Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nobility and Self Oblivion

The word "noble" is out of style. "Noble" meaning "honorable." "Noble" meaning "superiority of mind or character." Roland Barthes gives these attributes to his mother and to literature: "Since maman's death, no desire to 'construct' anything--except in writing. Why? Literature = the only region of Nobility (as maman was noble)." I believe him!

Mourning Diary is a record of his mourning for his mother. But this morning I'm also interested in his surprising, idealistic view of literature as the only "region of Nobility." A tremendous claim in these relativistic times. Reading Barthes I feel I return to the idealism of my youth when my teachers, friends and I recoiled from materialism. To Barthes' equation I would add another: Literature = Freedom.

A few weeks ago my friend N. and I were looking at one of her paintings. "The paint takes over," N. said. When paint takes over, the artist is freed from herself. When language takes over, the writer is freed from herself. When artists express the seemingly impossible to express, there is freedom in the work. So today I won't beat a poem to death trying to get it right. Or scrub a pot to an inch of its hard-metal life.


  1. Nobility? I don't know about that. So many writers are petty and vindictive and vain.

    Literature = Luxury.

    When language takes over, the writer is enslaved. Language is a prison sentence without a reprieve.

  2. Nearly five to three in the morning, I'd like to thank you very much for this interesting entry of yours ! which was a joy to read and feel. Please have a good start into the weekend.

    daily athens

  3. LentenStuffe:

    Do you believe luxury is bad? I'm all for small luxuries, small pleasures. I like your pushing back! But language is freeing for me. To say that literature is a "region of Nobility" is not the same as saying writers are noble--except for writers like me and maybe you.

    Hello sleepless in Athens! Why is the insomniac hour always around 3 AM?

  4. Miriam,

    No, you're correct, luxury is a necessity. But few can afford the luxury of writing without other, more neccessary luxuries in place. I was thinking of Camus who said that art is a luxury of the rich.

    Language is freeing, yes, but that freedom comes at a cost -- the price being an indebtedness to language that can only be repaid by being its slave, a sort of double-bind, I suppose.


  5. John:

    Please define rich?


  6. Miriam,

    Rich: possessing material wealth, having abundance, being well supplied, owning property, not wanting for anything, being able to afford leisure time, free from financial worry, being able to cultivate expensive hobbies and entertainments, travelling and vacationing a lot, being able to send your children to private expensive schools, not having to worry about making ends meet, being able to afford extravangance, having the best health care, being able to indulge one's appetites ...

  7. Hello, Lenten--That's rich all right! You may have heard what's going on in the States, extension of the Bush tax cuts by which the richest people will benefit the most. I can be grabby too--can't we all?--but things are out of whack!
    Yours for small pleasures--I'm going downstairs to have a cup of tea and half a bagel. Be well.

  8. So much rather an imperfect poem with the living language still in it than an over-workshopped one.

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