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1Writing in the journal Critique (July 1967, No. 242), in an article on The Order of Things entitled “Mort de l’homme ou épuisement du Cogito,” [1] Canghuilhem begins with these words: “The philosophers who have considered Cervantes’s Don Quixote to be a major philosophical event can be counted on the fingers of one hand.” It occurs to us that such an image may well dispense with hands altogether when it comes to those philosophers who have considered the philosophical importance they might give to their contemporary literary writers. We will therefore try to show what kind of philosophical event is implicated in the work of Claude Royet-Journoud.

2This poet tells us something about readability that is different from what philosophy knows. It is basically the reader’s “know-how” that is appealed to here. It is a matter of understanding readability as an invention of space that calls into question both the consistency and the memory of words on the page. What prevents us from hearing ourselves read? Is that part of thought that proceeds from a physiology of reading doomed to silence, as if it were the last secret of our reflection, when in fact it is perhaps just the last obstacle to it? It seems that a part of ourselves is porous, open to material effects of sense (the arrangement of words, enjambment, rejets, grammatical gaps, the indeterminacy of agreement, etc.) without ever being able to arrive at signification through language. In it we even experience an increase in aphasia that renders the poetic work, by turns, close and distant. It is with this aphasic latency, which philosophers opened up long ago, that we shall concern ourselves here:


It is a question of inventing the gaze. Of sliding on the surface of the volume. Without explaining or advocating anything. Faced with the name. The date. The fragile and transparent partition of a phrase. [2]

4Claude Royet-Journoud touches the depths of the readable. This calls forth an experience: the most literal experience of thought. For this he needs almost what Blumenberg, citing Brockes, called the “Letter/Leser,” the reader as letter. [3] To bear the whole experience of reading, the reader-letter must always be in a position to point out the pure reflexivity of the actions of analysis and synthesis he is carrying out, rather than their power of transition and their resolution in signification. Can the being without qualities of the reader-letter speak a truth, pose a question, make an observation? His aim is not to affirm an image of reading as a transmission of meaning according to logically or grammatically arranged structures. It consists in the unreasoned scrambling of all structure, in allowing words, lines, and enjambments to come forth, ruptures which are always, exactly, experiences, and not representations. This must be understood in a precise way: we can say nothing, in the name of some kind of knowledge that can be predicted in expected forms of meaning, in regard to readability??”nothing which, through its theoretical pinpointing, would identify some formal content in the transmission of meaning. It is a matter of a pure experience of time, of space, but also of memory, within the most reduced use of language:


I want to put the minimal units of meaning to work??”because generally one works in maximal units. I would really like to put in place a theatricalization not of the tiny […], but a theatricalization (silence) of a meaning that is hardly made, hardly formulable, hardly… [4]

6All of which thus presupposes no knowledge, but at the very least a familiarity with the flitting of the eye that reads words, looks at the page, with the hand that turns the page remembering that which preceded it??”the unspoken part played by the reader. The nativity of this reading eye is exhibited in its pure state. Claude Royet-Journoud dedicates it to transforming its own covering-up, its own occultation, into a plurality of visible worlds. To achieve the relation of the words of thought to that which, in the very act of their selection and their arrangement, refuses itself to thought, we must open our eyes to the subtraction of our actual body, to the elision of the articulations that belong to the material arrangements of words on the page, which alone make this refusal possible. We must introduce ourselves into a duration that is the source of aporias, since the manipulation of time, the abstraction of sense, the forgetting of the peripetaeias of signification will come up against the irreducible consistency of words, their vacillating, sometimes indeterminate relations, and against the material, grammatical, prosodic, and typographical secret that can only be theirs. This aporetic duration, a tense duration between reading beyond words and reading in the space-time that words open up, is sensitive only to the persistence of reading, not to its kinetics: “‘They speak to the ear, I wish to speak to the memory’ [Ils parlent à l’oreille, je veux parler à la mémoire] (Joseph Joubert).” [5]

7This persistence is as close as we can come to what defines the transformation of a work into its mnemic double??”that is to say, into that type of trace or internal saving that is inherent to the slow movement of the effacing and recomposition of meaning. This is not the memory that evokes; it is reading as experience of a life of language, to which it leads, in a separation from abstract signification. As if we read so as to progressively annihilate (via words and their arrangements) meaning from words, meaning from the forgetting of words, from the remembering of their forgetting, and as if this operation of slowing and of anatomy whereby worlds are isolated little by little from the speed of an always preconceived or anticipated concatenation, pulled back progressively into its light other forgotten chains of words: “To write is to unveil the anatomy. The literal has to be followed through.” [6]

8Claude Royet-Journoud continually explained that the book is mental, that it is in us, never outside of us, and that it is therefore fundamentally incomplete. In doing so, he operates the internal history of a reflection on words, their space, their time, that refracts nothing outside of it. And this history, however little it has taken place, can only be that which gives body, figure, theatre, a scene to readability as such:


[…] I think that the best definition of my books would be the word “theatre”??”if you consider, understand, that in them characters are also at work??”even a kind of “detective story.” I could add, citing Klossowski: “It is words that take on a stance.” [7]

10This readability of readability, or this uncovering of readability, is an invisible room within us where we do not endure the presence of an object, but the flittings of the eye that reads in its own memory. A kind of mirror plane appears to us perhaps at the moment when we are rejected by any hope of refraction. For the gaze brings us out of ourselves, that is to say, toward the most uncertain center of ourselves. It allows us to find semblances of identity that hunt us down like a center awaiting its encirclement. Reading does not rely on a change in proportion of the readable of which each would be the final judge??”it gives body to an experiential, experimental consciousness.

