This article examines the politics of self-writing and subjecthood in Pierre Guyotat’s 2006 novel, Coma, which recounts the events leading up to Guyotat’s own lapse into coma following a period of intense, nomadic writing and traveling. I focus on Guyotat’s writing project as both a process of self-reconstructive bricolage after an experience of shattering liminality in coma, and as a philosophical consideration of self-writing as a means to foster anonymous community around the text between author and reader. My analysis of Coma hinges upon a parallel reading of Walter Benjamin’s various writings on the figure of The Collector, which provide a highly useful key to understanding Coma’s philosophy of writing. Across these reflections, Coma reads as a study of its own production and consumption as an autobiographical literary text, where the writing subject emerges in a constant struggle to continually recapture and rephrase his or her own referent.
Un débat entre littérature et la vie, oui peut-être, mais pas entre ce que moi j’écris et la vie; parce que c’est la vie, ce que je fais.
– Pierre Guyotat
In the preparatory notes for Coma (2006), Pierre Guyotat writes: “J’aimerais que Coma soit lu par tout le monde: transparence.” Warmly received in France (winning the 2006 Prix Décembre), Coma showed initial promise of granting Guyotat’s wishes. Yet, in the years following its publication, Coma has received little critical attention, and remains largely untouched. Critics such as Owen Heathcote have treated Coma as a relic of Guyotat’s sexuality and desire (“The Revolutionary Poetics of Pierre Guyotat”), whereas others, like Anne Bourgain, focus on its treatment of language and sacrifice (“Pierre Guyotat ou le rapport à la langue”). Such efforts, illuminating as they are, rest somewhat few. My own approach dwells rather on the generative effects of Coma’s composition as an autobiographical text, interpreting Guyotat’s writing as an act of collection, gathering memories, characters, and experiences to rewrite his own referent after the destabilizing effects of his coma. In short, I analyze Guyotat’s desire to be read. I argue that this desire frames Coma as a highly ambitious project of self-reconstruction in writing, one predicated on a turn towards transparence. I do this in three general sections. First, I analyze Guyotat’s cryptic preface, which provides something of a roadmap to reading Coma as self-writing in its most literal sense, constructing a textual referent for a shattered subjectivity. Second, I consider Guyotat’s treatment of what he calls “figures,” framing Coma as the composition of a textual archive through which subjectivity may be reconceived as a network. In this section I refer to Walter Benjamin’s model of “The Collector” as a kindred model of creative production. This provides useful scaffolding for interpreting Coma’s philosophy of writing, and works to situate Guyotat’s reconstructive poetics in a broader theoretical context. It reconsiders the subject as a dynamic network of impressionistic elements pulled from the exterior world rather than as an singular “I” or coherent, acting self. Third, I examine this method of self-writing for its potential as a form of engagement with an unknowable Other and the outside world, treating the text not as a cage, but as a catalyst of anonymous community. In this sense, Coma operates as an effort to mitigate the alienating distance between self and Other. As Guyotat writes: “The work that I create is undoubtedly within me and in my hands like a kind of intercession between me and the world or God.” As an “intercession,” Coma functions as a mediating force, treating writing for its potential to foster community between writer and world, yet without sacrificing a sober awareness of the limits of communication and the barriers of subjectivity.
Briefly summarized, Coma is the story of Guyotat’s descent into self-destructive nomadism and writing in a camping-car eventually spiraling into a coma in December 1981. Coma follows Guyotat into the depths of an artistic crisis as he drags himself though an extreme, ascetic project in pursuit of a heightened corporeality in writing, and to outrun waves of encompassing depression that accompany stasis and sociality. Here, the reader trails Guyotat along the edge of sanity, in and out of hospitals, pressing upon body and mind in an ascetic turn inwards, to an eventual point of total collapse.
While stylistically digestible, Coma does not easily lend itself to totalizing analysis. To exhaustively parse through its many tangled fragmentary strands (if at all possible) would require much more time and space than is appropriate here. I read Coma with an eye for its self-referentiality as a performative text, in which Guyotat writes himself back into the world, employing the text as a referent. As such, the story told and the effects of its telling are inverted in Coma, calling a self into being by rewriting the story of its destruction. The first few pages of Coma offer something of a blueprint for this process, framed as a retrospective preface, breaking from Guyotat’s otherwise persistent present-tense prose. This preface functions as an intimate gesture towards the reader, a sort of coded user’s manual for the text. Accordingly, it is useful to consider it carefully, piece by piece.
The first, most fundamental key that the preface provides regards the antagonistic relationship between the coherence of Guyotat’s subjectivity and the depths of his coma: “The following narrative,” Guyotat writes, “I have carried it within me ever since, surfacing from a crisis that had led me to the brink of death, in the spring of 1982, I forced myself to speak again in my own name.”  Suspended at the borderline between life and death, the seams of Guyotat’s subjectivity come undone. Even in its first words, Coma is framed for its generative poetics, as the release of a long withheld tale. The first step of this process is to reclaim the right to say “I”: “At that time, I felt disgust–it was really the only feeling I could summon–in preparing and pronouncing the word “I” with my throat and mouth, since I hadn’t recovered the totality of its attributes, and more–so much had I suffered in that journey.” The loss of the “I” in coma suggests the inessential nature of selfhood. Guyotat’s “I” must be recuperated, but in light of an unsettling new awareness of its general instability. For Guyotat, the pronunciation of “I” in language precedes the “I” itself. As such, the writing of Coma stages this progressive act of recuperation, a renaissance of self in the face of its ultimate excessive origins. But confronted by such darkness, where is it possible to find stable ground upon which to stand?
For Guyotat, the answer lies not in the reassembly of an interior self, but in the exterior world, more particularly in literary community. To reclaim a sense of personal stability, he must reach outwards. This is apparent in his admitted reliance on recognizable narrative structures to frame his reconstruction, relying heavily on biblical intertextuality: “How write, then, how think about writing, deprived of an ‘I’? Ecclesiastes provided a model, and Job, for a future I did not see.” The use of recognizable biblical structures lays a comprehensive scaffolding upon which Guyotat may stage his writing, itself becoming a structural referent for the nascent self: “living, to live; but then, restored enough to write it, would I not rather resume work on my figures–more real than myself–and increase their number?” This is not an account of a framed, objectified life but rather one in which life and writing unfold as one, intimately interwoven (“living, lived”), or as Guyotat later writes (invoking performative biblical utterance) “after coma, into Word.”
