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A blank for a title
Jean-Luc Nancy

A blank for a title and perhaps that is how it begins. What? We cannot say that. We cannot begin by saying that it is beginning. We cannot even say at the beginning that it is beginning. When we say that, when we say ‘it is beginning’, it has already begun and has already finished beginning: it has begun to finish. We cannot say where it begins, or when – which is the same thing – the same thing in space-time that we cannot say.

However this does not mean that we would have to remain silent, or that the blank of the title would correspond to the mesmerising religious experience of entering a shrine. It does not mean that we have to reserve or preserve the secret of this beginning and of the end of this beginning – of this end that begins in the beginning long before the beginning itself begins, or of the end that begins the beginning, that initiates its opening. This does not mean that there would be a mysterious silence or that we would have to sit and contemplate in silence.

For there is nothing here, nothing that could take place, either in the space-time of the world or outside of it, as if in some other world beyond this one. ‘There is’ is all that there is, the taking-place itself. This taking-place is not a thing; it is the beginning-and-end of something. It is ‘there is’ itself and in person; in other words: no-one and nothing else, but the thing itself, the appearing that merges the thing in itself – and the thing agrees to this.

We cannot say it because there is nothing to be said: nothing at all, nothing of what would be the unity of substance and form, of surface and foun­dation, of beginning and end, and so too, nothing as regards any part of a whole that absents itself within presence. We cannot even say that we cannot say it. If someone came and said – here and now – that we cannot say it, they would need to have come from somewhere else and have already said, or heard someone else say, what we can and cannot say. This person would have to know something about this world and about another world, about this meaning and another meaning, about this saying and another saying, one that would consist of remaining silent.

Here and now, however, no-one has come. It only comes, and it begins. It finishes precisely by coming from somewhere else and by moving ahead into the past. Even the past is past (it has as much finished finishing as it has finished beginning); in other words, nothing has come to pass – and we cannot even say that nothing has ‘yet’ come to pass since there is no space-time for such a ‘not yet’. There has been no vigil, no waiting, no preparation, no inception, no promise, no anguish. Nor, too, has there been anything about which we could remain silent, since there is nothing there about which we could either speak of or remain silent about. There is no ‘there’, no ‘over there’, hidden, lost, absent. There is no absence. Or perhaps, there is the very presence of absence. And it is for precisely this reason that we cannot say ‘we cannot say that’. There is neither the impossibility of speaking nor the obligation to remain silent. This means there is no aphasia, no ecstasy, no inhumanity, no religion. There is the fact that it begins and this alone: the beginning here-and-now, no elsewhere, past or future; through which the ‘here-and-now’ is created. There is no silencing it and no saying it, as if – before any intention to speak on my part – there was something there, set down there, like an inert or formless thing simply waiting to be taken and be moulded into signifi­cation. There is no hidden meaning, no machine constructed to express this. Here, the meaning is set up quite differently: like evidence, like the evidence of something that shows itself by speaking of itself, that speaks of itself by showing itself.

There is nothing to say: there is the beginning and thus, at the same time, in the blank of the title, the thing and the saying and their ‘there is’. The ‘there is’ and the ‘at the same time’ of the thing and of its saying – meaning as existence. There is no ‘saying’ in this sense; but there is the simultan­eity of saying and the thing. This expression is itself both saying and the thing: the utterance of a presentation, the presentation of an utterance.

There is not the thing, on the one hand, and saying, on the other. The taking-place of the thing, its beginning-and-end, is both saying and the thing itself. It is the same ‘thing’, but different in itself.

This time, then, let us say, ‘a blank for a title’. This time, meaning on the occasion of certain paintings by Susanna Fritscher. The occasion, the encounter, something that has neither beginning nor end, something located wholly in the moment, one beat between two series, between thing and saying, between place and place. The beat of an opening, or ‘overture’ in the musical sense of the term: one part that holds back the whole, from which the beginning draws its theme, a cadence or measure held back from any succession, one not measured in terms of continuity, one that has to break with continuity before it can continue.

