PRINT March 1980

Ian Wilson, For Example: Texts on Words

HERE, FOR EXAMPLE, IS what remains of Ian Wilson’s work:

"My project will be to visit you in Paris, April 1970 and there make clear the idea of oral communication as art form.

Mon projet est de venir vous voir à Paris en Avril 1970 et rendre claire l’idée de la communication orale en tant que forme d’art.

Mein Plan ist Sie im April 1970 in Paris zu besuchen und die Idee der oralen Kommunikation alsKunstform klar zu machen.

Ian Wilson came to Paris in January 1970 and talked about the idea of oral communication as art form.

Ian Wilson est venu à Paris en Janvier 1970 et a parlé à propos de l’idée de la communication orale en tant que forme d’art.

Ian Wilson ist im Januar 1970 nach Paris gekommen und hat über die Idee der oralenKommunikation als Kunstform gesprochen."2

“There was discussion between Ian Wilson and Fernand Spillemaeckers on the 23rd of January 1972.”3

“On the 15th of August 1972, Jack Wendler purchased his discussions with Ian Wilson.”4

“On the 23rd of January 1972 there was a discussion between Herman Daled and Ian Wilson. What was said remains in the collection of Herman Daled.”5

“On the 26th of March 1974, Ian Wilson will be in the Jack Wendler Gallery for discussion from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.”6

"Le 4 Avril 1974, à 20 heures précises
16–18 rue Littré 75006 PARIS
Ian Wilson sera présent pour un entretien dont le sujet sera lu par Michel Claura.

On the 4th of April 1974, at 8 p.m. precisely 16–18
Rue Littré 75006 PARIS
Ian Wilson will be present for a discussion whose theme will be read by Michel Claura."

“The purchase of the discussion of January 31st 1975 is acknowledged by the undersigned.”8

“On the 28th of April 1977 at 8:30 p.m., the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Ian Wilson will present Plato’s Epistemology of The Parmenides for discussion.”9

These examples say nothing about the work which has taken place. It remains that a work has taken place, nothing remains of it, what remains is nothing of the work, remains that nothing remains.


What about the writing?


For example, what there is of Ian Wilson’s work.

The examples of Wilson’s work, or “what remains of it,” give birth to a doubt: these are traces, what they imply remains unfindable. Are these traces? They are traces compared with the “meaning” they invite one to follow, the “presence” that they indicate. No trace of presence. Where there’s a trace, presence leaves no trace. It’s a false trail. But it is a trail. The “falseness” is only worthwhile in comparison to a truth, whose meaning we ignore. There is a trail, that’s what we can say. We barely see where it leads to. We see clearly what that means: what does it mean? What should we believe? It leads nowhere. Bad faith is in its right senses. What saves it is also what ruins it. Right senses would need an explanation: we can believe because it’s absurd, but faith requires understanding. Explanations concerning the “work” lead nowhere. There aren’t any. More insidiously, the work “asks” for no explanation. It works. It is clear that everything is said in the work, that is to say, everything should be said in the “work,” that’s clear. Nothing remains of an identifiable, referable work.

No doubt, it’s art. Good faith is enough. It’s a sign. We can believe in art. It remains to believe that it’s art. No doubt, Ian Wilson is an artist. For all we know, he could just as well be just Ian Wilson. Nothing authorizes us to identify Ian Wilson. His work eludes knowledge. It is not ascribable to an author. Even, and especially if, all signs point to Ian Wilson. He remains to be met. It is precisely the meetings which are recorded, held in words, names, dates, on pages or invitation cards. The meeting stops here, leaving the understanding to the enigma of words. Not that the understanding is vague. On the contrary, it is defined at the edge of symbols, at the existence of signs. It goes no further. Understanding is cut and dried, uselessly precise. It encumbers itself with unknown evidence. There are symbols which make signs to an unfindable truth. Because everything is there. The symbols cannot lie. They don’t mean anything. The discussions which took place, the words which were said, are reduced to silence. Indicated. Not that they have been silenced—they are out of hearing. Unusable. What the “discussions” are is passed over in silence. The word “discussion” says nothing. It signifies. It refers to speechless discussions, wordless texts. In a certain way, it prevents all discussion. It is speechless. It defers, it is perhaps different, (from) what we would like to hear.