If biblical narrative grants Coma an intertextual scaffolding, the self that Guyotat reconstructs relies on the personal intertextuality of his “figures.” The word “figure” here unfolds into revealing polysemy, signifying at once faces (or masks), people, and things. In short, they refer to the heterogeneous elements which collectively construct (and continuously redefine) “Guyotat.” As I will demonstrate, these figures function as a point of connection between Guyotat’s life, the text, and the engaged, social existence that he seems to have lost. Writing himself through these figures allows Guyotat to compile a sort of subjective archive, a personal mythology of memories and characters which collectively build him up from dust.
For the sake of time and space, I cite the remainder of Guyotat’s preface in full:
“In those moments when part of my claim to speech revisited my heart, and ever so slightly fractured my internal muteness, I saw, I heard this text in normative language, as prayer, lament, a sweet bath of anger, improperia in the tone of Palestrina and Lassus, but addressed to God; still too close to the events to narrate them. For that, I would need to create new figures, to progress in shaping my language, and in understanding the world–and in laying myself bare before the affluence of others.” 
Coma is a break with muteness, the reclamation of the shattered self’s right and capacity to speak. Unlike the majority of Guyotat’s other works, written in a nearly illegible, deconstructed, primal slang  (Le Livre , Progénitures ) or in visceral, unfettered prose poetry (Éden, Éden, Éden , Tombeau pour cinq cent mille soldats ), Coma reads in a comprehensible, “normative” language. I read the use of normative here not as a sign of defeat or acquiescence, but rather as a social, participatory gesture: Guyotat is taking language into his own hands, cultivating his own poetic langue within the frame of the recognizable. He wants to be read. Within its “normative” frame, the language of Coma is also divine, one of prayer, lamentation, and resurrection. The persistence of religious themes makes it tempting to frame Coma as a conversion narrative, yet such an approach oversimplifies the text. In this passage, the authority of God is called into question, set in italics, ironically recast as the target of the reproaches of Christ. Coma is not a prayer to God, but rather a grab at the power of Genesis, a (re)construction of selfhood in the absence of a guiding sovereign light. As Guyotat writes elsewhere, “Every recuperation of the self annuls God.” Without the backing of religious sovereignty, the sanctity of his language, it seems, lies elsewhere. Guyotat’s reference of Palestrina and Lassus, two renaissance-era polyphonic composers, grants valuable insight here. In the absence of singular authority (manifest in God or in an essential self) Coma posits a plural model of sacred harmonies; for example, among Guyotat’s “figures.”
In the words that conclude the preface and christen the work itself, Guyotat outlines his project of self-writing. It is a process of rebirth, a literary bricolage at the limits of excess, the creation of new figures, words, reconstructing language and subjectivity in writing. Yet there is a largely social component to Guyotat’s self-writing as well. As the unpublished notes that precede it suggest, Coma, it seems, is a plea for recognition. Guyotat wishes to expose all, “laying myself bare (dépouillement) before the affluence of others,” Coma functions as a space to shed skin, peeling back layers of distance between a self and its readers. In this “dépouillement” the “I” is stripped of its sovereignty, and Guyotat’s self-writing becomes a necessary engagement with the outside world. In Coma, Guyotat reconstructs his subjectivity within a polyphonic system of relations existing outside of a presupposed self (“the affluence of others”), creating an new archive of figures “more real than myself” through which to define himself, suspended above (and in full recognition of) the excessive darkness which precedes him.
Coma as self-writing
With the directional aid of Guyotat’s preface, several analytical threads are revealed, and Coma begins to unravel. Yet, a few preliminary remarks must be made concerning how to proceed. Coma is written entirely in the present tense, lending its more philosophical moments a persistent self-reflexive tone. If, as its preface implies, Coma does indeed serve as a stage for both recollection and self-construction, this reflexive tone makes perfect sense. I treat the book as such; at once recounting Guyotat’s descent into darkness, but also a series of reflections applying to its own construction. The passages I examine are those which strike this double timbre, contributing to an overall philosophy of Coma’s production and effects, including (but not restricted to) notions of origin, excess, writing, and subjecthood. To begin, I examine Guyotat’s portrayal of origins, or the “pre-textual.”
Guyotat’s understanding of origin is intimately informed by the experience of liminality in coma. He reads origin as a space before existence, a state of potential, preceding language or subjectivity, his “vérité”:
“My truth is in that origin and not in what, of life, work, face, or legend, has formed around it; perhaps it is something prior to my birth, in my nonexistence (what is unborn rather than acquired). What counts is what I am, before; I don’t care much for what comes after: human conception, birth, writing. In other words: nothing, or genes scattered into the world, or a god’s intent.” 
The space of origin is one of absolute truth and pure non-existence. As Guyotat notes, however, its neutrality is (always-already) lost with the formation of the subject upon entry into the symbolic world. This loss is represented here in birth, human sociality, and (most importantly) writing. Unified in their shared opposition to the extreme neutrality of origin, these three concepts blur into mutual signification: they point to an ongoing structural encoding of subjectivity, whereas the excess preceding “origin” implies désœuvrement or unworking. This comparison points to the production of the book itself as a process of encoding, of neutral potential coming into recognizable existence in writing. From birth, through sociality, and by working on the self in œuvre, the subject is always being reborn from excess into language, with each thought and gesture. As evidenced in the preface, however, this encoding requires external support. Guyotat cannot simply write a self out of thin air, and relies on a game of bricolage, assembling a network of figures through which to exist. This vision of self-construction is predicated on Guyotat’s recognition of the “I” as always-already objectified in language, indicated at various points throughout the text.
Opaque reflections on the nature of subjecthood surface all throughout Coma, revolving primarily around questions of the “Moi” or imagistic, retrospective self that Guyotat seeks to transcend in his ascetic project. This is a self-written or remembered as a false, static totality. Only at the very end of Coma (ignoring the preface for the moment) does the reader see the “I” brought under close scrutiny. In the last few pages of the book, Guyotat reflects on his awakening, and the instability of the “I” post-coma. Whereas the objectified “Moi” is the target of Guyotat’s pre-coma work, his experience in liminality dissolves the myth of the sovereign acting “I.”
