Ma (PAM3452)


Introduction: Marcel Jousse

Marcel Jousse was a jesuit, a peasant, a pedagogue and an experimental anthropologist, born in 1886 and dead in 1961. Between these two dates, he was first the treasured child of analphabets; later, after having learned several languages but without forgetting his analphabetâ, he became

  • a painter’s apprentice, an English teacher, a teacher of diplomatic French, a cavalry instructor, a ballistics teacher;
  • a pupil of Marcel Mauss and Pierre Janet;
  • the founder of the Institute of Rhythmo-pedagogy;
  • the writer of several books on gesture, rhythm, learning, biblical recitation.

At some point, wearing a cassock, he met an Indian chief wearing a tie, with whom he played a round of mimed weather forecast.

His perspective is that of a mystic, and like every mystic his object is the gathering: so he gathers — a big henologic ball in orbit around the biblical text1. But this gathering doesn’t impoverish his language, because he doesn’t really try to find the explanatory principles of a [language-body] concordance, but rather a precisely illustrative vocabulary to describe a rhythmic continuity.

This vocabulary takes neologistic liberties, which are not that audacious; Jousse is a neologist above all in the service of coherence and clarity2. And also, of scientific mimicry – he himself admits, while multiplying concepts and claiming to have a method, that his legacy will just be some kind of “dotted science” (science de pointillés3).

I’m interested in aesthetic treasures unintentionally created by scientific description. I’m interested in what, in the diagnosis, manifests style, in the sense of a particular occupation of a linguistic and gestural grammar. Jousse’s vocabulary – rigorously picked, freely combined, softly neologized – is one of these treasures of scientific extraction, that so happens to disrupt the academic discourses.

The talent for neologism is particularly sharp in Human mimism and anthropology of language (1936), a digest of theses on the kinetic and phonic specificity of the human being, who is described as the creature of an intelligent & sensible synthesis of the three dimensions of an action: agent – acting – acted. It appears that all learning consists for Jousse in the replay (rejeu) of a mimist & noisist drama, gestured & voiced, which follows this pattern of three-phase interaction. The human, this “double-leaf being” (être à double battant), adds the world to herself and digests its samples, going back and forth, figuring something like a masturbatory core-sampling of the Mirror of Otherness. The absent reel of this fort-da clears out a sort of effective emptiness which happens to be the room left for the activity of playing.

Marcel Jousse, too, is un être à double battant, and turning my attention to him, I’m conscious of being caught smiling in the same picture as all those gurus of wellness who have secret deals with anti-depressant labs. On the other side of the picture, « stoup frogs » who use Jousse’s work to treat children as angelic helots or unsexed slaves are not my friends either. But they might have a reason to invite themselves to the unburial, and with Jousse as with others I guess, you have to respect the man’s twist to get him straight. Anyway, I’m not interested in the same offal as them.

Jousse’s lectures might have been the weirdest thing. Mary Colum describes one of them she attended with Joyce:

Abbé Jousse was lecturing in Paris. He was a noted propounder of a theory that Joyce gave adherence to, that language had its origin in gesture. Joyce invited me to go with him to a lecture, in a small hall. It took the form of a little play based on the Gospels. Around the lecturer was a group of girls who addressed him as « Rabbi Jesus. » The words spoken — one of the parables — were in Aramaic, and what was shown was that the word was shaped by the gesture.4

I don’t reject Jousse’s christian shamanism, – which, articulated with his other concerns, might have led him to explore singular forms of the “symbolic effectiveness” Lévi-Strauss speaks of in his famous text5 – but to tilt the balance towards his bright side, I’ll try to hold on with what Roland Barthes calls a “tricked mathèsis”6, that is to say, the establishment of a motley & burlesque knowledge that rubs “codes of diverse origins and styles” against each other, and displays curios rather than evidences. Jousse himself, but for religious reasons, had a particular idea of what a proof can be. A joussian proof must have the evidence of a parable, without the allegoric displacement: it must be a demonstration of effectiveness hic et nunc7.

1/ GRASPING THE WORLD: « intussusception » & PERSONAL DRAMAS

On Jousse’s view, the mode of apprehension of an environment is defined by two notional poles which are also two moments of learning: the pole of replay (rejeu) and drama (drame), articulated with the question of « intussusception » (intus: “inwards” + suscipere: “to gather”). The term comes from zoobiology, in which it designates the “penetration of nutritive elements into the cells through endosmosis”8, that is, roughly: the growth property of animals through a digestive process widely understood (beyond and below the intestinal cycle). This sense seems to exist in French since the 17th century. In the 19th century, a metaphoric use of the term is made by some littérateurs, in the sense of a “spontaneous, intuitive assimilation”9.

