Tom Conley

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A Writing of Space: On French Critical Theory in 1973 and its Aftermath Tom Conley diacritics, Volume 33, Number 3/4, Fall-Winter 2003, p p. 189-203 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/dia.2006.0005 For additional information about this article  Access provided by Western Ontario, Univ of (26 Aug 2013 15:20 GMT)

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A Writing of Space: On French Critical Theory in 1973 and its


Tom Conley

diacritics, Volume 33, Number 3/4, Fall-Winter 2003, pp. 189-203 (Article)

Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press

DOI: 10.1353/dia.2006.0005 

For additional information about this article

Access provided by Western Ontario, Univ of (26 Aug 2013 15:20 GMT)

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Rachel Harrison

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189diacritics / fall–winter 2003




 Je rempliz dʼun beau nom ce grand espace vide(I fill with a handsome name this great emptyspace)

—Joachim Du Bellay, Les regrets

[. . .] lʼunique mot ESPACE, indéfiniment répété,isolé, dʼune ligne à lʼautre; clos sur lui-même parla recurrence du e (espace), brisé pourtant parlʼadjonction interne du s (espace), qui se réfléchit en trompe lʼoeil phonétique (espace); avec un cen-tre immuable—espace—, où peut se lire lʼamorcede la paix ou du tombeau—mais susceptible de faire cap de tout côté, comme on fait eau. Lʼespaceest « découvert », « brisé » ou « vécu »—à droite,où poussent les épithètes ; lʼespace est objet de« découverte », de « promenade » ou dʼ « odys-sée », à gauche où sʼalignent les substantifs quicommandent les clichés dont lʼespace serait lecomplément obligé. Génitif dʼun côté, ou pour lemoin complétif, générateur de lʼautre, ou en tout cas substance à qualités variables. Dans lʼarbreà syntagmes ainsi érigé, lʼespace est inventé parlʼécriture qui fait alterner, sans jamais les com-biner sur une même ligne, un espace donné com-me objet stable dʼexploration. [. . .]

([. . .] the unique word ESPACE can be placed, in-definitely repeated, isolated, from one line to an-other ; closed upon itself by the recurrence of thee (espace), yet broken by the inner adjunction of the s (espace) reflected in a phonetic trompe-l̓ œil(espace) ; with an immutable center—espace—,in which can be read the first letters of peace orof tomb—but liable to go everywhere, like waterin the sea. Space is « discovered, » « broken, » or

« lived »—on the right where epithets come for-ward; space is the object of « discovery », of a« walk » or an « odyssey », on the left where arealigned the substantives that order the clichés for

diacritics 33.3–4: 189-203

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which space would be the required object. Geni-tive on one side, or at least objective, generativeof the other, or in every event a substance withvariable traits. In the tree of syntagms erected above space is invented by writing that causes toalternate—without ever combining them on thesame line—a given space as a stable object of ex-

 ploration. [. . .] —Marie-Claire Ropars-Wuilleumier,  Écrire


In 1974 Henri Lefebvre published La production de lʼespace (The Production of Space),

a study said to have changed the course of critical reflection on the world around us.

In his copious work Lefebvre locates the gaps and rifts between spatial practices or

representational spaces and representations of space in order to mark the brute nature

of social contradiction. Over history, he shows, those individuals who practice and rep-

resent space generally own control over those who do not or cannot. The very history

of the reception of Lefebvreʼs work has been so rich that it cannot be disentangled fromdebates concerning the nature of the postmodern condition. It has brought forward an

element, something akin to Lacanʼs “real,” that cannot be contained or discerned by

language, the arena of life itself. The impact of  La production de lʼespace cannot be

underestimated.1 Yet, at the same time, the work remains a legacy or a point of refer-

ence for a concurrent labor born at the same moment and of a different texture than

Lefebvreʼs: an activity that I would like to call a writing of space, a labor by which

authors of different formation engage and invent alternative or other spaces within

the texture of their own reflections on space. Like Lefebvre, they respond to a anxiety

about the condition of space in which they live, but unlike him, they embody, in the gist

of their own writing, spaces alternative to those in which they live. What follows is thusaimed at discerning why and how space emerged in the field of critical theory when it

did and, in turn, at showing how the reflections remain crucial for critical practice here

and now.

The first of the two epigraphs above is taken from the end of the second quatrain

of the 189th sonnet of Joachim Du Bellayʼs Regrets (1558), a line, no doubt, that every

student of French literature knows by heart. The second, drawn from Benjamin Perecʼs

 Écrire lʼespace [21], is a gloss of the paronomastic title that inaugurates an essay seek-

ing to define what lived space may be and to denominate its attributes.

They are set adjacent to each other for the purpose of charting a theory and a his-

tory of the fortunes of space in critical theory in France over the past three decades.They might be imagined as plot points for a grid on which some general remarks can

be situated. “Je rempliz dʼun beau nom ce grand espace vide” is the line that in 1973

Michel Deguy cites in his Tombeau de Du Bellay to locate the beginnings of modern

French poetry. With it Deguy sums up what Du Bellay had begun in  Lʼolive (1549),

a collection of fifty poems that might be construed to be a work of poetic “practice,”

while its celebrated complement of the same year, the manifesto titled La deffence et il-lustration de la langue françoise, would be a work of “theory.”2 Du Bellayʼs early son-

1. Anthony Vidler situates its importance at the outset of Warped Space Art, Architecture,

and Anxiety in Modern Culture [11–13].2. Floyd Gray noted that the elliptical and obscure character of Lʼolive required explicationon the part of the Deffence, while the Deffence needed poetic proof in the labor of Lʼolive [30].

 In Poésie et Renaissance, François Rigolot cogently remarked, more recently, that the Deffence

counted among the privileged “preface-spaces” of the authorʼs work to the degree that it is a

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nets of Petrarchan imitation evince in their verbal disjunction and scatter what Deguy

calls an expérience poétique, an experiment in and an experience of poetry. Each of the

pieces, Deguy felt, was in itself a perfection that would rival the name of the beloved

(the fruit of an olive branch, a laurier, which almost rhymes with Petrarchʼs Laura) so

that his love might be able “to know and cultivate anything” [70]. Deguy pictures Du

Bellay grasping not only a triangulated distance between himself, his object of affec-

tion and the tremors of unrequited love, but also “the world as distance and emptiness

[vide] (emptiness of the Olive)” [70].