Guyotat’s reflections on his post-comatose existence are largely framed in a split between the corporeal and the psychic. The materiality and presence of the body (while still fragmented) are emphasized, in contrast to the instability of the shattered “I.” The process of awakening is portrayed in a series of steps. The first plants Guyotat back in time and history: “the 13th, the day of the declaration of martial law in Poland.” At this point, Guyotat starts to reassemble the senses of his body (“able to open my eyes and move my lips”), yet remains incapacitated, suspended somewhere between the inanimate and the athletic. The following textual fragment secures him in space: “I am in the intensive care unit at the Broussais hospital.” Strapped to an operating table, Guyotat’s corporeal awakening is greatly limited. He hears voices, but lacks the control to turn to see them: “No central voice but four high-pitched cardinal echoes of a ghost of a voice coming out from between his teeth like foam, and drying like a cocoon on his lips.” In a sort of Platonic cave, Guyotat is strapped into position, confronted by the limits of sensuous (and by extension, subjective) perception. Once the corporeal and material are stabilized, the damaged psyche is called into question. As may be expected, it is more difficult to resuscitate than the eyes or ears of the body. Guyotat stresses this in the text, marking the instability of the “I” by setting it aslant in italics, in disagreement with its surrounding text, noting a discord: “I have the bit in my mouth, and I hear myself from inside the coma.” This stylistic shift represents a new state of self-awareness, an acknowledgement of the pre-subjective, yet also of the incapacity to think about it. The “I,” in its decomposed state, is recognized as fabrication, a false totality, yet still limiting all thought. It cannot be observed from outside (dehors). Nonetheless, its realized finitude opens greater questions of identity and belonging in the world. Guyotat reflects upon his directionless state, envisioning original pre-subjective excess as the soul: “The soul is without a gender, without a species: thus, in this funeral journey, am I human, am I animal, am I god, am I object, idea?” Excess is recognized as a space of zero-differentiation, of total commonality. Regardless of its state of existence, every being, object, or idea shares a common origin of inconceivable nothingness. All symbolic difference and distinction (human, god, object, etc) is glossed over this state of total neutrality and untouched potential. This unity in origin will be taken up later, and helps to understand the ethical, communal implications of Guyotat’s self-writing.
For my purposes, the most important aspect of Guyotat’s resuscitation is his rebirth into language and the social, into self-writing. This comes in a series of steps. The first is his naming. The sight of Guyotat’s first post-coma erection engages his nurse, who addresses him by name (“ ‘Sir.’ ‘Mister Guyotat Sir’ ”), a sign of recognition that christens him anew as a subject in language, reuniting body and “self.” Second is a return to writing. After coma, writing takes on a form quite different than portrayed in Guyotat’s descent. For one thing, it is constructive: “After two days of moderate gymnastic activity and writing, the same distress again, but inversely, in a growing body, without that immense deterioration.” Additionally, far from leading to narcissistic isolation, writing now engages with the social as a source of mediation. Guyotat writes of an exchange between himself and a hospital intern, recounting something of a primal scene of writing. The intern asks Guyotat, still unable to speak, to repeat a line from Mallarmé’s Sur purs ongles très-haut back to him: “Abolished bauble of sonorous inanity.” Guyotat’s response is one of silent offense, reading the exchange as condescension (“Does he think that I have been unable–and will I be able again?–to write so beautifully…”). The intern repeats the line once more, and Guyotat reacts quite differently, reflecting: “So returning to my palate, to my heart and breath the very thing that killed me, the splendor that killed me, that desiccated me, those tempting sounds that brought me beneath its shadow…” These opposing reactions may be mapped onto two polar models of writing represented within Coma: First, in the story itself, writing is tied to the rejection of the social, a pursuit of transcendence and self-destruction. Along these lines, the game of the intern is harshly interpreted as an attempt to question Guyotat’s identity as an artist. However, the second reaction christens a new perspective which reflects back on Coma as a project of generative self-writing with a social bent. The recognition of the Other and his or her words provide a structure upon which Guyotat may regain the capacity to write. In this case, language becomes not a purely alienating system, but a shared struggle. Julien Lefort-Favreau, in his essay “Corps tout entier de langage,” reads the exchange as a reconciliation of the communal and the singular in Guyotat’s reanimation: “Guyotat passes through the language of another. Reclaiming his filiation with Marllarmé, he takes possession of a language which is not his, yet is nonetheless original.” The line from Mallarmé, as a decontextualized fragment, points to a potential community in shared citation and limits. It belongs to neither Guyotat nor the intern, but acts as a common reference point, underscoring the fundamentally citational nature of language and identity. Further, it alludes to the shared impossibility of objectivity. Language (or writing) may set the stage for misrecognition between Guyotat and the intern, but it unites them in their limits. Returning to Lefort-Farveau: “The act of communication for Guyotat is not linear (or univocal)–it filters through bonds with the languages (langues) of others.” Whether or not we may ever come to connect with the Other in language, there exists a productive potential even in our misunderstandings. That is to say, we may learn from our limits.
Gary Indiana, in his introduction to the English translation of Coma, offers an interesting gloss on the “I” and its role for Guyotat that compliments the scene of his convalescence. Drawing comparisons to a similar epiphany in Genet’s Journal du voleur, he writes: “Guyotat realizes that he is the same thing as the Other […] that “I” is nothing special, and counts as nothing in the chaos of being it briefly occupies and disappears from.” Whereas Indiana does not elaborate on this claim, it provides interesting food for thought. The “I” is recognized as “nothing special,” that is to say, merely one limited subjective perspective adrift within a vast multitude. Yet in light of Guyotat’s hospital exchange, can we read in this dissolution of the sovereign “I” new potential for community? Guyotat’s project of self-writing suggests so. I see this potential in his use of “figures,” highlighting self-writing as an act of bricolage.
