Keywords for a Speculative Empiricism I

Compiled by Amit S. Rai

(last revised 10-19-2018; edited by Etai Bar-On)

Note: all signifiers in bold face have separate entries.

Aufhebung (synthesis, sublation, sublimation): Spivak, in her Translator’s Introduction to Of Grammatology, writes: “Aufhebung is a relationship between two terms where the second at once annuls the first and lifts it up into a higher sphere of existence; it is a hierarchical concept generally translated `sublation’ and now sometimes translated `sublimation.’ A successful preface [to a book, for instance] is aufgehoben into the text it precedes, just as a word is aufgehoben into its meaning. It is as if, to use one of Derrida’s structural metaphors, the son or seed (preface or word), caused or engendered by the father (text or meaning) is recovered by the father and thus justified.

“But within this structural metaphor, Derrida’s cry is `dissemination,’ the seed that neither inseminates nor is recovered by the father, but is scattered abroad” (xi) (see Deconstruction, Differance, Subject).

Body: To begin with Nietzsche: “Everything that enters consciousness as ‘unity’ is already tremendously complex: we always have only a semblance of unity. The phenomenon of the body is the richer, clearer, more tangible phenomenon: to be discussed first, methodologically, without coming to any decision about its ultimate significance” (WtP 270).

The genealogical analysis of the body (see genealogy; Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”) inscribes–or rescribes–itself in the nervous system, in temperament, in the digestive apparatus; it links the seeming throw-away representations of faulty respiration, improper diets, or the debilitated and prostrate bodies of those whose ancestors committed errors (consider Dickens’ lineage-less Fagin, “the Jew”) to a whole history of the underside of the Man. The body–“and everything that touches it: diet, climate, and soil”–will be analyzed by a genealogical approach. To quote Foucault, “The body manifests the stigmata of past experience and also gives rise to desires, failings, and errors. These elements may join in a body where they achieve a sudden expression, but as often, their encounter is an engagement in which they efface each other, where the body becomes the pretext of their insurmountable conflict. The body is the inscribed surface of events (traced by language and dissolved by ideas), the locus of a dissociated self (adopting the illusion of a substantial unity), and a volume in perpetual disintegration” (82-83). We believe, asserts Foucault, that the body obeys the exclusive laws of physiology and that it escapes the influence of history, but this is false. “The body is molded by a great many distinct regimes; it is broken down by the rhythms of work, rest, and holidays; it is poisoned by food or values, through eating habits or moral laws; it constructs resistances” (87). (See also Subject)

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault links the body to the soul (esprit but also âme in French), in a new technology of power: “. . . has not the surplus power exercised on the subjected body of the condemned man given rise to another type of duplication. That of a `non-corporal’, a `soul’, as Mably called it. The history of this `micro-physics’ of the punitive power would then be a genealogy or an element in a genealogy of the modern `soul’. Rather than seeing this soul as the reactivated remnants of an ideology, one would see it as the present correlative of a certain technology of power over the body. On the contrary, it exists, it has a reality, it is produced permanently around, on, within the body by the functioning of a power that is exercised on those punished — and, in a more general way, on those one supervises, trains, and corrects, over madmen, children at home and at school, the colonized, over those who are stuck at a machine and supervised for the rest of their lives. This is the historical reality of this soul, which, unlike the soul represented by Christian theology, is not born in sin and subject to punishment, but is born rather out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraint. This real, non-corporal soul is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power. On this reality-reference, various concepts have been constructed and domains of analysis carved out: psyche, subjectivity, personality, consciousness, etc.; on it have been built scientific techniques and discourses, and the moral claims of humanism. . . . The man described for us, whom we are invited to free, is already in himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself. A `soul’ inhabits him and brings him into existence, which is itself a factor in the mastery that power exercises over the body. The soul is the effect and instrument of a political economy; the soul is the prison of the body” (29-30).

Communication: Derrida, from “Signature Event Context”: “Now, the word communication, which nothing initially authorizes us to overlook as a word, and to impoverish as a polysemic word, opens a semantic field which precisely is not limited to semantics, semiotics, and even less to linguistics. To the semantic field of the word communication belongs the fact that it also designates nonsemantic movements. Here at least provisional recourse to ordinary language and to the equivocalities of natural language teaches us that one may, for example, communicate a movement, or that a tremor, a shock, a displacement of force can be communicated–that is, propagated, transmitted. It is also said that different or distant places can communicate between each other by means of a given passageway or opening. What happens in this case, what is transmitted or communicated, are not phenomena of meaning or signification. In these cases we are dealing neither with a semantic or conceptual content, nor with a semiotic operation, and even less with a linguistic exchange.