“To intussusceptionnate” would be something like to integrate your find (“s’ajouter ce que l’on trouve”10, says Monsieur Teste, Valéry’s cryptic character), by grasping cosmic samples with an organ of protractive or protrusive intelligence. Jousse develops:

Intussusception is a way of capturing the external world and carry it inwards, that is to say a coincidence of all the gestures that spring out from nature to express them afterwards. I say “gesture”, I should say “action”, because outside of ourselves, there are only actions happening. But these actions will become “gestures” inside the human who receives them and replay them.

Intussusception is no anthropological UFO, it echoes several anterior concepts, among which Delsarte’s insubjectivation11. It’s also relatively close to Freud, Winnicott or even Piaget’s ideas about what you could call the general mediative dimension of the playing, regardless of what it relates for each of them.

The dialectical axis of intussusception is defined by the notion of playing, or more precisely replaying. Jousse thinks the little anthropos – namely the human not yet separated from her sensations by the institutional abstraction of language (I’ll come back to this) – this little anthropos plays and replays: she plays in the sense that she manipulates her samples in a symbolic manner, reproducing impressions, but also in the sense that she organizes little personal dramas which help her to tune her interaction with the world.

But before going further, a terminological precision: “jeu” and “rejeu” (play & replay) have in Marcel Jousse’s work a dynamic meaning. It is rich of the word’s ambiguity regarding the ideas of representation, reproduction, imitation, exuberance, exhilaration… In any case it is, as in Winnicott’s work for instance, very far from “game”. The game is transitive, the playing is intransitive, the game is ordered, the playing erratic, the game is timed, the playing soluble & ductile in constrained timings, the game occupies emptiness, the playing preserves it as a condition of its free resumption, the game is essentially procedural, the playing essentially processual. To try to make it awfully accordant to Caillois’ canonical classification of games – and only games – following Huizinga, Jousse’s playing would be something like a pure paidia integrating ilinx – in which agon and alea wouldn’t have a constitutive part – and mimicry – which wouldn’t be similar to “simulacrum” – would be far upstream.

Johan Huizinga, in his Homo Ludens (1938), points out that the notion of playing – in a large conception – is primordially defined in most languages in relation to childhood12. All these words reveal analogies with nature (most often wind and waves) and express a brisk movement sometimes assimilated to the fast pace of light (german: spiel & english: play for instance). Huizinga’s review of the different words covering the notion of playing in one language shows the variety of concurrential or complementary denominations (partly superposable, sometimes symmetrical) used to appreciate leisure, competition, imaginary fugue, fervor, overheating, actorial representation; all being some kinds of “as if”, which don’t necessarily exclude the seriousness of a situation setting, a workout, a “test”.

Jousse’s “played mimodramas” are these kinds of situations, workouts, tests. They consist in a combination of movements resulting in a three-phased gesture, reproducing a seemingly classical schema:

The Agent is a ball of energy, acting (agissant) another ball of energy, the Acted (Agi)13. Jousse suggests a non-hierarchical relation within this interaction, as he describes as follows its three phases:

l The essential action of a subject;
2 The transitory action of this subject;
3 The object on which this transitory action applies, and that is itself mimed as an essential action.

In playing, in learning, these mimodramas don’t add up, they unlimitedly combine and form a complexus of interactions. In one of his conferences, he proposes, as an example of mimo-kinetic three-phasism, the image of the owl. Here is the short excerpt of this conference, where Jousse introduces this example:

To help us acknowledging this mimismo-kinetic three-phasism, let’s look, beyond any ethnical language, at, I suppose, an owl grabbing an aspen (un hibou agrippant un tremble). This “interactional gesture” will be firstly mimismo-kinetic, in that sense that it’s the animal’s eye that will play the main role, in appearance, in the reverberation of this interaction from the outside onto us. What are we going to intussusceptionnate? An animal with this very “characteristic” gesture: eyes encompassed by a system of feathers, which outlines them. The owl is (gesturally) the (one) Ocularising. This is the Agent I will replay in my miming gesture with both hands, in the shape of glasses. This Agent, holding a certain “transitory” Action: it grabs. And my tense hands will macroscopically replay this gesture. What does it grab? A sort of tree constantly fidgeting, constantly trembling. And my whole global being will replay this “characteristic” gesture: the Trembling. If we wish to translate into a mimographic expression this “characteristic Action” acting in a transitory manner on another “characteristic Action”, we get:

In Jousse’s mystic perspective, a thing equals its essential action, that is to say its gestuaire in situation of symbolic power or ease, when it appears in its propellant dimension. Here, the owl is said to be the one “ocularising”, i.e. a hyponotic watcher. This image that would be characterized in our societies as an anthropocentric ranting, is to be understood in the frame of a fetishist conception of the living, which the anthropos is part of.

