The Latest Word from Echo
Where did Ovid hear (of) Echo? Like Narcissus, we still ask ourselves and her where she comes from: “‘Come!’ he cried out”; but “she answered his call with another.” 1 Echo does make a brief appearance in Hesiod’s Theogony and in the Homeric Hymns; she undoubtedly traversed many poems before figuring in Ovid’s. But Ovid’s Echo is not the same as either those who came before her or her namesakes from more recent antiquity: for example, the Echo whose story is told by Longus in Daphnis and Chloe or the Echo of the dionysiac chants from Nonnos and the stanzas of Moschus. For Ovid’s Echo talks, as John Hollander points out in his fine book The Figure of Echo (which studies mentions of echo in poetry as figures of repetition), whereas everywhere else, at least in these ancient times, she sang. 2 Everywhere else, she is associated with Pan. A complex relationship developed between them. Sometimes she is described as a clandestine imitator of his flute, sending the echo of Pan’s music back to him as if from elsewhere. Incapable of identifying the source, Pan seeks her furiously. Sometimes, as in the version told by Daphnis to Chloe, Echo, a sort of feminine Narcissus, “sings with the Muses” and “[flees] all males.” 3 Pan is both jealous of her and in love with her; not succeeding in appropriating either her body or the song that he wants, he brings about her death. Of the inimitable nymph only her musical talent remains, which from then on can only be exercised through imitation. Echo’s death forces her into collusion with Pan, whose music she henceforth replays, but it doesn’t dissipate the equivocal nature of their relationship. Not only does she continue to elude him and he to pursue her, “with no other desire than to know who this student was who was hiding herself” (71), but the tale irrevocably complicates the distribution of roles (as Pan conceives of it) between imitated and imitator, “master” and “student,” origin and derivation, production and reproduction, and so forth. It is easy to understand why this Echo made the lyric poets dream and sing, at least until the death of the great Pan in the last century.
Ovid’s Echo tends to attract rather philosophical poets and philosophers who are a bit poetic. Here is another impossible couple, that which Echo does not manage to form with Narcissus. And yet, not only [End Page 621] does she repeat the words pronounced by Narcissus, pursuing him by following him, but in doing this she changes them, thus introducing not only deferral, but also difference, as if to compromise the (narcissistic) identification of the word with its acoustic image (“imago vocis,” wrote both Virgil and Horace to designate the phenomenon). Examining the literary legacy of Echo’s trick, Hollander writes, in a chapter entitled “Echo Allegorical,” “Ovid’s poetic device in telling her story becomes in later poetry a way of deconstructing words, often of love, into their hidden but operative ultimae” (FE 12; my emphasis). To illustrate the satiric capacity of this deconstructive Echo, Hollander quotes the following excerpt from a poem by Du Bellay: “‘What is it to love and, to complain often [souvent]?’—’Wind [vent]’ . . .” (FE 12).
“Wind,” replies Echo, with a play on the signifier (souvent, vent) which produces an excess and an unexpected straying of meaning. For Ovid, according to Hollander (who, even if he doesn’t refer to it explicitly, had heard of deconstruction at the time he was writing his essay 4 ), Echo is an originary figure of deconstruction, as altering repetition (différance), as a mode of reading immanent to the text which turns reflexively back on itself, as a poetic method of production (of meaning) by reproduction (of sound). From an imitator dependent on an originary word, Echo becomes she by whom the word arrives, returning from sentence to sentence and from one text to another. I would like now to evoke several literary and philosophical metamorphoses of this Ovidian Echo, beginning with the “original.”
The traces of Ovid’s literary sources are lost. Ovid says nothing, and perhaps knows nothing, about the birth of Echo. Narcissus is, according to him, a child of the rivers Liriope and Cephisus. Echo appears in his narrative without a genealogy. A mythic character is rarely without parentage; is myth not first of all a tale of origins? Longus makes Echo the daughter of a swamp nymph and a mortal in Daphnis and Chloe, also putting her back into the Greek language she came from. 5 But his narrative comes after Ovid’s. Is it because she does not become “herself” until the moment she is condemned by Juno never again to pronounce a word other than by repeating those of others that Ovid makes her the mythical figure (originary but without origins) of what has no origin and is not original?
Echo is then, literally, the daughter of her name, a strange and difficult lineage: she embodies the conversion, by anthropomorphosis, of the phenomenon of repetition—the echo—into a singular figure. But the supreme paradox is that Echo can only really answer for her name when she can no longer answer in her name: from the outset an echo of herself, Echo is doomed to properly represent what is and designates the inappropriable in speech. A tale, Derrida perhaps would say, of the [End Page 622] improper and secondary “origin” of the proper name itself, and, even further, of all naming.
Ovid tells the story of the invention and the attribution of the name backwards. The Metamorphoses recount the total or partial transformation of humans into nonhumans, or their mutual contamination: for instance, the death and transubstantiation of Narcissus into a narcissus, the change of Arachne into an arachnid, the semi-animalization of Midas, and so forth. These are also, for the most part, myths of the singular and fabulous origin of generic names (the narcissus, the arachnid), of the metamorphoses of eponyms into anonyms. Echo herself comes in person onto the narrative stage before melting there into an echo. And yet, she disturbs the cycle and the structure of the metamorphosis. First because the metamorphosis of Echo into an echo is not the same as that of a young man into a flower: the echo as a phenomenon retains the “living” memory, strangely spectral while at the same time amplified, of the human voice. Thus, Echo does not exactly disappear. She outlives the others (for example Narcissus) as well as herself, or at least her body. Rejected by Narcissus, she fades away; at the end, reads the narrative, “only her voice and her bones remain” (M 3:398) 6 ; since the bones have taken the form of a rock, nothing endures but a voice: “Vox manet. . . . Sonus est, qui vivit in illa” (M 3:399–401). But her voice is enough to keep Echo alive, to assure her presence, to guarantee her an identity and an interiority—“sonus . . . vivit in illa”—without a body and without limits: a privilege of speech as the expression of consciousness, as the witness of being in its permanence, which John Brenkman, inspired by Derridean deconstruction in his reading of the Ovidian tale, qualifies as phono-logo-centric. Can we speak of the metamorphosis of Echo if, far from altering her being, it preserves and reveals its essence? But this is not all. There are two successive narratives of the “metamorphosis” of Echo into echo in Ovid’s text, the one extending and supplanting the other, without, however, annulling it. According to the first version, it was Juno who, in order to punish Echo for having tricked her by her deceptive use of language, deprived her of the capacity to express herself in her own name. But a second explanation, or fable, questions the status of the first: it was the refusal of Narcissus to reciprocate Echo’s desire which led to the dissolution of the grief-stricken nymph until nothing was left of her save an echo. There are two fables in one, two “metamorphoses” in—and for—one echo, or two echos given by Ovid’s text to the sad story of his nymph; and one cannot tell which one is or reproduces the original event, that made Echo what she is.
