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Ideas of Order
Ethics and Topos in American Literature

Ideas of Order

Boris Vejdovsky

Ideas of Order
Ethics and Topos in American Literature

Bibliografische Information der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek verzeichnet diese Publikation in der Deutschen Nationalbibliografie; detaillierte bibliografische Daten sind im Internet ber <http://dnb.d-nb.de> abrufbar.

Umschlagabbildung: Pollock-Krasner Foundation/ 2009, ProLitteris, Zurich.

Publiziert mit Untersttzung des Schweizerischen Nationalfonds zur Frderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung und der Fondation du 450e Anniversaire de l'Universit de Lausanne.

2009 Narr Francke Attempto Verlag GmbH + Co. KG Dischingerweg 5 D-72070 Tbingen Das Werk einschlielich aller seiner Teile ist urheberrechtlich geschtzt. Jede Verwertung auerhalb der engen Grenzen des Urheberrechtsgesetzes ist ohne Zustimmung des Verlages unzulssig und strafbar. Das gilt insbesondere fr Vervielfltigungen, bersetzungen, Mikroverfilmungen und die Einspeicherung und Verarbeitung in elektronischen Systemen. Gedruckt auf surefreiem und alterungsbestndigem Papier. Internet: http://www.francke.de E-Mail: info@francke.de Druck und Bindung: Laupp & Gbel, Nehren Printed in Germany ISBN 978-3-7720-8186-6

To you, Kim and Naomi. May you grow up and live in a world where reading has not stopped.

IDEAS OF ORDER

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This is the time that I have been both looking for and fearing for all the years that I spent imagining, reading, and writing this book. This is the time when I turn round and look at something that does not belong to me anymorethat is, that belongs to me even less than it ever did. Lcriture est voleuse, Jacques Derrida writes in the post-preface to La dissmination, and I, by stealing this aphorism from him, con-firm and co-sign it. Like prefaces, acknowledgements are always written last and yet they are always read first. By creating a temporal and logical distortion of the expected teleology of the book, these estranged portions of the text (do they really belong to it?) seem to remind the reader that the only time that exists in life is the always already by-gone now of reading. Now, then, I would like to thank the numerous persons who invested their time, energy, and confidence in me so that this can be read. These generous individuals include Peter Halter, J. Hillis Miller, Ronald Schleifer, Beverly Maeder, John Blair, Steven Mailloux, Wolfgang Iser, Michael Clark, Richard Waswo, Elizabeth Kaspar, Lawrence Buell and, il miglior fabbro, Roelof Overmeer. And there have been all those who helped with a smile, a nice word or their sense of humor and whoP I recall todayand all those whoP I now scandalously forget; may they all forgive me my shortcomings and my inconsequence. It is also my honor to express my gratitude to the Fondation du 450e Anniversaire de lUniversit de Lausanne, the Fond National Suisse de la Recherche Scientifique and the Socit Acadmique Vaudoise, which all generously supported the publication of this book. Their support gave me a better sense of belonging to the scholarly community of the place where I live and work, and that was, in itself, very much to be prized. My family was my everyday support, my conduct of life, and the reflection of everything I desired. Marianne, Kim, Naomi, Rade, et les autres, this happened because of you, for you, thanks to you. Lausanne, July 2009

IDEAS OF ORDER

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface THE LINE AND THE LAW .......................................................................... Chapter 1 INSCRIBING Cotton Mathers The Wonders of the Invisible World ..................................... 21 Chapter 2 UTOPIA & OXIDIA Henry David Thoreaus Walden, or Life in the Woods ................................... 65 Chapter 3 OUR FABULOUS PLACE Herman Melvilles The Confidence-Man ........................................................ 103 Chapter 4 DESCRIPTION Wallace Stevenss The Man with the Blue Guitar .................................... 147 Chapter 5 THE TOPOGRAPHY OF INTERPRETATION J. Hillis Millers Versions of Pygmalion ........................................................... 187 Postscript PENELOPES FABRIC .................................................................................... 235 Bibliography ..................................................................................................... 245 3