2/ Agent – Acting – acted

Jousse develops this interactional schema in The human mimism and the anthropology of language (1936). In this book, the “anthropos” is distinguished from the “anthropoïd” by her ability to play. In a way, Jousse is, like Huizinga, unsatisfied with the common definition of human as homo sapiens + homo faber. Huizinga’s homo ludens comes from the same impulsion as Jousse’s interactionally miming animal; both consider that culture is an equation of moments of playing crystallized in the form of games. They don’t say that the non sanctioning way these games perform the community’s rules constitutes in fine a shared affectivity you might as well call “culture”.

While Huizinga doesn’t elaborate on children’s playing, the little anthropos has a primordial place in Jousse’s thinking, and it is no surprise that, for him, there’s a strong analogy between the civilization process and the learning process, as it’s a classic move of mystics to assign similar movements or trajectories to the whole and the part, in every culture. This analogy is, incidentally, another common point of shamanism, psychoanalysis and anthropology (even if, as an intuition, it’s differently treated and valued in each case).

In any case, the little anthropos‘ playing activity surely mirrors the classical cave outing, the clearing/deciphering (“déchiffrement” / “défrichement”) of the forest and its symbols, and other founding myths defining culture as an emancipation of inane (ineffective nothingness). I quote:

It’s as if this little Anthropos was becoming, more and more every day, a sort of living and plastic motocamera, kinemimical and phonomimical, in which all the visible and audible actions and interactions of surrounding animate and inanimate beings get reflected, echoed and replayed.

What does this “living motocamera” learn? She learns the sets of possible interactions with the environment, she plays her interactional scales, she transforms signs into symptoms, perceived actions into conceived gestures. For these gestures to be conceived, the little anthropos needs to achieve the process of intussusception, which seems to aim, at this point, to the assumption of a role beyond the function, the actor beyond the agent, owning the interactional schema, so that the terms be closer to the positivist pattern of an actor manipulating an object, and its intrumental declination of an actor using a tool to produce an effect. The “get a job” of individual development.

Now, for Jousse, there is a moment of the three-phased interaction, before roles become clear, when the movements are not yet gestures, when they’re unfulfilled. A moment when there are movements tending towards gesture, but that, in fact, are addresses of the mind to the possibility of production of these gestures, and to their vanity as performing projects in the social space. Workouts, tests, rehearsals. A moment before gestural convention appears, before it expresses a correction in which roles arise and relations freeze. These movements are dependencies of effective action, its stables, where it’s much colder and less comfy than at the castle14.

To study this moment and its swing into social performation, let’s look at an example of “replay” presented in The human mimism:

The One Riding whipping the One Galloping
(in traditional linguistics: The rider whips the horse)

This interaction, Jousse makes it very clear that it is exclusively mimed. No actual horse, no substitute plaything, not even a token of lack (exit THE TEDDY). Let’s observe how the terms are defined in this “modelization of action”, where absent objects and absent roles are implied by the miming.

Le Chevauchant (“the one riding”)

Defined straight away by her relation to the horse. She’s not a “cavalier” (a mounted soldier, a knight). She’s not defined through her status. She’s a “chevauchant”, the name of an actor/agent in the precise, exclusive role of a “horse mounter”. “Chevaucher” is an exclusive, distinguishing, definitory, ordering action, which leads to a position and therefore organizes a sort of objectal – but neither functional nor statutory – relation. It’s, in Jousse’s words, an essential action.

Cravachant (“whipping”)

Second active element, second -ant (-ing) item related to the agent, but this time as a verb. While the “chevauchement” (the action of riding a horse) defines a position, the « cravachement » (the action of whipping a horse) defines a relation, and conducts this relation. It’s, in Jousse’s words, a transitory action. This is a relation of violence, violence being used to stimulate and correct the mount (a necessary violence for the « run of it »). The violence of the « cravachement » aims to get the propellant qualities of the “galopant” fully operative, to exalt its power.

Le Galopant (“the one galloping”)

This is the mimo-dramatic substitute of a horse (the effective emptiness of the crotch). How is it defined? Through its movement, as a dynamic and reactive device, in a spinning momentum propelled by the playing. The gallop is a so-called “natural gait” for horses, but this terminology is misleading, and regular gait sounds clearer, because lots of gaits said to be “irregular” are also natural to some wild horses (amble, trölt). The “galloping” is regularly wild (wild enough to be played with, corrected, scolded; regular enough to docilely respond to the chevauchant‘s Spieltrieb15). The « galopant » is an animal-machine hybrid, it’s a kingdom, a class, a branch, an order, sub-genre, subgenus, phratries, ephebeias, eleuths having a feast of grass, hidden clan, secret society, revolutionary union or liberal armed gang, band, mob which has from the horse: bearing pride bravery, and from the rocket: projection, memory of forge, of fire, resistance to all combustion, following a weird ontogenesis from the idea of a horse.