Indiana invokes this bricolage indirectly speaking to the memoir as genre, citing Coma as its counter-example. According to Indiana, Coma subverts the memoir’s tendency towards fabrication and self-aggrandizing. The memoir is reduced to a biased, premeditated composition of a “particularized self in a world of commodities,” the manufacturing of self as “dead object,” which “constructs and sells itself by selecting promotional items from a grotesque menu of prefabricated self-parts.” While Indiana’s criticism of the memoir is just, his reading of Coma seems to miss its more innovative, generative features. Coma is not simply a subversion of memoir, but rather an appropriation of its tactics, cobbling together a recognizable self, yet without the self-congratulatory subtext or drive to celebrity that Indiana critiques. To understand the mechanics of this process, however, we need to delve deeper into its “prefabricated self-parts,” or in Guyotat’s parlance, “figures.”
Memoir or anti-memoir, Coma’s project of self-construction relies heavily on the politics of Guyotat’s figures. To ensure stable ground in their analysis, it proves helpful to reexamine their (albeit vague) introduction in the preface. Guyotat writes: “restored enough to write […], would I not rather resume work on my figures–more real than myself–and increase their number?” Here lie two foundational clues for approaching Guyotat’s figures. First, Guyotat points out their implication in the act of writing; the text provides a space for their collection and arrangement. Second, figures hold a greater claim to objective reality than the self that collects them. This implies their connection to an existence beyond subjectivity. These are interpretations of the material by the writer, incorporated into the personal by the act of writing. However, the question remains as to how Guyotat’s post-coma selfhood may be understood through these figures.
One key lies in his self-framing as a creator. The figures that Guyotat uses to structure his text flow to some extent from his creative capacities: “the figures emerge from my “breast” at least, just as they do for the Creator, so that they surface from what I sense of my infinitude.” Yet, as remarked above, these figures do not emerge from a vacuum; They must be glossed from an experience of the profane. This sets up subjective existence as a process of interpretive appropriation, a reading of ourselves through the world, creating figures as a medium between the subject and an unknowable objective reality. The creation of figures, however, is not to be confused with simple subjective existence. Guyotat’s act is much more deliberate. He is intimately aware of the natural gloss of subjectivity, doubling its effects in writing: “My figures are born of my language (langue), of that rhythm, in its bath.” Guyotat employs painting as a metaphor for this process of selection and renewal:
“Painting guides my hand: my entire future creation is in my interior gaze: when the torments of my life cease, it comes to lie before me: the figures of what future fictions I shall write are there, all of them before me with all of their backing, their settings, their lighting, their depth like a painting of Creation, it is up to me to animate them now, to have them speak without lifting an eye from them. But how can I make them speak from my mute throat?” 
With Guyotat’s painting model in mind, the relationship between figures and the real becomes somewhat clearer. Reading this painting not as a mimetic exercise, but rather as a layering or application of coats onto an object or tableau, Guyotat’s figures represent a point of intersection between subjective and objective realities, between the writer and the world. The “painting” subject is at once entirely reliant upon the objective, material world to structure subjectivity (as a space in which it may situate itself relationally) yet must always consider it through the “paint” of its own perspective gloss. In other words, Guyotat’s figures are his interpretations of the real, which contribute to the fabric of his “self.” If self-writing can reveal to us the limits of subjective excess or self-knowledge, a critical examination of these figures can unveil similar limits between subjectivity and the material, as well as between the self and the Other.
The reference to creation earlier in the passage is central, playing with syntax to collapse the creation of fictions and the creation of self: “my entire future creation is in my interior gaze: when the torments of my life cease, it comes to lie before me.” The referents of these “fictional figures” or rather the objective phenomena to be “painted,” preexist the writer who appropriates them. They provide a network of support, illumination, and relief for the subject, a space of expression “like a painting of Creation.” Once more, there exists the cooperative relationship between the blank “tableau” of the real and the interpretive paint of the creative subject that animates it. These figures are a point of connection with the world, wherein the writer appropriates elements from the profane as springboards for creative interpretation (“I walk, I wander with my friends, I imagine, in the ruins…Those ruins, upon my return, I restore them on the page, I transform the ruins of the Roman villa into a Roman villa.”). However, as seen in the story Coma recounts, this process harbors seductive escapist potential. Recalling the two writing models plotted out above, the ascetic Guyotat allows himself to be consumed by these figures to push away the world, whereas the writer of Coma uses them to embrace it. The greater perspective on subjectivity granted by the experience of its limits in coma necessitates the use of figures as a force of renewal. As Guyotat informs us in an interview with Le Monde, awakening from his coma demanded a change in perspective, and a greater engagement with the exterior world: Confronted by the excessive origins of the self, trust in the divine or “God” as a gloss over the ineffable shifts into a sober recognition of chaotic excess. For Guyotat, reconstruction of the self cannot fall back on a singular spirit, soul, or the essential. To rebuild, he must reach outside of himself, pushing forward into the world:
“…all biography before reanimation is recapitulated without concession, rejected for the profit of a new goalless life upon which Destiny imposes itself as absolute master. There is no amnesia, but the subject survives in a state of suspension in Time and Space, which reinforces this supine (allongée) position.” 
No longer capable of relying on the sovereignty of the “I,” Guyotat’s self-writing in Coma becomes a call for supportive recognition, a writing of an intertextual self into literary community. To break with this “supine position,” Guyotat is forced to divine a new, relational subject-hood by situating himself within a network of figures. As I examine later on, this loss of (or recognition of the groundlessness of) subjective sovereignty is fundamental to the establishment of Guyotat’s notion of literary community around his text. But building towards this, it serves to further examine the meaning of Guyotat’s figures, and his role as their collector. To do so, I turn to the work of Walter Benjamin.
