R : O : T : F

The manuscript is not short, and there are many interruptions which I won't reproduce further. Torment of another kind is on the menu for today. But first a timely clarification: The action of ROTF is vaguely set in the seventeenth century; thus far, the "1642" of the captive's testament is the only year to be given in numbers. In other words, we don't know how long ago 1642 was for Adeline. It's a neat effect, causing the novel's primary plane of action to float dreamily (i.e. ahistorically) vis-a-vis the fixed date of the manuscript. It also reinforces my feelings that Joaquin Phoenix was born to play the role of the Marquis. For most of the movie he'd need to look about Martin Landau's age, but when the make-up comes off for the flashback sequences? Shot like Caravaggio paintings? I smell Oscar, people!

All kidding aside, Joaquin is my generation's finest screen actor and deserves our mad love and support. But it's Michel Foucault I wanted to talk about, or rather let him do the talking, starting with what he says about the mise en abime of the endlessly prolonged manuscript: "I wonder if it is not possible to construct or, at the very least, to outline from a distance an ontology of literature beginning from these phenomena of self-representation in language; such figures, which seemingly belong to the level of guile or entertainment, conceal--that is, betray--the relationship that language establishes with death, which is the limit to which language addresses itself and against which it is poised." Here it's "The Secret Miracle" by Jorge Luis Borges that Foucault has in mind, but it might as well be the captive's manuscript in ROTF he means when he traces the "prisoner's purpose in endlessly writing" to an aftereffect of language itself, and a symptom of its defining struggle against death. Because you know what Foucault says: "Writing so as not to die, as Blanchot said, or perhaps even speaking so as not to die is a task undoubtedly as old as the word."

Burroughs had it wrong, it seems. Language is no virus, but a mongoose. All Foucault quotes are from "Language to Infinity" as it appears in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (Cornell, 1977), ed. & tr. by Donald F. Bouchard (no relation) and Sherry Simon. All rebellion against death is by definition erotic, and ten times sexier than the undulating cobra which is the mongoose's favorite meal.


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