PREFACE

THE LINE AND THE LAW

Die abschlieenden Entscheidungen des Gerichts werden nicht verffentlicht, sie sind nicht einmal den Richtern zugnglich, infolgedessen haben sich ber alte Gerichtsflle nur Legenden erhalten. Diese enthalten allerdings sogar in der Mehrzahl wirkliche Freisprechungen, man kann sie glauben, nachweisbar sind sie aber nicht. Trotzdem mu man sie nicht ganz vernachlssigen, eine gewisse Wahrheit enthalten sie wohl gewi, auch sind sie sehr schn, ich selbst habe einige Bilder gemalt, die solche Legenden zum Inhalt haben. Bloe Legenden ndern meine Meinung nicht, sagte K., man kann sich wohl auch vor Gericht auf diese Legenden nicht berufen? Der Maler lachte. Nein, das kann man nicht, sagte er. Dann ist es nutzlos, darber zu reden, sagte K. [] Sehen wir also von der wirklichen Freisprechung ab, Sie erwhnten aber noch zwei andere Mglichkeiten. Die scheinbare Freisprechung und die Verschleppung. Um die allein kann es sich handeln, sagte der Maler.1 Franz Kafka, Der Prozess It is possible that to seemis to be, As the sun is something seeming and it is. Wallace Stevens, Description Without Place

This book will not attempt to grow like a tree with roots planted in early American literature and with upper limbs in post-modern criticism. The texts presented here should be more like leaves of grass, linked by their subterranean rhizomes: they are all linked, yet each is independent and non-subordinated to any other. They are all equally capable of propagating that which gave them birth, but they are related to no definable Ur-grass.
1

The final decisions of the Court are never recorded, even the judges cant get hold of them, consequently we have only legendary accounts of ancient cases. These legends certainly provide instances of acquittal; actually the majority of them are about acquittals, they can be believed, but they cant be proved. All the same, they shouldnt be entirely left out of account, they must have an element of truth in them, and besides they are very beautiful. I myself have painted several pictures founded on such legends. Mere legends cannot alter my opinion, said K., and I fancy that one cannot appeal to such legends before the Court? The painter laughed. No, one cant do that, he said. Then theres no use talking about them, said K. [] Let us leave definite acquittal out of account, then; you mentioned two other possibilities as well. Ostensible acquittal and postponement. These are the only possibilities, said the painter. (The Trial 193-194)

Preface

Like a tree, grass has roots, but unlike the limbs of a tree, the blades of grass are not related to one another vertically. While they are obviously allied and share a common history, they are not ordered hierarchically. Such a system may be called rhizome, Deleuze and Guattari write, [as] a subterranean stem, a rhizome is absolutely different from roots and radicles. [] [A]ny point of a rhizome can be connected to any other and ought to be. This is very different from the tree model or the root which determines a starting point and an ensuing order (Mille Plateaux; my translation 12). For the present book, I am very much attached to this principle that Deleuze and Guattari call of connection or of heterogeneity. One of the aims of this book is to question principles of dichotomy and binary opposition, and work in an interpretative mode in which semiotic links of all nature are connected with multifarious encoding modesbiological, political, economic, etc.involving not only different systems of signs, but also a different ontological status for each of these things (Mille Plateaux 13; my translation).2 While it is always possible to find thematic and ideological common points among the texts presented here, it would certainly be a mistake to consider The Wonders of the Invisible World, Walden, The Confidence Man, The Man with the Blue Guitar and Versions of Pygmalion, as branches that would have grown out of a common trunk. It would be an even worse mistake to think that they are the direct consequence of one another. My reading of these texts is not detached from history, but it does not aim to reflect or represent it. None of the texts presented here was chosen as a representative of the economic or political events that were taking place in America at the time when it was written. Here, texts will not be looked at as the product of their times, but as having productive effects in history. Such an approach cannot be thematic; I am not interested in the anxiety of influence these texts may have produced in their authors or their readers. It would be very idle and naive to think that texts have productive effects because readers do what the books tell them to do. Texts crystallize acts of reading: they bear witness to these acts and to the fact that their authors and readers are in language. They are the trace acts of reading left in history. They are also the trace of the acts of reading that codetermined history that is, the writing of our history. Thus, this book creates its own order, draws its own lines of force, but neither these lines nor the order is the result of a descending genealogical line that would go from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. So, Ideas of Order is about textuality and reading. I want to examine how the acts of readingand writingconsidered here have contributed to shaping what I call the American topos, and that others may prefer to
2

My idea of order for this book owes much to Deleuzes and Guattaris grass metaphor, but I also like the inevitability of its Whitmanian echo.

