At a symposium the other day a sign language interpreter was translating the proceedings for a deaf attendee. One of the speakers gesticulated as he was presenting his paper, and after a short delay the very same gesture appeared at the hands of the interpreter. But in her hands the gesture was a kind of onomatopoeic citation: a perfectly identical physical replication differentiated from its original only by context. The first gesture was in the room, the second in language.

It is rare that a word and its object so closely meet. The look and the looked-at always approach one another up to a point, and always stop short. It is their distance from one another that allows their reciprocal act of naming to take place, and where there is perfect continuity between two things there is no relation: no subject-object, no name, no word, no look.

I want to think more about this instance of near meeting between the look and the looked-at. It seems to agitate a thinning in the membrane between word and world, and draw towards an articulation of the turning-out of language into the world: an impossible eventuality – “utopia, no doubt about it”* – but we cannot go about limiting ourselves to what is possible.

*Barthes, R. The Rustle of Language in “From Work to Text”, New York: Hill and Wang (1977: 78)


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