Thursday, June 14, 2012
Derrida on the Event, Part II: Derrida the “Yad”
Repetition and first time: this is perhaps the question of the event as question of
—Jacques Derrida (1994, p. 10)
For Derrida, the event, if we can call it that, is repetition.
There is always something spectral in Derrida, ghosts are everywhere. More deeply, with his theory of iteration, everything is iteration, repetition, dissemination. A paradox: if there is only repetition, but repetition as alterity such that things are not perfectly preserved, the original utterance can only have a ghostly presence.
There is something incremental, geological about this view of change …
If something is an iteration as repetition, even if it altered, distorted then change is slowed down, it is evolution not revolution, suggesting glacial, geological processes not ruptures and novation.
What anxieties are harboured here? Indeed, one is always left with the feeling of a profound apprehension in Derrida, what RD Laing called “ontological insecurity.”
I have never seen a photo of Derrida with eyes at rest – his eyes seem furtive, darting, almost avoidant. The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote a poem that begins:
Of three or four people in a room, one is always at the window
Derrida is the one at the window, always on the lookout.
If in Heidegger,1 we feel the thinker resigned (I hesitate to say reconciled) to serene solitude, blunting an ancient anguish, in Derrida, we sense something akin to Simone Weil’s uprootedness and together, their concerns create a new category, a new address for being, that is the non-address of non-place.
Real being can have no easy purchase here, only anxious repetitions of the word, fussy annotations of the text, philological dissections, ontological regressions, recapitulations and embellishments, glosses and supplements.
Both Derrida and Weil are propelled into the initiatory logos. For the ethereal Weil, a word that never quite takes flesh (she does not undertake the conversion to Catholicism, does not quite meet Christ in the flesh; she is as uncomfortable dans sa peau—in her skin, as the French say, as Pierre Janet’s “Nadia” or Ludwig Binswanger’s “Ellen West”).
For Derrida, the word can barely make it off the page let alone become flesh.
Like Jewish scholars whose respect for the written word is so great that they do not touch the page but rather use an avatar of the pointer called a yad (Hebrew: די, “hand”), so named because it is literally a small hand with the forefinger extended, to mark their place during a Torah reading, Derrida’s oeuvre can be imagined as a yad—pointing us, always “with patience and trembling, exact fingers” like the lovers that Amichai described in his poem, “Threading,” back to the word and its precise meanings and origins. Derrida the yad: who so loved the word that he could not bring himself to touch it, but only to point and to deconstruct our reading of it.
In spite of everything, we can bracket Heidegger and Celan together, through Hölderlin if nothing else, for their anxiety about belonging, expressed physically (nature, the land) in Heidegger and Hölderlin and by almost schizophrenic “metaphors that are meant” in Celan (the ashes in the ground, the ashes rising with smoke to the sky). Anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson describes the peculiar analogical mind of both Catholic—“the communion host is the body”—and schizophrenic logic—he deftly deconstructs the psychotic “word salad” of a patient who starved himself, saying only “Manzanita wood.” Bateson is able to hear the message: “Man’s an eater (if the conditions were right, he) would.”
Amichai, Yehuda. “Threading.” In Songs of Jerusalem and Myself (trans. by Harold Schimmel. New York: Harper & Row, p. 42.
Derrida, Jacques (1994). Specters of Marx (trans. by Peggy Kamuf). New York: Routledge.