Ruth Francken, Berlin 1964 Ruth Francken
The story of Ruth
  By J. F. Lyotard


Prague, Vienna

Kafka: German among the Czechs, Jew among the Germans. And among the Jews, not Jewish enough, as he writes to his father: ‘Your Judaism was completely exhausted while you entrusted it to my hands.’ Through her parents, Ruth comes from the Jewish community of Prague. They flee to Vienna between the two wars when she was three months old. Freud is still there. They speak the German of this ex-micro-aristocracy of business. A language which is not of the people, Czech, nor of the culture and the political, German. Frynta says that with this language ‘one could name and designate things, but not express them’. A language of realistic accountants. A logic that defies interpretation. Deleuze and Guattari define the language, literary strategy of Kafka: “Since the vocabulary is dried up, make it vibrate in intensity. Put a purely intensifying use of the language in opposition to all symbolic, or even significative, or simply signifying usage”. They say: this is Joyce or Beckett in English. I’m not so sure about Joyce. Rather, this would be Gertrude Stein. But that other Jewish woman who is Ruth and who recognizes herself in Kafka is not a writer. But there is certainly anguish and the resolution of the anguish of not being able, or not knowing how, “to speak” in the vocation of painting. The words are missing. Certainly colours and lines for their own part can be just as disposable as sentences, on the condition that they belong to a living culture. Countryside and city landscapes, illumination, reliefs, fauna and flora, paintings hung in family houses and churches, railway-station posters, images in school books, not to mention the customary models in the tradition of the art school and workshops, all provide a sort of plastic language to the young artist. But as in literature, the modern resolve (the arrogance) in painting is to unleash hostilities against these received ‘languages’, Cιzanne has nothing to do with Corot or Pissaro. What a sad advantage one must have in modern creation not to have conquered a heritage of language! But also what incertitude of position. Ruth asks herself and always will ask herself not only who she is, but what she does and how to put it. The Portraits, as well as many other works before the Portraits, originate from this blind spot on her retina, from a paralysis of language, from a Babeling. It will be necessary to make this understandable to the French, a nation spaciously established on the lands restored to it by its Revolution a long time ago and whose taste in art is just as slow to develop and to dissolve as is soil to change from rotation: the exile who paints among them is the witness of something almost inaccessible to country people — that since the past half-century history consists of the loss of history. “One could say,” writes Frynta, “that Prague had no present just before the First World War. Everything related to the past and to the future. Everyone had to construct his or her own present in the midst of an assault of questions posed from all sides by facts and myths.” When the past and future no longer consist of certainties and plans, but of questions, the present is contained in the question mark, and history is the storm of what occurs. The discontinuities of material, of genre and tone in Ruth’s work foil definition: expressionist gouaches of the sixties, neo-realist photometallic sculptures and montages of the seventies, photo-drawings (minus-ism) of the later seventies and eighties. Do they truly form a work, she asks herself? Incidentally, is the synagogue named Vieille-Neuve in Prague truly a single synagogue? Is a face truly a face?