What to say of a writing which indicates a discussion, a text signifying words? Truly, the question must be reversed. What to say of an indicated discussion, of signified words? Not as “signified” but as “unsaid.” The “word” here is condemned to silence, speechless, not unutterable. It can be heard, it is “audible,” only from what names and silences it. It’s out of hearing and the text insignificant. Whence the apparent alternative, between a word out of hearing and a text which silences it. There’s no choice. One side holds the other. The word is silenced because it is signified, the text insignificant because it says nothing. No side is tenable. No more one than the other. But from one side to the other, reciprocal return. Returns one to the other, irreversibly, perpetually one against the other. The return simulates the return. It returns it; reflects and excludes. The “presence” reflected by what indicates it, refers to nothing. The effect of presence is sent back to textual indication—to its presence? Counter-indicated. Presence betrays presence, denouncing its presence, breaking its word. “Presence” is a side track but it diverts nothing except presence. Factitious presence, that’s the fact. It breaks on the scene accidentally. What there is of this presence is what there should be, if there was nothing. It is otherwise: as if it were nothing. None of this is natural. The “work” appears as secret tales whose code, so obviously insignificant, denounces the message without its having to be decoded. The message is denounced as a whole. It explains nothing. But it doesn’t lack mystery. It keeps its secret like a declared lie. It intrigues. The intrigue is clear. It hides nothing. Even if we aren’t meant to know more. Here, the value of truth doesn’t come from the certitude of knowledge—but from the intrigue. The intricacy of the message and code, the meaning and signs, the signified and significant has another value to the distinction “of true and false,” more surprising, paradoxical. It is a quality of the text, a texture binding the aporias of sense to another unity of emergence, an esthetic coherence. The estimation of value is subject to the allure of the phenomenon, it measures up to appearance, not to knowledge. The formal meaning of truth is an accomplice to appearances. To be and to appear intertwine. Nothing is quite unmasked, nothing is quite masked. The unmasking itself (aletheia), the “non-withdrawal of the open” (a-letheia) enjoys its own “withdrawal.” Truth is the guise of appearance. Such is the Truth of Protagoras who Plato defends in Theaetetus. He retraces it in sophistic manner:

I do indeed assert that the truth is as I have written. Each one of us is a measure of what is and of what is not, but there is all the difference in the world between one man and another just in the very fact that what is and appears to one is different from what is and appears to the other. And as for wisdom and the wise man, I am very far from saying they do not exist. By a wise man I mean precisely a man who can change any one of us, when what is bad appears and is to him, and make what is good appear and be to him. In this statement, again, don’t set off in chase of words, but let me explain still more clearly what I mean. Remember how it was put earlier in the conversation. To the sick man his food appears sour and is so; to the healthy man it is and appears the opposite. Now there is no call to represent either of the two as wiser—that cannot be—nor is the sick man to be pronounced unwise because he thinks as he does, or the healthy man wise because he thinks differently. What is wanted is a change to the opposite condition, because the other state is better._

And so too in education a change has to be effected from the worse condition to the better; only, whereas the physician produces a change by means of drugs, the Sophist does it by discourse. It is not that a man makes someone who previously thought what is false think what is true, for it is not possible either to think the thing that is not or to think anything but what one experiences, and all experiences are true.

The difficulty and the attraction of sophistic theses, the intrigues of the being and the appearing, undergo the seduction of words. The truth is caught in the nets of speech. Each formula is double-edged. What is named can appear without being, be and not be: “If the non-being is, it will be and, at the same time, won’t be. But, at the same time, in as much as it is non-being, it will be,” wrote Gorgias in his Treatise of Being or of Nature. Parallel to this, Plato, in the general conclusion of the Parmenides, initating the ambiguity of the Zenonian argument, has Parmenides say:

Then may we not sum up the argument in a word and say truly: If one is not, then nothing is?


Then now that is said; and let us say further, as seems to be the truth, that, whether one is or is not, one and the others in relation to themselves and one another, all of them, in every way, are and are not, and appear and appear not.

