For the Time Reading

specch, given during the first
manifestation of the Faculty of Invisibility
December 2006

This morning I decided to re-write my speech, or at least to add some remarks and ideas from yesterday to which I would like to refer with some brief comments. I would like to do so, since these remarks relate in different ways to my initial speech as well as they, in my view, relate in a specific manner to the task of this first manifestation of the Faculty of Invisibility. Maybe this might be an improper act of appropriating or incorporating, but I think it will also take place at the incalculable risk of being intruded, haunted or inhabited.

Within the name "Department of Reading" exists a slight reference to Marcel Broodthaers Musée d’Art Moderne. Département des Aigles, of which I'd like to make use of for a short moment. Even though it would be worth, in the context of the Faculty of Invisibility, to elaborate on Broodthaers fictive museum in order to address such strategies that occupy the "site of institutional control and determination" or that define the artist "as an administrator" rather than a producer, I'd like to take up just one aspect, namely that of addressing. But even here I won't try to embrace the complexity of this notion, the complicated and reciprocal inclusion of addressee and emitter. All I'd like to do in a few moments is to give some remarks on the proposition that there is not only a specific addressing inscribed within any given text but that this addressing forms the foundation of what can be called a community of readers.

To simplify matters I will shortly return to Broodthaers museum. Founded in September 1968 it was closed four years later right after Documenta 5 in 1972. A series of Open Letters with the heading Département des Aigles accompanied the different manifestations of the museum. Their programmatic character concerning institutional codification is obvious – for instance an Open Letter from the 19th of September 1968, just a week before the first opening, transfers the geometric forms of the objects to the employees of the museum(1): "… A rectangular director. A round attendant … A triangular cashier. A square guard …" Not less evident and that of course applies to the form of the letter as such is the question of addressing here and therefore the foundation of a community. In the context of the museum, this circumstance became effective on the level of institutional framing. And Broodthaers must have had that in mind when he used the form "Dear friends" in order to address an undefined public. So, my interest is simply to start from this correlation of the addressee, the institutional frame and the foundation of community. Involved in the constellation described above, is an aspect of language that has been described within the category of the performative.

In his commentary on Paul's Letter to the Romans, Agamben defines the performative as a "linguistic enunciation that does not describe a state of things, but immediately produces a real fact", and he adds, that this linguistic enunciation "can only function in circumstances, which, while authorizing it as an act, guarantee its effectiveness"(2). This is a quite short, but useful recapitulation of the theory of the speech act, that was introduced in the early 1960s by Paul Austin – a typical example for such an act would be when a minister joins two people in marriage saying "I now pronounce you husband and wife". And even though the performative is characterised by a selfreferential quality, Agamben reminds us that it still depends on an instance that authorises it as an act. In order to produce immediately something like a real fact, the performative is also based upon conventions and circumstances, which assure its validity and therefore its effectiveness. This dependence becomes quite complicated by the time a speech act takes part in the constitution of this surrounding frame(3).

What happens when the dependence becomes a matter of the very same speech act it ought to authorise? This dilemma takes a particular turn within Georg Büchner's drama Danton's Death that was written in 1834/1835 and covers the historical period of 28 March to 5 April 1794, a time when the French Revolution had achieved its political goals but still was unable to produce social equality. Büchner's drama cites the rhetoric of the revolutionary National Assembly and initially links the politics of representation to a speech act that derives precisely from its validity from an authority, which it first and foremost constitutes. What is at stake is the rhetoric of foundation, which has as its goal, a coming into power.

Two corresponding scenes open up a sub-plot within this drama. The first takes place outside on the streets of Paris, the following one within the Jacobin Club. Both scenes have at their centre a speech given by Robespierre, who was at that time in control of the Committee of Public Safety. When Robespierre claims in the first scene to speak 'in the name of law', which he defines thereby as the 'will of the people', then his speech gains its effectiveness simply from the circumstance that it is characterised as an enunciation of the will of the people, the sovereign subject. It is precisely this circumstance, however, that is taken up by the subsequent speech in an inverse manner, since here the will of the people is defined by Robespierre as a 'scream of unwillingness', nothing more than a signal of alarm, literally a 'noise-sign'. A yet-to be articulated speech, yet already a particular sign, that calls for an indeterminate action. This state of the will of the people, as defined by Robespierre, comes close to what Agamben names 'being in force without significance' and what in his view characterises 'our current relation to law'(4). Therefore, Robespierre's definition of 'the will' as a formal emptiness, a validation without content, performs at the very same moment the assignment of this pure validity to his own speech. The speech institutes to what it refers. The speech act is always already mired by that which precedes or surrounds it, in the constitution of those circumstances that assures its effectiveness, here its law-making authority.

At this point I will leave Büchner's drama, its insight into the constitutive relation between law and language, and I will return to the notion of addressing. My initial idea to enter Danton's Death was simply to demonstrate how far the category of the 'performative' can extend, to include speech acts that constitute those authorising circumstances to which they refer in order to achieve validity. I promised to give some remarks on the proposition that this applies also to the act of addressing, that there is not only a specific addressee inscribed within a given text, but that the act of addressing forms the foundation of what can be called a community of readers.

