of each of these twenty-three women you experience each
one’s relationship to the photographer and the world by how she is looking
142 jennifer milligan, jean-luc moriceau and victor bellaich

back at you. Seeing them all together gives me the sense of what women are
called to be. A chilling reality I hear calling me.

J-L: But it’s not a bare dialogue. There is sense throbbing. The photographer
was capturing from these women in the same way that the psychotherapist
was trying to make sense of  the narrator.

J: My experience of being photographed for this exhibit was complex. I wanted

to set these two experiences of being captured side by side, the one life taking
the other life, fulfilling itself.

J-L: I made a list of  the most relevant and interesting Nancy quotes that I
wanted to include. My academic work kept me very busy so I gave the piece over
to J to turn our 4 months of dialogue and research into a performance.

J: The process was challenging in every way, to find a balance in the duality of
our voices. I wanted to embody the philosophy by putting it in the language
of movement, sound and image.

J-L: When I first read J’s script, I was at a loss and angry. I could no longer see
the philosophy in the photography and personal narrative.

J: I knew the philosophy was present, but became inspired by J-L’s concern.
I asked him to write his impressions of  the Nancy quotes and I placed them
as pauses in the monologue, the presence of  his voice adding depth and

Jennifer set out to embody philosophy in performance by layering Jean-

Luc Moriceau’s impressions on Jean-Luc Nancy, the work Egerias by Victor
Bellaich (a Parisian photographer), and her own personal experience of touch
and resonance.
I Could Only Tell, by the Skin of my Body 143

The Performance

Lights are dim but not dark. The audience can see each other. A voice from
the back of  the lecture hall is heard, soft, male and French reciting impres-
sions of  Nancy by Jean-Luc Moriceau.

Voice: I don’t have a body. I am not a body. My body has been thrown
here. My body gives place to existence.

A performer from the front row of the lecture hall hops into a sitting position on
the desk with her feet on the seat just to the left of a large projection screen. She
addresses an unseen photographer.

Performer: I’m late. Sorry. What do you want? (pause) Nothing? (pause)
Just me. No smile. (pause) When I look at you I smile.

A slide projection begins, black with the sound of a camera shutter. As a

backdrop to the performers monologue, the slides progress through a series
of  twenty-three women looking directly into the camera with the gesture of 
baring one breast. The changes gradually increase in tempo with the sound
of  the camera shutter between each one.

Performer: Ok … Look at the lens. (pause) I’m nervous. You make me

nervous. Or the lens makes me nervous. No, you both make
me nervous. (pause) You … because I’m continuously trying to
make sense of you, so I can define us … and I can’t … because
we are only moments, always in the present. (pause) Now you
smile. (pause) The lens? I know it’s capturing me. I feel exposed.
Well … I think I’m supposed to do something, be someone,
or prove something. It makes me self-conscious. It’s like I’m
standing outside myself seeing in. Seeing how the world might
interpret me. (pause) I’m sorry. I’m distracted.

While Jennifer pauses in a gesture of  frustration the voice from the back of  the
lecture hall speaks.
144 jennifer milligan, jean-luc moriceau and victor bellaich

Voice: I am a singular plurality. I am a shore open to the world, to the

uncertainty, to the strangeness. I am a voice calling in the desert.
I am a body in the community, a body out of an in­operative

She addresses the unseen photographer.

Performer: I’ve just come from a meeting with the Dean of the college and
a psychotherapist because they were concerned. ‘My teaching
methods disrupt the traditions of  the classroom.’ I think they
think I’m crazy. I was sitting in their sterile of fice, with them
questioning my sanity because they couldn’t make sense of what
I was doing, but they couldn’t make sense of what I was doing
because they weren’t doing it. They were only observing. They
wanted me to tell them my linear narrative so they could draw
a two dimensional sketch of me. They tried to touch me. But
this touch, so clinical, indif ferent and full of ideas, it just killed
me. I felt trapped. Hidden behind this sketch, pounding against
my skin to be seen and heard. They wanted to know my deepest
self, but there was no listening for it. Their questions were sharp
and leading. They drew words from me, each with a permanent
marker drawing a story around my skin. I’m blank. Blank.

She pauses while the voice from the back of  the lecture hall speaks.

Voice: Don’t represent my body; you would kill me. You can’t capture
the sense. If you want to know my sense, approach, touch. There
can’t be any sexual relations.

She stands on the desk absorbed in her story.

Performer: My narrative is a kaleidoscope of impressions, impres­sions

from senses, senses of ref lections, ref lections on actions,
actions upon reactions, reactions to meanings, meanings based
on what made sense, sense that is now past and irrelevant to
now. …Now. … And Now. I wanted them to stop making sense
of me. I wanted them to allow me … to breathe … to live.
I Could Only Tell, by the Skin of my Body 145

The voice from the back of  the lecture hall speaks.

Voice: Sense is born in the moment, in this place, close to the contours.
It has the weight of a thought. Sense is always coming, always
imminent. Sense is in the approach. My body is the sense. Or
maybe it’s just a sign. But the sense has a body. The images have
a skin. I try to touch them. The sense burns.

Jennifer coming back to the present moment addresses the unseen photographer.

Performer: You’re capturing me; this moment and this moment; moments
of creation. Your lens is empty longing to fill for a moment then
empty and full and empty and full. You penetrate my skin. I
feel your listening … your curiosity … your continuous desire
to discover … to construct, deconstruct and re-construct …
again and again … never drawing with a permanent marker …
yet making continuous permanent marks.

The slides change quickly from woman to woman with no sound.

Performer: I feel vulnerable in this intimate touch, nervous, and excited

to be seen and heard. I feel the echo of my nakedness ref lected
back to me. But what happens when you develop me, print
me, frame me, hang me for the eyes of society? Then we are
defined, criticized, sold, copied, faded, trashed, re-discovered,
re-defined, re-criticized, re-printed, re-sold, re-cycled … num-
bered. Is the impression from the moment of creation still
present? Does it resonate within the frame? Does it penetrate
the skin?

Standing on the front row of  the lecture benches, Jennifer turns to see the title
page of  the exhibition.

Performer: I look at your exhibition of photographs … every time I blink

I make a new sense … though the skin never changes …
146 jennifer milligan, jean-luc moriceau and victor bellaich

The photographer’s text appears across each of  the women as the slides progress
more slowly with the sound of  the camera shutter. The performer improvises an
acapella song while watching the exhibition.

The last photo is of  her. The screen goes to black with credits as the performer
turns and addresses the audience directly.

Performer: Close your eyes and touch your skin. Breath. Deep. What do
you feel? What sense can you make beneath your skin?

The performer is struck by how profoundly dif ficult this seemingly simple task
appears to be for the audience in the setting of a lecture hall and asks herself

Message from the Photographer

I wanted to portray women in a direct and intimate way.

Away from seduction, realism or provocation
to approach the complexity of a modern woman in a simple photograph.

To invite a woman to face herself as a symbolic identity.

I wanted her to show herself  her own pure self desire, not that of men,
and put this goal in the form of an art ‘equation’:
opposing nudity and laid bare by a gesture with a question mark.

I chose to photograph the gesture of a woman revealing one breast.

At first innocuous, this gesture is at the crossroads of strong lines:
femininity, intimacy, sexuality, motherhood, life, illness, death,
lines emphasized by the breast she doesn’t show.
It’s a three-level reading of a woman who is described
by what she of fers and what she holds: a body, a gesture, a regard.
I Could Only Tell, by the Skin of my Body 147

These women are not models.

Some took a year to decide, others in an instant,
but they all desired to enter this story
and accepted me as a ‘messenger’ of  their gesture.

The close distance, the absence of artifice and the straightforward look
puts the spectator in a face to face, so that before one can view the breast
one is confronted with the eyes of a woman who gives herself and says: ‘I’.
23 questions about the identity of a woman today.

Making ‘Me’ Things Makes ‘You’

I.  Elizabeth, an Editor, Makes an Error:

In which Alice wonders what she is doing here.

Tell no one: Elizabeth Rush made a generous mistake. I shall exploit it enthu-
siastically. As I understand, this volume explores the topic of  ‘making sense’.
Here’s the rub: I make nonsense.

My intuited definition of  ‘making sense’ is two-fold:

1. Things ‘make sense’ because they follow an individualized inner

2. Things ‘make sense’ because they follow a known mass logic. This
logic might derive from publicly inf luential inner logicians, those
who gain a critical mass of approval such that this approval becomes
self-reinforcing (for example, British authorities using ‘sensible’ as a
technical term.)

My inner logic is to defy mass logic. I think it possible that what makes sense
to me is to make nonsense to everyone else. As a highly social being, I am not
allowed this luxury in most instances. Thus my nonsense-making instincts
have been largely contained in my art.

II.  In which Alice becomes ‘The Artist’

Elizabeth supports my attempts at jewellery making, and I repay her gra-

ciousness by playing along. Seeing as she hoped I would provide an artist’s
perspective on making sense, I will accept the insinuation that I am an artist.
This is complicated for several reasons:

1. There is a significant debate on ‘craft’ versus ‘art’. ‘Craft’ emphasizes

technical prowess and functionality; ‘art’ emphasizes concept and
non-functionality. I make jewellery, which has traditionally fallen
in the ‘craft’ camp. My jewellery, however, emphasizes concept, and
often, intentional non-functionality.
2. Unlike most other trades, the profession of ‘artist’ carries a pretension
that assumes what one does is: a. ‘art’ and b. ‘good’. As the success of
an artist is determined by critique, to nominate oneself  for the role
is to assume superiority of self not only in skill but also in judgment.
There are of ficial qualifications for artists, but I hold none. Arguably,
the real qualification for an artist is to have others view you as one.
I’ve been fortunate enough to convince a few sets of eyes.
3. To be an artist can be an identity as well as a profession, or even an
identity in lieu of a profession. One can live as an artist, or see the
world as one – usually this unique perspective marks itself out as in
contrast to popular perception, or what I have referred to as ‘mass
logic’. The artist’s identity operates on or through nonsense. There is
art in the illogical. That makes sense to me.

Elizabeth is right. I admit it! It makes sense to say that I am an artist.

III.  Sense or Sensational: In which The Artist makes Stories

I make jewellery that others accept as art, but that isn’t the point. What I really
make for the benefit of others is a set of stories. There is the sheer aesthetic
appeal of a piece of jewellery as an object of visual interest, and then there
Making ‘Me’ Things Makes ‘You’ 151

are the stories that come with each piece. Most often, the method of creat-
ing I employ is that of physical collage, combining components that may or
may not be expressly intended for use in jewellery. When I sold my jewellery
in a few fashion boutiques in New Haven and New York, I always tried to
give the shopkeepers the stories as well as the pieces, feeling the objects were
incomplete without them. For instance:
These pearls came from a pearl market in the Philippines, as did this wooden bead. I
chose them at the time because they reminded me of  the food we were eating during
this trip. If you haven’t heard of a calamansi fruit, as we hadn’t before our first meal in
Manila, you should try to find one. You will be unable to disassociate the fruit from
the necklace afterwards.

I made a prototype of this bracelet during a bus ride in the Philippine moun-
tains. All bus rides in the Philippine mountains are long and bumpy. The
eyestrain and frustration of dropping crystals was outweighed by my excite-
ment to make this narrative piece abstracting a jaguar in the jungle (see how
the cool lagoon blue complements the hot sanguine red). My companions
thought I was crazy for persisting. I would have gone crazy had I not.

In the case of  tabloid newspapers, sensationalism grabs attention through

stories. I strive to respect any attention af forded to my jewellery with stories
that I hope make sense, if not sensation.

IV.  You Like It Why? The Artist gets Confused by Success

I never understand why people like what I make. I am utterly f lattered and
delighted, but always in awe. I have just come to accept that sometimes, people
like what I make, although sometimes, I am wrong about which objects they
gravitate to preferentially. I take a bit of joy in the uncertainty of debuting a
design that I think too strange for general appreciation. For the most part,
however, I find that my preference within my objects coincides with their
popularity. I also find myself picking pieces that I think others would like,
but which I deliberately create to be dif ferent.

A friend of mine who organized a high-profile charity auction wanted to

feature a couple of my pieces. After I pulled piece after piece out of my jewel-
lery box for his selection, he asked if there were pieces I would not be willing
to donate. I said no. He then pointed to the circlet I had been wearing all
summer and said, ‘Well then, of course I want the one that you’re wearing’.
He then proceeded to select a piece that was literally half-baked, telling me
that he loved it because it looked like bread. I am relieved to know the view-
ers of my art make as much nonsense of my pieces as I do.

V.  You Hate It Why? The Artist gets Confused by Failure

The worst reaction to art is the one that occurs when people don’t understand
– when they can’t make sense of why I have half a broken plate hanging from
my neck. I can explain that it is a ‘danger jewel’, but it may not get me past a
frown. To dislike out of  fear I can accept. To dislike out of anger I cannot.
People tend to like when things make sense to them. When we say we
‘get’ it, it means that we are on board or have made sense of it, enabling us
to decide whether or not to get on board. When we don’t get things, we don’t
get on board. When we are not on board with something, the results can be
I have a pair of white leather platform sandal boots that people either really
‘get’ or really don’t. I did not make them, but I did make them ‘me’. Walking
in them to my train in the New York Metro system, I realized someone was
yelling something. Someone was yelling something at me. Someone was yell-
persistent. It was angry. It was hurtful. It was mean nonsense. By attacking
my shoes, the of fender attacked me. They did not make sense to him, so he
made them into publicly denounced nonsense.

In his honour, I’m wearing these shoes today.

Making ‘Me’ Things Makes ‘You’ 153

VI.  I Didn’t Know Ketchup Could Expire:

The Artist does some Housekeeping

There is no reason why my mother should have these old Tootsie Roll pops
in her cupboard. There is a reason why she got them in the first place: I loved
them when I was eight. Now, I am twenty-three, cleaning out my mother’s
kitchen and finding things that don’t make sense to keep. But do they not
belong, these tangible hold-outs from when she could make my day with a
fifteen-cent confection, from when she knew how much I treasured keeping
my three favourite f lavours, raspberry, cherry, and orange, until they petri-
fied? There is little sense driving love, but where my mother is concerned, love
makes the logic of every thing, and logic of everything.

Nostalgia is what we can make sense of  from love. It’s what makes sense to
hold on to things that otherwise don’t make sense.

My jewellery is a type of nostalgia. It makes sense of things that don’t belong

anywhere else. Sometimes it’s because the items are classified as junk. With
other jewellery, it is because the items are classified as treasure that they are
used. The value of my materials is in their residue, in their past lives, and in
their stories. That is their sense-value.

VII.  Necklace: The Artist stops making sense,

or admits she never did in the first place

Silk scarves knot Euroworld wirewirecaramelline wiretwistwire basement

junkstore plastic dinosaur plastic squirtgun backroom auction lot green­
crystalwhatsit knot broken polymerclaybow chain tangle hey isn’t that a
calamansi silkscarvesknotchainknot.

VIII.  ‘What Does Your Jewellery Look Like?’ and

‘May I Have Some?’: The Artist asserts she has really been
making jewellery all along

Enough! I don’t want to make sense. I would rather make jewellery. So here,
a gift:

Kindly rip out all pages containing only this essay,

Tear each page into pieces of varying size,
Crumple each piece into a ball,
Thread them on a portion of wire (material, length, and gauge of your
Fasten the wire around your neck, wrist, head – anywhere you’ll have it,
anyway you’d like,
Make it make sense around you!
Wear it proudly!
When people (inevitably) ask you what it is, tell them that it is ‘a praxis’.

It makes sense to me. And now it makes you.

Making Sense as ‘Event’

The Sensation of  Painting Country in

Remote Northern Australia

Does not the East, Oceania in particular, of fer something like a rhizomatic
model opposed in every respect to the Western model of  the tree?1

My paintings evolve from direct experience in a country that spans coastal

boundaries between water and land in the remote regions of northern Australia,
part of the Australasian ecozone belonging to what is commonly referred to
as Oceania. By applying the rhizomatic model discussed by Gilles Deleuze,
I set out to demonstrate three key points: first, I show the ways in which the
remote north exists outside of  the traditional European genre of  landscape
painting; second, I present my experience of  the process of painting in the
remote north of  Australia; and third, I consider how Deleuzian philosophy
allows me to make sense of my painting experience and of the artwork itself.
By focusing specifically on my painting experiences amongst the rhizomatic
mangrove systems in West Arnhem Land, I will demonstrate how the rhizo-
matic model manifests itself, both in a philosophical sense, and in a physical
sense. In a broader sense, by applying Deleuzian philosophy, it becomes pos-
sible to gain greater insights into my painting practice in the region of  the
remote north, but more importantly, it opens up the potential for new ways
of seeing and making sense of  the landscape painting genre.2
I divide this essay into four parts. The first brings together two main
concepts: the rhizomatic model and the landscape genre. The second provides

1 G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans.

B. Massumi (New York: Continuum, 2008), p. 20.
2 Ibid., p. 23.

a brief review of  landscape painting and colonization of  Australia, focusing
on territory as a process of settlement. The third examines unique factors of
northern Australia that place my practice beyond the traditional landscape
painting genre. The fourth ref lects on my experience painting on site. In
contrast to the first three sections, this part is written in a diaristic style. It
comprises a review of two key paintings and the process through which they
evolve, with the aim of demonstrating how Deleuzian philosophy allows me
to create a connection between what is represented and my experience as I
move through the painting process.

Rhizomes or Trees: Country beyond Landscape

What is the rhizomatic model? Deleuze and Guattari set out a complex dis-
cussion on the rhizome in the introductory chapter to A Thousand Plateaus:
Capitalism and Schizophrenia, which from the outset acknowledges that the
rhizomatic system is extremely diverse and can be seen in many dif ferent ways,
in many dif ferent contexts: ‘The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms,
from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs
and tubers.’3 Rhizomes can even be seen in the way ‘rats swarm over each
other’.4 The philosophers concede the need to establish ‘certain approximate
characteristics’ in order to convince their readers of  the rhizomatic system,
and propose 6 key principles, including connection and heterogeneity, mul-
tiplicity, cartography and decalcomania, as well as the principle of assigning
rupture, which is the ability for rhizomatic entities to develop new of fshoots
and regenerate after being severed. Deleuze also introduces the concept of the
‘body without organs’, a system which continually ‘dismantles the organism,
causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate’, like in the
paintings of Francis Bacon in The Logic of Sensation.5 The rhizomatic model,

3 Ibid., p. 7.
4 Ibid.
5 G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of  Sensation, trans. D.W. Smith (Minneapolis:
University of  Minnesota Press, 2008), p. 34.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 159

seen as a body that continually dismantles the organism and allows particles
to freely pass through, creates a porous system open to change and constant
regeneration. In this way painting becomes a f luid, rhizomatic process inter-
connected with molecular force and cosmic sensation.
Rhizomatic connections emerge between a multiplicity of disciplines
including sociology and science. Although Deleuze and Guattari concede
that they ‘are no more familiar with scientificity’ than they are with ‘ideol-
ogy’, preferring to refer to ‘assemblages’, rather than discrete disciplines, much
of  their work draws heavily on science, including Deleuze’s later treatise on
Wilhelm Leibniz, The Fold, in which he proposes a complex discussion on
dif ferential calculus, among other scientific aspects.6 The ways in which
Deleuze brings forward ideas of  folding and molecular science through his
discussions on force and sensation, and connects them with other disciplines,
are directly relevant to my experience as a painter. I refer to the figure in the
anguished paintings of  Francis Bacon, or the force of  folding mountains in
Paul Cézanne’s paintings, or in the pleats of  fabric, in the writhing mono-
lithic landscapes and in the tortured figures of  El Greco’s work.7 Science
also plays an important role in understanding nuances of  the rhizomatic
model brought forward through my paintings, particularly in the specific
context of the mangrove swamp, replete with highly organized ecosystems and
tidal rhythms, all subject to the gravitational force of the moon. At high tide
mangrove swamps become regenerative lagoons filled with aquatic wildlife
and at low tide, they are reduced to mudf lats with exposed aerial roots and
mudskippers darting in between shadows. By considering myself part of this
ecosystem, rather like a rhizomatic of fshoot, or a body without organs, I can
apply Deleuzian philosophy to make sense of  how I am physically af fected,
but also how the paint itself responds.
Of  further relevance to my practice and the rhizome model is the con-
cept of the unconscious, which Deleuze and Guattari bring forward through

6 G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia,

p. 25; G. Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (New York: Continuum, 2006),
pp. 18–19.
7 Cézanne and El Greco are referred to in relation to chaos and science in G. Deleuze
and F. Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, trans. G. Burchell and H. Tomlinson (London:
Verso, 2009), pp. 204–5.

a discussion on schizoanalysis and linguistics. They emphasize the capacity

for rhizomatic thinking to ‘produce the unconscious’; the rhizome ‘is the
production of  the unconscious’.8 For me the unconscious is a link between
force and sensation in the land and in painting. It manifests itself  through
the painting event as degrees of intensity experienced by connecting directly
with the northern regions of  Australian Oceania.
In short, the concept of  the rhizome is as comprehensive and complex
as a mangrove swamp itself. At its broadest level of understanding, Deleuze’s
rhizomatic model is a way of seeing the world. At its most specific, the rhizome
is a ‘tuber or a bulb’, with ‘subterranean stems’.9 In my practice, the rhizome is
likewise broadly a way of understanding the world, which for me is the remote
north of Australia, and at its most specific, the mangrove with its aerial root
system is a complex and rich ecosystem.
How does the rhizomatic model provide new ways of understanding
landscape? Whilst Deleuze does not examine the specific concept of landscape
painting, he does, in a broader sense, develop an image of Oceania based on a
rhizomatic model of thinking, which he compares with a more genealogical,
arborescent style of thinking from the West. In short, Deleuze compares the
concept of  the tree with the rhizome. ‘The tree is filiation, but the rhizome
is alliance, uniquely alliance’.10 He deconstructs the context of  the tree in a
European landscape by referring to deforestation, cultivation, and animal-
raising as being based on ‘species lineages of  the arborescent type’.11 He does
not specifically develop the anti-image of the Western landscape, which to an
extent, could be said to be an outcome of my practice. Through the produc-
tion of painting in mangrove habitats of the remote north, I begin to develop
an anti-genealogy of the Western model of arborescent landscape. I examine
which aspects of  Western permutations of  landscape have been successful,
and which have failed. I use this, much like Deleuze builds a philosophical
picture of  the East and Oceania, to build a philosophical picture, rendered
through paint, of  the Australian Oceania of  the remote north. I propose

8 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, pp. 19–20.

