Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Severed Hand: Commentary as Ecstasy (another abstract)

“Immediately the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand: and the king saw the hand as it wrote”—Daniel 5:5

“Mais qu’il euvre des mains iteus: / Non pas des main esperiteus, / Mais des mains dou cors proprement, / Senz metre i double entendement.” [But he should work with hands like this, not with spiritual hands, but with actual bodily hands, without putting a double meaning on them]—Roman de la Rose, lines 11479-82

“La représentation de ces deux mains, corporelle et spirituelle, indispensable à l’intelligence du texte, a dû ètre figure dan le ms. original, autrement iteus n’aurait pas de sens.”—Ernest Langlois, note to the above lines

“The manicule is evidently the only sign that . . . is at once icon, index, and symbol” –William H. Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England.

The manicule—a marginal representation of a hand indicating the presence of special significance—constitutes a kind of originary conjunction of writing, deixis, and commentary. As sign of its act and act of its sign, the manicule is intelligible as the pure potentiality of commentary, commentary ‘itself’ before and beyond any specific content or determination. This potentiality is paradoxically grounded in the voidal aura that surrounds it, an aura whose focal point is the necessarily detached state of the indexical hand. Just as “the face is produced only when the head ceases to be a part of the body” (Deleuze & Guattari), so the hand becomes sign via its phenomenal separation from the body, a separation that the manicule typically materializes into a literal severing. Focusing on this negative attribute of the manicule, comparable to the essential negativity of deixis as glossed by Hegel (when we say this, a sign whose significance is wholly constituted by the contextual instance of its own event, what is said is in fact a not-this, a universal which annuls the singularity of what is meant), my presentation will argue for the importance and value of commentary as the production of the mutual exposure of text and world to the negativity of something hopelessly beyond or outside them: emptiness, void, absence, nothing, space, non-meaning . . . Commentary situates, nourishes, cares for, nests its text, but only by also cutting it open to something unknowable. I am interested then in commentary’s ecstatic capacity, the moment of the comment as an enraptured manual labor. The sense of this might be illustrated by picturing Bataille’s definition of ecstasy as a manicule in the void: “THE OBJECT OF ECSTASY IS THE ABSENCE OF AN OUTSIDE ANSWER. THE INEXPLICABLE PRESENCE OF MAN IS THE ANSWER THE WILL GIVES ITSELF, SUSPENDED IN THE VOID OF UNKNOWABLE NIGHT.”


Heather Bamford said...

I really dig this abstract, it and potentiality are so exciting! I am curious to know more about the voidal aura that surrounds the manicule, what are the things on the manuscript page that confirm that void? Is this void, as it manifests or does not manifest itself on the manuscript page, different from emptiness, absence, nothing, etc. Does void necessarily suggest a non-meaning non-thing? The margins are such wacky spaces, such potential, including, I guess, the potential to be cut off entirely!

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Indeed, how to think the void (properly) is a real problem I presenting to myself here, especially as void nothing so forth are all somethings and never what they are supposed to be. I am wrapping it up with severing as what renders void or emptiness paradoxically present, the "space" on the other side of the cut which is filled with nothing/anything. The cut of the page and the way this makes, not just boundary and finiteness, but everything on it also cut and opened to something not there (e.g. abbreviations). But most of all the Roman de la rose passage is totally irresistable (text indicating manicule), above all because the manicule is absent in most mss, and so both points to nothing and to the reader's own hands. Many thanks for these comments!

Heather Bamford said...

Really exciting stuff! I can't help thinking of how long that manicle pointer finger looks, as though it might poke somebody's eye out or pop a bubble. The severing idea is beautiful, now I am thinking of piecy fragments of course, the way in which the mark of the broken off piece sends us, like the finger, into a session of creativity, or forces us to call the potential something-does this lead to representation? The RRose example is lovely. Thanks again.

anna klosowska said...

"The face is produced only when the head ceases to be a part of the body"--so cool! And thank you for that Roman de la Rose passage, that's amazing.

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