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Voix Endeuillé

Hommage to Franson Manjali





Voix Endeuillé/ Bereaved Voices

- Michel Deguy


With what words, in what trembling language am I to speak to you and with you today, on a day that we call “memorial”, the day when I am to remember Franson with you on this day, for he is the one who taught me, above everything, and none but he alone, this most beautiful word called “the immemorial”? In what language does one speak who now has to walk alone, all alone, the one who has to speak now to an absence that does not respond to his address in the language of the world, for now we converse – me and Franson - in a new tongue and in another language. And we sing now to another tune. A relation not measured by years of this earthly life, a relation made up of an infinite conversation: what to remember? What to forget? Unless it were the memory of the immemorial, for he taught me, more than anyone else, and he alone, this beautiful word “ immemorial”, for he alone – more than anyone else – opened up for me this dimension of the immemorial, this being his beloved word, and it was mine too. Between us there lies the immemorial: it is this that we shared, sharing the un-shareable; and we shared it together and yet each one of us singularly, with the distance and proximity between us, entre nous, wherein lies this enigma of the immemorial, and its intrigue, and its indelible secret, and its invisibility to the intelligibility of the world and its inaudibility to the clamor of knowledge.

In the intellectual world which is increasingly getting divided by specialized areas of knowledge - where each area appears to us like an island, delimited from all sides by waters - Franson remained a kind of enigma to many of us, a strange figure whose strangeness, paradoxically, had such an ineffable attraction that it invisibly and imperceptibly drew each one of us to be ever nearer to him. This alone perhaps explains why Franson never had any enemy, but only friends, even though not too many. What was unique about Franson – his ineffable singularity – was his infinite refusal to be pinned down by any “truth”, by any system of knowledge, by any concept of cognitive mastery, by any discourse that can be neatly arranged within an already constituted regime of disciplines, by an interiorizing act of memory that will reduce him into an item of our self-relation. This singularity consists of ever transgressing the limits – of given systems of knowledge, of geo-political territories, of the constituted orders of any given modes of being: living amidst us, breathing with us, and sharing with us the air of the earth, he nevertheless remained sans papier – an individual without papers, without a passport (to speak philosophically and spiritually), in a way that is so self-effacingly his. He affirmed himself, his own existence, only such self-effacingly. This paradox is difficult to understand. Franson himself understood this affirmation of self-effacement as an essential fragility. This understanding of his own existence and human existence as such as fragile made him restless. Such was his restlessness that he grew ever patient in it: so restful was he in his restlessness! In all his restlessness – restlessly transgressing discourses of knowledge (he studied chemistry, then journalism, then semantics and semiotics, then philosophy of language etc), opening up each border and closure in turn, only to open up still another limit in turn – he however remained patient in his restlessness, for what was so unconditionally exigent for him was how not to be totalized, how not to be incorporated into any form of totality, whether geo-political or discursive. He remained ahead of all of us in this respect, in a fashion that is his singularly his, in his actions and his thoughts, bearing it about him something like an excess of non-knowledge. This solitude was at once so painful for him and yet liberating, as if this pain was the only condition of possibility of his inner existence. From this enigmatic depth flowed his love: in his own fragile way, in a fragility that is at once firm and rigorous, something that I saw him alone maintaining, in such a fragile fashion he loved this world, all the beautiful flowers on this earth, and the children of mortals, as he loved specific individuals in each one’s irreducible individuations. And he loved the world to the point of unbearable pain, to the point of being holding himself responsible for the sufferings of the world, as if as it were. The world was becoming too much harsh for his angelic soul; or rather he was becoming too beautiful for the world. So restless grew he, resting entirely on this restlessness, that he continually ventured steps beyond, in ways imperceptible to many and visible only to the few; and so imperceptibly and so quietly, like the faint murmurs of evening breeze, he imprinted on the inner depth of our souls – whosoever’s lives he has entered – the images of his angelic face, the lovely sounds of his beautiful, child-like laughter, and the furious passion that quietly lived within him like a life-giving, sourcive fire.

It is strange that my first conversation with him when I first met him 24 years back, and my last conversation with him just few days before his death, were about death. The question of death so obsessed me that I went ahead to address this question in my doctoral work under his supervision. In my last conversation with him the question of death came to be coupled up with the question of resurrection. He saw death approaching him and he turned to me to ask what should he do. What should one say to the other who was already seeing it all coming – something that only he could see, for he alone now, on the threshold of its arrival, could see now the invisible? I can only say now, when it is too late to respond to him, when he no longer responds back, what am I to say as survivor. But who is this survivor? The survivor is the one who mourns for the departed friend. Here is what Franson himself had to say this, in his inimitably lucid language, of what does it mean to be a survivor, which is to say, what it means to be a friend of the one who has just departed:


In a certain way, all writing, all literature, at least from an ethical point of view, is a work of mourning. One leaves behind a certain familiar world, carries it forward to another. Friendship, fidelity gives way to survival. This is what can be referred to as the politics of mourning, which in the case of Derrida was never separated from what he called the ‘politics of friendship’.1


The phenomenon of mourning, which is so central to human culture as such - and yet, at the same time, such an irreducible solitude is mourning - is inextricably bound up with the ethical exigency of responsibility that defines profound friendships. For Franson, for me too, this community with the other is crucial to the human existence in this world; and this idea of a communion with the other - not a mythic-fascist fusion - that I shared with him; and this was the most important question in my infinite conversation with him that lasted all throughout last 24 years, and still to continue, beyond death, in the time that has remained for us. In my last conversation with him, I insisted on the existential veracity of the idea of resurrection, and I trembled while speaking; I was already sobbing inwardly, for I came to feel that he was already seeing it coming towards him from an extremity of time. With my insistence of resurrection, I tried to take away from death its ultimate meaning for us. This thought could not have been possible without him. This thought is the unconditional gift to me from him, to all of us who know Franson the person and the philosopher. It is now the responsibility of each one of us, each one in a singular fashion, to pass onto still others this gift – this ineffable, profoundly beautiful, this excessive gift of friendship that survives death, and in such a way that it even exceeds death, for “ love is strong as death” ( Song of Solomon 8:6).


Saitya Brata Das

1 Franson Manjali, “The Discourse of Death”, in Labyrinths of Language: Philosophical and Cultural Investigations (Delhi: Aakar Books, 2014), p. 134.

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