Reading and the Voice of Death: Balzac's 'Le Message'


In "Le Message," a single name is suggested, on the one hand for the scandalous vulnerability of discourse to accident, deviation and triangulation, and on the other for the strange power of resonance, the inexhaustible profundity of fiction: that name is death. That it is fiction that is subject, simultaneously and inextricably, to this scandalous vulnerability and to this power of mysterious resonance – a power comparable to that of dreams – is something the text makes clear by making careful distinctions between, on the one hand, the immature and inconsequential chatter of the young but also the utilitarian discourse of information attributed to journalism, and on the other a discourse matured by the touch of death and the intervention of "noise" or the accidental, a process that culminates in a dialogue of which the narrator specifies that the next day, this nocturnal scene, mixed with his dreams, appears to be a fiction. That fiction is thus presented, not as a discourse in which information is transmitted in unilinear direction (as in so many classical models of communication, including those of narratology), but as a scene of dialogue and exchange, appears to take us to the heart of the matter; and the title of this essay seeks to encapsulate an understanding that, if fiction, is the voice in which death speaks (a prosopopeia, then), the voice of death is itself a discourse subject to, and indeed produced by, reading. (RC)

Chambers, Ross
Release Year:
1990 Spring-Summer; 18(3-4): 408-24