Monday, January 28, 2013

the discourse on language

(by michel foucault)



into this lecture, 
as into all the others 
I shall be delivering, 
perhaps over 

the years ahead. 

I would have preferred 

borne way beyond 

all possible beginnings. 

At the moment of speaking, 
I would like to have perceived a 
nameless voice, 
long preceding me, 
leaving me merely 
to enmesh myself in it, 
taking up its cadence, 
and to lodge myself, 
when no one was looking, 
in its interstices 
as if it had paused 
an instant, 

in suspense, 





There would have been no beginnings: 
instead, speech would proceed from me, 
while I stood in its path 

– a slender gap – 

the point of its possible disappearance. 

Behind me, I should like to have heard (having been at it long enough already, repeating in advance what I am about to tell you) the voice of Molloy, beginning to speak thus: ‘I must go on; I can’t go on; I must go on; I must say words as long as there are words, I must say them until they find me, until they say me – heavy burden, heavy sin; I must go on; maybe it’s been done already; maybe they’ve already said me; maybe they’ve already borne me to the threshold of my story, right to the door opening onto my story; I’d be surprised if it opened’. 

A good many people, I imagine, harbour a similar desire to be freed from the obligation to begin, a similar desire to find themselves, right from the outside, on the other side of discourse, without having to stand outside it, pondering its particular, fearsome, and even devilish features. To this all too common feeling, institutions have an ironic reply, for they solemnise beginnings, surrounding them with a circle of silent attention; in order that they can be distinguished from far off, they impose ritual forms upon them. Inclination speaks out: ‘I don’t want to have to enter this risky world of discourse; I want nothing to do with it insofar as it is decisive and final; I would like to feel it all around me, calm and transparent, profound, infinitely open, with others responding to my expectations, and truth emerging, one by one. All I want is to allow myself to be borne along, within it, and by it, a happy wreck’. Institutions reply: ‘But you have nothing to fear from launching out; we’re here to show you discourse is within the established order of things, that we’ve waited a long time for its arrival, that a place has been set aside for it – a place which both honours and disarms; it; and if it should happen to have a certain power, then it is we, and we alone, who give it that power’. Yet, maybe this institution and this inclination are but two converse responses to the same anxiety: anxiety as to just what discourse is, when it is manifested materially, as a written or spoken object; but also, uncertainty faced with a transitory existence, destined for oblivion – at any rate, not belonging to us; uncertainty at the suggestion of barely imaginable powers and dangers behind this activity, however humdrum and grey it may seem; uncertainty when we suspect the conflicts, triumphs, injuries, dominations and enslavements that lie behind these words, even when long use has chipped away their rough edges. What is so perilous, then, in the fact that people speak, and that their speech proliferates? Where is the danger in that?