The Politics of Address
Je veux bien qu'on n'entende plus rien, mais on parle, on crie: pourquoi ai-je peur d'entendre aussi ma propre voix? Et je ne parle pas de peur, mais de terreur, d'horreur. Qu'on me fasse taire (si l'on ose)! Qu'on couse mes lèvres comme celles d'une plaie!
Georges Bataille, L'Expérience intérieure
We are dealing ... with a discourse that turns the traditional values of intelligibility upside down. An explanation from below, which is not the simplest, the most elementary, the clearest explanation but, rather, the most confused, the murkiest, the most disorderly, the most haphazard.
Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended
The very "I" is called into question by its relation to the one to whom I address myself. This relation to the Other does not precisely ruin my story or reduce me to speechlessness, but it does, invariably, clutter my speech with signs of its undoing.
Judith Butler, Undoing Gender
In the fall of 1983, only months before his death the next summer, Michel Foucault delivered the lectures that would later appear as Fearless Speech and which propose "to construct a genealogy of the critical attitude in Western philosophy." Appropriately, this discourse took place on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, where two decades earlier the student-led Free Speech Movement successfully militated to lift the ban on political speech and to protect academic freedom. One might think that the lectures, which traced attitudes toward frank talk and free speech in classical Greece, parrhesia, were motivated by the progressive freedoms gained through the resistance of militant groups from the 1960s onward. And yet, Foucault's lectures, like his publications of the late 1970s, were to turn this assumption on its head by challenging his audience to consider that the courageous practice of "speaking truth to power" might have become already, and in the very moment of its exercise, a form of instituted power and political authority not accessible to all. In an audacious suggestion that picked up a thread from his lectures of the 1970s, Foucault argued that indeed practices of freedom may not proceed from clear and sovereign intelligibilities. This suggestion that the critical attitude owes its existence not to rational clarity but to the murky depths and a speech not bound by reason's law and order resonates with another theme of the late work. Shortly before his death and against a common misreading that held that the central object of his work was the analysis of power and its epistemological rather than mystical foundations, Foucault distinguished the goal of his research from the 1960s in these terms: "my objective ... has been to create a history of the different modes by which in our culture, human beings are made subjects." Resistance, key to the manufacture of the subject under modern regimes of biopolitical power, proliferates in intimacy with power as its constant companion and domestic familiar. On the importance of resistance, Foucault quite precisely identifies the struggle against subjection, subjectivity, and submission. But by underscoring the significance of popular and individual resistance to domination, Foucault did not relinquish the critique of conventions of resistant express, which, he argued again and again, are allied to power and in fact represent it.
Against the humanist assumptions of sovereign speech that enable speaking truth to power, our concern in On Pain of Speech will be this notion of struggle that Foucault argues is immanent to power but takes the form of haphazard and murky speech at the margins of accepted intelligibility. Judith Butler reformulates the Foucauldian problématique in terms of address and specifies the intersubjective event of a speech act "cluttered with signs of its own undoing." This clamor of a speech addressed to another but undermined in its singular enunciation complicates the notion of autonomy that burdens our thinking of rebellion and revolt. Further, the notion that the speaking subject, the "I" of my speech, is itself a quasi-fictional creature whose speech is dependent upon the other of address flies in the face of that other fictional character, the sovereign speaker who defines my intelligibility. The late Foucault, so devoted to a study of the technology of the self and the ways that subjection might afford us the means of its own undoing, was drawn to precisely this question of the complex interdependence of speaker and addressee insofar as his understanding of modern subjection passed through a prior notion of discourse, which he inherited from Georges Bataille, the philosopher of subjectivity and sovereignty who stooped to pornographic novels and ranting texts. Foucault's notion that resistance is immanent to power and that excess or unintelligibility exposes the presence of a norm, its contours and its authority, these ideas are drawn directly from the work of this dissident philosopher who pushed himself to the very edge of his own capacity for self-understanding. I propose the term "rant" to describe this complex of address, entreaty, and attack that characterizes the haphazard and murky speech that only sometimes gathers itself into a counterdiscourse and which has become a symptom of modernist writing, avowed to truth telling but unable to secure its own speech from the clutter of its own undoing.
I have chosen to call this modernist symptom of abject appeal the "rant" because of its echo of the seventeenth-century rakish libertinage and popular antinomianism, ranterism, a form of religious dissent credited, along with other groups, with inspiring resistance to England's Blasphemy Act of 1650. Characterized by their enemies as cursing noisemakers who preached their doctrines of spiritual and moral autonomy and sexual and bodily license in alehouses, brothels, and the streets, ranterism roused the interest of Marxist scholars curious to track the origins of public dissent, notions of free speech, and powers of mayhem in the modern period. Individual ranters left few inflammatory rants; they are best known through the slander they inspired. As harbingers of modernist decadence and avant-garde antics, the ranters are an emblem of manic dissent and provocative speech addressed against God, king, and country that cannot resolve itself into a unified and universal social program. Historical ranterism dissipated its energies and suffered the king's justice but left a trace in popular memory of a public speech that took sovereign, state, and church law as its enemy. Other early modern associations with the word "rant" include wild frolicking and raving youths. As an emblem of the discrete cases treated here, in Oscar Wilde, Jane Bowles, and Abdelwahab Meddeb, the rant connects to elements of each: the suggestion of savagery in the epithet "wild Irish," the rude and unruly feminine in Bowles, and the coffeehouses where gather the dissident antinomians, postcolonial critics, calligraphers, and Muslim heresies in Meddeb's fictional landscape. The complex of social contestation, public disorderliness, and bodily disarray resonates with modernism's exploration of normative subjectivity and the social limits enjoined upon the subject but brought to crisis by the abject appeal of the rant's address. England's series of civil wars opened a mythic space for the imagination of a total scandal, the ranter, whose strutting sovereignty and sexual freedoms belied the quick collapse of individual ranters under torture and state censure; this legendary figure, whom we cannot seem to decide if a hero or a horror, is a harbinger of the self-invention that haunts modernity. And although academic references to the Levellers, the Ranters and the Diggers are not rare-Janet Lyon's recent book on manifestos, for example, recalls these early dissidents-ranters left so little in the way of incontestable testament that even their existence has been disputed by some seventeenth-century historians. Worse than marginal, ranters get no hearing and have fathered no legitimate legacy.