There is no single line for constructing faces. I am not entering into the precise description of the fabrication of Mirrorical Return. Butor and Sieard have done it successfully. One knows that frontal and/or profile photography is torn to pieces. The missing fragment is sometimes recovered through pencil (in the Otages). Inversely, what remains of the photograph must be seen as a fragment coming to fill a gap in the drawing. The face is exhibited in the incompleteness of its two looks. There is certainly an intention, she says, to critique the ‘affidavit’ provided by the photographic portrait. But with or without intention, there is also a critique of the eloquence of the well-drawn portrait. The result of the combat between the two techniques, the classical artistic and the modern industrial, remains uncertain. But I return to the line. The parts in pencil are drawn speck by speck. Sicard and Butor speak of the “thread” to which these specks belong: are they specks of paper, of the photo, or of the face itself? Incertitude also reigns here. Photographic enlargement (making itself more apparent in Otages) reveals the discontinuity of luminous impacts. Bundles of photons attack the surface of the face and create its relief, its bas-relief, like a lunar landscape. Connecting the bit of photograph to a beaded cardboard drawing, the artist transmits the granulation of support as that of light. One mixes with the other in the guise of pores of the skin. The faces are landscapes of small craters created by light or by woman. It is said to be a sculptor’s drawing. That was not exactly what Rodin or Michelangelo would have done. One should say rather that it’s a sculpture in which there are no traits but relief. However the relief is obtained by varying the density of pin-pointed elements, without a cast. The medium, pencil, is not ruined, displayed, but distributed like shavings. No more covered than linear. This distribution of specks of shadow provides, says Ruth, the rhythm of the face’s respiration, the breath of its pulsations. The woman ventilates the interior of heads first by ripping open their envelopes, but most of all, by meticulously piercing their surfaces. Or, rather, there isn’t a surface to perforate; the gaps between pieces are what constitute the surfaces, what simulate them. In ignoring the bidimensional, the volume begets itself from the point. The result is that even in the most absent face, Lidner, in the most haggard, Beuys, in the most suspicious, Tinguely, in the most melancholic, Xenakis, this technique of evil eyed pin-pricks, far from subjugating the victim to a destiny, unleashes in the victim a free energy to speak (to whom?) with a thousand small mouths, to listen with a thousand ears, and a bliss to be-there completely open. That is, then, how females (elles) love us, why they don’t require us to be pretty like advertisements, smooth as the baby bottoms of soap opera. In ravaging us, they reveal us, men, to this pointillist and hairsplitting activity. They transform for us our barriers of composed, impregnable countenance into leaves of St John’s wort. How well they pierce us. And it is thus that we can be animated. It was at Oxford during the bombardments that Arthur Segal, the Jewish artist in exile from Nazi Berlin whose works we saw in the Paris-Berlin exhibition, taught painting to the young woman from Prague. He forbade lineament.


New York

Gertrude Stein: ‘Most of the time we see only a portion of the person with us, the other parts are hidden either by a hat or clothes or by light or shadow. Every one is accustomed to completing the whole entirely by memory. But when Picasso saw a single eye, the other ceased to exist for him.’ She adds: ‘He was right... painters have nothing to do with reconstructions or memory; they only have to do with visible things.’ Painters of the twentieth century. Picasso is a painter of the twentieth century. Gertrude Stein is probably not a writer of the twentieth century. But writers often speak about painters they have understood, therefore with delay, as Baudelaire spoke about Delacroix rather than Manet. And me? Is Ruth Francken a painter of the twentieth century? Rather than this twentieth century-and-a-half that begins after Auschwitz and that is not yet the twenty-first? What distinguishes this mini-century, the half-century, is that painting has little to do with the visible and much to do with the past and future, memory and the possible, acknowledgement and estrangement. We of this half-century view Cιzanne, Braque and Picasso, the windows of Delaunay, the Improvisations of Kandinsky, the Compositions of Malevitch as expressions of love for the visible world and space. Even Mondrian. This is because they all are anxious to pay honour and homage to the colours and lines which the world offers us, to settle as well as possible the debt of the sensible acquired in life. Even the most severe abstractions of this twentieth century are dedicated to the comprehension and the presentation of what can best satisfy the heavenly donors of the visible. Reread Apollinaire. The elimination of the subject during this period of abstraction finds its justification in the passion for ‘material’. Not in the sense of ‘material’ art, but of the mystery of the colour and form brought forth by nature’s womb. From this Cιzannian mystery is the world a ‘body of flesh’. In this twentieth century-and-a-half, painters are really interested more in time than in space, in history than in nature. Not merely the history of all, but of each. Which gods must be appeased, with what images? After the crimes against humanity, after the sombre drives of the unconscious? With which unknown images can we hope to pay off the debt incurred by cruelty? These questions previously haunted surrealist painting. The sympathetic writing of these painters is not illuminist like that of Apollinaire, but surrealist at least, like that of Breton in New York. With Bataille the idea (or ideology) prevails that painting was originally a ritual of redemption for the crimes perpetrated by men against the life, especially animal life, most similar to them. Abstract expressionism in the United States during the forties inherited this anxiety together with the exiled surrealism and expressionism of Europe. Abstraction indeed was inscribed in the American tradition where it had been reanimated by Mondrian. But the new abstraction bears no resemblance to that of the teens. It does not analyse the components of the sensible but examines the inconsistency of the signifiable and the improbability of the continuous. Ruth immigrates to New York in 1942, she continues her painting studies at the Art Students League, she works as a designer of (fashion) fabrics. She returns to Europe in 1950, at the beginning of the twentieth century-and-a-half. Giving way to the heretical theology of a history whose sense is neither conceivable nor even felt was the grand European tradition received from Arthur Segal at Oxford, consisting of the analysis of sensorial and plastic data and their reconstruction independent of every object, the metaphysics of a world to be taken in and fashioned. Guernica was still too orthodox. Gorky, Pollock, Kline, De Kooning, Rothko, even Motherwell made quake on their canvases the pure uncertitude between what is below and above, before and after, in front and behind. When Hans Hofmann asks Pollock if he paints after nature, Pollock responds: ‘I am nature’. To this nature, as with the unconscious, history is unknown. I mean: the connection of events. The painting is the event. This is what Newman shows for the first time in New York, the year Ruth leaves. How does the Now, the painting, inscribe itself in a temporal order? Painting is in history the way the Jews of Prague were in the Empire: it has lost the ins and outs of its acts.

