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A Minute of Absence - De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
cbertsch
cbertsch
A Minute of Absence
Although he's never been my favorite theorist, it does sadden me to learn that Jacques Derrida has died. Still, every going is a coming. In honor of both the man and the approach of our favorite holiday, let me quote from the conclusion to what remains my favorite Derrida piece, the justly famous "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences":
There are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign, of play. The one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play and the order of the sign, and which lives the necessity of interpretation as an exile. The other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and the humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology -- in other words, throughout his entire history -- has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play. The second interpretation of interpretation, to which Nietzsche pointed the way, does not seek in ethnography, as Lévi-Strauss does, the "inspiration of a new humanism" (again citing the "Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss").

There are more than enough indications today to suggest we might perceive that these two interpretations of interpretation -- which are absolutely irreconcilable even if we live them simultaneously and reconcile them in an obscure economy -- together share the field which we call, in such problematic fashion, the social sciences.

For my part, although these two interpretations must acknowledge and accentuate their difference and define their irreducibility, I do not believe that today there is any question of choosing -- in the first place because here we are in a region (let us say, provisionally, a region of historicity) where the category of choice seems particularly trivial; and in the second, because we must first try to conceive of the common ground, and the différance of this irreducible difference. Here there is a kind of question, let us call it historical, whose conception, formation, gestation, and labor we are only catching a glimpse of today. I employ these words, I admit, with a glance toward the operations of childbearing -- but also with a glance toward those who, in a society from which I do not exclude myself, turn their eyes away when faced by the as yet unnamable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of of the nonspecies, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity.
I've always loved that last sentence, with its echoes of Romantic excess, not to mention the pithiness of the, "I do not believe today there is any question of choosing," which precedes it. He could have been a writer of existential horror stories to match E.T.A. Hoffmann and Henry James. Maybe he was.

May the pleasures of anticipatory deferral continue in his afterlife, in the life that comes after the Theory with a capital "t" he came to represent, without ever asking to be a representative. The prospect of waiting with him in mind is certainly a lot more luminous than the prospect of waiting alone.

Mode: affected
Muse: Jacques Derrida - Scritti Politti - Songs to Remember

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Comments
amnesiascope From: amnesiascope Date: October 9th, 2004 08:36 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I've always felt that that essay and, even moreso, "L'exorbitant: de methode" in Of Grammatology to be deserving of much more careful reading than they got among most "Theory" types.

This makes me want to go re-read Foucault's sidewise swipe at Derrida in "The Discourse on Language" -- also worth more careful reading.

In the spirit of Nietzsche's umbrella, let me finally note that some obit writers would be well-served by a Derrida (re)read:

Derrida was once married to Sylvaine Agacinski, who is now the wife of former Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. Derrida and Agacinski had one son.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 9th, 2004 09:21 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Indeed. Reading with care is underrated. How did we get from reading closely in order to break through the barbed-wire fence of the New Critical close to not really reading at all?
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: October 9th, 2004 10:12 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

sighing to sign

Yes, it's a luminous passage. The unnameable proclaiming itself. Such light in that reflexivity. And the monster born in the naming-- Well the whole line sighs.

Yes, maybe he was one of the great modern gothicists. I'm liking more and more to think so.

Day 2 in the classroom yesterday--and what feels even harder and better and stranger (oh so necessary, much more necessary?) than figuring out how to hold my space in that room of eyes is figuing out how to do that in a way that helps them begin to see that reading in part is about seeing, is about (in)sight, flexing the muscles of insight.

It is entirely possible, after all, to begin even here to expand and contract the field of the interpretable, to focalize and refocalize, to read closely and then step back and then to read the panorama closely. And god to read outside the frame--
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 9th, 2004 11:00 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: sighing to sign

You've always been so attuned to that word that rhymes with "sighs," however spelled, however figurative.

More prosaically, students do better when they have the text in front of them and are looking at it too.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: October 9th, 2004 11:14 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: sighing to sign

Yes yes. I think they did better with Dryden when all we gave them was the first few lines to close-read, before they'd had any substantive lecture at all. Once they thought they knew what the poem was "about" they were less inclined to engage the text. Fascinating thing to see from the other side of the classroom, actually. And I don't want to stomp out their impulse to reach but "take it back to the text" has got to become a refrain.
amnesiascope From: amnesiascope Date: October 9th, 2004 10:33 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
How did we get from reading closely in order to break through the barbed-wire fence of the New Critical close to not really reading at all?

Somebody tossed the Empson out with the Brooks.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 9th, 2004 11:01 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Thanks for reminding me that I'm due to revisit the Empson I read so long ago and to read a lot more that I've only read about.
amnesiascope From: amnesiascope Date: October 10th, 2004 04:05 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Seven Types of Ambiguity is still one of the best books of literary criticism ever written.
amnesiascope From: amnesiascope Date: October 9th, 2004 10:48 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Two paragraphs everyone should read.

"To produce this signifying structure obviously cannot consist of reproducing, by the effaced and respectful doubling of commentary, the conscious, voluntary, intentional relationship that the writer institutes in his exhanges with the history to which he belongs thanks to the element of language. This moment of doubling commentary should no doubt have its place in a critical reading. To recognize and respect all its classical exigencies is not easy and requires all the instruments of traditional criticism. Without this recognition and this respect, critical production would risk developing in any direction at all and authorize itself to say almost anything. But this indispensable guardrail has always only protected, it has never opened a reading.

Yet if reading must not be content with doubling the text, it cannot legitimately transgress the text toward something other than it, toward a referent (a reality that is metaphysical, historical, psychographical, etc.) or toward a signified outside the text whose content could take place, could not have taken place outside of langauge, that is to say, in the sense that we give her the to that word, outside of writing in general. That is why the methodological considerations that we risk applying here to an example are closely dependent on general propositions that we have elaborated above; as regards the absence of the referent or the transcendental signified. There is nothing outside of the text. [....]

-- Derrida, Of Grammatology. Tr. G. Spivak. Johns Hopkins: 1974. p. 158.
From: sittinginaroom Date: October 9th, 2004 10:45 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

"Radical Absence of the Signer"

This news comes even as I sit down to continue work on an essay on "Signature Event Context."

How does a signature function? Differently than it did yesterday?
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: October 9th, 2004 11:03 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)

Re: "Radical Absence of the Signer"

Demise seals the deal. From a legal standpoint, the possibility of forgery must then begin with an attempt to fix the signature in the stream of time. Dead man don't sign. They are the sign.
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