Van Maas: Sitting in a Büro (Session 2)

Having read Büro as well as Maren’s stimulating exploration of these exciting pages, I should like to add the following loosely connected issues and concerns to our readings. They come somewhat after the fact, by way of a syncope, because the death of a friend kept me from addressing these issues last week. Thank you all for your patience.

As we have seen, in his analysis of the history of accounting technologies Siegert carves out a space for the “other type of writing” which he simply refers to as “Büro” (33). Early renaissance accounting technologies, double book keeping in particular, Siegert claims, opened the possibility for creating mobile inventories of the things and persons in this world that the Graeco-Roman logocentric type of writing would not have allowed for. As mobile writing privileges the diagrammatic over the temporal presence of the voice it suggests a logic of spatial positioning. Using the smooth res extensa of the page as its key surface and support, the (double) accounting system creates unity, totality and sense which all three remain distinct from the manifold of the world, yet account for it in an unprecedented way.

The “other type of writing” may seem to perform the role of a metadiscourse in the sense that, as a closed spatial-symbolic system, it provides a hors-texte to the “aquatic” logic of the world (read in relation to this David Wills’ “A Line Drawn in the Ocean”). But would it be able to live up to its perhaps all too Lacanian task? As we have read by now in the pages following the chapter on the Büro, the system seems to have its own deficiencies, as the Dutch, whose efforts to control the sea at the edges of their territory are heralded by Siegert, have learned countless times when their carefully calculated dikes broke. Will the office of the office (as described by Felix in our next session) then ever be able to save the office? Does the page as a safe haven call for a further account (if such accounting is possible) in terms of an originary spacing, a certain liquidity of the balances?

At this early stage of our readings, I also wonder where Siegert’s focus on the intermediate levels of government (offices, bookkeepers, and executives, as Maren’s reference to the General Life Insurance building wonderfully illustrates), rather than on captains, kings, and other decision makers (the “key executives” in her example), will lead his analysis. Will the units of utterance, as Felix suggests, come to “mesh” with units of process, or will they return with a vengeance? The displacement of agency which Siegert carefully orchestrates in these pages seems to create a new instability that is yet to be accounted for in (or on) the pages of his book, which, as I read them in admiration, seem to be rhythmed according to a double principle.

On the one hand one may recognize a certain typographical passion reminiscent of Lacoue-Labarthe (isolating, generalizing and stamping loudly what appear to be local conclusions: “Die Null macht erst Ziffern zu Daten,” 60); on the other hand, there is a taste for the syncope and ellipsis (such as in the omission of the Sumerian book keeping system that, as Siegert must be aware, featured debit/credit accounts well before their proper invention). To me this book reads like a musical score and should therefore, I would suggest, also be listened in to.


David Wills, Dorsality: Thinking Back Through Technology and Politics (Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography: Mimesis, Politics, Philosophy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).


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