9 I summarize aspects of  the introductory chapter, entitled ‘Rhizome’, referring specifi-
cally to pp. 7–11, ibid.
10 Ibid., p. 27.
11 Ibid., p. 20.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 161

that this process of painting deterritorializes the painter’s hierarchical posi-

tion, and breaks down the binary opposition between the painter and the
subject. It ref lects instead, a non-centered, supportive system of networks
between the milieu as a whole.12 I explore beyond the traditional European
view of landscape painting, which I argue is not relevant to my practice, as it
promotes a genealogical, linear way of  thinking, much like the way Deleuze
sees the Western model of  the tree. Hence I focus on rhizomatic mangrove
habitats, which ‘unlike trees or their roots in the Western model of  the tree’,
can be connected to many other points so that their ‘traits are not necessar-
ily linked to traits of  the same nature’.13 Mangrove roots become part of a
greater ecosystem. The aerial roots of the mangrove serve to nourish the tree,
but they also create a network of  homes for broader wildlife habitats within
a highly developed ecosystem.

Unsettling Country

In this section I sketch out relevant historical aspects of landscape painting in

Australia. From a contemporary art theory position, I comment on colonial
landscape painting and provide very quick glimpses into how the ideology of 
landscape painting shifts as Australia moves forward. I leap across more than
two centuries, from ideology to location-specific discussion, arriving in the
end, at today’s threshold of the Northern Territory. Key to my discussion on
colonial painting is the concept of  territory, as discussed by Deleuze.
Historically, colonial landscape painting celebrates the image developed
by Deleuze of  the Western landscape of settlement, with ‘fields carved from
the forests’ and, as referred to by art theorist Nicholas Thomas ‘a juxtaposi-
tion between disorderly virgin bush on the periphery of a property and the

12 The concept of antigenealogy is discussed on pages 12 and 23 in relation to the rhizome.

Refer to the introductory chapter, ‘Rhizome’ in ibid.
13 Ibid., p. 23.

cleared pasture or garden that has succeeded it’.14 Is it paradise lost, or paradise
regained? On the one hand, like Deleuze, much contemporary art criticism
deconstructs the traditional genre of  landscape. On the other hand, in the
context of contemporary art criticism, public opinion is often divided over the
intentions of settler culture. As Thomas observes, there is a certain ambiva-
lence between ‘lamenting’ settlement on the one hand, and ‘celebrating the
pioneer spirit’ on the other.15
From its origins in colonial art to the extremes of contemporary painting
in the remote country of  the north, I see landscape painting as inextricably
linked to territory, and thus to all forms of settlement, whether colonial or
contemporary, forcibly settled or sensitively negotiated, paradise lost, or
paradise regained. I suggest that what dif ferentiates some traditional forms of
colonial landscape from my contemporary practice in the north is the expe-
rience of  territorialization. I see territorialization as a process of settling but
also of unsettling country, a constant process of re- and deterritorialization,
one of the key ideas of Deleuzian philosophy. Particularly in the remote north
of  Australia, I sense that country is still in a phase of unsettling transition,
almost of chaos and catastrophe, rendering territorialization and settlement
an active and transient process, not yet historically preserved and contained
like many parts of  Europe, as evidenced in the Western genre of  landscape
painting, passed onto colonial painters, albeit often rebuked. It is therefore
a paradox that, as Deleuze observes in relation to the percept, af fect and
concept of painting, ‘art preserves, and it is the only thing in the world that
is preserved’.16
I see this paradox between the infinite cosmic, geomorphic and geophilo-
sophical unfolding of  territory in northern Australia on the one hand, and
on the other, between the eternal preservation of its af fect through painting.
What role do I, as the painter, play in relation to territory? When painting

14 N. Thomas, ‘Eugen Von Guérard: Possession and Dispossession; Excerpts from

Possesions: Indigenous Art/Colonial Culture, Thames & Hudson, London 1999’, in Radical
Revisionism: An Anthology on Writings of  Australian Art, ed. Rex Butler (Brisbane:
Institute of  Modern Art, 1999), pp. 20, 151.
15 Ibid., p. 150.
16 I discuss territory in relation to the discussion on percept, af fect and concept in Deleuze
and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, pp. 163–5. I suggest that painting preserves the f leet-
ing moment of  territory.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 163

on site in the remote stretches of  Arnhem Land, I sense in some ways that I
am able to liberate territory from its representation, or at least set in motion
a process of transition from the actual to the virtual, from the painted to the
painting. The words of Deleuze ring true to my own work, in which: ‘The air
still has the turbulence, the gust of wind, and the light that it had that day last
year, and it no longer depends on whoever was breathing it that morning’.17 As
a painter working directly on site, through sensation, I am inextricably linked
to territory, yet the space itself remains independent. The key question then
is how does territory remain independent of my own observation? By paint-
ing the ‘bloc of sensations’, that is the sensation of  turbulence, rather than,
for example, the purely representational and perspectivally accurate angle of
a windswept mangrove branch in relation to the Arnhem shoreline, what I
perceive and experience is no longer a subjective perception. It is a ‘percept’,
independent ‘of a state of  those who experience them’, or in my case, inde-
pendent of my own experience.18
In the process of territory becoming independent, figurative or represen-
tational aspects of  landscape painting shift towards the figural. The figural,
as Elizabeth Grosz observes in relation to Deleuze on sensation and chaos,
‘is the end of figuration, the abandonment of art as representation, significa-
tion, narrative’. It is ‘the deformation of  the sensational and the submission
[of ] the figurative to sensation’.19 The extreme of  figural painting might, for
example, be seen in the work of  Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, discussed
by Deleuze in relation to ‘catastrophe-painting’, which he argues, pushes ‘[…]
colour patche[s] and line traits to their functional limit: no longer the trans-
formation of form but the decomposition of matter’.20 To an extent, seen as a
process of  territorialization, my practice similarly embodies the submission
to force and sensation during an event of ‘catastrophe-painting’, albeit specifi-
cally in northern Australia. In country largely defined by chaos and sensation,
I am endlessly bound up in territorialization, both in my actual presence and
in territory’s figural manifestation as blocs of sensation in painting. I inhabit

17 Ibid.
18 Ibid.
19 E. Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of  the Earth (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2008), p. 88.
20 Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of  Sensation, p. 74.

territory as the artist-figure. My body itself is transmogrified by the force and

sensation of  the milieu from the figurative to the figural. Figurative repre-
sentation of space likewise submits to the figural, from the actual to a virtual
bloc of sensations.
Within this milieu of sensation and territory, as the artist-figure I am
inextricably bound up in a f luid and constantly unfolding universe. For
Deleuze, the universe is home to the figure, which he sees both in a literal
sense through the figurative works of  Francis Bacon, and also in a concep-
tual sense, expressed for example through the works of  Claude Monet and
his garden. Clearly, Francis Bacon’s figures are the subject of  the painting,
whilst Monet’s more subtle garden paintings become the vehicle of sensations
embodied and transmogrified by the artist-figure during the painting event.
Whether the figure is the actual or the virtual subject manifested through
the vehicle of painting, in both Bacon’s and Monet’s work, for Deleuze, the
figure ‘is no longer the inhabitant of  the place, of  the house, but of  the uni-
verse that supports the house’.21 The figure, when caught up in the sensation
of a painting, becomes ‘a passage from the finite to the infinite, but also
from territory to deterritorialization’.22 From the perspective of  the painter,
rather than the observer, I therefore inhabit both the actual location of  the
painting, and the virtual space of my painting. I am infinitely caught up in a
passage between territorialization and deterritorialization. I am in the real
space of northern Australia and in the virtual space of painting at the same
time. Through the process of painting, I preserve territory, yet by painting
sensation perception is set free. I paradoxically liberate aspects of  territory
by distilling the figural from the representational and by becoming a passage
from the finite to the infinite.
Thus, it becomes possible to re-vision landscape, unsettling, rather than
settling place. Colonial landscape painting as a territorial gesture does not
begin or end, but through the painter constantly re-envisions its place within
space, or within the cosmos of  Australia. I suggest that through settling and
unsettling country over the last two centuries, the painter’s vision of  land-
scape has shifted from territory to territory, reinventing itself each time in
many dif ferent guises, gradually shifting away from the arborescent, Western

21 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy? p. 180.

22 Ibid.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 165

territory towards a rhizomatic territory, sending out connections and rein-

venting itself, again and again. This shift is particularly notable during post
modernism, when landscape painting takes on new forms of meaning and
new territories, often questioning grand narratives built up over years of 
Eurocentric art history. Examining 200 years of creating Australia through
art since settlement, from 1788 to 1988, art theorist Francis Lindsay compares
the Australian painter, Peter Booth, with Francisco Goya, whose concern he
explains, ‘like Booth’s today, was for humanity and the threat which it brings
to its own existence through ignorance and brutality’.23 Lindsay extrapolates
from the figures writhing amongst brooding landscapes that ‘man must make
his journey through darkness and descend through the holocaust to Hell,
before being reborn into a new world of peace and harmony. Paradise may
be lost, but it may also be regained’.24 There is a sense of enlightenment and
awareness, perhaps a questioning of colonization and its ef fect, and an empha-
sis on the importance of  ‘Aboriginal stories of creation and regeneration’.
There is a strong emphasis on the co-existence of  ‘man, with beasts, insects
and organic life’.25 Landscape is no longer a force stronger than nature. It is a
site of enlightened co-habitation.
During the 1980s, as I observe in research towards my 2006 exhibition
entitled Sublime Territory, contemporary cultural issues are becoming ‘evi-
dent in a range of contemporary artworks’.26 Northern Australia in particular
is becoming a site of collaboration between non-Indigenous and Aboriginal
artists. Connections are forged and landscape painting moves far beyond the
territory of traditional European landscape painting. Non-indigenous painter
Peter Adsett collaborates with Aboriginal artist Rusty Peters in the late 1990s
to create the exhibition, Two Laws … One Big Spirit.27

23 F. Lindsay, ‘Paradise Lost: Paradise Regained; Peter Booth Painting 1982’, in Creating
Australia: 200 Years of  Art 1788–1988, ed. D. Thomas (Adelaide: Art Gallery of  South
Australia, 1982), p. 224.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid.
26 C. Rannersberger, ‘Sublime Territory: Romantic Imaginings of  Kakadu and Beyond’
(Catalogue Essay, Charles Darwin University 2006).
27 P. Adsett and R. Peters, Two Laws … One Big Spirit, Exhibition Catalogue, 24hr Art,
Northern Territory Centre for Contemporary Art’ (Darwin: 24hr Art, 2000).

There is a growing emphasis on Aboriginal society and welfare. In 2004,

Graphic artist Therese Ritchie critiques what she sees as a ‘frontline trauma’
and a ‘crash site’ in the Northern Territory by manipulating photographs of 
local sites with portraits of  Indigenous people and juxtaposing them with
European landscapes.28 Society, I conclude, is now ‘defined by dif ferences,
gaps similarities, synergies, tensions, and above all, an infinite and constantly
shifting multitude of cultural identities’.29
At the end of  the millennium landscape painting in the remote north
is likewise defined by dif ferences, gaps and similarities. There is an intricate
network of relationships developing, and this gives rise to new ways of seeing
country. In the catalogue essay for my 2008 exhibition, Australian writer
Nicolas Rothwell makes sense of my landscape by questioning the relation-
ship of  European landscape with Indigenous tradition:

Landscape, she soon came to believe, fulfilled in Australia the part played in Europe by
art, by the artistic tradition. It furnished the dominant imagery: it was the source and
epitome of form. But what was the place of the western, artistic eye in such a lavish realm
of  landscape – landscape so rich in Indigenous painted traditions, where shelters and
overhangs of the escarpment and its outliers serve as galleries for countless artworks […]
How can the outsider work in such a space, and in the margins of such a tradition?30

The cultural shift in thinking has challenged Eurocentric visions and has called
for a new multi-focal position. There is no longer one united clear vision of
country. The territory of the north is both feted and contested. It is dif ficult
to know whether to celebrate the north, or to lament it. How to make sense
of this? New visual languages are rising out of the interconnectivity and eve-
rything is in a constant state of change, f lux, movement, deterritorialization
and destabilization. Today, the landscape of the Northern Territory, spilling
out across the edges of Arnhem Land’s Oceania, is an assemblage of rhizomatic
striations forging links across disparate traits. It is site of trauma. Striations are

28 Therese Ritchie, Ship of  Fools (Darwin: Black Dog Graphics, 2004).
29 Rannersberger, ‘Sublime Territory: Romantic Imaginings of  Kakadu and Beyond’,
p. 9.
30 Nicolas Rothwell, Catalogue Essay, Landscapes of  Delight and Disquiet, Caroline
Rannersberger (Sydney: Thirty-seven degrees contemporary fine art gallery, Dominik
Mersch Gallery, 2008), pp. 2–4.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 167

continually ruptured, but like the rhizome, this country continually regener-
ates and creates infinite connections of growth and development.

Becoming Country

Art struggles with chaos but it does so in order to render it sensory, even
through the most charming character, the most enchanted landscape.
— Jean-Antoine Watteau31

In developing my anti-genealogy of landscape painting, I propose that settle-

ment and territorialization in the remote north of  Australia is unique from
the rest of  Australia, and conclude therefore that landscape painting is like-
wise unique in the remote north. I propose that four key factors contribute
to this vision, suggesting that the elemental forces of the cosmos have played
a major role in determining the territory of  the north. These factors are: (1)
resistance to settlement, (2) climatic force and chaotic conditions, (3) resist-
ance to Christianity, (4) lack of developed land.
Landscape painting, together with settlement has been complicit with
chaos. As Deleuze observes, ‘Art indeed struggles with chaos, but it does so in
order to bring forth a vision that illuminates it for an instant, a Sensation’.32
The harsh climate of northern Australia continues to challenge settlement.
The European genealogical vision, as evidenced in many exploration journals,
clearly failed to understand the complexities and nuances of the remote north.
Around the same time as the European concept of  landscape painting first
began to emerge in the sixteenth century through the Dutch masters, explor-
ers from the same country were expanding their horizons through travel.
The Dutch were the first Europeans to navigate the north of  Australia, and

31 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia, p. 204.

32 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, p. 204.

indeed, gave this region its name, ‘Aernem’ in 1623.33 However, as did many
other European explorers to come, they found this region inhospitable and
inaccessible, lacking in potential for economic trade or livelihood. Many set-
tlements have since failed, including the ill conceived Victoria Settlement at
Port Essington on the far northern Cobourg Peninsula, despite its inef fable
beauty and allure described so eloquently by the nineteenth-century German
explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt.34 Even today, the battle against the elements is
a precarious one. As recently as 1974, Cyclone Tracy wiped out the capital
city of the Northern Territory on Christmas day, and ‘authorities decided to
empty Darwin’.35
Seen in the light of failed exploration and settlement, climatic force has
chaotic implications. Like past explorers, the painter engages in a process of
conf lagration with the location, often merging into a blurred milieu of real-
ity, subjectivity and objectivity. The risk is complete submission to chaotic
conditions, somewhat like the catastrophe of painting discussed by Deleuze in
relation to Paul Cézanne. ‘Painters pass through the catastrophe themselves,
embrace the chaos, and attempt to emerge from it’.36 In the tropical regions of 
Australia, the country is more powerful than the painter, who must embrace
the conditions as part of  the painting process, moving towards the extreme
of chaos; towards depthless shadows that lurk in the shallow waters of  the
tidal mudf lats, between the mangrove root system and the grey apparitions
f loating below. In this way it becomes possible to move beyond the limiting
cliché of  the Western landscape genealogy.

33 J. Carstenzoons, ‘The Translation of the “Journael Van Jan Carstensz. Op De Ghedaene

Reyse Van Nova Guinea”’ in L.C.D. Van Dijk. Twee Togten Naar De Golf  Van
Carpentaria, was partly taken from J.E. Heeres, ‘the Part Borne by the Dutch in the
Discovery of Australia 1606–1765’, <http://www.kb.nl/galerie/australie> (last accessed
12 June 2011).
34 L. Leichhardt, Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port
Essington: A Distance of Upwards of 3000 Miles During the Years 1844–1845 (Lane Cove,
NSW: Doubleday, 1980), Chapter 10.
35 ABC, ‘The Big Blow of Cyclone Tracy, 30 Years On’. ABC Northern Territory, <http://
www.abc.net.au/nt/stories/s1255740.htm> (last accessed 12 June 2011).
36 The lure of chaos is one the recurring themes in my work, and is expressed succinctly in
Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of  Sensation, p. 72.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 169

One of the most defining factors of northern Australia is the Indigenous

culture and its traditional belief systems. In many remote regions of the north,
including Arnhem Land, Indigenous belief systems generally prevail over
Christianity. Thus landscape, historically a European construct with its origins
in Christianity, must fight for its place. The link between Christianity and
landscape is eloquently observed by Jean-Luc Nancy. Nancy sees landscape as
a European concept determined in part by the ‘penetration of [a Christian]
God into nature’, and as ‘a withdrawal of all divine presence’.37 Christianity
is at the base of  landscape painting, and without a Christian framework it is
not possible to apply an art historical reading to painting in regions such as
Arnhem Land, where Indigenous culture and metaphysics define existence
and creation; where at best, both systems co-exist side by side.
Another defining factor of  the remote north is its relative lack of infra-
structure. As a result, there are few visible thresholds between the painter
and the country of  the remote north. Housing faces major challenges, and
establishment of infrastructure is limited. Climatic conditions and prohibitive
construction costs create distinct, yet less visible barriers. As a rule, it is not
possible to own structures on Indigenous land without negotiating permits
and leases. Combined, these factors set up a unique situation for the painter,
who is more exposed to unpredictable forces, lurking, as observed by philoso-
pher Hélène Frichot in relation to architecture, just ‘beyond the threshold’.38
Deleuze refers to the concept of  the house, among other contexts, in rela-
tion to painting, and says that ‘the house takes part in an entire becoming’.
He brings forward the concept of  the house in a discussion on sensation, of
which sees the universe, the ‘cosmos’ as one of the key elements, which has a
direct connection between the painter through the house. He proposes that
‘not only does the open house communicate with the landscape, through a
window […], but the most shut-up house opens onto a universe. Monet’s house
finds itself endlessly caught up by the plant forces of an unrestrained garden,

37 Nancy refers to Chateaubriand, who suggests that that landscape belongs specifically
to Christianity in art. Refer J.-L. Nancy, The Ground of  the Image, trans. J. Fort (New
York: Fordham University Press, 2005), p. 59.
38 I borrow ideas on architecture from Hélène Frichot, refer chapter 3, I. Buchanan and
G. Lambert, eds, Deleuze and Space, Deleuze Connections (Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, 2005).

a cosmos of roses’.39 By moving this image into the context of  the remote
north, I suggest that the painter is subject to all the elements and becomes
part of a tripartite process where the painter, the painted and the painting
itself merge into one milieu.40 The threshold presents itself not only in hous-
ing, but also on a larger scale between suburban sprawl and the outback. On
the outskirts of cities and towns, long before the coastal mangrove regions
of Arnhem Land are reached, thresholds must be crossed. To get beyond the
potentially limiting threshold of constructed space, I leave rural subdivisions
behind. I pass through pastoral lands. I cross into Aboriginal land at the
border of  Kakadu National Park. I cross through East Alligator River into
Arnhem Land. I bypass the last township, Gunbalanya, and move on towards
Wanamari Bay or further to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on Cobourg
Peninsula. I set up my tent, and move yet again beyond the threshold of my
temporary home. I take my paints and paper, and set up along the beach next
to the mangrove swamps and crocodile habitats. The closer I get to the coast
of  Arnhem Land, the further away from the threshold I move, the stronger
the dissolution between the subject and object binary opposition, and the
greater the rhizomatic connections.
In summarizing the ef fect of these factors, I argue that the region is unique
as a location and as such defies the process of traditional European landscape
painting, instead, opening up to the Deleuzian concept of the rhizome as paint-
ing in country. I argue that landscape painting in Australia pushes landscape
painting to the limits of the genre because of the nature of the landscape being
represented, in all its unpredictability and interconnective systems. Mangrove
ecosystems provide entire habitats with regenerative force of new becomings.
Yet climatic forces push forward the constant threat of chaos. Mangroves are
wrenched from their watery homes and f lung across the oceans. The house,
even if available, opens out onto the elements and invites chaos into the body
of  the painter, unable to resist. Chaos lurks just beyond the threshold of  the
suburban garden, threatening complete annihilation by cyclonic winds. And
in colonial painting, the beauty of a rose garden itself can be disguised as the

39 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy? p. 180.

