Aesthetics of Negativity: Blanchot, Adorno, and Autonomy

By William S. Allen | Go to book overview

6
The Language-Like Quality of the Artwork

Derrida structures his acceptance speech for the Adorno Prize around a dream that Benjamin had in October 1939, which he subsequently wrote about in a letter to Gretel Adorno. In this dream, Benjamin recalled a conversation in which he said in French, “It was about changing a poem into a fi chu.”1 Within the context of the dream Benjamin interprets this last word as meaning “scarf,” Halstuch; in German this word refers to the cravats or neckerchiefs worn by men, whereas the French word refers to a triangular shawl worn by women around the head or shoulders. However, as Derrida points out, fi chu is a much more formless and peculiar word than this, as it can also be used as an adjective meaning that which is rotten or condemned in the sense of being “done for” or, colloquially, “fucked” (foutu), in the exaggerated rhetoric of eschatological or scatological destruction. This meaning is carried over into related expressions, for example, when one says that one is mal fichu (to feel lousy or rough), or simply fi chu (to be nasty to someone, in the sense of “he is fi chu”: mocking or disrespectful), although conversely it is also possible to say that someone is bien fichu (physically attractive, “well-built”), such that, as Derrida notes, it is possible to be all three at the same time without contradiction. We could then surmise that the underlying meaning of the adjectival sense of fi chu refers to whether something or someone is in good shape or in bad shape, with the sexual and functional connotations that this would then have. But fi chu on its own generally seems to carry the meaning of mal fichu, with the sense that the condition of being in good shape is unusual enough to carry its

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