While I was preparing this speech I realised that within the Department of Reading we hardly touched upon the question "A Community of Readers", even though we discussed the essay such as We Refugees(5) by Agamben, a title that already calls this into question. Instead of paying attention to how the text might have already impacted us – namely that it might have assembled us as a specific community of readers in the first place(6) – we were concerned with such questions as: How to further a given text? How to insert comments? What about the distinction between reading and writing? What concept of spatiality, for instance, would a reading practice demand that at the very moment it takes place already has entered the realm of writing? What could it mean to un- and enfold the texture of a text? What could be an adequate manner to further the performativity of this texture? And how can we develop a figure of the text that would take in account the multiplicity of its texture? We were concerned with ways to further a specific potentiality of the text, which we called then its texture, even before we recognized its actual potential to constitute us as its community of readers, in the least, for the time of reading. And whether that would apply to different ethical, religious or political groups, a specific school of thought, the individual in its solitude or its profession, to an existing, past, future, substantial or potential community.

Of course it does matter. And of course I am trying to theorise upon an invocation, an anticipation that would institute the arrival of that, which it anticipates. Perhaps this is too close to an incantation yet I would still like to relate this assumption, that a text is performative in regard to its public, briefly with a context, which develops such an anticipating economy. A concept that adds up to this bond between a community to come and a specific eventfulness of speech, or rather Derrida’s notion of teleiopoiós, that he associates in Politics of Friendship with the gesture of the call, but also with the figure of the mourner.

I will quote a passage from Derrida’s book and underline two aspects that are interesting for our context of The Speech:

»Teleiopoiós qualifies, in a great number of contexts and semantic orders, that which renders absolute, perfect, completed, accomplished, finished, that which brings to an end. But permit us to play too with the other tele, the one that speaks to distance and the far-removed, for what is indeed in question here is a poetics of distance at one remove […].«(7)

Derrida develops this concept of teleiopoetics starting from an exclamation: Nietzsche's – taken from Beyond Good and Evil: "Alas! If only you knew how soon, how very soon, things will be – different! -."(8) Nietzsche's incomplete sentence, this is Derrida’s point here, announces a knowledge that is immediately withdrawn. The initially assumed nescience of the addressee – if only you knew – gives way by the end of the same sentence to a knowledge – that things will be different – which essentially turns out to be non-knowledge. At stake here is the thought of a linguistic event that opens "… to the coming of what comes …"(9). As such, the teleiopoetic speech, is defined by Derrida as an act, which brings to an end, whilst characterised as a poetics of distance, which means, by withdrawing the teleiopoetic act one "… makes the arrivants come – or rather, allows them to come"(10) and therefore the teleiopoetics find their kinship to Jewish Messianism as a "relation between the event and its nonoccurrence"(11).

This marks the difference to Agamben's exegesis of the messianic event, which follows Paul's Letter to the Romans. Where Derrida speaks of the one, who calls, Agamben places the figure of the emissary. Each "time the prophets announce the coming of the Messiah, the message is always about a time to come. […] The apostle speaks forth from the arrival of the Messiah. […] The word passes on to the apostle, to the emissary of the Messiah, whose time is no longer the future, but the present"(12).

Agamben therefore criticises Derrida's Deconstruction as a suspension of the messianic event, a 'thwarted messianism'(13). Furthermore, Agamben exposes a certain performative power of the messianic, leading it to "an experience of the word, which […] manifests itself as a pure and common potentiality of saying"(14). The notion of potentiality concerns one of the most important concepts in Agamben's writing. To give an adequate account of that would absorb too much time here. Therefore I will leave this question of a pure and common potentiality aside and get back to the figure of the apostle. As Agamben postulates, the time of the apostle is not – like it is for the prophet – a time to come, but rather the present. To be precise, the time of the apostle (and that counts for the messianic community as such) is the 'now-time', a term Agamben takes up from Walter Benjamin. With 'now-time' Benjamin refers to an 'actuality of the past in the present', a specific encounter of past and present, a possibility that remains to be actualized and therefore bears the "intensity of a promise of sudden change"(15). It is an exegetical practice:

»Das Jetzt der Lesbarkeit 'the now of legibility' […] defines a genuinely Benjaminian hermeneutic principle, the absolute opposite of the current principle according to which each work may become the object of infinite interpretation at any given moment […]. Benjamin's principle instead proposes that every work, every text, contains a historical index which indicates both its belonging to a determinate epoch, as well as its only coming forth to full legibility at a determinate historical moment.«(169

The 'now of legibility' evolves in a particular manner, if one relates it with another crucial concept in Agamben, namely that of 'ease' by which is meant an adjacent space. A chapter from The Coming Community entitled Ease can thus be read as a sort of translation of Benjamin's exegetic principle towards a mediation on human community:

»But there is also another interpretation of Badaliya. According to Massignon, in fact, substituting oneself for another does not mean compensating for what the other lacks, nor correcting his or her errors, but exiling oneself to the other as he or she is in order to offer Christ hospitality in the other's own soul, in the other’s own taking-place. This substitution no longer knows a place of its own, but the taking-place of every single being is always already common – an empty space offered to the one, irrevocable hospitality.«(17)

What exactly does it mean to exile "oneself to the other as he or she is"? How do we understand this "taking-place of every single being" as a commonality, if the space to which we exile is always, already an adjacent space, which seems to be similar for Agamben with the taking-place of the other? Well, I won't be able to answer such questions here, but if we are talking within the Department of Reading about possibilities and potentials to collectivise the experience of reading, then this common taking-place of every single being, this exiling into an adjacent space, might be a promising point to start from.