Nine years before the publication of  Les regrets, Du Bellay “begins to construe the

poem as one in which the duty of poetry consists in ʻfilling with a handsome [beau]

name the great empty spaceʼ” [Deguy 70]. The task of the poem is, nominally, one of 

creating and filling a void, a void of no easy name, an empty space the poet simultane-

ously creates and into which he willfully falls. “Le regret est encore ʻsymboleʼ: unis-

sant (en ce lieu: le sonnet) le vertige du tout au vestige du tout (reste dérisoire: le rien

de cette mue abandonnée par le tout en fuyant métamorphosant le local)” [88] (The

regret remains a so-called symbol: uniting (in this place: the sonnet) the vertigo of the

whole with the vestige of the whole (a derisory remainder: the nothing of this molted

skin left from the whole by fleeing (and) metamorphosing the local]. After setting “Jerempliz dʼun beau nom ce grand espace vide” in epigraph above the final movement of 

the chapter titled “Les cent quatre-vingt-dix et un regrets” (“The One Hundred Ninety-

One Regrets”) in the fashion of the Thousand and One Nights, Deguy notes that the

186th sonnet (not the 189th) sums up the collection. The question of the poetʼs being,

his être, belongs to that of the world. As a result, his relation to both God and the world

is less worthy of praise than the flower of the name of Marguerite de Navarre, his pro-

tectress, the princess of princesses who had been the Mycaenas to two generations of 

poets that included Clément Marot, Bonaventure Des Périers, and himself—which he

states to Pierre Du-Val (former teacher of Henry the Second, and the bishop of Séez and

a translator of Plato): 

 Je veulx chanter de Dieu: pour bien le chanter, Il faut dʼun avant-jeu ses louanges tenter, Louant, non la beaulté de cette masse ronde, Mais ceste fleur, qui tient encorʼun plus beau lieu:Comme elle est, Du-val, moins parfaite que Dieu, Aussi lʼest elle plus que le reste du monde.

(I wish to sing of God, but to sing of Him well

There must, in foreplay, be attempts at praise,Praising not the beauty of this rotund mass, But this flower, that lives in yet a comelier place: As it is, Du-val, far less perfect than He,Thus more than the rest of the world we see.)

The poem assigned to praise God effectively refuses to fulfill its task and, in its refusal,

serves nothing more than its own perfection. In the folds of the sonnet the reader of our

age would see the addressee becoming an avatar of le dormeur du val, the cadaver in

Rimbaudʼs sonnet of 1870 that displays two red holes on its right side (“il a deux trous

rouges au côté droit” / he has two red holes on his right side) while the kingʼs sister, of a lesser order than—but comparable to—God, might be the avant-jeu, the site of fore-

 paratext for Lʼolive as a founding manifesto for the use of French in view of classical idioms[174–75)]. 

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play, that allows the poet to become a topographer who studies the relation of names to

the uncertain space of a world whose borders are uncertain.

Inferred is that the end of the sonnet anticipates the effect of the “I” that becomes

an indeterminate other, in which, in the great poem addressed to Jacques Peletier, the

geometer, poet, and fellow traveler from Le Mans (just north of the authorʼs Anjou), Du

Bellay would merely be declined as a “beau nom” that hardly fills the void of the great

empty spaces in his midst. A common name is tantamount to a negation, a nom and a

non, and thus the fathomless emptiness all about him becomes supremely visible and

almost even tactile. Deguy later remarks that a melancholic perception of space pre-

vails in the Deffence et illustration. “Une absence totale, un vide, aspirant avec force

tout, à la place de la mort; une absence plus forte, et autre, que toutes les absences; rien

à dire, rien à penser, rien à faire. Cʼest le moment du tombeau vide. [. . .] Le vide appa-

raît comme monde, tombe” [150] (a total absence, a void, aspiring forcefully to all and

everything, in the stead of the dead; a stronger, and other, absence than all absences;

nothing to say, nothing to think, nothing to do. Itʼs the moment of the empty tomb. The

void appears as world, as a tomb).

Deguyʼs reading of Du Bellayʼs poetic space is riddled with recent memories of 

Maurice Blanchot, notably Lʼentretien infini (1969), in which two voices debate the ut-terance “parler, ce nʼest pas voir” (to speak is not to see). One of them recalls, in a gloss

of se trouver, that the verb does not mean “to find, locate, or pinpoint,” but “to go about

and around,” trouver, “turning,” in the sense of tourner tout autour [34–35]. Blanchotʼs

dialogic reflection arches back, too, upon the verb itself, such that as the eye gazes upon

the seven characters tomblike fantasies emerge from the trou in which ou, “or,” and

où, “where,” are encrypted both at once in the hole of the first syllable, while the very

line of poetry and the trope that drives it to be written, vers, is the verbal complement.

When he writes of trouver through two anonymous voices, he might indeed be figuring,

albeit on a miniature scale, what he had remarked in the epigraph to Lʼespace littéraire

(1955), in which he noted that however fragmentary or circumstantial the creation of a book, especially when crafted from previously written articles, an unconscious force

leads attention from all sides toward an indiscernible center. It may not be a geometri-

cal axis but perhaps a vanishing point, a point of fugacious identification, a psychic and

graphic site, a trope and a trophy, a site on or about which much of the work tends to


Deguy, who makes coyly manifest his affiliation with Blanchot throughout Tom-beau de Du Bellay,3 turns about the haunting line that he paraphrases as Du Bellayʼs

“travail de remplissement nominal du vide, qui est aussi bien, nous le savons, celui de

la page” [71] (nominal labor of filling the void, that is also, we know, that of the page).

He does not relate it to its quasi-antithesis in the preceding sonnet [198], 

 Je ne veulx deguiser ma simple poësieSous le masque emprunté dʼune fable moisie, Ny souiller dʼun beau nom de monstres tant hideux . . .

(I wish not to disguise my simple poetryUnder the borrowed mask of a mildewed fable Nor sully with a pretty name such hideous monsters . . .),

3. The effects of  Le pas au-delà are felt in his rewriting of Blanchotʼs maintenant: “Vosmains tiennent le maintenant. Désarmé sans attendre lʼautre [. . .]” [145] (Your hands hold youin the here-and-now. Disarmed without waiting for the other) and passim. 

