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Monday, January 9, 2012

TRICOTER: An Essay in Philosophical Archaeology


tricoter transitif 1er groupe (conjugaison)
  1. Exécuter un tissu à mailles, soit à la main, à l’aide d’aiguilles longues et émoussées, soit avec un métier spécial.

False relation with “tricher” which gave, in the XV and XVI centuries: trichot, tricotement, tricoter, tricoteur which mean chicaneur, chicaner, chicane

Came more likely from trique, the wooden needle having been named un tricot or petite trique

English: knit
German: stricken
Portuguese: fazer meias, fazer renda


Déverbal de tricoter formé sur trique et le suffixe diminutif -ot (soit « bâtonnet », « aiguille à tricoter »).


Étymol. et Hist. A. 1. Mil. xve s. « courir, sauter » (Banquet du boys, Poésies fr. des XVe et XVIe s., X, 219 ds Gdf.); 2. 1677 (d'un cheval) « faire des mouvements de jambes très rapides, mais sans ampleur » (Solleysel, Nouv. méthode pour dresser les chevaux, p. 231); 3. a) av. 1741 « remuer vivement les jambes ou les pattes pour courir, danser, etc. » (J.-B. Rousseau, Allég., I, 2 ds Littré); b) 1819 tricoter des jambes (L. Balzac, let. in Balzac, Corresp., I, p. 56 ds Quem. DDL t. 34); c) 1891 « pédaler vivement à bicyclette » (Le Cycliste, avr. ds Petiot); d) 1950 (en parlant d'un facteur) « aller d'un trottoir à l'autre pour desservir une rue » (d'apr. Esn.). B. 1. Fin du xvie s. « exécuter un ouvrage en mailles entrelacées, avec des aiguilles spéciales » (Christophe de Bordeaux, Chambrière à louer ds Rec. de poésies fr. des XVe et XVIe s., éd. A. de Montaiglon, t. 1, p. 101); 2. 1611 intrans. (Cotgr.). Dér. de tricot2*; dés. -er. Les jambes, puis les aiguilles à tricoter, ont été comparées à des bâtons que l'on agite (A, B). Au sens B, tricoter a remplacé l'anc. verbe brocher.


Tricotage: Knitting Together Philosophy

I also have my crochet.
It dates from when I began to think.
Stitch on stitch forming a whole without a whole …

Crochet, souls, philosophy …
All the religions of the world ….
All that entertains us in the leisure hours of our existence
—Fernando Pessoa writing as Álvaro de Campos

(Ref: Fernando Pessoa & Co.: Selected Poems. Ed. and trans. from the Portuguese by Richard Zenith. New York: Grove Press, 1998, p. 17)

There is a lovely French verb, tricoter, meaning in the plain sense to knit or to pedal a bicycle. Derived from tricot, it’s origin is speculative and perhaps comes from the word trique, a large stick, and the diminutive suffix –ot, a variant of estrique, from the Frankish strikan, related to “strike” in English. There is a false etymological relation to tricher (to trick, cheat or deceive) which in the XV and XVI centuries gave trichot, tricotement, tricoter, tricoteur meaning chicane, chicaner, chicaneur  (argument, to argue, one who argues). As with many words derived from concrete objects and actions, tricot has a surfeit of metaphoric associations, from “quick repetitive action” and “strike” to “erection” (avoir la trique).

My own associations to it are fanciful. With one ear, I hear the tri of triage, from the French trier, “to sort, select, choose,” used since WWI to mean the sorting of wounded soldiers into three groups: those who needed immediate care to survive, the walking wounded who could wait, and those who would die anyway. With the other, I hear the tri of tricolore, France’s three-coloured flag with its symbolism and the ideals of the French Revolution, brought together in moderation. As an Italian, il tricolore italiano of the Cispadane Republic after Napoleone crossed into Italy in 1797 also comes to mind.

So, without threatening violence (strikan) or deception (tricher) and with as little unpleasantness as possible (chicane), much less an excess of passion (avoir la trique), I propose to tricoter, to knit together three major thinkers in this work: Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou and Michel Foucault. All three are fluent if not native speakers of French and share important philosophical traditions. I read them in their original languages (French, Italian) but will use readily available English translations here for the purposes of communication, with frequent reference to the originals which I hold to be authoritative. All three are—in varying measures—scholars of etymology, history, philology, and philosophy with ready access to the Latin and Greek sources of European thought and to French, German and Italian philosophical traditions. Agamben adds to this a scholarly interest in the Hebrew sources of Church history through both Latin and Greek (see my translation of his essay, “The Church and the Kingdom”). Here, I must confess my scholarly limitations, as my four years of study in Latin and single year each of studies in Greek, German and Arabic allow me only a passive understanding of those rich worlds, so that I must rely on translations. My immersion in Hebrew, both biblical and modern, is more profound and longlasting but not systematic so that, again, I prefer to trust scholarly renditions. 