40 I understand the tripartite system as a division between reality, representation and sub-
jectivity, which when assembled in a rhizomatic system, can no longer be seen as separate
or reducible, as discussed by Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 25.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 171

harbinger of chaos. As Deleuze observes: ‘Even houses […] Monet’s house

also rises up like a slit through which chaos becomes the vision of roses’.41 In
short, landscape is colonized European space with western models of trees and
cultivated land. This model does not apply to my practice. The country I paint
exists largely beyond conventional forces of colonization, more powerful in
its unfathomable force and sensation than settlement, self-sustaining through
its rhizomatic habitats, enduring beyond any romantic vision.

Painting Experience

Before, during and after the wet season, the remote north is cast in a shim-
mering haze of  f luid light as seasons blend into one another. The dry moves
into the pre-monsoonal build-up as humidity grows toward the wet season
and gradually subsides again back into the dry, constantly remaining around
thirty degrees celcius. Humidity changes imperceptibly into rain. I see into
the tumultuous imposing clouds of the monsoonal build-up, brilliant in their
sun-drenched illumination, yet foreboding in their dense burden of pending
deluge. I feel the weight, I sense the force of pre-cyclonic winds shoving anvils
of empty promises across the vast horizon, withholding rains for months of
oppression. As I paint, I lean closer into the wind. My brush moves across
the surface of  the artwork as if propelled by the clouds. Pigment pools at
the base of my brush, bearing down on the paper with atmospheric force.
Through Deleuze I begin to understand such events. His philosophy helps
me move closer into the experience of painting, to become, in fact, the clouds
themselves, the trace of breeze, the height of mounting pressure, the wash of
rain. As a painter I become what I am painting; I am a becoming-painting.42
How to make sense of  this?43

41 Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy?, p. 204.

42 Deleuze discusses the concept of ‘becoming’ extensively, including ‘becoming-intense,
becoming imperceptible’, notably in Chapter 10, ibid.
43 I consider the concept of sense in relation to G. Deleuze, Logic of Sense, ed. C.V. Boundas,
trans. M. Lester and C. Stivale (London: Continuum, 2004).

A new body of work always begins with paintings and sketches made
en plein air, principally in the remote coastal mangrove swamps and tropical
savannahs of  Arnhem Land and Kakadu, where ecosystems connect with
wildlife, and mangrove rhizomes reach out to create new habitats. I prefer
to work during the most intense times of  the year, when the climate is at
its most challenging and unpredictable: the pre-monsoonal build-up, also
known as the suicide season. Any later, and I will be cut of f  by rising rivers.
I must work quickly, not only to grasp the f leeting changes as the weather
rolls in, but to cope with the unpredictable deluges of rain, the f lash f loods,
the intense humidity and the risk of  being too close to wildlife habitats,
including crocodile territory. I must however remain in this milieu. My work,
like the rhizomatic systems of mangroves, is a product of interconnectivity,
and I can only avoid the cliché of making a typically European landscape by
persevering and often capitulating to the elements. I am privileged to work
on Indigenous land or alongside Indigenous artists in a country often char-
acterized by metaphysical presences invisible and inaccessible to the unini-
tiated. I observe, through the skill of  traditional indigenous painters how
beings from parallel worlds are often rendered visible, if not transparent. I
am moved to look within my own world to see beyond the visible.44 I find
new worlds woven into this rich territory. These worlds are the sensation
of  the land itself: the geomorphic mass of ancient forms, the gravitational
force of seven metre tidal rhythms, the cyclonic winds evolving from oce-
anic patterns.45 Much like the warp and weft of  fabric, the north is a rough
tapestry of exploration and socio-political incursions crossing between cul-
tural and metaphysical lines to create a cohesive, yet often incoherent and
incomprehensible, picture.

44 I refer to the idea that landscape painting makes visible the invisible, as discussed in
E. Straus, The Primary World of  Sense: A Vindication of  Sensory Experience, trans.
J. Needleman (New York: Free Press, 1963) and R. Bogue in P. Patton, ed., Deleuze: A
Critical Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996), pp. 260–1.
45 Whilst I am not convinced by Darwinian theories of art as evolution, the discussions
on sensation and force as discussed by Elizabeth Grosz are relevant to my practice, par-
ticularly in an Australian context: Grosz, Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing
of  the Earth, pp. 99–100.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 173

[T]here is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality (the world) and a
field of representation ([the painting]) and a field of subjectivity ([the artist]). Rather
[…] connections between certain multiplicities drawn from each of  these orders, so
that [a painting] has no sequel, nor the world as its object, nor one or several authors
as its subject.46

Preparation for a painting trip takes time. I arrange permits to go onto

Aboriginal land. I fill the dual long-range fuel tanks and the jerry can. Two
spare tyres. Water, food and the tent. Usually the mosquito net is adequate,
if we are lucky enough to avoid spontaneous downpours in the middle of 
the night. I pack my painting gear and my camera. I have charcoal, ink pens,
pencils, watercolour, pigment and acrylic medium. I hope to make a number
of sketches, either pen and wash or paintings with natural pigments scumbled
across and into translucent layers over the paper surface.
We travel about a day to reach the coast of West Arnhem Land. We just
make it across the last creek and crawl up the sandy bank. We set up camp. We
make the first trek out to the mangroves. I drop my gear under the shade of 
the pandanus, which doubles as an easel. I keep a watchful eye on the swamp
to my right and am rather distracted when my husband walks too close to the
water’s edge, peering into the crocodile hole as he stumbles through the sand.
I start marking in the image. Deft movements to capture the moment, the
essence, the lean of  the wind, the black holes of  the mangroves. Eventually I
lose track of time and place, everything begins to blur in the dense humidity,
diamonds refract in the extreme exposure.
The atmosphere seems to penetrate me and engulf me. Why am I so
unaf fected by the thirty-seven degree heat or the ninety percent humidity?
The sky is black, then purple, then green, then white, then silver, ref lecting its
moods back onto the ocean. The water is swathed in sheer veils of gossamer.
I am seduced and want to f loat above the ocean. I hover just slightly closer.
The water is molasses, sickly sweet turgid mud, deceptively beautiful as light
refracts its golden hues through the rhythmic waves.
I am drawn into the thick depths. Charcoal makes this murk, but only
with impasto, pushing it into the ground. White light f lashes and I am

46 I understand the tripartite system as a division between reality, representation and sub-
jectivity, which when assembled in a rhizomatic system, can no longer be seen as separate
or reducible, as discussed in Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 25.

momentarily blind. Repeated strikes obscure the mud, striking into the
depths of its heart. I am pulled down as if  forces from beyond claim the
sensation and re-emerge from their four hundred year old graves, far from
the elaborate shores of  their homeland. The veils lift the shroud. Now I am
enveloped in rhapsody. I am in the veil. I am buoyed by the thickness of the
waves. I sense the silver crescents looking up towards the horizon, before they
fall back into the murk. Yet they rise again, a rhythmic symphony of gravity
and force. The sensation of my mark-making is barely perceptible from the
sensation of  the waves.
I am between the waves, between the minute particles of  humidity,
between the pigments, between the pandanus. Yet somehow the work moves
forward. I feel every sensation passing through me, the force of waves, humid-
ity, wind, sun, even the scent of  fear and trepidation. I am in the middle of
everywhere and yet am nowhere. I have lost all awareness between reality,
representation and subjectivity, during which time as a painter I become the
subject of  the painting. I am a becoming-painting.
Back in the tent I prop up the three new works I have made. Sharp orange
clouds of  force are sketched out with charcoal, which holds their weight
together as they bear down over the ocean. Dense mangroves line the beach
striated with drips of pigment forced down the page, bled by the deluge of
unexpected rain. Pink sand washed in with transparent watercolour relieves
the intensity and opens onto the waves like a welcoming threshold. Together
they comprise a crude triptych. The next day I continue and the weather is
dark, yet the brooding clouds are rent open by shards of white light strik-
ing into the distant shores and rending limbs from the mangrove skeletons
standing defiantly amongst the crashing waves of  the pre-monsoonal build
up. Suicide during the ominous build-up to the monsoon is not an option.
The force of  Arnhem Land is life-giving, regenerating in all its chaos.
I lean down and pick up my volume of  Francis Bacon and open to page
thirty-three. It resonates strongly with the quasi out-of-body episode I have
just experienced. I read on. If I apply what I am reading to myself, then I con-
clude, through the painting event, I am freed up and become a type of  body
without organs. The entire process is as if  I no longer imprisoned my being
within my body-organism, and I can breathe new life. Deleuze, echoing the
ideas of  the playwright Antonin Artaud, says ‘the organism is not life’, but
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 175

rather it imprisons life, as the body imprisons organs.47 But when sensation
acquires its own body through the organism, or in my case, when sensation
inhabits the body of paint, like the physical body itself, it is ‘immediately
conveyed […] through the nervous wave or vital emotion […], a wave f lows
through it and traces levels upon it, a sensation is produced when the wave
encounters the forces acting on the body’.48 I can see the wave as part of  the
ocean. I feel it as part of  the force that inhabits my body. I convey this sen-
sation through paint. Paint creates a new body for the climatic sensations.
Like the ‘scrubbed and brushed marks’ of Bacon’s canvases, sensation inhab-
its the paint and manifests itself  through mark-making, rubbing, dripping,
scumbling; they are ‘parts of a neutralized organism, restored to their state
of zones or levels’.49
Such experiences often occur when I am working very remotely and in
relative isolation. I perceive sensation in varying degrees of intensity, like an
alchemical process; almost an accident of physics, which seems to make me
and the painting itself susceptible to ‘more or less’ intensity: more or less
warm, more or less white. I sense an assemblage of intensity forming between
the location, the physicality of my body and the body of  the painting, as if 
the painting is becoming the force itself. Deleuze describes such experiences
somewhat like accidents of physics, or haecceities: ‘A degree of heat can enter
into a composition with a degree of whiteness […] to form a third unique
individuality distinct from that of the subject. What is the individuality of a
day, a season, an event? […] A degree, an intensity, is an individual, a Haecceity
that enters into a composition with other degrees, other intensities to form
another individual’.50 I suggest this can also explain how a painting might come
into being. There is no one fixed quality of the weather, of the day, even of the
season, not even of the painting event itself. Rather, there are infinite degrees
of sensation. The climatic elements of, heat, bright white light, humidity, col-
lectively begin to inhabit my ‘body without organs’. Likewise they inhabit
the body of paint, so that a new individual artwork is formed. Borrowing
the words of  Deleuze, I of fer the following definition of sensation during

47 Deleuze, Francis Bacon, p. 33.

48 Ibid.
49 Ibid., pp. 32–3.
50 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 279.

the painting event: Painting, specifically in the remote north of  Australia in
the rhizomatic mangrove ecosystems, is a ‘natural play of haecceities, degrees,
intensities, events and accidents that compose individuations totally dif ferent
from those of  the well-informed subjects [my body, the paint] that receive
them’.51 In short, my own physicality, together with cosmic force, becomes part
of the painting. The only way I can paint clouds is to feel them f low through
me: to lean into the direction of the wind and to sense a lifting, or a dampen-
ing pressure from the humidity and the atmosphere itself. Af fect is caught
up with ef fect and the painting can be both subjective and objective at the
same time. As Ian Buchanan summarizes, ‘experience […] is not something a
person has, or even has happen to one; it is rather then, what one is made of.
Deleuze redefines the experience in terms of ef fects and relations, or better,
haecceities, which for Deleuze means that experience is individuating’.52 I
experience, therefore I am? I experience, therefore I paint? I paint, therefore
I experience? The permutations are endless. Yet there is no time to consider
the success or failure of a mark, of a colour choice or of  the compositional
move. There is no space for manipulation once a gesture is made. I am caught
up in the milieu of the work, between the painting and the painted, between
representation, reality and subjectivity.53
The works produced today in Arnhem Land become the template for
future studio-based works, somewhat like the decalcomania process discussed
by Deleuze. I make repeated copies from parts of  the sketches, reproduced
as photographic screen prints, or as finely cut stencils. There is an important
process of deterritorialization which occurs between the transition from the
original site and my studio. It is important that I continue to work outside,
in the same region subject to similar forces, albeit on the other side of  the
threshold. Like the process of settlement, I feel I have connected with the
ecosystem by working beyond the threshold of familiar territory, beyond the
limitation of the house. I want to become the unpredictable forces themselves.
I want to bring this sensation back into the studio and allow the thought
process and dance of engaging with a new work to begin. This is a much

51 Ibid.
52 I. Buchanan, ed., A Deleuzian Century? (Durham and London: Duke University Press,
1999), p. 23.
53 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 23.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 177

more prolonged, gradual process in which a complex discussion with the

work ensues. I want my materials to speak to me, to show me how they need
to respond to the conditions and to the experience. I encourage the pigment
to f low over the edge of the wood, to pool at the end, caught in the stenciled
signature of  Carstenzoons in the elaborate baroque style of  the seventeeth-
century Dutch explorers.
To understand the experience of painting and the sensations I perceive,
I believe the limits of painting must be removed. Painting must be able to
inhabit new bodies and new territories. In my practice, painting reaches the
limits of possibility and meets science when it is pushed towards the thresh-
old of possibility. I see this in the science of ecosystems which are imperative
for survival, but which often require the painter to relinquish preconceived
ideas about landscape painting and to allow the elements to become part of 
the painting, like sand adding texture, or rain moving the pigment, or insects
leaving traces through medium. Beyond the visible ef fects of science, however,
I want to understand how to make the infinitesimal visible. How to paint
sensation? I allow the paint to respond to terrestrial forces like gravity, wind
and atmospheric pressure. I observe how pigment dispersed in varnish takes
on the appearance of monsoonal clouds. I want to understand why such proc-
esses occur and how my involvement in the process adds to the work. At this
point I acknowledge the need to research further, in order to answer such
questions. In all these disciplines, aside perhaps from painting, I concede a
great lack of familiarity. I propose the most judicious way of understanding my
own practice is to collaborate and to interconnect across disciplines, regions,
and infinite plateaus of existence. Yet it seems I have only just begun.
Back in my studio, several hundred kilometres away, I immerse myself in
the adaptation of  these sketches so that they begin to speak back to me and
reveal more about the experience I have had on site in Arnhem Land. I am
f loating on a plateau, a continuous, self-vibrating region of intensities without
any endpoint: a multiplicity of events and sensations. I can sense Oceania
f lowing across plateaus of vibration. New bodies come forward and manifest
in visions of  the customary, the contemporary, the physical and the incor-
poreal. I begin to feel the sensation of explorers wading into the mangroves.
I am unable to see the metaphysical incarnations which create and inhabit
Indigenous land, but I begin to give body to other incorporeal sensations which
hark back from beyond time, from homes I know of my ancestors, yet beyond

figuration, from a time of immeasurable force. All gradually come together

as palpable manifestations of my lived reality, the sensation of which I have
tried to evoke in The Fold 6 Panel (see figure 7), in all its swathes of  becom-
ings and force, where the only continuum is the certainty of impermanence.
Yet this country remains elusive. Each time I glance back it is gone and new
apparitions come forward. The country repeats over and over again, but each
time, dif ferent. It shifts slightly with each new becoming. How to give this
movement body and shape? I decide to use panels, repeated one after the
other, each the same, yet slightly dif ferent. Each bringing forward a connec-
tion, reaching back and forward again, across yet another panel.54
The choice of material is crucial to give body to the complex rhizomes
of sensation. I have selected wood because of its durability, and its ability
to sustain constant reterritorialization of movement and image. Wood also
endures the repetition time puts on paint as layers congeal and conceal and
reveal sensation above and below, not yet happened, but about to happen,
somewhere in between. I also concede the direct relationship the repeated
panels give me to my home, with its hundreds of louvre panel windows divid-
ing my vista onto our property into slices of repeated palms, milkwoods,
Indian mast trees, bush apples and glorious poincianas, resplendent in their
invasive f lames of red beauty. I decide on African mahogany, a non-native tree
of great splendour. These majestic trees, with roots unsuited to the tropics, are
paradoxically fragile giants. Their numbers are decimated because they have
grown too large and too unstable. At any one moment a mahogany might
fall and destroy anything in its line of sight, like the one that crushed my own
home in Kakadu National Park, pushed by cyclone Monica in 2006 until it
released its hold on the land. An introduced species already deterritorialized.
I am saddened, and want to celebrate the beauty of  the beast and its incom-
mensurable fragility. I understand that wood lives on, long after it is severed,
responding, despite the layers of paint, to subtle atmospheric change, shifting
in the humidity, constrained in its form, but regenerated in the experience of
painting. Force without form inhabits the new territory of my painting. The
tree without body, the ‘body without organs’ is reterritorialized.

54 Becoming is considered in relation to the idea of alliance as discussed in Deleuze and

Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 263.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 179

How to give body to the visions coming back towards me from the
sketches? I photograph the sketches and make photoscreens. I print them
onto the wood, layer over layer, like the veils of sensation enveloping me
in Arnhem Land, or like the force of incommensurable time as it seems to
last forever, or just a second while I am beyond the conscious domain of my
painting. The Fold 6 Panel is a precursor to future works. It generates two
large triptychs of  fifteen panels each, like altars worshiping the cathedral of 
Oceania, recalling the baroque sentiments of my own experiences growing up
in Europe, but clearly responding to Deleuze’s vision of baroque architecture
in his last major philosophical work, from which I take the title of my first
foray into creating my own works of worship.
I want these works to be of great beauty, to celebrate the force of  life
itself, to acknowledge the sheer wonder of mangrove habitats and the infinite
regeneration of organisms. I want to bring forward the haecceities of  light,
of  the sheer gossamer veils, but also the depth of oppressive humidity, layer
over layer over layer. Time is a layer, atmosphere is a layer. Colour and light
are layers, refracted across plateaus of varnish and striations joining nodules
of natural ochres and beeswax.
I work for months in this way. Each time the paintings reveal new ter-
ritories of sensation, of history, of future, of beauty. The Fold becomes a rep-
etition of waves dissolving into mangrove habitats, folding, unfurling and
reforming along distant shores as I sense explorers from distant times peering
back towards the sandy beach, seeking safe thresholds into the land. Nothing
is entirely distinguishable: it is the north. It is the sombre grey of molasses
tidal mudf lats, the silver blue of mangroves: A vibrating, black silhouette
of  fine lacework, oscillating with uninterrupted rhythm, generated by the
gravitational force of  the moon.
The work is finished, but it lives on through other works I have since
begun. The altarpieces made in a similar way have overlays of maps I recently
sketched while f lying over Darwin. I use the maps like a diagram to pull the
compositions together. To begin to make sense of  the overall picture.
I am now preparing for my 2010 exhibition, Unsettling Country, and give
more thought to a work completed earlier in the hope it may shed light on
connections over recent times. I realize it forges links across my own worlds,
my histories, my despair and my delight of country in the remote north. Two
years ago I gave this work the title Parallel Worlds (see figure 8). Today I still

reside in the same worlds, fraught with dif ference, multiplicity and incom-
mensurable force. Even though they constantly present varying assemblages of 
their territories, they are brought together by invisible connections. Like most
of my work, this painting did not come easily. Painting is a long, anguished
process of listening to what the work is telling me, but also of not being afraid
to lead the way into a conf lagration with chaos. The only way, I believe, to
allow the sensation of  force to emerge is to relinquish control. In this way,
energies take on new bodies. New images present themselves, dictating their
degrees of visibility and invisibility and haecceity, like the force of humidity
inhabiting new spaces, new territories, creating new worlds.
I see these parallel worlds as manifestations of parallel rhizomatic plateaus
created through cycles of weather: wet and dry; relentless force and sustained
serenity. There are any number of parallel worlds or plateaus in the remote
north: transcendental/corporeal; customary/contemporary; chaos/order;
harmony/disharmony; pagan/Christian. Somewhere between, the painter
dissolves into the milieu, into the climatic continuum. The only relief is the
onset of the monsoon. There is no longer any tripartite division between me
as the painter, the painting and the painted, the country.55 Worlds and exist-
ence itself merge like the warped continuum of a Möbius strip circle, heav-
ing under the force of  humidity.56 Yet by unfolding these two dimensions of
one continuum, by placing one world above the other I can disrupt the f low
between worlds, and render the sense of country palpable, if not slightly
illogical. Like the paintings of  Richter, discussed by O’Sullivan, I want this
painting to ‘celebrate and express a certain other worldliness’.57 They are, I
would argue, as does O’Sullivan of Richter, ‘creative – or world creating – in
their very being’.58

