At stake is a characterization of the reading process and a phenomenology of mind. De Man sticks to a mind-body dualism. Constructed in his discourse is an unbridgeable separation between sound and sight processing and cognitive operations. De Man claims that in the Hugo poem:
These descriptive strategies of intra-sensory circulations are inscribed however within a wider scene, in which the interaction does not occur between one kind of sense experience and another but between, on the one side, the sensory as such and, on the other, the non-sensory mind. (50)
This dualism can be correlated to the proliferation of couples: "Hugo has time and mind reflect each other in a couple as inseparable as Narcissus's eye is inseparable from his reflected face" (51); "This bizarre waking monster, made of eyes and ears as mud is made of earth and water, is so eminently visible that any attentive reader will have to respond to it" (49). Responsive readers remark the persistent and unconscious emphasis on hendiadys not in Hugo's poem but in the writing of de Man as he attempts to persuade his readers that Hugo is yoking two abstractions: time and mind. That "bizarre waking monster" is "L'esprit, ce veilleur fait d'oreilles et de yeux... " For de Man this abstract mind composed of sensible parts is hitched to a dream of the androgyne. He writes "a consciousness or a mind (l'esprit) is figurally said to relate to another abstraction (time) as male relates to female in a copulating couple (line 5)." Well at line 5 there is no primal scene. It reads: "Le carillon, c'est l'heure inattendue et folle," which of course plays with grammatical gender but it is not at all clear whether "l'heure" is to be read as a synecdoche for "le temps" as de Man does in his masculine expansion of the feminine hour. One can find similar gender games and displacements in his friend's reading of a Bataille text. Jacques Derrida's "La Loi du Genre" appeared a year earlier in Glyph.
Avital Ronell in the note to her translation of this Derridian piece refers to a set of texts and states "the disrepair of this pair, eternally coupled and divided over an abysmal boundary at once linking and sundering our languages (which are neither one nor two) -- the ineluctable disrepair of this pair is perhaps, finally, the only text that you will have read" (231). One is tempted to adapt her phrase "the disrepair of this pair" and generalize it to "the pair". The heterosexual pair which masks the homosocial appropriation of women or more accurately the appropriation of the signifiers of the feminine "la loi, l'heure". For more about this, in particular how Derrida handles the homosexual figure of Genet in Glas, one can turn to Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak "Displacement and the Discourse of Woman" in Displacement: Derrida and After. Just as Spivak, the translator, served us well in our reading of Peterson and the expansion of textual enmeshing, it is Ronell, the translator, that aids us dealing with other dominations.
My invocation of the disrepair of a capital "P" pair is not aimed at the dissolution of any empirical dyad. It is meant to indicate the challenge for occidental theoretical discourses to think through interactions that are non-dyadic or if they are dyadic are not totalizingly complementary.
Ronell in The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech restages the drama of two men without a woman between them. They are Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Augustus Watson; Ronell textually inscribes them as AGB and Watson. Again warning, à la Riffaterre, these are not to be taken as empirical entities. They are names. They are relays in the discourse that Ronell produces. They function much like her object of study: telephony. As discursive relays they are like it "a place without location from which to get elsewhere" (308).
Let's start from an elsewhere, one can turn to page 350 of The Telephone Book to find the survival guide or the click or the black box. All three designations seem to refer to two pages (350 & 351) since the Directory Assistance, the Ronell designation for the table of contents, indicates one may find starting page 350 a section called "The Black Box: After the Crash: The Click: The Survival Guide". Double checking one does find the designations laid out at the top of page 350 but at the bottom of page 351 one finds a warning: "As for the Survival Guide, it cables you into a double bind: You must but do not rely on The Telephone Book." Paranoia begins to kick in. One finds on the same page laid out in bold with one word per line all centred the statement that "The Survival Guide Is the Autobiography of Telephony." The capital T, The Survival Guide, is not the same as the small t, the Survival Guide. Or The Survival Guide is not the same as Survival Guide. Rereading can get frenetic and schizophrenia lurks.
Ronell has set this up brilliantly on the previous page (350):
Pacific Bell, offering a pacifier to the teleconsumer, prints a Survival Guide, whose first words are "a major disaster." The last introductory word to the directory of rescue transmissions promises (as to the stickers on French telephone booths), "you can save a life!" (A, 49)
There is more at work in this passage than the thematics of saving lives and survival guides as autobiographies. First there is an agrammaticality in the text. In the phrase "as to the stickers" one notices either a missing "o" or an unvoiced dental has usurped the place of a voiced dental, a "t" has replaced a "d". This agrammaticality is not an accident; it is overdetermined. The unvoiced/voiced pair to/do fits nicely with the link explored earlier by Ronell, the link between telephony and teaching the deaf to speak. Also, grammatically one might anticipate a double "o"; to mark the adverbial "too".
Such an excess of signification is to be expected in a text that plays with typography. Readers are primed for the missing "o" by the section "The Nervous Breakdown" which resonates with "the crash." There on page 1-0-9 one spots "o" all over the page because in every instance of its appearance the letter is found in bold. Is it mere coincidence that on this page one finds note number 69 itself evoking a sexual position of eternal circulation? Is it mere coincidence that before the days of 911, one dialled 0 for the operator? One wants help. This is a case of overinterpretation, mock-schizophrenia, hermetic imagination run amok. This is a case of intoxication. The cure: more of the same.
Remember the survival guide may be a black box. The black box at the top of page 455 reads "Crisis Hotlines/ Including Poison Control". This is Ronell's designation for the index. Unfortunately the "Poison Control" does not appear in the index and double checking with the table of contents one finds it has disappeared, there, the heading for page 455 is simply "Crisis Hotlines". None of the other headings are abbreviated in the table of contents or as named in Ronell's text, "Directory Assistance".
Back to The Survival Guide for a look at other abbreviations. After quoting the Pacific Bell publication "you can save a life" Ronell inscribes in the usual parenthesis a reference but in this case as throughout the whole of The Survival Guide the italic A seems to indicate, if one follows the conventions of The Telephone Book, a volume entitled Exploring Life: The Autobiography of Thomas A. Watson. Some fun can be had by comparing by page number these "phony" references with the actual citations from Watson's autobiography used by Ronell but beware. Ronell issues warnings repeatedly like some echo of Riffaterre:
While the material gathered in these pages was provided by medical and emergency services in cooperation with the state, there will be no contractual guarantee, no responsibility, and no liability for any deluded empirical action taken as if this guide were a referential, pragmatically inflected call to mimetic response. Thus "any person relying upon the Survival Guide does so at his or her own risk" (A, 49). Desiring the Survival Guide in itself implies a risk. The New York Telephone Company (1986) published a similar text, titled more in the Heideggerian vein, Emergency Care Guide. However, the notice shows that NYT relied on Pacific Bell at its own risk: "Information in this Emergency Care Guide is copied in whole or part with the permission of the copyright owner" Survival Guide. "The Pacific Telephone & Telegraphy Company 1978." "Any person relying upon such information does so at his or her risk." (351)
Post-survival, I want to ask de Man, is there a dotter in the house? Is there a period in this text? An "o" to this "hell" of bibliography and theory? Perhaps more than one. Certainly more than zero. Lots and lots of naughty dotters calling long distance like "l'heure inattendue et folle," dancing a few steps with the schizophrenic spirits.
copyright 1997 François Lachance