These definitions of the terms of the schema show an ambivalence of playing, that of the galloping, which is the acted of the schema, but also the engine of activity, the intrinsic “agent/actor”. It’s gloriously and practically invisible. As a toy, it’s an instrument of spinning force, of recreational overheating; as a machine, it’s a tool of perspective propulsion, of adult-age hubris, paternal, responsible, skillful, conscious of life realities, gifted for driving in wet conditions. The toy and the machine go together in the “replay”, and set the learning process of “playing” as a painful compromise between the inner, secret and almost truant played adventure of singularization, and the gregarious project of integration16.


Until the child has to make choices, her jouissance, as she plays, seeks a conciliation of these two trends (integration / singularization)17. She, on her own, prances and smacks her
more or less accidentally
speaks to herself
lulls herself with
walks herself in
herself or maybe walks her
self around
does equestrian tourism à la carte
engages herself
in private ponytreks on a beach at sunself
engages her set
in galloping treks tres
passing on the state
of nature at own dusk
at a kantering gait
her projects and her adventures
planned journeys and erratic losses
noch immer noch astride horseys.

The vertigo of synthesis sets the relations between absent objects, thus being a complex principle, both
integrative on the scenaristic plan developing around the hubris of a socially accordant role
singularizing on the plan of anthropological links produced by the projection of this mime onto the immediate environment.

This vertiginous pleasure – which as this point is this “very pleasure of functioning” Piaget speaks about – happens to be “staked” in situations that defame for a while, meaning that they unveil the statuses and reveal the permanent abuse of power constituted by the amalgam between the current state of the stakes and the immutable rules of the game, a “pause” decreed like a state of emergency. By replaying adult life in a recreational mode constantly open to resumption, the little mimodramatist unravels the uniform of social conventions and reveals – to no one but herself, as playing waters hide from adults’ bay watch – their dimension of “ordered” games running idle. Because her replay, by reproducing their essential action, calls absent objects, there might be nothing to observe but the lame effectiveness in a world not yet compacted by statuses and other abstract dignities. Of this only she’s the hero, and of this heroism only she’s unconscious.

This attitude must include recognition that playing is always liable to become frightening. Games and their organization must be looked at as part of an attempt to forestall the frightening aspect of playing.
(Winnicott, Playing and Reality)

Those situations produce a contradictory image, which is also a quartering seduction.
On the one hand, they endanger the positions (static, statutory, conventional relations);
On the other hand, they attune a dynamics of relations (fervent religiosity, adherence to the myth & to the simulacrum of statuses)

The player doesn’t necessarily choose when, where & how the playing stops. The decisive move towards the comfortable truth of statuses might happen when the playing is interrupted by an adult authority (and there it is, the moral dimension of the end of a playing meant to run forever, the “pure expenditure” playing opposed to the limited & timed game). Because a child doesn’t let the revolutionary fever sprawl: on the contrary, she must foster reasons to stop playing in order to go to bed (or other constraints of this type), reasons to accept that another authority, the very effective one, stops this freewheel, without this lock being too squealing.

At this point, the galloping serves its most disgracious purpose: it becomes the transitional object of adult law, it rushes in what Bataille calls “the channel of grown-ups”. Magically, through the domestication of the galloping, the little anthropos domesticates her revolt, finding here an opportunity to embody, in her turn, order and reason. The capsizing zeal from making the galloping obey helps her to obey her parents, and this moral submission, which as this point only obliges her to hop into bed or finish her beans, prepares for future docilities, that won’t be experienced as resignations as long as the transitional illusion reassures the exercise of its omnipotent will. This commerce of dignities, within the robust hierarchic frame of our societies, has something to do with the way the mimodramatist bullies her imaginary “acted”, treatment that is already part of the panoply of libidinal normalizations suggested by patriarchy. Being the “chevauchant” is one pleasure; being the scolder is another.


But this transitional relation between the chevauchant and her galloping is not a one-way stream. In this schema, the question of knowing who stimulates who shows through inevitably. Does the imperious chevauchant communicate her ardor, via the whipping, to her rocket-like beast? Or does the dynamic power of the galloping call, through an almost religious fascination, an enthusiastic mime (this brisk movement with the hand, then assimilated to the whipping, can be observed in little babies’ excitement), through which the hubris of the role is communicated (“LE CHEVAUCHANT”)?