11In 1972 Claude Royet-Journoud published, with Éditions Gallimard, Le Renversement [Reversal], the first book of a tetralogy that would be completed in 1997. Of this first book, Edmond Jabès, in a letter of October 27, 1970 addressed to the author, writes the following:


From the start you have understood that at the base of language??”but we must, in order to understand, have undergone the experience of writing to its end, which is still only a beginning??”there is what Martin Buber calls principle-words. The bases of language, he writes, are not isolated words, but pairings of words. One of these bases of language is the couple “I-You [Je-Tu]” […]. Thus when you go from I-You to “I-He [Je-Il],” it is only so as to experience the distance of exile: for??”and you say it with that simplicity that is the knowledge of the summits??”this rediscovered simplicity of the origin:
The tongue in exile
Again this pain
These great blank spaces that the phrase hangs over, what are they if not the abyss full of poignant silence of a word, faced with the unknown of its surpassing which is neither mirror nor ungraspable reflections, but the sole truth where the face has lost its features?
To establish the “Book
of the family of the book”
For the book rejects us for the book. [8]

13After this first book of the tetralogy then followed, through the same publisher, The Notion of Obstacle in 1978, Objects Contain the Infinite in 1983, and Natures Indivisible in 1997. What happened in this period of twenty-five years during which their writing unfolded? Claude Royet-Journoud spoke of this time in an interview with Emmanuel Hocquard:


[…] There was a time of rest, a time of work […]. I owe a great deal to these months I could spend without writing, to such a point that it was difficult to end them. I had a sort of impression that it is necessary for a change of words or for displacements of vocabulary… These periods when I didn’t write are indispensible to the book. [9]

15This time is a time of ascesis. It is necessary because sluggish words clog up our perception. There is therefore a work to be done that is but that of the accretion of this debris of phrases, these non-effectuated words. The time of writing “displaces” the (futureless) possibilities of words that are too immediate. And this displacement, which is only the depletion of the too-obvious, brings up to the surface of consciousness the disproportion of this obviousness to the whole history of words within us. How can we deliver ourselves from the absence of the shadow of too-immediate words? Claude Royet-Journoud takes the time to allow them to become in him the weakened image of a worn-out consciousness. He only writes when he has attained that extenuation whose fulfillment is a form of time, the uncertainty of whose possibility is the sole duration of consciousness and the sole cause of its perpetual exigency as theater. This abstention from writing, which is the ascesis of writing, is not the absence of words but, on the contrary, a multiplication, an accretion of prose and of filled notebooks. Like a burying in the most universal language and a delay always accused of bringing back the innocence of words to their memory.


Each of my books is composed of a certain number of sequences each of five or six pages in length. At the beginning, there was a 400–500 page block of prose for each of these sentences, which explains why it takes me almost six years to write a book. This all happens in large notebooks: I write a passage on the right-hand page and then I extract certain moments of it onto the left-hand page. The aim of this working of the prose is to enter into a space proper to the work of writing. […] if you like, I always write in the book, always already in the book… [10]

17This body of words is diverted from the original meaning with which it was endowed. So that there is nothing here like a first draft from which would be extracted sections of verse or bits of the world. What is in play here is a cleansing. Why do we only speak having forgotten that what words play, commit, and imply of space and of history is a duration whose fulfillment is underway within us? Is it fatal, this time that Claude Royet-Journoud’s ascesis endures and of which it is the discovery, to the point that the lyrics flow out through that of which they know nothing? The years of cleansing would be a work, like an expectation, of the burial of the reason for forgetting. This whole unmeasured time, incommensurable with the twenty-five years of the tetralogy, imprescribably becomes like the soul of a writing: its ethic. “To write is a profession of ignorance.” [11]