Barcelona, Venice

She returns to Europe, to France which she traversed as a child fleeing the war. (Was it a war? The end of eyes, tortured ‘flesh’.) Is she starting over? But one doesn’t start over. Today you see: faces, strong and dilated by the soul, completely rendered happy to be-there by the turn of minuscule caresses of pencil. She says that they are all similar to the Kφpfe, the Heads, which she painted and lithographed twenty years ago in Berlin. But these heads and the works of the other series of this period, Corrida, Corps de femme, Pourquoi?, Grandes Tκtes, Tκte-ΰ-tκte, are made only by gestures of large brush-strokes crushing the paper with heavy tints of black, blue, and sepia gouache. The soul does not expand them, but terror bursts them. This is not abstract expressionist in the American sense. This is not German expressionist. It is informal expressionist, as Tapiι says. Enactment more than anamnesis. The theme of the bullfight (Corrida) suggests Bataille or Picasso. She says that the horse and bull are a couple, also, like the faces of Tκte-ΰ-tκte, a couple condemned like them. The horse is the victim given to injury and inexplicable death. The bull has skulls in its eyes and sometimes newspaper cuttings in its nostrils, a cross on the snout. This is a free-

for-all. Attention is required to distinguish the silhouettes, carried away by hate, anger. A continuation of Guernica and Horreurs de la guerre. There is a citation of Goya’s Sabbat.

The Spanish are perhaps the only Europeans who never have experienced emotion in the face of the reality of things or in the face of the progress of science. The Spanish do not mistrust progress, they have never known the need. When the other European countries still belonged to the nineteenth century, Spain, in its lack of organization, and America, in its excess, were naturally ready to approach the twentieth century.

So writes Gertrude Stein in 1938. Is the Spain of Ruth Francken the same as that of Gertrude Stein? The Grandes Tκtes are sometimes like the snout of a monstrous animal or sometimes like the impression left by a crucified face on the veil of a Veronica. Painting tries to pay the debt of a monumental defiguration. The informal is not a style, at least it doesn’t want to be, it is the state of European history. The newspaper, lodged in the nostrils of animals, exhales the same terror in the direction of an anaesthetized public. The veil, however, announces the mirrorical return, like the coupling of heads in Tκte-ΰ-tκte. I am the witness of the destruction of faces. I repeat on my paper (these are gouaches on paper) the event of this crime. Fear and pity, tragic purgation. A few years previously Ponge commented on the Otages disfigured by Fautrier:

Here is the most important business of the century: the business of the Hostages . . . It is not in the tumult and heat of battle, but in the silence and cold-blood of the occupations that they (the disfigurations) had been perpetrated. And what’s more, on the hostages; that is to say, on the abused innocents who are left without defence (and first almost without conscience), without complaints, without possible struggle, the weak.