“Nevertheless, we will not say that this nonsemiotic sense of the communication . . . constitutes the proper or primitive meaning, and that consequently the semantic, semiotic, or linguistic meaning corresponds to a derivation, an extension or reduction, a metaphoric displacement. . . . We will not say so:

“1. because the value of literal, proper meaning appears more problematic than ever,

“2. because the value of displacement, of transport, etc., is constitutive of the very concept of metaphor by means of which one allegedly understands the semantic displacement which operated from communication as nonsemiolinguistic phenomenon to communication as a semiolinguistic phenomenon.” (Derrida, “Signature Event Context” 82-83)

Context: Anthony Easthope draws on Derrida for his notion of context. In Derrida’s thought writing typifies the relation of supposed communication between the sender and the receiver of a message, a text’s addresser and addressee. There are four general propositions that follow from this:

1) “One writes in order to communicate something to those who are absent”: a written text presupposes the absence of the addressee and can be read by someone other than the one it was first addressed to;

2) the same feature, the same intersubjective universality, equally guarantees that the text can still be read even if the author is absent;

3) A text is intended and has a meaning in a particular context;

4) But the universal feature of language means that no particular intention can saturate a text, which by virtue of this universality has the capacity to “break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts”: while a text does not have meaning outside a context, its meaning cannot be limited to any one context; spillage of meaning beyond any given context is the condition of its being taken up in fresh context — which it again exceeds (112-113); in Other words, for a text to be read, one must in a certain sense appropriate the text in one’s own context, which means that the text will be repeated in your context. Recall the definition of repetition: “For a text to be repeated it must be exactly reproduced. But for it to be a repetition, there must be a kind of space between the original text and the repetition. What exactly is repetition? It is difference and deferral.” Difference of context, and since all contexts are contexts within contexts (which participate in other contexts) there will always be a certain spillage of meaning.

As Derrida writes: “all those boundaries that form the running border of what used to be called a text, of what we once thought this word could identify, i.e. the supposed end and beginning of a work, the unity of a corpus, the title, the margins, the signatures, the referential realm outside the frame, and so forth. What has happened … is a sort of overrun that spoils all these boundaries and divisions and forces us to extend the accredited concept, the dominant notion of a `text’ [or context] … that is no longer a finished corpus of writing, some content enclosed in a book or its margins, but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces” (Derrida, “Living On/Borderlines”, p. 81; pp. 83-84) (see difference, deconstruction).

In “Signature Event Context,” Derrida puts it thus:

But are the prerequisites of a context ever absolutely determinable? . . . Is there a rigorous and scientific concept of the context? Does not the notion of context harbor, behind a certain confusion, very determined philosophical presuppositions? To state it now in the most summary fashion, I would like to demonstrate why a context is never absolutely determinable, or rather in what way its determination is never certain or saturated. This structural nonsaturation would have as it double effect:

1. a marking of the theoretical insufficiency of the usual concept of (the linguistic or nonlinguistic) context such as it is accepted in numerous fields on investigation, along with all the other concepts with which it is systematically associated;

2. a rendering necessary of a certain generalization and certain displacement of the concept of writing. The latter could no longer, henceforth, be included in the category of communication, at least if communication is understood in the restricted sense of the transmission of meaning. (84)

Critique (or What is to be done?): But paralysis isnt the same thing as anaesthesis–on the contrary. Its in so far as theres been an awakening to a whole series of problems that the difficulty of doing anything comes to be felt. Not that this effect is an end in itself. But it seems to me that `what is to be done ought not to be determined from above by reformers, be they prophetic or legislative, but by a long work of comings and goings, of exchanges, reflections, trials, different analysis. If the social workers you are talking about dont know which way to turn, this just goes to show that theyre looking, and hence are not anaesthetized or sterilized at all–on the contrary. And its because of the need not to tie them down or immobilize them that there can be no question for me of trying to tell `what is to be done. If the questions posed by the social workers you spoke of are going to assume their full amplitude, the most important thing is not to bury them under the weight of prescriptive, prophetic discourse. The necessity of reform mustnt be allowed to become a form of blackmail serving to limit, reduce or halt the exercise of criticism. Under no circumstances should one pay attention to those who tell one: `Dont criticize, since youre not capable of carrying out a reform. Thats ministerial cabinet talk. Critique doesnt have to be the premise of a deduction which concludes: this then is what needs to be done. It should be an instrument for those who fight, those who resist and refuse what is. Its use should be in processes of conflict and confrontation, essays in refusal. It doesnt have to lay down the law for the law. It isnt a stage in programming. It is a challenge directed to what is. The problem, you see, is one for the subject who acts — the subject of action through which the real is transformed. If prisons and punitive mechanisms are transformed, it wont be because a plan of reform has found its way into the heads of the social workers; it will be when those who have to do with that penal reality, all those people, have come into collision with each other and with themselves, run into dead-ends, problems and impossibilities, been through conflicts and confrontations; when critique has been played out in the real, not when reformers have realized their ideas (Michel Foucault, Questions of Method in The Foucault Effect 84-85 — see resistance).