18The surface of the page is not the null time attached to a kind of insularity of words and their arrangement, floating nowhere. It is the searching of all time which is neither abstraction nor the dormancy of former bodies. The intensity of the play of pronouns (il, elle, je, tu), the crossing of the frontiers of the feminine and masculine genders (le renversement, la notion d’obstacle), the clinamen of the singular into the plural (les objets contiennent l’infini, les natures indivisibles), verbal flexions, “the character of the join [caractère de jointure]” [12]??”“relations and their terminations [les rapports et leurs terminaisons]” [13]??”the poem reaches the articulatory limits of language through a spatial, choral disposition in which verses rejoin their own body of movement. Like resonances and propagations of waves attached to centers as unpredictable as they are unsuspected. The poem is perhaps but the set of inchoate articulations of thought, but at the point, dependent on the fragility and the individuality of space time, where no sort of image can fix them. The poem can only be this saving that holds no secret and makes only the speculative matter of every thought: “A body tells the story of its own surface.” [14] The poem is the consciousness of thought??”its eye??”open in a secondary depth. It is, if you like, the reality of the speculative time of language. The force of writing intensifies in giving birth in language to the singularity of the pronoun “il” or “elle”??”which Benveniste, however, says is the least personal of personal pronouns??”in unbinding the vection of the verb from any object, and inaugurating an attention to the pure accident. Thus it must be the case that the theater began with this lack of all identification, that such a lack itself could not have been fixed to a beginning, that history remained as if weighed down by the enigma of such a delay in knowing the time of beginning.


I open the Tractatus; I see “The world is everything that happens”; I am happy. That goes along with what I think about the accident, for example, about the possibility of writing, of the reading of the world uniquely by that thread, that cutting edge that is the accident. The accident is our sole possibility for the readable. [15]

20The representation of the world as a book??”studied by Blumenberg in La Lisibilité du monde??”is overthrown, all the way down to its Mallarméan inheritance. What worldliness would suppose the givenness of the book as a world if accidents, infractions of logic, gaps in grammar, formed the only access to the readable? Worlds preceded by nothing, coinciding with bodies that would be nothing but the pursuit of a meaning, without this pursuit sufficing to give body to them. Worlds pre-positing themselves to language: “The whole of poetry is preposition.” [16] The assemblages of verse are exposed to the articulations of their extension, to the scansions of their comprehension, to the dislocation of their internal movement, to the commotion of their mnemic traces. The time of memory blooms with a position pre-posed to its description. The where of that which is thought escapes all divine economy: “Without regard to ‘god’s economy’ [sans souci de l’économie de dieu’]”. [17] From the opening of Le renversement, Claude Royet-Journoud, citing Hamann’s Biblical Meditations, breaks with the writer as “creator of the world.” [18] He who writes is gripped by the non-mastery into which he drags the consciousness of pure accidentality.

21The book(s) [19]??”“The four books have the following relation:

tableau im1
1 2 X 4 3”

22??”have as their center an unknown (X), that is to say a point of indivision, where, in a series of relations and of sets of relations, the topic of thought is constituted. Like a kind of bar that is displaced in books, the syntax does not communicate; instead it opens onto an internal accompaniment of writing, which encases, embeds, and disperses into a pointillism the pursuit of sense. Like a caesura that accumulates rapports, relations, and encounters of verse, always acting on the edge of language. What precedes the unforeseeable?

23If it is true, as Blumenberg shows, that writing (of the book as world) is always supported by an expectation, seeking how the real is given to us, then Claude Royet-Journoud suspends this expectation. He judges it obstructive because in it, attention to the extensibility of sense, the readability of the readable as such, is abolished. We must approach what happens before and after the constitution of meaning, and be approached by this before and this after: “To seize time again by the tail[Ressaisir le temps à l’envers].” [20]

24Memory is that without which no place can be assigned nor described. It is the form of a meaning always retreating from the extremities of its completion (the origin, the end): “Sense rushes into the preposition [Le sens afflue dans la préposition]”. [21] The placing in suspense of the expectation of meaning is the extension, the multiplication of the possibilities of meaning. Through this suspense the book(s) becomes a-figural, a-cosmic: it touches the limit of the aperceptibility of readability in language, and this limit is also the edge of memory. A body of writing consists for thought only in the effectiveness that memory lends it: it is not, when it is referred back to images and associations of images alone, in a site, but is dissipated by imaginations of situatedness. It only attains its site if the memories that are augmented in it flow as an effect of the memory of a written body, and energize the return of the supposition of a site.

25Thus from Claude Royet-Journoud’s poetics there result two theses relating to the book and to readability:

261. To read signifies no longer wishing either to know nor to understand, but the making of incomprehensibility into an inaugural experience of readability: “To write is a craft of ignorance.” [22] In the tetralogy, the book(s) becomes unhinged (from knowledge, totality). Having begun by dissolving its native theological authority, it destroys the expectation of totalization that the authority of unicity implies.


