Richard Burt


Incomprehens -abilities


That a deception is actually a deception is often very difficult to determine clearly, and yet everything depends upon that.
--Soren Kierkegaard, “Silhouettes,” in Either / Or, Part One, 171

An exclamation point looks like an index finger raised in warning; a question mark looks like a flashing light or the blink of an eye. A colon, says Karl Kraus, opens its mouth wide: woe to the writer who does not fill it with something nourishing. Visually, the semicolon looks like a drooping moustache; I am even more aware of its gamey taste. With self-satisfied peasant cunning, German quotation marks (<<> >) lick their lips.

Theodor Adorno, "Punctuation Marks"

Quand on lit trop vite, ou trop doucement, on n'entend rien.

--Blaise Pascal, Pensées, cited by Paul de Man as the epigraph to Allegories of Reading (1979)

Jacques Derrida, Memoires for Paul De Man, p. 88

Nietzsche on "slow reading."

In Danger: One is most in danger of being run over when one has just avoided a carriage.

--Friedrich Nietzsche, "Man Alone with Himself," in Human, All Too Human, 186

One cannot "read" Hegel, except by not reading him. To read, not to read him--to understand, to misunderstand him, to reject him--all this falls under the authority of Hegel or doesn't take place at all.
--Maurice Blanchot, Writing the Disaster, 46

Self-Observation -- Man is very well defended against himself, against being reconnoitred and besieged by himself, he is usually able to perceve of himself only his outer walls. The actual fortress is inaccessible, even invisible to him, unless his friends and enemies play the traitor and conduct him by a secret path.

--Friedrich Nietzsche, "Man Alone with Himself," in Human, All Too Human, 179

Sly, slippery, and masked, an intriguer and a card, like Hermes, [the god of writing] is neither king nor jack, but rather a sort of joker, a floating signifier, a wild card, one who puts play into play."
--Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy,” in Dissemination, 93


"--If this text is incomprehensible to anyone and grates on their ears, then the blame as I see it does not necessarily lie with me. It is clear enough, assuming as I assume one has read my earlier writings and done so without sparing the considerable effort; these are in fact not easily accessible. For instance as concerns my Zarathrustra, I will regard no one as its connoisseur who at some time was not deeply wounded and at some time not deeply delighted by its every word: for only then may he enjoy the privilege of reverent participation in the halcyon element out of which it was born, in its sunny brilliance, distance, health, breadth and curiosity. In other cases the aphoristic form presents a difficulty: this is based on the fact that today this form is not taken seriously enough. An aphorism that is properly stamped and poured is not yet "deciphered" just because someone has read it through; on the contrary, its interpretation must begin now, which requires an art of interpretation. In the third treatise of this book I have offered a sample of what I call "interpretation" in such a case:--this treatise is preceded by an aphorism, and the treatise itself is a commentary. of course one thing above all is necessary in order to practice reading as an art to this extent, a skill that today has been unlearned best of all--which is why more time must pass for my writings to be "readable"--something for which it is almost necessary to be a cow and in any case not a "modern man": rumination . . .
IN JULY 1887."
Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals

Franz Kafka's Zurau Aphorisms
Number One
Der wahre Weg geht über ein Seil, das nicht in der Höhe gespannt ist,
sondern knapp über dem Boden. Es scheint mehr bestimmt stolpern zu
machen, als begangen zu werden.

The true way is along a rope that is not spanned high in the air, but
only just above the ground. It seems intended more to cause stumbling
than to be walked along. [Kaiser/Wilkins]

The true path is along a rope, not a rope suspended way up in the air,
but rather only just over the ground. It seems more like a tripwire
than a tightrope. [Hofmann]

The true way passes over a rope which is not stretched high up,

but just above the ground. It seems to be intended more for stumbling than for crossing.

[Joyce Crick]

It takes a lot of naïveté to believe it helps to shout and scream in the world, as if one’s fate would thereby be altered. Take what comes and avoid all complications. In my early years, when I went to a restaurant, I would say to the waiter: A good cut, a very good cut, from the loin, and not too fat. Perhaps the waiter would scarcely hear what I said. Perhaps it was even less likely that he would heed it, and still less that my voice would penetrate into the kitchen, influence the chef-and even if all this happened, there perhaps was not a good cut in the whole roast. Now I never shout anymore.
--Soren Kierkegaard, “Diapsalmata,” in Either / Or, Part One, 33

Of Lessing's Ein Merhereres aus Paperein des Ungenannten, Lothar Mueller writes "Den der Ungenannten blieb demonstrativ auch beim zweiten Auftritt der Anonymous, der noch posthum vor der Brisanz seiner Schriften schuetzen war." I found Lessing's text online here:

"Aus den Papieren von . . . ," in Weisse Magie: Der Epoch des Papiers, page 135

Kant mentions the protection of dead writers in Von der Unrechtmäßigkeit des Büchernachdrucks [On the wrongfulness of unauthorized publication of books] (1785):
"Denn jener besitzt die Handschrift nur unter der Bedingung, sie zu einem Geschäfte des Autors mit dem Publicum zu gebrauchen; diese Verbindlichkeit gegen das Publicum aber bleibt, wenn gleich die gegen den Verfasser durch dessen Tod aufgehört hat. Hier wird nicht ein Recht des Publicums an der Handschrift, sondern an einem Geschäfte mit dem Autor zum Grunde gelegt. Wenn der Verleger das Werk des Autors nach dem Tode desselben verstümmelt oder verfälscht herausgäbe, oder es an einer für die Nachfrage nöthigen Zahl Exemplare mangeln ließe; so würde das Publicum Befugniß haben, ihn zu mehrerer Richtigkeit oder Vergrößerung des Verlags zu nöthigen, widrigenfalls aber diesen anderweitig zu besorgen. Welches alles nicht statt finden könnte, wenn das Recht des Verlegers nicht von einem Geschäfte, das er zwischen dem Autor und dem Publicum im Namen des erstem n führt, abgeleitet würde."

