Stage that make the night more livable than the days: (Performing sexual differences)

[…] sexuality unsettles language and continuously hides itself there. Sexual difference cannot strip itself of language. Sexual difference is uncompromising despite all the language in the world.
Pascal Quignard, Vie secrète.
There would be no speech, no word, no saying that does not say and that is not and that does not establish or that does not translate something like sexual difference.
Jacques Derrida, “Fourmis.”
If I wanted to take my chances on statements that would not only be provocative, but that would also delight my enemies, I would say that deep down I’m not all that interested in philosophy, theory, etc […] What matters to me is indeed what you have just named: rhythm, tone, gesture, the “performative,” events.
Jacques Derrida, Mireille Calle-Gruber, “Scènes des différences. Où la philosophie et la poétique, indissociables, font événement d’écriture.” (Interview).

1More than one stage.

2That is the statement. Or the injunction.

3One would have to pass through the stages of bodies and languages to approach the very obscure, far-reaching, taunting question of sexualities, that is, of sexual difference. From that which is not seen but is read. Is decoded. Jacques Derrida writes: “Sexual difference […] is never initially and from end to end visible. It does not give itself to seeing (knowing or perceiving), only to reading. It is interpreted […]” [1] Still more: it is invented, constantly, it is reinvented, leaving words to fashion, that is, to fiction, a body of writing.

4In all domains of thought, then, make stages of sexual difference. Readings of sexual difference, writings of sexual difference: the genitive engenders the reflection of an act that turns, returns, is returned onto its own movement, signaling that if difference is read or written, it is also what reads us and writes us.

5Only through it am I read, writing-ed, interpreted, invented.

6That sexual identity, if there is such a thing, could only be non-assignable, maintained by a fabulous instability. And that this act acknowledging that it acts, acting has a performative force. More than one stage and never just one stage. For they are all touching, they touch at the place where they differ; and it is this vertigo of sexual difference, which touches and does not touch, touches where it does not touch, and does not make a relation, it is this vertigo that gives the strange phantom-feeling that there is, inalienable, a piece of something else. That there is alterity.

7And that there is only relation for the one who weaves, produces, the text. In all genres. The stage of readings and writings of sexualities gives rise to the work of forms: trans-forms, de-forms, per-forms, ex-forms. By which gender studies (études de genre) can’t proceed without the work of genres—rhetorical, literary, artistic. And the exploration of their blending: combinatory, collage, hybridization, fragmentation, deconstruction, ordering, counter-ordering, composition.

8It is in these interval-iary spacing-spaces that emerge—that are said—the infinite differences of sexual difference: nameless, un-pursued, with neither taxonomy nor prerequisite form. It is the proceeding of a poiesis of a lettered speech constitutive of the work that performs processes of sexual difference. That parforme, as old French says, pointing to an accomplishing, a taking fully into account of verbal material, not only its grammar (the letter) but also voice, silence, the air that constitute it. In short, what Pascal Quignard refers to as, with Fronton and his disciples, “speculative rhetoric.” [2] From then on, it is important to explore what performance of sexual differences can do: between a philosophy, namely that of Derrida, which endeavors to perform the reason and réson of thought, and a literature, in this case that of Quignard, which works on scenes of thought in the non-philosophical lettered tradition. Between a philosophy that blends genres [3] and makes love to language [4], and a writing that practices satura, potpourri, and explores the “sexual night” [5] as a nyctalope.

9Explore what performance can do and what it does to sexual differences: especially when it exposes the non-actor body of the writer Pascal Quignard on stage, seeking—in the stage’s darkness, with two random wild carrier birds, and the actress Marie Vialle—to call on the uterine night of the “first kingdom” that was amniotic life in the maternal belly. [6]

10Certain of the following texts will be put to the test of genre, if it is one, of performance, genre-less genre or genre of all genres; or at least traces of texts, since performance does not rely on fixed writing. That it is not all rest but all fluctuations, opening a space of infinite interaction between languages, sexual differences, genres. And that the book, the page, the sentence, the languages are the stage itself into which the body-performer adventures, and where the operating language returns onto itself, plays into its own hands on the horizon of the work. Finds, invents, a horizon for the work.

11We will thus endeavor, in these pages, to follow the performative adventure of genres, first with Derrida, author of Circumfession, then with Quignard who, since 2014, takes the stage for “Performances of Darkness”, and has meditated on this experiment in two recent books, The Origin of Dance (L’Origine de la danse), and Performances of Darkness (Performances de ténèbres). [7]

12Tied up to the corpus, apprentices of the material, my readings follow the trial and error of a research that is within the scope of the essay, in the strong sense that Montaigne gives it, the author of a work that he named with this title: Les Essais: “exagium” weighing oneself, a having oneself [s’avoir] that does not count on knowledge [savoir] and constantly resubmits itself to the test of words.