I understand Agamben to be simply the most careful contemporary reader of Foucault, much as Lacan read Freud, advancing the Foucauldian project in the areas of law and liturgy (as he quipped, the only two fields that Foucault did not investigate), and take from him a methodology he proposes as philosophical archaeology. With a lineage that includes Foucault and Freud, not least with the invocation of archaelogy, this method refreshes thought to make it contemporary. It is a new form of critical theory. Foucault engages me most on the question of madness, the end of man, and methodologies for understanding discourses. It is a new way to think about ideology. Badiou is in a line of major thinkers who have rethought being and its implications and like his predecessors has things to tell us about psychology, psychiatry and psychoanalysis. That is largely because event means novation, the bringing of change, new possibilities into being. Unlike his predecessors, the professionals in those domains have hardly bothered to engage him seriously. This work proposes to do just that.

So this is my tricotage, a knitting together and a sorting out of a troika or triumviri of philosophers I call to task to forge new anwers to some rather well-tread aporias about trauma and event: the philosophical archaeology of the disruption of the discourse of being and the evental opening or traumatic closing of possibilities in the coming community.


Note: As I write this, I hear the notes of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Troika,” the fourth movement of a symphonic suite composed in 1933 for the Soviet film, “Lieutenant Kijé” (1934) based on Yuri Tynyanov’s story. Two fine performances are by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Claudio Abbado and the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Seiji Ozawa. 


The philosophers of being have given us new vistas in psychiatry:

Philosopher/Major Work                   Psychiatrist/Key Ideas                       

Edmund Husserl                               Influenced the entire school of phenomenological
Subjective/                                          and existential psychology, psychiatry and
intentional phenomenology                psychoanalysis – from Eugène Minkowski, Ludwig             Binswanger, to RD Laing, Rollo May and Irvin Yalom; Cf. Rollo May, ed., Existence

Martin Heidegger                             Ludwig Binswanger
Being and Time                                   “The Case of Ellen West”
(dedicated to Husserl)                         Daseinanalyse—“existential analysis”
                                                            Foucault wrote the preface to 
                                                            Dream and Existence     
Jean-Paul Sartre                               R.D. Laing
Being and Nothingness                       The Divided Self, Self and Others,
Wrote Preface for:                               Reason and Violence: A Decade of Sartre’s
Philosophy 1950-1960
“Existential psychoanalysis                “Ontological insecurity,” “mystification,”
has not yet had its Freud” (1943)       “disqualification”
Frantz Fanon
                                                            Black Skins, White Masks
A new theory of consciousness, combining the psychiatric and  the political
Wrote Preface with the famous line:  The Wretched of the Earth,
“Violence, like Achilles’ spear,                                                            
can heal the wounds it inflicts.”
                                                            A Dying Colonialism
Alain Badiou                                     Vincenzo Di Nicola
Being and Event                                 “Trauma and Event”
(doctoral dissertation)                        
Objective phenomenology                  “Evental psychiatry”           
Multiplicity                                         “Relational psychology”                       
Evental site                                         “Predicament”
Preoccupied with “the uncounted”     “Liminality,” “threshold people”


I am grateful to Alain Badiou for his “blessing” to entitle my work, “Trauma and Event,” in the spirit of this line of inquiry.

A complete study of this line of inquiry would include, minimally, a dense review of the pioneering work of Wilhelm Dilthey and Wilhelm Wundt as early philosophical psychologists, as well the thought of Franz Brentano (see Wolfgang Schirmacher’s excellent introductions to two volumes in The German Library on German Essays in Psychology (2001; the essays by Dilthey, Husserl and Wundt are essential) and German 20th Century Philosophical Writings (2003; notably the essay by Jaspers on existential philosophy).



  1. Yikes V,

    I just typed a big-old comment and somehow lost it when trying to post it. How traumatic!

    I just wanted to share that I've been experiencing so much joy being able to follow your development towards the diss. TRICOTER got my mind running (pedaling?). Perhaps because of the (passion considered as an uphill) bicycle race reference I immediately started to think of the little Sicilian monster the triskelion - a kind of perpetual motion machine, an image of motion or of thought, also an inhuman, abortive genetic splicing of body parts gone wrong. Would the figure of the triskelion be able to reproduce? (avoir la prick!)

