- Corpus-[corpus]:hand, handiwork, Habitat, gifts, feet, footnotes, and the 'ob-scene'
The present is, in fact, made out of the residue of the past.—Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager (2003)
For here the question is nothing less, I venture to say, than the problem of man, of man's humanity, and of humanism. But situated where language no longer lets itself be effaced.—Jacques Derrida, "Geschlecht II: Heidegger's Hand" (1987)
A note to readers, an apologia: this is an experimental critical theory essay, a performative piece of academic writing that attempts to wrestle with the porous zones, the hiccups, slips and falls between languages, translations, and between writing and genre. Some readers may find it obscure, dense, in parts; open and too free, too vulnerable, too self-revealing or narrative–too variable in its intensities, its modalities, its genres. But that is also the point. It is in part ficto-critical. It borrows from auto-ethnography, poethics and performance writing in order to think about the layered, affective, dramaturgical work of thought. We sit at our desks, underline books in pencil or pen, scribble in margins. We listen to traffic or roosters or the incessant drivel of a restless mind. Perhaps we remember particular moments that define an instance of reading; perhaps an election was on. But how have we written this material embeddedness, this politics? Perhaps our critical arguments deal with these directly; if not, the material conditions of the production of our labor disappear. We reduce extraneous elements, abstract presence, as if the page could be divorced from its material and political history, and layers upon layers of previous drafts. This is another way, then, to think translation and "context": as a dramaturgy of bodily inscriptions, unfurling over time.
Setting the scene: Nancy's Corpus. The first scene suggests a fold. A site for thinking the intimacy of the book as a handling act. The translation of Jean-Luc Nancy's Corpus, by Richard A. Rand–a delightfully dual-language edition, in the case of the title essay, "Corpus"–claims here on page ix that this is the fold, the zero point, the ground zero, the core, of Nancy's... corpus.1 It is the zone from which and into which all of his thinking flows. This collection of texts, written between 1990 and [End Page 147] 1992, writes Rand, "can be taken as the summa of his work in the decades preceding and a formulation for the work in the decades to follow. It sweeps," he notes, "like the torch of a lighthouse, over the points of its author's compass" (ix). As I write and muse on this, my shoulders aching from the hard wood stool I have been using as a chair until I can make time to purchase a new one–the birds in the garden out back, and my tea, finished (I will have to make a new pot), I note how pleased I was walking into the bookstore to buy this Corpus, and find that it was a dual language edition. In this English-speaking world–my habitus–I have come into the habit of buying books in English even when they were written in my father's French, because I can use them to teach. It also means I tend to write in them less. My marks, once covering the page as records of the movement of the mind reading, are abandoned for the sake of the crisp white leaf from which I impart unadorned thought. I rarely allow myself the same thinking with pencil in hand; it will make too much of a mess on the page, though some marks, scrawled like a doctor's prescription, made hazy by the work of the photocopy machine, offer up a mystique of another sort: a blurry authority leaving cues as if to say "this matters." This is matter for thought; it is "sediment," leaving residue on the page where my work of thinking took place. In Sara Ahmed's terms, the background against which thinking happened comes to the fore.2 But so too what I experience as the loss of writerly hapticity–my habitual contact...