13Performance is an essay of oneself, privately, without belonging to an institution, without a position of mastery, faced with the unattainable mystery of our sexual and textual engenderings, which is also the mystery of the epiphanies of a differential writing wherein the why of the world spills over into the how of the work in its speculations. Upon the loose soil of words, the performance of sexual differences repeats the stubborn gesture of a writing fascinated by the question, by identity fiction: the “who am I, me?” [8] of the agonizing mother, which the son at her bedside table (Jacques Derrida) intimately takes responsibility for. In this sense, performance would always be “in the dark,” a gloomy questioning of the origins and ends that eat away at “an ‘I’ with an insatiable appetite for the ‘non-I’” (Baudelaire [9]).

14It is probably pointless to clarify that it is not a question here of comparing the incomparable, but of drawing out the teaching of two very-singular attitudes, Derrida’s and Quignard’s, each of them iconoclastic with regard to the specific context of his exercise.

Performativity-Perverformativity: where thought of sexual difference is accomplished and exhausted in language


[…] then I will follow the bloodstains, the first one that I remember seeing with my eyes seeing, outside, since I was and remain blind to the one from my seven or eighth day, which turns out to be the one from my mother’s birth, July 23, this first blood which came to me from a cousin’s genitals, Simone, 7 or 8 years old, on the day that the pedal of a scooter accidentally penetrated her, Verfall, with the first ghostly sensation, this algesic sympathy around my own genitals that brought me to the terry towels that my mother left lying around, “marked” from red to brown, in the bidet, then, I understood so much later, with her own “periods”[10]

16The phrasing of this excerpt from Circumfession is inscribed, without a solution of continuity, in the flow of a unique periodic sentence, which constitutes the twenty-first of Circumfession since that is the constraint that Derrida gave himself: to write in one go, in one breath, each time singular, 59 periodic periphrases, for his 59th year, in an interior margin where the text of the confession and the cirumlocutionary address, in the image of Augustine, unfolds in a strip or rather in a counter-strip and in “counter-fire” beneath an academic theoretical writing by Geoffrey Bennington entitled “Derridabase”.

17Above: the synthesis of Derridian concepts like a software of thought Below: a solitary trail, of improbable form, the course of an interiorized voice that gives itself body and language links in its search for the sentence.

18Circumfession is a performance of philosophy when it is not afraid of thinking in the language of writing, of thinking quasi-concepts; a philosophy that is not afraid of frightening itself by setting up stages for the deconstruction of the concept. Thus freeing signs of the body, bloodstains, inscriptions of sexual difference. In this regard, the choice of the periodic sentence is a poietic choice: it allows for operations that unsettle significations that are to be made to intervene, to write “improbable things that destabilize,” [11] to “weave the simulacra […] on the chain of at least four times.” [12] Such is the functioning, right here, in a reflexive-performative way, from the word période (meaning, periodic sentence) which, through the play of homophones and the Babelic intersection of languages, can make one simultaneously hear the rhetorical meaning of the long oratory sentence articulated in several propositions, the sexual designation of feminine menstrual periods, and the poetic value of rhythm since “period”, in English, besides its signifying, as it does in French, phrasing and menstrual periods, also refers to the punctuation mark.

19Yet, saying all of this, the word and the long sentence that carries it, say the opposite in the same breath: the long subject phrasing in parataxis dismantles the clauses which allows play to pass through, without subordinating conjunctions, from the little girl’s blood to the blood of the circumcision to the blood of the mother’s menstrual periods; the maternal periodic sentences literally refer to the son’s menstrual periods; the period punctuates (and signals) the absence of periods (the punctuation sign) in a text that presents nothing but the comma’s paratactic enjambments, and runs the line for several pages until the only period that there is: the period at the end. Which is also the “endpoint” when it is immediately followed by notes, references or translations of quotes from Augustine.

20This plasticity of syntax favors amphibology, one word or syntactic unit being able to attach itself just as well to the clause that precedes it or to the one that follows it, as well as ellipses or even a hiatus in the logic of thought. This allows for something to arrive in the interval, the disavowal with the avowal, the unformulated in the formulated, the unthought and the unthinkable which are constitutive of the faculty of thinking.