Most true.

Parmenides doesn’t say this. It isn’t he who speaks. It is what he would have said, as Cephalos relates, according to the account Antiphon learned from Pythadoros.

Pythadoros was witness to the meeting, held at his place, between Socrates, Zeno and Parmenides. He later told it to the young Antiphon, brother of Glaucon and Adimantos, who learned it by heart. Having reached manhood, Antiphon received one day the visit of a certain Cephalos, friend of Glaucon and Adimantos. Cephalos brought with him philosophers from Clazomena, who wished to hear the account of the meeting. So Antiphon related the account of Pythadoros. This account, told in front of him by Antiphon, Cephalos tells in turn. This is how Plato has Parmenides talk: Parmenides says nothing. Cephalos speaks. But Cephalos is nothing, not even a philosopher. He is simply the narrator lending his voice, the actor playing the characters. Actor, he is just an invention of Plato’s. A fictitious character among well-known people. Cephalos has nothing to say. Nothing justifies his presence, except that he is named. Is it of any use to be named?

Parmenides is the name of a known philosopher. But the principal character of the dialogue, who carries his name, is “in person” an unknown. For example, it could be Cephalos or Parmenides. Parmenides is the one absent from the dialogue, since he figures in it. He is given as an example. The figure of Parmenides is the place of reference. Parmenides is properly disfigured. It is his name which figures. As the principal character, Parmenides is essentially secondary; he is but a name. But the name is that of Parmenides. The unknown is known, the known unknown. Parmenides resembles Parmenides. He is identical to him: identically known and unknown. Parmenides has the same name, this is his “identity.”

Plato alone is Plato, since he is named. He is himself, in person, because he appears masked—behind the figure of Socrates, for example—but reaffirmed, diversely present in all the characters. More essentially himself since he multiplies the masks. It is not a masquerade. Plato doesn’t mask himself. He masks and unmasks, he frames. Present behind the dialogues but not on stage. Plato is behind no one mask, he is behind all the masks. All take part through Plato. Plato is the geometric site of the figures he sets out. They describe him without confining him, they say it without naming him. On the contrary, each figure is enclosed in its evidence, its position, its thesis. It is hypothetical, suspended by its definition, factitious as to its essence. Each figure interlocks with the others. It is systematic in its coherence or its contradictions. No frank words, or word of mouth: ritual, formula, sanctuary. The figures are canonical, formalized, symbolical. The life of the dialogues—logic—is a late celebration, a commemoration. The dialectical ceremony transposes life into signs. Metaphor of the living: the said augurs itself in deathly silence. It is silenced in order to be heard, reduced to meaning. The said is lost for ideality. The “meaning” drops what is “real” for the idea. According to the “meaning,” Plato’s presence, in his dialogues, is ideal. Plato is neither figured nor disfigured. More correctly himself, he doesn’t appear. His presence is pure: nonfigurative. It is not contradicted, nor broken into, by the making up of dialogues.

The play of characters, the geometry of the figures, the structure of the dialogues refer to a unity of meaning which Plato organizes. That way, Plato wouldn’t be the creator of illusions. He wouldn’t delude, since he doesn’t create, since he doesn’t wish to appear other than through the work of which he is the working cause, the author. Plato would be himself because he forgets himself, apparently he “wants” nothing. Plato doesn’t justify the work; it’s the work which justifies him according to its needs. The “need” of the work is based on another causality, not just simply efficient, but final. Plato works with a view to a true learning, a real knowledge according to the justice of being, of a knowledge participating in Ideas, in the exemplary causality of paradigm. It is, insofar as the work makes intelligible the true formal causes, that it is really work, that it is. Plato’s action is the responsible action, answering the exemplary causality of the Idea. The unmasking of the truth of being goes through Plato; it is in this that he is really and truly Plato. If Plato is, in fact, creator of illusion, it’s that he forgets himself as creator, that he must forget himself, live in the “unconscious” of the ego. The “consciousness” of himself is pure illusion.

