A Poetics of Quandary. Perec's W Ou le Souvenir D'enfance and the Figure of Assemblage

By Chambers, Ross | French Forum, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

A Poetics of Quandary. Perec's W Ou le Souvenir D'enfance and the Figure of Assemblage


Chambers, Ross, French Forum


  Desormais, des souvenirs existent ... mais rien
  ne les rassemble.

  W ou le souvenir d'enfance, 97

I

In L'Attente l'oubli, Maurice Blanchot speculates that forgetting or oblivion (l'oubli) is the way we have of "recalling" death, the radical other of human existence. (1) This essay is not oriented toward philosophical thinking; it concerns a point of rhetoric. But it is devoted to the proposition that silence, when it becomes a form of utterance, can function as a way of "speaking"--or better: bespeaking--that sense of void that is perhaps a way, for us, to remember, to "recall," the other that defies our ability directly to speak it. Can there be a writing of silence, where silence utters otherness? Of what would such a "password" of alterity consist? Might it be a form of prosopopoeia, a way of im-"person"-ating, by making a "mask" for--a prosopon--that which we would thus be enabled to acknowledge or recognize without describing or naming it as anything but the other. Other than we are, but also ourselves-as-other, another "us"?

The practice of assemblage is an ancient one. The Bible is an example: I mean both the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Bible, and also the assemblage that brings together these two assemblages of texts. It shows us that an assemblage can be multi-authored, and created over a very long period of historical time. (2) Nevertheless assemblage can be considered a modern trope, both because it does not appear to have been recognized in Classical and Early Modern rhetorics as a figure, and because its relatively recent proliferation (in art, cinema, writing; on the pages of newspapers and on computer screens ...) suggests that it may have specific relevance to peculiarly modern concerns and hantises--including those that for present purposes I am identifying as a certain interest in or sensitivity to alterity as a category. Such an interest encompasses attempts to find aesthetic ways of presencing or making sensible that which constitutively lies beyond the reach of more supposedly "direct" modes of presentation (representation, expression). And so, like "montage" or in painting "collage," the word assemblage has come recently to refer to a technique of agencement that Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, resorting to metaphor, call "making the language stammer" and identify, more soberly, as a mode of "disjunctive synthesis." (3) Assemblage is an imperfect translation of agencement (or, more fully, "agencement d'enonciation collective") since the French word refers to a technique or device, as assemblage does, but also and inseparably to the effect or outcome of that technique: the "agencing" of an effect of signification that would be unavailable to direct expression and even escapes authorial control, but can nevertheless be registered and acknowledged (if not described) through an act of reading that in turn has cultural effects.

The abdication of authorial control implied by the word agencement accounts for the possibility of multi-authored assemblages whose authors may well be unaware of one another's existence. The cultural effectivity of such agencing is what I identify as the presencing of the other, and putatively of the radically other that so concerns writers like Blanchot as well as the relative (or "social") other(s) that are the chief concern of Deleuze and Guattari. In the case of the Bible, the radically other might be designated as the sacred. In the case of the authored assemblage that is Perec's W ou le souvenir d'enfance, it might be named as the void, as oblivion, as emptiness, nothingness or forgetting; or again as atrocity, the Shoah, death, danger or destruction: what Perec calls "l'Histoire avec sa grande Hache." (4) Or perhaps it is just an eloquent silence.

Three theoretical moments have been particularly relevant to an analysis of assemblage as a modern trope, that is, as a mode of figuration. These are the moments of Mallarme and of Jakobson, and especially the moment of Deleuze and Guattari, to which I have already alluded.

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