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  • A Failed Snapshot [instantané raté]: Notes on Nathanaël (Nathalie Stephens), SISYPHUS, OUTDONE. Theatres of the Catastrophal
  • Judith Goldman (bio)

Nathanaël (formerly known as Nathalie Stephens) writes entre-genre, composes (and lives) betwixt genders, drafts in the non-space of in-commensurability between English and French, both her primary, improper tongues. Troubling borders separating disciplines, dividing countries, and distinguishing words, Nathanaël's texts borrow meticulously and programmatically from other authors, literalizing the Barthesian "tissue of quotations" as they also draw incestuously from, and thus plicate, her own oeuvre. Each writing is thus in itself, and in relation to Nathanaël's larger corpus, beset by the calculated vertigo of écriture, as Nathanaël enacts obsessive returns to a cluster of characteristic concerns, each time with a change of lens that profoundly informs her renewed scrutiny and its consequences.

Pivotal issues revolved in and unsettled by Nathanaël's questions, formulations, tropes and language play, and cited textual passages and other media include: language's asymmetrically yet mutually constitutive relation to the body; architecture's reciprocal relation to the social and the urban landscape as palimpsest; the ethics of the aleatory and non-intentional aspects of encounter; the breaching, violence, grief, and desire in translation; the amalgamation performed by, as well as the antinomianism and multiplicity subtending, the first-person pronoun; and the representation of world-historical violence at personal and (inter)national scales. The Sho'ah is a major point of reference; with regard to media, Nathanaël has meditated on and incorporated photographs in several recent works, including SISYPHUS, OUTDONE. Theatres of the Catastrophal, the second section of which is presented here.

Since we meet Nathanaël's SISYPHUS excerpted, in medias res, I want to note the main elements of the stage-setting that occur in the first section of the manuscript and, further, to relate this work to some of its main intertexts, including Nathanaël's own writings.

To enter SISYPHUS is to engage with catastrophal, catastrophized time: "§ Still // § After an aftershock, there is stillness. There are reverberations and then there is stillness. The stillness itself is reverberant. Reverberant with the reverberations of the shock. Instilled in me is the shakenness" (SISYPHUS, Part I). These opening passages introduce "aftershock" as structuring figure, though, as Nathanaël then adverts, to be useful the English term will have to be relieved of the linear temporality embedded in it: "After assumes before . . . I would like to suspend the question of before, as it has no bearing on the question of the aftershock. It bears its weight of memory as lost memory and time as lost time. Lost and thus not locatable on a scale of before and after" (Part I). The temporality Nathanaël wishes us to consider here is clearly akin to that of "disaster" as Maurice Blanchot understands it in The Writing of the Disaster: "The fact of disappearing is, precisely, not a fact, not an event; it does not happen, not only because there is no 'I' to undergo the experience, but because . . . the disaster always takes place after having taken place, there cannot possibly be any experience of it" (28). Before and after lose their places, their relevance, in such a schema of loss beyond loss; the subjectlessness and objectlessness of experience announced here reverberate in SISYPHUS.

Related to the temporality of Nathanaël's text is the psychical logic of suspension and repetition compulsion elaborated in Cathy Caruth's Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History: "the experience of a trauma repeats itself" whether in "unwitting reenactment" of an injurious event, or in memory (2); the crisis incurs repetition for "the way it was precisely not known in the first instance" (4), repeating as an unassimilated fragment, or piece of lost though stubbornly recurring time, that "simultaneously defies and demands our witness" (5). In its belatedness, and as a response that is a missed encounter, trauma "[oscillates] between the crisis of death and the correlative crisis of life" (7), enjoining the survivor to a layered and never fully present experience of time brushing expiration. Nathanaël's use of the temblor as trope of a derangement of linear temporality and its reverberation in...

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