But Nietzsche had to scream. For him there was no other way to do it than by writing.
--Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking? (49)

Heidegger said in a moving way: one of the most silent and timid of men suffered the torment of being obliged to cry out and, enigma following enigma, what was a cry risked becoming idle chatter. Nietzsche's admonition, "the written cry of the thought"--a cry that took form in the disagreeable book that is Zarathrustra--in fact came to be lost two ways: it was not heard, it was heard overly well; nihilism became the commonplace of thought and of literature.
--Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 143

Being able to question means being able to wait, even for a lifetime. But an age for which the actual is only whatever goes fast and can be grasped with both hands takes questioning as "a stranger to reality" as something that does not count as profitable. But what is essential is not counting but the right time--that is, the right moment and the right endurance.

--Martin Heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics?, 221

However many books
Wise men have said are wearisom; who reads
Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
A spirit and judgment equal or superior
(And what he brings, what needs he elsewhere seek) [ 325 ]
Uncertain and unsettl'd still remains,
Deep verst in books and shallow in himself,
Crude or intoxicate, collecting toys,
And trifles for choice matters, worth a spunge;
As Children gathering pibles on the shore. [ 330 ]

John Milton, Paradise Regained, Book 4

When we read, someone else thinks for us; we repeat merely his mental process. It is like the pupil who, when learning to write, goes over with his pen the strokes made in pencil by the teacher. Accordingly, when we read, the work of thinking is for the most part taken away from us. Hence the noticeable relief when from preoccupation with our thoughts we pass to reading. But while we are reading our mind is really only the playground of other people’s ideas; and when these finally depart, what remains? The result is that, whoever reads very much and almost the entire day but at intervals amuses himself with thoughtless pastime, gradually loses the ability to think for himself; just as a man who always rides ultimately forgets how to walk. But such is the case with very many scholars; they have read themselves stupid. For constant reading, which is at once resumed at every free moment, is even more paralysing to the mind than is manual work; for with the latter we can give free play to our own thoughts. Just as a spring finally loses its elasticity through the constant pressure of a foreign body, so does the mind through the continual pressure of other people’s ideas. Just as we upset the stomach by too much food and thereby do harm to the whole body, so can we cram and strangle the mind by too much mental pabulum. For the more we read, the fewer the traces that are left behind in the mind by what has been read. It becomes like a blackboard whereon many things have been written over one another. Hence we never come to ruminate;* but only through this do we assimilate what we have read, just as food nourishes us not by being eaten but by being digested. On the other hand, if we are for ever reading without afterwards thinking further about what we have read, this does not take root and for the most part is lost. Generally speaking, it is much the same with mental nourishment as with bodily; scarcely a fiftieth part of what is taken is assimilated; the rest passes off through evaporation, respiration, or otherwise.
In addition to all this, is the fact that thoughts reduced to paper are generally nothing more than the footprints of a man walking in the sand. It is true that we see the path he has taken; but to know what he saw on the way, we must use our own eyes.

* In fact a strong and steady flow of new reading merely serves to speed up the process of forgetting all that has been previously read.

§ 292a
In the interests of our eyes, health officials should see to it that the smallness of print has a fixed minimum beyond which no one should be allowed to go. (When I was in Venice in 1818 at a time when genuine Venetian chains were still being made, a goldsmith told me that those who made the catena fina would become blind after thirty years.)
§ 293
As the strata of the earth preserve in their order the living creatures of past epochs, so do the shelves of libraries preserve in their order past errors and their expositions. Like the living creatures, those books were in their day very much alive and made a great stir. But they are now stiff and fossilized and are considered only by the literary paleontologist.
§ 294
According to Herodotus, Xerxes wept at the sight of his immense army when he thought that, of all those thousands, not one would be alive after a hundred years. Who would not weep at the sight of the bulky Leipzig catalogue of new publications when he considers that, of all those books, not one will be any longer alive even after ten years?

