"The writer... is the person who does not allow the obligation of their language to speak for them... and has a utopian vision of a total language in which *nothing is compulsory*. [...] This total language, brought together beyond all normal linguistic practice by the writer, is not the lingua adamica, the perfect, original paradisiac language. It is, on the contrary, made up from the hollowness of all languages, whose imprint is carried over from grammar to discourse." —Roland Barthes


(quoted in Johnson, Kent. “A Fractal Music: Some Notes on Zukofsky’s Flowers.” Upper Limit Music: The Writing of Louis Zukofsky, edited by Mark Scroggins, University of Alabama Press, 1997.) (originally from an essay by Barthes called "Drama, Poem, Novel" which... seems to exist on the internet only in quotation form, but I'm getting NYU's copy from the offsite holdings soon to make sure this is for real, which is important, because geez what a good and important quote)

@aparrish I'm not sure I even buy Barthes' take here. The writers I know, although they may have an interest in universal taxonomic or auxiliary languages like Real Character or Lojban, take joy in focusing on the gaps and dancing around the margins of the inexpressibles, not because the stuff in those holes is important but because the existence of a hole is amusing. (But, I hang out with discordians, YMMV)

@aparrish Like, they're not interested in the hollowness of all languages so much as the hollownesses of every language?

@aparrish Maybe I'm misunderstanding Barthes' take or something. Punning is an example of the behavior I'm trying to describe: an accidental ambiguity creates a wormhole through semantic space, and the writer, delighted, jumps in and out of it, often saying nothing of importance but just saying whatever justifies the most intricate dance.

@enkiv2 "The writer, in this case alone, special, and in opposition to all those who speak or who write the language in order to communicate, is the person..." is the first line of the quote without the ellipsis. I think he's saying that this is the unique calling of the writer, not that every writer does this habitually. and it's not hard to think of writers who specifically are interested in linguistic innovation beyond puns imo? (zukofsky for one, gertrude stein, hell even tolkien in his way)

I think of wordplay in general as having forms that depend on the particulars & accidents of languages, but this might not be how everybody frames it.

Are writers particularly or uniquely interested in pan-linguistic structures? Maybe. I feel like this comes out of a generalization from particulars, through an immersion in particulars. I might be coming at it from a strange angle though.

Also I wouldn't be surprised if Barthes said exactly that in the next paragraph, since French philosophers often have this zig-zaggy argument style.

@ultimape @aparrish
This is sort of exactly what I mean. Lipograms are an artificial example of the natural glitches I find writers often have a love for.

The desire for linguistic universals strikes me as related to engineering projects that only look good from above (although they inevitably descend into incredibly fascinating messes at the ground level, just like any natural language).

We love the Real Character because it becomes the Celestial Emporium, not despite it.

@enkiv2 in this essay I think Barthes is in fact describing the work of a particular writer (Philippe Sollers). in that sense it certainly is a generalization from particulars. but I think the intent is more prescriptive than descriptive. personally I like the idea of defining "writers" as those people specifically with the license to dispense with conventional linguistic form and that writers who do not do so are neglecting the full range of possibilities of their medium.

Yeah, that makes more sense to me. Writers are, almost by definition, people who are uniquely equipped for fruitful literary experimentation.

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