Such a failure to come into historical focus has been appropriated to a tradition of oppositional speech anchored in easily transmissible forms like the manifesto which then authorizes genre study of the voice from below; however, the "style" of ranting admits of no such legacy and leaves no heirs in form. Rather ranting repeats symptomatically without the regular identity of form that legitimates genre. Foucault's notion of a counterdiscourse differs from the inspiration for Christopher Hill's Marxist historical sketch of ranterism, for counterdiscourse does not commit us to the Benjaminian dialectic of victor and vanquished, nor does it oblige us to a literal imagination of class consciousness. The murky speech from below cannot organize a program or manifest itself as a consciousness; its disorderly and haphazard speech does not even aim at a broader social intelligibility that exists ready-made for the claiming, and these features of counterdiscourse set it at odds with a Marxist approach that would seek to redeem the experience of the vanquished. Taking Theodor Adorno as a guide, we might turn to entry ninety-eight of Minima Moralia to situate the role of critical thinking in a world characterized not only by the dialectic of victor and vanquished, but also by an inassimilable element. Writing, he tells us, "should also address itself to those things which were not embraced by this dynamic, which fell by the wayside-what might be called the waste products and blind spots that have escaped the dialectic." For, "it is in the nature of the defeated to appear, in their impotence, irrelevant, eccentric, derisory.... Theory must needs deal with cross-grained, opaque, unassimilated material, which as such admittedly has from the start an anachronistic quality, but is not wholly obsolete since it has outwitted the historical dynamic." Waste products-here, significantly, children's stories, which, Adorno says, "contain incomparably more eloquent ciphers even of history" than do high drama-are dissonant with the dominant order not only because hierarchies of value disdain their graces. The eccentric and derisory are the ciphers of history, portending new values or speaking an as yet unintelligible tongue. Neither victor nor yet vanquished, they address us through discordant tones and dissonant notes. In line with this concern for history's inassimilable element, Foucault will shift the dialectical picture of power and its representations of law by attending to the shadows and waste as domains available for the cultivation of new practices of life.
Pangs of Speech, Césaire to Genet
As an example of what appears eccentric and derisory and which always speaks in discordant tones, Aimé Césaire's Discourse on Colonialism of 1950 is an irresistible reference. Written by a major surrealist innovator and poet, founder of the influential l'Etudiant noir and Tropiques, originator of Négritude, and literary parliamentarian in his native Martinique, Césaire conceived the pamphlet as a clear articulation of the direct connection between colonialism, slavery, European fascism, and American postwar imperialism. He delivered up a theoretical broadside that launches volleys in all directions while still opens the possibility or potential for self-transformation and thus political revolution in and by the reader. This complex of affect, aim, and modes of address comprises a field of truth telling that cannot be contained by our weak slogan "speaking truth to power," nor by a long historical tradition of parrhesia, or "fearless speech." Rather, here rebellious speech takes revolt as its means and along with it, the inevitable abjection revolt confers upon the speaking subject. Césaire's discourse addresses itself to the very law that subjects its speaker and its listener, here the law of history and racist imperialism, but turns that address to another purpose and another audience, one that can give a hearing to the phantasmagoria of his discourse.
Therefore, comrade, you will hold as enemies-loftily, lucidly, consistently-not only sadistic governors and greedy bankers, not only prefects who torture and colonists who flog, not only corrupt, check-licking politicians and subservient judges, but likewise and for the same reason, venomous journalists, goitrous academics, wreathed in dollars and stupidity, ethnographers who go in for metaphysics, presumptuous Belgian theologians, chattering intellectuals born stinking out of the thigh of Nietzsche, the paternalists, the embracers, the corrupters, the back-slappers, the lovers of exoticism, the dividers, the agrarian sociologists, the hoodwinkers, the hoaxers, the hot-air artists, the humbugs, and in general, all those who, performing their functions in the sordid division of labor for the defense of Western bourgeois society, try in diverse ways and by infamous diversions to split up the forces of Progress-even if it means denying the very possibility of Progress-all of them tools of capitalism, all of them, openly or secretly, supporters of plundering colonialism, all of them responsible, all hateful, all slave-traders, all henceforth answerable for the violence of revolutionary action.
Such fiery rhetoric is not, of course, without precursors, and indeed belongs to a certain political tradition. As literary parliamentarian Césaire inherits the progressive voice of protest of Hugo, the righteous antiracism of Zola, and the anticolonial manifestos of surrealism found, for instance, in the final sections of Artaud's The Theatre and its Double. Nor should we forget the revolutionary legacy of Toussaint L'Ouverture. This moment of ranting in Césaire encapsulates the denunciation of primitivism that is discussed below at great length in chapter 1's treatment of Oscar Wilde and which establishes the nineteenth-century decadent engagement with "race" as a conceptual shorthand for culture itself. Bursting with glittering formulations, this seemingly wandering monologue stoops to sarcasm, invective, ventriloquy, copious citation, falsetto, personification, and theatrical asides. In that spirit, Discourse on Colonialism shakes off whatever lingering commitments it has to the surrealist genre of manifesto and lays claim to a new mode of address, the rant.
Oh! The racism of these gentlemen does not bother me. I do not become indignant over it. I merely examine it. I note it, and that is all. I am almost grateful to it for expressing itself openly and appearing in broad daylight, as a sign. A sign that the intrepid class that once stormed the Bastille is now hamstrung. A sign that it feels itself to be mortal. A sign that it feels itself to be a corpse. And when the corpse starts to babble you get this sort of thing. (DC, 49)
A subtle turn away from the politics of revolt, such restraint sidesteps the invitation to become the master's voice and instead proffers its partial, provisional, and watchful attention to the coming of the new age. This unsovereign voice of contestation denounces the law of European moral and political decadence without "dissipating its energies in revolt," as Wilde once observed of the rebel. This almost-gratitude has become a trait of postcolonial writing, as has the careful repetition of voices and the permeation of discourse by the nondiscursive moans and gestures of postcolonial legacies. Intimate with censorships of all kinds, and directly-even impulsively-addressing the laws of order in the very speech acts to which they commit themselves, these moments of ranting appeal can only manifest themselves through abjection.