21Thus the philosopher-performer never ceases to “revolve around”: “revolve around one’s own unknown grammar, Hebrew, which is made to come, like from his home, but,” [13] his, I, who says I; but those who also say I are his mother Georgette Sultana Esther, Augustin whose Confessions he quotes, he-Derrida that he quotes from a 1976 notebook, he-Derrida from whom he evokes several publications such as The Post Card and Glas. I, therefore, looking for itself, in blood, the raw and the flood of blood and of the sentence:


question of what blood has always been for me, since in looking for a sentence, I look for myself in a sentence, yes, I, and since a circumpast period at the end of which I say I and that has the form anyway, my language, an other, of what I was revolving around, a periphrasis of the other, […].[14]

23In truth, on the brim of his truth’s lips, at times he looks for and wonders about the sentence, sometimes he wonders what he is looking for with these avowals. Which, beyond all meaning and misinterpretation seems to mobilize the search for a line of writing, it’s the trace of the event of the circumcision, which took place and not place, where he was not consciously, where he is “for nothing, for no one” [15] (“which is recalled to me without having taken place” [16]). The event of the text, texted text, textured to death, performs the written circumcision with etymological and morphological incisions, cuts, cuttings and stitchings as well as with metaphor spun from the syringe pen, from the blood of ink, from the vein where the writing is collected. And the words then make flowing and skirting phrasings that lose their meaning:


see the blood but also what is coming, cauterization, coagulation or not, strictly contain the circumcision’s inflammation, one, my own, the only, rather than circumnavigation or circumference, even though the unforgettable circumcision brought me where I needed to go, and circumfession if I want to say and make something of a truth-less confession that revolves around me, a “hymn”-less (hymnology) and “virtue”-less (aretalogy) confession, without managing to close off its possibility, [17]

25Still more: “circumcision” becomes the password, the principle of the philosophical approach in which body and blood rites precede, feed thinking. It opens onto the conception (not the concept but the birth) and the implementation of a writing of union and initiation in which there is no mastery of a full speech. “Circumcision” assumes its function as the matrix of an other grammar in order to become an other of thinking-phrasing. It is what is shown in the title, the strangeness of the hapax which crashes into/conjugates two incompossibles, “circumcision” with “confession,” Jewishness with Catholicism.


Circumcision, I’ve never talked about anything but that, consider discourse at its limits, margins, marks, steps, etc. […], the closure, the ring (marriage and gift), the sacrifice, the body’s writing, the excluded or subtracted pharmakos, the cutting/stitching of Glas […], when the word first of all, at least, CIRCUMCISED, relayed so many many times, multiplied by my “culture,” latin, philosophy, etc., as it was printed on my tongue circumcised in turn, could not work, pull back, from every side, love, yes, a word, milah, loves another one, the whole lexicon that my writings are obsessed with, CIR-CUM-SISED, is printed in the wax hypothesis, no, that’s mistaken and wrong, why, what is not working, but saws, yes, and all the dots on the i,[18]

27If the flashing up, the turn of phrase and of thought is never enclosure, it is because, in the always out of sync re-continuation of the body-corpus, sexual difference and the irresolution of its investigation are at stake. In the lexical bypassing where the feminine of the masculine arises, I-Derrida continuously brings into the world the mother in him, at each syntactic detour. Beside Georgette Sultana Esther’s bed in the imminence of death, like Augustine with Monica, he makes his mother in him speak. What’s more, he integrates her into himself, in her image he suffers from facial paralysis, “grimace of my lucidity” [19]; he confesses her for “one always confesses the other, I confess means I confess my my mother means I admit to making my mother admit,” [20] “making her admit, her, in me”. [21] Here one remarks how important the syntax is or rather the interlacing of terms that operate a subtle conjugation she/he her/him, and “me” is, from that moment on bipolarized, coupling feminine and masculine. Likewise, while concurring with the dying woman’s utterance when responding to her “my mother aches,” [22] I-Derrida finds himself, through the analogical activity of the sentence, masculine bearer of a daughterly filial love in his feminine genealogy:


My mother aches, as if she was speaking for me, both in my direction and in my place, although in the disarray of amnesiac appearance in which she ends her days, memory of her mother, her own mother, is the most present to her, and that she looks like her more and more, I mean like my grandmother[23]

29An apparatus of echoes haunts the entire text, calling in “my castration simulated,” [24] “homosexual ventriloquism” [25] or even “my impossible homosexuality” to be “declared just like at customs,” associated with the epicene name Claude of “cousins from my childhood, they overflow from my corpus.” [26] Calling in, from the rite of circumcision, blending of genders, “this incredible last supper of wine and of blood,” of circumcision and of fellation (“fellocircumcision,” “autofellocircumcision” [27]), of bedsores on the mother’s body and of “my circumcision’s eschatology,” [28] and not of the autobiographical-theological form that is soon called the “immanent shekhinah, this feminine figure of a Yaweh that remains so strange and so familiar.” [29]