Ian Wilson is, like Parmenides, character and, like Plato, author. He is author of a character which is himself. Because Ian Wilson is Ian Wilson, all signs revert to Ian Wilson. Between Ian Wilson and Ian Wilson, the alternative is unquestionable. Once again, there’s no choice. Who is Ian Wilson? Where is he? Ian Wilson is not to be found. He hasn’t disappeared, but his disappearance belongs to his presence. His presence is enigmatic. It admits nothing, even if it implies that at such a place, on such a day, at such a time Ian Wilson is present. This presence itself notifies his disappearance. It reflects Ian Wilson onto Ian Wilson. Not only Wilson, but the others. See the names of all those who have discussed, bought their discussions, presented the subject of a discussion with Ian Wilson—all, that is to say, those whose name appears beside “Ian Wilson.” Appointed interlocutors of Ian Wilson, by “Ian Wilson,” by the “discussions.” No matter the position of each name and each person with regard to these “discussions,” the important thing is that names appear as being or not being those of the interlocutors of Ian Wilson. All these names, these places, these “discussions” revert to Ian Wilson. This is how he takes shape. Ian Wilson is present due to the presence of “others.” This is what makes it public and allows to name Ian Wilson, to repeat his name, to recognize him. Immediately, Ian Wilson comes to the fore as someone known or someone we should know. It is understood that there is an Ian Wilson. What do we mean by that? We are in connivance. The secrecy prevents any possibility of knowing more—even for us—if not to implicate him. There’s no secret. Complicity of ignorance, here’s what we’ll never admit. By formally learning that a “discussion is to take place in the presence of Ian Wilson . . .” the information implies that we know more or that we should know more about it. At the same time, it credits us with a knowledge by which we are frustrated. Such is the secret of information. We learn nothing, we are taken for someone else. Rigorous quid pro quo, it isn’t a mistake. It mistakes us for anyone else, in contempt of what we are. It takes us; that is to say, it keeps us informed, unaware. The information breaks unexpectedly since it has no need. It is nothing but a diversion. We are involved in its urgency, its formality, its formulation, even to the extent that we are for nought and it is for no one. The information is neither a confidence, nor a demonstration. It is there formally. Unavoidable politeness, it leaves us with no excuse. Especially since it asks nothing of us. In the true sense, it is of no interest to anyone. It shows up unexpectedly. We are “all” accomplices of ignorance, unjustifiably responsible to its signification. It involves us “all,” insofar as in addressing no one, it addresses itself and us publicly. It involves us personally in its publicity. But, personally, there’s no one left. No one is no one. Except the personnel using the information: the personalities we are informed about.

Ian Wilson, for example, doesn’t have to be Ian Wilson. He could be anyone: one of those whose names, known or unknown, which surround that of Ian Wilson or even another or, still again Ian Wilson. Ian Wilson is always an other because he is Ian Wilson. It is as Ian Wilson that he is known, as such that he is unknown. As a proper noun, it can only be a pseudonym; as a person, an anonym. Present in his name, he doesn’t need to be there, but to be mentioned. Named. He is pronounced. What pronounces him is pro-nominal. He is called Ian Wilson. He is nothing but a personal pronoun. He has no name, he is named as an example. He is named “Ian Wilson,” but is he Ian Wilson? To disassociate Ian Wilson from Ian Wilson, the name from the being in the representation, is to lose the exterior guarantees concerning the existence of Wilson and his work. Solely the exteriority of the name is witness. It has the value of a symbol. “He” is, as such, above and beyond Wilson. He is neutral. He is dead or disappeared, because he is said. “He” is not Wilson. He can’t say: “I am Ian Wilson.” I am Ian Wilson is a lie, a mystification, a metaphor.

René Denizot is a French philosopher.



1. René Denizot, “Ian Wilson, par exemple: Textes des Paroles,” Coupure, Gent, 1976.

2. Catalogue: 18 Paris IV 70, exhibition catalogue.

3. Catalogue Deurle 11/7/73, exhibition catalogue.

4. Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6. Exhibition announcement.

7. Invitation sent by Michel Claura.

8. Certificate of the discussion of 31 January 1975.

9. Exhibition announcement.