More difficult to contain, however, is the veering politics of address in the righteous invective above, which solicits a "comrade" where Césaire found such brothers-in-arms lacking. Further, Césaire's nearly exhaustive inventory of colonialists, a list both righteous and ridiculous, and culminating in the summary judgment of "all of them," takes that motley group not only as object of defiance but as implicit addressee as well. As a result, something quite strange happens to our convention of direct address when comrades and enemies are both invoked and dispatched in the same space. Butler's observation that the other of address troubles speech with signs of undoing is apt here. One might ask which other, the abstract comrade or the materialized enemy, is responsible for the undoing we witness. An irresolvable negotiation between direct address and the fracturing of a broad public address to many causes rhetorical turbulence. This unraveling address cannot be simplified or contained, and the Discourse on Colonialism is exemplary in its refusal to jettison the irrelevant waste product that produces ranting excess. Instead, Césaire carefully preserves the text's tendency toward parabasis, or swerving address, and in so doing establishes a tolerance for its own rant as an ethical choice. This productive undoing is also the opening for a different iteration of known styles and familiar words; the moment the text is infected with the babbling that it rejects becomes by that same capitulation the moment when a new intelligibility may be registered. A promising failure, splintering address to launch a faltering and compromised speech, this felicitous speech act articulates a form of subjectivity and orientation in the world that derives its terms from the given word. A symptom of modernist knowledge and literary practice, the rant overlaps with manifesto as form without conceding the latter's fundamental belief in communication: even provocative nonsense believes in its gesture of approach to the other. The rant can harbor no such belief but moves toward its readers in a veering kaleidoscopic field of multiplied address. This voice of enmity and embrace, which makes of its own misfiring the claiming of a new subjectivity, as is the ultimate goal of Césaire's rant, can also be heard echoing through Fanon, whose debt to Césaire can best be gauged in the fracturing and splintering address of his own political rants.
The multiple address of the rant complicates one tradition by which we apprehend contestation, namely speech act theory, which since J. L. Austin first approached the question of the performative speech act and the possibility of misfire has been refined and extended by the work of feminists, philosophers, and psychoanalysts. In his famous exchanges with J. D. Searle, Jacques Derrida spelled out the ambivalent force of the performative, which depends upon iteration of convention in new contexts; with this observation, Derrida shifted the discussion away from rule-governed codes and conventions and toward the ever-changing context of performative repetition to show that the promise of the performative is itself dependent upon a temporality neither past nor future but best characterized as a future anterior. Thus the performative repetition of convention is radically dependent upon the event of repetition, and so open to the surprise of a failed performance or an unexpected happening; for this reason the performative is never identical to itself. The salient example is the signature, which we know to be an indispensable attestation of identity while knowing just as well that the graphematic mark is never self-identical, for every mark admits of perverse performance. Shoshana Felman brought to the discussion of the performative speech act and the slipperiness of its iteration a consideration of the intersubjective space of performative utterance, and in a psychoanalytic reading of the act of promising she noted that every repetition of a promise depends on not only the context of its utterance but also the "context" of its ever-changing effect on speaker and listener. Thus iteration not only changes the performative; it changes the subjects of speech as well. Wilde crystallized this paradox in the title The Importance of Being Earnest. This psychoanalytic twist on the performative and iteration comes through her spare and careful reading of promising in Molière's Don Juan and Mozart's Don Giovanni and builds up a convincing argument for the constantly shifting and, indeed, undecidable energies surrounding Don Juan's sincerity and belief in his own promises. Making profitable use of Lacan's maxim that "speech is the body arising as such," Felman argues that no theory of the performative speech act can do without an account of persuasion, and, equally, that persuasion is not a temporally transparent or causal category. Finally, Felman's invocation of the speaking body reminds us of a psychoanalytic principle; namely, that the speaking subject is an embodied subject and thus responsible and responsive to the other of address in the ways signaled by Judith Butler's account of undoing. "A speech act is reducible neither to the body nor to a conscious intention, but becomes the site where the two diverge and intertwine. In this sense, the speaking body scandalizes metaphysics, in particular, its penchant for clear dichotomies."
Neither solely embodied nor purely conscious, speech acts do more than convey information, execute a command, or phatically gesture toward traditions of belonging. The central idea of this book is that the kind of speech act exhibited by Bataille's demand, "Shut me up (if you dare)!" betrays a fantasy of addressing the social order that denies the rights of speech to the speaking subject but simultaneously demands incessant communication. Here the figure of the mouth that would continue to cry after we have sewn up its lips captures the paradox of an embodiment that is neither fully conscious nor only the literal body, but rather the "place" where the clean distinction between speaker and addressee is both knotted and undone in the same gesture. In this sense, the moment of ranting attests to a voice foreclosed in the public spaces of its circulation yet still resounding. At the limit of what is legitimate and legible, the rant materializes a speaking subject whose resistant speech emerges or, more aptly, irrupts to contest the public space that abjects it. This practice of contestation through ranting address also constructs its "addressee" by multiplying the field of address. Through the conceit of a direct address to the law that subjugates, the rant shows publicly the symbolic law that orders it while simultaneously the literary rant draws the witness into complicity or violently denounces the reader. For example, in Journal du voleur Jean Genet evokes this dynamic bondage and resistance when he writes, "Je crois que j'avais besoin de creuser, de forer une masse de langage où ma pensée fût à son aise. Peut-être voulais-je m'accuser dans ma langue" (I think I needed to dig, to drill through a mass of language so that my thoughts could be at ease. Perhaps I wanted to accuse/insist myself in my language). Here Genet plays upon the meanings of "m'accuser," which vacillates between the moral sense of "accuse" and the more abstract sense of "emphasize" or "underscore." This hesitation between insisting on one's rights to expression and to be heard in public and the irresistible attraction to self-confession and self-indictment is not resolved by Genet's text, which frequently breaks into direct denunciation of "you," the reader; if Genet's writing voice must conjure a "you" to repudiate, it is because "you" come to represent the law of ordinary values and transparent because sanctioned utterances. Thus to denounce the law that abjects him, the ranter must in fact constitute or construct that law, but this can only be affirmed in a fictional direction. The fantasy of speaking in one's own name goads expression, but because sovereign speech can only exist in fantasy, it cannot anchor the rant to ensure a hearing, nor can it secure the rant against the risk of further unintelligibility and breakdown.