Guyotat’s portrayal of writing as figuring draws many structural parallels with Benjamin’s celebrated theory of “The Collector.” Reading Benjamin’s model into Coma establishes a comprehensive theoretical framework for understanding the constructive benefits of Guyotat’s figure play. Guyotat’s project is arguably more socially oriented than the collector’s, but nonetheless, Benjamin’s character offers a valuable reading model, and helps to shed light on the generative effects of Guyotat’s figures. Like the reawakened Guyotat, Benjamin’s collector copes with social alienation by immersing him or herself within a harmonious personal archive of obsolete objects displaced from the public sphere. Yet while Benjamin’s collector amasses material kitsch objects or books, Guyotat uses writing to surround himself with discursive figures. This difference is of little concern, as the harmony of the collector’s archive depends not on the uniformity or exclusive nature of its pieces, but resonates rather in their relationship to the collector him (or her) self. It is their placement within the collection, a “locking of individual items within a magic circle,”  that establishes their belonging, and by extension, the collector’s fellowship among them. Whether comprised of texts, stamps, scars, or figures, the symbolic implications of the collection itself remain the same. Regardless, measures must be taken to avoid reading the collector as an essentialist model of selfhood. The collector and the collection exist symbiotically, mutually supporting one another. The objects in the collection are not simple mouthpieces for the voice of the collector, but rather construct the voice itself. As Benjamin writes: “We don’t displace our being in theirs; they step into our life.”  Yet additionally that it is: “Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them.”  The value of this model arises not by backlighting a sovereign, organizing hand, but rather by emphasizing this hand’s own atomization. The collector deals with alienation by becoming a collection him or herself. Benjamin’s collector, like the pre-coma Guyotat, is an escapist character, retreating into the interior of the salon or study, fleeing the social in fear of rejection. Post-coma Guyotat, however, pushes the collector back into the world, using his figures to take root in a greater intertextual community rather than to withdraw.
Guyotat evokes the collector model most explicitly on two occasions in Coma, once in metaphor, and once in memory. The structural similarities shared between the models illustrated in these two examples clearly align their content, the former treating writing and the latter childhood collecting. Read with Benjamin in mind, both moments offer greater insights into the potential of archival or network selfhood after the dissolution of the sovereign “I.” In the first, metaphorical moment, Guyotat aligns themes of creation, writing, and organization, envisioning himself at the axis of the earth:
“When writing, I settle into the central axis of the Earth, my existence, as a humble plowman of language, is grafted onto that axis, onto that axis of that movement, which is more grandiose than human movement alone: the movement of the planet: the rotation of the planet, with its sun and stars: and in this way to elude even the feeling of death.” 
Like the collector, Guyotat’s writer exists in intimate cooperation with the network he composes. Striking, however, is this model’s entailed loss of authorial sovereignty. Rather than transcending his work and composing from outside, Guyotat’s writer is deeply embedded within his creation, occupying its most central point of order and functionality. As such, he must negotiate his existence relationally. Read as a model of subjectivity, the writer exists only as the force of structural organization within the system of objects that both precedes and shapes him. It is in this process of negotiation that Guyotat escapes the total dissolution of the coma and finds structural support in the exterior (“to elude even the feeling of death”). The loss of a singular, sovereign “I” may be compensated for by an immersion in the world, the reestablishment of identity as/within a system of relations. Here are lain the general foundations of the writing collector, existing as an organizational force, yet only in intimate codependence with his collection of figures.
The second example is much more directly engaged with the minutia of Benjamin’s model, yet shares structural similarities with the earth metaphor. Towards the end of Coma, Guyotat dwells upon a childhood memory of collecting. Reflecting on feelings of empathy evoked by misplaced objects that he encountered from time to time as a young boy, Guyotat recounts his effort to welcome them into a collection, a space of harmony and belonging. He writes:
“As a child, I stare at a speck of dust, a crumb, a pebble, a rock, till it grows animated. Since I cannot stand the apparent inertia of matter, and the very isolation of objects revolts me and makes me suffer, I want to move isolated objects by staring at them fixedly: an empty flower pot, a pitcher, and old pen.” 
These obsolete, rejected objects are reanimated by Guyotat’s investment and sympathy, gathered under his wing as figures in his collection. It is not simply that they are misplaced, but rather that they are excluded from a closed conception of utility and completion, scattered and adrift in the margins: They are obsolete. Guyotat writes: “the world at the time is full and that plentitude is filled with its plentitude alone […] It is that fear, that an object might find itself alone and bereft of purpose, come the first scientific revelations […] that turns into the obsession of materiality.”  The beauty of Benjamin’s model lies in part in its critical approach to “completion” itself.  The collection is by nature always incomplete, a space of eternal potential: “As far as the collector is concerned, his collection is never complete; for let him discover just a single piece missing, and everything he’s collected remains a patchwork…” The young Guyotat takes it upon himself to rescue these forgotten items, ushering them into the community of his bed:
“I take some of those disdained objects, devoid of their activity, between my hands and warm them in my fist, perhaps reanimate them, I place some in my bed at night so that they might feel loved and tied to life’s most intimate current: is there anything warmer, more secret, more fragile than the inside of a child’s bed? That is one of the places where the world is endlessly reborn. It is one of the hearts of the world.” 
The traceable similarities between the infant’s bed and the earth’s axis are quite clear. Once again, Guyotat occupies an embedded, central space, “one of the hearts of the world,” surrounded by his figures. In this case, the cyclic turning of the earth and the perpetual renaissance of the child’s bed are collapsed into one, aligning the creative acts of collecting and writing. The child’s unfettered imagination is likened to the writer’s capacity to reveal newness in the profane, creating figures. According to Benjamin, this renewal is closely connected to both childhood and the work of the collector. The collector finds intimacy with objects only through a particular process of détournement, whereas the child’s imaginative perspective renders this reanimation practically automatic:
“For children can accomplish the renewal of existence in a hundred unfailing ways. Among children, collecting is only one process of renewal; other processes are the painting of objects, the cutting out of figures, the applications of decals–the whole range of childlike modes of acquisition, from touching things to giving them names.” 
Benjamin’s child (at its earliest years) is not so different from Guyotat’s reawakened, writing subject. Both characters are engaged with a lack of stability: the former by virtue of the world’s overwhelming newness, and the latter in the loss of the sovereign “I.” Both characters compose a collection of objects (or experiences objectified into figures) through which to create an understanding of self in the world. Within the context of this passage, can we now subsume both Guyotat’s painting metaphor and his figure collecting within the model of this childlike reanimation? As the appropriation and renewal of the outside world in writing, Guyotat’s literary gesture mirrors that of the dazzled child, engaged in a total renewal, liberated from the darkened salon of the collector.