30Pushing the subject’s alterations and alterity to every extremity, the performer takes the greatest risks. He is cried with the tears of his mother, that is, cries over her “but as an other, a crying other”; and in the following transposition it is the abyss of the oldest brother’s death that awaits him in the process, the missing brother for whom he is the “substitute”: “I cry from my mother over the child for which I am the substitute, hence the other, non-grammatical, syntax, which remains to be invented.” [30]

31The destabilization is at its height, the matrix is no longer matricial, the confusion of the origin lies at the origin; the question refers to the eve of the question, that is to say to the question of the question, and the subject to citation of oneself—interlocuted and apostrophized: “and I hear sneers, poor old man, you take the path, the eve is not tomorrow, you will never know.” [31] A subject that is contradicted, contested, made the last scene’s stage, [32] made the end’s endless influx. Is remade.

32It is to say that confusion wins with the signature of a subject who is no longer who he was before being worked by his writing, henceforth a disseminated and other-subject, a non-reappropriable subject of interrupted speech. Who cannot sign without bleeding, operating with the saignature. For Derrida who, while making use of it, is suspicious of the notion of the performative, which risks to “imply a sort of confidence in presence” and to become “a doublespeak,” for he who strives to “turn words,” that is, “to avoid the authority of the discursive” [33] and to deconstruct Austin’s theory “by refusing a certain ‘ontology’,” [34] consideration of the performative dimension comes into conflict with its spectral figures; and it is revelatory of a “quasi-performativity” [35] and of “quasi-concepts.” What Derrida, in The Post Card, already called the “perverformative.” [36]

33With Circumfession, performativity is at its height, and as perverse as ever: playing with the illusion of an identity subject but without forgetting his circumcisional cutting, and that, as a subject, he is neither totality nor totalizable.

34Overdetermined, perverformativity turns back against itself. Taking care not to neglect the impenetrable, Derrida’s perverformative performance points out “a secret that remained secret,” and was “phenomenalized” as such. The question of how bores into it. How the secret of letters. “How can one point out a secret, phenomenalize it, without making it lose its secret separation?” [37] One would have to go back to the darkness of the secret and proceed blindly. Circumfession’s perverformativity is, in this way, emblematic: where the thinking of thought performs beside the dead woman’s bed; on the outskirts of the night of words and sexual differences. Where, between sacred language and secular language, writing endeavors to “cajole” (amadouer) sentences, in other words to burn (the amadou), to ignite and to passionately love.

35It is the dream of love made by language: this language is described, phenomenalized and sexuated, like a “body of rules” and “in the the erection that constitutes it itself in law” (Monoloingualism of the Other[38]). It is the desire to print, on the skin from which books are made, not a signature but “a tattoo”: a form, a drawing, blood and ink blended “to make all of the colors seen” by this language. [39]

36Sarah Kofman, in her time, aptly highlighted the dual text/sex strip that is at work in Derrida, in which there is at once “a sexualization of the text and a textualization of sex.” [40] And in which she remarks that, thus managing to establish the law of the general equivalence of opposites, writing “sounds the death knell of phallogocentrism […] in aid of a ‘feminine pleasure,’ if by feminine one understands undecidable oscillation.” [41]

37Textual differences and sexual differences thus go hand in hand into the night of a language that is more lived in and livable than the brightness of days.

Pascal Quignard’s Performances of Darkness: Where to make the event of the sexual night happen

38Pascal Quignard’s entire body of work is haunted by “the fourth night.” This is what he calls the invisible and immeasurable night, the night of the night, before the three nights that give rhythm to human life—namely “the uterine night” in which we bathe before birth; “the terrestrial night” or celestial night of days that houses our sleep and our dreams; “the infernal night” in which death plunges into us.


Behind the gravid night, behind the night of the day and of the earth, behind the mortal night, there is the true night, the night of the night, the non-biological night, the night before life, the night before being, the night before the Big Bang.
Night of time, void at the bottom of the universe, without a calling, making emptiness, burning, excessively black.
Fossil night.
At the bottom of the night of the past there is the night of long ago.
There nothing is.
It is the dis-oriented, dis-inter-ested, dis-ested.[42]

40Yet, from this absolute, a-topical, a-temporal, unknown that makes up “the bottom of the universe,” that is an outcome of the life of the world and the beings that inhabit it. It is this absolute night that “the sexual night” is a part of, that is to say the night of before-the-being, the night of conception in which the scene of coitus took place.