    Anyway, I don't know if you've engaged it elsewhere but I was also taken to thinking about Derrida's lecture, "Typewriter Ribbon, Limited Ink (2)" in Without Alibi (Stanford, 2002) wherein he repeatedly approaches the need to develop a concept under which we would be able to think the machine and the event (roughly, though not unproblematically, correlate with the organic and inorganic) indissociably. This demand came though all the more forcefully considering that, towards the end of the lecture, he begins to share some thought on how trauma would relate to this thinking of the machine & the event synonymously. At one moment (I don't have the essay on hand) he suggests that everything called an event should also be called traumatic (no matter how happy the event may have been). When I first read it I was worried about the risk involved in stretching a definition of machines or of trauma so far as to encompass everything and thus risk being about nothing at all, but I'd be curious to hear what you (and Badiou, who I've regretfully read almost nothing of) might think? I know Derrida isn't explicitly of the trika you're stitching together but it might be worth looking at.

    In closing the lecture he very quickly suggests something like a 'specular machine' that seems to be the name he gives to the absence of the deceased Paul de Man (to whom the lecture is addressed) - knitting together familiar Derridean tropes- the impossibility of arrival, the writing machine, machines for (an of) loss, mourning, remembrance - in what I thought was a really poignant moment.

    All this to say that I'm looking forward to you development of the nuances of trauma and event and whether or not you think the two must maintain distinction. I don't know much about the history of psychiatry but it got me wondering about the concept and practice of pendulation -- that is, continuous and conscious engagement with traumatic (frozen or erratic) states towards the development of narrative resources (which you've talked about in the cyranoids paper, and in which I heard [perhaps mistakenly] a passing relationship with Martha Nussbaum's insistence of the development of the capacity for narrative imagination) -- and whether or not it could be a useful site or helpful tool for working in the traumatic age & with the bodies pendulatory resources. What is your relationship with the somatic methodologies?

    Okay, I'll stop there this comment-machine has gone on enough. I think of you often and look forward to being able to finish Letters to a Young Therapist soon!


    1. Dear Isaac,

      I miss you too.

      Your post reminds me of what a thoughtful, close reader & dear friend you are! You are anticipating future posts, reading nuances into what I've already written & pointing me to interesting new territory.

      First, I will make use of Derrida in my thesis. His work in "Shibboleth" & "Plato's Pharmacy" is indispensable. I will do a blog on the pharmakon - skandalon - mimesis - scapegoat. This took me into mirror neurons. I’m writing an excursus called, "Mirror Neurons, Mimesis & the Mirror of Nature," knitting together other thinkers: neuroscientists Vittorio Gallese et al, anthropologist René Girard & philosopher Richard Rorty. I’ve read Derrida's "Typwriter Ribbon" & was struck by some of the same incongruities you note but you are prodding me to dig deeper. Derrida is like this: you either get or don't get something at first, later it revisits you when you are working on something else.

      (Part II follows)


    2. (Part II)


      As for your other stimulating suggestions. In fact, I have already sketched out some thoughts on the machine in an excursus called "Deploying the Machine" building on several notions. First, a text is a form-of-life in Agamben's sense. I've made this argument to him and he looked thoughtfully into the air and said, ok, it's possible. Second, following Derrida & others, I believe a text is a machine and I apply this idea in a literal way in my reading of a critical poem by Fernando Pessoa, his "Autopsicografia." Finally, we need to bring together many disparate threads in current critical theory about the machine into a coherent account. The word/figuration "machine" has become a generic machine in and of itself for denoting a variety of functions, tropes & goals. We can’t get very far in this without re-reading Viktor Tausk's "The Influencing Machine" (1919) and a refreshed understanding of paranoia, which I think is a key psychiatric experience to explicate. If you read American political science, you soon bump into a classic essay called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," by Richard Hofstadter (1964). While some think it has been overextended, I have a different reading/reaction & use of it. I think there is a paranoid undercurrent in contemporary critical theory that functions a lot like trauma -- it's there, not always avowed, and functions (like a machine) whether we are aware of it or not, or knowingly invoke it/deploy or it or not. So the associative thread would go something like this: a text as a form-of-life, a text as a kind of machine, the influencing machine as the prototype of/for "machine," projection/mimesis as the operative principle of our notion of machine ... and then (touching on your next subject) ... the machine/body interface/dichotomy/integration.

      I am just now "scratching my ass and thinking about ..." (as President Johnson said to the Israeli ambassador about Israel). In this case, I'm thinking not about Jerusalem but about the body, Badiou's "subjectizable body" to be precise. This is the most important new aspect of Badiou's work with arrival of Being and Event II - Logics of Worlds.

      In my excursus (or maybe a scholium) on the pharmakon - skandalon - mimesis, I remark on the bivalence built into many key ideas in Western thought. The pharmakon as both poison and remedy, skandalon as both trap/stumbling block and redemption (Jesus as a skandalon for the Jews is how it is used in the Gospels). Then I get closer to the heart of my thesis, examining psychiatric terms with similar bivalence--the fugue and trauma. I remark on this again in my note on the fugue state where there is a conflation of two Latin roots--fugere, to flee, and fugare, to chase. This Janus-face of key notions in philosophy and psychiatry, from pharmakon to skandalon and from fugue states to trauma. I could extend this into politics/psychoanalysis with the notion of "resistance" where a combination of reactive refusal and proactive affirmation is invoked.