An essential characteristic of the book resides […] in its aptitude??”whatever may be the object upon which it is exercised??”to embrace elements that are disparate and unrelated, to collect that which seems the most separate, the foreign with the familiar, so as finally to grasp them or at least claim to have grasped them in their unity. [23]

28The multiplication of the book by four, the principle-books squared, only comes into play in the question (produced as a remainder, secondarily) of an identity in memory, which produces in its turn, in another turn, its supposed condition. Hence the books that followed the tetralogy, Theory of Prepositions and Kardia have, in Claude-Royet Journoud’s words, “retraced” the tetralogy and have returned to its “X.” The supposed “X,” written, is “retained” given that it supposes its own memory: because its active preterition in what is read is a supposition of its indifferent being and because it is itself, like another memory, evidence of the delay of verse. For there is in preterition and preposition the form of a past and of a forgetting, of something passed over in silence, which then returns like the memory of a crime. I remember the tetralogy to ignore the words of the past in it. A recursion of the temporality of this forgetting begins in Theory of Prepositions and reaches its beating heart in Kardia:


Memory detaches an image denuded of dust, a thing still alive and palpable that will tip over the moment. It recovers an ancient title. Experienced, unmade night wherein speech dissolves. Only inertia can win. And yet. A type of heat persists, in spite of this humidity that fills the body. A phrase is alone. It is disorientated. No longer knows its direction. (Is its bewilderment its safeguard?) The Night is narrower and narrower. Makes itself narrower. In which direction should we go? In what grammar make known that which wells up and never surfaces? [24]

30The book(s) pursue the inductive return of that which the other memory of words??”the one that “never surfaces”??”cannot give as meaning. Thus the book(s) is a book on books that have become too small to pursue the actual meaning of words. The compossibility of accidents and of memory, which inscribes itself in them, is enough to break with every Leibnizian Deus calculans and to breach the closure of the book. Readability is not the depositary of a will to say, but the trace, through an excess in modality, of an incommunication of memory. A type of aphasia becoming speaking in itself. It belongs to an overthrowing of anamnesis, that in which the Theory of Prepositions and Kardia safeguard the memory of a forgetting. I will never read as I once read. The place of the readable is always a beginning backed up by a lack of origin. There is, in Claude Royet-Journoud, a strange return to Aristotle through a physics of reading. The time of reading is the number of the movement of bodies of verse. These bodies do not fall, they move towards their proper place, but the circumscription of this place proves to be a dismissal of time: “The word END, so that what follows becomes what precedes.” [25]

312. The absolutization of the accident implies the possible irrelativity of words to their grammatical usage, but does not aim at the transgression of the order of discourse??”more the “cleansing,” through ascesis, of the presumptions of sense that immediately attach themselves to any arrangement of words. Reading reads the suspense of these marks of waiting. It collaborates in a resistance to meaning. To read therefore no longer means totalizing the intelligence of meaning, but instead opening up the scenography of the decomposition of meaning. A Leibnizianism without God??”in which the “sur-quality” of the bodies of words exists too much to signify something:


One thing we can well and truly know in advance: the metaphor of readability must be transformed wholesale in order for one to be able any longer to find the germs or the vestiges of it in a Leibnizian world. The latter, in virtue of its sur-quality, is closed to all literal functionalization: it exists too much to any longer signify something. This is not without consequences for the way in which divine arithmetic can affect man. Is the latter taken into account in God’s calculations? [26]

33Claude Royet-Journoud’s book(s) is not a dispenser of meaning. But no more is it a dispenser of nonsense. Something else is attempted here other than readability as intelligibility and totalization of the intentions of a supreme subject. But also something other than the pure contradiction of these schema.


Where there is too much sense, there is no longer a poem. Thus, it is a matter of finding that type of trembling which is that of a meaning that is never complete and which is on the way to being constructed, but which knows its own incompleteness. [27]

35Incompleteness is what is proper to the book(s). And this incompleteness bears upon the mental space of reading. The poem is the quasi-orbital site of the spheres of the strangeness of language where the reading eye exorbits to be grafted onto memory. The lack of complete meaning, which is equivalent to an articulation of the approach, this “hardly,” impossible to efface yet impossible to fix in a memory or an image, is perhaps childhood itself??”understood as infantia. Perhaps we only read because we have forgotten the infancy whose incompleteness remains in us. There is thus a story, an infinite duration of the most uncertain, buried time, where the eye tracks the traces of a lost babbling. And the child contiguous with the sensation of reading blooms on the surface of consciousness:


But what an admirably busy activity is concealed within the depths of our minds which goes unnoticed even while it is being exercised. And it goes unnoticed because the actions in question are very numerous and because each of them is represented only very obscurely. Everybody is familiar with the facts which prove that this is the case. One need only consider, for example, the actions which take place unnoticed within us when we read. The phenomenon cannot fail to fill us with astonishment. For discussions of this matter, reference can be made, for instance, to the logic of Reimarus […] [28]

37What attracts Kant to the paradigm of reading is less the text that is read than the act of reading in so far as the latter brings to light psychic forces in relations of attraction or repulsion within consciousness. Unlike logical opposition, which is reducible to contradiction, real opposition, which is dynamic, involves a negating yet positive factor: the two predicates which oppose each other in the same subject are two affirmatives. Thus opposition implies position, and the idea of real position is identical to the idea of being. Kant brings to light this effectiveness of opposition, of the obstacle, which constitutes negative magnitude. The latter is a true magnitude but is simply opposed to that which one considers as positive. [29] This is why the negation of magnitude is not non-magnitude. The relation of reciprocal opposition excludes a magnitude from being positive when the other is negated, since the two opposite magnitudes must be understood as equally positive: “To negate A is to show A behind a screen,” wrote Valéry. [30] We must think in terms of position, of obstacle and of resistance, for nothing real is a non-being. “The rising water repels the filth.” [31] Kant delogicizes existence. And Blumenberg discovers in him a thinker of reading:


Kant gives us something like the application of Newton’s principle of inertia to the representations of consciousness: nothing, once realized and rendered present to the mind, can then disappear of itself. This means that we would not capable of supporting even one thought if there were not negative acts of the obscuring of one representation in favor of another, whose appearance is considered as a positive act. [32]

39Kant wonders, in fact, about everything active that takes place in consciousness when “I am now thinking, for example, of a tiger,” since “[t]his thought disappears, and in its stead the thought of a jackal occurs to me.” For “one cannot detect within oneself any special effort of the soul operating to cancel one of the representations.” [33] What remains unperceived in perception??”what Leibniz had already called our attention to??”envelopes a multitude of singular acts, which sometimes are founded in convergent movements, governed by forces of attraction, and sometimes fight each other in movements of truly opposed forces to the point where one representation obscures another and makes itself conscious. If the image of the jackal replaces that of the tiger, we must suppose that this substitution proceeds from an act that Kant relates to the hypothesis of negative magnitudes:


A thought of the soul, cannot cease to be without a truly active power of exactly the self-same thinking subject. […] A thinking of the soul cannot cease to exist without a truly active force of the same thinking subject […] the omission here has quite a different sense, namely, the cancellation of an activity which existed a little while ago. But it is the question which I am raising, and in raising it I shall not so easily allow myself to be fobbed off. [34]

41No representation can endure nor disappear from consciousness without the intervention of opposite actions leading to a stabilized relation of real opposition??”oppositio actualis. Thus omission is understood as “privation,” abstraction as “negative attention,” death as “negative birth”… Reading is understood as activity. As Blumenberg rightly observes, [35] the reason that explains the emergence, under Kant’s pen, of Reimarus’s Logic, is that this latter made learning to read the model for the understanding of the processes through which a subject learns to form ideas. The philosopher of Königsberg thus finds in Reimarus the confirmation of the fact that only negative acts can explain that the representations of consciousness “change,” and do not remain inert or succeed one another mechanically. “It is,” writes Blumenberg, “through recourse to a process as elementary as reading, supposed to be purely receptive, that the hypothesis of negative acts acquires a certain degree of plausibility.” [36] The Kantian gesture, emphasized by Blumenberg, is that of a diversion from the book of Revelation and of nature toward the sole act of reading. The text does not exist in itself prior to reading. Who is to say that the premises of the transcendental revolution of thought do not begin here.

42Claude Royet-Journoud, however foreign to any Kantian reference and above all foreign to the question of representation, since he is only interested in words, in their becoming verse or phrase, apart from any relation to the real, nevertheless, through his “theory” of “prepositions,” constitutes one of the most profound continuations of the Attempt to Introduce [into Reading] the Concept of Negative Magnitudes:


Thought, as well, exists only with regard to a halt which is empty. Joë Bousquet wrote, this paralysis has carved a hole in space. To write is to carve that hole space. Everything take off from immobility, from the effort of attention that is also a corporeal effort. The tightrope walker has the same problem; he tries to bring together movement and rest… (…) Sense has to be caught the moment it develops, while it remains still undetermined. [37]

44Whereas Kant shows that what results from real contariety is radically different from zero, which proceeds from logical contradiction, and should be understood instead as repose through the mutual impediment of forces, Claude Royet-Journoud wishes to approach the equilibrium of the tightrope walker, which belongs to the thought that is written. He calls “preposition” that inexhibitable point of equilibrium or repose. Perhaps nothing has ever been able to penetrate so far into the nascent body of a thought as it comes into language. The “preposition” defines the most abstract pressure at the instant of the emergence of meaning. It knows that it is in the destiny of knowledge to be but the proximity of the birth and death of words. An unshowable point, a circle without contour whence a type of horror of temporal flux continually wells up, the preposition articulates an event, a time without figure, an site oriented one no longer knows how, the insular moment of a risk, an aporetic duration where the virtualities of meaning are magnetized, where the relation of the words of thought to that which, in the very act of thinking, is refused to thought open up an experience that is a source of aporias. One might reread Schopenhauer elaborating a theory of universals ante rem. A return of attention to the Husserlian distinction between the function of manifestation and the function of the signification of expression [38] could also be fruitful, but it is Kant as read by Blumenberg who seems most apt to discern the intensity of this physiology of thought. It is a matter of stripping bare the invisible power of a contrariety of repose, of a real state of equilibrium of contrary forces??”and of understanding that there is no tabula rasa of mind. The mind is enfolded in the “layers of intrusion [nappes d’intrusion],” [39] drowned in the noise and the infinite interference of the use of words. What is an interminable discourse? It is that which Claude Royet-Journoud’s long notebooks of prose hollow out: “It is a sudden hollowing out that launches the body.” [40] There is no thinking that surveys from above. Thought is in its own volume. It does not transport invariant ideas, it essentially envelops noisy, interfering powers. The mind knows neither suspense nor lack of these powers but??”something very different??”it experiences their rest:


