This interview by H.L. Hix continues a series that began as multi-question interviews but now has taken the form of one-question “mini-interviews.” To ask a series of questions about a book is to keep returning to the book and thus to emphasize its opacity, to regard it as one would regard, say, a painting. To ask a single question, Hix tells himself, is to emphasize the book’s transparency, to regard it as one would a window, as what offers a vista, what frames for us a world. The subject of this interview is Touch to Affliction, by Nathalie Stephens, now known as Nathanaël.
H. L. Hix: Very near the end of the book appears this sentence: “What is city is vociferous and batters the body, your body and mine” (75). This seems to me to be a kind of culmination of the book’s pervasive concerns with the body and the city. Though the text itself names other writers, composers and cultural figures, this sentence made my mind run to Hobbes, and to this question: does it seem to you at all consonant with Touch to Affliction to construe it as (among its many other aspects) a counterposition to Hobbes’s Leviathan, his ultimately utopian metaphor of human society as a unity-in-multiplicity?
Nathanaël: I haven’t read enough of Hobbes to be able to say. Though I like the relationship he draws between imagination and decay. As I receive your question, I think of consensus and the crowd. And how each to me is abhorrent, a persistent aberration. Each negates the possibility of relation or reciprocity. Adriana Cavarero calls Hobbes up in Horrorism, arguing for an ontology of the body. It is precisely the onset (immemorial) of the crowd, which is so endangering to the body and its ability to exist in a specific way in a city. Cities, which become synonymous with the wars they receive. The city is an architecture; it is also an idea. Its vociferations make something of the structures, which is unscriptable. Maybe it is this which necessitates the intrusion of a foreignness in the body of the city itself. The scaffolding, for example, in front of the Palais de Justice at the moment of the Klaus Barbie trial. It was not so much the erection of this vast structure which impressed me, but that it could be taken down. I was small enough to notice. The public square is foremost the place of the gallows, perhaps the prototypical spectatorship, with its murderously inscribed desires. Consensus really is the violent abdication of thought. The tacit relinquishment of historical agency to an inviolable executioner—history itself, perhaps. It is difficult to account now for Touch to Affliction. It is many years since writing it, and I have several times changed cities since. And my name. But I do thank you for remembering me to this work.
Recent works by Nathanaël include a book of seisms, Sisyphus, Outdone. Theatres of the Catastrophal, the trilogy of notebooks, Carnet de somme, Carnet de délibérations and Carnet de désaccords and the essay of correspondence, Absence Where As (Claude Cahun and the Unopened Book). Translations include works by Danielle Collobert, Hilda Hilst, Édouard Glissant, Catherine Mavrikakis and Hervé Guibert.