Clerks of the last word

Transcribed below is part of a text – a journal of sorts – that was written twenty four years ago, in the context of a certain crisis.  When read attentively, it speaks volumes to our own historical juncture.  Here I would only underscore (twice, emphatically, on a hard copy) what it has to say about journals and newspapers, diarists and journalists, which proves (before the “fact”) to hold true for blogs and bloggers — whether micro- or macro- — as well.

December 12, 1987

The journal is not a form of the fragmentary.  Comparable in this only to the aphorism, it is the form of literary perfection under the threat of fragmentation.  It registers the completeness of one, and yet another, and still another day gone by, a day that for this individual diarist might find no repetition and renewal in a next day.  The diarist is in the situation of the skeptic who is no longer absolutely sure that the sun will rise again in the morning; and the habit of expecting it to do so has become just as doubtful to him as the certainty that the truths of today will still be valid tomorrow.  The entry of one day stands for no other.  Each is written from the perspective of the absolute disaster – that it cannot be continued, revised, renewed, or outdone.  The diarist’s every word could be his last.  Thus in the form of the diary – and in every related form, from the aphorism to the newspaper article – the absolute skepticism about the durability of the written word and its meaning is intertwined with an astonishing optimism that demonstrates itself more in the compactness and conciseness of its linguistic expression than in its contents:  since each entry could be the last, everything that comes together in it must appear under the aspect of its perfection, that is, of closure and finality.  The world and language of the journal are finished.  Its words are no longer intended for someone else, not even for the writer – thus the diary’s appearance of empty interiority, thus the newspaper’s merely formal, abstract public aspect, thus the pathos of the obsessively detailed realism of both.  The diarist and the journalist write less as clerks of their own interior life, or of political history and its ideological overlay, than as clerks of the last word that can be pronounced on their experiences and their world.  Where they appear as psychologists, anecdote collectors, critics or propagandists, they do so in order to signal an extreme danger – the danger of their own end.  Journalists and diarists are prophets of their deadline.  Their metier is catastrophes – preferably those affecting their audience and themselves.  They are the realists of the last days, notorious prophets of the apocalypse….  The journalist, in his function as critic, or the diarist, who notes the last word on the occurrences of the day, defines the danger, wards off the threat of indefinite events, and installs himself and his word as the last sovereign of his short epoch.

Werner Hamacher, “Journals, Politics” in Responses:  On Paul de Man’s Wartime Journalism, 1989, 438-9.

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