§ 295
It is the same in literature as in life; wherever we turn, we at once encounter the incorrigible rabble of mankind, everywhere present in legions, filling and defiling everything, like flies in summer. Hence the immense number of bad books, these rank weeds of literature, which deprive the wheat of nourishment and choke it. Thus they use up all the time, money, and attention of the public which by right belong to good books and their noble aims, while they themselves are written merely for the purpose of bringing in money or for procuring posts and positions. They are, therefore, not merely useless but positively harmful. Nine-tenths of the whole of our present-day literature have no other object than to extract from the pockets of the public a few shillings. Author, publisher, and reviewer have positively conspired to bring this about.
It is a cunning and low, but not unprofitable, trick which literary men, bread-and-butter writers, and scribblers have succeeded in playing on the good taste and true culture of the age. For they have gone to the length of having the whole of the elegant world in leading-strings so that it has been taught and trained to read a tempo; in other words, everyone has to read the same thing,the newest and latest, in order to have something to talk about in his social set. For this purpose inferior novels and similar productions come from pens once famous, like those of Spindler, Bulwer, Eugène Sue, and others. But what can be more miserable than the fate of such a literary public which considers itself in duty bound at all times to read the latest scribblings of the most ordinary minds who write merely for money and therefore always exist in crowds; of a public which in consequence must be content only to know by name the works of rare and superior minds of all times and countries ? In particular, the belletristic daily press is a cunningly devised plan for robbing the aesthetic public of the time it should devote to the genuine productions of this branch of literature, so that such time may be spent on the daily bunglings of commonplace minds.
Because people read always only the newest instead of the best of all times, authors remain in the narrow sphere of circulating ideas and the age becomes more and more silted up in its own mire.
In regard to our reading, the art of not reading is, therefore, extremely important. It consists in our not taking up that which just happens to occupy the larger public at any time, such as political or literary pamphlets, novels, poems, and the like, which make such a stir and even run to several editions in the first and last years of their life. On the contrary, we should bear in mind that whoever writes for fools always finds a large public; and we should devote the all too little time we have for reading exclusively to the works of the great minds of all nations and all ages, who tower above the rest of mankind and whom the voice of fame indicates as such. Only these really educate and instruct.

We can never read the bad too little and the good too often. Inferior books are intellectual poison; they ruin the mind.

One of the conditions for reading what is good is that must not read what is bad; for life is short and time and energy are limited.

Arthur Schopenhauer, Chapter XXIV "On Reading and Books", in Parega and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays (1851)

Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read

JD: I have indeed attempted to link up the problematic of the pharmakon with the very disconcerting "logic" of what we casually call "repetition." In the Phaedrus writing is presented to the king, before the law, before the political authority of power, as a beneficial pharinakon because, as Theuth claims, it enables us to repeat, and thus to remember. This then would be a good repetition, in the service of anamnesis. But the king discredits this repetition. This is not good repetition. "You have found a pharmakon not for memory (mneme), but rather for recollection (hypomnesis)." The pharmakon "writing" does not serve the good, authentic memory. It is rather the mnemotechnical auxiliary of a bad memory. It has more to do with forgetting, the simulacrum, and bad repetition than it does with anamnesis and truth. This pharmakon dulls the spirit and rather than aiding, it wastes the memory. Thus in the name of authentic, living memory and in the name of truth, power accuses this bad drug, writing, of being a drug that leads not only to forgetting, but also to irresponsibility. Writing is irresponsibility itself, the orphanage of a wandering and playing sign. Writing is not only a drug, it is a game, paidia, and a bad game if not guided by a concern for philosophical truth. Thus, in the idiom of the familial scene, there is no father to answer for it, and no living, purely living speech can help it. The bad pharmakon can always parasitize the good pharmakon, bad repetition can always parasitize good repetition. This parasitism is at once accidental and essential. Like any good parasite, it is at once inside and outside -- the outside feeding on the inside. And with this model of feeding we are very close to what in the modern sense of the word we call drugs, which are usually to be "consumed." "Deconstruction" is always attentive to this indestructible logic of parasitism. As a discourse, deconstruction is always a discourse about the parasite, itself a device parasitic on the subject of the parasite, a discourse "on parasite" and in the logic of the "super-parasite."
Thus, however tempting and instructive it might be, the transposition of this problematic (which for lack of time I have very much simplified) toward what you call "modern drug addiction," together with its theoretical and practical interpretations, requires, as you may well imagine, the greatest prudence. . . .

We cannot trust in the simple opposition of symptom and cause, of repression and the release from repression, no more than we can count on a simple opposition of memory and forgetting, especially considering the paradoxes of repetition and of the rapport to the other. "Good" repetition is always haunted or contaminated by "bad" repetition, so much the better and so much the worse for it. The pharmakon will always be understood both as antidote and as poison. As you were just saying, the drug addict may seek to forget even as he takes on the job of an anamnesic analysis, may at once seek repression and a release from repression (which may well portend that this is not the important boundary, and that it has other, more twisted forms . . .). To this end the addict uses a "technique," a technical supplement which he also interprets as being "natural". . . . Another way of thinking would bring us to that distrust so common at the site of the artificial, of the instrumentalization of memory, thus at the site of the pharmakon, both as poison and as antidote, at which point we would also feel that supplementary discomfort inherent in the indecidability between the two. . . .

Jacques Derrida, "The Rhetoric of Drugs. An Interview "
The following interview originally appeared in a special issue of Autrement 106 (1989) edited by J.-M. Hervieu and then in the collection, Points de suspension: Entretiens (Paris: Galilée, 1992). Michael Israel's translation was first published in 1-800 2 (1991). Eds.

Reading Under the Influence Studies: "Good" Censors

I had already become interested in the figures of incorporation that are to be found in speculative thought—the very notion of comprehending as a kind of incorporation. The concept of “Erinnerung,” which means both memory and interiorization, plays a key role in Hegel’s philosophy. Spirit incorporates history by assimilating, by remembering its own past. This assimilation acts as a kind of sublimated eating—spirit eats everything that is external and foreign, and thereby transforms it into something internal, something that is its own. Everything shall be incorporated into the great digestive system—nothing is inedible in Hegel’s infinite metabolism.