In a body, rest is either merely a lack, that is to say, a negation of motion, in so far as no motive force is present, or alternatively, such rest is a deprivation, in so far as there is indeed, a motive force present, though its consequence, namely motion, is cancelled by an opposed force. [41]

46Claude Royet-Journoud thus does not subscribe to any ephectic tradition. The repose of the tightrope walker that he aims at is not a suspense. If it has the appearance of an époché, this époché does not suspend; it holds and retains the discomfort of an irreducible contrariety and the vertiginous tension of the conflictual causalities of language: “I like this resistance (to sense).” [42] It is a prodigious variance of the cresting line, of the clinamen (incerto loco, incerto tempore). An activity of writing is read on the underside of active writing and is infinitely applied to itself. This rigorous work does not aim at the avatar of a pure logos, but a logos referred to itself: the poem-story of a language whose verses respond strictly to each other, that is to say, a thought without subject, a language with no mouth. Inversely, the prose and the prose notebooks form the limit handrail where all the (cultural) entropy of language is concentrated and, through it, the progressive obscuring of habit. A stranger to all aims of suspense, Claude Royet-Journoud makes the “theory” of the “preposition” just as Kant introduces into thought the concept of “negative magnitude.” Both one and the other affirm the reality of the negative, both of them open up large gaps in the practice of writing:


I shall, accordingly, call debts “negative units of capital” […], death […] “negative birth,” falling “negative rising,” retreat “negative advance.” […] Take the following example: “The negative of birth is death.” What I intend to convey by this expression is not that the one thing is the negation of the other, but rather that there is something which stands in a relation of real opposition to something else. [43]

48An astonishment will take hold of the real of thought unbeknownst to its contrary forces, to sketch out its underside: “Things under-the-tongue like there things-under-the-table!” [44] The whole poem is decided on the basis of this vertiginous monstration, which cannot be hypostatized in any logical relation: “[…] to return, through the poem, to the act of birth, if that could be done.” [45] Repose of meaning, birth, death of meaning, resistance to meaning, articulation, preposition, the poem holds onto the two extremities of a broken chain. On the one hand, there are flows, currents of hysteresis, longitudes of meaning, adhering to custom??”a type of transactional traffic across the most empty common places of the world. On the other hand, there is a zero state of rest, of equilibrium or of pre-position where the thought that is written becomes the cipher of an impossible knowledge of oneself, but makes the coming to meaning readable, as might be suddenly seized a ray lost in search of its mirror. Not to explain the words of thought nor to suspend them, but to implicate thought in the emergence of these words so that it can self-explain by applying itself infinitely to itself. The theorist of the preposition is a tightrope walker walking across the gulf of the undecidable. Through immobility and silence, he brings to light immense gaping virtualities. His condition is not that of concluding, but that of interrogating, of interrogating negation understood as force of articulation, as pure duration of writing:


I would really like to come clear as what happens ‘before’ and ‘after’ the preposition. Why in the very articulation sens become magnetic. The elbow makes the arm, the knee the leg! Everything surges toward articulation. [46]

50Which is as much as to say that the writing of the poem pertains to the sole problematisation of the coming of words to thought, and that it discerns the acoustic node or the optical focus??”the preposition??”proper to articulate this pure coming, grasped in the trembling of all its obstacles and all its virtualities. Théorie des prépositions thus subtracts Claude Royet-Journoud from the great tradition of epechists and ephectics to open up an act of thinking in the real of the negative and in the space-time of the latter, understood as an articulatory body. Incerto loco, incerto tempore has become the space-time of the preposition, that which with the poem is charged.

51But Claude Royet-Journoud has doubled this space-time with a dimension of memory. He firstly tried to construct through the tetralogy an absolutisation of time, which joins with “the first lines of the day” [47] and liberates a pure physics of the book:


I have always considered that my books were like a suspense around a fluid periphery and, at the same time, oriented by a common center. Something like a fiction in so far as, of course, I believe neither in center nor origins. But there is, if you like, something of the physical??”yes, physical??”in the center of a book, a sort of weight, a geometrical site for the structure of the book. [48]

53And the destiny of this physics of the book, as expressed in Theory of Prepositions and above all in Kardia, has become theoretically ever more startling. For the physics of reading has almost been seized by the remorse for a memory signified yet remaining unfulfilled. Through force of likeness, this memory has told its story. It is the story of what we have inexactly read, thinking that what is to be read may be read in the strict immanence of a grammatical, spatial, typographical disposition. What is a reading that does not read “this” in time? What is this disposition to read “this” in an actual out-of-time and to what non-manifested point? Does not a reading that is always already amnesiac rest, by force of this alone, against a kind of night?