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in which the proper name has a medusa-effect of turning its bearer into stone. Nor does

Deguy locate the name of negation at the virtual vanishing point, the nom that stands

close to the tomblike center of the alexandrine. Nor does he quite read the inscription

espace, near the edge or lisière of the line, as might Perec, who would find encryption

to be of the essence of space.

And he fails to execute the pedantic task of looking at the poem in its initial ty-

pography. In Federic Morelʼs edition the sonnets are not coiffed with Roman numer-

als as they are in todayʼs scholarly and critical editions. An architectural façade or

“orthographe” is given in the quadrangular aspect of four poems seen as a unit, on the

verso folio (to the left) and recto folio (to the right) of each double page. The sonnets

are arranged in a quadrangular configuration that likens them to caissons of wooden

ceilings or cartouches set in relief on walls. The first lines of every quatrain and tercet

are placed to the left of the units of three and two lines that follow in lower-case italic.

The first letter is set in upper-case roman and is so detached from the word of which

it is a part that the reader is tempted to see other and different words in the interstices

and uncanny groupings of letters. The same effect is found in the case of proper names

and toponyms set between parentheses within the lines, in which their first letter in up-

per-case roman is followed by the rest of the word cast in lower-case italic. The linesseem to bend under the thrust of the west wind that blows from the left, or else they

reflect the alacrity and urgency of their writing. In every case the poems make visible

a stratigraphy, like that of Freudʼs vision of Rome in Civilization and Its Discontents,where two cultures, one Latin and the other Italian [69–71], cohabit a single and same

space scripted in French.

Figure 1: Du Bellay, Joachim (1522?–1560). Les regrets et autres oeuvres poétiques. 1558 [46]. Bibliothèque national de France, Gallica Digital Library.

Deguy does not visit the Salle de Réserve on rue de Richelieu of the old Bibliothèque

nationale (before it moves across the Seine to be the monumental Bibliothèque natio-

nale de France) to engage a reading of this sort. Nor does he supply the reader with

what a virtual Guide vert of sixteenth-century poetry would furnish in the name of “unpeu dʼhistoire”: that as a commonplace in the poetry of print culture, writers conceived

the space of the book to be a tomb in which they inserted themselves in the process of 

writing in order, paradoxically, to bury themselves alive, so that, as a result, after their

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own demise their bodies, now congealed in the printed characters, would eternally

release their soul through the transformative energies of the reader who almost literally

decrypts their verse.4 Deguy implies that Du Bellay sees himself in the presence of his

own effacement in a world of far greater void than he or his forebears could ever imag-

ine, and that the future readers who find the breath and soul of the lines might be those

who have learned Mallarmé through Blanchotʼs essays in Lʼespace littéraire.5 And by

way of anthonomasia, a trope that Derrida had been studying at the same moment in his

work on Genet, Deguy suggests that Du Bellay effaces an aristocratic name, rooted in

Angevine sweetness along the verdant shores of the River Loire, into a common being

and even perhaps a nonplace of both Italy and France.

In 1973 Deguyʼs relation with Du Bellay opens a new critical space. In the median

chapter, “Défenses,” he charts the plight of poetry at the moment of the composition of 

Tombeau. “Le peuple, qui nʼen attend plus rien, nʼécoute que les chansons. Indifférent,

peut-être capable de réserve, il laisse la langue sʼabîmer” [115] (The people, indiffer-

ent to everything, only listen to songs. Indifferent, perhaps capable of reserve, they let

language go to seed). Writing of and with poetry has given way to an indifferent style

of prose. “[A] coup sûr une manière dʼécrire est tombée en désuétude: ce qui se publie

encore trop souvent sous le nom de poésie consiste trop simplement en une représenta-tion de la pensée toute faite” [123] (Surely a style of writing has fallen—est tombée,hence is also entombed—in obsolescence; what is still published too often in the name

of poetry consists too simply in a representation of  pregiven thinking). The exhumation

of  Les regrets in 1973—if we graft Michel de Certeauʼs synchronic formulation in TheWriting of History, “the historiographical operation,” onto Tombeau de Du Bellay—

amounts to a tactically poetic operation: he goes back to Du Bellay, a canonical author

whom schoolchildren had had to learn by heart, on the one hand, for the purpose of 

internalizing the temperate Frenchness of French geography, history, and poetry while,

on the other, of oedipalizing subjects forever living at home and suckling the breast

of their mother-country. Like other lines, such as “Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a faitun beau voyage, / Ou comme cestuy-là qui conquist la toison, / Et puis est retourné,

plein dʼusage et raison, / Vivre entre ses parents le reste de son age [. . .]” (Happy he

who, like Ulysses, made a handsome [beau] journey, or like the one who conquered

the fleece before returning, full of experience and reason, to live with his kin for the

remainder of his life) or “France, mere des arts, des armes, et des loix, / Tu mʼas nourry

long temps du laict de ta mamelle [. . .]” (France, mother of arts, arms, and laws, you

have nourished me for a long time with the milk of your breast) celebrated incipits of 

4. In his magnificent “Epîtres de lʼamant vert” (ca 1505 and published in 1512) Jean Le-

maire de Belges imagines himself as the pet parrot of Margaret of Austria, on a perch in a cagein her private quarters, and reports of her privy life before his fantasies turn to a tomb in whichhe sees himself encrypted while a guide, a local maiden, tells curious tourists of his demise and of the sad life (“fortune infortune fort une”) of his mycaenas, “En devisant dessus lʼherbette fre-sche / Leur comptera tout le cours de ma vie / Et de ma mort (dont je prens envie) [. . .]” [lines217–20] (While conversing upon the fresh grass / She told them of the course of my life / And of my death [that I beckon]). A recent treatment of the self-entombing impulse is David CowlingʼsBuilding the Text: Architecture as Metaphor in Late Medieval and Early Modern France, espe-cially in respect to Lemaire: “The image of the building allowed [. . .] Lemaire to articulate amessage on several levels of the text at once, to honour a patron and, at the same time, to pro-claim his own worth as a writer” [171].