A similar divisive duplication affects the tale of Narcissus, an effect, precisely, of the crossing of his story with that of Echo, as imagined by [End Page 623] Ovid. Like Echo, Narcissus is doubly condemned: first by Tiresias, who warns his mother about, and as a result threatens Narcissus with, the mortal danger of his encountering himself 7 ; next by Nemesis, who appoints herself here as the spokeswoman for Narcissus’s unfortunate suitors and, primarily, for Echo. 8 In both cases, the divine decree (Juno’s curse, Tiresias’s divination), is doubled and, so to speak, replaced by another system of motivations, which intimately and decisively links the fates of Narcissus and Echo. Because she fails to get a response to her desire from Narcissus, Echo resolves into her pure sonority; because he did not answer the nymph’s desire, Narcissus is repaid with an unrequited love for his own image. Competing with the ancient gods of destiny, Ovid introduces another rationality, more “modern” in that it thoroughly humanizes and secularizes the story of these characters, in that it links the two mythical narratives, conceived by him to mirror each other and thus attract one another, in a single romance of unrequited love.
John Brenkman and Claire Nouvet have both tried to account for this duplicity or splitting within the Ovidian tale. Brenkman sees in the entangling of Echo’s story with that of Narcissus an attempt by Ovid to reduce the range and the incalculable textual and semantic effects of the drama of Narcissus: firstly, by inscribing the two stories in the restricting and reassuring frame of an apparently strict parallelism, a narrative device which obliterates their dissymmetry and limits the particularity of the story of Narcissus; secondly, by thus assigning a precise if not unique meaning to the tragedy of Narcissus, by presenting it as just retribution for his murderous insensitivity with regard to others: “[The designation of Narcissus’ encounter at the pool as a punishment] serves to prescribe the episode’s meaning—that is, to orient its multiple significations toward a meaning that will remain consistent with the thematic constructs of the narrative.” 9
The drama of Narcissus, sacrificed to the principles of coherence and linearity which organize all “classical” narratives, becomes, then, a mere consequence of the story of Echo. Brenkman emphasizes that such corruption of the narcissistic scene is only possible because Ovid, infringing upon or underrating the punishment inflicted on Echo by Juno, endows Echo with the capacity to “speak” for and by herself with full knowledge of the facts, to make desire heard as her desire, in short, to resist her metamorphosis into echo, into a nonperson and nonbeing. The Romantic rehabilitation of Echo and her repsychologization maintain the illusion of the identity and subjective plenitude of the character (including the character of Narcissus, commanded henceforth by Ovid’s Echo to hear and to understand her call), in the established, or restored, consciousness of their mutual presence. Without Echo, the drama of the [End Page 624] apparition of Narcissus to himself would have, on the contrary, revealed, to whomever wished to recognize it, the abyss into which the subject has always already disappeared. In Ovid’s tale, according to Brenkman, everything functions as if the insertion of Echo’s story, troubling the absolute singularity of the myth of Narcissus, contradicting its logical and symbolic primacy, attenuating its scandal, and even more strangely, dangerously simplifying the text by complicating the narrative, 10 has altered the meaning or the original structure of the myth like a bad supplement: an echo effect if ever there was one.
This is not the status of the Echo story in the reading offered by Claire Nouvet, even if her exegesis of the Ovidian text is in part indebted to Brenkman’s analysis. She herself emphasizes the psychological twist given by Ovid to the relationship that binds the two characters and their two stories. But, far from considering the encounter orchestrated by the poet between Echo, Narcissus, and their respective destinies as a superfluous addition, a gratuitous distortion, or even worse, a way of unduly moralizing the tale of Narcissus by turning his drama into a deserved punishment, she seeks to show and interpret its necessity. What Ovid’s text gives us to read in Echo, beyond her personification, and without the poet realizing it—such, in any case, as he figures (himself) in the account as narrator-witness—is the unprecedented formula and the violent experience of the originary alterity of the ego: the incarnation of Echo screens the echo 11 ; Echo serves to hide the meaning and the source of its repetition from the narrator, as well as from the reader and Narcissus. Nouvet, who does not get caught in the trap of denial and misunderstanding to which Echo has given her name and body, sees that the echo is neither an amorous nymph, nor simply what the dictionary says, that is, an acoustic phenomenon which sends back to the speaking subject his or her own words. Her extreme attentiveness to the impossible dialogue which takes place between Narcissus and Echo, such that Narcissus cannot be sure of the origin or meaning of a word that he recognizes neither as his own nor as that of the other, allows Nouvet to detect here the drama of the subject who constitutes and deconstitutes himself (or herself), in language: “The echo is not a distortion which affects the intended meaning of a statement. It marks the impossibility of determining any such intended meaning, that is, the impossibility of connecting a statement to the intention of a speaking consciousness” (IR 107).
And she adds: when it (the echo) “answers” Narcissus, it answers “by noting the original lack of correspondence, the constitutive otherness, which inhabits the question” (IR 109). Thus the encounter without encounter between Echo and Narcissus in speech repeats, even as it prefigures, the impossible encounter of Narcissus with himself, his [End Page 625] encounter with the impossible itself: his own absence. For Nouvet, as for Blanchot (whose gloss of the Ovidian text she follows in more than one regard 12 ), the story of Narcissus, rather than illustrating a human aberration or a particular case, relates the drama of any subject-supposing-itself-subject, the fascinating and terrible recognition of its (de)constitutive disappearance, at the very moment of its spectral apparition. Without his “echographic” anticipation, it is not certain that Narcissus, or even his reader, could have measured and drawn the consequences of this narcissistic disaster, which shows itself to be the disaster and the destiny of the Subject itself.
Unlike Brenkman, Nouvet attributes to Echo the essential function of a “marker,” indeed a revealer, of alterity. And this alterity or this alteration which strikes the speaking subject within and from out of his language, and which threatens or destroys the certainty of his self-possession, 13 leads to the subject’s discovery of this distant “other” that he finally identifies as his “ego” (Iste ego sum): an unworthy if not absent interlocutor with whom no dialogue is possible. 14
Brenkman tries to read Ovid against himself, that is to say without Echo. Nouvet uses Echo to listen to, and make us listen to, the tragedy (less an amorous than an ontological one) of the speaking subject. Welcome or foreign, salutary or disastrous, the presence of Echo in Ovid’s narrative raises for Narcissus, and for us, the question of her status: the question of the other. At issue is precisely the meaning of what we call “the other,” its experience, its dimension, its figure and place.