Ponge says that contrary to Picasso ‘masculine, leonine, solar, virile member, erection’ etc., Fautrier ‘represents the feminine and feline side of painting, lunar, mewing,’ etc. The Kφpfe of ‘64 do not have this lunar weakness, nor the solar force of the friend of Gertrude Stein. There is an uproar of imprecations, hate, terror, and love that babbles. It is Antigone, and Antigone is not ‘feminine’. She cries No! to politics, masculine and feminine. Artaud as well. The Tκtes spit out letters in disorder. These letters sometimes form words. The word Word, mot, for example. A flood of phonemes does not make argumentation. Politics do not take it into account. Sir Herbert Read has a politics. He sees the works of Ruth in her Venice studio, and he writes A Letter to a Young Painter, published in 1962. The Young Painter is Ruth Francken. He rebukes her. You create neither a painting of sensations nor a painting of form. You seek spontaneity, vitality. But in this manner your work flushes out symbols (archetypal, Jungian), the symbols prevail over the sensations, and your painting lacks the playful grace that Schiller and Nietzsche require of great works. You have style and force, but no form. You are Jewish and German, writes the nice Lord Read, your soul full of desire for death, nihilism, and despair, like Heidegger and Freud. (This is what he writes.) Great work is affirmative. You will become affirmative in establishing your home, the new country you will have found. In the meantime, your fate will be only to stray (like that of Gabo). One is not an artist without sensuality: ‘The sensual in art is everything virile, invigorating, and enriching existence.’ There he goes again. In the margin of her copy of Read’s book, where I read this advice that irritates her, Ruth noted in the margin: ‘Male?’! The twentieth century was perhaps male in painting. The twentieth century-and-a-half has decided, finally, not to leave space-time in the hands of men. I hope.


There are thus the horrors of the Kφpfe beneath the tendernesses of the Portraits. Well, ‘beneath’…, I’m not sure. Within, with. In the same way that there is Nazism in, with and beneath our nice everyday life, as Syberberg shows in Hitler, a film of Germany. And one cannot again do Matisse with that beneath the skin. One can have nostalgia for Matisse. In 1964, when Ruth arrives in Berlin as a Fellow of the Ford Foundation, she knows that she must be done with American and German expressionism, not in forgetting it, but in fulfilling it. She has a guide in this direction. It is Lindner who is in Paris in 1950. Jew from Nuremberg, he studies painting in Munich well after the fine time of the Blaue Reiter, too late for the grand analytic abstraction. Interned in France in ‘39 as a German immigrant, like Walter Benjamin. Passage through the Legion. Arriving in New York in ‘41, too late for abstract expressionism. When in Paris, where he decides to be a painter, he tries his land at portraits (he also). Proust, Kant, Verlaine, the academicians. The dead. In the portraits, one senses Picasso, Leger, a realist pencil, predisposed to aura. His direction becomes set forth in New York which he sees and shows as an immigrant, ‘my greatest adventure’, he says. He is the painter of the closed line, of the impenetrable, of women corseted, gloved, laced by separation, of body-machines, of colours catching the eye all at once. He isn’t Pop because the source from which he fetches his plastic themes isn’t the commercial advertising of the society of consumption. Maybe sex shops and B-thrillers perhaps. But drawing’s authoritarian distribution of plastic space prevails over allusion to the merchandise and its packaging. He remains a European without a country, ‘a child of ten or twelve years’, who has lost his past, who travels in America, and who collects puppets of despair. ‘At bottom, I am interested in the waiting room, the waiting room of life. We are all in a waiting room; we are waiting for death.’ German expressionist metaphysics loses its pathos in the rigorous drawing of cubism and achieves its own satire thanks to ‘the matter of fact’ colours of new daily life. But the work lies in wait neither for this life nor for beautiful form. It interrogates the twentieth century-and-a-half, its time, brutal and without memory. It is an anamnesis of the amnesiac terror hidden by flash. The classicism of drawing and construction denounces the false gaiety of colours in which Pop Art revels. They refuse even the resort to the sublime of chromatic shores, that by which the ‘cool’ expressionism of Rothko and Newman escapes realism.