I was not there the night that I was conceived.
It is difficult to witness the day that came before you.
An image is missing in the soul. We depend upon a situation that took place in a necessary fashion but that will never be revealed to our eyes. We call this missing image “the origin.” We look for it behind everything that we live. That is where the gestures that we repeat without taking care, the same failing words are going to go to waste.[43]

42At the origin thus, there is the night of the origin. Prior to the past, there is the aorist night of long ago. And as a result, the stupefaction of language which has no home in the “fourth night” and which fails in saying this unknown. One would need the night of writing which, removed from significations, goes, blindly moving forward. At the site where the absence of a primal image leads to searching, in the shadows, for the arts and for techniques of approximative and fantasized image production.

43The impossible experience of this sexual night when “I was not there” allows for literature and the arts. The writer or the artist is the “dis-ested” being; unsettled by the ontological break which makes holes in him, using the means of his art he seeks to see what he will never see. Fictioning, figuring, he gives (himself) the illusion (the impression) of seeing darkness. Of seeing inside of blackness. “To see before light was. To see before the mouth knew the atmosphere. To see before the body breathed.” [44]

44Beginning with the most elementary images—shadows of a flame on the inside of paleolithic caves—up to the most refined tales and paintings, “all our life we seek to pass through the shocking source (two principled nudities) by means of a kind of perceptual sieve.” [45]

45The beautiful book entitled The Sexual Night stages this search: turning the large landscape-formatted black pages on which the text flickers, printed in white, darkened-undarkened, and wherein the splendid collection of works from all cultures and eras makes images of coitus emerge abundantly from the void, the reader is invited to perform the desire to see the previously unseen and the invisible. More than being about seeing, it is about voyeurism, the image of copulation making holes in the black page like a key hole. More than some illuminating view, it is the unfathomable nocturnal mystery of sexualities that is at work in this reading-performance—in which indecency, bestiality, humiliation, desire, love and pleasure are inseparable. It is “seeing like when one undresses the other. […] Seeing like when one unearths sexual alterity.” [46]

46It is actually seeing almost nothing. A quasi seeing. It is seeing what one doesn’t see, and seeing that nudity becomes “visibly nocturnal.” [47] Pascal Quignard connects this kind of chiaroscuro of the sexual stage with black-style engraving, engraving that cradles (with a cradle) the inked surface so that the luminescent pages can filter. A style that in turn he links to the shaman’s gesture in prehistoric caves. The shaman, “his mouth filled with his paint, drugged by it before he breaths it while singing or while imitating screams on the wall, hallucinates what he depicts.” [48]

47Since 2014, there has been even more: Pascal Quignard decided to bring the fascination with the Nights of painters and the immemorial primitive night before the terrestrial night onto the theater stage, where he invents, in these circumstances, a previously unseen genre (if it is a genre): “the Performance of Darkness.” Everything began four years prior, in 2010, when he was on stage with the butoh dancer Carlotta Ikeda, the reader of a text that he wrote for her: Medea, published in 2013 in The Origin of Dance with the title Meditating Medea. [49] Taking back up the myth of the infanticidal mother, Quignard digs into this figure, deepens her up to the point of making her into the “black mother,” the matrix which de-childs itself from the unborn child killed by its genetrix with a gladius sword. This leads to the painful questioning of birth as sexual de-affiliation, vital catastrophe, parturition-expulsion from the conceiving belly which Quignard calls “the first kingdom.”


Meditating Medea, the gladius on her genitals, her eyes closed,
Who is this women from which I am falling?
What is this place? What is this half-light? What is this region? What is this world? Where am I, here? What is this shaker of air that is taking me over and that I am breathing out? What is this ground where I am falling?
The world of the inside starts to get lost starting with the shout of birth,
starting with the first shout,
and it endlessly continues to get lost in language.[50]

49After the lamp-lit reading, Quignard stays on stage in the invisible black, watching Carlotta dance butoh which is the dance of darkness, of death, of survivors and of those reborn from the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

50Since Carlotta’s death, Pascal Quignard has pursued the experiment of the sexual night through a number of variations. The most recent performance, The River Bank in the Dark, [51] was created at the Festival d’Avignon in 2016 at La Chartreuse in Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. He transports the half-light of paleolithic caves onto the stage, he projects the shadow of the Eagle-Owl from the Chauvet cave and the shadow of the Raven of Lascaux onto the back of the stage, and, using the piano, he makes us hear the sounds of birds from Simon Pease Cheney and Olivier Messiaen. The wound from the de-child-ed childhood is once again at the heart of the Performance: “Pascal” needs the means of expression of two wild birds—the diurnal raven and the nocturnal owl, which frightens with its unpredictable movements, as well as the wonderful bird-language of the actress Marie Vialle, and also the owl mask that she wears—so that he can speak to “Maman.” And touch the belly that is originally from the “first kingdom” to which it is always already and forever an orphan.