The apparent freeze of functions in the interaction, consecrating a role-playing game inside a tight-framed scenario, hides a porosity of anthropological features, the circulation of which might have a decisive influence on either trend’s takeover (still: singularization vs. integration).

Considering an upstream within the interaction, we may conclude that it is the horse-treated-as-a-horse that confers the role of chevauchant onto the child. There is no quake in the anthropological order here, as static positions remain consecrated through “the-horse-treated-as-a-horse”. The integrative trend of playing returns to the fore: the anthropos reassures herself about animality by integrating her galopant economically, that is to say making it functionally accordant. The relations freeze via this anthropological hubris communicated to the human by the animal, following the lines of dehiscence tattooed by instrumentalism.

This dismisses the temptation of superimposing the functions in the interaction (“the thematic relations”, say traditional linguistics) over the roles in the scenario. It forces one to consider the question of intention. I’ll do it through the instance of “the scolded scolder”, an interaction that doesn’t reach an external “acted”, because of a sort of backfire of performativity.

The question “who stimulates who?” (otherwise formulated “who defers their power to who?”), appears funnily in a chinese pronunciation exercise, seemingly monotonal, consisting in the repetition of two sentences enlightening the specific accentual differences of this language.

1/ 媽媽罵馬嗎?
2/ 馬罵媽媽嗎?

Read by me – a frenchman whose language is particularly poor in tonic accents, and whose pronunciation of foreign languages tend to flatten them all – these two sentences sound exactly the same. Sentence 1: ma ma ma ma ma? Sentence 2: ma ma ma ma ma? In fact, each ma is a different word, differently accentuated, and depending on the way you place them, it can signify:

1/ 媽媽罵馬嗎 ?
(Did the mother scold the horse?)

2/ 馬罵媽媽嗎 ?
(Did the horse scold the mother?)

Funny. But also confusing, since we know that scolding can be a disastrous scenario for the main role; and that a scolder (or should I say “a scolding one”) can transform into a “scolded” if its scolding is inappropriate.

All children talk to their toys; the toys become actors in the great drama of life, scaled down inside the camera obscura of the childish brain. And in games they reveal their considerable faculty of abstraction and high imaginative powers, they play without playthings. […] Let’s take […] the stagecoach! The eternal drama of the stagecoach played with chairs: the carriage as such (a chair), the horses (chairs), the passengers (chairs), where the only living actor is the postilion! The equipage remains motionless – yet with what burning speed it devours the imaginary leagues! What economy of means in the setting!
(Charles Baudelaire, The Philosophy of Toys)

The old rhetorical chestnut consisting in asking if it’s really the agent that acts on the acted is considered straight away as a theoretical benefit (the mere mention of it is enough to put it to rest), but it’s almost never experienced. In this respect, Bataille’s “I am acted”, Rimbaud and Freud’s “I am thought”, or Lacan’s “I am spoken” are comforting, even heady rescue accounts, that no survivor can corroborate.

Jousse suggests, in the different examples he gives, that one is played by the locomotion, by the horse, by the owl, that a lot of things attune one
much more than one attunes them
attune one endlessly
to no avail
like an indian raga buzzing a lot
droning about amongst
a swarm of hummingherds
of resized humminghorses and the kind houyhnhnms
offering to run loose with them in language as home burns.

To confront the porosity of functions in an interaction, let’s hear ourselves scolding, giving orders etc. Soon we’ll glimpse how vivid the belief in the symbolic effectiveness of ordering is, and how counterproductive the expression of certain authoritarian instances are; certain cracks of statutory whips, certain manners that the common language summarizes in the expression “to get on your high horse”, meaning that you ridiculously display the distance between your claimed dignity and your blatant indignity. On this occasion, the obnoxious assumption of a misinterpreted role (whether the misreading concerns the nature of this role or its register) reveals the gap between the individual and its status, a naturalness oozing through the effort to repress it. It reveals the flabby balls under the toga.

It is, for instance, your father’s “I’m your father” or your boss’ “Who’s the boss?”. There, Austin’s famous distinction between performative and constative utterances reaches a weird bag-ass (cul-de-sac), where a “happy performative utterance” (that is an achieved one) is the result of an achieved constative utterance – disastrously achieved, but achieved nontheless – in its “truth-value”. These constative acts becoming unexpectedly performative are the hostages of statutory perceptions, of positions of authority.