If the collector rescues obsolete objects from the flow of history, Guyotat follows suit with his figures, granting them a new placement within the alternate temporality of his book: “I start to chart the history of those objects, and in the surge of my mind and heart, I pounce upon what I might learn of their origin.”  Through these objects, Guyotat begins to recreate his own history, the foundations of which come from the pursuit of origin. As Guyotat learns from his coma, “true” origin lies in liminality and excess. This common, inconceivable origin is part of what binds together all of the disparate objects of Guyotat’s collection, and what grants him a sense of deep belonging among them. It effectively unites all things: “All is reducible then, and to nothing (à rien), to “nothing-ness” (au « rien »): passing through my consciousness, the infinitely small crushes the infinitely vast and vice versa.”  Each object may itself be reduced into a collection of diverse qualities and materials across a process of atomization, or considered in terms of its belonging as a singular element in a larger archive. The collection may be broken down into dust, or blown up into community. The world and all things withinexist in the form of collections, but, as Guyotat insists, each divisible element may equally be brought to this common origin (“to ‘nothing-ness’”). The point that immediately succeeds this space of excessive origin is the impossible moment where potential enters into language (“what I am before”). Guyotat addresses this quite directly, and points towards a solution:
“Words themselves, that bind everything, are caught, explode in that refusal, that disgust of the present-bound–so they must be transformed, saved from their fixity, from their un-depth: facing the real–itself not so–they are all liars: they must be shaken down, made to cry, since they are made for crying, singing; as for the “rest,” they do not express the slightest truth: only their assemblage (agencement) allows them to get closer to the “real” (emptiness?)–and the true that touches us; so, perhaps numbers alone…?” 
Guyotat sees in writing the potential to upset the fixity or finality of language, a chance to glimpse a space of excess beyond words. This passage alludes to the linguistic construction of perceived reality, and accordingly, to its natural insincerity: “facing the real–itself not so–they are all liars.” To counter their fixity, and in order to acknowledge their excesses (referenced here as “the rest”), Guyotat suggests we make these words “sing”. Not in their essence, but in their collective harmony, their “assemblage” which allows them to approach the “real.” The second invocation of the “real,” mirrored by the parenthetical “emptiness,” refers not to reality as experienced, but rather to the impossible, the “real” only treatable as the inconceivable excess. This “real” is the truth beyond language, touchable not by direct attention, but by a study of its “assemblage.” It isobjective reality, acknowledgeable (yet never knowable) when the process of “figuring” is considered with critical distance.
This idea of an “assemblage” draws attention to Coma’s formal construction as a fragmented text. Written in abrupt chunks of text, Guyotat’s book insists on its gaps and silences to expose a space of excess beyond the text. Reframed as a collection of fragments, Coma reads as a constellation, rather than as a strict, linear narrative. This fragmentation, however, is only one level of Guyotat’s formal collection. The reader encounters another instance of “agencement” in Guyotat’s frequent employment of images. By inserting images between chapters, Guyotat breaks Coma out of the realm of simple memoir, turning it rather into a sort of multimedia scrapbook. These images, however, abstract from the text, pulling from the outside world. They do not arise out of Coma, but rather collect classical paintings, film stills, and photos compiled from the archives at the Bibliothèque Nationale. Their sole explanation is found accompanying their citation at the back of the book: “Some of the images that influenced us as chindren, my sisters, brothers, and I.”  These images take on a similar role as the line from Mallarmé; as collected figures, their apparent de-contextualization (from a film, a series, or a museum) points at once to their appropriation, and primary existence in the profane. Between Guyotat, his sisters, and his brothers, these images also exist as a catalyst of community.
I read “sisters” and “brothers” not in the literal, biological sense, rather one that designates a community out of a shared limitation and common citation. As Guyotat remarks, we are all gathered around the same incapacity to perceive the excess beyond subjectivity: “What seems most universal, most indubitable to my human eye (I alone am human) is challenged by other, animal gazes, in their size, their depth and height, or speed.”  With the loss of the sovereign “I,” Guyotat is forced to come to terms with his relative insignificance as one subject among many. After the limit-experience of Guyotat’s coma, subjectivity’s claim to totality is collapsed, revealing the opaque presence of something beyond its limits. Absolutes are shattered: “All the absolutes created by man to which I have professed, I deprived them of their value as absolutes in regard to others tat we, as yet, ignore. Such is perhaps absolute transcendence.”  For the isolated and marginalized like Guyotat, this realization of limits offers transcendence, not as an escape, but rather as irrefutable equality and belonging. No one may claim knowledge of this space of truths or absolutes, as it only exists as excess, the universally unknowable. This common alienation from the objective binds us together and sets us on equal footing:
“Man has his voice in the chorus of the Universe, a voice no doubt equal to that of others, as in a beautiful system of democracy. Man is neither small, nor miserable, he is part of what, for a large part, for an endless part, remains unknown to us.” 
Once more Guyotat returns to polyphony, considering the world as a harmonious choir of disparate voices, perspectives, all hopelessly intertwined and interdependent. Without stable ground, judgment of others is rendered null. Man is neither little, nor miserable, because there no longer exists a touchstone from which he may be universally judged. Rather than nature or ideals to fall back on, there is excess. With this excess as shared origin (“an endless part”), we may know neither the Other nor ourselves.
Proceeding with these reflections, I wish to circle back to Guyotat’s self-writing. If the shared alienation from the objective face of an object, image, or experience can be read as a potential catalyst of community, what becomes of the imagistic, written self? Can it be read as a similar communal space? What happens when the self-writer becomes, in part, object? In another childhood reflection, Guyotat speaks of a desire to become an object himself, envious of its harmonious participation in the world, and its inanimate stability within a system:
“If it were not incumbent upon me to carry my figures to their temporary term, and to continue loving what in the world is not loved, I would wish to be reduced to a pot, without earth nor flowers, reduced to the blade of a space: even as a child I stare at inanimate “insentient” objects and envy their state: rocks, motor parts, even words, abstract ones, especially from philosophy.” 
The objects cited all exist as fragments subsumed within greater systems: the rock belongs within a primordial cycle of nature and time, the motor piece is defined by its inclusion within the complex of the working automobile, and words collectively construct the world and our window into it. By singling out words and language at the end of the passage, Guyotat directs our attention back to the book as a space for collection. Coma, or self-writing in general, provides an outlet for self-objectification. If the primary concern of self-writing is the loss of self in language, or the loss of self to the reader, the dissolution of the “I” and its sovereignty in the coma renders these threats null. The essentialist notion of self was lost before it could even be considered; in language, the “I” is just as objectified as the “Moi.” This much seems to be revealed by the process of reanimation that faces Guyotat upon his awakening. Self-writing, cleared of the threat of denaturation or false rendering, now becomes a simple doubling of the effects of consciousness. It creates a figure out of the self.
