The Art of Reading: From Homer to Paul Celan

  Bollack, Jean. 2016. The Art of Reading: From Homer to Paul Celan. Trans. C. Porter and S. Tarrow with B. King. Edited by C. Koenig, L. Muellner, G. Nagy, and S. Pollock. Hellenic Studies Series 73. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

16. Expressing Differences*

If hermeneutics is critical, it must be historical; its task is to reconstitute a project in its own time. Precision remains forever inscribed in the letter of the text. Distinctive expression has the power to endure. This is the property of written works, and also oral works, works “written” orally before writing, and composed as if they were going to be engraved. This is to say that the critic composes in turn, when the art of deciphering is virtually prescribed for him, produced by the object itself that develops in the world he is reconstituting.

The irreducible complexity and uniqueness of a work are diminished, or even annulled, when the text, by virtue of its content, is situated within the continuity of an interest or a problematics. External time is doubtless constructed with no less legitimacy, but it entails great simplifications. Explanatory schemas, superimposed one upon another, lead to reductions. Thus Antigone is the family, Creon the State, Heraclitus the river. Comprehension will be all the more definitively obstructed to the extent that the emblem does not mislead by its falsity: there is some truth in it, but the compact mass of opinion makes it impossible to go further, and does not allow itself to be called back into question, as it should be.

Heraclitus said almost nothing of what he has been made to say from Plato on: nothing about fire or flow. But culture and its memory draw strength from this, and play with simplification. Effacing by substitution is still the most powerful form of forgetting. {215|}


[ back ] * Originally published as “Dire les différences,” in: Jean Bollack, La Grèce de personne: les mots sous le mythe (Paris, 1997), p. 263.