51It is a stage of staggering intensity on which the dead and the living, the human and the animal, dream-music-sexuality-thought hold together in the ashen glow of birds of prey. There’s more: the “ashen glow,” which in physics is marked by the reflection between the Earth and the Moon, for Pascal Quignard, constitutes “the signature, in space, of life on earth” [52]; and it is also the “temporality in extremis” in which “books are now written […] where everything must decompose letter by letter, fragment by fragment, mourning for mourning, atom by atom, and be re-reflected in the entire History of man, for just over two million years.” [53]

52Thrust onto the stage of millions of years, Quignard does not play, not even his own character. He performs: the sexual night, the invisible. He performs: the incompletable, the stillborn. Neither actor nor acted, nor witness, he is on stage protection-less, costume-less, mask-less, imageless; he gives himself to the darkness, to non-seeing, to solitude, to the unpredictable wild. Consider: celestial body [astre] and disasters [désastres]. Not some illuminating view, but rather the unfathomable mystery of sexuation. “There is no agreement in art. It is the disagreed that emerges behind the unpredictable—like sex itself.” [54]

53Metamorphoses, gashes, volatile bodies of sexual difference, inhuman human devouring, undoings, erasures, inhabit the stage’s shadow in this way. The disappearing Living Thing. “Alone—before all—out of sight.” [55]

54The performance hovers on the edge of its own gesture; hovers there only because of the gestation of its gesture. It is the most intimately and universally nude presence; with no object other than the authority of the form of the instant. On the thresholds of dawn and of dusk, of the end of the performance. Obsessive fear of ephemeral beauty, tears and loss remain. Or rather “the Lost” which is the unknowable riverbank of darkness.

The Sexual Pictogram

55Just as I was bringing my reflections here to a close, Anxiety and Beauty[56]—which is the third part of Pascal Quignard’s triptych after Sex and Dread (Éditions Gallimard, 1994) and The Sexual Night (Éditions Flammarion, 2007)—was released. This third work, landscape-formatted like its antecedents (he prefers to call them “black organ books”), printed in white on black, comes with images by François de Coninck.

56These images, or rather these erasures of images, are quite naturally inclined toward provoking Pascal Quignard’s fascination. Cut out from pornographic magazines and then plunged into an acid solution, they are left quasi-perceptible; they leave the black just as exposed as the traces of genitals and scenes of copulation. In ashes. Where one’s eye touches the nocturnal being of sexuality. François de Corninck calls them: “Vestiges of love.”

57Upon a backdrop of inky night, Pascal Quignard’s text pursues its meditation-performance on the fantasmatic trauma of sexual stages (and as if to better submerge writing and reading into the night, the book does not include any pagination):


For one’s entire life childish sexuality pervades adult desire.
For one’s entire life the vision of coitus persists in being an affront.
Something that we call social shame threatens the body when it is stripped and when desire comes forth onto it.
Every embrace is traumatic. Every embrace is a grasp filled with distress.
Oh voiceless contact in the shadows!

59This leads to deep and permanent confusion in the soul of humans: Pascal Quignard expresses it in leitmotivs, especially through poetic prose verse alone on the oblong surface of the black page, which raises up everything that is said, turns it into a visionary utterance with a shamanic power:


The women on the faces of men that they meet,
because they produce them, see the bottom of the world that grips,
that tightens, the bottom of time, the boundary of the night, in a
poor, sticky, sighing, dying, dark scene.

61Which leads to the corollary of this aphorism on the following page:


It is such a rare thing for the soul to manage, one day, to think about
pleasure with pleasure.

63The declination of the words night and nights of the human species leads to an observation of the “performative character of pornography” in which the erotic and the oneiric are conjugated, the stage, the obscenity and the off-stage. And only literature allows for this performativeness, that is to say, a writing without concepts but not without vigilance, pushing language to weigh the letters and to return thinking down to its slightest trenches.