55 In the discussion on plateau, milieu and rhizome, ibid., p. 25, Deleuze refers to a dissolu-
tion of the tripartite division between the world, the book and the author. I extrapolate
from this the world (the painted/ ‘die Umwelt’), the painting and the painter.
56 The Möbius strip is discussed by Deleuze as a continuum and a site of sense in Deleuze,
Logic of  Sense, p. 141. There is direct reference to the breaking open and unfolding of 
the strip, which I liken to my painting, Parallel Worlds.
57 S. O’Sullivan, ‘From Possible Worlds to Future Folds (Following Deleuze): Richter’s
Abstracts, Situationist Cities, and the Baroque in Art’, The Journal of the British Society
of  Phenomenology 36.3 (2005), p. 5.
58 Ibid.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 181

In Parallel Worlds, I sense echoes of  the Deleuzian idea of  the baroque
house or cathedral. It comprises six panels, three upper and three lower.
Yet this is a cathedral of paper, fragile, fragmented, a shadow of its own
former glory. The upper three panels integrate into the clouds the text of 
the nineteenth-century German explorer, Ludwig Leichhardt, who mys-
teriously disappeared during his forays into the Australian outback. The
text is Leichhardt’s original manuscript reproduced in ghostly fragments of
cloud, furling and unfurling through wisps of wind and breeze, like billow-
ing folds of  transparent organza constantly reformulating themselves into
new apparitions as they traverse the chaotic forces of the remote landscape.
Does this in some way speak of  the explorer’s search for the spiritual in the
landscape? Does the painting go so far as to suggest a connection between
two worlds, the earthly and the spiritual, or even between Deleuzian pleats
of matter and folds of  the soul?59 The lower three panels show apparitions
of  Albrecht Dürer’s Monstrous Sow of  Landser, stampeding through the
stone country of  Arnhem Land, feral boars resurrected from the fifteenth
century, and stampede through country as they territorialize and deterrito-
rialize space.60 In the new territory of my painting these sows become the
swamp beast, a fusion from fifteenth-century Europe with the feral boars
that roam the northern reaches of  Australia today. An Aboriginal painter,
who observed a similar work in progress, in fact renamed this chimera crea-
ture. She gave the work a new narrative, a new territory, and the sow a new
name: swamp beast. Such fortuitous interconnections often lead to ‘trans-
versal communications between dif ferent lines’, across centuries, and can
‘scramble the genealogical trees of parallel incarnations’.61 The result is a
kind of inversion of  the European landscape, an anti-genealogy perhaps.
This fusion gives rise to infinite parallel incarnations: physical and incor-
poreal/ metaphysical and transcendental. They begin to regenerate and

59 Pleats of matter and folds of  the soul are discussed in relation to the concept of  the
baroque house in sections one and two of chapter one in Deleuze’s, The Fold: Leibniz
and the Baroque.
60 I refer to concepts of deterritorialization as understood by Deleuze and Guattari, What
Is Philosophy?, p. 88.
61 The rhizome is discussed here as an anti-genealogy, a fusion of cells originating in
dif ferent species; somewhat like François Jacob’s ‘abominable couplings of  the Middle
Ages’, discussed by Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 12.

reform in a process of  ‘aparallel evolution’, a term I borrow from Deleuze.62

This fusion involves a process of dissolution, where rhizomatic shoots form
new becomings. There are infinite becomings, becoming animal, becoming
plant, but also cultural becomings, straddling a fusion between customary
and contemporary aparallel worlds.
I am once again losing myself in the experience of parallel worlds, con-
nected across complex and often precarious paths of communication. Where
do these paths take me? As I move closer towards my next body of work and
the forthcoming show, I find myself asking the same question I began with:
How to make sense of painting in the remote north? I realize now that it
requires a fine balance, which must be maintained as a tripartite dissolution
of  the painter, the country and the painting itself. Within this dissolution,
sense does not exist, but rather ‘inheres and subsists’.63 As a painter it is not pos-
sible to make or create sense. Rather, sense permeates everything and evolves
together through the process of painting in a milieu of aparallel worlds. Sense
is heightened through the interplay of the Möbius strip circle, where two sides
of one continuum f low into each other, like the oppressive build up.
For me, sense trembles and pulsates in the crevasses of mangrove roots
and tidal habitats. Sense vibrates through cosmic force on the painter and on
the paint itself. Sense creates new becomings in the alchemy of the medium:
pigment washed through dammar varnish, insects precariously traversing the
congealing surface, leaving traces of  their path in the translucent resin; rain
washing away laboriously sketched marks. Sense also resides in the resurrec-
tion of phantasms from other worlds scrambling genealogical trees, like the
swamp beast, re-entering from the fifteenth century. Sense transcends the
painting itself, in all its delight and despair.
Sense is fragile and elusive. If  the tripartite dissolution should harden,
if the surface of the painting event is ‘rent by explosions’, or in the case of the
remote north of Australia, destroyed by cyclones, then ‘bodies fall back again
into their depth; everything falls back again into the anonymous pulsation […]
into the primary order which grumbles beneath the secondary organization
of sense’.64 The painter dissolves back into the milieu and must go through a

62 Ibid., p. 11.
63 Deleuze, Logic of  Sense, p. 24.
64 Ibid., pp. 142–5.
The Sensation of  Painting Country in Remote Northern Australia 183

conf lagration with chaos in order to emerge and make sense once again of the
event. But how does sense manifest? In the end, it is only by breaking open
the circle, by ‘unfolding and untwisting it’, like unfurling the conundrum of 
the Möbius strip circle, that the dimension of sense appears for itself, in its
‘irreducibility and also in its genetic power’.65


I have come to the philosophy of Deleuze through the experience of painting.

I have found his philosophy enables me to create a connection between what
is being represented and my direct experience. I paint amongst the brooding
tropical savannahs and become melancholy. I f ly over the illuminated golden
stone country of the escarpment and am uplifted, swathed in the gossamer of
ochre sunsets. I wade through the mudf lats of  West Arnhem Land and feel
the lunar resistance of seven-metre-tides turning, waxing, waning, as if being
forced away like the early explorers. Deleuzian philosophy makes it possible to
enunciate such experience, far from the traditional genre of landscape painting.
It sheds light on the dif ference between European landscape and the proc-
ess of painting on site in the remote north of  Australia. It enables me to see
beyond physical dif ferences of f lora and fauna, often used as emblematic signs
of  European settlement to embellish colonization. Furthermore, Deleuzian
philosophy, particularly through the vision of rhizomatic mangrove systems
as opposed to the traditional genealogy of  ‘tree’ landscapes, opens up not
just to alternative ways of seeing place, but more importantly, of  feeling the
distinctness of space, or territory constantly regenerating, becoming.66
By applying Deleuzian philosophy to my practice I have begun to under-
stand more clearly the relationship between the painter, what is experienced
and what results from the experience, in which all three become an insepara-
ble assemblage and co-exist in a shared milieu. Ultimately, I feel the painting
event in the remote north of Australia, across all the plateaus of production,

65 Ibid., p. 23.
66 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus.

has a shared commitment: to open up sensation to the future. In this way the
cycle of art is sustained by becoming other in a f low of perpetuity from the
past, present and beyond. And so I hope, for me at least, painting gradually
begins to make sense.

Select Bibliography

Buchanan, I., and G. Lambert, eds, Deleuze and Space: Deleuze Connections (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh University Press, 2005).
Butler, R. (ed.), Radical Revisionism: An Anthology on Writings of Australian Art (Brisbane:
IMA, 2005).
Deleuze, G., The Logic of Sense, ed. C.V. Boundas, trans. M. Lester and C. Stivale (London:
Continuum, 2004).
——, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque, trans. T. Conley (New York: Continuum,
——, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. D.W. Smith (Minneapolis: University
of  Minnesota Press, 2008).
Deleuze, G., and F. Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans.
B Massumi (New York: Continuum, 2008).
——, What is Philosophy?, trans. G. Burchell and H. Tomlimson (London: Verso,
Grosz, E., Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of  the Earth (New York:
Columbia University Press, 2008).
Nancy, J.-L., The Ground of  the Image, trans. J. Fort (New York: Fordham University
Press, 2005).
Thomas, D., ed., Creating Australia, 200 Years of  Art 1788–1988 (Adelaide: Art Gallery
of  South Australia, 1988).

Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event

This chapter leads the Making Sense trajectory through a Deleuzian dynamic,
applying his ideas about geophilosophy, the event and subjectivity in order to
think on a dif ferent register – through the painting event – about territory, i.e.
how we inhabit the world. I begin from Simon O’Sullivan’s hypothesis that ‘art
is a form of thought in and of itself ’.1 The kind of thought that art is applied
to here is about making sense of territory. What follows will demonstrate how
we can think with material forms and use the process of artistic creation to
consider the formation of  territory, the connotations of which then help us
to make sense of  how we encounter and inhabit this formation.
I consider Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of  ‘geophilosophy’ as a mode
of  thinking that considers how territory is formed, and I interpret this term
by applying it to an art practice. I will demonstrate how an art practice can
in-form – or bring form to – geophilosophy, by applying it directly to ‘the
painting event’ itself, and providing a detailed scrutiny of  thinking about
territory through painting.
To use the painting event to make sense of territory, I firstly introduce the
concept of geophilosophy, and then describe how my artistic experimentation
with materials can in-form this notion. After describing my painting practice
I turn to consider what ‘the event’ is, and think about art as experience using
the aesthetic theory of John Dewey. This leads the chapter to a consideration
of how subjectivity and expression are involved in the painting event, which,
to conclude, then further demonstrates how it makes sense of  territory.

1 S. O’Sullivan, Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari: Thought Beyond Representation

(Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2006), p. 98.


In Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? Deleuze and Guattari produce an expansive

mode of thinking called géophilosophie, which is informative about the three
movements involved in the process of land becoming territory: territorializa-
tion, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization.2 These terms describe how
land becomes territory by being transformed, or ‘deterritorialized’, from its
natural state and then reconstituted or revalued according to the needs or
desires of a political system that controls it. Deleuze and Guattari use geophi-
losophy to investigate the space we inhabit: how it is controlled or managed,
its coercion into a State, the ‘war machines’ and conf lict involved in this State,
the social field that populates it, our individual identities, and how power
operates in relation to all of  these dimensions of  territory.
Within their geophilosophy Deleuze and Guattari raise ideas about
the formation of a homogenous, capitalist Nation State, whereby all natural
materials and occupants become de- and re-territorialized according to an
axiomatic of labour, production, surplus and capital. Deleuzian ideas and the
mode of  thinking as geophilosophy provide insight into the homogenized
capitalist enterprise that characterizes our current age. The problem of  ter-
ritory is fraught because of  the coercion of  the Nation State, inherent war
machines, and the friction that occurs at the boundaries. These problems are
simulated, and thus encountered, and counter-actualized during my art prac-
tice. The process of experimenting with Deleuzian ideas using an art practice
then demonstrates how art helps us make sense of  the world.
In the following account I describe a particular event during which I
make a series of artistic creations using dif ferent materials, and simultaneously
observe and experiment with ideas about territorialization. My intention is to
think with the materials I am using during the painting event, to experiment
with ideas about territory and to consider what happens to dif ferent materi-
als at their boundaries. I do this by mixing materials together and applying

2 G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Minuit, 1991),

pp. 82–108.
Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event 187

them to a sheet of paper in a sketchpad, seeing a process of deterritorialization

and reterritorialization – or becoming-territory – from these materials’ f luid
interaction and the way they dry and solidify on the page.

The Painting Event

I experiment with paint, oil, f lour and some blueberries, choosing each mate-
rial because of its texture, consistency and colour, to try and think about
Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas about the formation of territory and the coercive
dynamics of the Nation State. The berries are chosen because they are bursting
with blue juice, which I hope will express a dominant colour on the paper,
liquefied and made into a paint-able consistency by the water, thickened by
mixing them with the f lour, and moisturized by the oil.
I begin the painting event by mixing a liquid paste from the berries,
f lour and oil, which I intend to spread across a page in my sketchpad. As I
do this I am watching the dif ferent materials interact, which I see in terms
of a territorialization of the page. Immediately, the oil is the most dominant
ingredient. It seems to engender the same dynamic as a war machine, by
engulfing the f lour in a thick, heavy, overbearing mass, which makes the ber-
ries lose their blue colour and shrink into small, black molecular masses the
size of pin heads.
When I try to shape this paste onto the paper the oil is immediately
overbearing, sinking through and homogenizing several pages into bland,
matt, non-usable, conformed space. The f lour rests on top of the oil, with tiny
stains of the now black berries, and when I gently press the media together it
only produces an uncomfortable mess. The f lour will not stick to the page, so
I apply some PVA glue to help bring things together, since previous experi-
ments have demonstrated that PVA glue is a reliable source material for unify-
ing fragmentary, disparate parts. This addition adds a thick shiny layer to the
composition, which provides a gloss, so it is no longer possible to see what is
happening between the f lour, oil and berries, at all. I had hoped to heal things
by applying PVA, and have only added a superficial layer that hides them.

And now, despite the band-aid PVA, the f lour is turning back into a
powder that blows away in the breeze through the window. So the page is
left with the overbearing weight of  the oil, with the strained black marks of
its conquest over the blueberries.
It seems I have made a war machine, which stretches several pages (the
oil has weight and overcomes the surface of paper) and prevents me from
using my sketchpad and from any other materials having a life on or with it
at all. The oil has soaked the sketchpad with a destructive line of  f light, and
brings forward a totalitarian dynamic which – since the paper is sodden and
unusable – striates the space in the sketchpad and destroys the other mate-
rial’s chance to assert their qualities on the page. This dynamic attunes to
Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion of the war machine in Mille Plateaux: ‘elle
ne tourne en destruction, abolition pure et simple, passion d’abolition’ since the
oil is demonstrating ‘l’agressivité à la base du territoire’.3
I continue to think about these materials to see if it is possible to have any
ef fect on this war machine. A few hours later, I turn over the page and look
at the sodden, dull, damaged sheet below it. I consider how I could make it
inhabitable for other materials, and how I could give it a means of expression,
or regain some lifeline from it. I try earnestly to configure this territory in
terms of a Deleuzian plane of immanence, and think how I might re-organize
materials upon it, now that the oil has stained the page so damagingly. My
intention is to try and open the possibility for expression which is the heart
of art and becoming-territory, as Deleuze and Guattari state it: ‘cette libéra-
tion de matières d’expression, dans le mouvement de la territorialité: le socle
ou le sol d’art’.4 It is the dispersal of materials for expression, or the plane of
composition for expression, which defines the territorial gesture explicit in
the painting event.
While thinking about how to use the qualities of the oil stain with those
of  the paper, I feel drawn to apply some watercolours to the page. I paint
upon the oil stain, and suddenly it comes to life before my eyes. The interac-
tion between the oil stain and these new watercolours produces a voluptuous
energy. Oil and water cannot logically inhabit the same space; they oppose each
other. But I try to reterritorialize the space so that it can welcome substances

3 G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Mille Plateaux (Paris: Minuit, 1980), pp. 280, 388.
4 Ibid., p. 389.
Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event 189

that oppose each other. I try to utilize the qualities of  the oil bar, which are
its colourless thickness and density, in a way that can complement the deli-
cate, lightly dripping liquidity of  the watercolour. I find a way to twist their
dif fering qualities and find a sense of intertwining whereby they can inhabit
the same territory that I have made from this page. From destruction came
invention, a simple building of alliances between the elements, and a new
beginning for the artistic composition. The micropolitics of  this situation
consists of  the interplay between molecules of oil, their resistance to mol-
ecules of water, and the quantities of watercolour paint that I choose to apply
in thick brushstrokes to the page. I then turn the page and see that this ef fect
has seeped through to the other side of the paper; or, rather, the new side has
kept its own dry and untouched parameters, but the dual imprint of oil stain
and paint pattern creates a backdrop that makes a much more comfortable,
comforting space from the paper. The line of  f light – or the energy of  these
dif ferent materials – has turned from one of destruction into one of creation
and expression through their interactions. This creativity is a potentiality of 
the war machine, which has two poles, one of which has war for its object,
whilst the other bears ‘la trace d’une ligne de fuite créatrice, la composition
d’une espace lisse et du mouvement des hommes dans cette espace’.5
Wishing to engage with the creative energy that has revitalized the sketch-
pad I turn another page, and decide to readdress the problems that surmounted
when I mixed oil with f lour into a consistency that resulted in a destructive
line of f light. I make another mixture, hoping that this one will not turn out
to be another war machine (which further experimentation seems to have
appeased, to the extent that the destructive ef fects of  the first war machine
have now become a creative line of  f light).
I mix my materials more slowly, listening to their dif fering qualities. The
oil was already here, on the page, so this time I use water, watercolour paints
and some f lour to add thickness and texture. There is immediately a fault here,
since I cannot use the blueberries because they have all dried or been destroyed
by the previous experiment, so I have to utilize other resources. I am careful
not to use too much oil this time. Both of these points may avoid, rather than
face, the problem of the war machine. But I have found a balance and create
a composition that reterritorializes a double page ef fortlessly. The materials,

5 Ibid., p. 526.

the page and I make a new territory, in which all our dif ferent qualities are
compatible. What was originally posed as aggressive or oppositional now
becomes complimentary dif ference, and provides source material for a pat-
tern with which my senses, the materials I used, and the image that compose
the page, all feel comfortable.
The next morning there seems to be a healthy rapport between the
dif ferent pages, and their contents, in the series that makes up the territorial
experimentation that I did the previous day. Each page bears witness to and
acknowledges each other, whilst retaining their individuality and dif fering
patterns, textures and composition. The war machine provided by the oil has
itself been af fected by the colours which I applied after its destruction. It has
a slightly rosy tint now, which does not detract from the extroverted glaze and
overbearing wash of  thickness manufactured by the deal brokered between
the oil and the PVA, which killed the f lour and blueberries; but this rosy tint
recalls the life of  those berries, and allows us to glimpse the texture and font
of  the little f lour that does remain, fixed to the page beneath its glaze. There
is a dif ferent aura.
Meanwhile, the warlike oil, with its totalitarian weight, has indeed seeped
through to the planes of composition on the other pages, but its initially over-
bearing, terroristic take-over of space has changed now. Through diplomatic
collaboration and interaction, through mutual expression of dif fering quali-
ties between the dif ferent materials opposing each other on the page, they
now find a way to inhabit the same space in my sketchpad. The oil’s moistur-
izing quality (which was the reason for which it was originally used, since
the pores of  the f lour needed something more oily than water to prevent it
cracking up the paper) enables the final page, composed of  f lour and water,
to settle with its colours, contours and texture on the surface. The edges of 
the page curl delicately, to allow for the change in weight, and beckon the
transversal, unilateral dexterity of a mœbius strip (a strip of paper that has
two sides, which are folded round in a figure of eight shape, so that each side
joins unilaterally, in three dimensions without division).
It is much more delicate and sensitive than I had expected. The colour
is lighter, so that you have to put your face right up close, near the page, to
see the sfumato ef fect that has been created between the dif ferent materials,
as they inhabit this space together. The f lour’s granular texture is impressed
onto the page by the pigment from the blueberries, and adds a soft powdered
Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event 191

quality to the paper. The berries’ colour has gone soft grey. The grey bursts
its heart of violet softly, here and there, and the colour filters between grey
and violet in the undulations of the page. You can see intricate details of this
colouring, even though it is not very bright or extroverted at all. The colours
are pale, but not subdued. Seeds from the berries nestle in surface ripples on
the page, somewhat haphazardly. The oil’s presence is visible, and it retains a
sodden weight on the page, but this seems to f low rather than obstruct it.
The pecking order or hierarchy between the oil, water, berries, and glue
(which only presents a surface object, masking the process occurring under-
neath) has changed. Each material has their own place on the page, and they
make an unexpected, sensitive and complex pattern of camaraderie between
them. In this way, the destructive energy often posed by some of these mate-
rials when they meet has become one that is receptive.
Striated space, which in another arrangement would have been uncom-
fortably segmented, with ingredients subordinated and unable to show their
individual qualities, now becomes soft, smooth and inhabitable (whilst retain-
ing intricate strands of complexity).
This experiment has demonstrated the ways that we can think about
territory and create territory through artistic practice. As such it is an appli-
cation of  Deleuze and Guattari’s geophilosophy. By listening to the materi-
als and responding to their dif ferent qualities I have opened a creative line
of  f light that encounters and redistributes the destructive energy of a war
machine. This is a valuable experiment because it demonstrates how nega-
tive or destructive forces can be redistributed benevolently, and the possibil-
ity for counter-actualization that arises during the creative turning. Rather
than being a teleological masterpiece or demonstrating any profound artistic
ability on my behalf, the point of this exercise is to demonstrate how experi-
menting with materials and creating artwork provides a method of thinking
about territory which then enables us to consider how we can encounter
and inhabit the world. This experiment provides a means of expression for
the artist-cum-thinker and their materials, and opens a new space – which
is creative and life-af firming – on the surface of  the art object made. Being
able to witness the creative transformation of a war machine into a creative
line of  f light is the summit of  territorialization and demonstrates the neces-
sity of art in this process.