5. See “Lʼexpérience de Mallarmé,” in Lʼespace littéraire [35–48]. Blanchot writes of Mal-larméʼs artisanal—and spatial—labors when, citing the poet, “ʻen creusant le vers à ce point,

 jʼai rencontré deux abîmes qui me désespèrent. L̓ un est [. . .] le Néantʼ” [33] (in hollowing out the line to this point I have encountered two abysses that cause me despair. One is [. . .] Nothing-ness). Both “carve out” a line to reach a point that marks a central site of ambiguity [42].  

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the Regrets rehearse the scenario. Deguy turns the frail but immortal poet of poets, the

writer whom manuals had labeled purer and of greater sincerity than his envied friend,

the honestly mendacious and egomaniacal Ronsard, into a poet who creates infinitely

particular and singular spaces that are other, uncanny, and especially problematic wher-

ever their author is named. Du Bellay is exhumed to show that indeed the spaces his

own verse opened—and which are as such because, as translations of sentiment, they

belong to what in the Deffence et illustration (1549) was called an ordered espacement of letter and language—are today, now, in 1973, dead and forgotten.

Deguyʼs lament, heard through the words of the sixteenth-century author, synco-

pates with those of two fellow travelers and specialists of exile. In 1973 Louis Marin

published an assemblage of articles on classical France and southern California under

the title of Utopiques: Jeux dʼespaces. In the theoretical matter of the introduction, the

author notes that his reflections were born of May 1968 and of a colloquy that took

place two years later, in Montreal, on the university and its relation to utopia. May 1968

had resulted in a sudden return to order. “The festival of the streets and multivocal free-

dom of its speech and of its images gave way to electoral representation, to slogans, and

to the formulas of its discourses and of its posters—a return that left no structural traces

outside of a few social places, for example, the university” [15–16]. The dilemma thatMarin discerns is aimed at prompting the question, more broadly, of how “a ʻproperlyʼ

utopian space” can be inserted in the very place where a few marks of the events were

still palpable. Yet the university, in seeking to be neutral in respect to the events of 

1968, he argues, had become anything but neutral because its own presumed neutrality

in the ensuing five years had been, as it had before, saturated with ideology.

He proposes a reawakening and a reworking through appeal to the concept of the

neuter, to pluralization, and to a conceptual triad of  le jeu, lʼespace, le monogramme(play, space, and monogram). Attention to things neuter calls into question the cam-

ouflage and bad faith of neutrality. It also helps to open “within discourse a space that

discourse cannot include” [21], a third and supplementary term, a term calling attentionto the power of pure theory in a field where conflict can be treated without repression

or resolution. Pluralization would allow for work on “a particular figurative mode of 

discourse,” that includes fiction, fabulations, “anthropomorphized stories,” and “con-

crete” descriptions. Included are the exotic novel and its representative pictures or

maps and all the traits and characters pertaining to them. In the plural domain would

be found the regions where the imagination is indeed a site protected from reduction to

the language of concepts. Things plural would be ambivalent, located on the “multiplelevels, on different planes” [23] or surfaces, in which the imagination becomes the

common sensorium of utopia. They would be discerned, expressed, and decomposed

in the labors of fiction by way of theoretical reveries.Thus space figures at the center of the triad including play and monogram insofar

as utopian figures are “discursive figures of space, discursive places, topics” [23]. All

of a sudden a utopian text is seen constructing space by the force of writing: “Tout texte

opère en verité une equivalence entre lʼespace et le discours, mais le texte utopique

en est une forme remarquable dans la mesure où il amène en coincidence la définition

opératoire du texte en général et son projet propre, son signifié spécifique: le ʻcontenuʼ

de lʼutopie, cʼest lʼorganisation de lʼespace comme un texte; le texte utopique, sa struc-

turation formelle et ses procès operérationnels, cʼest la constitution du discours comme

un espace” [24] (Every text effectively operates an equivalence between space and dis-

course, but the utopian text is one of its most remarkable forms insofar as it causes theoperative definition of this text in general to coincide with its own project, its specific

signified: the “content” of utopia is the organization of space as a text; the utopian text,

its forms structuring and its operational processes being the constitution (or ordering)

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of discourse as a space). Thus a utopian discourse speaks less about itself than about

the possibility of doing so. It is a “space-world,” an organization of space “as a text and

a discourse constructed as a space” [25], but it is revealed and hidden, as in a map, in

the “form of a play of lines to be deciphered” [25], where letters and ciphers are given

and dissimulated, and where too the chiasmus between space organized as text and

discourse as space is ubiquitously marked.

Marin shows that letters, ciphers, and figures are drawn in the utopian idiolect such

that they might be instances of an unconscious that surfaces and then plots transverse

itineraries across diurnal and nocturnal reason, where switch-points or creases and fault

lines become a geography in which are cited spaces amidst and about places. At its end

the introduction arches back upon itself by avowing that the book itself is a utopia, a

nonplace of neuter valence, for the “events at the beginning of this reflection on utopia”

[47] could never lead the author to irenic islands of the Pacific or sites where geograph-

ical space and historical time would vanish into a swirling and enthralling confusion in

which dream and reality and desire and political struggle are mixed.

The practical utopia remains that of the work on those texts and discourses that

literally write spaces that otherwise cannot be experienced. Hardly by chance the book

ends with a spatial analysis of Disneyland, a degenerate utopia, and what, by ostensivedenegation, he titles the concluding notes on “The Project of Citizen Cabetʼs emigra-

tion”: “Utopia is not a political project.” It is up to the utopian to fashion spaces from

places that have always been here and there. Critical theory, infers Marin in a final

coda, would be a consciousness that discovers in figures the spaces where concepts

emerge in their production and where the historical forces transforming the world are

discerned. Space is perceived in the paradox where surfaces are decrypted in order to

be seen in their multiplicities and multilocalities.

Where Marin avows that utopia cannot be realized, he designates, too, how its

impossibility had been grasped simultaneously in the forty-four days of May in 1968.

