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Reviewed by:
  • Boundaries: Writing and Drawing
  • Tom Conley
Boundaries: Writing and Drawing, edited by Martine Reid; Yale French Studies, iv & 268 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994, $15.95 paper.

The fifteen articles of this issue of Yale French Studies discern the limits of meaning and legibility wherever writing and drawing become coextensive. In pondering the origins of writing Henry-Jean Martin (in Le pouvoir et l’histoire de l’écrit) has recently asked if script and print have evolved from pictographic or hieroglyphic writing. If so, he implies, to what degree does visual force animate all writing? How does meaning, otherwise conveyed through writing, get complicated or subverted by the shape or motion of its form? When does the writer engage the illegible to call into question communication in general? Citing Michel Foucault, for whom calligraphy and drawing offer a glimpse of an “immense and unavowable teratology” (p. 12), the editor argues that the visible matter of discourse becomes its repressed or irrecuperable—hence supremely literary—worth.

She organizes the contributions under three rubrics. Part one studies the history of the relation of writing to drawing through emphasis on psychogenesis. For Serge Tisseron an “inscriptive gesture” (p. 29), a memory of a manual pleasure, is relayed through the artist’s or writer’s labors. The written trace recalls originary separation, the page becoming a “metaphoric container of one’s own body and the mother’s body” (p. 41). Georges Roque shows how postcartesian ideology associates line with philosophy and relegates color to a lower order of sensation. In a Derridean turn he notes, “color is to drawing as [End Page 410] writing is to speech” (p. 57). Jean-Gérard Lapacherie argues that we are taught to exclude reading from the act of looking at a text, and that contemporary literature forcibly erodes that division.

Part two is devoted to close analysis of writers who draw. Jacques Leenhardt brilliantly analyzes visual and aural displacements, even condensations, what he calls “monograms of sensation,” in the sketches and notes in Stendhal’s Journal de Paris. Alain Buisine traces the appeal that drawings of Rimbaud’s face had for the poet’s milieu. Claude Gandelman studies Proust’s manuscript drawings in light of the broader process of dreamwork in A la recherche du temps perdu. Looking at the Cahiers, 1894–1914, Serge Bourjea contends that for Paul Valéry the labors of intellection and writing are a “matter of sketching” (p. 137), or of perpetually “rough” drafting. Jacques Derrida’s “Maddening the Subjectile,” Mary Ann Caws’s limpid translation of an essay on Artaud’s textual drawings (“Forcener le subjectile”), defines a pictogram as what moves ceaselessly and inseparably between painting, drawing, and verbal expression.

Part three moves toward artists who write. Bernard Vouilloux rehearses Derrida’s arguments about the “supplement” and the pictogram to themes of painting and painters in Rousseau’s early and later works. Michel Thévoz gives a dazzling reading of Jean Dubuffet’s art brut dans l’écriture, the explosive sketching of discourse that fractures the icons of elegance and control that project the myth of clear and classical French. Jan Baetens calls “latent violence” the marvelous areas where image, geometrical form, typography, and enunciation abut each other in M. C. Escher’s drawings, Régis Franc’s comic strips, and Martin Vaughn-James’s La Cage. Renée Riese Hubert sums up the volume with a study of the double binds that Derrida and Adami project in their collaborations of drawing and writing.

This issue of Yale French Studies holds to the theme of writing as drawing. Martine Reid’s introduction and her two interviews with Michel Butor and Yves Bonnefoy map out an overall itinerary of vicious circularity. Literature is a continuing regression, fraught with pleasure and risk, that takes place when language, writing, and drawing are conflated. All of the essays are of high quality. Tisseron, Leenhardt, Derrida, and Thévoz set a standard to which the others conform. All adepts of art and literature will welcome this fabulous volume.

Tom Conley
Harvard University

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pp. 410-411
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