The chinese mamamama – the construction of a difference, the drafting of rhythmical room, among a perceived-as-same, the creation of a rhythm within this repetition, through the valorization of certain differences becoming signifying – is precisely the object of the resumption of playings (the noch einmal Benjamin speaks about in Spielzeug und Spielen). The child’s playing frees a very empty & very dense circulation room where the only possible role is that of a whipper whipped by its gestural & vocal language (a kind of student in abstract chinese but still quite laborious, who has full confidence in cosmical mimemes that are hardly universal). Agent/Acted, horse/mother are less a good corps whose ballet synchronizes the tidy-up pantomime than a schizoid shaman/possessed beast whose liberation maintains intransitivity in language. And so the resumption doesn’t only aim the accordance with an already-known or already-compiled language, but the maintenance of a speculative free-wheel where the signifier doesn’t dare to freeze – or more precisely, doesn’t dare to admire the illusion of its finally recomposed image. This circulation of a purloined letter, whose detour seems to be a return, might be enough to maintain statuses in the frame of ordinary fakes. It suffices to defame them, but without being scolded, since it doesn’t take a break to make the report.

The concept of intangible laws removes some of its power from a moral truth to which we should adhere without tying ourselves down to it. In erotic excess, we venerate the rule we break. A playing of rebounding oppositions lies at the basis of an instinct composed alternately of fidelity and revolt, which is the essence of man. Outside this playing we are stifled by the logic of laws.  (Georges Bataille, Literature and Evil)


In the former situation, the performative mode appears as a personal suggestion; it’s a hubris that should only be attempted if the laughter or enthusiasm is already on your side – this means you have to have previously dissolved the object of approval into an approval of the scenaristic sequence itself. Political rhetoric precisely consists of shifting confidence & attention to the narrative flux.

In adult life, this scenaristic sequence nurtures itself through the performance of statuses; business cards, IDs, CVs. These are consensual relations that save you both the trouble of “replaying” and of the need to ask, again & again, about the question of value. Among responsible adults, questioning the legitimacy of a status is indecent, just like discussing the details of a book everyone pretends to have read. A successful performance is, above all, a successful scenario; an achieved illusion that justifies roles.

But at the age when you’re not yet gifted for driving in wet conditions, at the age when you cry because you’re well aware that tons of Knuts perish on a daily basis to atone our sins, at the age when justice separates cute things from disgusting things, the seduction of playing and the performative suggestion have a much higher intensity. Every lanifice is an invisibility fleece, every corridor is a racing track, every thigh-gap is a frenetic cockhorse.

This moment of effective emptiness occurs just before the world asserts itself in its demonic compactness, in its complete occupation by law, statuses, swedish furniture. Everything that expresses the “childishness of the grown-up world” Bataille writes about in The Inner Experience, a world where language can be summarized by an innocent & naive “according to police”, disarming like a Houyhnhnm.

This obsessional reduction to 911 or other ciphers of law and order, can be called “culture”. Jousse calls it “algebrosis”, I call it “daddy’s code”, a set of keys for the self, comprised of mortified analogies, of combinations emptied of their referents. All this designates the necrosis of equations that were once relevant to define the interactional room in a given group, into compact cultural formulas that might eventually constitute comfortable rules for the purpose of the management of social relations. This mortification of playing builds a narrative, a fiction of abstract moral laws – whether written or not – disconnected from the practical needs.

Brecht’s distinction between “ox interdictions” and “beef interdictions” is made on a gimmicky basis, but it enlightens the absurd & arbitrary hijacking of the community’s practical rules (the “ox” interdictions, protecting the production conditions) by their necrotized remnants (the “pork” interdictions):

wir untersuchen einige dieser soll- und darf-sätze, gesellschaftliches verhalten betreffend, die aus alten ethiken (ihm den plural aufzuzwingen war schwer) stammen oder in ihnen jedenfalls vorkommen. am schluss schlage ich ihm eine praktische formel vor. im interesse des klassenkampfs sind vorkommende soll- und darf-sätze, die ein ’du schwein’ enthalten, zu verwandeln in sätze, die ein ’du ochs’ enthalten. Sätze, welche ein ’du schwein’ enthalten und nicht in ’du ochs’-sätze überführt werden können, müssen ausgeschaltet werden. beispiel: der satz ’du sollst nicht mit deiner mutter schlafen’ war einst ein ’du-ochs’-satz, denn in einer frühen gesellschaftsordnung bedeutete er große verwirrung in den besitz- und produktionsbedingungen. was das betrifft, ist er heute kein ’du ochs’-satz mehr, nur noch ein ’du schwein’-satz. im grunde müsste also der satz fallengelassen werden.18

This fiction of abstract laws is based on roles defined by a one-way relation, which can be represented by a one-way mirror (power is not a matter of level, of distance, of overhang, but of side). In the history of human societies, these moments – where the stakes freeze into immutable, arbitrary laws – may constitute the awkward lapse between two revolutions.