Death Drive: Acc. to Laplanche and Pontalis, “In the framework of the final Fruedian theory of the instincts, this is the name given to a basic category: the death instincts, which are opposed to the life instincts, strive towards the reduction of tensions to zero-point. In other words, their goal is to bring the living being back to the inorganic state” (The Language of Psycho-Analysis 97). The death drive emerged as part of Freud’s second topographic model, that is after around 1919, and is linked to two major texts Beyond the Pleasure Principle and “The Uncanny.” As Freud put it: “If we take into consideration the whole picture made up by the phenomena of masochism immanent in so many people, the negative therapeutic reaction and the sense of guilt found in so many neurotics, we shall no longer be able to adhere to the belief that mental events are exclusively governed by the desire for pleasure. These phenomena are unmistakable indications of the presence of a power in mental life which we call the instinct of aggression or of destruction according to its aims, and which we trace back to the original death instinct of living matter” (qtd. in Boothby, Death and Desire 3). As Boothby points out, Freud’s thesis on the death drive seems to imply that “the true goal of living is dying and that the life-course of all organisms must be regarded as only a circuitous route to death” (3). This theory has proved to be perhaps the most controversial idea in psychoanalysis, and was rejected by many people who otherwise claimed to be psychoanalysts. But for Lacan, the death drive was the very center of psychoanalytic theory. As he puts it: “To ignore the death instinct in [Freud’s] doctrine is to misunderstand that doctrine completely” (qtd. in Boothby 10). He characterizes Beyond the Pleasure Principle as the “pivotal point” in the evolution of Freud’s thought, and argues that the death drive is the key to understanding the topography of id, ego, and superego upon which Freud based all of his final theory (Boothby 10). To “return to Freud” meant for Lacan that we grasp the full import of the death drive as a force of self-destructiveness, a primordial aggressivity toward oneself, from which aggressivity toward others in ultimately derived. The question of the death drive in Lacan is linked to the faculty of speech and language, on the one hand, and to the fate of desire, on the other. Linking these three concepts, Boothby argues that “the death drive operates on two levels, imaginary [tied to the image, and anticipated wholeness of the subject: see Mirror Stage] and symbolic [where the subject enters language, which re-orients its desire toward the signifier of an Other]. In either case, the death drive attempts to have its way with the imaginary ego, seeking to deconstruct its false unity. But what emerges on the level of the imaginary as literal violence is accomplished in the function of the superego [the symbolic] by means of a symbolically mediated [i.e. by the Phallus] transformation of identity. The graduation of the subject from the imaginary place to that of the symbolic might thus be called a sublimation of the death drive” (177). But this (failed) sublimation of the death drive is also the return of Lacan’s other register, the real: the death drive presents the eruption of the real against the constraints of the imaginary and the symbolic. According to Boothby, the death drive represents the return of the irreducible, and irrepressible difference between our (whose?) experience of the somatic (the body) and the unconscious functionings of our psyche. “The doctrine of the death drive implies the profound inadequacy of every self-image of the human being. There can be no total psychical representation of the reality of the animate subject. The final implication of what is beyond the pleasure principle is that the real of the body remains beyond our powers to imagine it” (Boothby 225).

Freud wrote that the unconscious knows nothing of death, and Lacan extends and revises his thesis; as John Forrester argues, “Freud preserved a continuous tension between the fact of death as the end, total finality, and the denial of death, its leavening, its symbolisation by other things. . . . For Lacan, this `abstract concept with a negative content’ [death] is the symbol: the category that defines the limit of the Fruedian field. . . . True: the unconscious knows no time, knows no death, knows no negation. All these are linked together for Freud. . . . For Lacan . . . Freud’s arguments here need to be supplemented or transformed. Lacan introduces a meditation on the relation between symbol and thing: `the name is the time of the object.’ The fundamental feature of the object for Lacan, its duration in time, is given it in the pact of naming [see Names-of-the-father], in which two subjects create a symbolic world. Linked with this is the claim that the symbol `manifests itself first of all as the murder of the thing, and this death constitutes in the subject the eternalization of his desire’. In raising the thing to another level, its thinginess [yes: he actually wrote “thinginess”] is lost forever: it becomes a thing-in-relation-to-other-things — that is, a part of the symbolic order. . . . What for Freud, then, is abstract, pure negativity and therefore unrepresentable (in the unconscious), becomes for Lacan the privileged motor of all representations, of all meaning. Insofar as death is installed in me, in my beginnings, in so far as I am a speaking being, conjuring the death of things through the birth of language, in so far as I have an ego, and effect of an identification with a fundamentally always-already dead other, in so far as I am a human who recognises the existence of an after-life (in Freud’s dialect), of a symbolic order (in Lacan’s), then I am alive” (The Seductions of Psychoanalysis: Freud, Lacan and Derrida [New York: Cambridge UP, 1990] 174-76).