For Brenkman, the true test of alterity takes place not between Narcissus and Echo, but between Narcissus and his image. Contrary to appearance, it is Echo, and not his reflection, who serves as mirror and illusion for Narcissus by presenting him with—or by presenting herself as—another (like) himself (“an other like the self”), gifted as is he, with life and speech: the other self = the same. The encounter of the other of the self only occurs with the image, or, more precisely, at the fatal instant of its recognition as such, in keeping with the oracle of Tiresias. What does Narcissus finally see in his image? A nonbeing, a nonpresence, thus a negation of self: his very death. And it is at the moment when Narcissus sees that the image differs from an “other like” him (and insofar as, unlike Echo or himself, Narcissus, it does not answer him, it does not speak and does not address him in his language), that he identifies it as such, that is to say, according to Brenkman, as his radical other. 15 Only death, or rather “my” death, puts me into relation with what is entirely other than me; and one’s death arrives, for whomever looks it in the eyes, without the screen of Echo, as the intimation of what will never answer (me), thereby drying up my words. Is this to say that to speak [End Page 626] means, not only to remain (but in what sense?) alive, but also, and this is a contradiction, to live, alone, among ourselves or with our self? This is perhaps how Blanchot hears it, Blanchot who also does not believe in the call and the responses of Echo, in whom he hears and sees nothing other coming but Narcissus, and for Narcissus:
[The language of Echo is] not the language whence the Other would have approached him, but only the mimetic, rhyming alliteration of a semblance of language. Narcissus is said to be solitary . . . because he lacks, by decree (you shall not see yourself), that reflected presence—identity, the self-same—the basis upon which a living relation with life, which is other, can be ventured. He is supposed to be silent: he has no language save the repetitive sound of a voice which always says to him the self-same thing, and this is a self-sameness which he cannot attribute to himself. And this voice is narcissistic precisely in the sense that he does not love it—in the sense that it gives him nothing other to love.(WD 127; Blanchot’s emphasis) 16
Echo’s words, reduced by Blanchot as by Juno to nothing but an echo—“the repetitive sound of a voice”—signify in advance and signify nothing other to Narcissus than what the adventure of his reflection in the water repeats to him: that there is “nothing other to love.” Narcissus is alone, not only because Echo does not have the quality of an other, but also because, being nobody, she does not mirror him, failing to establish, or to make possible, “that reflected presence—identity, the self-same—the basis upon which a living relation with life, which is other, can be ventured,” leaving him alone, without her and without him, and consequently silent, that is to say, in the end, always already dead. And yet it is not for lack of trying to appear to him in the flesh and as other: if we believe Ovid, Echo, burning with amorous ardor, interrupts their impossible dialogue and “comes forth from the woods,” pushed by the desire to “throw her arms around the neck she longs to clasp” (M 3:388–89). 17 But Narcissus turns and flees from her. It is then that Echo dissolves away.
By refusing to look at her, desire her, or, literally, let himself be touched by her, Narcissus finds himself before his image, a mute siren, which exercises upon him the seduction of a double lure: the lure of the other (as object of desire) and the delusion of life, the attraction of a void which presents itself, for the time of a mortal mirage, as an other (life). Condemned to see and to have no living other, Blanchot’s Narcissus reduces Echo to nothing but an acoustic delusion (an image), repeating in advance the acknowledgment of absence which dooms him to identity himself with his image recognized as such (Iste ego sum). By eradicating the ontological difference between the subject and his image, the story of Narcissus offers an exemplary deconstruction of the [End Page 627] notion of subjectivity, a notion that Blanchot tries to foil in The Writing of Disaster, denouncing the fable of the plenitude and interiority of the supposed subject: “The use of the word ‘subjectivity’ is as enigmatic as the use of the word ‘responsibility’. . . . Why subjectivity, if not in order to descend clear to the bottom of the subject without ever losing the prerogative which the subject embodies, that private presence which . . . my sensate body causes me to live as mine? But if so-called subjectivity is the other in place of me, it is no more subjective than objective; the other is without interiority. Anonymity is the name, and outside is the thought of the other” (WD 27–28). 18
At the same time hero of his deconstruction and object and victim of it, “Narcissus” becomes, by fulfilling the promise of his death, what it had always destined him to be: an anti-Narcissus.
Where Brenkman sees in Echo an added character who alters the originary solitude of the myth and character of Narcissus, Blanchot sees in her the confirmation of his reading of the tale: a screen-body for the scandal of words that do not speak since they come from no one and address no one, Echo paradoxically highlights the mortal solitude of Narcissus, indeed his essential vacancy. And her “voice which always says to him the self-same thing, and this is a self-sameness which he cannot attribute to himself” is “narcissistic precisely,” Blanchot affirms in the above-quoted passage, “in the sense that he does not love it—in the sense that it gives him nothing other to love” (WD 127): she is narcissistic, she is not only the proof but also the figure of his narcissism, because he does love her, because with her he remains alone with—or rather without—himself. In this capacity, Echo embodies something like the truth of Narcissus, providing that, of course, we adopt Narcissus’s point of view, or of blindness, with regard to her.
But let us suppose that Blanchot and Brenkman had not turned away, following the example of Narcissus, at the moment when Echo wished to put herself between Narcissus and nobody; what would they have seen? Perhaps a female body (being or specter). Beyond their divergences, what these readings of the tale have in common, and what makes them possible, is the omission or the reduction to insignificance of sexual difference. Echo can only be “the same” as Narcissus, as Brenkman believes, if the (feminine) same (la même) is the same as the (masculine) same (le même). And if, for Blanchot, she gives nothing other to love, it is because he is indifferent to the difference inscribed in or produced by Ovid’s introduction of a female character in his tale.
Claire Nouvet brings out, for her part, the impact of the femaleness of Echo, or rather, of the echo. Why would an echo, in the fantasy that anthropomorphizes it, be feminine rather than masculine? Nouvet suggests that this is because the derived and secondary character of the [End Page 628] echo, which depends on a sovereign enunciation anterior to it to manifest itself, disposes it to take the figure of woman, since woman is always the second and secondary subject in the foundation myths of Greco-Judaeo-Christian culture. 19 But since, as Nouvet demonstrates, the echo given by Ovid’s Echo to Narcissus’s calls, far from confirming their apparent meaning, inflects and diverts them in an unexpected direction, Echo then especially figures the alteration which insinuates itself in all repetition, thus calling into question, by the acoustic return of the utterance onto itself, its originary intention and identity. The echo as altering repetition “returns” to Narcissus as the possibility of his alteration, as his unrecognizable and unappropriable reflection, depriving him, as Blanchot says, of “that reflected presence—identity, the self-same—from which a living relation with life, which is other, can be ventured” (WD 127). In this sense, Echo’s alterity does not so much make Narcissus likely to meet an other than “him[self]” than it puts him to the test of his nonbelonging, to the danger of his dispossession 20 : Echo’s alterity remains for Nouvet what it is supposed to be for Narcissus, the sign of an intimate foreignness hollowed out by the exteriority of language, his interior outside metaphorized into femininity, into an “alien” or foreign body, which remains, however, invisible or impossible to look at: the “image of our speech as an alien body that comes to us and deprives us of the power to both address and respond to an address” (IR 111–12; my emphasis), writes Nouvet who, herself switching from the third-person singular to the first-person plural (our/us) to describe the drama of Narcissus, identifies herself and us with him. The “other” which Echo embodies is primarily he or she who deprives me of myself (and also of a relationship with others) at the moment that I speak; we have already encountered it: my own absence. With Echo or despite her, the story is again only about Narcissus (or his death—as a figure of the death of the Subject—which has always already occurred).