The figures of incorporation in hermeneutics and speculative philosophy are what I call the “tropes of cannibalism.” Nowhere is this clearer than in Hegel, but these tropes are at work everywhere in Western thought. Eating is, after all, the great mystery of Christianity, the transubstantiation occurs in the act of incorporation itself: bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ. But it is not simply God’s body that is incorporated via a mystical eating—it is also his words. DB, AO: Do you think that interpretation of the Scriptures—biblical hermeneutics—is also a kind of sublimated eating?

JD: Yes, by analogy with the assimilation of the body of Christ in the Holy Communion. It is overarching figures and connections of this sort that I’m trying to map out. Eating God’s words constitutes a parallel to the Holy Sacrament—here too, a divine transubstantiation takes place. And that has left its mark on modern hermeneutics, which of course has its roots in biblical interpretation: little wonder that Gadamer’s philosophy is so marked by terms taken from digestion, that he is such a gluttonous thinker. His hermeneutics is, after all, precisely about assimilating that which is foreign. What is radically alien in the other doesn’t have a chance—it will be digested, melted down in the great tradition, wolfed down mercilessly.

But I would like to point out that this relationship between understanding and eating is in no way specific to a given current in the thought of the West, but can more accurately be regarded as a cultural a priori.

An Interview with Jacques Derrida on the Limits of Digestion

1. Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.

2. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that roll.

3. And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.

Ezekiel 3:1-3

"Lesesucht," or "reading addiction" and "good censors" in Johann Gottfried Hoche's Vertraute Briefe über die jetzige abentheuerliche Lesesucht und über den Einfluß derselben auf die Verminderung des häuslichen und öffentlichen Glücks

Wie mich dünkt, ist die allgemein ausgebreitete Lesesucht nicht
blos das Leitzeug (Vehikel) diese Krankheit zu verbreiten, sondern auch
der Giftstoff (Miasma) sie zu erzeugen. Der wohlhabendere, mit
unter auch der vornehmere Stand, der, wo nicht auf Ueberlegenheit,
doch wenigstens auf Gleichheit in Einsichten mit denen Anspruch macht,
welche sich dahin auf dem dornigten Wege gründlicher Erlernung bemühen
müssen, begnügt sich, gleichsam den Rahm der Wissenschaften
in Registern und summarischen Auszügen abzuschöpfen, will aber doch
gerne die Ungleichheit unmerklich machen, die zwischen einer redseligen
Unwissenheit und gründlicher Wissenschaft bald in die Augen fällt und
dieses gelingt am besten, wenn er unbegreifliche Dinge, von denen sich
nur eine luftige Möglichkeit denken läßt, als Facta aufhascht und
dann den gründlichen Naturforscher auffordert, ihm zu erklären, wie
er wohl die Erfüllung dieses oder jenen Traums, dieser Ahndung,
astrologischen Vorhersehung, oder Verwandlung des Bleyes in Gold,
u.s.w. erklären wolle, denn hiebey ist, wenn das Factum eingeräumt
wird (welches er sich nicht streiten läßt) einer so unwissend wie der
andere. Es war ihm schwer alles zu lernen und zu wissen, was der
Naturkenner weis; daher versucht er es, auf dem leichteren Wege die
Ungleichheit verschwinden zu machen, indem er nämlich Dinge auf die
Bahn bringt, davon beide nichts wissen und einsehen, von denen er

also die Freiheit hat, allerlei zu urtheilen, worinn es der andere doch
nicht besser machen kann. - Von da breitet sich nun die Sucht auch
unter andere im gemeinen Wesen aus.

Wider diesen Unfug ist nun nichts weiter zu thun, als den animalischen
Magnetiseur magnetisiren und desorganisiren zu lassen, so
lange es ihm und andern Leichtgläubigen gefällt; der Policey aber es
zu empfehlen, daß der Moralität hiebei nicht zu nahe getreten werde,
übrigens aber für sich den einzigen Weg der Naturforschung, durch
Experiment und Beobachtung, die die Eigenschaften des Objects
äusseren Sinnen kenntlich werden lassen, ferner zu befolgen. Weitläuftige

Widerlegung ist hier wider die Würde der Vernunft und
richtet auch nichts aus: verachtendes Stillschweigen ist einer solchen
Art von Wahnsinn besser angemessen: wie denn auch dergleichen Eräugnisse
in der moralischen Welt nur eine kurze Zeit dauren, um
andern Thorheiten Plaz zu machen.

Immanuel Kant on reading addiction and madness: Briefwechsel, Brief 411, An Ludwig Ernst Borowski March 22 1790.

“What is called here, for lack of a better term, a rupure or a disjunction should not be thought of as negation, however tragic it may be.  Negation, in a mind as resilient as Pascal’s, is always susceptible of being reinscribed in a system of intelligibility. . . . To discover, in the Pensées, the instances de rupture, the equivalence of zero in Pascal’s the theory of number, we can only reiterate compulsively the dialectical pattern of Pascal’s own model, or, in other words, read and reread the Pensées with genuine insistence.”

Paul de Man, “Pascal’s Allegory of Persuasion,” in Aesthetic Ideology, (UMinn, 1996), pp. 51-69; to p. 61.