The Event

Discussing the painting event necessarily requires thinking about the nature
of an event. This involves considering the spatio-temporal situation of  the
event’s occurrence, or what happens when and where I paint. Deleuze writes
about the event in his Logique du sens and Le Pli. In the latter text he draws
from Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of  the event and names four
conditions that define it. The first condition of  the event is extension: an
event involves a series of interrelated singularities, in terms of material form,
which occupy a particular moment in space and time.6
Secondly, events have intrinsic properties; the intensity of a property, or
its dif ferential relations, is part of an event. This can be understood in terms
of  the multiplicity and materiality of  the dif ferent haecceities, or essential
‘this-ness’ that define what is real: ‘les séries extensives ont des propriétés
intrinsèques (par exemple, hauteur, intensité, timbre d’un son, ou teinte,
valeur, saturation de la couleur), qui entre pour leur compte dans de nouvelles
rapports entre limites constituant une conjonction’.7
Thirdly, events involve the individual who has the experience of the event.
Deleuze uses Whitehead’s concept of ‘prehension’ to describe the individual
unity that creates the New during the moment of  the event.8 Here Deleuze
brings in the notion of  the subject, which he defines in terms of  the appre-
hension of, and reaction to, the contents of a particular datum of space-time,
which are folded into the individuating being who experiences the event: ‘la
forme subjective est la manière dont le datum est exprimé dans le sujet, ou
dont le sujet préhende activement le datum (émotion, évaluation, projet,
conscience …). C’est la forme sous laquelle le datum est plié dans le sujet’.9
Here the subject is the locus or nodal point for the interaction of intensities
or the dif ferential relation of  haecceitites, which define the spatio-temporal
situation of  the event.

6 G. Deleuze, Le Pli: Leibniz et le baroque (Paris: Minuit, 1988), pp. 103–12.

7 Ibid., p. 105.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid., p. 106.
Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event 193

The fourth condition determines the being of the object, its materiality
and process of dif ferentiation, which is involved in an event. Deleuze uses
Whitehead’s concept of  ‘ingression’ to define this. Whitehead writes, ‘the
ingression of an object into an event is the way the character of  the event
shapes itself in virtue of  the being of  the object. Namely the event is what I
is, because the object is what it is’.10 We can again describe the object’s relation
to an event in terms of  the haecceities of  the qualities, and the aggregates of 
the materials, that compose it, with their continuous process of interaction
with the prehension, individuation and becoming in a particular datum of
Haecceity is a useful term to describe the painting event because it can
be seen as expressive of  the ‘this-ness’ of  the artist’s particular presence in
the here and now. The painting event involves capturing the haecceity of the
moment and the artist’s interplay with particular materials – their individual
aggregates or qualities when applied to the ground provided by the surface of 
the paper. The painting event is a question of capturing the this-ness of  the
qualities of  the materials that are being used, and the artist’s own process of
individuating by responding to these, which is involved during the material
process or event of creation.
An event has no transcendent meaning beyond the qualities of immanent
materials, their dif ferential relation, and the process of their interaction. It is
a series of singular happenings, which actualize virtual dif ferences and create
the ontogenesis of something new. Actualization is a process through which
the virtual dif ferentiates itself during the creation of something new, an actual
that is dif ferentiated from the infinite virtuals from which it arises. Deleuze
makes this distinction in his work on Bergson, where he is trying to define
the dif ferentiation that composes the real as something creative and positive,
rather than dialectically negated or posed in terms of an opposition.12 Deleuze

10 Whitehead, The Concept of  Nature (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), p. 144.
11 Deleuze and Guattari present the term heccéité in Mille Plateaux, to describe a mode
of individuation that, they emphasize, is not a subject but a cartography or ensemble
of material elements that define the real. Deleuze and Guattari draw the term from
Duns Scot. It derives from the word Haec or ‘cette chose’ (Deleuze and Guattari, Mille
Plateaux, p. 318 n. 24).
12 G. Deleuze, Le Bergsonisme (Paris: PUF, 1966), p. 105.

also wishes to dispense with the representational thinking that characterizes

the distinction between possible and real, wishing to replace this by defining
the actual as a dif ferential repetition of  the virtual.
During the painting event I lost track of time and it felt as though I dis-
solved into the composition I was creating, whilst I was becoming-with my
materials. The chronology of  time seems to melt during the painting event,
crystallizing into an abstract time that is composed of  haecceities. This is
Aiôn: ‘le temps indéfini de l’événement’.13 The haecceity of  the artwork cap-
tures a crystal of  the time of  being present with the materials that are used,
and expresses the materiality of that moment. This infinitive is a crystallizing
of  the potential and the virtual contained by a verb, its ‘becoming’. In this
way, the painting event can provide a fundamental and liberating experience
for the artist.

Art as Experience

Emphasizing the painting process rather than its object in this way involves
considering my subjective presence during the painting event. It brings John
Dewey’s interpretation of  ‘art as experience’, an interpretation which fore-
grounds the problematic of subjectivity, to the forefront of making sense.
Dewey’s emphasis on the creation and appreciation of artwork as ‘the activity
of a human organism interacting with its environment’ is geophilosophical,
because it insists on the interaction with nature and the processes of nature
involved in making and encountering art.14 For Dewey, an experience is the
interaction that an organism has with its environment. This interaction, with
its elements of participation, communication and expression, culminates in
artistic activity.

13 Deleuze and Guattari, Mille Plateaux, p. 320.

14 J. Dewey, John Dewey: The Essential Writings, ed. D. Sidorsky (New York: Harper &
Row, 1977), p. 259.
Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event 195

Dewey says that: ‘Art is thus prefigured in the very processes of living’.15
Art is the ex-pression, or ‘squeezing out’ of natural raw materials and the
‘impulsion’ of emotion. Thus, ‘[t]he real work of art is the building up of
an integral experience out of  the interaction of organic and environmental
conditions and energies’.16 Thinking about the artistic process in terms of
its response to the materials that are being used attunes to my own creative
experiments, since I created forms by responding in direct relation to the
interaction and properties of the dif ferent materials I used. Dewey says that in
an artwork ‘[t]he thing expressed is wrung from the producer by the pressure
exercized by objective things upon the natural impulses and tendencies’.17 In
such a way, my painting event involved the process of using and responding
to the particular properties of material forms and creating an artwork from a
communication or interplay between their dif ferent and sometimes opposing
qualities. This enables what Dewey calls an ‘act of expression’, which creates
an artwork that expresses both the dif ferent qualities of  the materials that
are being used, and also their interaction with person who creates an artwork
from them. This act of expression is intrinsically territorial.18
Dewey’s consideration of art as experience introduces the idea of sub-
jectivity in terms of the ‘I’ that has the experience of making or encountering
the artwork. We can bring Dewey’s aesthetics into dialogue with Deleuze’s
notions of subjectivity, as Inna Semetsky does in her hypothesis that Deleuze’s
notion of a subject falls within ‘the Deweyan legacy’.19 For Deleuze, both in
his individual and collaborative work, subjectivity is a folding of subject and
object, in terms of a reoccurring and creative process that is embedded in the
multiplicity and heterogeneity defining the situation of the real. Subjectivity
is characterized by the folding of this multiplicity, of the outside, so that there
is a doubling back and a furnishing of  the interior with what is exterior. In
this way the subject is an intertwining or a cluster of  haecceities, folding the
intensive singular qualities of encountering the world with the univocity of 

15 Ibid., p. 261.
16 Ibid., p. 272.
17 J. Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: Perigee, 2005), p. 67.
18 Ibid.
19 I. Semetsky, ‘The Problematics of human subjectivity: Gilles Deleuze and the Deweyan
Legacy’ in Studies in Philosophy and Education 22.211–25 (2003).

being as dif ference, so that being is objectively and subjectively evolving. This

thoughtful, materialist interpretation of  the fold of subjectivation is seen in
Deleuze’s work on Foucault: ‘Penser, c’est plier, c’est doubler le dehors d’un
dedans qui lui est coextensif. La topologie générale de la pensée, qui com-
mençait déjà “au voisinage” des singularités, s’achève maintenant dans le plis-
sement du dehors au dedans’.20
Haecceity is a useful term to describe the painting event as an expres-
sive, territorial gesture. The event expresses the this-ness of the materials and
the moments of its territorialization and re-territorialization, it presents the
artist’s presence in those moments, in terms of  their territorializing data of
space-time and making a mark with matter that says, ‘I am here’. The artist
does not necessarily intend to say this, but such a territorial gesture is always-
already inherent in the painting event, which then demonstrates how painting
is geophilosophical.


I do not have a specific or teleological goal in mind during the painting event,
but rather follow chance, and respond to what is happening with the materi-
als I am using during their encounter. What I create attests to the being of 
those materials, and myself, during the moment of our encounter. The work
expresses the this-ness or the materiality of this moment, it presents my pres-
ence in this moment, when I territorialize the data of space-time and make
a mark with matter that denotes the presence of myself in this matter. It is
as such an explicitly territorial gesture, which is always-already inherent in
the painting event.
In this way we can practice and apply a Deleuzian geophilosophy by think-
ing on a surface through an art practice. Since Deleuze and Guattari posit that
‘[l]e territoire serait l’ef fet de l’art’, applying their ideas about territorialization

20 G. Deleuze, Foucault (Paris: Minuit, 1986), p. 126.

Making Sense of  Territory: The Painting Event 197

to an art practice can be seen to realize them.21 Furthermore, thinking on the

surface during an art practice sources the creative transformation that is pos-
sible in an art practice, which then confirms its territorial gesture.

Select Bibliography

Deleuze, G., Le Bergsonisme (Paris: PUF, 1966).

——, Foucault (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1986).
——, Le Pli: Leibniz et le baroqie (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1988).
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F., Capitalisme et schizophrénie 2: Mille Plateaux (Paris: Les
Éditions de Minuit, 1980).
——, Qu’est-ce que la philosophie? (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1991).
Dewey, J., John Dewey: The Essential Writings, ed. David Sidorsky (New York: Harper
& Row, 1977).
——, Art as Experience (New York: Perigee Books, 2005).
Semetsky, I. ‘The Problematics of human subjectivity: Gilles Deleuze and the Deweyan
Legacy’ in Studies in Philosophy and Education (22: 211–25, 2003).
Whitehead, A.N., The Concept of  Nature (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004).

21 G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Capitalisme et schizophrénie 2: Mille Plateaux (Paris: Minuit,

1980), p. 388.

Passage of  Sense: Anish Kapoor’s Memory (2008)

with Jean-Luc Nancy

In November 2008, the Deutsche Guggenheim Museum in Berlin became

the temporary home for a newly commissioned, site-specific piece by Anish
Kapoor, a large-scale structure entitled Memory.1 The piece consists of a
twenty-four-tonne Corten steel tank that fills the gallery space; pressing up
against the walls, it requires the visitor to exit and re-enter the gallery in order
to approach the work from three dif ferent angles. Simultaneously weighty
and diaphanous, immovable yet ‘unmonumental’, the installation weaves a
delicate architecture of invitation and inaccessibility into which we enter ‘as
participants rather than as mere spectators’.2
Kapoor, an Indian-born British artist who lives and works in London,
has become internationally renowned for such distinctive, large-scale works,
exhibiting world-wide and receiving the Turner Prize in 1991.3 Creating
vast structures from materials both traditional (alabaster, sandstone) and
non-traditional (red wax, PVC, polished steel), Kapoor’s ceremonial re-
investment in materiality emerges in the aftermath of minimalism, alongside
the work of other British artists such as Rachel Whiteread, Anthony Gormley

1 A. Kapoor, Memory (2008), Cor-Ten steel, 14.5m × 8.97m × 4.48m, Deutsche

Guggenheim, Berlin.
2 S. Poddar, ‘Suspending Disbelief: Anish Kapoor’s Mental Sculpture’, in S. Poddar,
G. Chakravorty Spivak et al., Anish Kapoor: Memory (London and New York: Guggen­
heim Museum Publications, 2008), pp. 26–53 (p. 34).
3 For a recent illustrated survey of  Kapoor’s work, see D. Anfam, J. Burton and D. De
Salvo, Anish Kapoor (London: Phaidon, 2009). See also H.K. Bhabha and J. de Loisy,
Anish Kapoor (London: Royal Academy of  Arts, 2009) and N. Baume, Anish Kapoor:
Past, Present, Future (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).

and Richard Deacon.4 Yet whilst Kapoor’s work invokes the concrete, the
bodily and the tactile, it simultaneously enacts a move away from material-
ity, towards a negative space or void (emphasized by titles such as Void Field
(1989), and Building for a Void (1992)) – an act of  ‘emptying out’ to which
the hollow shell of Memory bears witness.5 Contrasting Memory with Richard
Serra’s Corten steel ‘gravity-defining’ sculptures, Sandhini Poddar suggests
that in ‘dematerializing’ industrial steel, Kapoor ‘sacrifice[s] the status of the
object’.6 But such an act of sacrifice necessarily leaves a trace, a residue, the
corporeal mark of a resistance to transcendence, recalling the viscerally deep
red pigment of so many of Kapoor’s structures, in particular My Red Homeland
(2003), Blood Stick (2008) and The Dismemberment of  Jeanne d’Arc (2009).7
With red, Kapoor suggests, ‘the body is always implied’.8 It is the path of this
f leshly implication – of that which resides in the wake of the sacrificed status
of  the object – which I wish to mark here.
In tracing the path of my own f leshed-out, embodied encounter with
Kapoor’s Memory, I want to draw attention to the ways in which ‘making
sense’ may lie in an unfolding of  the specific temporality and ‘situatedness’
of that encounter, or indeed, in resisting the sacrifice of the body to the Idea.
For in academic discourse it is often the temporal and spatial dimensions of
our bodily encounters with artworks that become compressed, distorted,
even disavowed. Kapoor’s Memory discloses much to make sense of, posing
questions about the specificity of its location, the inaccessibility of memory
and the destabilization of vision. Touching upon a sense of these issues, I want
to bear in mind Nancy’s notion of sense as a finite, embodied articulation of 
that which touches us prior to any signification.9 Yet I also want to draw

4 See M.H. Hayden, Out of Minimalism: the Referential Cube. Contextualizing Sculptures
by Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor and Rachel Whiteread (Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet,
5 On the idea of  the void in Kapoor, see S. Poddar, ‘Suspending Disbelief ’, p. 41.
6 Ibid., p. 28.
7 On the body and trace in Kapoor’s work, see G. Chakravorty Spivak, ‘Signs and Trace’,
in S. Poddar, C. Spivak et al., Anish Kapoor: Memory, pp. 56–75.
8 Kapoor in conversation with H.K. Bhabha, Institute of  Contemporary Art, Boston,
May 27, 2008; cited in Poddar, ‘Suspending Disbelief ’, pp. 33–4.
9 See J.-L. Nancy, The Sense of  the World, trans. J.S. Librett (Minneapolis and London:
University of  Minnesota Press, 1997).
Passage of  Sense: Anish Kapoor’s Memory (2008) with Jean-Luc Nancy 201

Kapoor’s Memory into contact with Nancy’s thinking of world-forming and

world-creation, looking at ways in which a making of  the world becomes a
mode of making sense.

*  *  *
A bitterly wintry afternoon in Berlin, January 2009. As we enter the welcom-
ing, warm space of the Deutsche Guggenheim, it seems strange to encounter
the structure so suddenly – a huge, rusty, orange-brown bulbous capsule,
straining at the walls, f loor and ceiling of  the gallery. We approach, it dis­
orientates me; I cannot work out how to get inside this shape or around it.
Someone moves towards the gap between structure and f loor, intending to
pass through there to the other side. A guard shouts, ‘Stop! You can’t go that
way’. The structure remains poised between invitation and inaccessibility.
We step back outside, into the icy cold, in order to view another part of 
the structure. Hands thrust in pockets, we curse Kapoor, trying, at the same
time, to retain the memory of what has just been encountered. Re-entering
the building, we approach the installation from another angle. Yet again,
there is no apparent point of entry into the structure itself. The piece elicits
my desire and my frustration. I am held here upon a threshold.
There is a third angle from which to view the structure. This involves
walking up some steps, around the side (and, bizarrely, through the gift shop
– a further unwelcome frustration and diversion). We are confronted then
by a perfectly square hole where the white wall has been cut away in order to
open onto the inside of  the structure. The square frame drops away onto a
space that can only be perceived as a vanishing point, circumscribing an area
both limited and limitless. Encountering at last an opening, I am confronted
by the extreme lip of the structure’s inaccessibility, for as I look into this invit-
ing, empty space, my knees press up against the solid white wall, reminding
me of  the limit, the threshold.
We talk quietly. Our voices echo in this space. It resonates with us. We
imagine sliding down its surface, as it slopes away from the wall – a desire to
physically engage with the structure, to come into contact, to lose oneself in
that dark gaping space which resounds with our soft voices.
From the exhibition brochure that I pick up at the front desk, I learn
that the structure’s 154 seamless tiles are produced and fitted to prevent any
light from seeping through, creating ‘the necessary conditions for darkness

and boundlessness within – the void’ (recalling Kapoor’s emphasis upon the
void evoked above).10 The brochure contends that in untying the classical
figure-ground relationship, Memory moves us towards a new perception
of space. Further, it suggests that ‘[d]ematerializing steel and dismantling
vision, Memory is the apotheosis of  this cognitive process. Set within non-
chronological time and fractured space, we are left to negotiate the sculpture’s
ensuing incomprehensibility and fragmentation […]’.11
These comments invite me toward a new ref lection on the piece. Yet they
also abstract that ref lection. I make an ef fort to pull my thoughts back to
the material situatedness of this site-specific structure, here, in the Deutsche
Guggenheim in Berlin. The brochure has nothing to say about this relation
between Berlin and its bulging, bulbous visitor who goes by the name of 
Memory. Presumably this is so as to avoid imposing any one particular inter-
pretation upon a situational link. Yet it is precisely – at least partially – this
link that invites me to make sense.12 Kapoor’s structure, here in Berlin, cre-
ates its own specific associations between individual and collective memory,
between history and mourning, between materiality, space and time – asso-
ciations which make sense in excess of any one signification (not least because
of Kapoor’s own Jewish heritage), mobilized as they are between the singular
plurality of each encounter with this piece, taking place between what Nancy
names ‘the propriety of each and the impropriety common to all’.13 In so doing,
memory here – Kapoor’s Memory – does justice to the singular event of  the
time and space in which we encounter it.

