Although the notion of a “structure” of “différance” may seem a contradiction in terms, given our preceding analysis of both structurality and différance, precisely as the latter necessarily exceeds the former, what we propose here is not a reversal of that position. Instead, since différance is the principle of repetition itself, of representation, of death, and of economy as such, the condition of the possibility of presence and absence, the proper and the improper, and, as we shall see, of temporality and spatiality as such (beyond Kant’s transcendental aesthetic), we propose that différance as such in its effects or traces therein itself performs the same process which “it” attributes to others. That is, in short, différance itself, as the nonrepresentable principle of representation, itself repeats. It (a) allows for the possibility of repetition and in turn (b) itself repeats as a form in all its various effects. The fact that we have a plurality of effects of this principle already indicates a certain similarity between the differences. Although our method here is precisely within the field of metaphysics, we find nonetheless that the structure of différance, paradoxical perhaps as this may appear, lends itself to a certain representation within the domain of metaphysics and, more specifically, within the realm of language. In this analysis, we will not have transgressed Derrida’s claims which we began with concerning language and force, the idiom, and thought. Indeed we shall attempt to remain consistent with them, in order to explicate the structurality which allows for those differences to appear. Différance is thus not force, nor the idiomatic, nor thought as such, but rather a more primordial movement which, as Derrida says, “not being a force of its own, nevertheless forces force.” As we may recall, “différance” is a “strategic nickname” of that which is necessarily unnameable in the sense of having a proper name. This does not mean that différance “goes without saying” or that it “remains in the shadow of language and speech” as the unsaid. Indeed Derrida himself proposes to nickname “différance” the “trace,” the “reserve,” “arche-writing,” and the “supplement,” for example. Thus différance as such does not remain in the shadow of “presence” or the presentable. It is pointed toward albeit always by a sort of impropriety.
In addition, as we have shown, Derrida claims there is a certain “rationality” (although no longer adhering to the structure of the Logos), a certain order, a certain principle, indeed a certain structure that repeats, which the movement of différance as such exhibits. It is this structure of repetition which itself repeats (in all its effects) that allows for us to trace its movement and to reveal it as such. Although Derrida says that différance does not exist, we should recall that to “exist” for him means “to be an entity,” in Husserl’s intentional sense of this phrase. Since différance can never be an object but rather is the condition for the possibility of all objects, one cannot “properly speaking” speak of its existence. Nevertheless différance “exists nowhere else” but within the structure of the entity as such. As we have shown, différance is the abyss itself which is not “out there” but rather that rationality which we find housed within all interiority as such, for us, within the subject (as absence) and within the object (as a certain spacing). As Derrida says:
An entire theory of the structural necessity of the abyss will be gradually constituted in our reading; the indefinite process of supplementarity has always already infiltrated presence, always already inscribed there the space of repetition and the splitting of the self. Representation in the abyss of presence is not an accident of presence; the desire of the presence is, on the contrary, born from the abyss ... of representation, from the representation of representation, etc. The supplement itself is quite exorbitant, in every sense of the word.1
The supplement is of course simply “another name for différance.” This “always” which Derrida refers us to here regarding the “already infiltrated presence” and the “already inscribed space of repetition and splitting of the self” is precisely the point at which we find the “form” of différance as such. It has “always” already done various things in the world. It is thus in a paradoxical sense “omnipresent” by its very absence, since we see its “effects” everywhere. Indeed all that we see are its effects. Thus Derrida here has (perhaps deliberately, perhaps in spite of himself) illustrated a concept which is not properly speaking a concept, a word which is not properly speaking a word, and a movement which is not properly speaking a movement. Yet, once we have put the term proper under erasure, we can see more clearly what it is that différance as such is—in the proper sense of the term. More precisely, one can therein exhibit that which allows for all form (as always already there) as itself a form and perhaps necessarily so.
Although Derrida claims that the supplement is “exorbitant” with respect to the orbiting of metaphysical bodies around the sun, he also admits to the following precisely metaphysical properties of that which would call itself “exorbitant.” First we have différance as a concept of economy, indeed the most general concept of economy as such:
It is the concept of economy and since there is no economy without différance, it is the most general structure of economy itself [my emphasis].2
Indeed we have the admission here that différance is, as such, a structure—the “most general structure of economy” as such. We shall return to this in our treatment of the “play of supplementarity” in the upcoming section concerning precisely the issue of economy. At the moment, it is crucial to point out Derrida’s systematic rejection of the structurality of différance and yet his subsequent reliance on the same notion for its description.