It is a new nudity that comes to light. No witness to this change. The hand scatters an invisible content. The ground emphasizes no color. We advance with yet more slowness in this world disjointed, separated from a real that one ends up perceiving. […] Memory detaches an image denuded of dust, a thing still alive and palpable that will startle the instant. It recovers an ancient title. Experienced, undone night, where speech dissolves. [49]

55What the tetralogy “traces” is a suffering from the separation of time. As if the memory of time, since it is not narratable at the bidding of an experience, could be touched only through the resonance and propagation of waves attached to the written [écrit] in so far as the latter reverses its own letters in the anagram of the story [récit]. This whole time of memory becomes the story of the poem. It has no representation, its subsistent images are just losses, a terrifying cipher??”“43 525”??”obliterates names at the same time as it becomes the memory of that obliteration: “A number eliminates the name.” [50] This time is the delay of a crime known in the memory of the effacement that is its crime. The story of the poem can only be this safeguard that holds no secret, that is a new opening to time, always more radical in that it emphasizes, through and in our words, the inconsistency of all of history in us. The poem therefore would have had to have started with this lack of memory and have recognized itself to be tainted by the growing remorse of a delay to approach this lack. An exit from the absolutization of time requires the poem to accede to the being of the most uncertain time, the least conscious time, the most buried time of words. At the center of ourselves, in that which, by habit, we call “heart” (kardia), flows a time that is ungraspable because this center is but the attachment of a body or of a being that never came to language: a memory without memories where time rests outside of images, where death ceaselessly makes its return. “Put heaven alongside suicide. Violence explains nothing. Do not whistle. Sliding. Disappearance is in the glass.” [51]

56A new typographical sign made its appearance in Kardia, that of the locus desperatus, of the lost place: […]. It offered up a type of phantom or blank being of the time of the crime, a time that never ended and which began through the arrangement of words. The deep and perpetual incomprehension that verses have of being there pertains to this phantom. Is it not this crime that distances itself from us at the sidereal speed of the locus desperatus, that the poem seeks to strike with its “‘Pick of Interrogation’”? A story begins again, haunted by the blank events of the cipher of anonymous dead, crushed into the state of things. The remains of traces of bodies without destination, which are no longer anyone’s, invading the written with a memory all the more profound in that it knows itself essential and incommunicable. The written is invaded by the melancholy of the existence of its own words. It experiences the disappearance of what had never begun in it except as power of resonance and through an abstraction of time. A kind of weight of memory takes over every “here,” every line, every verse, which is no longer anyone’s. What is this eye of the reader who knows before reading? That only perceives the “here” because one has hardly had the time to see it in so far as it rests upon a time which is the very underside of its form and of its readability, a time into which “here” may sink to the point of erasing itself entirely:


there where there is no body
the equilibrium of the name
circumscribes an intimate extent
nothing any more separates it from itself [52]

58The reader reads without any eye, he sees without perception what no one can touch, he attains that which in verse forms the consistency of time and the scrap of existence that we accord it when the power of the readable is inscribed in it. A criminal state extends before any act under the eye of the reader. And the poem turns against itself, when silence no longer reigns. The crime that haunts it and the memory of this time no longer remaining hidden; they trace back to read the page like a “wall”: “This wall, further along, was red and confused with the Cipher.” [53] The unknown, but nonetheless recognizable crime, only remains latent because the words of its consciousness are anterior to the act. The poem makes readable the power of an act that wanted only its own erasure by word. And Claude Royet-Journoud’s books take suddenly seize this impregnation of open, immobile time, that no longer stops, and operates in us. Do we ultimately understand the least little packet of mots justes? Words, lines, verses, the “here”s are no longer there for something else. The physics of their presence no longer detaches itself from the extreme time of memory, which is their moral weight. This spine of time proper to language defines in Claude Royet-Journoud what we might call the probity of the readable.


