As for the novel’s words, they may themselves suggest many possible interpretations; they may, according to the preoccupations of each reader, accommodate all kinds of comment—psychological, psychiatric, religious or political—yet their indifference to these “potentialities” is apparent. Whereas the traditional text is constantly solicited, caught up, destroyed by these interpretations of the author’s, ceaselessly projected into an immaterial and unstable elsewhere, always more remote and blurred, the conceptual text remains, on the contrary, there. It is the commentaries that will be left elsewhere; in the face of this irrefutable presence, they will seem useless, superfluous, even improper.

Exhibit X in any detective story gives us, paradoxically, a clear image of this situation. The evidence gathered by the inspectors—an object left at the scene of the crime, a movement captured in a photograph, a sentence overheard by a witness—seem chiefly, at first, to require an explanation, to exist only in relation to their role in a context which overpowers them. And already the theories begin to take shape: the presiding magistrate attempts to establish a logical and presiding link between things; it appears that everything will be resolved in a banal bundle of causes and consequences, intentions and coincidences….

But the story begins to proliferate in a disturbing way: the witnesses contradict one another, the defendant offers several alibis, new evidence appears that had not been taken into account … And we keep going back to the recorded evidence: the exact position of a piece of furniture, the shape and frequency of a fingerprint, the word scribbled in a message. We have the mounting sense that nothing else is true. Though they may conceal a mystery, or betray it, these elements which make a mockery of systems have only one serious, obvious quality, which is to be there.

The same is true of the language around us. We had thought to control it by assigning it a meaning, and the entire art of the novel, in particular, seemed dedicated to this enterprise. But this was merely an illusory simplification; and far from becoming clearer and closer because of it, language has only, little by little, lost all its life. Since it is chiefly in its presence that the text’s reality resides, our task is now to create a literature which takes that presence into account.