Deconstruction: 10 definitions of deconstruction by Willy Maley (Dr. W T Maley <wtm”ARTS.GLA.AC.UK>, “Deconstruction for Beginners” Multiple recipients of list DERRIDA, 11/13/95, 5:24am):

1) It is a general theory of text, not a “textualization” of politics but a politicization of text, of text as a system rather than as a book bound by covers. In ‘Of Grammatology’ (1967), Derrida first formulated the phrase that has haunted him ever since: ‘There is no extra-text’, or there is no frame, often interpreted as: ‘There is nothing outside – or beyond – the text’: ‘there is no outside-the-text’ signifies that one never accedes to a text without some relation to its contextual opening and that a context is not made up only of what is so trivially called a text, that is, the words of a book or the more or less biodegradable paper document in a library. If one does not understand this initial transformation of the concepts of text …[and] … context, one understands nothing about nothing of …. deconstruction … (Derrida, “Biodegradables”, p. 841). . . . “all those boundaries that form the running border of what used to be called a text, of what we once thought this word could identify, i.e. the supposed end and beginning of a work, the unity of a corpus, the title, the margins, the signatures, the referential realm outside the frame, and so forth. What has happened … is a sort of overrun that spoils all these boundaries and divisions and forces us to extend the accredited concept, the dominant notion of a ‘text’ … that is no longer a finished corpus of writing, some content enclosed in a book or its margins, but a differential network, a fabric of traces referring endlessly to something other than itself, to other differential traces”. (Derrida, “Living On/Borderlines”, p. 81; pp. 83-84). . . . “An ‘internal’ reading will always be insufficient. And moreover impossible. Question of context, as everyone knows, there is nothing but context, and therefore: there is no outside-the-text” (Derrida, “Biodegradables”, p. 873). Derrida’s enlarged notion of text has been seen, curiously in an academic context, as a reduction of politics. Derrida denies the equation of textualization with trivialization. He maintains that: “It was never our wish to extend the reassuring notion of the text to a whole extra-textual realm and to transform the world into a library by doing away with all boundaries…but…we sought rather to work out the theoretical and practical system of these margins, these borders, once more, from the ground up”. Derrida is out to circumvent both the “text as world” and the “world as text”.

2) Deconstruction is deliberately eccentric, working in the margins. As Terry Eagleton puts it in Literary Theory: “Derrida’s … typical habit of reading is to settle on some apparently peripheral fragment in the work – a footnote, a recurrent minor term or image, a casual allusion – and work it tenaciously through to the point where it threatens to dismantle the oppositions which govern the text as a whole” (p. 133-34). As Derrida himself says: “I do not ‘concentrate’ in my reading … either exclusively or primarily on those points that appear to be the most ‘important’, ‘central’, ‘crucial’. Rather, I deconcentrate, and it is the secondary, eccentric, lateral, marginal, parasitic, borderline cases which are ‘important’ to me and are the source of many things, such as pleasure, but also insight into the general functioning of a textual system (Derrida, “Limited Inc.”). . . . “… ‘marginal, fringe’ cases … always constitute the most certain and most decisive indices wherever essential conditions are to be grasped” (Derrida, “Limited Inc”, p. 209). Of course, there is a sense in which whenever we quote from any text, whenever we write criticism, we are writing on the margins.

3) Deconstruction can be seen as an overcoming of the risk of repetition through revolution. In Positions Derrida states that deconstruction has two stages. Reversal and displacement. Reversal of a binary opposition which is also a violent hierarchy, followed by a reorientation, or displacement of the problem, to avoid repetition. You cannot skip reversal and move straight on to displacement. Elsewhere Derrida seems to suggest that these two stages need not be executed in that order. Still, reversal and displacement remain one way of thinking about deconstruction.

4) It can also be seen as an allegoric, or analogic of power. A politics of ‘linkage’. Because there is nothing outside the text – everything is included in ‘reading’ – connections are constantly made with the so-called ‘real’ or ‘outside’ world.

5) It is an attempt to recover histories that have been ‘repressed’, ‘minoritized’, ‘delegitimated’. Derrida claims that it is in fact the most historical of approaches: “One of the most necessary gestures of a deconstructive understanding of history consists … in transforming things by exhibiting writings, genres, textual strata (which is also to say – since there is no outside-the-text, right – exhibiting institutional, economic, political, pulsive [and so on] ‘realities’) that have been repulsed, repressed, devalorized, minoritized, delegitimated, occulted by hegemonic canons, in short, all that which certain forces have attempted to melt down into the anonymous mass of an unrecognizable culture, to `(bio)degrade’ in the common compost of a memory said to be living and organic” (Jacques Derrida, “Biodegradables: Seven Diary Fragments,” Critical Inquiry 15, 4 (1989) 821).

6) It problematises the notion of author. The author is included in the text – because there’s nothing outside the text – but as text, to be read, not as a governing presence. “… what [deconstruction] calls into question is the presence of a fulfilled and actualized intentionality, adequate to itself and its contents” (Jacques Derrida, “Limited Inc”, pp. 202-203). Derrida appeals to Freud and the psychoanalytic notion of the unconscious in order to back up his claim that intention is necessarily limited. Note, not that it doesn’t exist. But it is limited.

7) You become like the thing you criticize. Oppositional writing always runs the risk of reappropriation.

8) Deconstruction inhabits – in a parasitic way – the texts it reads. There is a kind of miming that goes on. This is both a question of fidelity and of parody.