Space, then precious and precocious, now becomes what needs to be invented throughthe models of other utopias in different places. The space marked by the impossibil-

ity of any realization of utopia—as in More and Rabelais—becomes the very locus

where transformation is begun through critical labor. It stands to reason that Deguyʼs

poetic operation is doubled to a strong degree by Marinʼs utopian operation. The latter

indicates that critical energies are invested in a textual nonplace, given or embedded

in the ideology of past history and canonical literature. It serves as a discourse and

geography by which other spaces can be incised into a present in which they would oth-

erwise be unfit. The accepted names and authors of traditional utopias turn into points

of transformation because they are extracted from the sites where they are remem-

bered to be lodged and, now, are productively estranged when displaced into a currentcritical sphere. The “masked law” that requires utopia not to call into question current

conditions and modes of production or the motives or discourses determining the sig-

nature of the author is obliquely transgressed. More than ever, however, Utopiques: Jeux dʼespace resembles an interpretive toolbox with an introduction and conclusion

resembling a sheet of directions or a mode dʼemploi for action with inherited forms and


1973 is also the date of publication of one of Gilles Deleuzeʼs first essays on no-

madic thinking. First delivered as a lecture for a colloquium on Nietzsche at Cerisy-

la-Salle the year before, “Pensée nomade” begins with a critique of Marxism and psy-

choanalysis, two “fundamental bureaucracies” on the horizon of contemporary culture[352]. He adds that the three principal means of control, as demonstrated by as many

types of books, are law, contract, and institution. A sacred book dictates modes of con-

duct and is thus one of law. A contract is at the basis of secular literature in which

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authors, editors, and readers are part of a commercial enterprise. The traditionally revo-

lutionary book belongs to its relation with current and future institutions. All three

types share some of the pertinent traits of the others. On the basis of these codes, adds

Deleuze, “our bureaucracies flourish” [354].

How to mix and confuse these codes becomes an implicit question of space and of 

spacing. Deleuze invokes, as he will throughout his writing, different styles of thinking

and writing to portray creative modes of confusion. Writers worth their salt, like Kafka

and Melville, write other languages within the gist of their own, and as a result they

form relations with their readers that do not fall under the purview of law, contract, or

institution. Nietzsche, he affirms, succeeds likewise through the art of the aphorism,

but especially in the way that Blanchot, in  Lʼentretien infini, had recently shown: how

an outside, a dehors, inhabits the gnomic form. Deleuze suddenly mixes codes that

separate language and image by appealing to the figure of a visual frame. It is what

surrounds a verbal aphorism. Discursive and visual formations are mixed:

Quʼest-ce que cʼest, un très beau tableau ou très beau dessin? Il y a un cadre.Un aphorisme aussi est encadré. Mais cela devient beau à partir de quel mo-

ment, ce quʼil y a dans le cadre? A partir du moment où lʼon sent que le mou-vement, que la ligne qui est encadré vient dʼailleurs, quʼelle ne commence pasdans la limite du cadre. Elle a commencé au-dessus, ou à côté du cadre, et laligne traverse le cadre. Comme dans le film de Godard, on peint le tableauavec le mur. [356]

(Now just what is a handsome picture or a very pretty drawing? Thereʼs a frame. An aphorism is also framed. But that which is in the frame, from what moment does it become pretty? From the moment when we feel that move-ment, that the line that is framed comes from elsewhere, that it doesnʼt begin

in the confines of the frame. It begins above or beside the frame, and the linecrosses the frame. As in Godardʼs films, the picture is painted with the wall.)

In his run-on (and almost untranslatable) sentence, in which one relative, what, pertain-

ing to time (quel moment ) blends into another pertaining to space (ce quʼil y a dans lecadre), codes distinguishing language and space are conflated. The text itself becomes

a series of weakly linked aphorisms attesting to what Deleuze soon calls “states of 

force” that are exterior to themselves for the implicit reason that they have been put

into spatial play.6 

The aphorism is also intensive or, like proper names, scattered about Nietzscheʼs

writings, “designations of intensity” that give way to an “espèce de nomadisme, de dé-placement perpetuel des intensités designées par des noms propres, et qui pénètrent les

unes dans les autres en même temps quʼelles sont vécues sur un corps plein” [358–59]

(a sort of nomadism, of perpetual displacement of intensities designated by proper

names that interpenetrate at the same time they are lived on a full body). They are, in

6. Further: “Un aphorisme, cʼest un jeu de forces, un état de forces toujours extérieuresles unes aux autres. Un aphorisme ne veut rien dire, ne signifie rien, et nʼa pas plus de signifi-ant que de signifié. Ce seraient des manières de restaurer lʼintériorité dʼun texte. Un aphorismeest un état de forces, dont la dernière, cʼest-à-dire à la fois la plus récente, la plus actuelle et la

 provisoire-ultime est toujours la plus extérieure” [357] (An aphorism is a play of forces, a stateof forces that are always exterior to one another. An aphorism means nothing, signifies nothing,and no more a signifier than a signified. These would amount to ways of restoring the interiorityof a text. An aphorism is a state of forces whose last, in other words at once the most recent, themost current and ultimately-provisional is always the one of the greatest exteriority). 

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the third instance, tied to laughter, for when codes are mixed in an aphorism the inter-

locutor or spectator cannot fail to laugh. The Nietzschean writer becomes a nomadic

and “mobile war machine” opposed to the despot who commands an administrative

machine. Yet the two are so “correlative and copenetrated [compénétrés]” that the latter

always seeks to integrate into his arsenal the ways of the former, who wants to invent

an administration of the empire he has conquered. Maps of fields of battle figure in the

images that are later fleshed out in  Mille plateaux (1980, cowritten with Félix Guat-

tari). Suffice it to remark that the “mobile war machine” is one where creative language

creates the space it traverses, whether geographic or intensive, as in the instance of 

nomads who move by their ways of escaping institutions and codes.

What Deleuze calls the nomadic power of thinking is driven by a style—hence a

politics—of writing, but of a writing whose estranging properties owe to the ways it

produces other spaces and exteriorities within itself. The framing of the essay, by which

discussions of codes and institutions are drawn around the pluralities of Nietzscheʼs

creative style, suggests that the context is the aftermath of 1968. Appeal to space is

part and parcel of  pensée nomade, which is not located or gendered by a definite or in-

definite article. The line of thought soon becomes, as followers of Deleuze know well,

rhizomatic, singular, and forever drawn and driven outside of the institutions in whichit may first be found emerging. It might be said to be a philosophic operation where

Deguyʼs had been a poetic operation and Marinʼs a utopian operation.