  • [1]
    “The Death of Man, or Exhaustion of the Cogito?,” trans. Catherine Porter, in Gary Gutting, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Foucault (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 74–94??”trans.
  • [2]
    Claude Royet-Journoud, Kardia (Marseille, France: Pesty, 2009), 14.
  • [3]
    Hans Blumenberg, La Lisibilité du monde, tr. P. Rusch and D. Trierweiler (Paris: Le Cerf, 2007), 188.
  • [4]
    Interview with Claude Royet-Journoud by Emmanel Hocquard, February 8, 1982, Action poétique 87 (March 1982).
  • [5]
    Claude Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition, trans. Keith Waldrop (Iowa City, IO and Paris: La Presse, 2011) [La Poésie entière est préposition (Marseille, France: Pesty, 2007), 29].
  • [6]
    Ibid., 14 [12–13].
  • [7]
    Interview with Claude Royet-Journoud by Mathieu Bénézet, entitled “Faire un livre,” Digraphe 25 (1981).
  • [8]
    We owe our knowledge of this letter to Eric Pesty, who cites it in full in his thesis dedicated to Claude Royet-Journoud’s tetralogy, entitled “La Notion de récit chez Claude Royet-Journoud,” vol. 1: “Une bibliographie,” 2004–2005, University of Aix-Marseille, 26–27.
  • [9]
    Interview with Hocquard.
  • [10]
    Interview with Bénézet.
  • [11]
    Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition [12–13].
  • [12]
    Claude Royet-Journoud, ‘Reversal’, in Four Elemental Bodies, trans. Keith Waldrop (Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 2011) [Le Renversement (Paris: Gallimard, 1972), 68].
  • [13]
    Ibid. [102].
  • [14]
    Interview with Bénézet.
  • [15]
    Interview with Hocquard.
  • [16]
    Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition [29].
  • [17]
    Royet-Journoud, ‘Reversal’, in Four Elemental Bodies [Le Renversement, 10].
  • [18]
    J.-G. Hamann, Les Méditations bibliques, tr. P. Klossowski (Paris: Minuit, 1948), 129. Cf Royet-Journoud, ‘Reversal’, in Four Elemental Bodies, 14 [Le Renversement, 10]: “Sans souci de l’ ‘économie de dieu.’”
  • [19]
    It is Emmanuel Hocquard who had the idea of writing “book(s)” in a singular plural suitable to qualify the work on the book implicated by a tetralogy by Claude Royet-Journoud. Here I adopt this luminous invention.
  • [20]
    Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition, 42 [40].
  • [21]
  • [22]
    Ibid., 11 [11].
  • [23]
    Blumenberg, La Lisibilité du monde, 22.
  • [24]
    Royet-Journoud, Kardia, 20.
  • [25]
    Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition, 25 [23].
  • [26]
    Blumenberg, La Lisibilité du monde, 131–132.
  • [27]
    Interview with Claude Royet-Journoud and Jean Daive, entitled “Un Système lateral,” Fin 13 (2002).
  • [28]
    Immanuel Kant, “Attempt to introduce the concept of negative magnitudes into philosophy,” trans. David Walford, in Theoretical Philosophy, 1755–1770, ed. David Walford and Ralf Meerbote (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 229 [Essai pour introduire en philosophie le concept de grandeur négative, trans. R. Kempf (Paris: Vrin, 1972), 44].
  • [29]
    See Kant, “Attempt to introduce the concept of negative magnitudes,” 215 [16].
  • [30]
    I borrow this citation from the R. Kempf’s Introduction to Kant’s Essai (Paris: Vrin, 1949), 20.
  • [31]
    This is the first verse of Kardia, 5.
  • [32]
    Blumenberg, La Lisibilité du monde, 191.
  • [33]
    Kant, “Attempt to introduce the concept of negative magnitudes,” 228–229 [43–44].
  • [34]
    Kant, “Attempt to introduce the concept of negative magnitudes,” 229, 230 [44, 45].
  • [35]
    Blumenberg, La Lisibilité du monde, 193.
  • [36]
    Ibid., 192
  • [37]
    Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition, 11, 12 [9, 10].
  • [38]
    Edmund Husserl, Recherches logiques I §§ 6–9, French trans. H. Elie et al (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1961), 36–43.
  • [39]
    Royet-Journoud, Kardia, 14.
  • [40]
    Royet-Journoud, Kardia, 14.
  • [41]
    Kant, “Attempt to introduce the concept of negative magnitudes,” 217 [28].
  • [42]
    Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition, 39 [37].
  • [43]
    Kant, “Attempt to introduce the concept of negative magnitudes,” 215 [24–25].
  • [44]
    Royet-Journoud, The Whole of Poetry is Preposition, 45 [37].
  • [45]
    Ibid., 16 [14].
  • [46]
    Ibid., [33].
  • [47]
    Claude Royet-Journoud, La Notion d’obstacle (Paris: Gallimard, 1978), 13.
  • [48]
    Interview with Claude Royet-Journoud and Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, LINGO 4 (1995), trans. M. Cohen-Halimi in Les Cahiers philosophiques 20 (2003).
  • [49]
    Royet-Journoud, Kardia, 20.
  • [50]
    Royet-Journoud, Kardia, 7
  • [51]
    Royet-Journoud, Théorie des prépositions, 75.
  • [52]
    Royet-Journoud, Théorie des prépositions, 74.
  • [53]
    Ibid., 69.

The uncovering of readability defines what Claude Royet-Journoud’s poetics teaches us about the physiology of reading, or rather, about the filtering power of verses: an invention of space and memory for the words in the book(s). This invention permits an analogy with what Hans Blumenberg, in The Readability of the World (1981) uncovered in Kant’s heightened attentiveness to the act of reading: the most literal experience of thinking.


La lisibilité seconde définit ce que la poétique de Claude Royet-Journoud nous apprend de la physiologie de la lecture, ou plutôt, de la puissance de filtrage du vers : une invention d’espace et de mémoire pour les mots dans le livre(s). Cette invention permet une analogie avec ce que Hans Blumenberg, dans La Lisibilité du monde (1981) découvrit à travers l’attention très singulière que Kant portait à l’acte de lire : l’expérience la plus littérale de la pensée.

Michèle Cohen-Halimi
Uploaded on on 17/02/2015
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