In an analogous fashion, the scream of Ruth’s Kφpfe remains here, twenty years later, with and beneath the calm rhythm of the Portraits. But by a completely different path, also requiring a long voyage. The pathetic seems to have disappeared from Mirrorical Return and Otages. It was merely strangled, but here by the discipline acquired from images and industrial objects. Photography and design are the heirs of what is most male in European plastic art, renascent perspectivism, constructivism and Bauhaus, the revolutions of virility. In abandoning painting in 1964, in turning to the fabrication of large photometallic montage and the sumptuous steel and plexiglass sculptures of the sixties and early seventies, Ruth elaborates, perlaborates, the anguish of what has no identity by means of forms and materials which are the ‘coldest’, the most clearly defined, the most calculable of Occidental intelligence. Lindner entrusted this (Apollonian) task to drawing, Ruth to the optical geometry of cameras and the machinery of automatic lathes, what originates from the ‘seeing’ line and what makes its rendering by hand useless. The clamour of disembowelled horses in the Corrida is drowned out by the drone of cameras, projectors, and studios. I wouldn’t say that she confronts the adversary, the identical, the recognizable, the reproducible, the self (which was entirely the project of Nazism, as it is inscribed in the technology of the media and industries), but she becomes familiar with it, she aims to tame it at the same time that she examines her own pathos. She says that she could no longer tolerate expressionist painting, that it was never finished, not only in her own paintings but in those of others, that she wished it would be finished, that it would hold together and contain itself so that one might no longer add anything to the work. I became crazy, I surprised myself by wishing to finish a Rauschenberg. I needed to have a result in hand, I needed to control the work, so that it would be-there, definitive, unchangeable. By virtue of this identification crisis, in the midst of this impatience, an impulse led her to accept a language in common with her contemporaries. Images and industrial objects are the ordinary vehicles of our communication, to the point of becoming ignored by the users. Their ‘basic’ platitude is in proportion to their vehicular force. This is an impoverished language, like the German of Ruth’s parents. But this is not an idiom, not to say an idiolect, as was the gouache on paper and as is every expression loaded with affect. The tenor of silence in Kφpfe, Corrida, Tκte-ΰ-tκte is in proportion to the pathos which the gesture tries to inscribe ‘immediately’ (she says) on the paper. By way of the grammar and rhetoric of mediating images, the affect undergoes ascesis, it neutralizes and universalizes itself because it allows itself to be known by the recipients of the work. (Perhaps the scissors period, the series of the Anticastrateur (1973-74), deserves credit for this type of plastic circumcision.) As is often the case, the theme seems the opposite, that is, the protest against the ‘repression’ brutally symbolized by the scissors. But the change in material, manner, and language signifies at the same time that she accepts her position as the recipient of the common tongue of the present time, that she resigns herself to the loss of a ‘femininity’, of an expressiveness of the unutterable. It seems that she ceases to scream (like Antigone).


In a letter cited by Adorno, Benjamin writes:

The saving effect of writing always resides in the secret of language . . . In eliminating the unutterable of language, in making it pure like a crystal, one obtains a truly neuter and sober style of writing . . . This style and writing, neuter and at the same time highly political, aim to lead to what is refused to speech…

The intense orientation of speech in the nucleus of the most profound silence results alone in the effect.

Adorno adds that this extreme objectivity, this universalism of neuter language, ‘this ontological asceticism of language is the only style that nevertheless permits the expression of the unutterable’. Ruth learns from clean images and polished surfaces that emotion cannot be conveyed simply, that it surrenders only by holding back, through which the sickening concentration of silence, far from being effaced by the means of reproducible communication, leaves its negative trace better than in immediate’ eloquence (which, of course, is also a rhetoric, but not an alienated one). The photography of Mirrorical Return doesn’t aim primarily to enter into conflict with drawing and to display its expressive flatness in this conflict. Sufficiently enlarged, it also guides the drawing, it imposes on it the discipline of pointillism, it denies drawing the flair of eloquent line and gesture, it tames the soul. Ruth says that she learned to draw around 1970, following the photographic and sculptural work. The collage-drawings of the series Partition pour un orchestre and Black Bread are from 1973—76. And she says that she still learns to draw since she will never know how. But the scope of her drawing is not univocal, such as it works in Mirrorical Return (and already to a degree in Partition pour un orchestre). The pointillist inscription of the respiratory pores that constitute the skin are like a caress inflating the faces and endowing them with a thrust of presence. But there are also lines, at least in Mirrorical Return. They function not to shape the face but to frame it (Sartre, Leopold Lindner) or to encompass the profile of the torn photographic fragment (Xenakis, Lyotard). In this way drawing encircles silhouettes. These lines then can be repeated, either on a face by doubling its contour (Beuys, Cage), or the entire length of a Return’s ‘film’ by giving rhythm to the recurrence of the contour across the modified face. This rhythmic value is more perceptible in the latest triptychs (Lyotard, the second Tinguely, the first Beckett, 1982—83) where the melodic line is incessant, since the form of the fragment creates a series from one aspect of a face to another. Drawing, then, does not construct the face, but arranges the melody forming the multiple aspects of the face, in giving the image its rhythm.