He admits, however, that différance is not to be considered “astrueturale” or in opposition to structurality or form as such. Indeed we cannot be “radically other,” according to Derrida, without falling back precisely and squarely into the universe of metaphysics as such. Yet we can see clearly in the following formulation that Derrida would use the term structure in this context only “under erasure”; that is, saying à la fois yes and no to the same term:
Differences are the effects of transformations and from this point of view the theme of différance is incompatible with the static, synchronic, taxonomic, ahistoric, etc., motif—of the concept of structure. But it goes without saying that this motif is not the only one to define structure and that the production of differences, the différance, is not astructural; it produces systematic and ruled transformations which up to a certain point open the space for a structural science [my emphasis].3
Thus Derrida is not “anti-structure” or anti-structuralism, but would nonetheless separate himself from any notion of structure which excludes the movement of temporality and hence a certain spacing as such. We shall see more precisely why in the following section concerning the space/time of différance, but here we must simply insist that the notion of structure as such does not exist for Derrida. One might use the same term “structure” otherwise, therein saving it and his analysis from falling back into metaphysical determinations and presuppositions as such.
More precisely Derrida defines his usage of the term structure, as distinct from that of ‘structuralism’ for instance, with respect to that which he “names” différance. Différance, we should recall, is the condition of the possibility of the “play” of presence and absence as such—of entities, of vision, or metaphysics, and of the world as such. Thus structure, in this context, refers us inextricably to this “always already there” play of différance, as each in turn limits the other:
Originary différance is supplementarity as structure. Here structure means the irreducible complicity within which one can only shape or shift the play of presence and absence: that within which metaphysics cannot think [my emphasis].4
We shall return to the “thinkability” of différance in terms of Reason and Nature with respect to the “play of supplementarity” in the next section on economy, but here we must realize that Derrida’s notions of “structure” and of différance remain inextricably intertwined. The “play” of the différance is not free of its own constraints. It has always only two “options,” and even these are strictly regulated according to the “principle of economy.” Presence and absence for him thus interrelate in a structural, economic fashion. This is not a haphazard chance-determined affair, however. As he says, “one can only shape or shift” this play, one can never escape it. We have, therefore, uncovered a certain system based on a certain incompatibility of a simultaneous “presence and absence” of that which “exists”; indeed of existence itself. This seems indeed to be founded precisely on what metaphysics has called the “principle of non-contradiction.” For instance, if x is present, it cannot at the same time and place also be absent, and vice versa. Derrida, we suspect, and we should not be surprised, would agree with such an analysis. Indeed it is precisely this which we suggest he is trying to illustrate. Where différance itself lives, he will also claim, is outside of this either/or structure, but not dissociable from it. Différance allows for this structure to exist as such.
Thus différance is not radically separable from metaphysics, but rather itself involves an “inextricable complicity.” Indeed we will claim that an economic contract is at stake here which allows for the means and mode of production as such: the mode being différance; the means of course being metaphysics as such. It is, in short, the two together which produce that which we might call “the play of the world.” Further, in economic terminology, one might realize metaphysics to be the principle of capitalization, of property, and of inclusion/exclusion therefore, whereas différance, being without a force of its own and having no proper name, nevertheless allows itself, by default as it were, to be submitted to the violence of metaphysics. But is history, this history in particular (of metaphysics as such), not over? Has Hegel not already demonstrated this sufficiently and necessarily? Indeed Derrida believes it to be over, yet metaphysics is certainly not exhausted as yet by the process. Indeed one finds capitals and property and universalization by the “in general” or the concept to be still very much alive in the world—physically and metaphysically, today. However, we find différance appearing also at this post-historical juncture and indeed therein threatening this predominance of metaphysics. It is the “structure of différance,” which is not, we should recall, the “return of the repressed.”5 Différance as such never appears and thus does not return. There are no “returns” on such an interest, Derrida insists.
