think this is because of an excessive weight of politics over
ethics. We are
nevertheless returned ceaselessly to the side of the ethical by
the fact that at the end of this horrible XXth century, with its
parade of victims and of the suffering, there is a
superabundance of the actual pathic of history.
On the other hand, we cannot let ourselves be enclosed in
lamentation, and it is perhaps precisely for the arts to take it
recognize the terrible question:
can one do poetry, and more generally art, with respect
to lamentation, especially after Auschwitz and Hiroshima? Up to
what point can art be deploring?
condition that it conducts us back to silence, to respectful
silence, one might say ethical silence, without aesthetic
default or excess. It
is true that here we are at the threshold of the unsayable;
but it is quite necessary to say it, in order that we not
forget it. The injunction not to forget must indeed transpire by
way of some attempts to transmit, therefore to say.
a Survivor of Warsaw written
in 1947 after the mass Nazi massacres in Poland, Arnold
Schoenberg is at the limit of what is sayable.
At the end, while the Nazi adjutant barks his orders of
Faster! Begin! In
one minute I must know how many I am delivering to the gas
counting!”, the choir chants : “Listen Israel, our God is
the sole Eternal”. This
opposition between imminent death and the affirmation of faith
in the Eternal provokes an unspeakable emotion, at the limit of
stupor and muteness.
you say at the limit, this is again the exploration of frontiers.
Shostakovitch celebrates on his side the Soviet victories
where one finds the Beethovian vein of heroism, but at the same
time, we can listen to his symphonies without thinking
specifically of the “Patriotic War.”
Thus it is by way of desingularisation that the singular
according to you, every great work of art can be
decontextualized or has no need of its context, neither in
creation nor in reception?
transcends its context of production.
I am thinking of Marx in the first chapters of Capital,
who evokes Sophocles and Shakespeare with the feeling that here
there are works which are not involved in the disaster or
extinction of the economies and political systems in which they
have seen the light of day.
We recognize also the celebrated passage of the General
Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy
where Marx points out the gap between the socio-economic base of
society and the artistic sphere, and within this between the
different artistic forms. “The
difficulty”, he notes, is not understanding that Greek art and
the epic are tied to certain forms of social development. The
difficulty is this: they procure for us an artistic enjoyment,
and in certain respects, they serve as the norm, they are an
inaccessible model.” In
some way works of art have the capacity of surmounting their own
conditions of production, of surviving them and therefore of
being recognizable in different contexts:
the capacity to be decontextualized and to be
recontextualized, which is perhaps the best approximation of the
sempiternal, is the capacity not only to undergo the test of
different contexts, but also to create different contexts, to
This perhaps is the limit of a sociology, but is it the
case that sociology cannot think its own limits, that is to say
precisely the inexhaustible character of the work of art,
irreducible to economic relations of production and the
political relations of power?
in Critique and
Conviction that ”one of the assumed functions in the
past by the novel B to take the place of sociology B no longer
has a raison d’etre.” One could admit, beginning
with Balzac, Zola and many others, that the novel is a
spontaneous sociology. Today
one might try to do the reverse:
the sociology of the novel.
How do you see this?
have been quite imprudent! I
am a little embarrassed
by that extreme citation. Sociology surely does not exhaust its
object and the novel continues perhaps to exercise its
It is true that it is in
competition with methodically conducted sociologies. I have just
read his summer Vie et Destin
de Vassili Grossman. No
history or sociology of the patriotic War can equal this work,
precisely as to its lives and their fate, that is to say, to
take into account the contingent experience of the characters
and of the fact that it makes itself
something ineluctable by their very choices.
Grossman makes use of all the resources of the Tolstoyan
novel, that is, branches,
kinships, etc., in order to be able to speak of the Kolyma, of
the deportation, of the trenches and furious assaults of
Stalingrad. Thus he
works out a kind of cross-section of the Russia of the early
forties which without doubt no history, no sociology can equal.
one speak of a sociology of art?
this moment I was
thinking of the
sociology of society. Sociology
of art? I don’t
most sociologies admit that it is biography or the
conditions of life of the artist or the social situation and the
socio-historical determinations that explain the work.
Would it not rather be the inverse:
the work would explain the biography and the social
this point of view, the category that has always appeared
suspect to me is that of “influence” because it is a
retrospective point of view. A work creates its own influences;
in making choices
within its heritage it
uncovers retrospectively within the intersection of causalities
in order to exclude those which will be put out of play.
And the sociologist is going to place himself at the
moment when this retrospective has done its work.
He can then write: such
and such a cause being given, such a work results from it.
But he rewrites in prospective what has first functioned
in retrospect, namely that the production cuts away from itself
the conditions of its production, those that form part of its