The child’s playing appears, on the contrary, not to be a fictional construction: it sticks to the myth in its mimologic version, not in its cultural ersatz. The emptiness the chevauchant enjoys offers room for the play-act to take place (du jeu pour le jeu). It’s an empty case, it’s not a vacuity of law considered as a condition of truth, but it’s still a necessary condition for a moment of fakeness, of tricky moves to appear among the ordered scenario of the adults’ game. Playing – as preventing transitivity – may be here an anthropological state that simply ignores what Nietzsche calls the “moralistic mendaciousness”; for instance, the innocence in lying manifested in the bigotry of law observance19.

The child’s playing is an experience of projection, not linked to morality, but driven by the neglection – in the absence of the parents – of the codes of dignity. The moralistic mendaciousness opposes the consciousness of being duped and the will to remain a dupe – shamanic state par excellence.

Following this line, the child is not more revolutionary than the revolutionary is childish, and not more of a noble savage than the savage is noble. Simply, trusting the dupery, she experiences the separation of “fake” & “false”, which stand on the same side in accepted ideas of common morality and its domain of occupation by adult law.

Wir wissen, daß sie dem Kind die Seele des Spiels ist; daß nichts es mehr beglückt, als « noch einmal ». Der dunkle Drang nach Wiederholung ist hier im Spiel kaum minder gewaltig, kaum minder durchtrieben am Werke als in der Liebe der Geschlechtstrieb. Und nicht umsonst hat Freud ein « Jenseits des Lustprinzips » in ihm zu entdecken geglaubt. In der Tat: jedwede tiefste Erfahrung will unersättlich, will bis ans Ende aller Dinge Wiederholung und Wiederkehr, Wiederherstellung einer Ursituation, von der sie den Ausgang nahm. « Es ließe sich alles trefflich schlichten,/ Könnte man die Sachen zweimal verrichten »20
(Walter Benjamin,
Spielzeug und Spielen)

The child bases her introspective shift on the drama’s fakeness, attempting to absorb the “imaginary stream” running through and over her. This imaginary stream (“ruissellement imaginaire”) Barthes sets against the “narrative Big Other” (“le Grand Autre narratif” – something close to what I’ve called the “adult scenario”), is the reel of playing (or replaying). But unlike the performative utterances defined by Austin, the criteria of falseness and truth (and even accordance to an intention) do not apply to playing; there, the mendaciousness simply consists of a series of efficient mistakes, happy approximations, wrong performative notes that constantly preserve some space for the playing (“du jeu pour le jeu”).

This ability – which is essentially a pleasure – not to be satisfied by the flattening of mysteries (of which Benjamin speaks in Berliner Kindheit), I’ll call the preventing abilities of the little anthropos — of which she’s not the overly conscious actor following a scenario, but a plastic agent riding a stream.

These abilities are a complex of behaviors she knows not to play in public as she is conscious of the decorum and timing imposed by the adult’s scenario. They may reappear when the opportunity arises; for example a ritual
a minute social burial an eclipse a filly-go-rounds
she leisurely howling amid
nappies’ odors remotely smelling of straw
being reassured
about her own abilities
to silence the flux without stopping the rocket.

(Translated from the french with great help of Sarah Moriarty.
Original version can be read online at



1“I am a being who needs to unify. I can’t spread out. I need to find, among multiple facts, the law.” (Sorbonne, 14-I-34)

2“New facts, new terms. I had to create a terminology precise enough to label these facts without any possible confusion. Creating a new scientific vocabulary is a delicate operation, which can be solved in three ways: One can use common words with a new signification. One can straight away throw out a profusion of neologisms. One can emit these neologisms in small number, but keep on emitting them over several years, as the material is being treated. The third solution seems to be the best, because it’s more human in its inevitable technicality.” (Manducation of the lesson, 1950)

3École d’Anthropologie, 2-3-1938)

4Mary Colum, Our Friend James Joyce (1959), p130-131

5Claude Lévi-Strauss, “L’efficacité symbolique”, in Revue de l’Histoire des Religions, vol. 135, 1949 (ENG: “The Effectivness of Symbols”)

6Barthes uses the expression in relation to the novel, but it’s developed, in Les sorties du texte (contribution to the Bataille seminar in 1972, on The big toe), in a passage about theory as “interpretative fiction” in the work of Bataille (via Nietzsche), which prefigures some of the reflexions in The pleasure of the text.

