The Fable—Part III

It is on this basis that we would like now to inquire into the relation between literature and philosophy. We can see at least that there may be a way of wresting literature from the domination of metaphysics and of breaking the circle in which we found ourselves at the outset. But it is obviously no longer a question of “literature.” Fiction, myth, and fable are provisional words. It would doubtless be better to speak of writing. But we are not yet there. Or rather, it is clear that if we want to follow this path, we must not take shortcuts. We should in fact distinguish between two tasks:

1. Turning against metaphysics (within metaphysics), under the name of literature, that against which metaphysics itself has turned, that from which it has striven to constitute itself. Fair enough.

2. Undertaking to force the limits of metaphysics, that is, displacing the bar that symbolically separates literature and philosophy (literature/philosophy) in such a way that on each side literature and philosophy are both crossed out and cancel each other in communicating. Hence we would have: literature philosophy. This would mean approaching fable at the same time as what metaphysics hereafter sees (but has perhaps often seen) of itself in a kind of mirror that does not present to itself from the outside and that must be thought by repetition (even at the inevitable price of intensifying the meaning of Heideggerian Wiederholung), without recourse to metaphysical reflection or self-consciousness, and as the play of what today we call the text.

We must note that Nietzsche thought about at least the first of these tasks from the beginning, in the texts preparatory to The Birth of Tragedy and in The Birth of Tragedy itself. Moreover, this is not by accident. The Birth of Tragedy is doubtless not entirely, as is often said and as Nietzsche himself—but not unequivocally—let it be understood, a “youthful” text, falling far “short” of the others. In fact, it is hardly likely that a naïve historical (vertical) “break” could have taken place in Nietzsche’s thought. If there was a break, it occurred as of The Birth of Tragedy, so that one must read in it, while keeping them rigorously separate, at least two languages: one in which the greater part of post-Hegelian metaphysics and of metaphysics plain and simple is confirmed; and another (but quite often it is the same one in the process of coming undone) in which “deconstruction” is already under way. We cannot establish this here: but let us reread chapter 14 of The Birth of Tragedy, which begins: “Let us now imagine the one great Cyclops eye of Socrates fixed on tragedy, an eye in which the fair frenzy of artistic enthusiasm had never glowed.” Here Nietzsche shows that in the matter of poetry, Socrates hardly likes anything except Aesopian fable—and even then… Tragedy is irrational, deceitful, dangerous. The result was that “the youthful tragic poet Plato first burned his poems that he might become a student of Socrates.” Socratism, which at this time Nietzsche considered to be the beginning of metaphysics, is the “repression” of tragedy, that is—and this is an inevitable consequence of repression—the shameful and more or less disfigured resurgence of tragedy:
Plato, who in condemning tragedy and art in general certainly did not lag behind the naïve cynicism of his master… was nevertheless constrained by sheer artistic necessity to create an art form that was related to those forms of art which he repudiated. Plato’s main objection to the older art—that it is the imitation of a phantom and hence belongs to a sphere even lower than the empirical world—could certainly not be directed against the new art; and so we find Plato endeavoring to transcend reality and to represent the idea which underlies this pseudo-reality. Thus Plato, the thinker, arrived by a detour where he had always been at home as a poet—at the point from which Sophocles and the older art protested solemnly against that objection. If tragedy had absorbed into itself all the earlier types of art, the same might also be said in an eccentric sense of the Platonic dialogue which, a mixture of all extant styles and forms, hovers midway between narrative, lyric, and drama, between prose and poetry, and so has also broken the strict old law of the unity of linguistic form.…

Indeed, Plato has given to all posterity the model of a new art form, the model of the novel—which may be described as an infinitely enhanced Aesopian fable, in which poetry holds the same rank in relation to dialectical philosophy as this same philosophy held for many centuries in relation to theology: namely, the rank of ancilla. This was the new position in which Plato, under the pressure of the demonic Socrates, forced poetry.

This text would require an exhaustive commentary. But the questions it raises, particularly that of the repression of art in general, are too vast. However, we can retain from it the genealogy of the philosophical text. The novel is the genre of Platonism and might well be the genre of metaphysics in general. Yet we would have rigorously to determine its essence. Nietzsche alludes at once to the mode of exposition (the “mixture of all extant styles and forms”) and to the genre (the novel). We could therefore take up the modern analysis of narrative, for example, Genette’s distinction between narrative and discourse, or the general relation he establishes between narrative and representation. One could even attempt a structural analysis of “philosophical narrative” to the extent that narrative analysis can be achieved without exorbitant presuppositions. Finally, one could have recourse to the Hegelian tradition from Lukács to Girard, that is, to the analysis of the dialectic of desire, of the conflict between the pure and the impure, of idolatry. And perhaps it would not be impossible to show that the desire for presence, the belief in origins, the will to truth are necessarily linked to exposition, that is, to narrative—that they must necessarily defer themselves as text.