9) It is a hauntology, rather than an ontology, a theory of ghosts. A belief in the ghostliness of being. The self, according to Derrida is a ghost. The first ghost we are host to. Derrida believes in ghosts, and in telepathy. This `supernaturalism’ can be traced throughout Derrida’s work.

10) It is “a radicalization of Marxism”, claims Derrida in his most recent book (Specters of Marx (Routledge, 1994), p. 92), a radicalization in terms of its conception of work, ideology, and ghosts.

In an interview in Russia, Derrida described his practice thus: “This may be an adequate description of what I try to do, namely: to construct texts in such a way that by dint of their neutralized communication, theses, and stabilities or contents, and by dint of the neutralization also of their microstructure of meaning, the reader and finally oneself is in the grips of a certain trembling, a new bodily oscillation, so that in the end a new realm of experience is pried open. And this is why some readers react to my text in words such as these: ‘In the end, we understand nothing, we can draw no conclusions from what you say.’ And many confess: ‘Oh, we don’t understand this, it’s too complex, and one cannot understand it, finally we still don’t know whether you agree with Nietzsche [on] the question of woman or not. We don’t get what’s behind the text, what its results or its general conclusions are. This is too brutal and destructive, and we have no way of knowing what kind of person you are and where you want to lead us.’ At the same time, other readers, people who are perhaps not as prepared for this reading, at least no readers of Husserl or Nietzsche, who therefore read my texts barbarically, naively, as it were, are much more receptive to the trembling of the text, the text-effect that in the end has to do with the body, the readers’ body or even my body. From this sense-less text or this microstructure of meaning, they draw an experience which I consider valuable. They are much more open for what I do, more accessible than by comparison those cultivated and hypercultivated people – often we meet both reactions. So readers should [be] either hyperdifferentiated or not learned at all, and this has to do with their experience of the other, and it has to do with how the other is construed […]” (Jacques Derrida, “Philosophie und Literatur,” Orte des Denkens, eds. Ackermann, Raiser, Uffelmann, trans. D. Uffelmann [Vienna: ?, 1995] 173-200; translated from the Russian notes of the interlocutors and the English tape recording in February 1990; re-translated from the German by Peter Krapp; qtd. in Peter Krapp <foreign.body”DECONSTRUCTION.RHEIN.DE>, Multiple recipients of list DERRIDA <DERRIDA”CFRVM…), 12/11/95 5:29pm, “Re: New JD Book?”). This metaphor of the barbaric reader would be a strategic place to open the question of the relationship between deconstruction and postcolonial criticism; thus: Who is barbaric vis a vis the Derridean text? Does the barbaric reader have no cultivation? If so, then what kind of cultivation is the most enabling (and clearly there is an opposition being posited here) for a deconstructive sensibility?

Spivak, in her Translator’s Preface, situates the praxis of deconstruction in terms of reading otherwise: “A reading that produces rather than protects. That description of deconstruction we have already entertained. Here is another: ` . . . the task is . . . to dismantle [deconstruire] the metaphysical and rhetorical structures which are at work in [the text], not in order to reject or discard them, but to reinscribe them in another way.’ . . . How to dismantle these struectures? By using a signifier not as a transcendental key that will unlock the way to truth but as a bricoleur’s or tinker’s tool–a `positive lever’. . . . It must be emphasized that I am not speaking simply of locating a moment of ambiguity or irony ultimately incorporated into the text’s system of unified meaning but rather a moment that genuinely threatens to collapse that system” (lxxv).

Toward the end of his crucial essay, “The Ends of Man” (Margins of Philosophy 109-136), Derrida argues that the question at hand is to determine the possibility of meaning on the basis of a “formal” organization which in itself has no meaning, “which does not mean that it is either the non-sense or the anguishing absurdity which haunt metaphysical humanism” (134); he then goes on to chart two related but disjunctive strategies for deconstruction (note that Derrida is just as concerned to mark the structural lures for each strategy):

“a. To attempt an exit and a deconstruction [of Western metaphysics] without changing terrain, by repeating what is implicit in the founding concepts and the original problematic, by using against the edifice the instruments or stones available in the house, that is, equally, in language. Here, one risks ceaselessly confirming, consolidating, relifting (relever), at an always more certain depth, that which one allegedly deconstructs. The continuous process of making explicit, moving toward an opening, risks sinking into the autism of the closure.

“b. To decide to change terrain, in a discontinuous and irruptive fashion, by brutally placing oneself outside, and by affirming an absolute break and difference. Without mentioning all the other forms of trompe-l’oeil perspective in which such a displacement can be caught, thereby inhabiting more naively and more strictly than ever the inside one declares one has deserted, the simple practice of language ceaselessly reinstates the new terrain on the oldest ground. The effects of such a reinstatement of such a blindness could be shown in numerous precise instances [cf. Derrida, “Cogito and the History of Madness,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978)].

“It goes without saying that these effects do not suffice to annul the necessity for a `change of terrain.’ It also goes without saying that the choice between these two forms of deconstruction cannot be simple and unique. A new writing must weave and interlace these two motifs of deconstruction. Which amounts to saying that one must speak several languages and produce several texts at once” (135). !

