October 9th, 2004

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.
  • Current Music
    Jacques Derrida - Scritti Politti - Songs to Remember

The Return

For some reason my trips down memory lane have all been arriving somewhere between August, 1991 and May, 1992 of late. Hearing Kathleen's voice on Greg's cell phone at the Thai place in Pasadena conjured up body memories of a doomed heterotopia. No disco, this, just a bottle or two, Steve Miller on the stereo, and enough smoke to turn us into hams. Subsequent conversations with Kim about that night we still argue about endlessly reminded me how doomed it really was. It felt great, though, to frolic in our disregard.

And now I'm thrust back to Memorial Stadium on that beautiful fall day, watching Brian Treggs not quite reach Mike Pawlawski's last pass, then getting kind words from the U-Dub fans sitting next to me as I pondered what could have been, even though I knew then as I know now that it really couldn't have. I felt good that day. It was a loss to cherish. Today I'm in that same space. If only Macarthur had been able to adjust to the defender's tip on third down. If only Rogers hadn't thrown his final pass to a spot his stumbling target couldn't quite reach. I'm starting to think that the, "If only. . . ," construction is more nourishing than unbridled delight. 24-17. 23-17. There's a logic to my melancholy universe.

A Wrangler commercial during the telecast completed the circuit. "From Phoenix, Arizona/All the way to Tacoma/Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A./Northern California, where the girls are warm. . . " In the end, I'd leave that little place on MLK, just past Fatapples, the one that another Greg ended up inheriting. If Carlos was there too, he'd call a cab and share it with me. Otherwise I'd walk, arriving back at my nearly lightless John Street garage as the rosy-fingered dawn stalked down from the hills, both before and after they were blackened by the flames, I thought, of my own impossible desires. And what of that remainder, the digit lost in the passage from then to now? It's out there somewhere, but I'm not going to get it back. And that's alright.

When I walked in this afternoon, Kim was sure Cal had won. "But you're happy," she said. Yes. I am. The way an angel, looking over his shoulder, forgets the rubble at his feet, the maddening weight of the past, and sees the promise of a new day bring out the darker darkness of the horizon's edge. Even the pure of heart deserve a backward glance into the future.
  • Current Music
    Progress - Mission Of Burma - The Wasted Years