"All my favorite trains are allergic to death that bounce through the window"

from the brethren of manhood you know what I mean
To Bouchard and Simon's translation of the mirror analogy's first mention in "Language to Infinity" (p. 54), the following may be found preferable: "On its way toward death, language reflects itself, hitting upon something like a mirror [comme un miroir]; in order to shut down this death which would shut it down, language does the only thing it can, which is to bring about a likeness [image] of itself, in and of its own self, in a play of mirrors [jeu de glaces] which once begun is limitless."

Foucault is quite candid about the mirror analogy being after all an analogy: what language encounters on its way toward death is not in fact a mirror but something like one, in that language finds itself therein reflected. So what is this mirror-like thing really? Does it go by any other names? That's basically what I'm wondering here on The Ingredient, and it has me stumped. "Man's Glassy Essence" was dreamy and suggestive but didn't quite deliver up the mirror. And now I'm totally freaked out at where "Language to Infinity" has taken us.

The thing is this. In his account of language's fitful replication of itself "on its way toward death," Foucault does not use the phrase en route nor vers etc. but the expression sur la ligne de la mort, lit. "on the line of death." Just what sort of line is meant here is a densely haunting question. Even if "sur la ligne de X" is not drawn exclusively from the vocabulary of railway travel, it does at least invoke a train metaphor (as in "San Francisco-bound passengers take the Fremont line"), which Foucault couples matter-of-factly with death. In any case it is hard not to be reminded of the Holocaust, particularly when you recall the setting of the Jorge Luis Borges story "The Secret Miracle," Foucault's exemplar of the self-representation effected by language in its passage on the line of death:

"Borges tells the story of a condemned writer to whom God grants, at the precise instant of his execution, another year of life to complete the work he had begun... [D]uring this impending death, during the year which passes while a drop of rain streaks the condemned man's cheek, as the smoke of his last cigarette disappears, Hladik writes--but with words that no one will be able to read, not even God--the great invisible labyrinth of repetition, of language that divides itself and becomes its own mirror. When the last epithet is found... the volley of rifle fire, released less than a second before, strikes his silence at the heart."

"The Secret Miracle" is a story about the Holocaust. Yes it is, go back and read it. Jaromir Hladik, a Jew, is killed by Gestapo on March 29, 1943, fifteen days into the Nazi occupation of Prague. Does Foucault's mirror analogy rest on a concealed Holocaust analogy?

Apologies to Alli's readers for ending the week with such a somber puzzle. Really I despair of finding an answer to this one.


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