Nevertheless as a final word of introduction to the structure of différance as the economy of the play of supplementarity, as the “principle of death,” and as the condition of the possibility of a “new transcendental aesthetic,” we should consider the relation of différance to the machinery of Hegel’s Aufhebung and the dialectic as such. At one point in the interviews of Positions Derrida claims that, if one had to define différance, it might be “that process which ‘destroys’ (indeed aims to destroy) the Aufhebung.” Derrida himself realizes, however, that this is “not possible as such.”6 The Aufhebung is indestructible in terms of any attack one could mount against it. As we know, all polemics can be immediately subsumed, consumed, and integrated into the system according to Hegel, and thus “forgotten” The concept will win against any opponent which purports to be (or to have) the Anticoncept, or indeed the “Anti-Christ,” as we have seen from Nietzsche’s experience. Instead therefore, in realizing this “indestructibility” of the Aufhebung, Derrida proposes the notion of différance as a sort of “chance interruption,” as the laughter which upsets the system,7 which intervenes and in a profound way sets the machine (albeit slightly) off course. However, as with all mechanized processes (if we can consider the Aufhebung to be such), a slight deviation is more profound than a large and therefore immediately noticeable one. And further, as Derrida says: “the machine as such (as yet at least) does not run by itself.” For Derrida there is always a reserve or a remainder which the Aufhebung cannot integrate. It is the “non-representable,” which is of course usurped by “being-represented” anyway—the violence of the name, as we have shown, which Hegel too was well aware of. Nevertheless, Derrida aims with différance—which is exorbitant, unnameable, and can never be made present, which escapes all formalizations, as do force, the idiom and thought with respect to language—to make a fold in the process of systematizing and the all-inclusiveness of the Aufhebung. In short, to point toward the Abyss which Hegel knew existed yet which he justified himself in overcoming by referring to this realm as the “realm of the false.” “The unutterable” was for him quite simply the “untrue.” Thus it could be “overcome.” But for Derrida, this economy of the Aufhebung must be seen as an effect of an economy which extends beyond such a violence:
By this placing in relation of the restrained economy and the general economy one displaces and one reinscribes the project of philosophy itself, within the privileged space of Hegelianism. One folds the Aufhebung—the ‘relève’—to write itself otherwise. Perhaps, quite simply, to write itself. Better, to take account of its consummation of writing [my emphasis].8
The “consummation of writing” is precisely the return of the Concept to itself in the Absolute Knowledge of History itself: or, in short, the end of History. It is the return of presence to itself and is thus the end of the “sign,” the route, the passage, the detour which is more than history—temporality itself. Thus the paralysis of Hegel’s system is felt in terms of the collapse of all differences into the Same, or which for Derrida is the absolute presence of presence, absolute life, or absolute death. It is the movement of death that is the movement of the Aufhebung as it captures its other along its path to the sunlight.9 Its forgotten moment is, however, Derrida insists, the moment of writing itself, which is the hidden support and therefore hidden opening within the “absolute process” itself. It is writing which allows for this movement and yet which is also denounced and effaced as the Logos purports to be always already there: or, in short, to be “its own father.”
Différance, however, does not claim to “out-father” the father of Nature and Reason itself, but rather to open the space for the mother. Différance gives birth to Reason; it is the condition of its possibility and its “impossibility” in terms of Reason’s claim to be its own absolute foundation. The movement of Reason is therefore finite, since it is the mother, or indeed the structure of maternity more precisely, that which Reason cannot “comprehend,” which will be made evident in the final hour, the final stroke of Reason in its attempted usurpation of the world. Just as each system has its blind spot or its point of orientation, for Derrida, so too each system is founded upon that which is intrinsically “not comprehensible” or “integratable” within that same system. Such is the Mother for this same Logos. Again, however, we have the problem of the absent father in this structure, but that is, as Derrida says, “perhaps always the case.” After all, as he says, “the condition for the possibility of writing (in all senses of the word) is precisely patricide.”10 We have never left Oedipus, therefore, but have returned to find not only the tragic aspect of the death of the Father, and thus his subsequent return, but also the comic aspect of the highest form of love, perhaps the model for all love in general, as precisely that which is excluded from society’s notion of legitimacy in order therefore to sever the latter from a nature which never existed. In short, we have found incest, again. We have found Oedipus in the bed of his father, and of course with the woman who is à la fois his wife and his mother. Perhaps, as Derrida says with respect to différance, in the end one “does not choose.” Although one is forced to conclude, the debate itself is, however, interminable. It is thus that we approach the graphic of supplementarity as that which for Derrida is the “economy of différance.”