‘A blank for a title’ is no more a sentence than a silence. It is certainly not a well-formed phrase; it lacks proper syntax and, as such, meaning. Yet for all that, it is not a mystery; it is not something that harbours a different meaning for the initiated, for the visionary or for the seer. It is a begin­ning – and how can anyone already be initiated at the very beginning? It is the beginning of saying and thing, each one a blank for a title: neither of which designates nor refers to one another. Neither one of which making sense, yet each saying something that makes perfect sense: look, there is.

When there is a title, one of two things must have come before it: either the thing-thing, within which something would have begun something, initiated something in the sense of proposing or evoking; either that, or the saying-thing, within which there would be some indication or signification from which the thing can draw its momentum. Here, however, neither of these has begun; both have finished together, at the intersection of a painting and an intention, at this intersection about which there is nothing to paint, nor anything to say, and which effects the opening of both things, or rather the opening of that which separates them: the very inter­play of the intersection. It is precisely at this opening that each thing opens for itself as with the other; at the shared beat of a white blank for a title.

‘A blank for a title’ does not function as a title so as to be a substitute for the title that Susanna Fritscher did not provide. (We should note that this conjunction can be read in two ways: either in terms of ‘the absence of a title’ or ‘the absence as a title’. The fact that Susanna Fritscher does not provide a title for any of these works could mean that the title is being kept a secret, or that the absence of a title, the blank for a title, is itself the title. Perhaps painting always gives absence to the title, and writing gives a title to absence.)

It is neither a substitute for a title, nor a title by default. This indicates (but does not indicate), this exposes (but without showing) the absence itself as the beginning of the thing. Painting as the beginning of the thing. Painting comes into play where titles end, at least if the role of a title is to say what this painting is, where it comes from, where it is going, what it means. (As we know, however, this is not the case; titles never say anything other than their own intersection with the painting, which, for its part, says nothing either but simply skirts around the edges of titles, touching them as it withdraws. In this sense, all titles are blank, are painted blanks. And the same goes for the titles of written things.)

‘A blank for a title’ does not take the place of an absent title. It neither evokes nor mimics any hidden meaning, withheld by Susanna Fritscher or by anyone else. If, despite everything, it did take the place of something, this could only be Susanna Fritscher’s name. But nothing can take the place of a name, a proper noun, there is nothing, there is no place. The place of a proper noun is merely the space-time of a beginning, the spacing of time, the time of a spacing: the birth of this woman.

‘There is …’, then, just as easily takes her place, by which I mean, the place of the woman who paints the canvases; the place of her gesture of painting. Her gesture of touching the canvas and the paint, of touching the canvas with the paint, of the gesture through which paint touches itself, without beginning or end, merely the beginning and end of the paint, sweeping along itself, sliding smoothly over itself, through co-ordinating layers, on top of each other, outwardly touching through all that is inward. And yet, despite all this, it does act as a title. For a title is neither a proper noun nor a common noun. It does not signify, any more than it designates. The title is not a sign. On the contrary. The title is always a gap, an aperture in the thing, the mark of a blank space between the thing and itself: its beginning and its end, the space through which it opens itself and holds itself open. The title says nothing: it indicates that everything – or nothing – can be said. The title does nothing more than touch upon the thing closed in on itself, upon the closure that is needed so that it can open, so that there can be an opening. The title opens and closes with a single gesture: the overture.

There is something: it begins. ‘There is’ – this is the title itself, the title of all titles and the blank for a title – ‘there is’ belongs both to saying and the thing without corresponding to either. ‘There is’ is common to saying and to the thing, which have, nevertheless, nothing in common. It lies between them; it is exactly in-between, the division between saying and the thing; their comings-and-goings between each other. Being in saying, and saying in being, outside one another, touching one another, one beginning where the other finishes, beginning and ending one another.

Something reaches the very limit of saying, saying nothing, bringing an end to saying before it has begun. A thing speaks of its own beginning, does not speak, bringing this beginning to an end, beginning to be in this end. No cause nor creation, no reason nor solid ground from which to proceed: merely a gesture, a passage, a flow sustained, smoothed over, advanced, immobilised upon itself. Merely a technique, that is, an art that continually, discreetly, passes by the thing, passes into it, through it, brushing against the thing, always at the limit, but at the limit that unfolds without limits.