      So you see, this is a very absorbing project! Many thanks for your interest and close reading and allusive invitation to think with you.



    3. V,

      You know, the only time I'd come across Tausk in my travels thus far was in this lovely article written in Cabinet:

      But now - seeing as how I completely agree with your diagnosis that paranoia is key experience to explicate (are paranoia & vanity closely aligned in formal psychiatric registers?, because some dual explication of those states may be even more spot-on) - I've got to get my hands on a copy of the influencing machine.

      And what's more, my partner just happened to pick up a copy of Lem's 'The Investigation' a couple days ago, lo and behold to find your excursus on Whodunits without Who's. I've loved everything I've read by Lem, and now my interest in this one is piqued; the reading list just grows and grows and grows!


  2. Isaac,

    Thanks for the link to the article on "The Influencing Machine" by Tausk. This story has always haunted me. The number of incidents like this that happened around Freud is disconcerting. I just came from the new film, "A Dangerous Method" by David Cronenberg based on the book by John Kerr. I remember being intrigued by the book and learned a lot about their relationship. It is still a gripping story, well filmed.

    Paranoia is a complex notion to understand without clinical experience because one has to sort out paranoia as an emotion within the run of human emotions, which probably has survival value, paranoia as a defense mechanism, a personality disorder, a disorder in itself and as part of a psychotic process such as schizophrenia. I'm not saying that I hold by these distinctions but they need to be understood in the clinical literature. The relation of paranoia to narcissism is an interesting one and at its extremes there is a definite overlap. What protects me from paranoid thinking is that I don't believe anyone is sufficiently interested in me to single me out for whatever conspiracy. I'm not important enough to warrant that. So a healthy control of my naricissism keeps paranoid thinking at bay. I think the canonical example of the relation is in King Lear. Its origins are ancient (I don't give Shakespeare, whoever he was, much credit for the dynamics) but the play has some valuable insights into a foolish, rather vain old man whose wounded narcissism feeds his paranoia which is infectious and ends up destroying everybody. I'm not sure to what extent we can call it a tragedy as there is no redemption in this play. There is no coming to terms with the displacement, "the disaster in being torn away from our chosen image" as Arthur Miller defined tragedy. Lear learns nothing, not even too late. The most interesting character is the Fool but he is dispensed with and integrated into the King himself. Kurosawa's Ran is supposed to be a version of King Lear (there are as many iterations of the possible relationship between the play and the film as there are articles about it). Ran is relentless; a bloodbath and as much about facing death by Kurosawa as about the Lord. Ran is the après-coup in the lives of two men: Ran/Lear and Kurosawa himself.

    Après-coup is an important notion that Lacan elevated to greater meaning than Freud's "nachtraglich" and is much used by Zizek. Après-coup is sometimes invoked in discussing trauma, which is why I am investigating it now. I believe it has wider uses though as in these alternative translations/applications: "bombe à retardement" (time-bomb), "twice-told tales," "retrospective," "saudade (a Portuguese term about looking back and being changed in the process, or as a Brazilian writer put it, "ser depois de ter"--being after having), all implying strange time relationships where time is a backward loop.

    A different reading of King Lear is in Stanley Cavell's essay, "The Avoidance of Love," in his classic, "Must We Mean What We Say?" Cavell is one of the few anglo-american philosophers that really tried to read philosophy across the analytical/continental divide (other stand-outs include Richard Rorty, Charles Taylor, Simon Critchley and Richard Kearney). Critchley's text on "Continental Philosophy" in the Short Introduction series is very fine, by the way.



    1. (continued reply to Isaac)

      A long time ago Norman Cameron (1943) wrote about the "paranoid pseudo community" and his work has stayed with me. It would be a very interesting Saturday afternoon project to write about Lear/Ran from the perspective of the paranoid pseudo community and throw in the Italian neurophysiologists' work on mirror neurons along with René Girard's mimetic theory. While we are on paranoia, my favourite paranoia novel is Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" (1966). It has weird characters to spare, from Oedipa Maas to a rock band called "The Paranoids" (the Beatles used to refer to themselves as "Los Para Noias"). He later repudiated this novel, but it's as good (or bad) as anything he wrote.

      As for Lem, his "The Investigation" is a small gem. Check out his imagery ... filled with gazes & glazes, mirroring, self-doubt and questioning human agency and causality. Not a truly satisfying work in the end but stirring.

      Happy reading!