Drool: Liquid Fore-speech of the Fore-scene

(An abstract of an essay for a special issue on “Bodily Fluids” of the journal inter/Alia, edited by Kamillea Aghtan, Michael O’Rourke, and Karin Sellberg).

It is a preverbal stream that deposits on the pillow a barely visible trace, as if a little saliva had leaked out of that sleeping mouth.
—Jean-Luc Nancy

In a chapter titled “Self from Absence to Self” of his recent essay, The Fall of Sleep, Jean-Luc Nancy draws upon the image of a little saliva leaking out of a sleeper’s mouth in order to analogise the withdrawal of self from I, into self. A fall into self that is not so much the enunciative “I am” of either a waking consciousness or dreaming unconsciousness, but the excessive and residual trace of the fall into self that is the fall – or what we might call, the drool – of speech.

Taking its cue from Nancy’s essay, and specifically his image of the barely visible trace deposited on the pillow, my paper will theorise drool as the liquid fore-speech of what I have come to call the fore-scene. The latter, in its own right, draws upon Nancy’s readings of Freud on Vorlust (Fore-lust) as the stage/scene of exposure and the spacing of the sense of existence as shared-separated. For drool is, as we know, a common liquid metaphor for uncontainable desire. An excessivity that, as formless force and form of the ground, is nothing but the unintelligibility of the fore, “upon” which anything like erotic pleasure (including as its own kind of intelligence) might be possible. In speaking in such terms, I of course also have in mind the base materialism of George Bataille’s definition of the formless and its analogy of the universe to spit.

In this paper I continue my ongoing theoretical meditations on photographic images of the unmade (but not necessarily “empty”) bed (i.e. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ Untitled Billboard photograph, 1992) as fore-scene of co-existence/co-exposure. Based upon Nancy’s text these images are understood to be images of the impossibility of perceiving, let alone representing, sleep. For if, as Nancy states, sleep “shows itself to itself as this appearance that appears only as non-appearing, as returning all appearing on itself and in itself,” then the image of the unmade bed lies extended there in the aesthetics of retreat, “allowing the waking phenomenologist [the one that we inevitably become in the drive to satisfy our experiential/epistemological curiosity] approaching the bed to perceive nothing but the appearance of its disappearance, the attestation of its retreat” (Fall, 13).

Drool is to the verbal what the empty bed is to the visual, yet as the fall of speech, drool is not a matter of the verbal or the oral but of the “buccal,” as this has been theorised by Nancy and further articulated by Michael O’Rourke. As the liquid fore-speech of the fore-scene/fore-lust, we might say that drool is the pre-cum of a buccal murmur and groan. With the lightest of touches, as though with the tap of a finger, this spit is extended, and in its extension traces the tenuous yet resiliently tensile line of the “with” of our shared existence. As though at that sleeping mouth a salvific path was somehow opened up, and in that fall of speech one hears the “with”, the “substance” of which is something like ex-gested spit, or drool.

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