an epic, fail
or, reading Yahia Lababidi
by Jeremy Fernando
All of old. Nothing else ever.
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
— Sam Beckett
Keeping in mind that epics bring with them the injunction to speak (epos).
And in that imperative to give voice to something — a word, a tale, story, promise, prophecy, proverb — it is not very difficult to hear echoes of the law that one is called (vocare) in front of, called to stand before.
All whilst trying never to forget that a call not only comes from elsewhere, but is always also only a call if it is recognised as one, if one first calls it a call. Thus, one can never quite know, can never be certain, if one is picking up a call — one, moreover, can only pick it up if one has also determined that it is for one (and, of its status as a call destined for one, one can never be certain of, at least not before one has picked up said call) — or if one is writing that very call into being, if one is quite possibly only hearing voices in one’s head.
Even if it is coming from
— even if one thinks that what is calling one is —
So, perhaps, all one can do, perhaps all I can do,
as I write, is to write in response; write as a response, quite possibly as a request, to ask something of the book, from the book, maybe even for the book;
so, as I write, I am always also writing in question — not just writing a question,
but quite literally, writing as a question.
But not in the sense of an interrogation — a questioning that already knows what it is looking for; not that the risk of imposing oneself on a text can ever fully be done away with; this being the chance one takes, the responsibility one bears, whenever one attempts to respond to a text. Instead — and here, one can only hope that one manages to bring forth — a questioning that searches, that opens itself, opens oneself, to possibilities, without ever quite knowing not only what might be found, but if anything will even be discovered.
And here, if one listens carefully, it is not too difficult to hear echoes of quests — which possibly — haunt all questions: not just that every question is a journey, something that leads us down — calls us to — a path, but that the very nature of the quest might well remain unknown to us, might remain hidden for us, even as we attempt to request it.
Though, the moment we discover it, or think we have found it, the knowledge of the quest might well undo the question itself.
So, perhaps all we can do is to attend to the question, to the quest that is the question — again and again — whilst not just failing to find it, at least not consciously (for a planned failure is anything but a failure), but find it as a failure — a failed quest for questing failure — itself …
… as no thing …
Perhaps Kafka was correct:
« the Sirens have a still more fatal weapon than their song, namely their silence. And though admittedly such a thing has never happened, still it is conceivable that someone might possibly have escaped from their singing; but from their silence certainly never ».
The whole sense of the book might be summed up in the following words:
what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about
we must pass over in silence
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
But, this is quite possibly a silence that is not an antonym of sound, the opposite of making a mark — for, otherwise silence itself could not have been mentioned, been written, been remarked upon. But instead, a silence that is maintained in what is talked about, in what is spoken, one that is within writing itself …
… in what is away from (apo) the boundary (horos), from what keeps everything together; where what opens possibilities is not — just in — what is said, but in what remains …
… as a mark —
one which perhaps says something more than, less than — other than — what its mark seems to say, than what is marked is seen as remarking to one. Thus, a mark, of which perhaps nothing can be known, heard, spoken of, except that there a mark that is made …
Where mark is quite possibly another name for nothing other than …
Language is essentially discreet: what it expresses can always also be an instrument of encryption, a means of dissembling, disfiguring, or lying. Since, however, it constitutes all oppositions in the first place, it can belong to none of them, neither to concealment nor disclosure, neither publicity nor privacy and its idiosyncrasies.
— Werner Hamacher
perchance to dream.
Where perhaps all we are dreaming of is the language of the book speaking to and with us.
Yahia Lababidi, Where Epics Fail: Meditations to Live By. London: Unbound, 2018.
Jeremy Fernando reads, and writes; and is the Jean Baudrillard Fellow at The European Graduate School. He works in the intersections of literature, philosophy, and the media; and his, more than twenty, books include Reading Blindly, Living with Art, Writing Death, and in fidelity. His writing has also been featured in magazines and journals such as Arte al Límite, Berfrois, CTheory, Full Bleed, Qui Parle, TimeOut, and VICE, amongst others; and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, and Serbian. Exploring other media has led him to film, music, and the visual arts; and his work has been exhibited in Seoul, Vienna, Hong Kong, and Singapore. He is the general editor of both Delere Press and the thematic magazine One Imperative; and is a Fellow of Tembusu College at The National University of Singapore.