Craig Dworkin with Sofi Thanhauser

Craig Dworkin’s No Medium

Sofi Thanhauser: I’d like to begin with a question about fear. In Reading the Illegible you relay an anecdote about Ferdinand de Saussure backing away from his own work on paragrammes. Having begun a project of searching out the names of dedicatory figures (you use Apollo as an example) hidden in small fragments inside the text of classical verse, de Saussure discovered something startling: not only could a single couplet “supply an almost endless number of names” but moreover any text could be read this way, yielding an infinite number of hidden messages. At this point, you suggest, the inhumanness of language’s sheer excess, its ability to signal so many meanings over and above those intended by any one writer, may have engendered in a De Saussure a kind of terror: a terror great enough to stop the paragramme project dead in its tracks. I loved reading this story, because I relate to that feeling of de Saussure’s and it is good to have one’s own fears named and taxonomized. My question is, have you ever been afraid of language? This could be in your critical work, your creative work, or outside of your writing life altogether. It could be a fear produced by language’s inadequacies or by its superpotencies, or by any other of its (or your) qualities. Secondly, do you think there is an appropriate level of fear one ought to feel towards language, just as there is perhaps an appropriate level of fear with which a sailor ought to view the sea?

Craig Dworkin: The tone in that account echoes the tenor of Paul de Man’s increasingly dark theology in the Resistance to Theory, and his sense of the inhumanness of language: the realization that it generates significations beyond our intentions and desires. Another way to put it would be to simply note that language exhibits far more organization than is necessary for our communicative purposes.