The Form and Style of ‘Rejoicing’

Following exchanges with the excellent and insightful Michael Flower, and with full acknowledgment of his insights, here are some quick thoughts on the form and style of Rejoicing, or the Torments of Religious Speech.

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More than anywhere else, Latour foregrounds the textuality of this book. It consists of largely unbroken, unmarked narrative. There are only six white-space breaks in the text—on page 1 and then not until p. 118 and 120 and then very near the end on pages 166, 172 and 174 (the final page), as Michael points out. There are curious shifts in authorial stance, from ‘I’ to ‘we’. Is there a shift here between Latour as investigator and investigated, Latour as philosopher and Latour as ethnographic subject? Or do these indicate performative authorial stances? We recall Latour’s remarks at the beginning of ‘Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain’, where he muses on the different forms of address that can performatively convoke different modes of existence in the audience (‘dear colleagues’, referential; ‘dear comrades’; political; ‘dear brothers and sisters’; religious).

It might be interesting to compare to some of the other classics of spiritual biography (if that is what Rejoicing is), the obvious one being Confessions, where Augustine carefully enacts a progressive structure, chapter by chapter, that mimics the neo-platonic journey of the soul to God as the One. Here, by contrast, everything points to circularity and repetition – an enactment of the very mechanism of reprise, perhaps? These are not didactic confessions, it seems, but the rolling around of confused agonies of the soul (‘torments’ – what a strong word that is!), confused, we assume, because of the confusion exerted upon this value by Modernity.

One thing we can be sure of is that in the original French edition (2003, was it?) the text actually began on the front cover and spilled over to the rear. I understand this was at Bruno’s insistence (although it has not been replicated in subsequent editions). Attached is the only (small) photo I can find of it on Google Image. Why so? I can’t help but think it might relate to one of the great unacknowledged influences on his life, namely Derrida, who of course dismissed transcendence with the claim ‘il n’y a pas de hors-texte’. Although that statement is usually rendered ‘there is nothing outside the text’, ‘hors-texte’ actually refers to a preface or cover-plate of a book, that is, something that sits outside the main narrative and authorises or explains it from the outside precisely because it is outside the text. Of course, Derrida wants to deconstruct that authority position. Latour, brilliantly, simply adds it in to the flow of immanent meaning: there is nothing outside networks, we might say. Or, if the God of the Bible wishes to engage in revelation, it will not be in excess of the flows of religious meaning that are composed from within the common world. 

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