Ranting persists in the political space constituted by a social foreclosure of the speaking position. The difficulty of this figure of address is heightened by the fact that in being dispossessed of the right to speech, the rant is not, however, unable to speak. In line with this folded border that appears as an absolute limit, my framing of the rant depends upon a psychoanalytic concept, foreclosure, which names a founding negation that establishes a kind of generalized law for the subject; while a contingent form, the result of an individual, historical, infinitely local encounter with the other, the negation at issue, Verwerfung, as it has developed in what now constitutes a psychoanalytic tradition from Freud through Lacan, Mannoni, and Laplanche, supplies the terms by and through which we appear in public as intelligible beings. As resistant speech, the rant must invent its own terms from a censored encyclopedia of experience and social naming, which is to say that the rant materializes a speaking subject at the limit of intelligibility where none is authorized. In Jean Genet's Journal du voleur the thief's liminality is literally expressed through spittle, snot, sperm, and other quasi-fluid, semisolid emissions. These are not metaphors for his social status; they are the abject terms by which Genet generates a field of images and meanings far in excess of the social foreclosure he lives. Ranting attests to negation by supplementing it in a generative negativity that proliferates the terms of subjection but with the promise, not always realized, of setting subjection to work to expose, invent, and manifest new terms for the particular subject. Radically dependent upon a particular history of injury, the rant's abject appeal flows from and indeed fosters the singularity of a speech that is imbricated and embedded in subjection.
The resonance between the freedom to take oneself to task and the necessity to underscore or insist oneself into a language that only belongs improperly to one repeats throughout the examples of ranting assembled here. Genet's concise formulation presents us with a paradox of belonging and address that cannot be described as a simple relation of norm to its excluded other. Here, the speaker not only desires to perform a speech act; he desires to perform it in and as his own tongue; this emphasis on the tongue brings the category of language and its border into crisis, for the one who speaks has a ready access to the language and can easily respect its laws. What constitutes the transgression effected by this lawful exercise of grammar that at once undermines the transparency of understanding and the simple declaration of a desire? According to Marie Redonnet, Genet wanted nothing more than to "glorify France in poetry that attacks it and strips it bare, such is the paradoxical and scandalous task of Genet as poet. The betrayal of a poet is an act of love. The betrayal is the invention of a new love, condition of a new ethics." While Redonnet emphasizes the transgression of Genet's writing against the state at the very moment it was under German occupation, Genet's explanation of his need to simultaneously insist and accuse himself concerns theft during his wanderings across Europe, for he comes to realize that he was never more a representative of the state of France as when he tried to practice his thievery abroad. In order to seize upon his own uniqueness, he could not remain in literal exile because his thoughts and sense of self had been cultivated in French. Thus, to become who he is, the true betrayer, the writer Genet must return to the language that binds him. To transcend the social designation that inhabits him, he must find at home the becoming-foreigner that countersigns his uniqueness.
The rant is a speech act embedded in its own attachments, bound by the word and by the social terms of its own subjection; from out of the negation of social foreclosure and the subjection of determination the rant crafts its "mots-défis" and reaches within a social network of division and exclusion to participate in the power of the word. Significantly, Genet notes that he could not simply speak in argot but was compelled to write in the language of the enemy, the dominant classes. As he puts it, only Céline could make that choice and still be recognized a genius of modern French literature because "it took a doctor." No juvenile convict and war deserter could hope to transgress the language with his social class; this comment has nothing in it of an identification with the working classes, nor particularly anything against luxury, for his point lies elsewhere than the dialectic of victor and vanquished. For Genet, there are the absolutely abject, for instance, the children reared in juvenile prisoners to become adult outcasts. The notions of center/periphery with which we are even now redrawing the map of modernism to become more inclusive are themselves insufficient to describe the examples of modernist speech treated here, for these writers do not add an interesting marginal variant, nor do they represent the views of the periphery to the ears of the metropole. Modernist ranters, like Césaire and Genet, expose the social deformation of the system of subjection, and as such they speak from within and not from a distant frontier. Not condemned to silence but sidelined in a symbolic economy that determines reception before the speech act is heard, the rant grows and even thrives in the internal fold prepared for it. And it is this liminality to which the rant bears witness in a form of speech that does not shatter the delimitations and exclusions of the norm but rather expands the borderline by widening the path of its own audition.
Modernism: From Parrhesia to Revolt
This figure of a defiant speech in excess of the norm is salient in modernism, and on this point it is worth recalling that Charles Baudelaire, that combative wellspring of modernist sensibility, had at least three distinct faces. Famously the lyric poet of modernity, he was the translator-critic who proclaimed Edgar Allan Poe the first modern poet. Yet Baudelaire was also the ranter who, exiled to Brussels in search of an editor willing to publish poetry deemed blasphemous and licentious in France, compiled the interminable and never-completed stream of curses and invective "Pauvre Belgique!" Brussels, the "Capital des singes," could only ape the imaginary refinements of a bankrupt Paris, making it nothing more than an "asterisk of history." Baudelaire's denunciations echo down through the works of high modernism even as his more presentable face, that of the lyric poet harshly censored by state morality, continues to dominate his reception. This unbridled and frankly unhinged practice of critique, which comprises only one aspect of "spleen" in his ethos but which can be heard throughout the poems that make up Spleen de Paris, resonates in the high modernism of Pound and Lewis and in the singular blend of refinement and abjection practiced by Céline. Flaubert, like Baudelaire, had no shortage of ire, which he used to great effect in his Dictionnaire des idées reçues to satirize the dominant tics of the bourgeoisie but which equally bound him to the object he loved to hate by trapping him in a discursive loop. To rail against the bourgeois love of denouncing all difference, Flaubert was obliged to "thunder against" (tonner contre) the same. As Richard Terdiman's study of nineteenth-century aesthetics and opposition shows, writers like Flaubert and Baudelaire were forced to find more subtle means to resist the mortifying norms that limited desire and expression to commodifiable forms, and thus they engaged in counterdiscursive negotiations with the norm. Fundamentally, modernism demanded that its aesthetic labors contest the symbolic laws of ordered social rationality, but not all social resistance can be neatly contained in the dialectic. Even the nimble modernist mediation with which Benjamin credits Baudelaire, as the voice of nineteenth-century modernity itself, comes to crisis under pressure of dissident exile and mindless mimicry of the metropole. Meeting refusal and negation with the same, modernism cultivated the voice of revolt and rebellion into practices that have yielded a lineage of contestation, but that tradition of righteous and militant speech and the more subtle mediations that Terdiman explores issue from a subjective experience that is at once self-aware and self-contained and easily transmissible as a style of writing, a social attitude or pose, and a form of subjectivity. Critical denunciation of middle-class morality, cultural degeneration, and commonplace idées fixes are by the end of the nineteenth century the stock in trade of aestheticism, although decadence, which practices its own form of ranting, as my discussion of Oscar Wilde will demonstrate, continued to trouble critique with excessive spleen. A tradition of revolt paradoxically enforces a subjective style as a social norm in this writing, while that same style remains uncannily animated by a rage or exigency that strains the pose of masterful renunciation, militant critique, sovereign self, and secular antinomian. The rant irrupts precisely at the point when negotiation of this difference between an autonomy claimed and servility collapses.