The screams of the Kφpfe are still audible, but are now ordered by the rules of harmony and composition; they follow from the rules. The time of the work has changed. The work is no longer stretched towards and by the event of the scream or the flash. Ruth writes: ‘The fragment of torn photo (signifies) this fissure-wound that makes men, in my eyes, so pathetic by what they have seen. The fragment of the face torn away here and there from the geometric drawing of its totality is for me the equivalent of a scream.’ She develops the analogy in justifying herself: ‘The act of tearing the photograph will resemble a veritable birth, as in re-birth. The torn placenta, the “primal” scream, the liquid that functions as the developer of photographic printing.’ And she concludes: ‘The act of tearing the photograph is an act characteristic of woman.’ I hear: the scream is from woman, from the disembowelled horse. But now it discovers its harmonics, men are born from it, each being many, but all also forming, as she says elsewhere, a ‘people’. I understand this generation of a resonant people as that taking place in Bach’s Musical Offering or in Explosante-fixe of Boulez, and the calculation of drawing is its support. A plastic, logical, or musical figure can sustain an identical transformation (it is transferred as it is), or a reciprocal transformation (which musicians call repetition, the phrase is reversed in relation to the beat as with ‘the lobster’) or a negative transformation (inversion in relation to the musical pitch) or dual transformation (or correlative: double musical inversion in time and pitch, introduced by Schoenberg). Boulez and Butor apply these transformers to new variables and materials. One finds them again in the triptychs of Ruth, along with others not forming a system, like ablation and engraftment. Two functions of drawing, then, which are both musical, that of Boulezian composition, but also that of the pores, the discontinuous emergence of small orifices that one will permit me to understand, forcing things a bit, like the ‘freeing sounds’ of Cage or Feldman. (Since what passes through these orifices is neither a scream.) And in the Otages, photographic enlargements of part-photo, part-drawing, sometimes touched up once more in pencil, the function of the composition is set aside, with nothing remaining but that of presentation, of the Darstellung of Cage, the sweet nudity of small craters of sound or space.

But to be heard melodiously, the harmony of a people of faces and of aspects of faces and fragments of faces needs a time other than that of the event of their presence. It needs a diachrony. I don’t mean a succession, since the order of the study of the different triptychs and the different aspects of the face represented in each is of no importance. Instead, I mean a display of duration. It is conveyed by the elongation of the triptychs that relates them to films or comic strips. One could begin them anywhere and traverse them indifferently in the two directions. The display would not have a unique direction. The time taken by the eye to traverse the long cartoons is not fixed by a tape machine or projector. It is more a matter of the time required in order for what is recognizable, the portrait, to give way to alteration, to exfoliation in lightly diverging aspects, allowing what is concealed by its surface to arise from the background, including the irrepresentable of its heraldic emblem, the shit-coloured dust glued to the grey cement of Beckett, the synthetic foam masked by the midnight blue acetate of Sartre, the rusted cast-iron plate of Tinguely.

Kleider machen Leute, Clothes make the man, say the German and the English. To which the French and Italians respond: the habit doesn’t make the monk, Non e l’abito che fa il monacco. The four languages say the same thing, that is one thing and its opposite. Denial, in both cases. Mirrorical Return is born from Ruth’s dream about this paradox. What Duchamp called: the paradox of appearance and apparition.


One asks her: but why only men, and the elite? She is accused of machismo and elitism. I suggest to her that there is something to glean from the relation of woman to fame. (Antigone.) She experiences a night of insomnia before leaving for los. A final book, Labyrinths by Borges, abandoned ten years ago on her bookcase, is put in her suitcase for summer reading. In los she reads the first story, The Immortal. It responds, she says, to the above question. Here is how, in my view at least, I reread it in Aleph at the same time I studied her letter on this subject, sent from los in August 1982.

Mirrorical Return is an expression she attributes to Duchamp, which is correct, but more precisely to designate this article of sluggish hardware: ‘a faucet that stops running when one doesn’t listen to it’, which I cannot verify. The faucet would reflect mirrorically its living image only to the attentive ear. The photographic apparatus lacks an ear, the hand of woman is an ear. The faces belonging to us, the elite, are faucets. Her hand makes them run. She obtains from them what I call above a ‘thrust of presence’. We are an elite because we are capable of this pressure and gush. The surrounding vulgarity sneers: you are her Booz, it decides, she lets herself be impregnated during your sleep. The psychoanalyst intervenes, suggesting that it is rather a transference, citing the story of Diotima.