*  *  *

10 Anish Kapoor: Memory, 30.11–01.02, Deutsche Guggenheim exhibition brochure, 2008,

containing extracts from Poddar, ‘Suspending Disbelief ’, pp. 26–53 (p. 41).
11 Exhibition brochure; based on Poddar extracts, ibid., p. 28.
12 As Nick Kaye argues, however, site-specific art also works to unravel the stabilities of 
‘original’ or ‘fixed’ site and location, suggesting a further dimension of Memory’s opening
to the plurality of sense. See Kaye, Site-specific Art: Performance, Place and Documentation
(London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 2–3. A further unravelling of  the fixity of  ‘site’ takes
place if we consider Memory’s subsequent relocation to the Guggenheim Museum in
New York.
13 J.-L. Nancy, The Creation of  the World or Globalization, trans. F. Raf foul and David
Pettigrew (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2007), p. 111.
Passage of  Sense: Anish Kapoor’s Memory (2008) with Jean-Luc Nancy 203

In The Creation of the World, Nancy critiques any totalizing logic of representa-
tion seeking to appropriate the world, from the classical ontotheological triad
of God-nature-world to contemporary economic-technological structures of
globalization.14 One particular example of such an all-encompassing view is
the Nazi Weltanschauung – meaning literally world view, a view which assigns
to the world a particular principle, end or aim; Nancy suggests that this is
why, as Heidegger turns away from Nazism, he heralds the end of  the age of 
Weltbilder (images or pictures of  the world).15 For the world ‘viewed’ and
represented implies a transcendental position external to the world, abstracted
from our being-in-common and our being-in-the-world. Nancy seeks rather
to move towards modes of world-forming and world-creation which might
do justice to the world. To think the world beyond a logic of representation
is to configure the world outside the totality of the theological or the global,
unharnessed from any one particular aim or principle – a world traversed
rather than transcended, shared and spaced, ever self-forming via an inexhaust-
ible creation of sense. It may be in this sense that we can understand Henri
Lustiger-Thaler’s description of  Memory as enacting a move away from the
construction of  ‘institutionalized memory’ and ‘global voyeurism’ towards
‘an ethic of exploration’.16
At stake is a way of viewing – and making – the world otherwise, of
seeing, sensing and creating the world anew. It is here that Kapoor’s Memory
shares and takes part, for the structure absolutely resists an all-encompassing
viewpoint, insisting, rather, that our engagement with its scale and shape can
be only what Nancy describes in Corpus as a touch which is ‘local, modal,
fractal’.17 What the structure mobilizes is a contingent, embodied encounter,
a syncopated rhythm of spacing-in-contact which calls upon my senses in
order to make sense, interrupting the reign of the scopic with the tactility of
diaphanous steel, the space into which my voice echoes and the white thresh-

14 Ibid., p. 41.
15 Ibid., p. 43.
16 H. Lustiger-Thaler, ‘When Empty is Full’, in Poddar, Spivak et al, Anish Kapoor: Memory,
pp. 16 –19 (p. 17). Invoking Jacques Derrida’s thinking of spectres and Emmanuel Levinas’s
notion of justice, Lustiger-Thaler suggests that Memory elaborates a relation to an inad-
missible, inaccessible other.
17 J.-L. Nancy, Corpus, trans. R.A. Rand (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008),
p. 87.

old against which my knees strain. The path that my feet trace around the
structure acts like Nancy’s figure of the vestige – that which is left there where
the image withdraws: like a footprint, the vestige presents not the form of an
Idea but the trace of its withdrawal, the path of its disappearance.18 Writing
about the soles of the feet of Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation over the Dead
Christ (c. 1480), turned towards the viewer, Nancy suggests that the vestige
takes place not in the posing but the passing of sense, le pas, the path, the pas-
sage.19 With Memory, the immensity of scale insists upon a locality of passage,
as in the case of other large-scale installations by Kapoor such as Taratantara
(1999), Marsyas (2002) or, indeed, the aptly titled At the Edge of  the World
(1998). Here, then, an immensity of scale traces the withdrawal of the image,
marks the vestige of  the footprint, and, in utter opposition to a totalizing,
global or transcendental view, does justice to the world onto which it opens.
Gayatry Chakravorty Spivak describes Kapoor’s Memory as ‘the impossible
dream of a globalization attempting “worldliness” in the museum’.20 It is this
move towards worldliness and worldly existence that Nancy urges us to think,
demanding that we move from globalization towards mondialisation – world-
forming, a making of  the world and a making of sense.
One of  Kapoor’s other large-scale works is entitled Svayambh (2007),
from the Sanskrit word svayam, meaning ‘created out of itself ’. As Kapoor
says of  his work in general: ‘The form, I insist, made itself ’.21 This is a stra-
tegic withdrawal of artistic intention, perhaps – the trace of another disap-
pearance. But Kapoor’s remark equally signals an insistence upon something
bigger than himself, an af firmation of a certain mode of passivity essential to
the creation of the artwork, and essential to world-forming. In The Evidence
of  Film, Nancy’s work on the Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Nancy
writes of le juste regard, the ‘just look’ – a way of viewing the world that does
justice to the world. He argues that this figure of  the just or respectful look
is not a way of re-inscribing the subjectivity of  the filmmaker, but instead,

18 J.-L. Nancy, The Muses, trans. P. Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996),
p. 95.
19 Ibid., p. 97.
20 Spivak, ‘Signs and Trace’, p. 60.
21 A. Kapoor, ‘A Conversation: Anish Kapoor with Donna de Salvo’, in Anish Kapoor:
Marsyas (London: Tate Publishing, 2002), p. 62.
Passage of  Sense: Anish Kapoor’s Memory (2008) with Jean-Luc Nancy 205

constitutes an articulation of the filmmaker’s submission to ‘the demands of

a look’.22 What Nancy evocatively describes as ‘taking care’ of  the real thus
denotes a movement between a nurturing of, and receptivity toward, the
world, a movement between activity and passivity.23 Taking care of  the real,
Kapoor recognizes this necessary movement of passivity, articulating it via
the immensity of scale, the locality of passage, the vestige of a traversal. No
Weltbilder here – only world-forming, as the world creates itself, as the world
makes sense.

*  *  *
Fashioned from dark red PVC stretched taut over a huge steel hoop, Kapoor’s
Marsysas invokes a body f layed, at once f leshed out and emptied out – le retrait
(the retreat/retracing) of the body. Stripped yet sinewy, hollowed out yet given
f lesh, Marsyas bodies forth, f lute-like, figuring not sacrifice or transcendence
exactly, but rather what Kapoor calls ‘the meeting of material and nonma-
terial […] of a thing existing in the world’.24 or what Nancy, describing the
artwork, refers to as ‘the transimmanence of being-in-the-world’.25 If Marsyas
turns the body inside out, then Memory empties it out still further, its rusted
orange-brown shell echoing the blood red of that earlier work, yet marking a
further act of passing – the unmonumental vestige of a traversal. The Corten
steel erodes with the path and passage of  time, developing ‘orange powdery
rust as the sculpture’s skin continues to breathe and react to the environment’
– spatio-temporality rendered manifestly epidermal, textured, tactile.26 In
unfolding the contingency of our encounter with Memory, the rusted traces
of this traversal, we mark the commonality of a passing and passage of sense,
doing justice to the time and space of our being-in-the-world, which is also,
irreducibly, the time and space of our being-in-common.

22 J.-L. Nancy, The Evidence of  Film: Abbas Kiarostami (Brussels: Yves Gevaert, 2001),
p. 38.
23 Ibid., p. 18.
24 A. Kapoor in an interview with Sherry Gaché, Sculpture 15.2 (1996), pp. 22–3; cited in
Poddar, ‘Suspending Disbelief ’, p. 47.
25 J.-L. Nancy, The Muses, p. 18.
26 S. Poddar, ‘Suspending Disbelief ’, p. 41.

Select Bibliography

Anfam, D., J. Burton and D. De Salvo, Anish Kapoor (London: Phaidon, 2009).
Baume, N., Anish Kapoor: Past, Present, Future. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).
Bhabha, H.K., and J. de Loisy, Anish Kapoor (London: Royal Academy of  Arts, 2009).
Nancy, J.-L., The Creation of the World or Globalization, trans. F. Raf foul and D. Pettigrew
(Albany, NY: SUNY, 2007).
——, The Sense of the World, trans. J.S. Librett (Minneapolis and London: University of 
Minnesota Press, 1997).
Poddar, S., S. Chakravorty, S. Gayatri et al., Anish Kapoor: Memory (London and New
York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2008).

Making Sense

Making sense : faire du sens, ou « faire sens » comme on le dit aujourd’hui

en français par anglicisme. Quel est ce faire ? Est-ce une production ? Une
fabrication ? Une génération ? Certainement pas. Le sens n’est en aucune
façon produit : il n’est pas le résultat d’une opération destinée à produire et
il n’est pas lui-même un produit.
Ce qui peut être produit, c’est une information. Mais une information
n’a pas proprement de sens. C’est sa réception, son échange, son partage qui
peuvent faire du sens. « Faire du sens » est une expression comparable à « faire
l’amour » ou encore à « faire bien » dans un contexte comme « cela fait
bien de parler d’une ˝crise du sens˝ ». Dans chacun de ces cas, ce qui apparaît
comme objet ou comme résultat du « faire » – le « sens », l’ « amour » ou
le « bien » – ne se distingue pas en réalité de l’acte de ce « faire ».
Le sens ne consiste que dans le renvoi d’un ou plusieurs à un ou plusieurs
autres. De soi-même à soi-même, aussi bien, à condition que ce « soi » se pré-
sente à lui-même comme un autre – ce qui est la condition du corps. Le corps
est ce dehors par lequel je peux me renvoyer une altération de moi-même, qui
peut provenir aussi bien de mon corps que des autres corps qui l’entourent.
Cela se nomme une sensation : telle est la première allure du sens.
Dans la sensation, il y a af firmation simultanée du dehors et du dedans,
du corps et de l’âme si on veut : je vois cet arbre vert traversé de rayons de
soleil, je suis en lui, je passe en lui, je me confonds avec lui – jusqu’au point où
cette confusion s’interdit elle-même puisqu’elle résonne en moi précisément
comme approche d’une intimité inimaginable. Je ne deviens pas cet arbre parce
que … je le deviens, justement. A la dif férence de la statue creuse de Condillac
qui devenait « odeur de rose », « je » deviens le vert de l’arbre et les rayons
du soleil dans lesquels « je » « me » trouve – je me sens, je m’éprouve – à
mesure que je m’enfonce, que je m’immerge dans cette sensation. Ou bien,
si on préfère rester proche de Condillac, on pourra dire que le creux de la
statue n’est rien d’autre que l’espace de résonance, de renvoi qui me rapporte

à moi-même par l’autre, dans l’autre et comme autre en même temps que
cet autre – ici, le vert, tel vert, le vert précis de cet arbre précis, les luisances
précises de ce moment de soleil – se rapporte à lui-même de telle sorte qu’il
devient précisément « ce » vert, cette nuance, cette allure ou cet aspect, qui
d’ailleurs est en même temps un toucher et aussi vaguement quelque chose
d’une senteur, d’un bruissement, voire d’une saveur.
Plus largement : ce vert devient ce vert « en moi » mais comme « je »
deviens aussi sa nuance, sa brillance, et quelque chose de la sève qui l’irrigue,
quelque chose de la poussée exubérante venue du sol, de la pluie et du soleil,
quelque chose aussi de son contraste avec les autres couleurs, et avec les formes,
densités et tournures qui l’entourent (le tronc, les autres plantes) ainsi ce vert
devient « ce » vert en soi et pour soi. Le « soi » de cet « en et pour soi »
n’est pas un sujet proprement dit, ni un objet. Il est antérieur ou postérieur
à ces catégories.
Au moins pouvons-nous dire : il est le « soi » de la sensation. La sen-
sation se sent. Déjà cela fait sens : des éléments du monde renvoient les uns
aux autres et chacun à soi. Cela ne se passe pas seulement « pour moi », dans
ma subjectivité, puisque cela se passe aussi pour et par toutes sortes d’autres
innombrables « perceptions », celles des animaux – oiseaux, araignées, écu-
reuils – qui en même temps ont rapport au même arbre, mais aussi pour et
par tous les autres renvois possibles entre les arbres et les plantes qui se gênent
ou se favorisent dans leurs croissances, entre les éclats, ref lets, ombres qui
échangent des valeurs, qui se renforcent ou s’af faiblissent, etc.
Tout cela, diront certains, n’a lieu que pour et par votre subjectivité.
C’est oublier que ma « subjectivité » est elle-même d’abord un corps parmi
les autres, sentant les autres et que les autres sentent. Certes, l’arbre ne me
« sent » pas, pas du moins comme autre chose qu’éventuellement un contact
ou bien un obstacle à la lumière, au vent. Mais je proviens de la même vie que
lui et cette vie se rapporte à elle-même dans ma sensation qui elle-même se
fait en moi sentir comme « pensée ». Nul besoin d’invoquer un mysticisme
de la nature-mère ni aucune sorte de panthéisme. Nous devons simplement
redécouvrir, sur un mode toutefois inédit, ce que savaient sur un tout autre
mode ceux qui vivaient dans les mythes : il y a une communication et une
participation universelles des étants, c’est-à-dire des corps du monde.
Là où certains de ces corps se font parlants, leur parole n’est pas autre
chose que la reprise de cette communication sur un autre registre : le registre
Making Sense 211

sur lequel le rapport de sens(ation) se saisit en tant que tel. Dans le « sujet
parlant », le monde se sait dans sa connexion intime universelle – et de ce fait
dans sa destination « sensée » ou « insensée ». C’est aussi pourquoi le sujet
parlant ne se contente pas de parler : il veut aussi saisir et rejouer, intensifier
la sensation elle-même. « Ce » vert devient un ouvrage de peinture, ou de
photo ; mais il peut aussi embrayer sur un rythme, voire une sonorité, etc.; ou
bien devenir un travail de mots (Verde que te quiero verde … Lorca, ‘Romance
Sonámbulo’, Romancero Gitano).
Il y a de nombreuses façons de rejouer la sensation. On peut aussi l’af finer,
la rendre capable du très-petit ou du très-grand, on peut la diriger sur la texture
des corps, sur leurs ressources d’énergie (ce qui brûle, ce qui résiste …). Ce
mouvement est d’une ampleur telle qu’il ne semble pas avoir de fin. En toutes
ses directions, ce mouvement est celui de la tekné, c’est-à-dire de l’ars, c’est-à-
dire de ce qui fait du sens au-delà du sens « naturellement » donné. Mais il
ne faut pas s’y tromper : le débordement du sens est inscrit dans le sens même,
dans la sensation. Dans un monde sans hommes, la paléontologie nous apprend
que les espèces se transforment, se remplacent, tout comme les continents se
déplacent et pour finir ou pour commencer comme les galaxies, les étoiles
et les planètes se forment. La nature est déjà transformatrice d’elle-même, et
c’est aussi de cette manière qu’elle produit – si on peut la traiter comme un
agent – un vivant doué de « sens » au sens que nous disons « intellectuel »
ou « intelligible » du terme.
Mais l’intelligible est la sensibilité en tant qu’elle se présente à elle-même :
en tant qu’elle se fait sentir ce que c’est que « sentir ». Cela peut aller jusqu’à
des extrémités où le sentir lui-même se sent défaillir : extrémités d’abstraction,
ou de complexité, ou d’intensité (puissances nucléaires, électromagnétiques,
informatiques) auxquelles on ne peut éviter d’attacher la crainte d’une dévas-
tation finale de ce qui faisait possible « le monde ». Mais cela veut dire en
même temps que le vivant parlant ou la sensation se présentant à elle-même
engage aussi la responsabilité du sens que la sensation n’a pas comme telle à
Toutefois cette responsabilité se manifeste très vite au plus près de la
sensation : cela se joue dans le « sentiment ». Le sentiment – ce mot qui en
français d’autrefois a été synonyme de « conscience » et qui aujourd’hui encore
peut être synonyme de « avis, opinion » tout en ayant la valeur dominante
de « disposition af fective » (‘feeling’, ‘Gefühl’) – est l’ef fet de la sensation

en tant qu’elle se sent et que, se sentant, elle s’approuve ou se désapprouve. Il

forme le jugement de la sensation dans son rapport à soi : ce qui m’est ren-
voyé de l’autre ou comme autre, je l’accepte ou je le repousse, cela m’agrée ou
désagrée, cela me fait plaisir ou peine. Tous les sentiments, au sens af fectif du
terme, sont des variations sur le thème fondamental du plaisir/peine. Le plaisir
naît d’une sensation qui s’accepte et veut se poursuivre, voire se renouveler et
s’intensifier, la peine naît d’une sensation qui se rejette et veut se repousser,
voire se supprimer.
Il n’y a pas en vérité de sensation privée de sentiment : chacune s’ouvre
comme un désir d’expansion ou comme un rejet et une fermeture. Le senti-
ment : comment la sensation se sent. La plante se tourne vers le soleil, le loup
recule devant le feu. Oserai-je dire : la pierre s’use sous le torrent, la lave se
presse dans le volcan ? Oui, mais le sentiment de la pierre n’est que son creux,
celui de la lave sa poussée brûlante.
Or pour que la pierre se creuse et pour que la lave monte et jaillisse, il
faut qu’une réceptivité ait déjà été donnée : une pénétrabilité, une plasticité,
une ductilité. Cela veut dire que leurs matières ont déjà été af fectées : elles
ont été constituées dans l’af fectabilité. « Matière » veut dire à la fois « impé-
nétrable » et « af fectable ». Autrement dit : touchable.
Le monde en tant que monde – espace de circulation de sens, espace
de partage, de communication, non d’empilement et de juxtaposition – est
d’emblée dans l’af fectabilité. Elle est en somme sa matrice : on peut dire que
ex nihilo désigne exactement l’af fection du nihil. A un pur et simple néant
muré en soi, fermé, succède (si on peut parler de succession, puisque c’est le
premier battement de temps) un ex dont le néant s’af fecte : il sort de soi, il
devient ainsi « rien », c’est-à-dire « la chose », la chose même dont la pro-
priété est d’être en rapport avec autre chose, d’autres choses, d’en être touchée
(heurtée, ef f leurée, fracassée, absorbée, etc.)
Dans le sentiment tel que nous le comprenons (en tant qu’af fect, émo-
tion, trouble) et que d’ailleurs nous ne pouvons refuser à beaucoup de formes
du vivant (qui dira où ça commence et cela d’ailleurs commence-t-il ou est-il
toujours déjà en germe ?) il n’y a rien d’autre que le développement de ce sen-
timent de soi qui fait le monde : s’ouvrir et se recevoir de sa propre ouverture
comme autant de touches indéfiniment multipliées et relayées de choses en
choses, de pressions en saisies, de capteurs en réf lecteurs, d’actions en réac-
tions. Mais dans le sentiment du vivant parlant se lève le « sens » que nous
Making Sense 213

disons « intelligible » et qui est la présentation de l’évaluation qu’opère le

sentir: « Ceci est bon/mauvais, plaisant/pénible. »
Nous portons le sentiment du monde, nous l’exprimons, c’est-à-dire que
nous lui permettons de se sentir lui-même, de s’éprouver dans le renouvelle-
ment infini et proliférant de son impulsion initiale. Tout plaisir est désir d’aller
plus avant dans la proximité de l’ouverture d’être, toute peine est ef fort pour
repousser la fermeture imposée qui m’empêche de sentir autre chose qu’une
atteinte et une diminution d’être. C’est ainsi que nous comprenons qu’« être »
c’est sentir, être senti et se sentir sentant et senti.
C’est pourquoi la sensibilité sexuelle, ou la « sensualité » en général –
complaisance dans le plaisir pour lui-même – porte en elle une dimension
privilégiée : deux corps s’y plaisent à se défaire l’un par l’autre de toutes leurs
propriétés (organiques, opératoires) autres que celle de la sensation et s’y
décomposent en somme pour composer le battement d’un « sentir » pur,
une jouissance n’ayant d’autre « sens » qu’elle-même, et qui en même temps
se rattache, sans s’y asservir, à la possibilité de transmettre la vie (de créer à
nouveau un monde) ce qui est encore une manière de n’en pas finir.

*  *  *
Le sens du monde n’est rien de garanti, ni de perdu d’avance : il se joue tout
entier dans le commun renvoi qui nous est en quelque sorte proposé. Il n’est
pas « sens » en ce qu’il prendrait références, axiomes ou sémiologies hors
du monde. Il se joue en ce que les existants – les parlants et les autres – y font
circuler la possibilité d’une ouverture, d’une respiration, d’une adresse qui est
proprement l’être-monde du monde.
Il n’a lieu que par mise en question, en jeu, en crise. Aucun homme ni
aucune culture humaine ne l’ignore ni ne l’a jamais ignoré : ce n’est pas donné,
c’est toujours au bord de naître et de s’évanouir.
Il n’y a pas d’autre monde, pas d’outre-monde ni d’ « arrière-monde ».
Cela veut dire qu’il n’y a pas de renvoi ultime pour le réseau des renvois du
monde, et qu’il n’y a donc pas de Sens (dernier) du sens ou des sens.
Il n’y a pas de sens du sens : ce n’est pas, tous comptes faits, une proposition
négative. C’est l’af firmation même du sens – sensibilité, sentiment, signifiance :
l’af firmation selon laquelle les existants du monde, en renvoyant les uns aux
autres, ouvrent sur l’inépuisable jeu de leurs renvois –, et sur aucune espèce
de bouclage qui se nommerait « sens de la vie », « sens de l’histoire », ou

encore « salut », « félicité », « vie éternelle », pas plus que sur l’immorta-
lité qui serait celle des œuvres, lesquelles ne sont elles-mêmes que des formes
et façons de renvoi. En revanche, la véritable immortalité – ou éternité – qui
est nôtre est précisément donnée par le monde en tant que lieu du renvoi
mutuel infini.
Par tous ses accès sensibles – sensoriels, sentimentaux, sensés – le corps
suscite la pensée, cette sensibilité au monde comme tel, à l’existence ou à l’être
comme tels qui forme l’accès supplémentaire : celui qui ouvre tous les sens à
l’infini. Cela ne signifie pas pour autant que tous débouchent ainsi sur un sens
unique qui les subsumerait tous. Leur diversité – celle des sensorialités entre
elles mais aussi celle qui dif férencie le sensoriel, le sentimental, le sensuel et le
sensé – se maintient dans l’infini et maintient ainsi l’infini lui-même ouvert,
inépuisable, surexcédent.
La pensée passe toujours par l’ « ars » ou exige l’ « ars » : la mise en
œuvre d’une sensibilité intensifiée, portée à une acuité, à une amplitude ou à
une délinéation qui renouvelle le sensible lui-même – sensation, sentiment,
sensualité – en le portant délibérément, expressément sur la limite toujours
reculée où il n’est plus possible de mesurer le sens à la puissance de la compré-
hension (du concept) mais où c’est lui qui nous mesure depuis un éloignement
sans nom dans lequel nous apparaît quelque chose du monde ou d’un monde
nouveau, aussi nouveau que le monde à l’instant de son ex nihilo.