We approach the topic of ranting at this crisis of autonomy and servility through two aspects articulated in the subtitle: the literary rant, the first aspect, summons the question of fantasy in the constitution of the subject; the second aspect represents its relation to power and symbolic law. This double optic entails a consideration of the figure and function of the "primitive" or fantasies of the first order in modernity and especially in literary modernism and psychoanalysis. It also proposes that modernist ranting exposes a boundary or limit that is lived as a law, beyond which lies unintelligibility and social death; this double function structures the three chapters of the book as each moves through a critical elaboration of the different constitutions of normative subjectivity and the scripted transgressions the norm enjoins while also describing the rant's challenge to that normativity through its unsovereign speech. Thus each chapter pursues both the figure of the primitive as a constitutive feature of normative subjectivity and simultaneously, the irruption of literary ranting in my three examples. The modernist soundings of the three chapters have in common the binding character of the recursive figuration of primitivism, the politics of ranting address, and the psychoanalytic optic that, while highlighting different analytic terms in each discussion-sublimation, fetishism, and foreclosure, respectively-keeps in view the notion of a founding negation that constitutes a social limit. Chapter 1 sets out the role of sublimation and fantasy in Oscar Wilde's political aesthetic, and examines his attempt to put racializing discourses to antiracist purpose in "De Profundis," a ranting letter written while he was imprisoned for consensual sex with another man. Chapter 2 looks at Jane Bowles's shift of modernist lesbian expatriatism from the Parisian metropole to colonial Morocco to argue that Bowles's writing block and ranting practice were sustained by a racial form of fetishism. Psychoanalytic concepts of the primitive and fetishism are key to understanding her detours. Though ranting is self-consciously depicted in her fiction as dramatic crisis, for Bowles ranting has much to do with silence and blocked expression, which breaks out in a furious epistolary career in her personal life. Chapter 3 builds upon this modernist culture of primitivism and expression, alternately blocked and excessive, through a close reading of the novel Talismano, by the Tunisian Abdelwahab Meddeb, and turns to a particular kind of primitivism that also carries the stigma of infantilism, medievalism, and arrested development: orientalism. In this chapter the rant becomes part of a self-conscious and knowing poetics of ranting, and thus lifts On Pain of Speech's discussion from a reading of symptoms to a reading of the postcolonial avant-garde uptake and reuse of a pathological form. Meddeb's appropriation also extends to psychoanalytic categories and the styles and history of decadent literary forms and high modernism. The whole culminates in the way that Talismano is able to turn the staging of outburst and breakdown or raving and reveries into a repeatable style that can usefully reflect on the history of orientalism and the forms of normative subjectivity enforced in the postcolonial state while simultaneously refusing the implicit racialization of psychoanalytic theory.
The psychoanalytic argument that proceeds from chapter to chapter follows the intuition of a symbolic law, without which no voice of modernist revolt need or could be raised, beginning with Wilde's literary and critical reflections before Freud's major publications; this is followed by a midcentury example of an abject feminine writing that acts out feminine refusal and compensates with fetishistic fantasy. My discussion of a gay Irish decadent and a queer lesbian who voluntarily exiled herself to Morocco explores two unconventional ways of embodying the norms of sexuality, which include the norms of dissident sexuality underway since the middle of the nineteenth century. The arguments of the first two chapters, each a consideration of a single writer whose complex relation to colonialism and to empire inflects questions of sexual and gendered identity, converge in the final chapter's postcolonial critique of symbolic relations. Talismano is unusually able to find the utopian potentiality hidden in a history of foreclosures and refusals perpetuated in the present. Key to this capacity to imagine utopian figures is Talismano's foregrounding of the body in all the registers of its modernity; thus, the mechanism of modern subjection-the racially marked and sexed body-is apparent in Talismano's emphasis on representing the "disorder of the body more than the law." This is one reason why the novel so clearly signals its debt to French decadent writing. This progression of chapters builds toward a major criticism of Jacques Lacan's theory of foreclosure, which has become a key term in feminist and postcolonial critique in recent years. Like the literary texts pursued in these chapters, psychoanalysis is treated as a form of modernism, which, as Foucault argued consistently after 1966, developed to diagnose and resist the biopolitical power that represents subjectivity as determined by degeneracy and hereditary taint. In this sense, psychoanalysis participates in the modernist critical project to undo the consolidation of social fantasy that privileges normative identity as the only attainable form of social life.
Postscripts, letters, afterwords: marginal genres at the edges of masterful texts are often the site of the rant's emergence, but what I am calling the rant is not in itself a genre. The literary rant may be turned into a full-blown poetics, as in the case of Meddeb, or may remain a telling and poignant symptom of a failed strategy of self-invention, as in the case of Wilde's prison letter. Felman proposes a novel way to think of failure that helps us grasp this recursive genrelessness. Failure, she tells us, is not the problem of something that fails to happen; rather, something else happens instead, and this something else that happens is a parataxis that surprises and scandalizes, throwing the whole story into uncanny association. In Bowles I have found an example between the catastrophe of De Profundis and the formal triumph of Talismano; what makes Bowles perhaps unique as a ranter is the way that she turned protest, plaints, and anxious agonizing into the textual relays of a writerly life held in suspense-death driven, manic, blocked, and blaming, but life nonetheless. This would be a parataxis of writing itself where the failure to write creates other effects of writing.