(a) Différance as Economy
For Derrida, as we have shown, the notion of différance is the “concept of economy as such,” the most general form of economy. It is indeed that which allows for the movement which we call economic, he claims. The notion of economy is thus for Derrida a more primordial “ground” than that of traditional philosophy, which is concerned with static forms, structures, substances, and essences as such. The Platonic forms do not move, we should recall. Thus with Derrida we turn toward a universe (indeed a second one) of movement, of forces, of play, which also nonetheless contains or exhibits a certain “calculus” and a certain “system.” In shifting, however, from a “substantial” universe to one that is essentially in motion, Derrida proposes a certain “dislocation of the proper,” a certain “inappropriateness,” which is essential to différance as such. As he says:
Différance is not a process of propriation in any sense whatever. It is neither the positive (appropriation) nor the negative (expropriation) but the other. From this point it seems, yet we are marking the necessity of a process to come, it would be no more than Being a species of Ereignis.11
It is thus no accident that Derrida uses the term “différance,” which is not a “proper” term. “Différance,” as a word, does not properly speaking exist; neither does différance as such for Derrida. We have thus a good example of what Derrida calls the inextricable relation of signifier and signified, at the same time as we have a description of that process. Différance is both signifier and signified here. One can also realize in this “example” the structure of différance as such as the economy which produces the same, the name, and the proper, but which itself is none of these. Différance is a composite term made up of the two proper words: to differ and to defer (as we have mentioned above), and together for Derrida they form différance (the ending being better translated perhaps as differing in English). The problem, however, is that the essential impropriety of “différance” is therein lost since “differing” is a quite appropriately recognized official word. Nevertheless “differing” sustains the notion of the process of movement which Derrida aims to describe here. But the movement is a sort of oscillation more than a unilateral, or one-dimensional, uni-directional process. Indeed it is the movement between the thought of differing and defering; the former being related to spatiality, the latter to temporality. Both include a notion of opening, of a promise, of an extension, of a postponement, of a detour, of a repetition, of a substitution, of a representation, and indeed of a sort of doubling that exists over the extension of space and time. But the two terms nevertheless, in spite of this apparent commonality of root, cannot be collapsed into one whole without the eclipsing of one aspect by the other. If one thinks of differing, the notion of spatiality is brought into mind; if one thinks of deferring, likewise for the notion of temporality. But the two juxtaposed within one concept leave one impotent to consider both simultaneously. Instead, phenomenologically, what seems to occur is a vibration, or oscillation back and forth between one and the other. As one comes into view, the other recedes into the background, and vice versa. This is precisely what Derrida names différance—in all senses of the term. In fact, he opens the way to a new sort of phenomenology of writing, although he insists this is not possible. The presence-absence oscillation and the simultaneous unthinkability of the two terms represent the problem. The difficulty of a phenomenology of writing would thus be that which is “put in the shadow” when the “other” comes to light (into view, into consciousness) is necessarily eclipsed from consciousness as such. Thus phenomenology cannot describe its own shadow.
Derrida insists further that “the name of différance” is not a proper name. For him it “menaces the proper as such.” As we have shown, the “essence” of différance (its proper character) does not exist as such. As Derrida says concerning the “term” and the “process” of différance: (which are as we know inseparable),
Older than Being itself, such a différance has no name in our language. But we “already know” that if it is unnameable it is not tentative because our language has not yet found or received this name, or because it is necessary to search in another language, outside the finite system of ours. It is because there is no name for that—not even essence or Being, not even that of “différance” which is not a name, which is not a pure nominal unity and dislocates itself ceaselessly in a differing chain of substitution.12
Thus Derrida proposes a theory of the proper name and its correlate: the intrinsically “improper” name. The name is the locus not only of language but also of Reason, Logos, and metaphysics as such. It is for being “in search of a name” that Derrida reproaches Heidegger and the latter’s reliance on the notions of the proper and the essential in his “overturning” of humanism as such. It is the structure of authority and power of the “proper” that Derrida hopes to (a) reveal and (b) escape from or overcome. Yet différance, as such an economy of play with presence and absence, has of itself no power. It is precisely this element which is denied to this movement since it does not “constitute” itself in these terms. Instead it “submits itself” to the domination of metaphysics and the system of the proper, and it is this “weakness” which is of crucial significance for Derrida:
Différance is not. It is not even a being-present ... It commands nothing, rules over nothing and in no way exercises any authority. It does not announce itself by any capital. Not only is there no kingdom of différance but it foments the subversion of all kingdoms [my emphasis].13