*  *  *
Tel est l’incommensurable auquel nous sommes exposés : non seulement
incommensurable à nous et à tout autre étant, mais incommensurable à lui-
même. Telle est la chance et la jouissance de la pensée : qu’elle est essentiel-
lement rapport à l’excédence en soi, à l’excédence absolue qui est celle de ce
qu’on peut nommer l’ « être » aussi bien que « le monde » ou « le sens ».
Excédence sur tout ce qui est donné, mais encore excédence sur soi-même :
excédence du don en amont du donné. Don de ceci : qu’il y ait quelques choses,
les choses, tous les étants – mais non pas « quelque chose plutôt que rien »
car précisément rien est ce qu’il y a au lieu même du don.

Making Sense (Translation)

Making sense: faire du sens, or ‘faire sens’ as we say in French today using an
Anglicism. What does this ‘making’ mean? Is it a production? A fabrication?
A generating? Certainly not. Sense is not produced in any way: it is not the
result of an operation aimed at production and it is not in itself a product.
What can be produced is information. But information does not have a
sense in itself. It is its reception, its exchange, its sharing which can make sense.
‘Making sense’ is an expression comparable to ‘making love’ [faire l’amour’]
or even ‘making a good impression’ [faire bien] in a context like ‘it makes a
good impression’ [cela fait bien] to speak of a ‘crisis of sense’. In each of these
cases, what appears as the object or result of  the ‘making’ – sense, love, etc –
is not really dissociable from the act of  this ‘making’.
Sense only consists in the relay of one or several to one or several. From
oneself  to oneself, as well, on condition that this ‘self ’ presents him/herself 
to him/herself as an other – which is the condition of  the body. The body is
this outside through which I can relay to myself an alteration of myself, which
can derive equally from my body or from the other bodies that surround it.
This is called a sensation: this is the first appearance of sense.
In sensation, there is a simultaneous af firmation of  the outside and the
inside, of  the body and of  the soul, if you like: I see this green tree shining
in the sunlight, I am in it, I pass into it, I merge with it – to the point where
this confusion forestalls itself  because it resounds in me as an approach to
an unimaginable intimacy. I do not become this tree because … precisely, I
become it. As opposed to Condillac’s hollow statue which became the ‘smell
of a rose’, ‘I’ become the green of  the tree and the sunlight in which ‘I’ find
‘myself ’ – I sense myself, I feel myself – as I go deeper as I immerse myself in
this sensation. Or rather, if we prefer to stay close to Condillac, we will be
able to say that the hollow of  the statue is nothing other than the space of
resonance, of relay which brings me back to myself  by way of  the other, in
the other and as other at the same time as this other – here, the green, this

green, the precise green of this precise tree, the precise gleam of this moment
of sunshine – comes back to itself in such a way that it becomes precisely ‘this’
green, this nuance, this meaning or this aspect, which furthermore is at the
same time a touch and also vaguely some part of a smell, a sound, or a taste.
In broader terms: this green becomes this green ‘in me’ but as ‘I’ also
become its nuance, its gleam, and some part of  the sap which runs through
it, some part of its exuberant growth taken from the soil, the rain and the
sun, some part also of its contrast with other colours, and with the forms,
densities and turning shapes which surround it (the trunk, other plants) so
this green becomes ‘this’ green in itself and for itself. The ‘self ’ of this ‘in and
for itself ’ is not a subject strictly speaking, nor an object. It exists prior to or
beyond these categories.
At the least we can say: it is the ‘self ’ of sensation. Sensation senses itself.
Already that makes sense: elements in the world turn back one to another and
each to itself. This does not only happen ‘for me’, subjectively, since this also
happens for and through all sorts of other innumerable ‘perceptions’, those
of animals – birds, spiders, squirrels – which at the same time have a relation
to the same tree, but also for and through all the other possible exchanges
between trees and plants more or less easily made in their growth, between
the gleams, ref lections, shadows which change values, which enhance or
diminish each other.
All this, some will say, only takes place for and through your subjectiv-
ity. This is to forget that my ‘subjectivity’ is itself firstly a body among others,
sensing the others and sensed by those others. Certainly the tree doesn’t ‘sense’
me, at least not as anything other than in ef fect a contact or an obstacle to the
light, to the wind. But I come from the same life as it and this life is sent back
to itself in my sensation which itself makes itself felt in me as ‘thought’. There
is no need to invoke Mother Nature mysticism or any sort of pantheism. We
simply have to rediscover, in an as yet unknown mode, what those who lived
in myths knew in a totally dif ferent mode: there is a universal communication
and participation of  beings, that is to say of  bodies in the world.
Where certain of  these bodies learn to speak, their language is nothing
other than the pursuit of  this communication in another register: the regis-
ter in which the relation of sense(ation) grasps itself as such. In the ‘speaking
subject’, the world knows itself in its intimate universal connection – and as
a result of  this in its ‘sensed’ or ‘unsensed’ destination. This is also why the
Making Sense (Translation) 217

speaking subject is not content just to speak: he or she also wants to grasp
and replay, to intensify the sensation itself. ‘This’ green becomes a work of
painting, or a photo; but it can also switch to a rhythm, or a sonority, etc.;
or become a work of words (Verde que te quiero verde … Lorca, ‘Romance
Sonámbulo’, Romancero Gitano).
There are a number of ways of replaying sensation. One can also refine
it, render it capable of  the very small or of  the very great, one can direct it
onto the texture of  bodies, onto their energy resources (what burns, what
resists …). This movement is of such a breadth that it does not seem to have
an endpoint. In every direction, this movement is that of  techné, that is to
say of ars, that is to say of what makes sense beyond the senses ‘naturally’
given. But we mustn’t be mistaken: the overf lowing of sense is inscribed in
sense itself, in sensation. In a world without mankind, palaeontology tells us
that breeds transform, replace one another, just as the continents shift and
stars and planets form, to end up or to start out as galaxies. Nature is already
self-transforming, and it is also in this way that it produces – if one can treat
Nature as an agent – a living being endowed with ‘sense’ in the ‘intellectual’
or ‘intelligible’ sense of  the term.
But the intelligible is sensibility as it presents itself  to itself: as it makes
itself sense what it is to ‘sense’. This can go to extremities where sensing itself
senses itself  fail: extremities of abstraction, or of complexity, or of intensity
(nuclear, electromagnetic or digital forces) to which one cannot avoid attach-
ing fear of  the final devastation of what made ‘the world’ possible. But this
means at the same time that the speaking being or the sensation presenting
itself  to itself also engages a responsibility for sense that sensation does not
have to know as such.
At the same time this responsibility manifests itself very quickly at the very
heart of sensation: this is involved in ‘feeling’. Feeling [le sentiment] – this word
which in earlier French has been synonymous with ‘consciousness’ and which
still today can be synonymous with ‘point of view, opinion’ while still having
the dominant meaning of  ‘af fective disposition’ (‘feeling’, ‘Gefühl’) – is the
ef fect of sensation as it senses itself and, sensing itself, approves or disapproves
of itself. Feeling forms the judgement of sensation in its relation to itself: what
is sent back to me from the other or as other, I accept it or I push it away, I
like it or I dislike it, it gives me pleasure or pain. All feelings, in the af fective
sense of the term, are variations on the fundamental theme of pleasure/pain.

Pleasure arises from a sensation that accepts itself and wants to pursue itself,
even to renew itself and intensify itself; pain arises from a sensation which
rejects itself and wants to push itself away, even to suppress itself.
There is in truth no sensation bereft of feeling: each sensation opens up
into a desire to expand or into rejection and closing. Feeling: the way sen-
sation senses itself. Plants turn towards the sun, wolves shy away from fire.
Shall I dare say: stones wear themselves away in the stream, lava seethes in
the volcano? Yes, but the feeling of  the stone is only its hollowing out, the
feeling of  the lava its burning f lood.
So in order that stones are hollowed and lava rises and spurts, a recep-
tivity needs already to have been given: a penetrability, a plasticity, a ductil-
ity. This means that their matter has already been af fected: they have been
constituted as af fectable. ‘Matter’ is at once ‘impenetrable’ and ‘af fectable’.
In other words: touchable. The world as world – a space of the circulation of
sense, a space of sharing, of communication, not of piling up and juxtaposi-
tion – exists immediately in af fectability. Af fectability is in short its womb:
one can say that ex nihilo signifies exactly the af fect of nihil. To a pure and
simple nothingness shut away in itself and closed of f, comes in succession,
if one can talk about succession since this is the first beat of  time, an ex out
of which nothingness draws af fect: it comes out of itself, it becomes thus
‘nothing’, namely a ‘thing’, indeed a thing whose property is to be in relation
with another thing, or other things, to be touched (jostled, brushed, broken,
absorbed, etc.) by them.
In feeling as we understand it (as af fect, emotion, trouble) and further-
more that we cannot deny to many forms of living being (who will say where
this begins and indeed does this begin or is it always already in seed?) there
is nothing other than the development of  this feeling of self which makes
the world: to open oneself and to receive oneself in one’s own opening as so
many touches indefinitely multiplied and relayed from thing to thing, from
pressure felt to capture, from sensors to ref lectors, from actions to reactions.
But in the feeling of  the living, speaking being grows the ‘sense’ that we call
‘intelligible’ and which is the presentation of  the judgement that sensing
operates: ‘This is good/bad, pleasurable/painful’.
We carry the feeling of  the world, we express it, meaning that we let it
sense itself, experience itself in the infinite and proliferating renewal of its
initial impulse. Every pleasure is a desire to go further into proximity with
Making Sense (Translation) 219

the opening of being, every pain is an ef fort to push away the imposed closure
which prevents me sensing anything other than a breach and a diminution of 
being. It is in this way that we understand that ‘being’ is sensing, being sensed
and sensing oneself sensing and sensed.
This is why sexual sensitivity, or ‘sensuality’ in general – indulgence in
pleasure for its own sake – carries with it a privileged dimension: two bodies
take pleasure in stripping one another of all properties (organic, operational)
other than that of sensation and come apart in this in order to compose the
beat of a pure ‘sensing’, a jouissance that has no other ‘sense’ than itself, and
which at the same time reattaches itself, without being subjugated to this,
to the possibility of giving life (or creating a world afresh) which is another
means of not finishing with it.

*  *  *
The sense of the world is not at all guaranteed, nor lost in advance: it is wholly
at play in the common relay that is in some way proposed to us. It is not ‘sense’
in such a way that it would take references, axioms or semiologies out of  the
world. It is at play so that beings – speaking and other – put into circulation
the possibility of an opening, of breathing, of an address that is properly the
being-world of  the world.
It only comes into being by calling into question, bringing into play, and
causing crisis. No man and no human culture does not know it or has ever not
known it: it is not given, it is always about to be born and to vanish.
There is no other world, no world beyond, nor ‘anterior world’. This means
that there is no ultimate reference point for the world’s relay-network, and
there is therefore no (ultimate) Sense of either sense or the senses.
There is no sense of sense: this is not, all things considered, a negative
proposition. It is the very af firmation of sense – sensing, feeling, meaning:
the af firmation by which the world’s beings, relaying between themselves,
open to the inexhaustible game of their relays, and not to any type of sealing
of meaning which would be called ‘the meaning of life’, ‘the sense of history’,
or further ‘salvation’, ‘bliss’, ‘eternal life’, nor further to the immortality which
would be that of works, which are only themselves forms and means of relay.
By contrast, the true immortality – or eternity – that is ours is given precisely
by the world as a place of infinite mutual relay.

Through all its feeling openings – sensory, sentimental, sensed – the

body incites thought, this sensitivity to the world as such, to existence or
to being as such which forms a further opening: that which opens to all the
senses of  the infinite. This does not mean so much that all senses open thus
into a singular sense which would subsume them all. Their diversity – that
of  the sensorialities amongst themselves but also that which dif ferentiates
the sensorial, the sentimental, the sensual and the sensed – is maintained in
the infinite and maintains the infinite like this as itself open, inexhaustible,
exceeding itself.
Thought always passes through ‘ars’ or demands ‘ars’: the setting to work
of an intensified sensibility, taken to an acuity, an amplitude or a delineation
which renews the sensible itself – sensation, feeling, sensuality – carrying it
deliberately, expressly at the always remote limit where it is no longer possible
to measure the sense of  the power of comprehension (of  the concept) but
where it is sense which measures us through a nameless distancing in which
appears to us some part of  the world or of a new world, as new as the world
at the instant of its ex nihilo.

*  *  *
This is the incommensurable to which we are exposed: not only incommen-
surable to us and to every other being, but incommensurable to itself. This
is the chance and the jouissance of  thought; that it is essentially a relation
to excess in itself, to absolute excess which is that which is of what can be
called ‘being’ as well as ‘the world’ or ‘sense’. Excess beyond all that is given,
but further excess beyond itself: excess of  the gift in excess of  the given. Gift
of  this: that there be some things, things in the world, all beings – but not
‘something rather than nothing’ for precisely nothing is what there is in the
place of  the gift.
Notes on Contributors

Hugues Azérad specializes in comparative literature (in particular Proust,

Reverdy, Joyce and Faulkner) and French poetry. He currently works on the
notions of the modernist image, aesthetic experience/knowledge and utopia
in literature, poetry and film. He teaches French literature and language in
the French department and at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He is the co-
editor (with Peter Collier) of  Twentieth-Century French Poetry: A Critical
Anthology (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and the author of  L’Univers
constellé de Proust, Joyce et Faulkner: le concept d’épiphanie dans l’esthétique du
modernisme (Peter Lang, 2002). He has also written articles on nineteenth-
and twentieth-century literature that have appeared in Modern Language
Review, New Comparison, The Journal of  Romance Studies, Alizés and La
Revue française.

Lorna Collins is an art theorist and arts journalist, guided by her strong
interest in arts practice. She is currently completing a PhD at the University
of Cambridge, where she is a Foundation Scholar at Jesus College. Her philo-
sophical work develops the concept of  Making Sense through the aesthetic
theories of  Deleuze and Guattari, Jean-Luc Nancy, Jacques Rancière and
Bernard Stiegler. The point of  her research is to build an understanding of 
how engaging with art, through French theory, helps us to make sense of the
world, which then moves a theoretical interpretation towards an actual praxis,
with various Making Sense events being held around the world.

Florian Forestier’s doctoral thesis concerns the speculative foundations

of contemporary phenomenology and its relation to the deconstruction
seen in Nancy, Richir and Marion. He is curator in charge of  the collection
of  Anglophone literature at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. He has
published the novel Paysages and the poetry collection La boite (preface by
Jean-Luc Nancy, published with Hervé Roth).
222 Notes on Contributors

Ian James specializes in twentieth-century and contemporary French lit-

erature and philosophy. He is the author of Pierre Klossowski: The Persistence
of a Name (Legenda, 2000); The Fragmentary Demand: An Introduction to
the Philosophy of  Jean-Luc Nancy (Stanford University Press, 2006); and
Paul Virilio (Routledge, 2007). He is also co-editor of Whispers of the Flesh:
Essays in Memory of Pierre Klossowski (Diacritics, Spring 2005) and Exposures:
Critical Essays on Jean-Luc Nancy (Oxford Literary Review 27, 2005). He is
currently working on a project that examines the way in which questions of 
technology have been taken up in recent French philosophy.

Ryosuke Kakinami holds a doctorate from the University of  Tokyo in

Japan, where he is a JSPS Research Fellow. He studies the relation between
the philosophical and the theological in contemporary philosophy, particu-
larly following the thought of Jean-Luc Nancy, and the apparent ‘theological
turning’ of  French phenomenology.

Faith Lawrence is a creative writing PhD student at the University of  St

Andrews. Her own poems have been published in several journals, including
Poetry Review. She is also professionally engaged with listening at BBC Radio
4 where she works as a producer.

Carol Mavor is Professor of Art History and Visual Studies at the University
of Manchester. She has published three books: Pleasures Taken: Performances
of Sexuality and Loss in Victorian Photographs (Duke University Press, 1995);
Becoming: The Photographs of  Clementina, Viscountess Hawarden (Duke
University Press, 1999); and Reading Boyishly: J.M. Barrie, Roland Barthes,
Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust and D.W. Winnicott (Duke University
Press, 2007). Her latest book, Black and Blue: The Bruising Passion of Camera
Lucida, La Jetée, Sans Soleil and Hiroshima mon amour is forthcoming from
Duke University Press. Currently, she is completing a series of short essays on
the colour blue to be published under the title Blue Mythologies (Reaktion,

Laura McMahon is the Rosamund Chambers Teaching and Research

Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge. She works on twentieth-century and
contemporary French cinema, philosophy and theory, with a particular
Notes on Contributors 223

interest in the sense of  touch. She is the co-editor of  Rhythms: Essays in
French Literature, Thought and Culture (Peter Lang, 2008) and has published
articles on Marguerite Duras, Claire Denis and Jean-Luc Nancy.

Jennifer Milligan is a professional American actress, singer, dancer, cho-

reographer and creator. She has a BFA in Musical Theatre from the Cincinnati
Conservatory of  Music and a MFA in Contemporary Performance from
Naropa University. She is trained in Roy Hart Extended Voice, Body, Mind
Centering, Six Viewpoints, Luigi Jazz Dance, Moment Work, Spirit Gateways
Movement Healing, HapKiDo and Contact Dance. Her teachers include
Barbara Dilley, Wendell Beavers, Jonathan Hart, Luigi, Iana Lahi, Felix Ivanov,
James Truitte, Moisés Kaufman, Nita Little, Andrew Howard, Chris Aiken,
Javier Cura and many more.

Jean-Luc Moriceau is a professor at the Télécom School of Management.

His research proposes a critique of  the organizations and research meth-
ods seen in postmodern and humanist ways of  thinking. He is interested in
particular in the methods and writings of innovative research on sensibility
and the senses, which he develops with the Universiteit voor Humanistiek
in Utrecht. Since his research involves theatre and performance studies his
presentations regularly take the form of performances.

Benjamin Morris, a native of  Mississippi, recently completed a PhD in

Archaeology at the University of  Cambridge. He is not an archaeologist.
His creative work (fiction, poetry, and plays) has been published in the US
and the UK. He has received a Literary Arts Fellowship from the Mississippi
Arts Commission. He has now returned to New Orleans. His next project
will be a nonfiction book about the nature of spirals, and he is always on the
lookout for a good one.

Caroline Rannersberger is a visual artist and researcher working across

the fields of contemporary landscape painting and philosophy, with a particu-
lar interest in Gilles Deleuze. Rannersberger’s work is held in numerous cor-
porate and private collections, principally throughout Australia. She exhibits
regularly and has been shortlisted for a number of prestigious art prizes. In
Australia, Rannersberger is represented by Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney.
224 Notes on Contributors

She is currently completing her practice-led PhD in visual arts, entitled ‘The
Sensation of  Landscape Painting in Northern Australia’, at Charles Darwin
University, Northern Territory, Australia. Her new body of work, Unsettling
Country, is to be exhibited in Sydney concurrently with the 2010 Biennale. In
addition to her art practice, Rannersberger facilitates community develop-
ment art projects in remote regions of northern Australia.

Patricia Ribault studied design and ceramics in Paris at the Ecole Nationale
Supérieure of  Arts and Crafts and then started her career as a glassblower in
England, Italy and Tunisia. In 1999, she felt the need to make sense of  her
artistic and artisanal practice and decided to study philosophy of art at the
Sorbonne. She recently earned a PhD in aesthetics entitled ‘Ontology of Craft’
and is now writing articles for various reviews and developing a series of con-
ferences with Bernard Stiegler at the Institute for Research and Innovation
at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Elizabeth Rush is a PhD student in Modern and Medieval Languages at

the University of Cambridge. She is currently researching representations of
care in Spanish and French fiction written between 1890 and 1930, probing
the connections between gender, philosophies of  Will, and the way care is
managed and manifested by literary subjects. The authors she is investigat-
ing for her thesis are J.K. Huysmans, André Gide, Ramón del Valle-Inclán
and Gabriel Miró.

Susan Sellers is Professor of  English and Related Literature at the

University of  St Andrews. She is the author of  Vanessa and Virginia and
editor of  the Cambridge University Press edition of  Virginia Woolf ’s writ-
ing. Her non-fiction books include Myth and Fairy Tale in Contemporary
Women’s Fiction and a study of  the writer Hélène Cixous.

