What Is There to Say?


What Is There to Say?

Ann Smock

208 pages


September 2007


$19.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Herman Melville’s Bartleby, asked to account for himself, “would prefer not to.” Tongue-tied Billy Budd, urged to defend his innocence, responds with a murderous blow. The Bavard, by Louis-René des Forêts, concerns a man whose power to speak is replaced by an inability to shut up. In these and other literary examples a call for speech throws the possibility of speaking into doubt. What Is There to Say? uses the ideas of Maurice Blanchot to clarify puzzling works by Melville, des Forêts, and Beckett. Ann Smock's energetic readings of texts about talking, listening, and recording cast an equally welcome light on Blanchot’s paradoxical thought.

Author Bio

Ann Smock is a professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of Double Dealing. She translated Maurice Blanchot’s The Space of Literature and The Writing of the Disaster, as well as Sarah Kofman’s Rue Ordener, Rue Labat, all published by the University of Nebraska Press.


“With a crisp and moving musical clarity Ann Smock allows these writers—Maurice Blanchot, Herman Melville, Marguerite Duras, Louis-René des Forêts, Jean Paulhan, Samuel Beckett—each of them, all of them, together and separately, to speak among themselves and to us.”—Denis Hollier, editor of A New History of French Literature

“[Smock] takes us to the edge of the experience that conjoins speech and silence, and makes of that which exceeds speech the truly said. ‘Talk which says nothing’ is understood here, with rigor and feeling, as ‘talk which says the nothing,’ the nothing which we share and which shares us, like death, birth, love, desire, anguish and our confidence in speech itself, the silent secret which we never stop exchanging and proclaiming.”—Jean-Luc Nancy, author of The Inoperative Community

"What Is There to Say? has a great deal to say on the topics of, contemporary problems of, discussions about, and solutions to, writing, speech, and language. She is at once subtle and learned: the book is a delight."—Mary Ann Caws, editor of Manifesto: A Century of Isms

"[Smock] writes wisely and wittily, without pedantry and with disarming clarity and simplicity. Her book is a critical gem and a boon to all who are interested in recent French philosophical and aesthetic thought and the extraordinary body of writing it has given rise to."—Ross Chambers, author of Facing It: AIDS Diaries and the Death of the Author

"Smock is able to open these texts up like paper flowers, making them more accessible to readers but without imposing one-dimensional readings on them."—Eric Prieto, L'Esprit Createur

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