In all events in 1973 the analytical ideals evinced in the readings seem colored

by an apprehension of a loss of critical space in the time passed between the idea of 

the work and its execution. Like the Tombeau de Du Bellay, Utopiques and “Pensée

nomade” are built over a gap and written in view of perplexities felt in the overlap-

ping spheres of the university and the world at large. All seek to be operative and not

dismissive of utopia. The construction of Marinʼs work allows a place for its author not

only to betray his own ambivalence about the work but also to display a discursive map

including the history of its invention. Its cartographies, no less than those of the otheroperations, bear uncanny resemblance to Une politique de la langue, a study of the

construction of the space of modern France that Michel de Certeau, Dominique Julia,

and Jacques Revel were researching and writing in the same year and that they soon

published in 1975.

The three authors take up an inquiry that in 1790 the Abbé Grégoire prepared in

view of making French the official language of France. A dossier of forty-three ques-

tions was sent from Paris to clerics and magistrates presiding in provincial municipali-

ties. The questionnaire inquires of the place that the thousands of spoken dialects and

patois hold in provinces under French jurisdiction. In the guise of “consulting” local

officials about the state of French outside of Paris, Grégoire and his associates used thequestionnaire not only to establish a “language map” of the kingdom but also to suggest

to their correspondents various ways of instituting French in schools and churches. The

questions that sought information were, simultaneously, promoting, even imposing, a

politics of language.

The close archival reading in which the three historians engage reveals that Gré-

goire and his central administration discovered in their correspondentsʼ responses myr-

iad signs of uncommon and, in their eyes, sensuous ways of living of which they, who

had proclaimed themselves enlightened, had little inkling. Out of the provinces, from

a space outside of Paris, emerge attractively savage modes of speaking. The picture of 

the patois “remains an altering proximity at once dangerous and fascinating,” indeedthe “feminine other” [155]: an “unthought” world, a “void affected with value” [156]

attesting to a dilemma that Grégoire and his security advisors experienced when it was

impossible for them even “to think” of the countryside within the official revolution-

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ary discourse. They quickly had to fashion (bricoler) “the representation of something

absent” to which they could refer “as if to an immobile and fantastic center about which

turn the changing but also recognizable silhouettes of the social theater” [156]. In an

inaugural anthropological gesture they construct the myth of an inert, timeless place

in which the patois spoken by peasants betrays innocence and justice eradicated by the

bestiality of isolation, unbridled and protean passions, and the alliance—at once fortu-

nate and unfortunate—of the labor with the land itself.

The savage state that they imagined surrounding them had to be mediated by two

modes of writing. One, alphabetic French, had to be imposed. The other, the patois,

was threateningly seductive before being recorded and encrypted in an archive. The

mode of transmission of the documents relative to the questionnaire bore the signs of 

“an operation set forward to organize a physical space” [157] in which it sufficed not

only to write on paper, in the design of ideology, but also on the ground itself, with an

economic and political program mobilized by the construction of new roads and an

ordered placement of schoolmasters. A roadmap for internal conquest and colonization

took visible shape. A network of post roads striated the countryside in order to form

the spokes of a wheel radiating from a Parisian hub. For Grégoireʼs correspondents the

arrival of progress and enlightenment was a mixed and even poisonous blessing. Whatwas “routine” and that almost literally went without saying became controlled. The

three authors of Une politique de la langue provide a rich and polyvocal summary in

which their voices are mixed with those of their correspondents and even theorists of 

more recent vintage:

 Encore faut-il souligner ce quʼa en propre cette érotique de lʼespace quand elleveut tracer des routes. Ecrire dans cet espace, cela signifie le posséder, maisaussi y introduire la distinction et la différence, en faire le champ dʼopérationsréitérables et contrôlables, le muer en un lieu de commerce et de communi-

cations, y privilégier lʼartefact de la forme sociale au prix dʼune perte delʼorigine et des choses données dans la transparence du monde “naturel.” Le même geste dessine un espace routier et un espace scripturaire. Commela littérature ethnographique, il noue “lʼhistoire de lʼécriture et lʼhistoirede la route, de la rupture, de la via rupta, de la voie rompue, frayée, fracta,

de lʼespace de réversibilité et de répétition tracé par lʼouverture, lʼécart et lʼespacement violent de la nature, de la forêt naturelle, sauvage, salvage.”7

(What still must be underlined is what belongs to this erotics of space whenit wishes to draw routes. To write in this space means to possess it, but also

to introduce distinction and difference, to produce the field of reiterable and controllable operations, to transform it into a place of commerce and com-munication, to privilege the artifact of social form at the cost of the origin of things given in the transparency of the “natural” world. The same gesturedraws a space of roads and a space of writing. Like ethnographic literature,it ties “the history of writing and the history of the route, of rupture, of thevia rupta, of the broken way [voie], frayed, fracta, of the space of reversibilityand of repetition traced by the opening, the splitting and the violent spacingof nature, of the natural forest, savage, salvage.”)

A writing of space is enacted where Certeau and his colleagues give way to Derridaʼs De la grammatologie, in which the road is confused with routine, and routine with a

7. Une politique 158-59. The citation, noted in the text [159n1], is taken from Derrida, De

la grammatologie [158]. 

