The new frame created by the act of suicide, I suggest, resembles what Aleksandr Rodchenko, in a 1930 lecture, called “foto-kadry”: an image that deliberately fragments, reduces, and reorients a scene, rather than trying to capture it “in its entirety.” Just as Rodchenko’s photographer employs fragmentation to achieve a sharper, contestatory perception of content, to disrupt the dismal and catastrophic continuity of everyday life, so the suicidal cut creates an oblique point of view directed toward an understanding that resides beyond the social maxim, and perhaps beyond narrative itself. The fragment becomes an index, which turns the spectator into an active participant in the production of meaning.’The gap thus opened up invites us to bridge it with new, or alternate, texts. Suicide provokes narrative, both a narrative inscribed by the actor as subject, and those stories devised around the suicide as enigmatic object of interpretation. For the gesture of self-destruction makes a person into both subject and object of the action. […] I want to argue that this kind of death does not close the sentence as a signifying totality. Instead, it generates multiple textual readings: legal investigations, explanatory suicide notes, allusions to other suicides.
In the case of massacres in particular, lifeless bodies are quickly reduced to the status of simple skeletons. Their morphology henceforth inscribes them in the register of undifferentiated generality: simple relics of an unburied pain, empty, meaningless corporealities, strange deposits plunged into cruel stupor. In the case of the Rwandan genocide—in which a number of skeletons were at least preserved in a visible state, if not exhumed—what is striking is the tension between the petrification of the bones and their strange coolness on one hand, and on the other, their stubborn will to mean, to signify something.
In these impassive bits of bone, there seems to be no ataraxia: nothing but the illusory rejection of a death that has already occurred. In other cases, in which physical amputation replaces immediate death, cutting off limbs opens the way to the deployment of techniques of incision, ablation, and excision that also have bones as their target. The traces of this demiurgic surgery persist for a long time, in the form of human shapes that are alive, to be sure, but whose bodily integrity has been replaced by pieces, fragments, folds, even immense wounds that are difficult to close. Their function is to keep before the eyes of the victim—and of the people around him or her—the morbid spectacle of severing.
Achille Mbembe, ‘Necropolitics’, trans. by Libby Meintjes, Public Culture, 15:1 (2003), 11-40, p. 35.
A poet invites, yes calls for, silence;
because he receives the word,
because he remembers.
but silence belongs to poetry,
ever since there have been dictators.
is dictatorship’s weapon against the word,
in order that our word might outlive dictatorship,
must master both:
our weapon, language,
and the enemy’s weapon, silence.
Our language must make visible the graveyard’s stillness
that dictatorship has produced;
and our silence must not ignore the screams of those who seek to pierce through this stillness.
This seemingly paradoxical situation forces us
into a hazardous balancing act with no net
into a circus ring, where history is the audience.
If we fall,
we sink into the chasm of oblivion,
accompanied by the audience’s jeers;
Lady History always was cruel.
The opening of a speech by SAID, an Iranian-German writer in exile, at a literary symposium entitled ‘Language and Dictatorship’
SAID, Dann schreie ich, bis Stille ist (Tübingen: Heliopolis, 1990), p. 71 [translation by Joseph Twist].
La cabina (1972)
I am an idiot by the suppression of thought, by the malformation of thought; I am vacant by the stupefaction of my tongue. […]
All the terms in which I choose to think are for me TERMS in the literal sense of the word, that is, true terminations, borders of my mental , of all the states to which I have subjected my thinking. I am truly LOCALIZED by my terms, and if I say that I am LOCALIZED by my terms, I means that I do not recognize them as valid in my thought. I am truly paralyzed by my terms, by a series of terminations. And however ELSEWHERE my thought may be at these moments, I have no choice but to bring it out through these terms, however contradictory to itself, however parallel, however ambiguous they may be, or pay the penalty of no longer being able to think. […]
What I lack is words that correspond to each minute of my state of mind.
‘The Nerve Meter’, in Antonin Artaud: Selected Writings, ed. by Susan Sontag, trans. by Helen Weaver (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 83-84.