Public Toilette

We talk, a tape recording is made, diligent secretaries listen to our words to refine, transcribe, and punctuate them, producing the first draft that we can tidy up afresh before it goes to publication, the book, eternity. Haven’t we gone through “the toilette of the dead”? We have embalmed our speech like a mummy, to preserve it forever. Because we really must last a bit longer than our voices; we must, through the comedy of writing, inscribe ourselves somewhere.

The inscription, what does it cost us? What do we lose? What do we win?
. . .
Thus, in the written word a new image-repertoire appears, that of “thought.” Wherever there is a concurrence of spoken and written words, to write means in a certain manner: I think better, more firmly; I think less for you and more for the “truth.” Doubtless, the Other is always there, in the anonymous figure of the reader; consequently, the “thought” staged through the conditions of the script (as discreet, as apparently insignificant as they may be) remains dependent upon the self-image I wish to present to the public; it is not so much an inflexible mold of givens and arguments that concerns us as it is a tactical space of propositions—that is, all things considered, of positions. In the debate of ideas, very widespread today thanks to mass communication, each subject is lead to situate, to mark, to position itself intellectually, which means: politically.

Roland Barthes, “From Speech to Writing” La Quinzaine littéraire, March 1-15, 1974 translated in The Grain of the Voice 3, 6.