I have to admit, that both, the notion of teleiopoetics and that of ease, are not yet quite elaborated and rather remain vague. But to turn to Derrida was an attempt to offer a concept that attempts to grasp this correlation of the speech act, or rather, 'how to do things with words' – and a community to come. Derrida's teleiopoetics is about an anticipatory economy of addressing, that would make the arrivees come by withdrawing, thereby opening up the possibility of that which remains unanticipated. I wonder, if we can make use here of Derrida’s teleiopoetics, as an advancing backwards? And isn’t this also a question of the gift – the possibility of a gift, that wouldn't allow for any recompense, even in the form of gratitude or pure conscience? How to welcome the intruder?, seems to be an appropriate question.

I attempted, here, to elaborate on the bond between addressing and the institution, which is in my view related to the category of the performative as well as to more general questions concerning the foundation of community. Performative speech took place yesterday and it was addressed in different manners. I have the notion of confession in mind, to which Paul referred, the practice of truth-telling 'which insists less (or not only) upon the assertional content of confession', as Agamben notes, "… than upon the act itself of uttering the truth …"(18). Confession is performative. It is about relations to others, in regard to oneself and changing these relations by the very act of speaking, in so far, as the subject is bound to the truth he/she tells. As a religious practice, the effectiveness of confession is framed and therefore regulated. Another performative speech I would like to expose is the beautiful enumeration at the end of this potentially endless letter of the Department of Survival. For a moment this enumeration reminded me of meditative practices, that are aiming for an ecstatic state by repeating religious excerpts – drifting away in speaking, désajustement, in being displaced. What about the parasitic quotations of the commandments last night? Or the notion of game that might open up a practice of disengagement, to release a given object in playing from a specific regime of use. It might be applied to the question of another usage of language that would end with a given set of conventions, which regulate and dominate the public sphere. How to bring language to its very own degree zero in order to reformulate a linguistic practice that might fulfil a language beyond language? Talking about constituting ones addressee, I also had to realise yesterday, that it is necessary to think about strategies to get to know your addressee. As it was proposed yesterday, to invent a new language, we need to address the very setting in which we are living and communicating.

As a last remark – while re-writing this speech, I asked myself how far I am attempting to render the Faculty of Invisibility for the short moment of my speech, visible, just by speaking this theoretical narrative. Well, it brings me back again to Agamben’s notion of ease. Can we make use of Agamben’s concept to understand the very first manifestation of the Faculty, its instantiation and its common space?

If it’s correct, to say that here, right now, we are more or less in the situation of promising, maybe just suggesting or speculating about a possible manifestation of the Faculty of Invisibility, then all the Department of Reading can offer is reading or rereading excerpts, quotes, comments in order to address the power-play that seems to be at stake with the Faculty.

(1) Cp. Karolin Meunier, Liebe Freunde 1968, in: Wenn sonst nichts klappt: Wiederholung wiederholen, pp 108-126, pp 124-126.
(2) Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains, A Commentary on the Letter to the Romans (translated by Patricia Dailey), Stanford University Press (Stanford), 2005, pp 131-132.
(3) In how far this circumstance characterises the category of the performative in general won’t be discussed here. But such an analysis would have to address Jacques Derrida’s concept of iterabilitiy as it has been developed in the essay Signature, Event, Context.
(4) Giorgio Agamben, The Messiah and the Sovereign – The Problem of Law in Walter Benjamin, in: Potentialities, pp 160-174, p 170.
(5) Giorgio Agamben, We Refugees
(6) This doesn't necessarily imply the assumption that a text with the title »We Refugees« assembles us as a community of refugees. As Derrida has shown in his essay Signature, Event, Context, the performative is an act of communication that is not essentially restricted to communicate a semantic content. Nevertheless the title »We Refugees« might imply this assumption itself.
(7) Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, p. 32.
(8) Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, p. 31.
(9) Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, p. 31.
(10) Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, p. 42. This might mean to give space to the arrivants as a derangement in »our« time, a ghostly existence.
(11) Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship, p. 46.
(12) Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains, p. 61.
(13) Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains, p. 103.
(14) Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains, pp. 135/136.
(15) Katja Diefenbach, The Spectral Form of Value – Ghost-Things and Relations of Forces
(16) Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains, p. 145.
(17) Giorgio Agamben, The Comming Community, p. 23.
(18) Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains, p. 134.