We can call this – painting. The word certainly helps, but also poses a problem: for what does it mean to paint? It is not representation, nor covering a surface; rather, it is to touch upon the absolute of a there is, without end nor beginning. A thing agrees to exist: it occupies its place, the place where it takes place; it makes sense only by opening this place. To paint is to agree to this agreement. It is not to speak of the act of this taking place, nor to hold signification in check. To paint is to agree to the gap that deposes and exposes the thing.

It is the dual movement of losing itself, in itself, and opening onto the outside, of losing itself by opening itself, of opening what is lost to its very loss. Its loss is its opening: which is not, strictly speaking, a loss, since there is nothing to be won nor gained. But to give oneself over the abyss is in itself an opening. It opens this – the thing to itself, layer upon staggered layer, moving between them in such a way that nothing is left but the presence that conceals itself by constituting a surface. We could say that it appears. That it appears rather than being an appearance, and that it has already turned back in upon itself, has already finished appearing.

The opening opens nothing and opens onto nothing, neither density nor depth. Depth too is a blank. The opening opens both that which remains obstinately closed in the opening itself, and that which is already open, which is always already half-open. This is why it finishes the beginning and begins the end. There is nothing playful in this, no aimless rattling. It is the flip side of the spoken. It is the patience of agreeing to exist.

Grey yields to white, which, in turn, yields to grey, each the beginning and end of the other, each giving itself to the other. Between them is merging and rupture, division and nothing else. Yet this division divides nothing; it does not distribute nor allocate. It is neither an exchange nor a partition. Rather, it is the division of the same among the same, difference itself, distinction as a common desire, a common attraction. The communality generated by their agreeing to differ from each other is what draws white to grey, and grey to white. Such difference, however, is largely imper­ceptible, each merely constituting the limit of the other. Each persists in the other, imperceptibly, indefinitely – and loses itself therein.

How are we to agree to the imperceptible? How can we get a sense of what is imperceptible and harmonise with it, discover its rhythm? What is imper­ceptible must become perceptible, imperceptibly perceptible: not disdain, withdrawal nor indifference, but, in some way, the act of perceiving itself, suspended upon itself; opened upon itself. The grey-white interior of perception.

In truth, we cannot speak of grey nor of white, any more than we can speak here of ‘support’, ‘surface’, ‘painting’, ‘motif’ or ‘figure’. Grey and white are merely the twin poles of this flowing of light through which there is light (black is a different kind of light, one that has no part in all this: the light of truth is its abyss). Grey and white are the-beginning-the-end of appearing. Therefore, between them there is only the discontinuity of continuity, the event of being: the fact that there is only the event and that the event is not. Here, ‘grey’ and ‘white’ cannot be understood as the names of colours or tones or as the result or resolution thereof. Colour is quite simply absent. There is nothing remotely like colour here, insofar as colour is what belongs to a surface irrespective of its dimensions. More precisely, there are only dimensions. There is only measure and relation. Thus, since a surface without colour is impossible, we can say that there is no surface here. Or we could say that there is pure depth or that there is pure dimension. Or what amounts to much the same thing; opening and spacing. As in water, there is simultaneous opening and closing into itself.Equally, from one frame to another of the diptych, triptych or monotype- and between these arrangements, between these cuts, between these sketches, there is both play and relation, continuity and discontinuity, time and counter-time, the discretion of distance and intimacy, immediacy and contiguity. There is tact, or in German – Takt – rhythm and the measured beat of time.

There is measure, that is, relation and magnitude. The relation lies in affinity and distance, the magnitude in closure and distance. Measure is the rhythm between them, between shadow and light, beginning and end. Yet this is itself without measure: it surpasses all measure, lying in the very site of this passage, severed, held like transition and division.

The measure without measure is in fact an agreement to ‘there is’. This is not the acceptance of everything that there is, but rather the agreement that there is – and that the latter is the measure or the rule for knowing what we must or must not accept. It is the measure or the rule for that which has no measure: that there is. What there is – all of it – has colour and form. But that there is – this is white and grey, the-beginning-the-end of everything.

And if the action of painting were – to agree?