Clearly, such a paradoxical set of conditions and rhetorical operations does not constitute a genre, though the politics of address that is powerfully exposed by this linking of life and writing becomes familiar when viewed as a constant production of the predicament of modernist self-elaboration conducted in opposition to an unspoken norm. Symbolic resistance in its guise as counterdiscourse both denaturalizes congealed ideological forms and discloses or materializes the seemingly impossible position of an excluded and marginal otherness. By this account counterdiscourses are forceful but ultimately not revolutionary, for they cannot subvert the dominant power that frames them. Ranting must materialize the law of its abjection as a precondition of rebuke and a putatively vindicating speech, and thus differs from the notion of counterdiscourse in at least two ways: the rant cannot build upon itself because as an event of the materialization of the law, it cannot rally a movement or gather the troops. Rather, it appeals without mastery. Further, margin and center are not the best figures for approaching the rant, for this is not speech projected from an exotic outside but a speech from within the entanglement of law with itself. As Butler puts it in her discussion of Antigone, the crisis of representation engendered by a perverse performative is a crisis from within the very terms of representation; it is the social deformation within the system that brings the system to crisis rather than the violent intruder who triumphs over law. If there is a dominant figure in my discussion of the rant, it is this asymmetrical chiasmus that cannot reverse a system nor bring it to its knees but engenders catachrestic effects that promise new freedoms from within the bondage of existing limitations.
Foucault's history of parrhesia and counterdiscourse sheds light on the genealogy of modernity; by the late nineteenth century, the confessional discourses of the subject extended to medicine, law, sociology, education, and literature; by multiplying the resonance and meaning of things sexual the frank talk of the classical world was subsumed in the scientific data and personal identity of the modern norm. This historical perspective caused Foucault to reason that speaking the sexual truth of the subject had come to a position of power, that it is, in fact, the modern institution of an authority of speech and subjective support for a normative version of truth and self. In a utopian move, Foucault urged his readers to proliferate the modes of subjectivation beyond the reach of power's norm. This project is not one that eschews power or seeks to purify resistance of its intimacy with the power to speak, but rather it attempts to shift the center of the norm away from itself; parrhesia is not banished in the biopolitical deployment of sexuality and race. It is, however, substantially complicated by the diffusion of sovereign power in the networks of biopolitical relation, and, as Foucault writes, "When a philosopher criticizes a tyrant, when a citizen criticizes the majority, when a pupil criticizes his teacher, then such speakers may be using parrhesia." Yet the use of parrhesia does not confer upon the pupil, citizen, or philosopher the status of parrhesiastes, nor does it extricate the speaker from the web of power relations that entangle him.
Fearless speech that speaks the truth is still possible, but it is now performed from a position of subjection and subjectivation that does not always offer the clarity of a single addressee or prime target. An ideal act of parrhesia haunts the modern subject with the promise of being done, once and for all, with subjection or denouncing finally the power that subjects. By Foucault's own analysis, the ethical act of parrhesia corresponds to one element of critique but cannot account for the diffusion of disciplinary power in the forms of truth that we, moderns, both accept and resist. For this reason, the act of parrhesia is more often a fantasy we keep alive than a reality that we live. But the ethical drive that inspired parrhesia and the ethical hearing that allowed for truth to be determined in the relation of listening, these are not arts violently lost in history and unattainable in the present dispensation of power.
More than a literary influence, this lineage from Baudelaire to decadence and surrealism and the postcolonial avant-garde attests to an attitude of resistance-or what Bataille called a "rage of revolt"-and, more specifically, to an obligation or vocation of self-invention; as Foucault learns from Baudelaire, "to be modern is not to accept oneself as one is in the flux of the passing moments; it is to take oneself as object of a complex and difficult elaboration," which paradoxically must take place in writing and thus in a context of address that destines self-invention to the vagaries of public audience. The burden of self-invention brings with it both a realist acceptance of ruin and a utopian wager that hopes for transformation. In Fearless Speech, and at greater length in the seminar The Hermeneutics of the Subject, Foucault dwells on the transformation of parrhesia, protest speech or speaking truth to power, into a technology of the self. Parrhesia represents "a sort of 'figure' among rhetorical figures, but with this characteristic: that it is without any figure since it is completely natural. Parrhesia is the zero degree of those rhetorical figures which intensify the emotions of the audience." Parrhesia is an experience of speech that establishes truth through conviction and risk, but the "figure of no figure," which claims a natural and unembellished character, bears new burdens in the modern period. C. L. R. James, as we shall see below, is a good example of this insofar as the parrhesia he risks is caught up in the apologia he compulsively performs. Ranting, a speech under duress, loses the subject in the stream of words that overwhelm his speaking. But the appeal, abject though it is, is directed both at the law that condemns, the self who defends, and the audience who may receive it. No longer a zero-sum speech shorn of artifice and thus authorized as truth telling, the rant is a modern speech destined to that complex and difficult elaboration that establishes the self through the address to the other of speech. This address cannot be entirely direct nor wholly allegorical, for the scene of face-to-face communication has been mediated not only by the alienation of speech in the public space of modernity, but also by the division of the self through the interiorization of that "complex and difficult elaboration" by which one must "take oneself as object."
To speak of the politics of address is to invoke the knowledge that no speech can master its effects or know fully what hearing awaits it, and thus the aim of address, its approach to the other, will always bear the trace of that knowledge. This knowing incapacity or capable nonknowledge lurks in the address of writing as a precondition of what wants and needs to be said, even at moments of urgency when, we are told, engagement and political commitment demand sovereign mastery of our speech and the self-control to put aside childish things. This latter will be important as we consider ranting, because although marginal texts and movements do belatedly reap the benefit of canonization, the rant-as an event-is not a stable genre and cannot be defined by a formal poetics. Although imitation may have its way, no two rants will exhibit the same formal structure, despite the fact that ranting can yield a poetics by determining an individual writer's obsessions and interventions.