I am tired of reproducing the wild figments of this worst of all enthusiasts, or pursuing his fantasies further so as to include his descriptions of the state after death. I also have other reservations as well.  For, although the naturalist displays in his show cabinet, among those items of animal generation which he has collected and preserved in chemical preparations, not only natural formations, but also monsters, he must, nonetheless, be careful not to allow them to been by just anyone, or to be seen too clearly. For among the curious there may easily be pregnant women on whom they could make a bad impression.  For among the curious there may easily be pregnant women, on whom they could make a bad impression.  And since my readers may include some who may likewise be in respect of ideal conception, in the family way, I should very much regret it if they were, for example, to take fright at what they read.  However, since I have warned them from the very start, I disclaim all responsibility, and I hope that the mooncalves, to which their fertile imagination may give birth as a result of this circumstance, will not be laid on my doorstep.
Immanuel Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer in
Theoretical Philosophy, 1755-1770 (The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant)
David Walford (Editor), Ralf Meerbote (Contributor)

I am tired of reproducing the wild figments of this worst of all enthusiasts . . ., and . . .I also have other reservations as well. The naturalist [who] displays monsters in his show cabinet . . .  must be carful not to all them to be seen by just anyone. . .  For among the curious, there may easily be pregnant women on whom they could make a bad impression.  Taking ideal conceptions into account, some of my readers may also be expecting, and I should very much regret if anything they read impressed them too strongly.  However, since I have warned them from the very start, I disclaim all responsibility, and I hope that the mooncalves, to which their fertile imagination may give birth as a result of this circumstance will not be laid on my doorstep.”
Immanuel Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer, cited and translated by 
Stefan  Andriopoulos Ghostly Apparitions: German Idealism, the Gothic Novel, and Optical Media 2013, p. 83

In fact this seems to be in general the main reason for crediting the ghost-stories so widely accepted. Even the first delusions about presumed apparitions of deceased people have probably arisen from the fond hope that we still exist in some way after death. And then, at the time of the shadows of night, this illusion has probably deluded the senses, and created out of doubtful forms phantoms corresponding to preconceived ideas. From these, finally, the philosophers have taken occasion to devise the rational idea of spirits, and to bring it into a system. You probably will recognise also in my own assumed doctrine of the communion of spirits this trend to which people commonly incline. For its propositions evidently unite only to give an idea how man’s spirit leaves[1] this world, i.e., of the state after death. But how it enters, i.e., of procreation and propagation, I make no mention. Nay, I do not even mention how it is present in this world, i.e., how an immaterial nature can be in an immaterial body and act by means of it.45 The very good reason for all this is that I do not understand a single thing about the whole matter, and, consequently, might as well have been content to remain just as ignorant as before in regard to the future state, had not the partiality of a pet notion recommended the reasons which offered themselves, however weak they were. The same ignorance makes me so bold as to absolutely deny the truth of the various ghost stories, and yet with the common, although queer, reservation that while I doubt any one of them, still I have a certain faith in the whole of them taken together. The reader is free to judge as far as I am concerned. The scales are tipped far enough on the side containing the reasons of the second chapter to make me serious and undecided ‘when listening to the many strange tales of this kind. But, as reasons to justify one’s self are never lacking when the mind is prejudiced, I do not want to bother the reader with any further defence of such a way of thinking.

Immanuel Kant, Dreams of a Spirit-Seer.

Socrates was not a man of immediate enthusiasm; on the contrary, he was sufficiently prudent to perceive what he should do to be acquitted, but he disdained acting accordingly, just as he disdained the speech offered to him.  For that very reason there is nothing obvious about his heroic death. Even in death he went on being ironical by posing the problem to all the prudent whether he actually had been so very prudent, since he acted contrary to prudence.
Søren Kierkegaard, Kierkegaard's Writings, XIV: Two Ages: The Age of Revolution and the Present Age A Literary Review, Trans and ed. Howard Vincent Hong, Edna H. Hong, Princeton University Press, 1978, 111

Ludwig Tieck's letter "An Heinrich Wackenroder" on Tieck's own experience of reading / madness / aloud.

Kafka did not always evade the temptations of a modish mysticism. . . . His ways with his own writings certainly does not exclude this possibility. Kafka had a rare capacity for creating parables of himself.  Yet his parables are never exhausted by what is explainable; on the contrary, he took all conceivable precautions against  the interpretation of his writings. One has to find one’s way in them circumspectly, cautiously, and warily. One must keep in mind Kafka’s way of reading, as exemplified in in his interpretation of the above mentioned parable [“Beim Bau der Chinesischen Mauer”; “Building the Great Wall of China”]. The text of his will is another case in point.  Given its background, the directive in which Kafka ordered the destruction of his literary remains is just as unfathomable, to be weighed just as carefully as the answers to the doorkeeper in “Vor dem Gesetz” [“Before the Law”].  Perhaps Kafka, whose every day on earth brought him up against insoluble modes of behavior and imprecise communications, in death wished to his contemporaries a taste of their own medicine.

--Walter Benjamin, “Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death,” in Selected Writings Vol 2 1931-1934, Harvard UP, 794-818; to 804.