This verb, this act, not its magic word, nor its ‘sacred’ name; on the contrary, this absolute severance of the verb from the noun, a severance that ruptures signification, that shatters any referential constant. The referent of a noun is a subject or a substance; the referent of an adjective is a quality of a substance and thus remains substantial. However, the referent of a verb is an action, which is not a state; it is in the very least the action of maintaining a state, of persevering with being (when it is not the action of stepping outside of oneself, of the act of existing or creating excitement). Action is always transitive. There is no intransitive verb. None, not even the verb ‘to be’. Perhaps, above all, not the verb ‘to be’.

‘To agree’ does not mean to resign oneself, to submit, or go along with something out of weariness or passivity. Nor does it mean to agree to a ‘consensus’. But it does mean admitting there is a gap, one of anguish, the anguish that you speak of, the anguish that we all speak of and dispel by doing so; and yet, not anguish, or anguish itself immediately opened into something else, a transition.

To agree to this: to its own gesture insofar as it goes without saying, insofar as it goes much further or simply goes somewhere else to which no act of will could have forced it to go. And yet not abandoned, or if abandoned, then abandoned in the very precise sense of being abandoned to its own exactitude.

Exactitude is not the same thing as precision. Precision is indefinite, a matter of reproduction, of recuperation, of approximation. Exactitude is absolute or is nothing at all. It is a matter of arising, of the instant.

We could put it this way: we agree to exactitude. The exactitude of painting and the exactitude of writing are assuredly not the same thing and – above all – there is no exactitude between them, there is no exact phrase that ‘matches’ the painting, no exact painting that ‘matches’ the phrase. All the same, we can still agree that it is the same exactitude (that is, by agreeing to this, we allow both of them together and in the same way).

We agree to exactitude since it is not something that can be commanded or controlled: we can only agree to it (and we can only agree – in general – to that which is exact). We cannot approach it. We can only be there. (Nevertheless, our work consists in approaching it, in never approaching it, in approaching it by the slow elimination of every attempt at approach. The patience of painting is to remove any approach, to allow the thing to open).

Klee once said that writing and drawing were the same thing. This is to speak from the perspective of exactitude while actually treating it like true proximity, an extreme precision; it is, therefore, false. The truth of exactitude and of agreement is that they are not the same thing and that no art is the same as any other (and such is the price of ‘art’).

To agree to the exact: this would mean – for me, here, today – the word of painting, as if this could express the very limit of writing, the limit of the trace of what is said.

In fact, this amounts to ‘saying’ – in the sense that nothing should remain that is not said exactly and that nothing exists but that which is said exactly. For that which is not said does not exist, and that which is not said exactly is not said at all.

To speak with exactitude, however, is to go right to the limit of saying – right to its end, right to its beginning. It is to put your finger of what is being said at the limit of painting. As such, it means ‘to be silent’ or ‘to fall silent’ in the exact sense of keeping something quiet, keeping quiet about it in painting is the same thing as saying it. Not saying it in another Ianguage, but saying it on the flip side of Ianguage. Not saying it, then, but saying everything, saying everything about it, admitting it unreservedly and without any back-world.

Thus, that which we are calling painting, would, from the outset, be what has slipped into writing, right up to its very limit, older than the gesture that defines it. This would be the water of writing, inky water, ink that is lost in water, writing as the imperceptible limit of ink and water.

Whereof you cannot speak, thereof you must tell. You must say it, right up to the point of imperceptibility; say it from within the imperceptible itself. What, then, is this sense that we no longer sense? This sense that means nothing more than its own disappearance into evidence? You have to go on saying it, right up to the limit, to excess and to that which is blank, right up to the grey of what is said.

You have to agree to say everything because everything is said. Everything is said because everything is articulated from a ‘there is’. But every ‘there is’ is expressed from a blank or expresses a blank – grey-or-white. So far as everything that is thus said is concerned and hence so far as every­thing is concerned, the whole of what there is – there is no totality. Every ‘there is’ is, each time, here and now, is merely a particular instance of the whole, of every possible totality.

To agree or to consent: to ‘feel with’. Feeling each time with that particular time. To stand on the threshold that separates that particular time from every other, the threshold that draws them together, that gives them common measure. To agree to this way of being, to this step over the threshold. Put somewhat differently: to agree to feel the imperceptible opening of existence, here and now.