64Performing, from then on, is performing existing: “ex alio sistere,” which Quignard recalls means “to access something of being from another origin than oneself.” That as a result, “every man is ‘outside of a sex’ which has nothing to do with ‘his own sex’.” And concluding that, “the idea of a sexual identity is an absurd joke.”

65To perform, from this point on, will be to revolve around the mystery of sexuation, without reducing it to the particular dimension of biographization nor the generalist dimension of conceptualization. This performance demands stepping outside of signification; one must change language and open the space-sign in which text-image, birth-death, body to body, hand to hand, dream to dream are coupled. The Performances of Darkness are inscribed in the emblem of sexual mating, in the grip that the human hieroglyph becomes: “the pictogram that made us.”


The pictogram that made us: a strange, arched, tormenting, two-formed, unfindable letter: a strange morphology, both metaphoric and amorphous; a pictographic engram that is also a forever invisible situation behind our name. […] An image-letter that is zero time. All time revolves around zero time. Zero time is the primal scene.

67For Pascal Quignard, performing “the only true pictography that is the coitus out of which one comes,” that is, the unimaginable, demands a descent into the obscurity of words, into their crypt, as the butoh descends into the caves for the dance of darkness. Where it is a question of a performer endlessly born and reborn.

68Each time, to perfect-perform the incompletion of teams of words that hold up differences between themselves: sex and dread; anxiety and beauty; love coitus embrace sexual thrust interlocking delight sex-flower of plants dehiscence veraison desire erection elation… On stage or in the book, performing is calling. And the terms always dream, in turn, of “a voyage together,” they form a co-ire whose etymology Quignard highlights: the going together of lovers. The performance’s words magnetize and are magnetized, they make the unnamable emerge.

69On stage or in the book, performing is se rendre. In every sense of the French term: going towards, but also disarming, accepting, welcoming. Allowing it to happen. To offend. Which doesn’t only mean to scandalize, but, in the first place, means to obscure (fuscus, dark), to make invisible.

70The last sentence of Anxiety and Beauty, which is the last sentence of the black trilogy, is: “sexuality loves sexuation” (italics in the text).


Sexuality loves embrace. It prefers the peculiar old wheeze to the learned voice. It prefers withdrawal to control. It prefers the ancient Feeling to Seeing. Sexuality loves sexuation.

72By marking the difference between sexuality and sexuation, performance reinscribes human sexuality within the evolution of Living Things and renews the mystery of life, of its perpetuation.

73Performing is an invitation to touch the mystery of life with body and soul.

74Pascal Quignard’s Performances of Darkness invent something like the rite of atheist Mystery.

75The rite of the epiphanic terrifying desirable ephemeral astonishing joyous tragic fateful beauty of sexuation of Living.