Is the fact that the story of Echo and Narcissus seems to give rise to readings which adopt, consciously or not, the point of view of Narcissus on the scene of their encounter (regardless of whether they contest the appropriateness and the aim of this encounter or they emphasize its disastrous effects for Narcissus), an effect of Ovid’s text?
Ovid, however, would like—and Brenkman and Nouvet have amply stressed this—to constitute Echo as a subject (or a figure of the subject) on her own, as an other, separate. Not content to construct the legend of Narcissus as a counterpart, indeed an appropriate response—his own—to that of Echo, the poet goes so far as to incorporate Narcissus’s story within that of the nymph. Everything begins (or begins again, if we consider this story to be a supplement or a second beginning) with the [End Page 629] desire of Echo for Narcissus; we know what comes next: Narcissus rejects her and he is punished. But even when Narcissus, wanting to be alone, believes that he is alone, when he discovers in a clearing the limpid pool which will be his tomb, Echo is always there, dissolved by pain and henceforth intermingled with the forest into which she has retreated: “she hides in woods,” says the narrative, “and is seen no more upon the mountain-sides” (M 3:400). The pool attracts Narcissus because it seems to be unscathed, untouched, virgin to all contact, as is he: “[a pool] to which no shepherds ever came, or she-goats feeding on the mountain-side, or any other cattle; whose smooth surface neither bird nor beast nor falling bough ever ruffled” (M 3:408–10).
And yet Echo sees and hears him; in Ovid’s tale, therefore, she is the only witness to the drama of Narcissus, the only one who could have told the story to the poet who has recorded it. Unless . . . but I will come back to this later. She even has, literally, the last word from and on Narcissus: “His last words as he gazed into the familiar spring were these: ‘Alas, dear boy, vainly beloved!’ and the place gave back his words. And when he said ‘Farewell!’ ‘Farewell!’ said Echo too” (M 3:499–501).
Left mute (by Ovid’s decision) while he vainly addresses himself to his image, Echo remains beside her slumbering beauty, at the moment of his final passage. Narcissus is dead; she outlives him, as she has outlived herself, and begins a grief-stricken commemoration 21 : “His naiad-sisters beat their breasts . . . in sign of grief for their dear brother; the dryads, too, lamented, and Echo gave back their sounds of woe” (M 3:505–7).
Without knowing it, it is thus in Echo’s darkroom that Narcissus encounters and fixes his negative. Without knowing it, he calls her as witness when he addresses the forest, which he nonetheless identifies as love’s room: “‘Did anyone, O ye woods, ever love more cruelly than I? You know, for you have been the convenient haunts of many lovers” (M 3:442–43).
Without knowing it (but the woods know it), Narcissus’s love has found a refuge in Echo’s forested arms.
Narcissus, says Blanchot, “is supposed to be silent,” since he has no relation to others or to himself, not “knowing” himself yet since he has never encountered himself (se non novit): always already dead or still an “infant” (in / fans) in the etymological sense of the term: deprived of language, like a stillborn child. 22 According to Blanchot, Echo will make the silence of Narcissus resound. But this is to neglect Ovid’s initiative in transforming the scene and its stakes by giving back to Echo, against Juno’s decree, the initiative of speech.
Echo has hardly seen Narcissus when “burning with desire,” she wants “to accost him with alluring words and make soft prayers to him” (M:375–76). She desires him, so she wants to touch him with words [End Page 630] (“accost him with alluring words”). “Her nature forbids this,” but, the text reads, “she is ready to await the sounds” (“illa parata est / Expectare sonos “) “to which she may give back her own words” (“ad quos sua verba remittat” [M:377–78]). As told by Ovid, the story of Echo and Narcissus becomes a tale of the coming to language. What makes Echo “speak”? The desire of Narcissus, that is to say the call or the “appeal” of the other. “‘Is anyone here?’” (asks Narcissus) “and ‘Here!’ answered Echo.” (Forte puer . . . Dixerat: ‘Ecquis adest?’ et ‘adest’ responderat Echo” [M:380]). Echo does not repeat, she answers (“responderat”) the call, as the text indicates precisely. The structure of the Latin sentence doubles both the mirror effect and the effect of presence produced by Echo’s accompaniment: constructed as a chiasmus (puer / dixerat / adest // et adest / responderat / Echo 23 ), the distich combines repetition and criss-crossing, reuniting at its center the two formulas of presence one beside the other (“adest”), turned one toward the other.
“To speak is to hear,” wrote Valéry in Variety (Notebook of a Poet). It is the capacity to hear, that is to say the expectation and enthusiastic welcome of the word coming from elsewhere—like a desirable alien surprising me there where I did not expect it—which makes the poet:
Thus the functioning poet is a waiting. . . . He restores what he desired. . . . His ear speaks to him.
We wait for the unexpected word—which cannot be foreseen, but only awaited. We are the first to hear it.
Hear? but that is to speak. We only understand the heard thing if we have said it ourselves by means of another cause.
To speak is to hear. 24
This is what Echo does: she expects to hear: she waits and hears. 25 “She is ready to await the sounds” (“parata est expectare sonos “), the text says literally. Echo listens for what she desires; she hears Narcissus in advance, and waits to speak as if “her” words emanated “by means of another cause”: she isn’t called Echo for nothing. Let us look carefully at what Ovid wrote: Echo listens for “sounds” (sonos), in order to return them as “words” (verba): who speaks when Narcissus emits sounds? It is Echo.
“[Narcissus] calls again: ‘Why do you run from me?’ and hears in answer his own words again” (“‘Quid’ inquit / ‘Me fugis?’ et totidem, quot dixit, verba recepit” [M 3:383–84]). It is Echo who transforms the sounds—the insignificant articulations—emitted by Narcissus into poetic words: into words heard and addressed; it is she who, with Ovid’s help, changes them into words of love, by playing with the “sound” of language: “‘Here let us meet,’ he cries. Echo, never to answer other [End Page 631] sound [sono] more gladly, cries: ‘Let us meet’ 26 ; and beguiled by her own words she comes forth from the woods that she may throw her arms around the neck she longs to clasp. [‘Huc coeamus’ ait nullique libentius umquam Responsura sono ‘coeamus’ rettulit Echo. Et verbis favet suis egressaque silva / Ibat, ut iniceret sperato bracchia collo”] (M 3: 386–89).