The Line and the Law

call things as they are, or reality in America. The New World called thus with a binary opposition in which old and new have antithetical and complementary valuesbecame America, but it did not exist as America before it was colonized by Western literacy at the end of the fifteenth century. America as we know it today is the result in its toponymy, its topography, its political organization, or social struggles of its being shaped by literacy, in other words, by acts of writing and reading. As it was moving west, Western literacy eradicated the indigenous cultures. The Indians could have invented techniques to fight against horses and fire weapons; they could have resisted in impregnable mountains; they could have developed immune defenses against venereal diseases and small pox. They could have, and to some extent they did. Not all the native inhabitants of the Americas were slaughtered, but none of them survived culturally the arrival of literacy. All Native Americans 3 are now encompassed by, and read into, the civilization of the written line, and they are submitted to its law. When it imposed itself on the new continent, European textuality imposed its myths of origins. The New World started to generate its own mythology linked to the new territories that had recently been discovered. Western literacy and the very particular mode of interpretation that was attached to it colonized a vast portion of the planet where it had been totally unknown before. These acts of reading and writing had been shaping the European topos for centuries before landing on the shores of the New World, and America became for a while the last frontier of Western metaphysics and literacy. That frontier has since then been pushed much farther as Western literacy kept acquiring new territories, to the point where it is becoming global todayit is now looping back with a vengeance to where it first started. The tree needed a seed, roots, and a trunk that would rise towards the sky: the colonizing project needed a teleology, and textuality readily provided one. The New World was seenthat is, not really seen, but interpreted, readas a tabula rasa.4 For the Europeans, nothing existed before
3

I am using the designation Native Americans because it is the one currently accepted and used instead of Indians which was, of course, absurd. (By whom, for whom and in the name of what is the current designation accepted? These are questions that would call for much more questioning then can be done here.) The current term is, however, no less absurd then the previous one: how could anyone be a native of a land that does not exist, or whose existence is posterior to ones birth. What is at stake in the present case is not simply the political appurtenance of a (group of) civilization(s) to one state or another, but also their belonging to a completely different reality. There is no pre-textual America, so nobody can be said to an American without being a native of textuality. The new territories were emptied psychologically by the colonizers well before they did so physically. From Columbuss first journals to the writings about U.S.

Preface

their arrival, that is before the arrival of the civilization of the line. On the other hand, textuality tended to impose this myth of origins on itself. Here again it could be very tempting to make America appear out of the blue, and declare that it is literacy that endows it with existence. Unacceptable as it may seem today, this myth is one of the causes of the invention of the American topos. * * Western literacy crystallizes the separation between the knower and the known. By suggesting that there is such a thing as an ego different from the body or the corpse, literacy poses the model of a world where the objects seen and perceived can be different from what they seem to be. The world can no longer be memorized as it is; it calls for an interpretation, no longer in terms of what it is but in terms of what it means. Written words are not simply signs that represent an oral production of meaning; written words always present themselves for themselves. They do not represent anybody or anything: they are what they appear to be, whatever additional (allegorical) signification they may carry from time to time notwithstanding. The written line is the only reality of the text we have access to, and it is the crystallized metaphor of reality at large and of the way we have access to it. Thus, reading and writing are necessarily metaphorical activities that imply transport from one space into another; in that sense too the book is (always) already the image of the world. The texts I consider here are linked to the problematic of making sense of the world and of shaping the topos in which we live accordingly. Textuality structures and polices the world through acts of reading: the world is perhaps what we make of it, but it is certainly that which we read it into. I want to suggest that the laws ordering our topos and delimiting what is real and what is not are the visible result of acts of reading modeled on the objectified trope of text-reading. One can say that reading precedes writing, inasmuch as signs have always existed, and all living creatures, human, or animal, have always interpreted entities belonging to their world, and composed the reality of their topos according to them. It is the written line that imposes on us our line of conduct, and because these acts of reading and writing have productive effects in the world and affect the lives of all individuals, they need to be heeded from an ethical point of view. The five texts of this book are the outcome of five different ways of
Indian Wars, one can see how metaphors are stronger than physical reality and effectively proceed to turning the place into an empty space that can be disposed of. Columbuss journal shows for instance that while he sees Indians innumerable, he completely suppresses their presence and their importance.