"Nur ein Völlig Fremder kann Ihre Frage stellen. Ob es Kontrollbehörden gibt? Es gibt nur Kontrollbehörden. Freilich, sie sind nicht dazu bestimmt, Fehler im grosen Wortsinn herauszufinden denn Fehler kommen ja nicht vor, und selbt, wenn einmal ein Fehler vorkommt, wie in Ihrem Fall, wer darf den endgültig sagen, daß es ein Fehler ist."

"Das wäre etwas Völlig Neues!" rief K.

"Mir ist es etwas sehr Altes," sagte der Vorsteher.

--Franz Kafka, Das Schloss, (Fischer Verlag, 1979), 65

It is perhaps unsuitable to recognize in translated works, from the fact of their translation, merits that might be lacking in similar works written in an original language.  But first, we do not see why the act of the translator should not be appreciated as the quintessential literary act, one which proposes that the reader remain ignorant of the text it reveals to him, and from which his ignorance will not distance him.  Instead, it will bring him closer by becoming active, by representing to him the great interval that separates him from it. It is true that these merits are perhaps only apparent; they have the value of a mirage; they vanish if we are too attentive to them.  Even more, one can evaluate such dangerous qualities.  Too good a bargain, a translated text mimics the effort of creation that, starting from everyday language in which we live and are immersed, seeks to make another language be born, same in appearance and yet, with regard to this language, like its absence, its difference perpetually acquired and constantly hidden. If foreign works encourage and stimulate imitation more than our own works, it is because imitation, in this case, seems to reserve for us a greater personal role, especially because the imitator, fascinated, in the translated text, by the strangeness that the passage from one language to another provokes, thinks that it can take the place of the originality he seeks.  Unfortunately, even if he borrows from his model only what he has the right to borrow, he will forget to be in his turn a translator and he will renounce making his language  undergo the transmutation that from one single language must draw out two, one that is read and understood without deviation, while the other remains ignored, silent, and accessible.  Its absence (the shadow of which Tolstoy speaks) is all that we grasp of it.

Maurice Blanchot, “Translated from . . .”  in The Work of Fire (pp. 189-90)

Not even what I am writing here is my innermost meaning.  I cannot entrust myself to paper in that way, even though I see it in what is written.  Think of what could happen! The paper could disappear; there could be a fire where I live and I could live in uncertainty; I could die and thus leave it behind me; I could lose my mind and my innermost being would come into alien hands; I could go blind and not be able to find it myself, not know whether I stood with it in my hands without asking someone else, not know whether he lied, whether he was reading, what was written there or something else in order to sound me out. 
--Soren Kierkegaard, Stages on Life’s Way.  Ed. and trans.  Howard V.Hong  and Edna H. Hong Princeton, 1988, 386.

Language itself is language. The understanding that is schooled in logic, thinking of everything in terms of calculation and hence usually overbearing, calls this proposition an empty tautology. Merely to say the identical thing twice--language is language--how is that supposed to get us anywhere? But we do not want to get anywhere. We would like only, for once, to get to just where we are already.
Martin Heidegger, "Language," 188

Theodor Adorno, "On the Use of Foreign Words" and "Words From Abroad,” in Notes to Literature, Vol. 2

Theodor Adorno, "Punctuation Marks," in Notes to Literature


I had not reread Valéry for a long time. And even long ago, I was far from having read all of Valéry.  This is still true today.  But in going back to the texts that I thought I knew, and in discovering others, especially in the Notebooks, naturally I asked myself in what ways a certain relationship had changed.  Where had the displacement, which in a way prevented me from taking my bearings, been effected?  Where does this signify here, now?  A banal question, arising once more in the form of the return to the sources which always afflicts the rhetoric of the anniversaries of a birth:  Valéry one hundred years later, Valrey for us, Valéry now, Valéry today, Valéry alive, Valéry dead—always the same code.  What laws do these rebirths, rediscoveries, and occultations too, obey, the distancing or reevaluation of a text that one naively would like to believe, having put one’s faith in a signature or an institution, always remains the same, constantly identical to itself?  In sum a “corpus,” and one whose self-identity would be even less threatened than one’s own body [corps proper]?  What must a text be if it can, by itself in a way, turn itself in order to shine again, after an eclipse, with a different light, in a time that is no longer that of its productive source (and was it ever contemporaneous with it?), and then again repeat this resurgence after several deaths, counting, among several others, those of the author, and the simulacrum of a multiple extinctions?

--Jacques Derrida, ”Qual Quelle:  Valéry’s Sources” in The Margins of Philosophy, 278

Maybe it really is better to write without an addressee.
-- Jacques Ranicere, The Flesh of Words: the Politics of Writing, 145

And yet reading must find its rhythm, the right measure and cadence. In the measure, at least, that it attempts to bring us to grasp a meaning that does not come through understanding. Let us recall the epigraph to Allegories of Reading: "Quand on lit trop vite ou trop doucement on n'entend rien.' Pascal." (When one reads too swiftly or too slowly one understands nothing.) One should never forget the authoritative ellipsis of this warning. But at what speed ought one to have read it? On the very threshold of the book, it might have been swiftly overlooked.
--Jacques Derrida, Memoires for Paul de Man, Revised Edition, note 3, p. 88

But this very understanding was gained through the suffering of wanting to publish but not being able to do it.
--Søren Kierkegaard, deleted from the posthumously published The Point of View on My Work as an Author, 214

