A Time for the Humanities: Futurity and the Limits of Autonomy

By James J. Bono; Tim Dean et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Answering for Sense

Jean-Luc Nancy Translated by Jean-Christophe Cloutier

Write me. Write anything.1
EMMANUEL LOI

The phrase—literature—is oral.2
PHILIPPE LACOUE-LABARTHE

Whoever writes responds.

To whom or to what he or she responds, tradition has given many names. There’s been the Muse, poetic Fury, Genius with or without a capital “G,” inspiration, at times the mission or the vocation, at other times a necessity of the soul or of nerves, a grace from the heavens, a sacred injunction, a duty to remember or to forget, an auto-engendering of the text. But the most ancient name is thea in the first verses of the Iliad: “Sing, goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son Achilleus. …”3 In this incipit of Western literature, the poet merely utters the first sentence—or at most the sentences that lead up to the question: “What god was it set them together in bitter collision?” and the response (“Zeus’s son and Leto’s”) commits the entire poem, which, it must be well understood, is henceforth being sung by Thea.

Homer does not write himself: He lets the divine voice sing. Him, the aede, he sings in as much as he interprets the divine song—this song that he asks her to sing (“menin aeide thea”): He does in this way what he expects

Originally published as “Répondre du sens” in Jean-Luc Nancy, La pensée dérobée,
pp. 167–78, copyright © Éditions Galilée, 2001. Reprinted with permission.

-84-

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