At the sound of “huc coeamus” (let us meet), she hears and responds “coeamus”; let us join. And she throws herself upon Narcissus in order to join actions to her words. Who said, that is to say, heard, “coeamus”? It is not Narcissus, it is Echo. Echo is the poet. Ovid insists on this: it is the attraction of her own words that makes the nymph come out of the forest—Et verbis favet suis (and she is beguiled by her own words)—as if they came to her from elsewhere, the beguiling call of a beguiled other, an echo of Echo. But Narcissus pushes her away and she no longer hears herself speak: “a sound, and sound alone, still lives in her” (sonus est, qui vivit in illa).
But, just like Echo at the instant she saw him, Narcissus takes his turn at speaking at the moment that he discovers and desires his reflection, which sends back to him, of course, the image of his desire, including his desire to speak. The other that he has before his eyes “speaks” to him (“ verba refer[t] “), he is sure of it, he expects to hear it; and yet he who is there before his eyes, who calls him by attracting him, who gives him words, leaves Narcissus without a response to his desire, just as Narcissus, not understanding Echo’s words, had abandoned her to her silence: “you answer my words as well, but [with] words which do not reach my ears” (“Verba refers aures non pervenientia nostras” [M 3:463]), complains Narcissus who, upon noting the silence of the other, understands that there is nobody there.
Narcissus speaks, however, up until the moment of his death: he addresses himself first to the apparition, in the second-person singular, apostrophizing it as if a real person were present. Then, having understood that it is “him,” he continues to talk to himself about it, but this time in the third person, as if speaking of one who is absent: “I would this object of my affection might live longer; but as it is, we two shall die together in one breath” (M 3:472–73). Let us listen, together with Echo, to the last words of the dying Narcissus to the beloved object: “His last words as he gazed into the familiar spring were these: ‘Alas, dear boy, vainly beloved!’ and the place gave back his words in equal number. And when he said ‘Farewell!’ ‘Farewell!’ said Echo too” (M 3:499–501).
Who speaks thus of—or to—(the image of) Narcissus? Who mourns him as we commiserate with a child? Who vainly loved him, if not Echo? Finally, they meet in words, identified with each other, exhaling the [End Page 632] same sigh (the place gives back “his words in equal number”), at the moment that death separates them.
Blanchot has remarked upon the incongruity of Narcissus’s long tirade which contradicts, in his opinion, the fundamental “silence” of him who has never been present(ed) to himself: “a distance is necessary if desire is to be born of not being immediately satisfied. This is what Ovid, in his subtle additions, has expressed by having Narcissus say (as if Narcissus could speak, speak ‘to himself,’ utter a soliloquy): ‘Possession dis-possessed me’” (WD 126). 27
Ovid has given speech not only to Echo, but to Narcissus as well: he gives it to Echo in Narcissus and to Narcissus in the forest of Echo. And what makes them both speak, what makes the other speak in each of them, is desire. At the beginning of language is the desire of the other: the story of Narcissus and Echo is in this sense a tale of the constitution of the living-speaking subject as desiring subject.
To speak is to hear the call of the other. But who is this other? Blanchot and Nouvet answer that it is language itself, emphasizing the manner in which Echo’s “responses” to Narcissus during their impossible dialogue commit him, if not to respond to “her,” at least to call back to “her,” before any recognition of the possibility of her existence, before any identification of her place of enunciation, before any intelligibility of the meaning of her invocation. 28 Who is this other? It is “Echo,” responds Ovid, who calls on her perhaps to point to the call of love in the call of words: to speak is to respond and to respond is to love. 29 Is it because she is a “woman” that Echo “responds”? Let’s say that love, perhaps, makes of all beings a “woman,” makes of every echo an Echo.
In what marks the height of the “chattering” that, in Blanchot’s opinion, weighs down the myth, 30 Ovid himself intervenes at the pool to attempt to turn Narcissus away from his reflection. Let us listen to his words: “O fondly foolish boy, why vainly seek to clasp a fleeting image? What you seek is nowhere; but turn yourself away, and the object of your love will be no more. That which you behold is but the shadow of a reflected form and has no substance of its own” (M 3:432–36). 31
Like Echo, and by her side, Ovid hides himself in the forest. Like Echo, he is invisible; like her, he vainly calls out to his darling child and is not heard. How many words are pronounced in this narrative! Yet all attempts at hearing seem to be doomed to failure; what is not seen is perhaps not heard. “It is necessary,” writes Michel Deguy in To That Which Never Ends, “to give a face to that which does not have one [so that] one may represent oneself and present oneself to the alterity of the other.” 32 Echo “speaks” to Narcissus, who neither sees her nor hears her [End Page 633] desire (though Ovid, who has seen her, hears it); Narcissus speaks to his reflection which does not answer him (but Echo, who has seen him, answers him); Ovid speaks to Narcissus who neither hears nor sees him (but we hear him). Each one seeks to enter into relation with the other, but all correspondence is cut off: there is no textual relationship. 33
What is the meaning of Ovid’s warning to Narcissus? He does not urge Narcissus to recognize himself in his image. He enjoins him, rather, in the name of truth, to recognize the ontological difference, the fundamental heterogeneity, between being and image. The philosophical stakes are high enough and, it seems, the possibility of error large enough, for Ovid to seek to interpose himself between Narcissus and his reflection and also between the narcissistic scene and its reader (a phantom spectator as is Ovid), in order to prevent any seduction of the reader by Narcissus or any mirror identification with him. 34 But Ovid could have communicated his thoughts to the reader in the form of “authorial” commentary. By intervening on the stage of the drama itself, by interfering as a third party in the scene that he is telling and by directly apostrophizing Narcissus, Ovid, as I have said, takes Echo’s side, joining his voice (vainly) to hers: “Echo,” or Ovid’s text in person.
Following Ovid’s example, Derrida believes in Echo’s desire; he hears it resound. Commenting, during a seminar devoted to “the secret,” 35 on the echological (this is his word) system of the Ovidian tale, he proposes a reading completely different from those of Brenkman and Blanchot. Whereas Brenkman writes in Narcissus’s name about the rebuff met by Echo when she tries to fling herself at Narcissus: “[Narcissus] at once interrupts the reciprocal circuit which would fulfill desire and breaks the channel of communication that supports that reciprocity—namely, the dialogue exchanged by two integral subjects,” 36 Derrida answers, as if he had heard him: “Echo offers herself to Narcissus, interrupting the already narcissistic symmetry within which Narcissus rejects her, within which he defends himself and folds himself in on himself, fleeing the love of the other, producing and foreshadowing the death that is coming to him, from him.”
