Consider seeing. Is seeing active or passive? Do you see the coffee mug? Or does the coffee mug, in a sense, project itself into you — into your head, into your body, the very vision of it filling you just as the coffee itself does as you drink it? Do you come to the world? Or does the world come to you? Or is this a false dichotomy? Is it that we come together, we become together, we are both stuffs of this world and we go and interact as any stuffs in the world go — colliding, harmonizing, snuggling?
Vision — all perception — is neither active nor passive, is both active and passive.
The place of perspective, of reading, is the middle, between here and there, between you and me. It happens in what we call the middle voice. The middle voice is difficult to speak, at least in English. English has subjects of sentences that stand separate from their actions — the verbs — which in turn act upon objects. “I kiss you”: in this simple construction there is a distinct I, a distinct kiss, and a distinct you. There is an implied, and obligatory, distinction between who I am and the actions I take, as if there were an I that stands apart from the world, that comes before, or outside, action — as if there were a kiss that did not involve me and you.
In some sense, all there is is kissing — there is no I, no kiss, no you, just this cooperative event (hopefully!) of me, kiss, desire, love, you.
In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche writes that when we say “lightning strikes,” we are being redundant. Of course lightning strikes. What is lightning if it doesn’t strike? Lightning is that which strikes; it is striking, always and already. Take away the striking and you have nothing. When we say “lightning strikes,” we put a doer behind the deed when, for Nietzsche, all there is is the deed. Nietzsche argues that one of the great moves made by the slaves was to posit a subject behind the action who could be held eternally responsible for his actions — the bird of prey becomes guilty for eating the little lamb, as if the bird had a choice, as if the bird were not always and already a bird that preys. The invention of this doer is the invention of Judeo-Christian morality and its arsenal of ego, morality, guilt, and judgment.
Our grammar rests on such a subject who is distinct from both his actions and the world. And so here we posit a middle voice, a way to speak that is neither active nor passive. In English, this demands that we make language perform in such a way that the distinctions between doer, deed, and object are intertwined. We have to make language enmesh and touch and palpate.