If modernity conserves parrhesia but only as a foreclosed inscription, which binds it within subjection, how does this politics of address characteristic of modernity account for the postcolonial difference? Chiefly through the strategy of a biopolitical limit rewritten as the difference between modernity's rational man and its primitive other. In a unique discussion of contemporary postcolonial subjectivity and systems of rationality, Stefania Pandolfo explores a contradiction confronting Moroccan modernity and subjectivity. Moroccan psychoanalysts, committed by their technical training to cutting-edge therapies informed by Lacanian psychoanalysis, are challenged in this faith by the fact that their modern postcolonial patients have quite a different practical understanding of healing through the talking cure. For the physicians the cure is understood in Lacanian terms as requiring a symbolic assumption of one's subject position effected through the arrival or irruption of "true speech" in analysis. For the cure to take place, the subject must accede to this full speech act in a narrative of self that abandons the detritus of everyday chatter or, in Lacanian terms, empty speech. This heroic narrative of the newly sovereign subject produced through the intersubjective analytic encounter runs up against an obstacle, and not only in theory, for increasingly Moroccans seeking remedy in analysis also seek out folk, religious, and magical healing, and quite without any sense of contradiction or immiscibility of practices. For the medical practice this simultaneous appeal to the laws of science and the "hallucinations" of folklore requires an explanation. How, indeed, is a modern form of rationality to contend with a persistent social fact that shows that the authentic speech of healing can and does take place in the context of magical thinking? One physician's reluctant admission that for many patients the truest attestation and articulation of their pain may not arrive in the zone of medical technical superiority but rather within the mystical reassertion of unregulated practices suggests that some in the medical establishment can hear the message of Moroccan modernity as one fractured by other experience, which is pathologized in the postcolonial context as "tradition." As Pandolfo's critical work and ethnographic investigations show, contemporary Moroccans struggle in the limitations of this medical theory when subjective experience and local practices attest to another truth, namely, that the phantasmagoria of alienation and modern loss-where time is out of joint and culture is both lagging and never equal to itself-must be spoken to produce the means of new subjectivity, new life and new truths. This productivity of the imaginary when addressed by the subject to and through the "law" is a truth attested to by literary movements as early as Baudelaire's invocations of a satanic vocation. Aestheticism, decadence, surrealism, and postcolonial and modernist literature can all be understood as forms of attestation to social losses, gaps, foreclosures, and contradictions that realist and self-reflective forms of knowledge cannot always access.
Not all contemporaries accept this complicated and crosshatched modernity. Pandolfo cites Abdallah Laroui's bracing conclusion that only through the repudiation of primitive attachments and the total renovation of the self can the postcolonial Arab subject overcome the impasse of the present and move toward emancipation.
Laroui sees it as an emancipation from the image of the west within, from the melancholic attachment to a vanished Arab past, from culture, always already lost, from phantasmatic desire, from a lingering sense of loss. Only those who have accomplished the path of emancipation are entitled to speak, have a voice in the present. All others dwell in an incommensurable past. The patient's speech, if one were to extrapolate from Laroui, can never be encountered in the present. It is already, and by definition, "folklore"; it belongs to a remote past, the archeological past of cemeteries. (TLM, 142)
Against this staunchly rationalist Marxist argument for an uncompromised modernity-itself indebted to a Freudian model of melancholia and working through-Pandolfo contrasts the work of Driss Chraibi, whose surreal novel of 1954, Le Passé Simple, dramatizes the consequences of Laroui's categorical and inflexible attitude in the face of the archaeological return of the "remote past." There a young Moroccan passes through an infernal and hallucinatory night-town epic replete with references to the surrealist canon and Céline and Joyce, among others; he is accompanied by an enigmatic figure of cultural severance, a "thin line" that speaks his greatest shames and castigates him for abandoning his African roots. Enraged rants, profane acts, futile rebellion, and the gender problem are absolutely central to the problem of modernity in the novel and continue to appear in the next generation of Maghrebian novelists for whom Chraibi was a serious influence. Pandolfo argues through her reading of Chraibi that "the loss, which is modernity itself, cannot be overcome and returns as a phantasm. And the subject, "wrenched" and "torn in every direction discovers in this non-resolution the possibility of speech and perhaps the path of another emancipation" (TLM, 143). In literary terms, the rant proceeds from this possibility inherent in the situation of impasse, discord, and severance that modernity enjoins upon its subjects as a defining negativity. Thus the discourse on East/West relations and modernity is conveyed by a figure that can only be rendered as figure; it cannot be decanted to a single premise or rationalist narrative. The "inauthenticity" of hallucination and complaint, of excess and inaudible meaning, these are all hallmarks of a modern experience explored at great length in chapter 3 through an analysis of Talismano, a novel that stages intervention and transformation but only via the imaginary and figural relay of a ranting text for which Chraibi's heretical novel is a precursor.
It is in the encounter with what Pandolfo calls the "other scene" and which we might understand as the imaginary that the Moroccan subjects who so worry the medical establishment are able to produce an address and find the hearing they seek. The psychiatrist she cites says clearly that the symptom of Moroccan modernity is increasingly addressed to the doctor but never spoken in that encounter; rather, the sociohistorical symptom finds its voice and speaks its truth only in the hallucinatory space of ritual, dream, or literary reverie. This is a modernity that can be described as a particular situation of speech foreclosed seeking its proper outlet. In "Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis," Lacan writes that in seeking analysis the patient presents himself as someone capable of being understood. Presenting oneself as intelligible to an other is a complex symbolic act that need not happen only in the space cleared by enlightenment reason. The hallucinatory spaces of incantation and ritual or the culturally sanctioned space of avant-garde literature are equally apt to render this presentation. As the psychiatrist admits, the "true speech" of symbolic self-understanding is more often heard in the phantasmagoric theater of ritual and incantation than in the clinical setting; thus the analyst's concern for the finality of cure runs aground in the uneven and striated spaces of social practice where cure may not arrive once and for all, but may in fact require a lifetime of repetition. Pandolfo argues that literature is a social practice that can register lacerations of the modernity's severance by voicing this imaginary discourse. And in Le Passé Simple she finds an example of the imaginary yielding a knowledge about one's symbolic inscription in a historical problem and a cultural moment. This "successful" speech of an excessive, surreal, and ranting text performs what it knows about the foreclosure of the symbol by indulging in the imaginary and empty speech of fiction.