And the most passionate investigation of hashish intoxication will not teach us half so much about thinking (which is eminently narcotic) as the profane illumination of thinking will teach us about hashish intoxication.
--Walter Benjamin, “Surrealism” (1929)

“And no one"—that means: for none among these men prevailing everywhere who merely intoxicate themselves with isolated fragments and passages from the book and then blindly stumble about in its language, instead of getting underway on its way to thinking, and thus becoming first of all questionable to themselves. Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One.
--Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking? (50)

The value of such explosive [student] experiences and the difficulty of determining their difference from enlightenment require some further commentary. For the breakthrough is always shadowed by the breakdown.
Avital Ronell, The Test Drive, p. 126

Off Your Mark:

The [Heideggerian] jump is a movement of departure and return, moving often to the same place, which no longer claims to be the same. Something will have happened in the interval. Something passed from one place to the same place, which leaves the very notion of place in suspense. The leaps and bounds, the breakthroughs and light converge on a barely measurable marker.
--Avital Ronell, The Test Drive, 127

What is called thinking? We must guard against the blind urge to snatch at a quick answer in the form of a formula. We must stay with the question.
--Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?, Lecture V, 48

The calling calls thinking to the crossroads of way, no way, and wrong way. But the way of thinking is of such a kind that this crossroads can never be crossed by a once-for-all decision and choice of way, and the way can never be put behind as once-for-all behind us. The crossroads accompanies us on the way, every moment. Where does this strange triple way lead? Where else else but into what is always problematical, always worthy of questioning?
--Martin Heidegger, What is Called Thinking?, 175

Man ignoriere lieber das Buch, als dass man darueber das heute uebliche fade geschriebe und Gerede mache, das siet langer Zeit bei uns blueht. ("It is better to ignore the book than to produce the usual insipid scribbling and chatter that has been flourishing in our midst for so long.")
Martin Heidegger, speaking of his own lectures [GA61 193, cf. 70)

The archeology of the frivolous is the deviation of genius: "After having shewn the causes of the last improvements of language, it will be proper to inquire into those of its its decline: they are indeed the same . . . " The man of "genius" tries a new road. But as every style analogous to the character of the language, and to his own, hath been already used by preceding writers, he has nothing left but to deviate from analogy. Thus in order to be an original, he is obliged to contribute to the ruin of a language, which a century sooner he would have helped to improve. Though such writers may be criticized, their superior abilities must still command success. The ease there is in copying their defects, soon persuades men of indifferent capacities, that they shall acquire the same degree of reputation. Then begins the reign of subtil and strained conceits, of affected antitheses, of specious paradoxes, of frivolous turns, of far-fetched expressions, of new-fangled words, and in short of the jargon of persons whose understandings have been debauched by bad metaphysics. The public applauds: frivolous and ridiculous writings, the beings of the day, are surprisingly multiplied . . . " ([Condillac] Essays, II, I 158-59, pp. 296-97 [modified]); The root of evil is writing. The frivolous style is the style--that is written.
--Jacques Derrida, The Archeology of the Frivolous : Reading Condillac, n. 11, 68; 126 trans John P. Leavey

Scholar: Philosophers have always tread I place.
Guide: All of them even in the selfsame place.
Scientist: and I am grateful to you for admitting this.
Guide: But, without myself being a philosopher, I have just admitted much more to you. Philosophers not only don’t go forwards, they don’t just tread in place either; rather, they go backwards. For there is what you referred to as the “selfsame place.”
Scientist: But where is “backwards,” and what is in back?
Guide: The backwardness of the essence and what it is—in other words, the essentiality of the essence—appears to greatly unsettle you. That is good.
Martin Heidegger, Country Path Conversations. Trans. Bret W. Davis, 2010, 14.

Language itself is language. The understanding that is schooled in logic, thinking of everything in terms of calculation and hence usually overbearing, calls this proposition an empty tautology. Merely to say the identical thing twice--language is language--how is that supposed to get us anywhere? But we do not want to get anywhere. We would like only, for once, to get to just where we are already.
Martin Heidegger, "Language," 188

Maybe it really is better to write without an addressee.
-- Jacques Ranicere, The Flesh of Words: the Politics of Writing, 145

Heidegger said in a moving way: one of the most silent and timid of men suffered the torment of being obliged to cry out and, enigma following enigma, what was a cry risked becoming idle chatter. Nietzsche's admonition, "the written cry of the thought"--a cry that took form in the disagreeable book that is Zarathrustra--in fact came to be lost two ways: it was not heard, it was heard overly well; nihilism became the commonplace of thought and of literature.
--Maurice Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 143

I have little interest in being lazy (I imagine I have rather an excess of vitality). All the same, when I was (?) 13, I asked a friend which one was the most indolent at studying: I was the one; in the whole school it was me. At that time, I made life difficult for myself, by being unable to write under dictation. The teacher's first words obediently flowed from my pen. When I again looked at my exercise book, I had soon confined myself to scribbling (to give the impression that I was writing). Next day, I would be unable to do what I had not listened to in the text: under repeated punishment, I experienced the martyrdom of indifference for a long time. What is the well executed operation if not given in a privileged experience? In the end it is a moment of stupidity.
-Georges Bataille

 Living le Livre Ivre:

Friendship and not reading, or writing not to be read (by anyone you know). Batille as another kind of unreader--or a writer to his unreader. Friendship as a practice of unreading, of a philosophical lapse or collapse:

For Bataille, friendship is part of “the sovereign operation” . . . But reading—the unworking labor of the work—is not absent from it though it belongs at times to the vertigo of drunkenness: “ . . . I had already imbibed much wine. I asked X to read the book I was carrying around with me and he read aloud . . . . I was too drunk and no longer remember the exact passage.  He himself had drunk as much as I had.  It would be a mistake to think that such a reading given by men intoxicated with drink is but a provocative paradox. . . .  I believe we are united in this, that we are both open, defenseless—through temptation—to forces of destruction, but not like the reckless, rather like children whom a cowardly naiveté never abandons.”  This, Nietzsche would probably never have approved of:  he abandons himself—the collapse—only at the moment of madness, and that abandonment prolongs itself by betraying itself through movements of meglomaniac compensation.  The scene Bataille describes to us, whose participants are known to us (but that is of no importance) and which was not destined to be published . . . is followed . . .  by this statement: “A god does not busy himself.” This not-doing is one of the aspects of the unworking and friendship, and friendship, with the reading in drunkenness, is the very form of the “unworking community” Jean-Luc Nancy has asked us to reflect upon, though it is not permitted to us to stop there. I will however come back to it (some day or other). But before that it is necessary to recall that the reader is not a simple reader, free in regard to what he reads.  He is desired, loved and perhaps intolerable.  He cannot know what he knows, and he knows more than he knows.  He is a companion who gives himself over to abandonment, who is himself lost and who at the same time remains at the edge of the road the better to disentangle what is happening and which therefore escapes him . . .  “The one for whom I wrote (to whom I say tu), out of compassion for what he has just read, will need to well, then he will laugh, then he will have recognized himself.” . . . And at the same time, in the pages of the same book [Guilty]:  “These notes link me like Ariadne’s thread to my fellow creatures and the rest seems vanity to me.  However I cannot give them to any of my friends to read.” For that would mean personal reading by personal friends. Thus the anonymity of the book which does not address anybody and which, through its relation with the unknown, initiates what Georges Bataille (at least once) will call “the negative community: the community of those who have no community.”

–Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowable Community, 23; 24

I return to the fragment: while it is never unique, still it has no external limit—the outside toward which it falls is not its edge—and at the same time no internal limitation (it is no hedgehog, rolled up and closed upon itself). And yet it is something strict, not because of its brevity (it can be prolonged, like agony), but through the tautness, the tightness that chokes to the breaking point:  there are always some links that have sprung (they are not missing).  No fullness, no void.

–Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, (46)

There is no explosion except a book.” A book: a book among others, or a reference to the unique, the last and essential Liber, or, more exactly, the great Book which is always one among others, any book at all, already without importance or beyond important things. “Explosion,” a book:  this means that the book is not the laborious assemblage of a totality finally obtained, but has for its being noisy, silent bursting which without the book would not take place.  But it also means that since the book itself belongs to burst being—to being violently exceeded and thrust out of itself—the book gives no sign of itself save its own explosive violence, the force with which it expels itself, the thunderous refusal of the plausible:  the outside of its becoming, which is that of bursting.

–Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, (124; see also p. 7)

To write one’s autobiography, in order either to confess or to engage in self-analysis, or in order to expose oneself, like a work of art to the gaze of all, is perhaps to seek to survive, but through a perpetual suicide—a death which is total inasmuch as fragmentary.”

–Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, (64)

I shall perhaps endeavor to create an effect of superimposing, of superimprinting one text on the other. Now, each of the two “triumphs” wrotes (on [sur]) textual superimprinting. What about this ”on,” this “sur,” and its surface? An effect of superimposing: one procession on the other, accompanying it without accompanying it (Blanchot, Celui qui ne m’accompaginait pas). This operation would never be considered legitimate on the part of a teacher, who must give his references and tell what he’s talking about, giving it its recognizable title. You can’t give a course on Shelley without ever mentioning him, pretending to deal with Blanchot, and more than a few others. And your transitions have to be readable, that is in, in accordance with criteria of readability very firmly established and long since.

--Jacques Derrida, “Living On / Borderlines” in Deconstruction and Criticism, ed. Harold Bloom, 1977, pp. 68-69, lower "band"

Archaeology does not set out to treat as simultaneous what is given as successive; it does not try to freeze time and substitute for its flux of events correlatiions that outline a motionless figure. . . . Archaeology proceeds in the opposite direction; it seeks rather to to untie all those knots that historians have patiently tied; it increases differences, blurs the lines of communication, and tries to make it more difficult to pass from one thing to another. . . .

--Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge Trans. Alan Sheridan, 1972, pp. 167; 168

In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for.   Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you.  But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even before You Open Them Since They Belong to the Category Of Books Read Before Being Written.  And thus you pass by the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered.  With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean to Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too.  Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

The Books You’ve Been Planning to Read For Ages,

The Books You’ve Been Hunting for Years with out Success,

The Books Dealing with Something You’re working on at the moment,

The Books You Want to Own So They’ll be Handy Just in Case,

The Books You Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,

The Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer,

The Books You Need To Go With Your Other Books On Your Shelves,

The Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

Now you have been able to reduce the embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Have Read and the Books You Have Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.

Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, 1979, pp. 4-6


"Don't remember to forget!"
--Richard Burt