In an interview in Points, Derrida says: “A deconstruction cannot be `theoretical,’ beginning with its very principle. It is not limited to concepts, to thought content, or to discourses [see Monster]. That has been clear since the beginning. If the deconstruction of institutional structures [for example, those that contain the academic discourse, but most often outside the university, given the nature of the university or the educational apparatus: they set the rules therefore, sometimes in an all-powerful fashion, for those who occasionally represent themselves as anti-university; but this representation does not prevent them from dreaming of an index, theses, archives, and other academic celebrations of yesterday’s avant-garde; here and there this dream becomes (is there anything more comical today?) compulsive, feverish, hyperactive management], if, then, this political deconstruction is indispensable, one must not overlook certain gaps but attempt to reduce them even though it is for essential reasons, impossible to erase them: for example, the gap between the discourses and practices of this immediately political deconstruction, on the one hand, and deconstruction of a theoretical or philosophical kind, on the other. At times these gaps are so great that they hide the links or render them unrecognizable for many people” (28).

And again, from Points, Derrida on affirmative deconstruction: “I have constantly insisted on the fact that the movement of deconstruction was first of all affirmative–not positive, but affirmative. Deconstruction, let’s say it one more time, is not demolition or destruction. Deconstruction–I don’t know if it is something, but if it is something, it is also a thinking of Being, of metaphysics, thus a discussion that has it out with the authority of Being or of essence, of the thinking of what is, and such a discussion or explanation cannot be simply a negative destruction. All the more so in that, among all the things in the history of metaphysics that deconstruction argues against, there is the dialectic, there is the opposition of the negative to the positive. To say that deconstruction is negative is simply to reinscribe it in an intra-metaphysical process. The point is not to remove oneself from this process but to give it the possibility of being thought” (211).

These passages have obvious relevance for postcolonial criticism, marked, as it always is, by a certain contamination of the inside, regulated by a desire for some transcendent outside. Here’s Spivak on “affirmative deconstruction”: “If it were embraced as a strategy, then the emphasis upon `the sovereignty, . . . consistency and . . . logic’ of `rebel consciousness’ can be seen as `affirmative deconstruction’: knowing that such an emphasis is theoretically non-viable, the historian then breaks his theory in a scrupulously delineated `political interest. If, on the other hand, the restoration of the subaltern’s subject-position in history is seen by the historian as the establishment of an inalienable and final truth of things, then any emphasis on sovereignty, consistency, and logic will, as I have suggested above, inevitably objectify the subaltern and be caught in the game of knowledge as power. . . . It is in this spirit that I read Subaltern Studies against its grain and suggest that its own subalternity in claiming a positive subject-position for the subaltern might be reinscribed as a strategy for our times.

“What good does such a re-inscription do? It acknowledges that the arena of the subaltern’s persistent emergence into hegemony must always and by definition remain heterogenous to the efforts of the disciplinary historian. The historian must persist in his efforts in this awareness, that the subaltern is necessarily the absolute limit of the place where history is narrativized into logic. It is a hard lesson to learn, but not to learn it is merely to nominate elegant solutions to be correct theoretical practice. When has history ever contradicted that practice norms theory, as subaltern practice norms official historiography in this case?” (“Deconstructing Historiography,” Selected Subaltern Studies 16). It seems to me Spivak is elaborating on the following passage from Derrida: “`Operating necessarily from the inside, borrowing all the strategic and economic resources of subversion from the old structure, borrowing them structurally, that is to say without being able to isolate their elements and atoms, the enterprise of deconstruction always in a certain way falls prey to its own work.’ . . . This is the greatest gift of deconstruction to question the authority of the investigating subject without paralyzing him, persistently transforming conditions of impossibility into possibility” (Spivak, “Deconstructing Historiography,” Selected Subaltern Studies 8-9).

Democracy: Here is Simon Critchley on the relationship between democracy, justice and deconstruction: “Derrida’s claim . . . is that deocnstruction is justice and justice is an `experience’ of the undecidable; that is to say, according to my interpretation, to be just is to recognize one’s infinite responsibility before the singular other as something over which one cannot ultimately decide, as something that exceeds my cognitive powers. It is this experience of `justice’ that compels one forward into politics, that is to say, from undecideability to the decision, to what Derrida calls, following Kierkegaard, the madness of the decision. Politics is the realm of the decision, of the organization and administration of the public realm, of the institution of law and policy. . . .

“For Derrida, no political form can or should attempt to embody justice, and the undecideability of justice must always lie outside the public realm, guiding, criticizing and deconstructing that realm, but never instantiated within it. From a deconstructive perspective, the greatest danger in politics in the threat of totalitarianism, or what Jean-Luc Nancy calls `immanentism’, in all its most recent and terrifying disguises: neo-fascism, nationalism, ethnocentrism, theocracy. Totalitarianism is premised upon the identification of the political and the social and would claim that a particular political form and hence a particular state, community or territory embodies justice, that justice is immanent to the body politic. A deconstructive approach to politics, based the radical separation of justice from law, and the non-instantiability of the former within the latter, leads to what one might call the disembodiment of justice, where no state, community or territory could be said to embody justice. One might say that the `experience’ of justice is that of an absolute alterity or transcendence that guides politics without being fully present in the public realm. . . .

