Critique of Judgment, by Pascal Quignard (Richard)

[Translation of a write-up by Francis Richard on Pascal Quignard’s book, Critique du jugement. French original may be located here, here, and here.]

After 25 years of judgment, from 1969 to 1994, Pascal Quignard decided one day to judge no longer. As he writes in Critique of Judgment, this allowed him from then on to “truly read”: “By that I mean that I no longer fill a role or even a function to play in my reading. What I lose with the faculty of judgment (compare) I gain in the capacity to think (meditate). There is no longer any point of view in my vision. The idea of killing, or of hierarchizing, or of electing, has withdrawn.”

Pascal Quignard defines: “In Greek the word critic designates the judge. The word crisis designates the judgment. The word crime names the sorting and serves to designate the result of the crisis (the criminal). Stasis [civil war] designates political experience, which comes down to saying the division to death of individuals among themselves, before which the group searches for a solution (a band, a king, a city, a divinity).”

It is in St. John that he found the most beautiful text on judgment: “Nolite judicare: Judicium judicate.” (“Do not judge: judge first the Judgment”). Put differently: “Discern well what discerns, for the problem of crisis is the judgment.

It is Christ who says, always in St. John: “Ego non judico quemquam.” (“I do not judge anyone.“) Put differently: “I have no right to set myself up as a judge, for when you judge the other, it only counts for you. And if it counts in your eyes, you judge it no more.”

Christ says again in St. John: “Judge not.” According to Pascal Quignard, this means: “Do not completely interiorize language or society in your soul. Stop creating rivals in subordination to common sense. Renounce the social judgment, the social lie, that founds the separation of those who must live and those who must die.”

For Pascal Quignard, “thought begins in the extinction of judgment”: “A man who thinks does not want to make a judgment.” To reach that point, “one must make possible the dis-oriented, de-missioned, dis-engaged, un-bridled curiosity that thought, that is, writing in act, requires.”

Creators are solitaries, ascetics. Their asceticism “is a ruse for the sake of creation”: “It is a matter of not being observed by one’s community, of not being disturbed by anyone, of being genuinely alone, of creating, that is, of losing oneself in one’s gray or black cloud, one’s haze, one’s breath, one’s shadow, one’s thing, one’s dream, one’s invisible.”

This is not however people’s natural inclination: “People prefer belief over judgment and judgment over philosophizing and philosophizing over thinking and thinking over meditation. Hence the extreme rarity of meditation. Hence its taking refuge – very quick in the history of humankind – in the snows of Tibet, in the forests of closed islands in Japan.”

Criticism? It “falls under this mysterious authority that tends to strip people of their aptitude for astonishment.” And the superego whispers: “Repress the totality of olden days […]. Dedicate yourself totally to the past.” On the contrary, “The author is someone who augments the world starting with oneself. The author defines someone who does not need anyone to advance into the unknown where one wanders alone.”

To truly read? This “is never to judge“: “There is something even more profound than judgment in the mute sense of reception, in the alteration of soul and the total reshaping induced by that which rushes in. […] There is a feeling that is like a wound. Before feeling in the sublime sense of sentiment, there is feeling in the primary sense of sensation. There is a lesion prior to resentment. The faculty of judgment is entirely on the side of resentment.

Pascal Quignard adds: “To read truly, to read marvelously traumatizes the soul. The substance of the soul thus precedes itself in a movement of retraction out of the cry. A motus cogitationis. A movement of withdrawal out of the common world, a secret movement, of silence, of shadow, of the primary world. Movement that comes from the whole body, looking to refind the most ancient stage, without society, without language, without judgment, grundlos.”

The publication of a book arouses “the debutante fear”: “The fear of arrival in this world. It is like resolving, at the end of each September, to put on one’s coat and show up in the city, to push the door of the library after having read, alone, in a corner, the day’s critique. To offer oneself to the gaze of those who expect reactions and who oversee the face and the living tremor of its features. To speak with difficulty words filled with embarassment and silence, that is, full of the impossibility of orally translating what was written, that is, incapable of signaling toward what was dared in silence.

Pascal Quignard likes what he does and he “willingly pays to continue doing it”: The joy of composition is superior to the torment that effaces it like a magic slate whose opreation of discoloration or spread of disinscription lasts one month’s time while the leaves pile up in the mud of the soil and the rains increase in volume.”

Even if Quignard writes: “Literature is without grace. The fight is to death. Sine missione est litterator. The work is without meaning like the author is without defense,” even if to commentate and to invent, as he underlines, are contradictory, should one for all that keep silent? Without criticizing, mustn’t one at least document, take stock [recenser]? For, if silence befits creation, it is gravely detrimental to publication.


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