But what also attracts Derrida’s attention is the paradoxical character of the young Narcissus’s suffering. For if Narcissus makes Echo suffer, he himself suffers from being Narcissus. What keeps him at the side of the pool and beside himself until his death ensues? What is the nature and the logic of his grief? Narcissus, Derrida remarks, suffers doubly, from separation and nonseparation: he is cut off from the other, from “the possibility of the experience of the other” (says Derrida), for not being separated enough: “‘but what I see and what charms me I cannot find . . . . and, to make me grieve the more, no mighty ocean separates us, no [End Page 634] long road, no mountain ranges, no city walls with close-shut gates; by a thin barrier of water we are kept apart’” (M 3:446–50).
A little bit of water (too little) separates him from the other as such, fixes him at a too close distance from the object of his desire: so close that he cannot go toward it, and thus “farther” than if oceans and gates made them inaccessible and invisible to each other. He is dying of “thirst” right next to the fountain. 37 Thus, what he is asking for, explains Derrida, is “transcendence, separation, the inaccessibility of the other, so that the other appears finally as it is.” Once he has identified this “other” as himself (this is the moment when he understands and asserts his silence), once he has perceived the narcissistic symmetry in which his image rejects him, he knows himself to be irremediably separated from it: inseparable (from himself), thus separated forever (from the other); the “loss” of the other henceforth evident, he is in mourning for him, 38 bewailing his death before dying and to the point of dying: “‘Oh, that I might be parted from my own body! and, strange prayer for a lover, I would that what I love were absent from me! And now grief is sapping my strength; but a brief space of life remains to me and I am cut off in my life’s prime’” (M 3:467–70).
In recognizing “himself,” Narcissus loses the other that he thought he saw, as Echo had lost him. In addition, writes Derrida, he “is crazy enough, lucid enough to want to be finally separated from what he loves, the other, distant from his own body, that is to say his own image, reflected between two bodies of water.” I take this last quote from Prégnances, a text written to mirror the work of the painter Colette Deblé, work which itself consists of “reproducing,” of altering the masterworks of the Western pictorial tradition in her own (“feminine”) way, in order to produce a sort of echo-picto-graphy of them. 39 Derrida adds, conflating his voice with that of Narcissus: “The love of self as other in separation, there’s the elementary solution.”
Narcissus’s “elementary solution” and his subtle calculation might satisfy the rigor of his thinking and perhaps respond to his desire, but it is not certain that even this could bring him closer to Echo. Narcissus asks the “other” to go away to provide an opportunity for its/her “coming” as such. And Derrida, in the aforementioned seminar, takes up Narcissus’s words and paraphrases them as follows: “‘Come’ signifies, then, ‘leave’. You must leave me.” Departure provides the only possibility for correspondence. But what does Echo want? Derrida knows the answer and repeats it: “what she desires is to caress him with words” (“Oh, how often does she long to accost him with alluring words and make soft prayers to him” [M 3:375–76]). Echo wants not exactly recognition, neither difference nor identity, but proximity. She dreams [End Page 635] a language which does not signify the constitutive gap between two subjects, an absence noticed and breached every time; she dreams (says Ovid) merely of words that touch, that put bodies, and not egos, into relation. A lack of narcissism on her part? 40 In a sense, she, who by herself can say nothing other, nevertheless “says” what she wants to Narcissus, something like: here (adest): someone is here; this affirmation of presence, or more precisely of a “being-beside,” refers undecidably to one or the other, to one therefore to the other. Even when Echo is invisible, unrecognizable because unrecognized, she continues to see Narcissus and thus to hear him, or to hear him and thus to see him. As soon as Narcissus speaks, he reaches her, and she vibrates and lives, or survives, to and at the sound of his voice.
Narcissus ends up by recognizing his image in the reflection. At the end of Ovid’s tale, just as Derrida said, he does not lack “lucidity.” The effect of (his) presence no longer deludes him—but still seduces him. However, he never identifies the source of Echo’s voice, even (and especially) when she, wanting, as Derrida says, to interrupt the effect of narcissistic symmetry produced by language, throws herself at him with her whole body. Could it be that Narcissus is only interested in specters? Or that an excess of proto-Derridean lucidity holds him back from assigning a stable and undivided origin to language? But there is also no assured correspondence between sight and hearing, between one mode of reflection and another mode of understanding: being lucid doesn’t prevent Narcissus from being deaf, perhaps, at the sight of Echo.
Derrida, however, hears it differently. “It is a little,” he writes in Prégnances, alluding to Narcissus’s farewell to “himself” (“Vale”), and—without being aware of it—to Echo, “as if he [Narcissus or Derrida himself] had not only heard Echo’s declaration, but understood its lesson. The lesson came back to him, from after the farewell [d’après l’adieu] . . . and beyond the farewell which it/she reflects and quotes again.” 41
It is as if, for Derrida, Echo outlives Narcissus, in this way keeping him alive in her; she offers him the opportunity to hear in the “farewell,” which becomes, by echo, her farewell to Narcissus, the terms of a separation whose indefinitely repeated announcement prevents from ever happening and transforms into its opposite: an echological magic trick which is even more singular in that, like poetic writing, indeed all writing according to Plato, it comes from repetition itself. By the force of this repetition, the words of farewell, resounding from text to text, from Ovid to Derrida—an amplification of Echo—become an indissoluble link. Though Narcissus, in death, separates himself from himself, or remains forever separated, since he continues, says Ovid, to gaze at and [End Page 636] desire himself in the waters of the Styx, Echo never separates herself from him, never separates him from her.
Anne-Emmanuelle Berger is Associate Professor of French Literature at Cornell University. She is the author of Le Banquet de Rimbaud: Recherches sur l’oralité (1992) and coeditor of Lectures de la différence sexuelle (vol. 1 1994; vol. 2 forthcoming). She is currently coediting a book of essays focusing on the linguistic question in Post-Colonial Algeria. A French version of the present essay appears in Littérature, 102.
1. The Metamorphoses, Book 3, l. 382, tr. Frank Justus Miller (Cambridge, Mass., 1916) (English translation slightly modified); all emphases in quotes from Ovid are mine. Hereafter cited in text as M by book and line.
2. “The Ovidian story, however, concerns language.” John Hollander, The Figure of Echo (Berkeley, 1981), p. 8; hereafter cited in text as FE.