If it is now asked what political form best maintains this dis-embodiment of justice, then I take it that Derrida’s response would be democracy: not a democracy that claims to instantiate justice here and now, not an apologetics for actually existing democracy (but neither a dismissal of the latter), but a democracy guided by the futural or projective transcendence of justice–what Derrida calls une démocratie à venir [a democracy still to come]” (“Deconstruction and Pragmatism — Is Derrida a Private Ironist or a Public Liberal” in Deconstruction and Pragmatism 35-36).

Desire: The Subject in Lacan is linked to lack, need, and demand through desire. This is because the subject is linked to an original lack, an absence of being and substance which lies at the very origin of desire, in so far as this is distinguishable from need or demand. To be more specific, what is the difference between need, demand and desire? Whereas need is governed by the interplay of satisfaction and the lack thereof [bodily and nourishment needs], and demand (which essentially is a demand for love) suspends such interplay in order to relocate it in some unattainable though compulsively yearned-for hereafter [originally the breast which then begins to signify “mother” for the infant], desire itself is never brought to a close by any satisfaction of need or demand or failure to satisfy. Desire, by which Lacan means to desire something other than the object required to satisfy a need, finds its completion in that which is not actively wanted–so strictly speaking desire functions through what Derrida terms differance. Where there is a lack, there is also a desire and a subject (and so also difference and deferral). In other words, the subject’s failure to be superfluously present, being more than it is, and looking for guarantees when at bottom there are none to offer (Pradelles de Latour 153). This is how the need-driven behavior of the child becomes more complex. When the breast becomes a token of trust, a sign of love granted or withheld, the child tends to vary its own activities in order to control the comings and goings of its mother; to the infant she becomes the first symbol (present/absent) that it can make its own. If the mother does not succumb to its advances, she lapses in the child’s esteem, but she thereby also proves herself to be a real power, all the more powerful in that the infant’s nutritional and affective life is dependent upon her whims. From this point onwards, needing and wanting love are tightly interlocked, “with the result that the frustrations of love can be compensated for by the satisfaction of needs . . . and the frustration of needs . . . can be used to heighten the value of the love at stake.” It is in this way that the immediate object of a particular psychic drive is subordinated to the search for an ambivalent, simultaneously enchanted and tyrannical, symbolic object — to be found somewhere beyond the mother, within the realm of the Other, in the form of infallible magic objects or omnipotent mythical beings (Predelles de Latour 156).

Weber (Return to Freud 127-28) puts the issue of desire thus: “Desire for Lacan — and undoubtedly for Freud as well — is essentially unconscious in structure. The latter is therefore determined by the unconscious, which in turn, as we have seen, is an effect of the signifying structure of language. . . . Desire is thus structured differentially and as a metonymic movement; it is oriented less by objects than by signifiers. . . . Yet insofar as desire is directed towards something else which `itself’ can never simply be a self-identical object, it is not only desirous of another, but is `itself’ another’s desire. It is the `the desire for the other’s desire’, the desire of a signifier, defined as the signifier of another desire.” And further (136-37): “Desire thus entails not only the difference between the satisfaction of particular needs, and an unconditional demand for love, but difference itself, i.e. `the phenomenon of their splitting’. Desire is the absolute condition insofar as it designates a movement of differential articulation based on the other — on difference. Yet at the same time it preserves the structure `contained’ in the demand-for-love’s `unconditionality’, for desire’s own movement is interminable; as such, desire must also function `unconditional’. The `object’ of desire, signifier of another desire and of the Other’s desire, always points to another signifier. In so doing, it refers not only to its own condition but beyond it as well — to other conditions. . . . Desire thus emerges on the fringes of denial. The Other of desire can thus no longer be located in some kind of code, since a code implies a collection of signs based on a particular system of signifieds. This other of desire is instead the locus of the discourse of the unconscious; it can only be placed as the difference between the `said’ and the `saying,’ between signified and signifying, or more exactly as the movement of signifiers which itself takes place upon `another stage’. This Other locale thus traces the contours of that dislocation, that `transcendental’ locus, where any possible combination or configuration of signifiers must in turn always be another signifier referring to something beyond itself. This Other, like the other of demand, befalls the subject in a variety of ways: for example, in the form of the third `person’ . . . . Yet just as the exemplary embodiment of the Other of demand is the mother, so the Other of desire is personified in the father, for it is he who introduces the law of desire through the incest prohibition and the threat of castration. If we consider the Other as the dislocation of the signifier, it cannot be incarnated in the living identity of a person; here as well, the locale remains closed, barred. What is important is not the person of the father, but his role as guardian of the law. Lacan often stresses the fact that this Other `does not exist’, it is barred, always elsewhere, inaccessible.”

