When a work of language is (re)presented within a work of language like itself, there breaks out a feedback loop in which an echo and the call that produced it are heard at one and the same time. Usually this representation is allegorical, as in ROTF where the doomed captive's letter to an unknown reader ("O! ye, whoever ye are, whom chance, or misfortune, may hereafter conduct to this spot--to ye I speak") stands irresistibly for ROTF itself. The cases Foucault takes up in "Language to Infinity" are of a more extreme kind, less artful than uncanny, in which the feedback admits no diminution or abatement and echoes without end. "I am reminded," he recalls, "of an episode in The Nun where Suzanne's mother explains the history of a letter to Suzanne (its composition, hiding place, attempted theft, and finally its custody by a friend who was able to deliver it)--of precisely this letter in which she explains to her correspondent etc." That the Moebius-strip effect produced by Diderot's text is accidental proves Foucault's point that it's no mere literary device. "Diderot's 'blunder'... is due to the opening of language to its system of self-representation: the letter in The Nun is only an analogue of a letter, resembling it in every detail with the exception of being its imperceptibly displaced double"--made perceptible in The Nun through what we might call the "Milli Vanilli effect."

In either case, the effect is uncanny. And despite my best efforts, it seems to call for a mirror analogy. How else to compare the scenes of Adeline's reading in ROTF, if not to a hall of mirrors? There is at least no question that the prisoner's confinement in the abbey mirrors Adeline's own: " 'In these very chambers,' said she, 'these lines were written--these lines, from which he then derived a comfort in believing they would hereafter be read by some pitying eye: this time is now come. Your miseries, O injured being! are lamented, where they were endured. Here, where you suffered, I weep for your sufferings!' " In reading along with Adeline we encounter a picture of a picture, set inside the picture it's a picture of and made of its same substance. The weightlessness and dizziness it communicates to the reader have a lot in common with the feelings produced by life's most stirring erotic experiences. A telltale sign of language's origin in death-avoidance? Stick around...


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