The Line and the Law

reading the American topos; they describe an American topography, even when, as in The Confidence Man, physical topography is only a set for a metaphorical act of reading, or when, in The Man with the Blue Guitar the description is without place. I want to suggest that these texts are all distinctly American, insofar as they are the traces of acts of reading of the American topos they contributed to organize and rule. When Western literacy arrived in the New World, it imposed there an interpretative mode in which signs had a completely new value because they were governed by a law which was immanent to the semiotic system that encompassed them. In what would become America, textuality was confirmed in its ruling function by Protestant semiotics derived from the Scriptures. With the first North-American Colonies, the (Biblical) text became the cornerstone of interpretation in the New World. While it would be wrong to say that the American topos was modeled on a Biblical patterneven if such may have been the original intention of the first Puritan colonists, it was shaped by the law of textual interpretation which imposes on the reader the necessity to read and to read right. The Puritans identified this law as the law of God, and situated its presence in the Word of the Scriptures. By doing so, the Puritans were only ascribing a name to a law that exists in all texts and turns them all into legislative texts. The Puritans5 arrived in a new world they did not know, and turned it into a world of textual signs that demanded to be read. They imported to the American continent a mode of interpretation based on Calvinistic theses which had at their center the principle of representation. 6 For the Puritans, signs were ontologically connected to God; they interpreted the American continent with the discovery that the sign and divinity have the same place and time of birth. The age of the sign is essentially theological. Perhaps it will never end. Its historical closure is, however, outlined (Derrida, Grammatology 14). The colonization of the New World by textuality brought it into the age of textual semiology. The Puritans did not simply import signs into their new world; what they brought along was a semiology governed by the law of the text. The indigenous populations of Amer5

The Puritan Party was founded in England in 1572 by Cartwright, Field and Wilcox. They reacted to what they considered to be a degeneration of faith and religious practice; they addressed their Admonition to the Parliament to make things change. Perry Miller notes that the word Puritan was as problematic and confusing then as it is today. In the beginning it was used to mock those that criticized the liturgy and the vestments of the Church. Later, Puritans started calling themselves by that word, emphasizing the positive connotation of purity of faith and religious practice. See Perry Miller, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 21-24. Richard Waswo shows very clearly how Calvin reinterprets St Augustine to arrive at his theses relative to the representative but also the performative power of words. See Language and Meaning in the Renaissance, 207-284.

Preface

ica had their own semiotic systems, but these could not depend on he same interpretative mode as that of the newcomers. It was not the signs that were new and difficult to apprehend for them, but rather the invisible law that governed them. It is probably correct to say that the era of the sign is essentially theological, inasmuch as textual semiology, such as our Western world knows it, depends for its efficacy and even its existence on the exis tence of a superior law that guarantees it and stands behind it. What the law must guarantee is not so much any particular meaning of any particular sign, but rather the capacity of the sign to mean: it is the status of the sign qua sign which is always endangered and which must be defended by and in the name of the law. On the other hand, there is a permanent risk that the law that sustains the semiotic system should become totally unavailable if its signs became indecipherable. In such a case, the whole topos policed and organized by signs could dissolve and be turned into a destructive chaos. In the relationship between the sign and the law, it is the sign which is the weak link but also the only guarantee for the existence of the law. When a civilization experiences a crisis in its values, it is not so much those values governed by the law which are at stake, as the signs of the law. When the Reformation instituted the lines of the Scriptures as the visible sign of the authority of God, it established a link between the law and the line, and, maybe, outlined its historical closure. Protestant semiology crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower, the Arbella, and on many successive ships. The seeds of the semiology issued from the Reformation developed and grew; they subdued the American continent where no cultural indigenous plant could compete with them. This competitive and biological balance is reminiscent of the economic pattern connected from the start to the way the Reformers determined the value of signs. In my reading of Cotton Mathers The Wonders of the Invisible World, I examine this pattern in which words are accounted for like coins within an economic system, and where their value is a function of the monetary and economic equilibrium of that system. Indeed, Mathers text presents us with a semiotic economy that had to be put to work in the strange new place where it had landed. Economic metaphors and even whole economic parables are frequent in the Bible, just as in everyday language there are innumerable tropes related to work, production, gain, loss, capital, and so forth. Accordingly, it is not surprising that theologians, and the Reformers in particular, should resort to such metaphors. At the time of the Reformation the economic trope governing the use of words had already materialized in Europe in rather unexpected ways. Nicholas Copernicus (Martin Luthers contemporary) was pondering about the loss of the intrinsic value of coins due to their representative value.7 On the market place, the metaphor of the
7

