refus dans Cycnos


Cycnos | Volume 28 n° Spécial

Oleanna ou pourquoi refuser les avances d’un professeur d’université

In his play Oleanna, written in 1992, David Mamet deals with the dangerous border between sexual harassment and courtship. After being accused by a student of having promised her a grade « A » for her exam if she agrees to have an affair with him, a university teacher adamantly denies the charge. But his career is ruined all the same. Who is the real victim? Who is the culprit? Who is lying? Who is telling the truth? The play rests on ambiguity, there is no way to lift it and to give a definite answer to these questions. The play offers an original insight into the concept of ambiguity. Grounded on a basis that is simultaneously psychological and political, ambiguity turns out to be the opposite, not of clarity, but of refusal. Concomitantly, refusal is not opposed to assent but precisely to ambiguity. A man, whose self-assurance stems from his power, uses an ambiguous language and attitude because he undergoes a crisis of identity. Facing him, a young woman, who is exploited at work and failing in her studies, rebels and offers a form of political refusal of the oppression of women. To her mind, there is no mistaking the enemy: it is ambiguity, which enables the mighty to retain their power. When the male character becomes a victim in his turn, he is also led to make the same choice of refusal, thereby confirming the fact that the dialectic of ambiguity and refusal is an inevitable consequence of any oppressive, patriarchal or hierarchical system. An evolution towards an egalitarian system between men and women may attenuate the warlike aspect of the gender struggle.

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« En-dehors de la communication de la sentence » : le silence du refus de Billy Budd

On hearing the capital punishment decreed by the drum-head court, Billy Budd responds with an inexplicable passivity and a strategy of silence. More than just a lack of commitment, the remarkable silence and resignation of the young sailor appear as Billy Budd’s preferred form of refusal. Far from expressing the character’s suicidal impulse, this paradoxical attitude reflects Melville’s interest in Schopenhauer, and his thorough reading of the World as Will and Representation. This influence is reflected particularly in the novella’s 26th chapter, where the explicit mention of “euthanasia” is to be taken in its philosophical significance of “negation of the will to live”. With this form of “passive refusal”, a sort of physical and bodily denial, Billy Budd first expresses a rejection of the absurdity of the world; visible to all, his hanging is tantamount to a suspension of the will, recalling the self-denial attitude typical of asceticism. This silence, which might look like self-sacrifice, is primarily a refusal to speak, at least to use a certain kind of speech. By refusing to defend himself, Billy Budd replies by self-denial when faced with a “sentence” whose scope goes beyond the words that compose it: “beyond the communication of the sentence, what took place at this interview was never known”. For the essential lies well beyond the level of surface meaning: essentially, it is something else, an “elsewhere”, an Other. In Melville’s text, the irreducible figure of the “outside” that Levinas calls a “face” appears under the features of Claggart, the master at arms. When the extreme distance, the irreducible other occurs, he then becomes an “outside” or an “other”, a threatening face, with whom no relationship can be established. “Beyond the communication of the sentence points to the “beyond” or “outside” that the Handsome Sailors’s strange aphasia reveals, as well as an irresistible attraction he feels toward the void, now so close but still inaccessible. “Beyond”,” outside”: eventually the sentence communicates nothing, Billy hardly says anything, and stutters before sinking into silence and denial, thus refusing to speak a certain type of speech.

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Au cœur du refus. Le refus dans un système totalitaire : esquisse d’une expérience. Un témoignage de vie

“Dans La pensée captive,1Milosz doute que l’Occident puisse être en mesure de comprendre le totalitarisme de l’Europe de l’Est. Un totalitarisme qui s’est déployé dans le fascisme, le communisme et qui est, peut-être, à l’état de «germes» dans les régimes capitalistes. Femme, écrivain, anthropologue, que pourrais-je transmettre de mon expérience? Née en Roumanie, j’ai grandi dans un régime installé en toute légitimité, à la suite du fascisme et du stalinisme, fondé sur l’exaltation de l’identité nationale. La première leçon apprise à cette «école» était celle d’Ivan Denissovitch : dans la langue du totalitarisme, il n’y av...”

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