In any case, we must come the text. We must repeat it, not without running the risk of being unable to “exceed” dialectical discourse. For if it is true that there is not and never was such a thing as literature except for philosophy, if it is true that philosophy has raised itself up against this “other” language which it so constituted while debasing it (to the point where literature could never speak of itself except by borrowing, more or less shamefully, the language of philosophy), if, in short, the relation that unites and divides philosophy and literature is a master-slave relation (and one of them has indeed feared death), what discourse can one employ about philosophy that is not already the discourse of philosophy itself—the one that always precludes in advance the possibility of being turned back against itself and of being questioned about what it has constituted itself against, even though it also denies, without allowing the question of its own origin to be effaced, the possibility of asking in relation to it another type of question? We have therefore to experience a certain powerlessness that is the paradoxical effect of an excess of power: Logos is absolute mastery and there is nothing outside of it, not even literature, to which it has given a “meaning.” Unless perhaps, not writing exactly what we wanted to write, we experience a weakness, a powerlessness that is no longer the effect of an excess of power but rather like the obscure work of a force that is foreign to what we say, to the consciousness we have of it, to the will to say it, a hidden, incessant resistance that is absolutely impossible to control and on which we can barely gain around at the price of great efforts. We write: we are dispossessed, something is constantly fleeing, outside of us, slowly deteriorating. It could well be directing our attention to it, to this strange practical difficulty, we would gradually be obliged to suspect a flaw where we thought we had found infallibility itself. It may have to do, for example, with a certain confusion in thought, with a blurred insufficiency of consciousness, a kind of lethargy. One could also speak of fatigue, of weariness (I’m thinking of Bataille); or of a resistance, a refusal both of language and of the body. It is certainly an experience, no matter how dubious the connotative power of this word, and even if it were an ultimately paralyzed and frozen experience, the very failure of experience. If writing has this privilege (writing, the act and the torment of writing, in which something else is also at stake), it is not because—as people say a bit hastily these days, by simply reversing or not at all reversing metaphysical oppositions—we are finally delivered from the world, from presence (and from representation), but rather because writing is first of all that reflection of experience wherein reflection (and hence experience) is constantly undone because it is the most painful of failures and because, in it, the radical alterity of force “reveals” itself most painfully. We know that there is no language except that of phenomena, of that which has appeared (never of appearing itself), that language and aletheia are linked, or, to employ another vocabulary, that Dionysus himself never appears, that he is always already dead, dispersed, and that he is only “visible” when on stage behind the mask of Apollo (as Apollo)—invisible therefore, not being, and thereby leading to madness [vertige]. If language is lacking strength [force], if language is this lack of strength, it is quite in vain that we would seek in it the strength necessary to “deliver” us from it, that is, in the case at hand, to turn it against itself. Even if it is sufficiently reflective to have always had a nostalgia for strength, or at least to deplore not having any. As such, language “manifests” the decline of strength: language—writing, a degradation of strength that is still, in the extreme, a strength. Can one think this without having recourse to dialectics, if dialectics is the illusion of strength and of the mastery of strength in language? Can one think a strength of weakness, a strength born of its own exhaustion, of its own difference? A strength that is by virtue of having no strength?

All of this is to say that one cannot “come to” the text, for the text is precisely without a shore. There is therefore no way to reach it, and if we imagine ourselves able to do so, we must understand that we never disembark except where we have already had a foothold for a long time, according to an almost unthinkable movement, a kind of turning inside out by which we would move to that outside of ourselves which is already our interiority, by which we would no longer be either “outside” or “inside,” but would experience our intimacy as that blinding alterity forever beyond us and to which nevertheless we are destined, which we paradoxically inhabit and which perhaps bears that name which is the shortcoming, the signal shortcoming of all names: death. This is as much as to say that we must now accept what cannot be accepted and try to be faithful to what tolerates only infidelity. A test that can no longer even be characterized as the inverse of the preceding one. And perhaps it is simply a question of admitting the impossible, which is neither speech nor silence, neither knowledge nor ignorance, neither strength nor impotence, something of which one can say nothing except that it gives us over to an infinite murmur, infinitely disjointed but infinitely renewed, to what Blanchot calls by a name that designates for us what the unjustifiable and necessary enterprise of writing has become, what it has always been: ressassement éternel.

As the reader has surely noticed (if only because of the theme of fiction), the question initially raised is not foreign to Borges, among others. It is not surprising that one can say it is not foreign to Cervantes either, at least as we are able to read him today. We could, in the end, reformulate the question in this way: Are we capable of no longer believing what is in books or of not being “disappointed” by their “lie”? Or, as Nietzsche would have said, can we cease to be “pious”? Are we capable of atheism?