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Updated Up To 17/06/2013
Volume 11, Issue 1 (January 2013) : 53-69
Mysticism of Immanence
Lettrism, Sprachkritik, and the Immediate Message
Sami Sjöberg
Rubric A: Episodes in the History of Ideas
Rubric B: French Literature


The essay examines the epistemological possibilities of artistic imaginary languages and their ontological effects in the avant-garde movement “lettrism.” The movement employed imaginary language, which illustrates an anti-rational theory of language. The problematics of such quasi-language are manifested most radically in relation to quietist-linguistic philosophy (Sprachkritik): the identification of the limits of thinking and language in philosophy confronts the utopian belief in the possibility of “private” communication in the avant-garde. Lettrism subverts the normative order of systematic language by means of invented signs, which are not arbitrary but unorthodox. These signs supposedly express that which philosophy designates as epistemic privacy — what can be known to one person only. The paradoxical claim that an imaginary language can express the epistemically private gives rise to what I term the mysticism of immanence. Neither distinctively religious nor atheistic, the mysticism of immanence is based on the idealistic assertion that one is able to express not only the existence but also the contents of epistemic privacy. Moreover, the renunciation of conventional language suggests that immanence is in this case alinguistic. In brief, for lettrists, thinking did not necessitate language.

Lettrist imaginary language points out the necessity for convention as a stabilizing framework for meaning production. By advocating the idea of an “immediate message,” which remains between mediation and immediacy, imaginary language exceeds the limits of immanence. Since an imaginary language cannot be shared or self-contained, it is an opening of immanence towards other than immanence. This other is not represented as any absolute transcendence, any version of the beyond, but rather as a collapse of the limits of immanence, limits that are subject to negotiation because the immediate message gives rise to a new and expanded sense of the immanent.


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