3. See Longus, Pastorals: Daphnis et Chloe, tr. J. R. Vieillefond (Paris, 1987), p. 71; hereafter cited in text.
4. In other words, Hollander himself is using allusion, an echographic trope to which he devotes a section of his book.
5. See Longus, Pastorals, bk. 3, par. 23.
6. “Vox tantum atque ossa supersunt.”
7. “[The mother of Narcissus] asked whether this child would live to reach well-ripened age, the seer replied: ‘If he ne’er know himself’” (M 3:347–48).
8. “one of these scorned youth, lifting up his hands to heaven, prayed: ‘So may he himself love, and not gain the thing he loves!’ The goddess, Nemesis, heard his righteous prayer” (M 3:404–6).
9. John Brenkman, “Narcissus in the Text,” The Georgia Review, 30 (1976), 310.
10. Brenkman bases his reading of Ovid on the tension he feels he can detect between (polysemic) “text” and (monosemic) “narrative”: “When deprived of its prescribed meaning, what drama of the self is inscribed in the text of the Narcissus episode? . . . Freed from the obligation to read the Narcissus episode as the scene of a punishment . . ., what we do read is a text that exceeds the limits prescribed for it by the overt thematic system of the narrative” (Brenkman, “Narcissus in the Text,” 310).
11. See Claire Nouvet, “An Impossible Response: The Disaster of Narcissus,” Yale French Studies, 79 (1991), 103–34; hereafter cited in text as IR.
12. See Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, tr. Ann Smock (Lincoln, Nebr., 1995); hereafter cited in text as WD. The original French cited from L’Ecriture du désastre (Paris, 1980).
13. “Emoriar quam sit tibi copia nostri” (M 3:391) says Narcissus to Echo: “May I die before I give you power o’er me” says the translation; but, literally, it would be rather something like: I would rather die than leave you my riches, or possessions (copia).
14. The demonstrative pronoun “Iste” in Latin designates the position of the interlocutor (second person) in relation to a speaking subject (first person); but it ends up designating the (third) person of whom a second person is speaking: “Iste” is therefore that one of whom you are speaking, and becomes a sort of third person which is opposed to “Ille” by the pejorative nuance it introduces.
15. “The imago is not simply the other of the body, it is the other of the voice of the self” (Brenkman, “Narcissus in the Text,” 312). “Rather than being another like the self, the image is the other of the self” (321).
16. “loin d’être le langage d’où l’Autre devrait lui venir, [le langage d’Echo] n’est que l’allitération mimétique, rimante, d’un semblant de parole. Narcisse est supposé solitaire . . . parce qui lui manque, par décret (tu ne verras pas) cette présence réfléchie—le soi-même—à partir de laquelle un rapport vivant avec la vie autre pourrait s’essayer; il est supposé silencieux, n’ayant de la parole que l’entente répétitive d’une voix qui lui dit le même sans qu’il puisse se l’attribuer et qui est précisément narcissique en ce sens qu’il ne l’aime pas, qu’elle ne lui donne rien à aimer d’ autre” (L’Ecriture du désastre, p. 195).
17. “egressaque silva / Ibat, ut iniceret sperato bracchia collo.”
18. “L’usage du mot subjectivité est aussi énigmatique que l’usage du mot responsabilité. . . . Pourquoi subjectivité, sinon afin de descendre au fond du sujet, sans perdre le privilège que celui-ci incarne, cette présence privée que . . . mon corps sensible me fait vivre comme mienne? Mais si la prétendue ‘subjectivité’ est l’autre au lieu de moi, elle n’est pas plus subjective qu’objective, l’autre est sans intériorité, l’anonyme est son nom, le dehors sa pensée” (L’Ecriture du désastre, pp. 48–49).
19. “Ovid’s narrative explicitly constitutes the feminine as an ‘other,’ a separate subject who can only speak by altering the language provided by another and, as it were, anterior subject. We recognize in this description the all-too familiar characterization of the feminine as derived and secondary” (IR 109).
20. “Narcissus fears and shuns the approach of the other, as a violent dispossession, a radical impoverishment, the scattering of an all-too fragile unity,” Nouvet remarks with regard to Narcissus’s statement: “emoriar quam sit tibi copia nostra” (IR 113). She is playing here with the polysemy and the fate of the Latin word copia, at the same time richness (abundance) and copy, reproduction. Narcissus is anxious to keep his copies for himself, as himself.
21. “Someone was and is no longer; I attest to this existence. Was by being loved,” writes Michel Deguy in his “Greek” song of mourning. A ce qui n’en finit pas. Thrène (To That Which Never Ends. Threnody) (Paris, 1995) (no pagination). The death of the beloved other metamorphoses into Echo the one who elsewhere in this text is depicted as Narcissus: into Echo, that is to say into a witness of the existence of the other, into guarantor or carrier of his being-in-life. Narcissus was/is (alive) because he was loved, beyond himself, by her who weeps for him. Love provokes testimony—this verbal act effectuated for memory, addressed to nobody or to God across time and absence, in the name of the other, to the call of his name. The witness is he or she who answers for the other, as a third party and before a third party, in the abnegation of his or her (first) person, even when this other can no longer, or never could, answer.
22. “Narcissus never began to live. This child-god . . . never tolerating the touch of another, never speaking—did not know of himself, . . . always already dead and nonetheless destined to a fragile, attenuated dying” (WD 126). (“Narcisse n’a jamais commencé de vivre, enfant-dieu . . . ne se laissant pas toucher par les autres, ne parlant pas, ne se sachant pas, . . . toujours déjà mort et cependant destiné à un mourir fragile” [L’Ecriture du désastre, p. 193].) “Narcissus . . . is supposed to be silent: he has no language save the repetitive sound of a voice which always says to him the self-same thing. . . . Such is the fate of the child one thinks is repeating the last words spoken, when in fact he belongs to the rustling murmur which is not language, but enchantment” (WD 127. (“Narcisse . . . est supposé être silencieux, n’ayant de la parole que l’entente répétitive d’une voix qui lui dit le même. . . . Sort de l’enfant dont on croit qu’il répète les derniers mots, alors qu’il appartient à la rumeur bruissante qui est d’enchantement et non de langage” [L’Ecriture du désastre, p. 195].)
23. A literal translation might be: “The child asked: is anyone present? Present answered Echo.”
24. “Ainsi le poète en fonction est une attente. . . Il restitue ce qu’il désirait. . . . Son oreille lui parle. / Nous attendons le mot inattendu—et qui ne peut être prévu, mais attendu. Nous sommes le premier à l’entendre. / Entendre? Mais c’est parler. On ne comprend la chose entendue que si on l’a dite soi-même au moyen d’une cause autre. / Parler c’est entendre” (my emphasis). Paul Valéry, “Calepin d’un poète,” Variété, in Oeuvres, ed. Jean Hytier, vol. I (Paris, 1975), p. 1448.