Scholars of Anglo-American modernism may be surprised to find the term modernism applied to late nineteenth-century decadence and writings of the postwar era, as well as postcolonial authors who write in Arabic, which has a much older literary lineage than English, and French. One of the broader aims of this book is to decenter modernist definitions of period and style by arguing that modernism is a practice that always had a global reach and which continues well into the 1980s in the texts of the Francophone and Arabic literature of the Mashreq and the Maghreb, as well as the few Anglophone texts of the Middle East at the very least. This is not to say that avant-garde experimentation, stream-of-consciousness psychological narrative, themes of memory, fragmentation, and subjectivity, and moods of political despair and resistant rage do not color other literary styles or schools, but rather that the political and aesthetic intervention of the Caribbean, queer modernism, and the Arabic and Francophone literature of the Middle East have been practicing literary modernism in forms and styles that have been politically daring , formally innovative, and critical since at least the late nineteenth century. The Arabic and Francophone literature of the Maghreb and the Mashreq has found inspiration in the gesture of the Euro-American modernist avant-garde. The influence of American poetics, T. S. Eliot and Whitman especially, was felt early on, while it is difficult to find a major author untouched by Baudelaire, which is to say that the fundamental response of decadent avant-gardism to modernity and the subjection it enjoins became a resource for anticolonial critique and a critical reception of modernity coeval with the major texts of high modernism. Maghrebian Francophone literature has been marked by a passionate reading of Faulkner, while Maghrebian authors such as Rachid Boudjedra and Abdelwahab Meddeb, both novelists and poets who write in Arabic and French, attest in their works and in interviews to a capacious absorption of American, Arabic, Irish, and French literature. Contra our habits of periodization in Anglo-American modernist studies, modernism did not end with the Second World War; in the Middle East the 1950s were a time of modernist innovation, while the 1970s and 1980s witnessed the arrival of the first Arabic language avant-garde novels. When I speak of what will be for most modernist scholars "alternative modernism," I do not have in mind a dialectic of metropole and its periphery, as do others working comparatively through world literature or attempting to expand the reach of modernism, for there are alternative modernisms at home, for instance in the pages of Bowles's letters and published fiction. The fundamental presumption of such a dialectical model avers a belated and inherently imitative export of American expatriate or Parisian metropolitan culture to the outskirts of empire. As a caution against this developmental model, we might recall that Césaire is a major surrealist whose staggering poetics insists the legacy of Lautréamont into the twentieth century in ways unparalleled in French poetics. The queer modernism of decadence and the postcolonial avant-garde have in common their avant-garde investment in the project of self-invention and an unstinting critical posture toward normativity of all kinds; this double commitment sets apart a lineage of decadent modernism from the literary realism that dominates much national literature, postcolonial writing, and gay and lesbian literature avowed to a confessional style. With this in mind, marginality should be understood not on the model of excluded identity, ready-made but ignored, nor on the model of alternative modernisms, if that means simply expanding the map of modernism geographically; rather, here we are concerned with subjects in process, determined by the laws they rebuke but constructing them nonetheless: a gay Irishman in Reading Goal, a Jewish sexual tourist in Morocco, a Caribbean socialist on Ellis Island, a juvenile vagrant moving between national borders and allying himself with the enemies of the state, a Muslim patient called up to secure a system, Lewis the enemy who enters the center only to throw himself out, and an avant-garde Tunisian writer who resists postcolonial nationalism and its determination of marginals. Marginality-not as a group identity but as the resistant effect of having become a subject-engenders writing in the mode of a critical examination of the social world.
Foucault's account of biopolitical modernity finds ample support from the field of modernist literary production; in fact, modernism, as a global field of writing that addresses the phantasmagoria of modern severance and loss, registers the subjective torsions that Foucault's speculative history indexes, but until recently literary explorations of subjection and efforts to bring about new subjectivation were not viewed as ciphers of this imbrication of state, sex, and race but rather as avant-garde or humanist resistance to power manifest as the alienation of the human subject in a social world lamenting the loss of its idols in the disenchantment of modernity. That this theme constitutes a tradition of modernist revolt and rebellion is incontestable. As our discussion of Foucault suggests, however, resistance is an insufficient lens through which to view the wide array of modernist negotiations with power, its prohibitions, and the creativity it has called forth. The resistance narrative is, of course, a valuable and certainly a valid one to apply to modernist texts. I am interested in another narrative that attends to the strategies of survival in the modernist text. This implies a certain seizing upon power, participating in its reach and rerouting its potential through untrafficked or unprecedented terrain. In each of the three chapters that follow, I pursue individual authors who adopt discrete strategies of writing to usurp sovereign power and redirect it through their own exigency. Personal sovereignty of the writing subject is one result of this rerouting, but no such sovereignty can be displaced outside the frame of writing or exercised in its absence. As Bataille would have it, this is a sovereignty that disappears in the moment of its exercise. What inheres, then, in its wake is a practice of writing that proceeds from its mode of address and its active ability to foreground or expose the forms of power's reach, the symbolic law and order that subtends it.
Working toward chapter 3's broader understanding of the ways that foreclosure operates in the historical spaces of modernity, whether metropolitan or postcolonial, the first and second chapters explore psychoanalytic concepts and literary engagements that disclose exclusions of an increasingly deepening kind. From the open secrecy of Wilde's social status as aesthete dandy exhibiting a "new ideal for life" on the stage and in the elegant hotels and male brothels of London to the clarity of his prison letter, which brooks no secrecy nor harbors any liberal illusions about the English prison, the fin de siècle example presents us with layers of permission and outright avowal of sexual dissidence and juridical prohibition of homosexuality. In this regard, queer historiography has corroborated the main thesis of Foucault's Discipline and Punish, which argues that violent spectacles of punishment were replaced in the modern dispensation of power by invisible or hidden incitements to docility. As early as Crompton's Byron and Greek Love: Homophobia in 19th Century England critics have argued that the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy and modern requirements of admissible evidence did not result in a decriminalization of homosexuality in England comparable to that of the "Declaration of the Rights of Man" on the continent. What Wilde's example discloses is the development of expressive display in homosexual culture simultaneous with new mechanisms of social control, including the mediatic sexual scandal and panic; this collision of extreme publicity with the veils of discretion and expression that characterized late nineteenth-century sexual culture and the active practice of a social taboo on homosexuality exposes the ways that seemingly forbidden behavior thrived in public and as an object of public consumption. Far from describing a shadowy and marginal exclusion, the place of homosexuality in public life is rather one of an intimate fold within. Here the psychoanalytic concept of sublimation as a means to queer kinship and a transcendence of racial determinism illuminates the tight relation between prohibition and creative expression; as Foucault explains, "homosexuality is an historic occasion to reopen affective and relational virtualities, not so much through the intrinsic qualities of the homosexual but because of the 'slantwise' position of the latter ... the diagonal lines he can lay out in the social fabric allow these virtualities to come to light."
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