See Nicholas Copernicus, Writings on Money.

The Line and the Law

signifier that can become more important than the signified had already materialized. In The Order of Things, Michel Foucault proposes that the great cause for the devaluation of minted money was the arrival in the European economy of the gold and silver from the New World: This is the explanation of the Spanish disaster: its mining possessions had, in fact, increased the nations coinageand, consequently, pricesto a massive degree, without giving industry, agriculture, and population the time, between cause and effect, to develop proportionately (188). One may be tempted to see a sort of poetic justice in the fact that conquering Spain should be ruined by its very conquests and domineering conduct, but what is particularly striking here, is that, after developing in the New World, a regime of signs came back, already at the time of the Reformation, to modify and alter the European topos. Centuries before the phrase was coined, the empire was writing back, as it were. The striking analogy established between signs and currency by such thinkers as Calvin, Luther, or Copernicus, indicates the importance the theory of representation had in the semiotic system they were elaborating.8 It was a system in which signs had a value, that is the power to signify, which was directly determined by desire and availability. Signs, like coins, were valuable only if they represented the law, i.e. if they could be read as standing for the power and the law that instituted them in the first place as signs. Thus, the economic trope that Calvin had read in the Scriptures was crystallizing at the time on the European market place. The economic world was ruled by the theory of representation that ensued from the centrality of the representative function of Gods Word in the Bible; similarly, money becomes real wealth only to exactly the same degree to which it fulfills its representative function (Foucault, Order 178). Signs could only be powerful as a function of their representative capacity. But in this configuration, the sign could no longer mean alone: it needed a reader to endow it with its representational capacity. The sign became powerful; but that power was a double-edged sword because it threatened to replace the values it stood for and it was threatened by its own multiplication and obliteration which could make it unreadable. Thus, the value of signs depended on the desire they could rouse and on their
8

Richard Waswo traces the economic metaphor down to Quintillian and examines its development in the writings of Lorenzo Valla. He writes: Valla proposed the first explicit alternative to the dominant matrix of Western assumptions about language and its relation to meaning, the world and its users, since Platos victory over the Sophists. This questioning of the way in which language means is at the heart of the Reformation, and Vallas contribution to the controversy was very significant, as Waswo shows when he underscores Luthers admiration of [Vallas] theology and the general adventitious utility of parts of his work for Protestantism; the textual discipleship of Erasmus; and the rapid expansion of the domain of rhetoric under the dual aegis of Cicero and Quintillian (110-111).

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Preface

being identifiable as signs. 9 The functioning value of signs and of words in particular was being defined while the crises that the sign would have to overcome were becoming more tangible. In Copernicus Writings on Money, we can read an anticipation of the problems the representational system would encounter: assessment of validity, loss of confidence in the semiotic system, end of the readability of the sign, and loss of the value of the sign qua sign. These are all effects that Cotton Mather would have to confront a century later and that he described in The Wonders of the Invisible World where he tries to interpret the signs of the simultaneous presence of Christ and of the devil in the colonies. In the sixteenth century, the Reformation appropriated the economic trope of currency and sustained it with the absolute authority of the Bible. The Scriptures became the gold and the silver that were to guarantee the value of the Word, and through an effect of synecdoche, of all words. The Reformation endowed words with an extraordinary power by turning them into self-sufficient and performative signs, while making them the image of an unimaginable transcendental force. At the same time, they exposed them to the risk of being devalued, of seeing [their] coinage debased [] and their fatherland decline (Copernicus 191).
9