But she proceeds in another manner. While stuffing it with her own parenthetical remarks, she cites page 155 of her Labyrinths, which is page 129 of my Aleph, being the end of the story entitled Averroes’ Search:

I felt, on the last page (with the last drawing), that my narration (my work) was a symbol of the man (of the woman) I was when I wrote (when I drew) and that, in order to compose that story (in order to do that drawing) I had to become that man (that woman) and that, in order to be that man (or that woman) I had to write this story (make this drawing, this hypothetical portrait), and so on to infinity. (‘Averroes’ disappeared the minute I ceased to believe in him.)

The relation of the hand-ear of Ruth to the face-faucet of the Portrait is not a hysterical transference, but an identification. The narrator of Averroes’ Search identifies with his hero once the story is told, after the fact. He wanted to relate the adventure of this ‘prisoner of Islamic culture who was never able to know the meaning of the words tragedy and comedy’ which he finds in Aristotle. But the narrator himself, prisoner of Occidental culture, can know nothing or almost nothing of what was Averroes. It is thus precisely that he becomes Averroes, in failing him, as the Arabic fails Greek. Ruth becomes Cage, Lindner, Beckett in failing them as they themselves have missed ‘what they have seen’ and what they might mean. To repeat, she writes in her letter from los: ‘Talk about this fissure/wound that makes men, in my eyes, so pathetic by what they have Seen.’ What liquor flows from the faucet? At all events, the same one oozing from the hand-ear of Ruth. This is why she neglects the difference of the sexes and can insert in her citation woman where it should be man. (If she doesn’t make portraits of women, it is because, she says, they don’t allow their image to be wounded. Would she herself accept it?)

The letter from los recalls a sentence from Bataille that ‘a young woman’ cited at Cerisy during the conference following the presentation of Mirrorical Return in 1982. Bataille writes: ‘We communicate only through our wounds.’ Relation of Bataille to Duchamp’s faucet?

But this is still not the main point of this matter of the scream and the flow. The main point is that the mirrorical return, by awakening of the wounds and exfoliation of history’s covering left on the faces, has no ending. This is also what is understood by the reference to The Immortal by Borges: ‘Among the immortals, on the other hand, every act (and every thought) is the echo of what has preceded it in the past or the faithful conjecture of those who will repeat it in the future to the point of vertigo. There is nothing that does not appear lost between indefatigable mirrors.’ Except that Borges adds this, which Ruth does not cite: ‘Nothing can happen only once, nothing is preciously precarious.’ The narrator of The Immortal (interned in los), who is also ‘Homer’, depicts an abandoned and absurd metropolis under the name of the City of Immortals. The Immortals are those Troglodytes who demolished it, rebuilt it as non-sense and deserted it for the miserable opposite shore. They don’t speak (since there is no death except by language). Immortality is the non-sense of an infinite repetition without difference, the purely specular. Ruth understands it differently. She writes me that she would like to exhibit the entire Mirrorical Return and Otages together and that she despairs at seeing them dispersed. One would wander there like in a labyrinth. Huge mirrors would be arranged so that the spectators would unite their faces in virtual space with those of the Portraits. The screams and the summons-responses would resound together in a brouhaha. ‘But something will be heard/understood there that I still cannot describe with precision . . . I might say that this labyrinth will be a place where the chant of a beyond-Babel will be born.’ Thus she thinks that beyond the cacophony of singular sufferings, even across the irreparable wounds that death (that is language) leaves on the faces, a philia makes itself heard, poor in words and invincible. The anguish of death and the solitude of singularities reign over the Kφpfe of 1964. The Portraits of 1983 conserve their contingency, but immortality swells their pores. This is not that of glory, in the mundane sense at least. It is that of a ‘people’ or a ‘family’, she writes, which is an elite today only because it announces the republic tomorrow. The mirrorical return is not specular reflection. The society of immortals is not doomed to the repetition of the same, but to the infinite expression of the other. If Ruth lays out a labyrinth of mirrors, it is not for seeing your reflection there, but for wounding your faces and making the juice of alterity flow without end, which requires creation for its manifestation.

Translated by Timothy Murray, July1983

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