chapter  11
11 Pages

The space of memory: William Forsythe’s ballets: Gerald Siegmund

ByGERALD SIEGMUND

In his essay ‘De l’œvre au texte’ from 1971, Roland Barthes outlines the idea of a certain pleasure, plaisir, that is inherent to the notion of text. This pleasure is different from the delight one might take ‘à lire et relire Proust, Flaubert, Balzac, et même, pourquoi pas’, as Barthes puts it, ‘Alexandre Dumas; mais ce plaisir ... reste partiellement … un plaisr de consommation’, he continues. ‘[C]ar, si je puis lire ces auteurs, je sais aussi que je ne puis les ré-écrire (qu’on ne peut aujourd’hui écrire ‘comme ça’); et ce savoir assez triste suffit à me séparer de la production de ces œuvres, dans le moment même où leur éloignement fonde ma modernité (être moderne, n’est-ce pas connaître vraiment ce qu’on ne peut pas recommencer?)’, Barthes concludes (Barthes 1994 : 1216). The aim of this quotation, as I choose to read it, is twofold. First, it links modernity in literature and the arts with an ideal of text production as opposed to text consumption – or the ‘scriptible’ and the ‘lisible’, as Barthes calls it in S/Z (Barthes 1994: 558). Text is defined as an activity that constantly rewrites and reworks itself, thus claiming its modernity in a state of pleasurable production both on the side of the artist and the reader. In fact, the very relationship between work, author, and reader becomes re-defined. They all become entangled in the same activity of text production. It is, however – and this is my second point – a modernity that cannot abolish the past in a simple act of negation, but one which is forced to posit a certain relationship to the past and former modes of writing. Its texts therefore draw on history, despite the fact that there is a certain futility and even loss inherent in its artefacts. It is a futility, moreover, which constitutes and marks my very modernity as a melancholy one.