It might be helpful to frame my ideas about things going off the ends of themselves through Blanchot’s treatment of the interrogative form in his essay The Most Profound Question, in The Infinite Conversation (1969).

The nature of a question is to be incomplete: it demands something else, namely an answer. Blanchot argues that while the question is incomplete as speech, it is not incomplete as a question: “on the contrary, it is speech that is accomplished by having declared itself incomplete” (p. 12). He continues:

“Through the question we give ourselves the thing and we give ourselves the void that permits us not to have it yet, or to have it as desire. The question is the desire of thought.” (p. 12)

This incompleteness, this desire, this permission not to be there yet – this is “the richness of possibility” offered by the interrogative form (p. 12). It is an intense, brightened and more intimately connected version of reality than is afforded by a flat affirmation like “the sky is blue”. In the question “Is the sky blue?”, the blueness “has given way to the void”: it is directly and immediately in tune with the sky, “raised dramatically up to its possibility“. (p. 12).

So the interrogative form is charged with qualities that mean the form [the sky is blue] is very different from the form [is the sky blue? – yes]. Rather than simply affirming the truth conditions in the question, the answer “yes” truncates the richness at large in the question and turns it into a singular matter of fact. Rather than meeting the various calls of the question and drawing them to richly sympathetic conclusions, it just cuts them all off short. “The answer is the question’s misfortune, its adversity”. (p. 13)

There’s a mismatch: the answer doesn’t answer the question. The question does indeed have a lack that seeks fulfilment, but it lacks something other than the answer: “this lack is of a strange kind. It is not the severity of negation: it does not do away with, it does not refuse. […] The word ‘is’ is not withdrawn; it is only lightened, rendered more transparent, committed to a new dimension”. (p. 13)

In English the word ‘is’ raises to the beginning of the sentence in question formation – illuminated, says Blanchot, like the heightened brilliance of a star just before it dies. “Questioning is the moment wherein being veers and appears as the suspension of being in its turning.” (p. 13) He goes on:

“Hence the particular silence of interrogative sentences. It is as though being, in questioning itself – the ‘is’ of the questioning – had abandoned its part of resounding affirmation, its decisive, negating part, and had freed itself, even where it emerges foremost, from itself: opening itself, and opening the sentence in such a way that, in this opening, the sentence seems no longer to have its center in itself but outside of itself – in the neutral.” (p. 13)

I think this last paragraph draws closest to my concerns. I’ve described a number of things I’ve made as “going off the ends of themselves”, which suggests they have their centres outside themselves: the cut-up books, the marked-up books, the ocagraph, the whistling video, and the prepared texts all do something like this.  I want to go back to Kafka’s The Burrow after I’ve spent some more time with this essay, and look at the animal’s excursions into the outside.

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