  • [1]
    Jacques Derrida, “Fourmis,” in Lectures de la différence sexuelle, ed. Mara Negron (Paris: Éditions des Femmes, 1994), p. 95.
  • [2]
    Pascal Quignard, Rhétorique spéculative, (Paris: Éditions Calmann-Lévy, 1995).
  • [3]
    Jacques Derrida, “La loi du genre” in Parages (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1986).
  • [4]
    Jacques Derrida, Le Monolinguisme de l’autre, (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1996).
  • [5]
    Pascal Quignard, La Nuit sexuelle, (Paris: Éditions Flammarion, 2007). See also: Mireille Calle-Gruber, Pascal Quignard ou Les leçons de ténèbres de la littérature, (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2018).
  • [6]
    Pascal Quignard, Marie Vialle, La Rive dans le noir, creation at the 2016 Festival d’Avignon in La Chartreuse de Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. See the entries “Performance de ténèbres” and “La Rive dans le noir” in Dictionnaire sauvage Pascal Quignard, ed. Mireille Calle-Gruber and Anaïs Frantz (Paris: Éditions Hermann, 2016).
  • [7]
    Pascal Quignard, L’Origine de la danse, (Paris: Galilée, 2013). Performances de ténèbres, (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2017).
  • [8]
    Jacques Derrida, Circonfession, in Geoffry Bennington and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida, (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, Coll. “Les contemporains,” 1991).
  • [9]
    Charles Baudelaire, The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, trans. Jonathan Mayne (London: Phaidon Press, 1964), p. 9.
  • [10]
    Jacques Derrida, Circonfession, op. cit., p. 103-104. Period 21.
  • [11]
    Ibid., p. 32. Period 5.
  • [12]
    Ibid., p. 69. Period 13.
  • [13]
    Ibid., p. 265. Period 54.
  • [14]
    Ibid., p. 14. Period 2.
  • [15]
  • [16]
    Ibid., p. 16. Period 2.
  • [17]
  • [18]
    Ibid., p. 71. Period 14. Italics in the text.
  • [19]
    Ibid., p. 89. Period 18.
  • [20]
    Ibid., p. 139. Period 29.
  • [21]
    Ibid., p. 73. Period 14.
  • [22]
    Ibid., p. 24. Period 4.
  • [23]
  • [24]
    Ibid., p. 71. Period 14. Italics in the text.
  • [25]
    Ibid., p. 151. Period 31.
  • [26]
    Ibid., p. 150. Period 31.
  • [27]
    Ibid., p. 149. Period 31. Italics in the text.
  • [28]
    Ibid., p. 91. Period 18.
  • [29]
    Ibid., p. 147. Period 30.
  • [30]
    Ibid., p. 114. Period 23.
  • [31]
    Ibid., p. 8. Period 1.
  • [32]
    Jacques Derrida, “Un ver à soie. Points de vue piqués sur l’autre voile,” in Contretemps, Number 2-3, Winter-Summer 1997, p. 11-50.
  • [33]
    Jacques Derrida, Trace et archive, image et art, followed by “Hommage à Jacques Derrida” by Daniel Bougnoux and Bernard Stiegler. Foreword by François Soulages (Paris: INA éditions, Coll. “Collection iconique”, 2014), p. 27.
  • [34]
  • [35]
    Jacques Derrida, Marx & Sons, (Paris: Éditions PUF/Galilée, Coll. “Actuel Marx Confrontation,” 2002), p. 27.
  • [36]
    Jacques Derrida, La Carte Postale, de Socrate à Freud et au-delà, (Paris: Éditions Flammarion, 1980). See also, Werner Hamacher, “Lingua Amissa: The Messianism of Commodity-Language and Derrida’s Specters of Marx” in Ghostly Demarcations: A Symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx, ed. Michael Sprinker (London: Verso, 1999), p. 168-212.
  • [37]
    Jacques Derrida, Trace et archive, image et art, op. cit., p. 32.
  • [38]
    Jacques Derrida, Le Monolinguisme de l’autre, op. cit., p. 85.
  • [39]
    Ibid., p. 85-86.
  • [40]
    Sarah Kofman, “Ça cloche” in Les Fins de l’homme: À Partir du travail de Jacques Derrida, Cerisy Colloquium, July 24-August 2 1980, dir. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe and Jean-Luc Nancy (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 1981), p. 107. Sarah Kofman cites and analyzes Jacques Derrida’s Glas.
  • [41]
    Ibid., p. 111. See also: Mireille Calle-Gruber, “Il faut que ça cloche ou Comment ne pas nommer” in Spectres et rejetons des études féminines et de genres, dir. Anaïs Frantz, on-line article, 2011/03. [].
  • [42]
    Pascal Quignard, “La Quatrième nuit” in La Nuit sexuelle, (Paris: Éditions Flammarion, 2007), p. 255.
  • [43]
    Pascal Quignard, La Nuit sexuelle, “Avant-Propos”, op.cit., p. 11.
  • [44]
    Ibid., p. 16.
  • [45]
    Ibid., p. 15.
  • [46]
    Ibid., p. 16.
  • [47]
    Ibid. Italics in the text.
  • [48]
    Pascal Quignard, “Les Maîtres des ténèbres” (2002) in Écrits de l’éphemère, (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2005), p. 286.
  • [49]
    Pascal Quignard, Medea méditante. L’Origine de la danse, (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2013), p. 17-24.
  • [50]
    Ibid., p. 23.
  • [51]
    Pascal Quignard, La Rive dans le noir. Performances de ténèbres, (Paris: Éditions Galilée, 2017), p. 19-24.
  • [52]
    Pascal Quignard, “Lumière cendrée. Hommage à Mireille Calle-Gruber prononcé à la Sorbonne, salle Bourjac, le jeudi 20 juin 2013” in Mireille Calle-Gruber. L’amour du monde à l’abri du monde dans la littérature, dir. Mélina Balcazar Moreno, Sarah-Anaïs Crevier Goulet, Anaïs Frantz, Elodie Vignon (Paris: Éditions Hermann, 2015), p. 45. Italics in the text.
  • [53]
    Ibid., p. 46.
  • [54]
    Pascal Quignard, Performance de ténèbres, op. cit., p. 151.
  • [55]
    Ibid., p. 105.
  • [56]
    Pascal Quignard, Angoisse et beauté, with images by François de Coninck, “Vestiges de l’amour,” (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2018). Unpaginated book.