7“Our vocabulary might sound strange at first, but it’s so simple when you get it. You know, if you break the word, you find the real. What is Rhythm? I let it flow in front of you and in you. Interactional or Propositional Gesture? I unfold it for you. Intussusception? I explain it to you. Mimism, Mimemes? I show them to you inside you. The Abstraction? I explain it to you in its underlying gesture.” (École d’Anthropologie, 2-3-1938)

8Garnier & Delamare, Dictionnaire des Termes Techniques de Médecine, 1972

9Balzac, for instance: “cette rapide intussusception dont sont doués momentanément les êtres les moins sagaces par la passion” (La Duchesse de Langeais)

10The project of Monsieur Teste, an avatar of Valéry himself, consists in ripening his inventions to turn them into instincts (“mûrir ses inventions et pour en faire ses instincts”).

11François Delsarte, french theorician of movement, extremely influent in the end of 19th century, specially in the United States of America.

12For example, in greek: inda, latin: iocare, sanskrit: Krîdati, chinese: wan, blackfoot: koâni

13The interaction is directly transitive for Jousse. He doesn’t say “agent acting on an acted”, but “agent acting an acted”.

14And it clearly echoes to me Winnicott’s “potential space”, in which th pure empiricist child plays and is played, searches and is discovered.

15The concept of Spieltrieb, introduced by Schiller designates a superabundance of vital energy, in which the playing, essentially aesthetic, would originate, creating a synthesis of the “impulses” of form and sensibility. It can be considered as an “overtake” desire (in french > overtaking: dépassement / being overtaken: emparement).

16This opposition appears as an alternative of – or variation on – the classical one summarized by Freud in Civilization and its Discontents: “The development of the individual is ordered according to the program laid down by the pleasure-principle, namely, the attainment of happiness, and to this main objective it holds firmly; the incorporation of the individual as a member of a community, or his adaptation to it, seems like an almost unavoidable condition which has to be filled before he can attain this objective of happiness. If he could achieve it without fulfilling this condition, it would perhaps be better. To express it differently, we may say: Individual development seems to us a product of the interplay of two trends, the striving for happiness, generally called egoistic, and the impulse towards merging with others in the community, which we call altruistic. Neither of these descriptions goes far beneath the surface.”

17The goal of this assimilation-motivated [-orientated] jouissance can be called “fruition”, which Barthes defines in Le Discours Amoureux as a jouissance of absolute appropriation. The latin word fruitio designates the enjoyment of possession and full use. The christian notion of fruitio appears as one of the three endows of the christ to the blessed’s soul, along with “visio” & “comprehensio”. Visio provides the vision in the light of glory, comprehensio designates the fulfillment of desire and fruitio the ravishment of union with god. In the area of law, “fruition” designates the exercise of the legal right to fully use an item or to enjoy the benefits of owning property. Roland Barthes also picks the word for its acoustic qualities, as it mimes “in mouth” the enjoyment of amorous union (“It’s the fruitive union, the fruition of love (this word is pedant, really? With its initial fricative and its stream of sharp vowels, before the mourning final syllable, the word increases the jouissance it speaks of by an oral voluptuousness; saying it, I enjoy this union in my mouth).” Roland Barthes, Fragments du discours amoureux

18″We’re examining some of these « you shall » sentences related to social behaviors, which come from ancient ethical cultures (this plural has not been easy to impose) or at least which are present in them. I end up suggesting a practical formula. In the interests of class struggle, it is necessary to transform the « you shall » clause which imply « you pig! » into clauses implying « you ox! ». The clauses that don’t allow this transformation are to be eliminated. For example, the statement: « you shall not sleep with you’re mother » was once a « you ox! » clause because in the ancient social order it referred to a violent disruption of the conditions of property and production. Today, this clause it not anymore a « you ox! » one, just a « you pig! » one, therefore it’s to be thrown away. »

19“For if a psychologist today has good taste (others might say, integrity) it consists in resistance to the shamefully moralized way of speaking which has gradually made all modern judgments of men and things slimy. One should not deceive oneself in this matter: the most distinctive feature of modern souls and modern books is not lying but their inveterate innocence in moralistic mendaciousness.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals)

20″We know what is the soul of playing for a child; nothing is more pleasurable to her that the « another time ». The dark compulsion to repeat is scarcely less powerful in play, scarcely less scheming in the mechanisms at work, than the sexual impulse in love. It’s not for nothing that Freud had thought to discover in it a « beyond the pleasure principle ». In fact: each profound experience insatiably aims to repeat and return, to reproduce an original situation, of which it once escaped. Es ließe sich alles trefflich schlichten,/ Könnte man die Sachen zweimal verrichten » (« Oh exquisitely convenient would it be if you could do things twice », quote by Goethe).

31 août 2015