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  • From the Saying to the Cry
  • Aïcha Liviana Messina

In some moving pages addressing the subject of torture, Blanchot evokes the torturer's need for language. "Torture," writes Blanchot, "is the recourse to violence—always in the form of a technique—with a view to making speak. This violence, perfected or camouflaged by technique, wants one to speak, wants speech" (Blanchot 1993, 42–43). This last point of precision about the torturer's will is decisive. The torturer's need for speech is not only a need for information. The torturer, according to Blanchot, does not only want "one to speak." By forcing one to speak, by torturing to provoke another to speak, he wants "speech." How can we explain this need for speech on the part of the torturer? Isn't brutality rather mute? Isn't speech what he should reject because it would disturb the torturer in its conviction? For if we have language to perform violence and to make violence's technique more and more performative, we also have language that enables discussion, the questioning of one another, and, above all, the questioning of oneself. Language can be associated with violence as well as with [End Page 71] its interruption (or, at least, its questioning). So, what is the speech that the torturer is willing to obtain? What purposes does this will serve?

One of the major interests of Marc Crépon's work is to emphasize the relation not only between language and violence but also between silence and violence. In his beautiful book Le consentement meurtrier (Crépon 2012), where murder is analyzed as a passive act (and not only an active or willed one), the problem of violence, rather than being associated with brutality (which presupposes an opposition between reason and violence) is related to experiences, epochal experiences, of world's loss. In this frame, language's silence is precisely not the mere muteness of the one who doesn't speak. It has to do with the way language is destroyed by and in violence, and also with the way violence is the result of a certain destruction of language. Hence, there is neither a unilateral relation between language and violence nor a clear opposition between language and violence. There is a violence of speech, there are violent speeches: but there is also a violence that occurs as the destruction of speech that links, essentially, as I will argue, violence and silence.

The idea that there can be a passive relation to violence, the giving of consent even to murder, can lead us to think that this passive relation with violence is what makes violence radical. Indeed, if violence is always related to a certain destruction, this is also because it happens as a certain destruction of language that cannot be accounted for. Not only is violence not necessarily external to language; it is related to language in such a way that we can become involved with it as mere passive actors. Hence, not only because of our constitutive involvement with language are we constitutively violent. We are so because violence consists also in destroying language in its very exercise. Hence, it is never sure that we possess the tools to detect such violence, to be aware of it. To use here Derrida's critique of critique, "we" cannot be merely critical of violence as if we were not ourselves mixed with it, with violence in its ontological and structural dimension, and in its multifold relation with language (Derrida 1995, 4). Now, in this frame—in this frame contaminated and even originated by violence—Marc Crépon sees in writing (in literature and in poetry) a way of living violence differently, a way of saying violence differently, and even a way of being "opposed" to violence and to "resist it" (Crépon 2014, 96). In what way can poetry undertake such an opposition and resistance in [End Page 72] the relation between language and violence, between language's destruction and violence, and, therefore, between silence and violence?

The Silence of Violence

Let's first turn toward the silence of violence. We can think of many examples that illustrate...


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