Alice Shyy was born in Schenectady, New York, and raised in Gainesville,
Florida, and Salt Lake City, Utah. She was educated at Yale University and
the University of  Cambridge. She makes stories, art jewellery, experimental
writings, surreal social situations, baked goods, discussions on songs and
friends with strangers. She founded The Note Well (www.thenotewell.com),
a social enterprise uniting music and people. She lives in London, New York
and Santa Barbara.
Notes on Contributors 225

Christopher Watkin specializes in twentieth-century and contemporary

French literature and philosophy. He has recently published Phenomenology or
Deconstruction (Edinburgh University Press, 2008), and his current work deals
with the theme of atheism in contemporary French thought, with particular
reference to the works of  Alain Badiou, Quentin Meillassoux and Jean-Luc
Nancy, to appear as Dif ficult Atheism (Edinburgh University Press, forthcom-
ing). He is part of the Contemporary European Thought research group, and
is helping to develop its current focus on the notion of equality.

Emma Wilson researches contemporary film, trauma, gender, women writers,

and modern fiction. She is the author of Sexuality and the Reading Encounter
(Oxford University Press, 1996); French Cinema since 1950: Personal Histories
(Duckworth, 1999); Memory and Survival: The French Cinema of  Krzysztof 
Kieslowski (Legenda, 2000); Cinema’s Missing Children (Wallf lower, 2003);
Alain Resnais (Manchester University Press, 2006); and Atom Egoyan (Illinois
University Press, 2009). She is currently working on a project on mortality
in moving image media.

Elizabeth Wright is Senior Lecturer in English and European Literature

at Bath Spa University. She is author of several articles on the work of Virginia
Woolf, Bloomsbury theatricals and Henrik Ibsen and has recently adapted
Susan Sellers’s Vanessa and Virginia for the stage.

17 Poets!, 124 California, 108–9

see also United States of  America
Aboriginal culture, 165, 170, 173 Calvino, Italo, 119
art, 165 Cézanne, Paul, 159, 168
af fection, 23–30 chaos, 37, 45, 163, 167–8, 170–1, 174, 180
art, 2, 9, 18–19, 21 Charney, Leo, 66
see also art/ars Christ, 72–3
art/ars, 214, 217, 220 see also Christianity
and dance, see dance Christianity, 37, 54, 167, 169
and justification, 51–3 Chuang-Tzu, 119
and painting, 133–7, 157–84, 185–96 community, 34, 35–6, 40–2, 72–3, 144
and photography, 141–7 composition, 175–6, 179, 188–90, 194
and poetry, 82–4, 89–91 craft, 55–7, 74, 116, 150–4
and sound, 28, 91, 97–8, 109–11, 146, and narrative, 151, 153
216 and sensationalism, 150–1
see also listening; painting; photogra- craftsmanship, 56
phy; poetry craftsperson, 55, 56–7, 59, 60, 119, 129
artistic practice, 65
Athenaeum, 37, 40–4 dance, 58, 59, 223
Australia, 157–84 Darstellung, 38
Deleuze, Gilles, 106, 157–75, 183, 195–7,
Bachelard, Gaston, 58 223
Bacon, Francis, 158–9, 164, 174 and anti-genealogy, 160, 168, 181, 183
Barthes, Roland, 52–3, 93, 101, 103, 110 and geophilosophy, 185–6
Beckett, Samuel, 64, 118 and territorialization/deterritorializa-
Waiting for Godot, 122 tion, 162–7, 178, 186–7, 196
Bell, Clive, 136 and ‘war machines’, 186
Bell, Vanessa, 133–6 see also rhizome, territory
Benjamin, Walter, 71, 95 Delluc, Louis, 66
Bild, 38 Derrida, Jacques, 15, 16, 19, 26, 29, 31
see also Weltbilder désoeuvrement, 36, 44–5
bilingualism, 113–27 Deutsche Guggenheim Museum, 199, 201,
Blanchot, Maurice, 31, 36, 42–8, 64, 126, 202
129, 141 Dewey, John, 194–5, 197
Brentano, Franz, 13 see also event, the
228 Index

Dieu, la mort de / the death of  God, 10, 12 Hurricane Katrina, 94, 114, 121–2, 124–7
disaster, 114–15, 120–3, 126–7 ‘Katrina plays’ 121
Dürer, Albrecht, 181 Husserl, Edmund, 23–4, 31–2

Eco, Umberto, 60 ‘Idea’ (Nancy and Lacoue-Labarthe), 37, 36,

eikon, 72 38–9, 41–2
Eisenstein, Sergei, 65, 67 image, 58, 63–9, 71–4, 142, 173, 178, 190
embodiment, 64, 81–2, 100, 142, 164, 200 image-émotion, 65, 67, 70
Epstein, Jean, 66 and Modernism, 65, 67, 71, 75, 165
epiphanic images, 3, 63–7, 75 image-montage, 65, 67, 70, 71, 74, 75
epiphany, 72, 75 imageless image, 74
ethics, 51–4 immanence, 13, 16, 40, 72–3, 205
of engagement, 74, 82 imminence, 84
l’être, 11, 14–17, 122 incomprehension, 151–2, 202
event, the, 187–97 and anger, 152
see also Deleuze, Gilles; Dewey, John; incommensurability, 178, 179, 214, 220
painting incompleteness, 39–40, 43, 151
infinity, 2, 23–7, 29–31
faire du sens, 53, 209, 215 ipseité/ipseity, 17
Fédida, Pierre, 64
feeling, 57, 58, 80, 151, 217–20 jouissance, 100, 110, 213–14, 219, 220
see also sentiment see also Kristeva, Julia
fragment, 2, 16, 19, 33–4, 37, 39–47, 180, Joyce, James, 3, 65, 74, 221
181 juste regard / ‘just look’, 204
and demand, 222
philological, 40 Kant, Immanuel, 17, 22, 26, 31, 37, 38–9, 47
Franck, Didier, 11 Kapoor, Anish, 5, 75, 199, 200–5, 206
and the body, 200
gesture, 23, 28, 30, 35, 58–9, 146–7, 196–7 and memory, 199–205
glass blower, 55–6 Katrina, see Hurricane Katrina
globalization, 204 Kiarostami, Abbas, see Nancy, Jean-Luc:
God, death of, see Dieu, la mort de and L’Évidence du film
Godard, Jean-Luc, 65, 66, 67, 70–1, 74 Kierkegaard, Søren, 12–14, 18, 22
Gold Mine Saloon, 123–5 Kristeva, Julia, 110
Grande Histoire, 19 see also jouissance
Grosz, Elizabeth, 163, 172
Guattari, Félix, 6, 158, 181, 186–8, 191, 193 Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe, 34, 36–42,
haecceity, 175, 180, 193–4, 196 landscape, 101, 114, 116, 120, 122, 126
Heidegger, Martin, 10–14, 17, 22, 36, 39, see also landscape painting
203 landscape painting, 157, 160–6, 167–73
Hepworth, Barbara, 83–5 and Western tradition, 158, 162, 167–8
Index 229

and settlement, 158, 162, 167–8 Oceania, 157, 160, 179

and territory, 90, 157–67, 177, 181, 183 ontology, 9, 36, 55
Lévinas, Emmanuel, 23, 24, 31 oeuvre, 9, 18–19, 34, 35, 43, 45, 214
listening, 77–85, 104, 107, 109–11, 136, 144, see also désoeuvrement
listening poetics, 77–9 painting, 25, 72, 115, 133–7, 157–84, 185, 224
see also Nancy, Jean-Luc: À l’Écoute paint, the painter and painting, 170
literary absolute, 34–9, 46, 48 see also event, the; landscape painting;
Malabou, Catherine, 21 Pareyson, Luigi, 59, 60
Mann, Sally, 89, 90–5, 98, 100–4, 111 partage, see sharing
Mantegna, Andrea, 204 performance, 33, 61, 135, 137, 142, 222–3
Marx, Karl, 14 phenomenology, 2, 22–9, 31, 57
mediation, 64, 73–4 philology, see fragment: philological
memory, 106–7, 199, 200–3 photogénie, 66–7
and space, 95, 200–2 photography, 89–92, 94–5, 97, 101, 103,
memorialization, 101, 201 141–6, 178
see also Kapoor, Anish: and memory see also art: and photography
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 16, 24, 28, 57 poetry, 1–3, 65, 67
mondialisation, 204 role of images in, 71, 79, 81, 116, 118,
Nancy, Jean-Luc, 9–22, 23–31, 33–47, 51–3, politique, le versus la, 18, 52
134, 99–206, 209–20 ‘prehension’, see Whitehead, Alfred North
À l’Écoute, 25–9, 32 process, 25, 118, 134–6, 141–2, 162–4,
and L’Évidence du film (Abbas 176–7, 185–7
Kiarostami), 25, 27, 63, 204–5 and painting, 158, 170, 174, 180–3, 194–5
Hegel and l’inquiétude du négative, artistic, 184, 193
27, 29 learning, 56
The Inoperative Community, 35–6, 47 making, 58, 61, 135, 136
and listening, 78–84, 90 Proust, Marcel, 74, 95, 99–100, 104, 106–7
Les Muses, 26–8 psychoanalysis, 61, 144
and sound, 28, 78, 80–1
and touch, 26, 47, 57, 141–2 Rancière, Jacques, 70
see also juste regard; literary absolute renvoi, 27, 28, 209–10, 213–14
nation state, 36, 186–7 research, 60, 61, 113–18, 120, 122–3, 125, 127
Nazism, 203 Reverdy, Pierre, 67–71, 75
New Orleans, 114, 117, 120, 122, 124–5 rhizome, 158–61, 172, 180–1
Nietzsche, Friedrich, 12, 21 see also Deleuze, Gilles
nonsense, 53, 149, 150, 152 Rilke, Rainer Maria, 77–82, 85
see also sense Romanticism, 34, 36–40, 42, 43–4, 46–7
Novalis, 37 Jena School, 46
Rublev, Andrei, 72–3
230 Index

Sartre, Jean-Paul, 99–100 Tarkovsky, Andrei, 64, 67, 71–5

Saussure, Ferdinand, 96, 99–100 see also image
Schelling, Joseph, 13, 14 ‘techné’, 59
Schlegel, Friedrich, 33, 37, 39, 41–2, 45, 48 technique, 55–62
sens, 9–17, 51–3, 209–13 territory, 158, 161–5, 172, 178, 181–3,
sens solide / sens nul, 52–3 185–97
sensualité, see sensuality see also Deleuze, Gilles; landscape
see also sense painting
sensation, 58, 134, 151, 157, 163–84, 209–14, Till, Emmett, 94–5
215–20 touch, 4, 47, 55–60, 140–6, 200, 203, 212
sense, 74–82, 90–1, 96, 113, 120, 137, 141–5, touchable, 212, 218
203, 215–20 toucher, 14–16, 26
and exemption, 52–4 transcendence, 10–12, 21
sensibility, 37, 84, 213–14 tree, 89–111, 158–61, 178–83, 216
sensibility and intelligibility, 78–9
see also feeling; nonsense; sens; sensa- unfinished, 34, 40
tion; sensing; senses, the see also incompleteness
senses, the, 144, 203 United States of  America, 105, 109, 114
sensing, 26–31 see also California; New Orleans;
sensuality, 110, 214, 220, 219 South, The
sentiment, 137, 211–14, 217
see also feeling vestige, 204–5
sharing, 47–8, 135, 212, 215 Volk, 36
Simondon, Gilbert, 58 see also nation state
South, The (of  the United States), 90, 93,
98–100, 109 Weil, Simone, 79
spatialisation, 19 Weltbilder, 203–5
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty, 199, 200, 203, Whitehead, Alfred North, 192–3
204 Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 19
Steinbock, Anthony, 24 Woolf, Virginia, 65–6, 74, 133–5
storm, 94, 97, 114, 116–17, 120–2, 125–7 and Old Bloomsbury, 134–5
subject, the, 164, 170, 175, 192, 195, 216 worldliness, 204
subjectivity, 29–30, 170, 176, 185, 194–7, 216
Surrealism, 70, 120
European Connections
edited by Peter Collier

‘European Connections’ is a series which aims to publish studies in Com­

parative Literature. Most scholars would agree that no literary work or
genre can fruitfully be studied in isolation from its context (whether formal
or cultural). Nearly all literary works and genres arise in response to or at
least in awareness of previous and contemporary writing, and are often
illuminated by confrontation with neighbouring or contrasting works. The
literature of Europe, in particular, is extraordinarily rich in this kind of
cross‑cultural fertilisation (one thinks of medieval drama, Romantic poetry,
or the Realist novel, for instance). On a wider stage, the major currents of
European philosophy and art have affected the different national literatures
in varying and fascinating ways. Many European and North American
university courses in literature nowadays teach and research literature in
faculties of Comparative and General Literature. The series intends to tap
the rich vein of such research.
Offers of contribution are invited, whether studies of specific writers and
relationships, or wider theoretical investigations. Proposals from established
scholars, as well as more recent doctoral students, are welcome.
The series editor, Peter Collier, is Emeritus Fellow in French at Sidney
Sussex College, University of Cambridge. He has translated Emile Zola
(Germinal, Oxford World’s Classics, 1993), and Marcel Proust (The Fugitive,
Penguin, 2002), has edited several collections of essays on European litera­
ture and culture, including Critical Theory Today, with Helga Geyer-Ryan
(Polity Press & Cornell University Press, 1990) and Artistic Relations, with
Robert Lethbridge (Yale University Press, 1994), and has written on Proust
and art in Mosaici proustiani (Il Mulino, 1986) and Proust and Venice
(Cambridge University Press, 2005). He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute
of Linguists.
Volume 1 S. S. Prawer: W.M. Thackeray’s European Sketch Books.
A Study of Literary and Graphic Portraiture. 459 pages. 2000.
ISBN 3-906758-68-0 / US-ISBN 0-8204-5081-2
Volume 2 Patricia Zecevic: The Speaking Divine Woman. López de
Úbeda’s La Pícara Justina and Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister.
294 pages. 2001.
ISBN 3-906766-91-8 / US-ISBN 0-8204-5607-1
Volume 3 Mary Besemeres: Translating One’s Self. Language and
Selfhood in Cross-Cultural Autobiography. 297 pages. 2002.
ISBN 3-906766-98-5 / US-ISBN 0-8204-5614-4
Volume 4 Michela Canepari-Labib: Word-Worlds. Language, Identity and
Reality in the Work of Christine Brooke-Rose. 303 pages. 2002.
ISBN 3-906758-64-8 / US-ISBN 0-8204-5080-4
Volume 5 Hugo Azérad: L’Univers constellé de Proust, Joyce et Faulkner.
Le Concept d’épiphanie dans l’esthétique du modernisme.
474 pages. 2002.
ISBN 3-906769-61-5 / US-ISBN 0-8204-5873-2
Volume 6 Berry Palmer Chevasco: Mysterymania. The Reception of
Eugène Sue in Britain 1838–1860. 284 pages. 2003.
ISBN 3-906769-78-X / US-ISBN 0-8204-5915-1
Volume 7 Sabine Schmid: ‘Keeping the Sources Pure’. The Making of
George Mackay Brown. 310 pages. 2003.
ISBN 3-03910-012-2 / US-ISBN 0-8204-6281-0
Volume 8 Walter Redfern: Writing on the Move. Albert Londres and
Investigative Journalism. 266 pages. 2004.
ISBN 3-03910-157-9 / US-ISBN 0-8204-6967-X
Volume 9 Johanna Buisson: Lingua Barbara: Of Barbarians in Modern
European Poetry: Michaux, Celan, Hughes. Forthcoming.
ISBN 978-3-03910-057-6
Volume 10 Karl Leydecker and Nicholas White (eds): After Intimacy.
The Culture of Divorce in the West since 1789.
295 pages. 2007.
ISBN 978-3-03910-143-6
Volume 11 Patrick Crowley and Paul Hegarty: Formless. Ways In and Out
of Form. 258 pages. 2005.
ISBN 3-03910-056-4 / US-ISBN 0-8204-6297-7
Volume 12 Susan Tridgell: Understanding Our Selves. The Dangerous Art
of Biography. 234 pages. 2004.
ISBN 3-03910-166-8 / US-ISBN 0-8204-6976-9
Volume 13 Patsy Stoneman and Ana María Sánchez-Arce with Angela
Leighton (eds): European Intertexts. Women’s Writing in English
in a European Context. 296 pages. 2005.
ISBN 3-03910-167-6 / US-ISBN 0-8204-6977-7
Volume 14 Daniel Hall: French and German Gothic Fiction in the Late
Eighteenth Century. 294 pages. 2005.
ISBN 3-03910-077-7 / US-ISBN 0-8204-6893-2
Volume 15 Ana Gabriela Macedo and Margarida Esteves Pereira (eds):
Identity and Cultural Translation: Writing across the Borders of
Englishness. Women‘s Writing in English in a European
Context. 282 pages. 2006.
ISBN 3-03910-67-2
Volume 16 Peter Wagstaff (ed.): Border Crossings. Mapping Identities in
Modern Europe. 253 pages. 2004.
ISBN 3-03910-279-6 / US-ISBN 0-8204-7206-9
Volume 17 Katharine Murphy: Re-reading Pío Baroja and English Literature.
270 pages. 2005.
ISBN 3-03910-300-8 / US-ISBN 0-8204-7226-3
Volume 18 Elza Adamowicz (ed.): Surrealism: Crossings/Frontiers.
222 pages. 2006.
ISBN 3-03910-328-8 / US-ISBN 0-8204-7502-5
Volume 19 John Parkin and John Phillips (eds): Laughter and Power.
256 pages. 2006.
ISBN 3-03910-504-3
Volume 20 Humberto Núñez-Faraco: Borges and Dante: Echoes of a
Literary Friendship. 230 pages. 2006.
ISBN 3-03910-511-6
Volume 21 Rachael Langford (ed.): Depicting Desire. Gender, Sexuality
and the Family in Nineteenth Century Europe: Literary and
Artistic Perspectives. 280 pages. 2005.
ISBN 3-03910-321-0 / US-ISBN 0-8204-7245-X
Volume 22 Elizabeth Russell (ed.): Loving Against the Odds: Women‘s
Writing in English in a European Context. 222 pages. 2006.
ISBN 3-03910-732-1
Volume 23 Bruno Tribout and Ruth Whelan (eds): Narrating the Self in
Early Modern Europe. 333 pages. 2007.
ISBN 978-3-03910-740-7
Volume 24 Viola Brisolin: Power and Subjectivity in the Late Work of
Roland Barthes and Pier Paolo Pasolini. 307 pages. 2011.
ISBN 978-3-0343-0231-9
Volume 25 Gillian E. Dow (ed.): Translators, Interpreters, Mediators:
Women Writers 1700-1900. 268 pages. 2007.
ISBN 978-3-03911-055-1
Volume 26 Ramona Fotiade (ed.): The Tragic Discourse: Shestov and
Fondane‘s Existential Thought. 294 pages. 2006.
ISBN 3-03910-899-9
Volume 27 Annamaria Lamarra and Eleonora Federici (eds):
Nations, Traditions and Cross-Cultural Identities:
Women’s Writing in English in a European Context.
185 pages. 2010.
ISBN 978-3-03911-413-9
Volume 28 Gerri Kimber: Katherine Mansfield: The View from France.
290 pages. 2008.
ISBN 978-3-03911-392-7
Volume 29 Ian R. Morrison: Leonardo Sciascia’s French Authors.
179 pages. 2009.
ISBN 978-3-03911-911-0
Volume 30 Brigitte Gauthier (ed.): Viva Pinter: Harold Pinter’s Spirit of
Resistance. 258 pages. 2009.
ISBN 978-3-03911-929-5
Volume 31 Hilary Brown and Gillian Dow (eds): Readers, Writers,
Salonnières: Female Networks in Europe, 1700–1900.
291 pages. 2011.
ISBN 978-3-03911-972-1
Volume 32 Nóra Séllei and June Waudby (eds): She’s Leaving Home:
Women’s Writing in English in a European Context.
272 pages. 2011.
ISBN 978-3-0343-0167-1
Volume 33 Lorna Collins and Elizabeth Rush (eds): Making Sense: For an
Effective Aesthetics. 250 pages. 2011.
ISBN 978-3-0343-0717-8
Figure 1  Anish Kapoor, Tall Tree and the Eye (2009), Royal Academy of  Arts,
London. Courtesy of  the Royal Academy of  Arts and Anish Kapoor, 2010.
Figure 2  Sally Mann, Untitled (#1) (1998), Copyright Sally Mann.
Courtesy of  the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 3  Sally Mann, Untitled (1998), Copyright Sally Mann.
Courtesy of  the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 4  Sally Mann, Untitled (GA #15) (1996), Copyright Sally Mann.
Courtesy of  the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 5  Sally Mann, Candy Cigarette (1989), Copyright Sally Mann.
Courtesy of  the Gagosian Gallery.
Figure 6  Vanessa Bell, Abstract Painting (1914), oil on canvas.
Courtesy of  the Tate, London.
Figure 7  Caroline Rannersberger, The Fold 6 Panel (2009), oil and encaustic on
African mahogany, private collection. Image courtesy of  the artist.
Figure 8  Caroline Rannersberger. Parallel Worlds (2008), beeswax, pigment and oil
on paper, private collection. Image courtesy of  the artist.

Похожие интересы