Charles River

Charles River
Upper Limit Cloud/Lower Limit Sail


"Messianicity is not messianism ... even though this distinction remains fragile and enigmatic." (Jacques Derrida)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Kenotic Speech

The idea of kenotic speech, of a self-emptying utterance that seeks zero as the point of plenitude and negation as the space of fullness, runs through poets from Oppen and Palmer to Andrew Joron. Maurice Blanchot takes up this impulse in several of his essays on poetry in The Work of Fire. In commenting on Rene Char, for instance, he writes:

"The poem goes toward absence, but it is to reconstruct total reality with it ... the search for totality, in all its forms, is the poetic claim par excellence, a claim in which the impossibility of being accomplished is included as its condition" (Work of Fire 104).

Similarly, in his essay on Holderlin, he remarks that “the language of the poem is nothing but the retention, the transmission of its own impossibility” (WF 126). Perhaps Blanchot's most eloquent exposition of this principle of kenotic speech comes in his essay on Mallarme:

"What does writing care about? To free us from what is … this liberation is accomplished by the strange possibility we have of creating emptiness around us, putting a distance between us and things. This possibility is genuine … because it is linked to the deepest feeling of our existence—anguish, say some, boredom, says Mallarme … it corresponds exactly to the function of writing, whose role is to replaced the thing with its absence, the object with its ‘vibratory disappearance.’ Literature’s law is this movement toward something else, toward a beyond that yet escapes us because it cannot be, and of it we grasp only ‘the knowing lack,’ that ‘we have.’ It is this lack, this emptiness, this vacant space that is the purpose and true creation of language" (WF 40).

This resonates with Allan Grossman's pronouncements in The Sighted Singer: “Orphic song is the speech of the world after it has ceased to be world, and its subject is the speech of the world before it has become world” (365). This recursive relationship between speech and absence, speech and presence – the world gone and the world returned – comprises the heart of kenotic poetics.

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