In the context of this “self-figuring,” a fragment by Maurice Blanchot on self-writing comes to mind: “To write (of) oneself is to cease to be, in order to confess or to engage in self-analysis, or in order to expose oneself, like a work of art, to the gaze of all–the other, the reader–entrusting yourself to him who will henceforth have as an obligation, and indeed as a life, nothing but your inexistence.”  In the context of Coma, this passage reads not as a loss of self, but rather as a potential for literary community. “To cease to be,” does not mean to die, but rather to be relieved of some of the weight of singularity and isolation. As examined above, the “self” is equally unknowable to me as it is to the other, and this is what fosters anonymous community. The composition of a written-self mimics this process of self-alienation, yet yields a textual object in the world. Can this object not function as a point of community like Coma’s images or the line by Mallarmé? Whereas it remains futile as a means of communication, it seems feasible to employ the written self as a point of mediation. Writing (of) the self, creates of it a “figure” or “work of art”, which becomes a medium between writer and Other, gathering around the activity of anonymous interpretation. Both parties share the burden of inexistence in the absence of objectivity. Neither I, nor you may ever know the “me” in the “real”, but we may consider it together, creating figures from the same untouchable object.
To share the objectified self, however, it must be recognizable. Here lies the logic behind the legibility of Coma, touched in the preface, revisited on its final page. Leaving the clinic after his rehabilitation, Guyotat reflects on the state of things surrounding him. After his death and resurrection, his world remains remarkably dark and empty: “instead of the enchanted palace we think we have won by the sweat of our dead blood, the reward for this run through death (traversée de la mort) is a disenchanted world, without notable depth and color…”  Guyotat resurfaces as a sort of phantom, groundless and asocial. A pronounced lack of belonging resonates through this passage, seemingly augmented by Guyotat’s dip into liminality: “drab gazes that no longer see you, voices always directed toward others since you have returned from too far.”  Yet, Coma does not end in despair. Whereas Guyotat reenters the world lost, he christens himself anew in a process of reconstruction:
“You must wait. Without anger. Apply yourself daily to eating, to sleeping, to cleaning yourself, to dressing, to walking: all of it, almost alone, and without even yourself by your side: try in jolts, so awkward, to take heart. Patience, patience,
The End.” 
We leave Guyotat in a state of upward mobility and social reconstruction. Burdened with the loss of the sovereign, singular “I” (“without even yourself by your side”), Guyotat engages with the world rather than withdrawing.  For this to succeed, however, he must make himself recognizable, abandoning his nomadic, ascetic isolation in favor of self-care and presentation (“sleeping,” “cleaning yourself,” “dressing,” etc). The enigmatic, overall goal of this awkward process is to “take heart.” I read “heart” as Coma itself, the objectified product of self-writing. For Guyotat, the heart represents an absent center, an untouchable object, yet one whose rejuvenation relies on recognizability, rather than opacity.
There is a gloss of irony Guyotat’s in final words, complicating a sense of closure. This is clear in his paradoxical juxtaposition of an absence of finality (“Patience, patience,”) with its most heavy-handed application in the superimposed “The End.” By emphasizing the artificial finality of the “The End,” and its pointed lack of resolution, Guyotat points past the limits of the book as a closed narrative structure. In place of a static object, the book is a space of potential, of generative movement. The transparency of this false “End” points us back to Coma’s beginnings, necessitating its rereading as the next step in Guyotat’s assimilation. To conclude this article, I would like to briefly reconsider Guyotat’s preface in this light, mapping out this assimilation in Coma’s turn to legibility.
Revisited, the preface picks up where the “Fin” leaves off, with the composition of Guyotat’s personal récit (“The following narrative I have carried within me…”).  To accept Coma blindly as such, however, is to oversimplify its gesture by collapsing time. Over twenty years separate Guyotat’s awakening and the publication of Coma, more than twenty years between the inner reconstruction of the self and its public expression. In this second reading there resounds a certain gravity, a need for public recognition that in a first reading attracts less attention. Coma, reading on, is a struggle for Guyotat to “speak again in my own name.”  The reclamation of this name in itself marks Guyotat’s reconciliation with the world. The name, as he writes elsewhere, is not his, but is rather given to him in community: “I walk with a name that is mine, one I no longer feel inside but which others return to me.”  In this sense, we can read Coma as the reclamation of social identity, with full awareness of its limits. This notion is supported throughout the rest of the preface: The successful writing of Coma, “en langue normative” is likened to the cracking of an “internal muteness,” a breaking out of the self, into the world, and above all an exposure of communal, excessive origin, “laying myself bare before the affluence of others.” 
In this article Coma undergoes a transformation from a narrative of crisis and descent to a reconstructive project fostering literary community around the excessive origins of subjectivity. Emerging from his comatose suspension, Guyotat copes with the dissolution of the sovereign, singular “I” by reaching out into the world, composing a network of figures in its place. Simultaneously collector and collection, Guyotat writes himself back into dialogue with the world, offering Coma as a textual object, a slice of himself in excess. To read this text as “Guyotat,” however, is to fail to recognize its potential. Coma is merely a figure within a greater, dynamic collection that is its author; Unknowable to himself, unknowable to his readers, only Guyotat’s textual object stakes a claim outside of subjectivity. The self-writing of Coma invites us to gather in anonymity around the text as a space of excess, and to reconsider self-writing in its potential for community in our collective limits of self-knowledge. The written self becomes a space of excess, an object in the “real” which we may only ever dance around. Guyotat calls us to open our eyes to excess, so that we may dance together, “Hors du commun, hors du COMA.” 
Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, Mass: Belkap Press, 1999.
Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books, 1969.
Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.
Bourgain, Anne. “Pierre Guyotat ou le rapport à la langue.” Cliniques méditerranéennes. No. 84 (2011) pp. 19-31.
Cinq-Mars, José Morel. “Pierre Guyotat, Coma.” Che vuoi? No. 26 (2006) pp. 271-275.
Guyotat, Pierre. Coma. Paris: Mercure de France, 2006.
Coma. Trans. Noura Wedell. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010.