Derrida in his long, complex engagement with Freud (and Lacan) has developed a notion of affirmative desire (as opposed to desire as lack). He terms this desire “bliss” or jouissance and it is based on difference; Derrida says in Points: ” . . . I don’t imagine that any bliss (let’s not speak any more here of desire but of bliss) is thinkable that does not have the form of this pure difference; a bliss that would be that of a plenitude without vibration, without difference, seems to me to be both the myth of metaphysics–and death. If there is something that can be called living bliss or life, it can be given only in this form of painful bliss which is that of differential vibration. No self-identity can close on itself. . . . This “differential vibration” is for me the only possible form of response to desire, the only form of bliss, and which can therefore be only a remote bliss, that is bliss for two or more, bliss in which the other is called; I cannot imagine a living bliss which is not plural, differential. This is marked in a minimal fashion by the fact that a timbre, a breath, a syllable is already a differential vibration; in a certain way, there is no atom” (137). And further: “I rarely speak of loss, just as I rarely speak of lack, because these are words that belong to the code of negativity, which is not mine, which I would prefer not to be mine. I don’t believe desire has essential relation to lack. I believe desire is affirmation, and consequently that mourning itself is affirmation as well” (143). See also Repetition, Signifier, Subject, Symbolic.

Différance: Differance represents the dual process of difference and deferral. Derrida coined this term as the noun form of the verb différer (to defer and differ). As Nancy J. Holland points out in her introduction to Feminist interpretations of Jacques Derrida, “Drawing on the work of linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Derrida uses differance as a polymorphous tool for deconstructing `metaphysical’ discourse, which is defined here by the fact that all of its foundational concepts are structured in a series of isomorphic hierarchical oppositions [or binaries]: form/matter, subject/object, rational/irrational, but also right/left, light/dark, male/female, and, of course, true/false, good/bad. What differance tells us is that these oppositions have meaning only because of the posited difference between the two terms and, therefore, that neither of the terms has any meaning in and of itself, but always defers its final referent along the trajectory of the series. Since the terms and the oppositions are mutually interdependent, no term can be classified as unmarked (primary) or marked (deviant), but all are equally [this is not quite right: Derrida also argues that every hierarchy is a violent relation, so simply claiming equality could never be a deconstructive strategy] marked, equally secondary to the opposition itself. For Saussure, words exist only in such a system of differance. They always carry an internal reference to the other words in the language of which they are a part and so permanently delay any final arrival at the prelinguistic things themselves that words are supposed to name. Similarly, the modern Subject can be seen as a system of differance, as always other than it is, not as a tragic accident, but necessarily. This would be because it can only the Subject it is by opposition to the material object that it is not (in Descartes), to the thing-in-itself that it is not (in Kant), to the sovereign that it is not (in Hobbes), to the God that it is not, to the madman that it is not, to the irrational laborer or woman [or colonized subject] that it is not, to the id/superego that it is not, and so forth” (5-6).

The process called différance is the radical reason meaning is always deferred; to quote Derrida (cf. Subject): “[Meaning] is an effect of differance, an effect inscribed in a system of différance. This is why the a of differance also recalls that spacing is temporalization, the detour and postponement by means of which intuition, perception, consummation [or meaning]–in a word, the relationship to the present, the reference to a present reality, to a being [or to the meaning of a text]–are always deferred. Deferred by virtue of the very principle of difference which holds that an element functions and signifies, takes on or conveys meaning, only by referring to another past or future element [or context] in an economy of traces” (Positions 28-29).

Derrida puts it this way: “We could . . . take up all the coupled oppositions on which philosophy is constructed, and from which ourl language lives, not in order to see opposition vanish but to see the emergence of a necessity such that one of the erms appears as the differance of the other, the other as `differed’ within the systematic ordering of the smae (e.g., the intelligible as differeing from the sensible, as sensible differed; the concept as differed-differing intuition, life as differed-differing matter; mind as differed-differing life; culture as differed-differing nature. . . .). See Signifier, Repetition.

Discipline: Michel Foucault, in Discipline and Punish, defines this term as a type of power, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; it is a technology; used in different ways by prisons, schools, hospitals, families, the police; it assures an infinitesimal distribution of power relations (i.e. disciplinary power infiltrates the most minute and distant elements of society–acting primarily in and through what Gramsci termed “civil society”: see The Prison Notebooks 12; see also Foucault, “The Eye of Power,” Power/Knowledge 146-165). The most generalizable mechanism of disciplinary power can be termed “panopticism.” Foucault tied his analysis of disciplinary procedures to a new way of Aadministering time. For Foucault, two of the Agreat >discoveries of the eighteenth century B Athe progress of societies and the geneses of individuals B were correlative with the Anew techniques of power, and more specifically, with a new way of administering time and making it useful, by segmentation, seriation, synthesis and totalization. Thus, the Adisciplinary methods reveal a linear time whose moments are integrated, one upon another, and which is orientated towards a terminal, stable point; in short, an >evolutive time. At the same time, administrative and economic techniques of control Areveal a social time of a serial, orientated, cumulative type: the discovery of an evolution in terms of >progress.’” (Discipline and Punish 160)–see power.


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