Copernicuss reflections on the subject and his applying the metaphor to the mechanism of capitalist exchange provide a wonderful illustration of the question. These are some examples:
Money can lose its value also through excessive abundance, if so much silver is coined as to heighten peoples desire for silver bullion. For in this way the coinages market value vanishes when it cannot buy as much silver as the money itself contains, and then I find greater advantage in destroying the coin by melting the silver. The solution is to mint no more coinage until it recovers its par value. [] The value of a coin deteriorates also by itself as the coin is worn down through long use. Only for this reason should it be renewed or replaced. (179) [] But maybe someone will argue that cheap money is more convenient for human needs, forsooth, by alleviating the poverty of people, lowering the price of food and facilitating the supply of all the other necessities of human life [] But they will have regard for the common good, they will surely be unable to deny that sound money benefits not only the state but also themselves and every class of people, whereas debased coinage is harmful. [] For we see that those countries flourish the most which have sound money, whereas those which use inferior coinage decline and fall. [] [W]here cheap money prevails, through listlessness, lethargy, and slothful idleness the development of the fine arts as well as of the intellect is neglected, and the plentifulness of all goods is also a thing of the past. (191)

What Copernicus calls slothful idleness is a very important and preoccupying subject for Cotton Mather and the other Puritan preachers in America. The so-called Puritan work ethics is linked to the fact that the value of thingsof words, of coins, of any objectdepends on the amount of work it represents. If words should become cheap, the whole social and political system that rests on the theory of representation could collapse.

The Line and the Law

11

Well before the law of textuality crossed the ocean, Reformers such as Cambridge scholar William Whitaker (1547-95) had established that the Law of God was embodied in the Sacred Page:
Scripture hath for author God himself; from whom it first proceeded and came forth. Therefore, the authority of Scripture may be proved from the author himself, since the authority of God shines forth in it.10

Although the American Puritans of Cotton Mathers generation may have suspected that the lines of the Bible were only the human and laborious, finite and artificial inscription, and that they were very different from natural, eternal, and universal writing (Derrida, Grammatology 15), they also realized that they had to save the representative status of these lines if they wanted to save the lawthe law of Godwhich sustained these lines. In that respect, their endeavor did not differ from that of the early European Reformers who sensed that what they considered as the divine law was in danger of being superseded by the institutionalizing of Catholic hermeneutics. 11 The text of the Scriptures had to be saved in order to save God Himself and save the civilization of the New Jerusalem based on textual interpretation. Saving the text was the only way of saving the civilization that was based on it. An act of reading is an appeal to the law. Readers manifest their belief in a law that guarantees that the signs they are decoding and encoding have some sort of significance. If they were to lose their faith in the fact that signs can mean, they deny the existence of the law that makes that meaning possible. It is one of my starting assumptions, then, that there is an ethical demand put on me every time I read. I can change the meaning of a sign, I can even modify the laws that organize the signs within a semiotic system, but I cannot get rid of the law that institutes the metaphorical transfer of the law into the sign. When the sign is in danger, the responsible reader has to defend it in the name of the law. It is an ethical act because it aims at supporting, or possibly changing for the better, the order of the topos where this act of reading takes place. 12
10

11

12

William Whitaker, A Disputation on Holy Scriptures (ed. W. Fitzgerald, Cambridge, 1849) 289. In G. R. Evans, The Language and Logic of the Bible: the Road to Reformation 9. William Tyndale describes the Churchs leaders as having engaged in a conspiracy. They have feigned false books and put them forth. [] Even so would they have destroyed it also, if they could, rather than the people should have come to a right understanding of it[.] [] For as they have destroyed the right sense of it with their leaven; and as they destroy daily the true preachers of it[,] [] even so would they rather destroy it also, could they bring it about, rather than that we should some day live by the true understanding of it. William Tyndale, Answer to Sir Thomas Mores Dialogue, ed. H. Walter (Cambridge, 1850), quoted in Evans (27). This does not mean that acts of reading are necessarily conservative and aim at preserving the status quo of an existing order. Terry Eagleton, who is very preoccupied by the socio-political impact of literary studies and reading in general, claims in