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broken “way”—and “voice” (voie and voix concretizing the difference)—en route to

the broader conclusion that what was found alongside the new roads, new and enthus-

ing spaces of alterity, had to be turned into scientific objects in the name of anthropol-

ogy and folklore, the very topic the authors soon take up in “La béauté du mort.”8 The

patois and their users become entombed. As effects of what elsewhere Certeau calls the

historiographical operation, they are both honored and eliminated.9

But in Grégoireʼs inquiry the anonymous peasants and their space return exactly

where their history would otherwise efface them, and they resist what many readers of 

the history of the French revolution might make of the archival materials. The illiter-

ate locals and many of their alphabetic representatives resist the inquiry by virtue of 

a routine of everyday life that has neither time nor inclination to respond to the ques-

tions. The constructed image of peasant stability upsets the inquirer who is taken to be

an inquisitor. The stasis unsettles.10 The urban administrators find that the countryside

is indeed “un enclavement culturel néfaste” [150] (a pernicious cultural enclave) that

needs to be piqued and redressed, the routine of its roture broken, then straightened

and aimed toward the ends of progress. The words shared by the historians and Der-

rida bring forward, like any of Marinʼs ciphers where space and discourse are in play, a

confusion of revolution and routine. What perpetually turns on a central axis and aimsits writing toward enlightenment is countered by the labor of those who turn over the

soil and labor their fields with the cutting edges of their plows drawn by horses and


The authorsʼ study of Grégoireʼs inquiry emerges from the background of May

1968. It would be tempting to see in the inquest a rewriting of the utopian vision of the

events through the lens of their closure and aftermath in the early 1970s. The return to

order led to an eradication of the space made when other voices within the nation had

begun to speak. In La prise de la parole, a book written soon after the events had sub-

sided, Certeau speculated that the workers and students felt to the quick an inability to

8. In English in Heterologies: Discourse on the Other, chap. 8; in French in La Culture au


9. “Writing,” he concludes, “speaks of the past only in order to inter it. Writing is a tombin the double sense of the word in that, in the same text, it both honors and eliminates. [. . .]”[Writing of History 101-02] ([W]riting frays a path [chemine] between blasphemy and curios-ity; between what it eliminates in establishing it as past, and what it organizes from the present;between the privation or dispossession that it postulates, and the social normativity that it im-

 poses on the unknowing reader).10. Some of the lines of this argument are taken up in “LʼAbsent de Paris: In the Savage

Country” [585–86]. In that piece I tried to imagine the counterdiscourse of routine in the figure

of stagecoach wheels as they spin in classical Western films. They often seem to be turning in adirection opposite that of their forward motion. 

11. At the outset of “Des boyteux,” an essay pleading for humane recognition and treat-ment of possessed women and outsiders, Montaigne s̓ remarks about the difference between timeand space as it is lived and as it is mapped articulate the same point. Following the Gregorianreform of the Julian calendar after 1580, he notes, “[c]ombien de changemens devoient suyvrecette reformation! Ce fut prorement remuer le ciel et la terre à la fois. Ce neantmoins, il nʼest rien qui bouge de sa place: mes voisins trouvent lʼheure de leurs semences, de leur recolte,lʼopportunité de leurs negoces, les jours nuisibles et propices, au mesme point justement où illes avoyent assignez de tout temps” [1150] (how many changes were to follow this reformation!

 It meant indeed turning the heavens and earth topsy-turvy. Nevertheless, there is nothing that 

moves from its place: my neighbors find the hour of their sowing, of their harvest, the opportunityof their negotiations, the nefarious and propitious days at the very point where they had justlyassigned them for all time). The play on lʼheure and leur indicates that a serial time inhabits thewriting, and that its spacing is crucial to the scansion of the temporal rhythms that constitute its“routine,” which lives outside of the order of a ciphered calendar.

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make known their plight in words other than those of their superiors who were forever

coopting them. Their speech, one of initial rapture and rupture, was no sooner captured.

In Une politique de la langue the events and their aftermath are rehearsed in the context

of the years 1790–93, which, in turn, are implicitly mapped over the years 1968–73.

Various revolutions and their spaces are put into play. The ideals of 1789 are seen turn-

ing into control and colonization of difference such that any association of a so-called

founding moment with 1968 is called into question. Historical space of those who do

not speak, of savage subalterns avant la lettre, is surveyed and mapped in order to show

how routines work within and against revolution. An intermediate space of politics and

historiography emerges from the effect of a sort of historical lap-dissolve in which two

different spaces and temporal moments, for an instant coextensive, begin to bleed into

each other.

In a similar fashion, by superimposing upon one another the relations of text, im-

age, and aspect of Deguyʼs Tombeau, Marinʼs Utopiques, Deleuzeʼs “Pensée nomade,”

and Certeau, Julia, and Revelʼs Une politique de la langue, we discover that in the

time and place of their writing, multiple spaces are invented. Through four intertwined

“operations”—poetic, utopic, philosophic, historiographic—common areas emerge,

and so do also some specific and singular styles and textures. All contend with what isperceived to be a closure—both predictable and ineluctable—of a space that had been

opened by the simultaneous acting, playing, and writing of the protests and strikes of 

1968. All of them ask how other spaces and, in the same tenor of the term, other events

can be created in inherited political and critical spheres. All of them arch toward their

own writing as graphic and physical evidence of space glimpsed or made manifest. All

demonstrate in themselves that space is not out-there but in-here, inhering in what, here

and now, we see and hear.

In view of some bold and brutal concluding lines we can observe that none of the

four operations reduces “space” to a definition. Doing so, they infer, would turn what

resists a name into a stable, immobile, and pigeonholed object. Implied is that psychicand geographic spaces are of the same feather, but also that nonetheless language,

praxis, and space are mixed. Their relations with the practical side of utopian politics

(where, as children, we have all fantasized how a space can be inserted into nowhereto turn it into now here) are evinced in a move backward that thrusts forward and back

and over again. The politics of their spaces inheres in the potentialities they embody

in their form or style of writing.12 They thus also imply that where space pertains to

critical theory greater consideration is owed to concepts cutting lines of demarcation

between language and the world at large. Space becomes space through the discourses

that riddle it, such that, as Deleuze once said about Proust, perhaps rewriting Girau-

douxʼs aphorism that Truffaut had used to launch the politics of New Wave cinema, “Ilnʼy a plus dʼoeuvres, il nʼy a que des auteurs”: “Il nʼy a pas de logos, il nʼy a que des

hiéroglyphes” [ Lʼile déserte 193] (there no longer are works, there are only authors:

there is no more logos, there are only hieroglyphs). In hieroglyphs can be found other

spaces, those of fables of every species, in the productive deficiency seen where lan-

guage conveys inadequately what is felt through sensation and perception.

