Reappraising Tel Quel

It is thus within language, now grasped somehow mathematically as our milieu of transformation, that we must pose the problems that concern us – this is to say, outside of the notion of a character (to the degree to which you, actors, authors and readers of this life, you take yourselves for characters, you give in to the mythology of our society, you identify yourselves with a trivial and limited identity which is not your own); and also outside the notion of a product (for to the degree to which you valorise the product, you posit the existence of the museum and sooner or later of the academy; you favour a collection of things arrested and frozen in the pseudo-eternity of value, in contradistinction to the way in which what we are looking for ought to lead us on beyond all value). Sollers

In the post-war period, poetics would retain its historical weight especially among post-structuralists, gathered in the 1960s and 1970s around the magazine Tel Quel. Tel Quel was not only a magazine, it stood for an intellectual movement based on the principle of a non-activist approach to societal events and consequently the group was often regarded as conservative (Marx-Scouras, 1996). The revision of the attitude toward history is expressed through a particular standpoint toward theory as a special form of social activity, as a particular temporality innate to language. The temporality of theory is not built through its conversion into rational social action, but it is associated with a special level of history which creates a time for itself and represents an area of experience which is built between play, fiction, and sacrifice. It would be wrong to conclude that the theoretical activity was limited to literature in the classical sense of the word. Its activity, starting from analyses of new novels to analyses of language in general, was self-determined as social deviation, as a code of existential behavior, as a tendency to transform the space of the avant-garde into the space of the text. The idea of the necessity to preserve and develop textuality as a form of being is based on the historical criticism of total instrumentalization and ideologization of thought. From there derives indignation, or even contempt, for the concept of revolution. However, these orientations are not exhausted even when denoted as ‘art for art’s sake’, since they represent an expansion rather than self-sufficient limitations to the field of art. This is, therefore, poetic terrorism: an attack on the very concept of reality, actuality.

Additionally, this new approach to history represents a special form of elitism, insofar as we understand elitism as building a separate and special, rather than general and common, experience, available to the disciples of a special approach to text. Therefore, Tel Quel’s activity can also be understood as a form of special auto-ironic esotericism—mythopoetics and mythobiography. The poetic language was understood as an autonomous affirmative force, and the concept of radical textuality was related to the self-determination of intellectuals against the ideology-saturated social context. It is likely that the key concept of “ideology without ideology” formulated at Tel Quel could be reduced to the request for preserving text and textuality against the attacks of instrumentalized thinking (Richardson, 2001). Thus can also be interpreted the predominantly critical view of Marxism or its revision towards the increasing autonomy of text. Distancing from ideology and focusing on text as a special field of experience, a special field of the policy of action, was built on a discontinued relationship towards social reality, developed all the way to the complete dissolution of narrative and to a new attitude toward fiction, which leads to distancing from the issue of real and unreal, objective and subjective experiences.

There was also an observation that logocentrism cannot be overcome, but insisting on separation from it and this in the form of historical consciousness through the special mission of textualizing history, through initiation into the infinity of text, through holding onto the string of constant criticism of representation, affirming fiction not only as pure linguistic experience, but also as the paradigmatic field of language itself. Therein lies the radicality of this approach and at the same time its historical weight. Its initial focus on radical critique of instrumentalized social reality, which in its extreme (most superficial) aspects becomes exhausted in the de-objectivized and empirically vacant social engagement could be called conformist rather than radical. An effort to maintain, exhibit and carry out the autonomy of textuality as a special form of social consciousness and social action was the basic characteristic. At the end of the Hegelian dialectic junction of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, we now also have deconstruction, as the introduction of a fourth term which will mimetically shift the entire frame (of referencing something) into the text. In that respect, it could be said that dissemination contains elements of sacred experience. The sacrality of that approach is not explicit and is evidenced indirectly, through an effort to create a distance from its ‘dirty’ content of the gift, ‘dirty’ content of experience—more precisely, simply from experience. To erase experience means to write. Writing is a form of forgetting and a gestural form of gifting.

It would be inconsiderate to pretend that in these ideas we do not recognize features of Nietzsche’s poetic decomposition of experience, where poetics functions as a mechanism for decomposing the rational attitude toward the world and as affirmation of power in the prophetic sense of destiny, tragedy—willing confrontation with what is repressed and destructive. Still, it is not that simple to derive conclusions on what is precisely being ‘killed’ by Nietzsche’s poetics and what exactly is heralded in that historical sense. It refers to a certain kind of action and thought opposed to rationalist projects, and through this it leads to changing the very attitude toward history— deconstructing it, “satirizing” with it, and destroying it in its meaning of linear events and metaphysical derivation. The poetic prophecy that announces the arrival of superman is the stake of power in the space of historical discontinuity, in which it moves, with only a certain risk, rather than certainty, through ambivalence of thinking. This is a general trait of prophesies: they largely depend on how they are read. Later, this Nietzschean context of writing will be denoted by Derrida as freeing the signifier from its determination by Logos, in the way that reading and text become primary operations with respect to Logos (Derrida, 1998).

Introducing poetics and its irrational contents into the space of philosophy has always been somewhat subversive, with a tendency to overstep and transform the boundaries of this discipline. At the same time, it has always been political to an extent. This subversive dissent could not be completely avoided from the beginning; poetics in its authentic form is sublimation without referential return, possible for every human precisely because they are detached from their simple origin (Bachelard,1983).

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