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Preface

* *

An act of writing is an inscription of a line. A reader may thus follow the hyperbolical line of my writing and reading as it cleaves its way through the space of the texts considered here, thereby creating the space of the book. A line is a very elusive and remarkably immaterial entity. It is that which divides, severs, and cuts; but at the same time it constitutes the merging and the coming together of two realms that could not touch each other without the cleaver that joins them. A river and its tributary are divided by such a line, as are also the yin and the yang. They are absolutely different from one another, and they are deprived of sense and existence without the line that defines the independence of their heterogeneous natures but also their dependence on each other and their indispensable complementing each other. The line traces an imaginary border: it is imaginary because of its elusiveness and its shiftiness, and because its existence cannot be ascribed either to an ontological state that would make it be, or to a theoretical state that would allow it not to be. Jacques Derrida comes rather close to a non-definition of the border(line) when he writes: It is always being crossed, erased and retraced by being erased. I dare not to say of this border that it is ideal, regulating or theoretical[.] [] However il y en a, there is something of it, il y a (there is) this border which doesnt exist, either as real or ideal (Derrida, Some Statements 76). The line is that which allows the existence of otherness but at the same time it condemns all existence to being other: I and you, I and it, I on one side, and je [qui]est un autre on the other. Without the line the world would be one and there would be no gap between the world of experience and the meaning of the world. In the Biblical myth of Genesis in which man has dominion over the earth, his word, which stems from and has its origin in the Word of God, readily provides an understanding of mans world and serves as its immediate and unmediated explanation for everything. In the myth there is an ontological link between Gods word and mans word. In this father-son relationship, man functions as both a
Literary Theory: An Introduction that the great majority of the literary theories outlined in [his] book have strengthened rather than weakened the assumptions of the power system (190). Eagletons assertion is partly correct, insofar as when reading becomes a world-shaping activity, power is held by master-readers who tend to preserve the existing order by confirming the status and the validity of a semiotic system. On the other hand, one can note that an established order cannot be changed from the outside of the semiotic system that sustains it. Such work can only be attempted from within the semiotic system, as I shall try to show through the writings of the authors presented here.

The Line and the Law

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metonymy and a synecdoche of God. The tropological transformation also applies to mans language: God creates the world by speaking, and so does Adam when he creates the reality of his world by naming it. He thus repeats the performative speech-act through which he was created himself in Gods image and after [His] likeness. The allegory of Genesis presents us with a world in which there is no line between man and God. Gods redundant phrase in our image, after our likeness insists on the fact that Adams birth is an act of creation where the same reflects the same.13 In the biblical text Adam is essentially the same as God, and as His creature, Adam finds his raison dtre and his origin in Gods essence. This may well be the most fantastic aspect of the myth of Paradise: it is a space where language has intrinsic meaning and immediate performative power. Genesis presents the illusion that while being submitted to his father in a hierarchical way, Adam is not essentially different or other from his father and his creator. This is the dream of a language in which what the words represent and what they mean is the same thing. The immediacy, that is the absence of medium, of Gods language is the dream of an absolutely literal language always avant la lettre. Gods language is a no-sign, not simply the absence of sign but, as Wallace Stevens attempts to formulate it in The Snow Man, a nothing that is. In this book, I examine how American Puritans, with their dream of an invisible church, wanted to relive that dream and were lulled by their own rhetoric into believing that an absolutely literal language could still exist aprs la lettre. Thus, Adams language is in the image of the language of God; its significance and its validity are immediately justified by Gods supreme authority and universal meaning. There is no need for interpretation when God speaks. His words and the effects of his words on the world are immediate and require no transformation to be applicable. The same is true for Adam who understands directly what God tells him: no need for him (as it is the case for Moses) to veil his face, to cover his eyes, or interpret Gods voice. Until the Fall, God speaks and Adam understands; there is no dividing line between the languages they both speak. Adam does not have to translate Gods incommensurable knowledge into his own human terms because there is a common space for both languages where they are essentially one. The language and the performative power of language are one. There is, therefore, no need for any representation of language since the words shape the world immediately and simultaneously with their utterance. The spoken word of God creates and animates the world; it is an unwritten world where His will has no need to be mediated or represented to
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Consequently, a male creation (by God the Father) is mirrored in a male ordering of the world. Genesis foreshadows the history of the written line, the introduction of language into chaos traces a line; Adams naming of the parts of the world creates the first others who become avatars of his own otherness.