25. Berger’s wording is: “elle s’attend à entendre: elle attend et enten”—tr.
26. Here, the English translation fails to account for Echo’s “hearing” of “huc coeamus” [let us meet here] as “coeamus” [let us join].
27. “il faut une distance pour que le désir naisse de ne pas se satisfaire immédiatement—ce que Ovide, en ses ajouts subtils, a bien traduit en faisant dire à Narcisse [comme si Narcisse pouvait parler, ‘se’ parler, soliloquer] ‘possession m’a fait sans possession’” (L’Ectriture du désastre, p. 193).
28. See Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster: “I am at the same time pressed into a responsibility [by others] which not only exceeds me, but which I cannot exercise, since . . . [I] no longer exist as myself. Such responsible passivity would be Speaking. For before anything is spoken, and outside of being . . . Speaking gives and gives the response, answering to the impossible and for the impossible” (p. 20) (“je suis contraint [par autrui] à une responsabilité qui non seulement m’excéde, mais que je ne puis exercer, puisque . . . je n’existe plus comme moi. C’est cette passivité responsable qui serait Dire, parce que, avant tout dit, et hors de l’être . . ., le Dire donne et donne réponse, répondant à l’impossible et de l’impossible” [L’Ecriture du désastre, p. 37].) One recognizes in this meditation of Blanchot on the illocutory act an echo of Levinas’s thought.
29. Deguy again, as an echo: “Love which appears by a passive route brings about a use of I which emancipates . . . ; makes one leave childhood. / Even Narcissus shivers, feeling himself lightly touched, and says I. He almost entered into reciprocity. . . .” (“L’amour qui survient par la voie passive suscite un usage de JE qui émancipe . . . ; [fait] sortir de l’enfance. / Même Narcisse frissonne de se sentir frôlé et dit JE. Il a failli entrer dans la réciprocité. . . .” [A ce qui n’en finit pas].) The “I” begins to come to Narcissus when he feels or perceives that he is loved, when he lets himself be touched (“shivers, feeling himself lightly touched”). What makes us say “I”? The love of the other. And to say “I” is to commit oneself to say “I love you.”
30. “The Greek myths do not, generally, say anything; . . . they signal without signifying . . . they always speak the transparent mystery. . . . Thus all commentary is ponderous and uselessly verbose—all the more so if it employs the narrative mode, and expands the mysterious story intelligently into explanatory episodes” (WD 126–27). (“Les mythes grecs ne disent, en général, rien. . . . Ils font signe . . . disant le mystère transparent. . . . De sorte que tout commentaire est lourd, bavard et d’autant plus qu’il s’énonce sur le mode narratif, l’histoire mystérieuse se développant alors intelligemment en épisodes explicatifs” [L’Ecriture du désastre, p. 194].)
31. Ovid writes: “Ista repercussae, quam cernis, imaginis unbra est” (M 3:434). The reflection in the water is, literally, the shadow of an image: a figure of the figure of Narcissus, as if the reflected “ego” (or the ego as a reflection of self) was always already a figure, an imaginary effect. (See Nouvet’s remarks on the figurative status of “self” [IR 128–32]). Lacan would not say otherwise. And this figure is “sent back” (“ repercussae imaginis umbra”), that is to say sent back to Narcissus as a visual echo (“repercutio” applies to the fields of both sound and vision).
32. “Il faut donner un visage à ce qui n’en a pas [pour] se représenter et se présenter à cette alterité de l’autre: . . . se reconnaître rendra possible la reconnaissance.”
33. Echo, paradoxical as it may seem, is always implicated in stories of noncorrespondence. In Longus (Pastorals, bk. 3, par. 23), it is Pan who does not recognize the source of her song, even though she is imitating him. In Moschus, Pan is in love with Echo, who is in love with a satyre, who is in love with another nymph (Moschus, Stobaeus 4, fragment 2, in Bucoliques Grecs [Paris, 1927], II, 180–81): in this strange, interrupted circuit, where the characters are linked by nonreciprocity, Echo is at the same time in “her” place and in Narcissus’s place (he who does not respond to the offer or demand of love).
34. From a philosophical point of view, which is not ours at this point, it is perhaps Ovid who is mistaken, it is perhaps he who blinds himself, wanting, in fact, to reaffirm, despite the adventure of Narcissus, the validity of the distinction between being and reflection, between interior substance and its specular exterior, between the ego and the image of the ego.
35. Jacques Derrida, Le Secret, Séminaire inédit (The Secret, Unpublished Seminar), Ecole des Hautes Etudes, 1992. Unpublished seminar from March 25, 1992.
36. Brenkman, “Narcissus in the Text,” 304.
37. This is a ritual complaint in many lyric poems. In the French tradition, an example would be Charles d’Orléans, a number of whose rondeaus and ballads center around this theme, and, more recently, Banville (Les Exilés) and Rimbaud (Vers nouveaux et chansons).
38. Several commentators have remarked upon the ritual character of Narcissus’s mourning. An editor’s note indicates in addition that the manner in which Narcissus beats his chest was typical in antiquity of women in mourning.
39. Jacques Derrida, Prégnances. Sept lithographies de Colette Deblé (Paris, Brandes, 1993) (no pagination).
40. For Blanchot, this is on the contrary the height of narcissism. Narcissus’s fate, he writes with regard to the episode of his nonencounter with Echo, is “the fate of lovers who touch each other with words, whose contact with each other is made of words, and who can thus repeat themselves without end, marveling at the utterly banal, because their speech is not a language but an idiom they share with each other, and because each gazes at himself in the other’s gaze in a redoubling which goes from mirage to admiration” (WD pp. 127–28). (“et sort aussi des amoureux qui se touchent par les mots, qui sont en contact de mots et ainsi peuvent se répéter sans fin, s’émerveiller du plus banal, justement parce que leur langue est langue, et non langage, et qu’ils se mirent l’un dans l’autre, par un redoublement qui va du mirage à l’admiration” [L’Ecriture du désastre, p. 195].)
Echo’s intervention would thus make Narcissus into a “lover” (a term which is visibly pejorative in this context): the proposition could hardly be more paradoxical, except that it insists on the narcissistic essence of the love relation; and in this nonrelation to the other, characterized by the reduction of language to “contact,” and by the annulling of any distance whatsoever in the unison of an insignificant utterance, a mere mirage of itself, it is Echo who makes Narcissus a narcissist, it is she who “makes” Narcissus, by bearing the responsibility for the opening up of this scene of language, deemed narcissistic.
41. “C’est un peu comme si il avait non seulement entendu la déclaration d’Echo, mais compris sa leçon. Elle lui serait revenue, la leçon, d’après l’adieu . . . au-delà de l’adieu qu’elle réfléchit et cite encore.”