“Coma: Notes et dossiers préparatoires.” Fonds Pierre Guyotat. Bibliothèque Nationale de France Archives et Manuscrits.
Vivre. Paris: Gallimard, 1984.
Heathcote, Owen. “Autobiography, Sexuality, and Identity in Guyotat’s Formation and Arrière-Fond.” French Studies Bulletin. Vol. 31 No. 116 (2010) pp. 46-49.
“The Revolutionary Poetics of Pierre Guyotat.” Nottingham French Studies. Vol. 46 No.1 (2007) pp. 84-96.
Indiana, Gary. “Guyotat’s Coma.” Preface. Coma. Pierre Guyotat. Trans. Noura Wedell, Los Angeles: Semiotext, 2010.
Ruffel, Lionel. “L’Oeuvre cannibal, le corps fantôme. Sur « Pierre Guyotat. »” AutoBioPhagies. Bern: Lang, 2011.
 Guyotat, Pierre. “Coma: Notes et dossiers préparatoires.” Fonds Pierre Guyotat. Bibliothèque Nationale de France Archives et Manuscrits, Carnet 3, 20.
 Due to this absence of scholarship, my work here functions in dialogue with relatively few other voices. A slim catalogue of singular articles marks the scholarship I could track down. Short pieces by Julien Lefort-Farveau, Lionel Ruffel, Gary Indiana, José Morel Cinq-Mars, and others have been indispensable for my exegesis, but its greatest support was found in Guyotat’s own published critical works in Vivre, as well as in his unpublished notebooks and manuscripts archived in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
 Guyotat, Pierre. Coma. Trans. Noura Wedell. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010, 21. All translations used in this article come from Wedell’s work. I have noted any confusing moments that require further explication.
 Several pieces in Vivre, a compilation of articles written by Guyotat for various publications between 1972-83, offer valuable insights to the intent behind this ascetic project. Two essays in particular, written soon after Guyotat’s awakening, are especially informative: “…par qui le scandale arrive” and “…ton ciel à la sueur de ton sexe.”
 Coma, 14.
 Ibid., 91. This further frames Coma as literalized “self-writing,” composing a textual referent for “Guyotat.” By invoking the word of God, as well as in his general narrative of resurrection, it may be argued that Guyotat portrays himself as a messianic Christ-figure. While I choose not to delve into such a reading of the text, it opens many new points of potential analysis in future critical works.
 Guyotat describes his style in these more experimental works as a “Langage du corps,” explained in the eponymous essay in Vivre.
 This turn to legibility in Guyotat’s œuvre is quite striking, and is further emphasized by Coma’s successor work, Formation (2008), a second, similarly formatted, installment of his legible autobiography tracing back to his childhood at the tail end of the French Occupation. Arrière-Fond (2010), which follows Formation, returns to a more experimental stylistics, while maintaining an autobiographical trajectory.
 “Des impropères” or the Improperia, are the sung reproaches of Christ against his people, sung in antiphonic, call and response style in Christian mass on Good Friday.
 Guyotat, Pierre. Vivre. Paris: Gallimard, 1984, 226. “Toute récuperation de soi annule Dieu.” All translations from Vivre are my own.
 Coma, 91.
 Coma, 21.
 Coma, 213.
 Ibid., 213-4.
 Ibid., 213.
 Ibid., 216.
 Ibid., 219.
 Ibid. One might read this citation of Mallarmé as a nod to the fundamental inanity of language itself, agreeing neatly with Guyotat’s own project, serving as highly significant “first words.”
 Ibid, 221.
 Lefort-Farveau, Julien. “Corps tout entire de langage: Au Cœur du corps du texte de Guyotat.” Épistémocritique 3 (2008), 4. “Guyotat […] passe par la langue d’un autre. Revendiquant la filiation avec Mallarmé, il prend possession d’une langue qui n’est pas sienne, mais qui pourtant est originelle.”
 Ibid., 5. “L’acte de communication pour Guyotat n’est pas linéaire (ou univoque)–il passe par un lien avec les langues des autres.”
 Indiana, Gary. “Guyotat’s Coma.” Preface. Coma. By Pierre Guyotat. Trans. Noura Wedell. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2010, 8.
 Coma, 14.
 Ibid., 124.
 Ibid., 72.
 Ibid., 124.
 My italics.
 Coma., 53.
 Lionel Ruffel, in his article, L’œuvre cannibale, le corps fantôme: Sur « Pierre Guyotat » examines the use of figures in Coma as an escape into fiction which eventually pushes Guyotat into the phantom liminality of the comatose. Ruffel does not examine the figures’ role in self-reconstruction in writing, although he does read Coma within a double frame of both self-reflection and storytelling similar to my own.
 My translation. Gutotat’s use of “allongée” resists direct translation, signifying the horizontal position of the comatose patient, as well as a sprawling, stretching out, or unwinding of the body.
Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library: A Talk About Book Collecting.” Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Shocken, 1969, 67.
 Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2002, 206.
 Coma, 52.
 Ibid., 201. Guyotat’s notes suggest a greater preoccupation with marginalization more generally conceived, extending towards the human as well as the inanimate: “J’ai toujours eu beaucoup de compassion pour les réprouvés […] Le devoir des gens comme moi (de grand talent) c’est de faire comprendre les monstres aux autres.”
 Ibid., 202.
 The Arcades Project, 204. “What is this ‘completeness’? It is a grand attempt to overcome the wholly irrational character of the object’s mere presence at hand through its integration into a new, expressly devised historical system: the collection.”
 Ibid., 211.
 Coma, 203.
 Illuminations, 61.
 Coma, 202-3.
 Ibid., 203-4.
 Ibid., 230. (List of illustrations).
 Ibid., 76. Wedell’s translation curiously excludes the parenthetical “Moi seul, je suis humain” which I have translated and added.
 Ibid., 78.
 Coma, 89.
 Blanchot, Maurice. The Writing of the Disaster. Trans. Ann Smock. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986, 64
 Coma, 220.
 In the original French, “You must” is replaced by the collective, rallying tone of the impersonal imperative “Il faut” which amplifies this effect, addressing Guyotat himself, the reader, and the world at large, invoking an objective voice rather than his own.
 Coma, 11.
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 12.
 “Coma: Notes et dossiers préparatoires.” Carnet 3, 4.