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Bureaucracy: Resistance, Witnessing, Writing* Jean-François Lyotard O RWELL’S 1984 does not put forward a theoretical critique of bureaucracy. This novel of totalitarianism in action does not set out to be a political theory. Orwell, in writing a literary work, sug­ gests that the genre of criticism is incapable of resisting the coercive sway of bureaucracy. There is instead an affinity or complicity between them. Both attempt to exercise complete control over their respective domains. But literary writing, artistic writing, because it demands privation [dénuement], cannot cooperate with a project of domination or total transparency, even involuntarily. In Orwell, this resistance is first inscribed, conspicuously, in the novelistic genre and narrative mode peculiar to 1984. The world of Big Brother is not analyzed but recounted. Now, as Walter Benjamin has observed, the narrator is always implicated in the story that is told, while on principle the theoretician should not be implicated in the conceptual elaboration of an object. In 1984, the narration is so closely bound up with the story that the author of the novel is supplanted by the author of the private diary. From the pen of the hero, Winston, writing his diary, the world of con­ summate bureaucracy is delivered to Orwell’s reader burdened by mun­ dane worries, reduced to the frame of a subjective life that will never take in the totality, infiltrated by daydreams, dreams, and phantasms, in other words, by the most singular formations of the unconscious. The decision to write a diary is an initial act of resistance. Yet the text being written in hiding shows that Winston’s secret universe, which is un­ known to him and which he partly discovers by writing, is not repressed by the bureaucratic order from the outside. In the very process of reveal­ ing itself to the author of the diary, this secret universe is trapped by the bureaucratic order. And it is ultimately exploited by it, precisely in the sense that the information is exploited for affinities, unforeseen vulnera­ bilities, and lapses embodied in Winston’s love for Julia, who loves him, and in his friendship for O’Brien, who spies on him and betrays him. As Lefort points out, in illuminating this zone where the private and the public overlap, Orwell’s narrative reveals that the exercise of domina­ tion is only total when it enters into symbiosis with the singular passions of those it oppresses, and that the key weakness it uses to secure their sur­ VOL. XXXIV, NO. 1 101 L ’E sprit C réateur render is not the fear of death, but the secret terrors that are the price each person, individually, must have paid and must pay to become human. That said—and here I am expanding a little on Claude Lefort’s com­ mentary for you—it is one thing to conceive of this sort of insinuation of the master in the slave, quite another to make it felt. For the reader to feel it, a representation or picture of it would not be enough. The com­ bination of resistance and weakening must occur in the very act of writ­ ing. Writing must perform on itself—in its detail, in the restlessness of words that appear or fail to appear, in its receptivity to the contingency of the word [verbe]—the very work of exploring its own weakness and energy that Winston’s labor performs in the face of the insidious threat of totalitarianism. The adversary and accomplice of writing, its Big Brother (or rather O’Brien), is language: by this I mean not only the mother tongue but the whole inheritance of words, phrases, and works that we call literary culture. One writes against language, but necessarily with it. To say what it already knows how to say is not writing. One wants to say what it does not know how to say, but what one imagines it should be able to say. One violates it, one seduces it, one introduces into it an idiom unknown to it. When this desire disappears—this desire for it to be able to say some­ thing other than what it already knows how to say—when...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 101-108
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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