Someone, not me, comes and says the words: “I am interested in the idiom in painting.” You get the picture: the speaker is impassive, he remained motionless for the duration of his sentence, careful to refrain from any gesture. At the point where you were perhaps expecting it, near the head and around certain words, for example “in painting,” he did not imitate the double horns of quotation marks, he did not depict a form of writing with his fingers in the air. He merely comes and announces to you: “I am interested in the idiom in painting.”
As he comes and has just come [vient de venir], the frame is missing, the edges of any context open out wide. You are not completely in the dark, but what does he mean exactly?
Does he mean that he is interested in the idiom “in painting,” in the idiom itself, for its own sake, “in painting” (an expression that is in itself strongly idiomatic; but what is an idiom?)?
That he is interested in the idiomatic expression itself, in the words “in painting”? Interested in words in painting or in the words “in painting”? Or in the words” ‘in painting’ “?
That he is interested in the idiom in painting, i.e., in what pertains to the idiom, the idiomatic trait or style (that which is singular, proper, inimitable) in the domain of painting, or else – another possible translation – in the singularity or the irreducible specificity of pictorial art, of that “language” which painting is supposed to be, etc.?
Which makes, if you count them well, at least four hypotheses; but each one divides again, is grafted and contaminated by all the others, and you would never be finished translating them.
Nor will I.
The Truth in Painting is signed Cezanne. It is a saying of Cezanne’s.
Resounding in the title of a book, it sounds, then, like a due.
So, to render it to Cezanne; and first of all to Damisch, who cites it before me, I shall acknowledge the debt. I must do that. In order that the trait should return to its rightful owner.
But the truth in painting was always something owed.
Jacques Derrida, The truth in Painting, 1987,
The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London.
Translated by Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod.
First published as La Vérité en Peinture, 1978, Flammarion, Paris.