The epigraph from Perecʼs  Espèces dʼespaces of 1974, cited by Marie-Claire

Ropars-Wuilleumiers at the beginning of the section entitled “Non-Places” in her Écri-re lʼespace of 2002, indicates that she too reaches back to the moment in which, all of 

a sudden, space once had become, as it had for Henri Lefebvre, an object of critical

12. “Lʼespace jouit de potentialitiés pour autant quʼil rend possible la réalisationdʼévénements” (Space bears potentialities inasmuch it makes possible the realization of events),notes Deleuze in “Lʼépuisé,” in respect to Beckett, for whom the explosive qualities of language

 produce and abolish the space they create [Quad 76]. 

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reflection. Perec implied in espace, notes Ropars in her brilliant reading of the title of 

 Espèces dʼespaces, a manifest hieroglyph that is at once a tomb and a word that invents

other spaces out of and through its own form. The word is, literally and graphically,

invested with space and translates other spaces through the arrangement of its frag-

mentary and even mosaic characters. Perec may have been inclined to create “other

spaces” in the beguiling nonplace of its given form and of the “constrained time” in

which he had probably invented it.13 Rescued in 2002, his hieroglyphic reading is used

to show that, as Ropars concludes in a jeweled prose of her own, “[l]e pouvoir critique

de la notion dʼespace est à la mesure de lʼaporie qui contraint à lʼécrire sans lui laisser

de lieu pour être écrit” [178] (the critical power of the notion of space is of the order

of the aporia that requires its writing without a place to be written). In other (and more

flaccid) words, a sense of something absent or something missing causes space to be

written in the simultaneous act and trace of writing. It belongs to a creative urgency

felt, as noted above in three studies born of the apprehension of foreclosed potentiality,

in political and social spheres. Eradication of space summons its writing. Now where

we see space as that which is entombed, its inscription and decryption bear increasing

political necessity. For starters, the decomposition of space witnessed in the trajecto-

ries of these works of critical theory brings us back to the mosaic and riddled surfaceswhere fragments become local spaces or topographies where movement and reflection

bear on other, larger areas with which we work through our ongoing and crucial labors

of writing. To go back to the sense of a loss of critical space felt in 1973 means mea-

suring and engaging what we have further lost in the political and critical arena three

decades later.


Blanchot, Maurice. Lʼentretien infini. Paris: Gallimard, 1969.________. Lʼespace littéraire. Paris: Gallimard, 1955.

________. Le pas au-delà. Paris: Gallimard, 1973.Certeau, Michel de.  La culture au pluriel. Ed. Luce Giard. 1974. Paris: Gallimard,

1993.________. Heterologies: Discourse on the Other. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U

of Minnesota P, 1986.________. La prise de la parole. Ed. Luce Giard. Paris: Seuil, 1994.________. The Writing of History. Trans. Tom Conley. New York: Columbia UP, 1992.

Certeau, Michel de, Dominique Julia, and Jacques Revel. Une politique de la langue: La Révolution française et les patois. Coll. “Bibliothèque des histoires.” Paris:

Gallimard, 1975.

Conley, Tom. “ Lʼabsent de Paris: In the Savage Country.” Michel de Certeau—In thePlural. Ed. Ian Buchanan. South Atlantic Quarterly 100.2 (Spring 2001): 575–98.

Cowling, David.  Building the Text: Architecture as Metaphor in Late Medieval and  Early Modern France. Oxford: Clarendon, 1998.

Deguy, Michel. Tombeau de Du Bellay. Coll. “Cahiers du Chemin.” Paris: Gallimard,


13. Lefebvre deals with the notion of constrained time at the conclusion of  La production

de lʼespace: “Cependant que la pratique spatiale, celle de lʼespace répressif-oppressif, tendait à restreindre le temps au temps de travail productif, et de plus à réduire les rythmes vécus en les

définissant par les gestes rationalisés et localisés du labeur (du travail divisé)” [469] (Yet spatial practice, that of repressive-oppressive space, tended to constrain time to the time of productivelabor, and even more to reduce lived rhythms in defining them by rationalized and localized gestures of labor [of the division of labor]).The words subscribe to the politics of Montaigneʼsremark on peasant time [n13 supra].

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Deleuze, Gilles. “Lʼépuisé.” Quad. Paris: Minuit, 1992.________.  Lʼîle déserte et autres textes. Paris: Minuit, 2002.________. “Pensée nomade.” Nietzsche aujourdʼhui 1: Intensités. Paris: UGE 10/18, 1973.

159–74. Rpt. in Lʼîle déserte et autres textes. Ed. David Lapoujade. Paris: Minuit,

2002. 351–64.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. Mille plateaux. Vol. 2 of Capitalisme et schizophré-nie. Paris: Minuit, 1980.

Derrida, Jacques. De la grammatologie. Paris: Minuit, 1967.

Du Bellay, Joachim.  La deffence et illustration de la langue françoise. Paris: Arnoul

Angelier, 1549.________. Lʼolive. Paris: Arnoul Angelier, 1549.________. Les regrets. Paris: Frédéric Morel, 1558.

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and Its Discontents. The Standard Edition of the Com- plete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Ed. James Strachey. Vol. 21. Lon-

don: Hogarth, 1961.

Gray, Floyd. La poétique de Du Bellay. Paris: Nizet, 1978.

Lefebvre, Henri. La production de lʼespace [The Production of Space]. 1974. 4th ed.

Paris: Anthropos, 2000.Lemaire de Belges, Jean. Les épîtres de lʼamant vert. 1512. Ed. Jean Frappier. Lille:

Giard, 1948.

Marin, Louis. Utopiques: Jeux dʼespaces. Paris: Minuit, 1973.

Montaigne, Michel de. Essais. Ed. A. Thibaudet and M. Rat. Paris: Gallimard/Pléiade,


Rigolot, François. Poésie et Renaissance. Paris: Seuil, 2002.

Ropars-Wuilleumier, Marie-Claire.  Écrire lʼespace. Paris: Presses de lʼUniversité de

Vincennes-à-Saint-Denis, 2002.

Vidler, Anthony. Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture.

Cambridge: MIT P, 2000.

 All translations are mine unless otherwise indicated.

 In its first form this article was a lecture given in a seminar taught at the School of Critical The-ory at Cornell in the summer of 2003 on space and critical theory in France. The author would like to thank both the wonderful participants in the seminar and the peerless colleages—Mieke

 Bal, Étienne Balibar, and Dominick La Capra—for their generosity and encouragement.