It is, as Derrida says elsewhere: “la force de la faiblesse,” But, more precisely, what is this différance which we find structures itself in the form of an economy that is always elusive, always on the move, that has no place in the system of signs which circumscribe the “meaningful”? As we know, Derrida shifts “interminably” from one term to another when he refers to “différance” and we should examine the paradoxical implications of such a move. Since for him différance” is in a certain sense a “nickname” for that which essentially cannot be named, other nicknames too are possible. The notion of a nickname we might recall is oriented towards a naming in situation, a naming according to circumstances, a usually context-specific term which, if removed from that particular environment, makes no sense. It is thus with the nicknames of “différance” (which is also one, we should not forget). These include, as we have shown: the trace (in terms of a relation to Freud and Levinas), writing (in relation to Saussure, concerning the system of differences wherein the spaces or gaps between the full terms are shown to be the locus of meaning), différance (in relation to Heidegger’s and Hegel’s albeit differential usage of the term difference), the reserve (in relation to Freud and Plato), and the supplement (in relation to Rousseau and his usage of this term, which Derrida shows to be a demonstration of the very notion of supplementarity as such, in spite of Rousseau, to a certain extent). Thus we find the names of this “process”—this fundamental economy—to be context-specific nicknames; yet also, in spite of their differences, all seem to be naming “the same thing.” Of course différance is not a thing and is certainly not to be found within the orbit of what metaphysics calls the “same.” Nevertheless, have we not uncovered here a certain concept of différance which transcends specific situations, circumstances, and texts? After all, is it not Derrida himself who claims that the “proper name” is not a reliable index for that which we call a “textual system”?14 That “Freud” wrote x, does not therefore sever x essentially from y that Plato, for example, wrote long before. Instead, for Derrida, as we know, there is a more fundamental structure (metaphysics itself in this case) which links one context-specific text (Freud) to another (Plato). The proper name is thus an unreliable index for what he calls the context of a text. It is thus that Derrida is able to trace from one “text” to another various systems of metaphors which, in relation to the structure of metaphysics, profoundly link them together into one tradition. Indeed we are dealing with the issue of levels of textuality here and relative value differences accordingly. Nevertheless is it possible, according to Derrida’s own “system of interpretation,” to view the differences between “supplement,” “différance,” “reserve,” “trace,” and “writing,” for example, as related only to the proper name of the author which, as we know, no longer legitimately houses its ultimate authority?
Derrida admits to a certain structural identity, however, between the play from one “nickname” to another and the play of “différance” (for example) as such. The “indefinite replacement of signifiers” is precisely the process of substitution which he claims characterizes différance itself. Yet he also admits to a certain “point of orientation” for the whole system, which necessarily remains vague and unnamed, which is the “blind spot” that can never be named without “the whole game being terminated and collapsing” therein. This “point of orientation” is here not simply one signifier among others, but the locus of the signified as such, it would seem. He explains the paradox of the “exiled centre” in the following manner (in particular with reference to his analysis of Rousseau and the supplement):
Within the play of supplementarity, one will always be able to relate the substitutes to their signified, this last will be yet another signifier. The fundamental signified, the meaning of the being represented, even less the thing itself will never be given to us in person, outside the sign or outside the play. Even that which we say, name, describe as the prohibition of incest does not escape play. There is a point in the system where the signifier can no longer be replaced by its signified, so that in consequence no signifier can be so replaced, purely and simply. For the point of nonreplacement is also the point of orientation for the entire system of signification, the point where the fundamental signified is promised as the terminal point of all references and conceals itself as that which would destroy at one blow the entire system of signs. It is at once the spoken and forbidden by all signs [my emphasis].15
We must interrupt at this point for an instant only. What is this “point of non-replacement” for Derrida, which is also the “point of orientation”? The non-replaceable, non-representable, which allows for representation and replacement; indeed the play of différance itself. Do we not here have the idiom, the subject, the writer, the non-authorized authority, the illegitimate father, who in fact has never left his text? Do we not have the “child which is the father of the man” here? Do we not have the “madness” which Reason thinks it has excluded from the house of being or language itself? Do we not have that intrinsically unsayable, the point of the non-blink of the eyes in that face of the other which is also our own, which we know has never left us? We might indeed be in the Abyss, and it may indeed be in us, as Derrida says; and there may indeed be an intrinsic and inextricable relation of signifier to signified, but does this not also translate, at this point of non-return, of non-replaceability, non-representability, and non-substitutability, into the relation of author to text? That precisely effaced relation by metaphysics itself; that “logos believing itself to be its own father” and yet also effaced by Derrida in his emphasis on the non-proper, the non-authority, the “force de faiblesse” of différance itself. Différance, as we have been shown by Derrida himself, does not rest upon nothing. It comes to a halt, a stop, indeed perhaps to an abyss in the system, in the calculus—which never goes full circle, nor full ellipse, and thus never returns totally. Is it not this that Derrida himself has pointed towards throughout his work? The essentiality of the nonreturn. The “fold in the Aufhebung” is precisely the “false,” as Hegel said. It is the idiom of the “me”; the non-replaceable point of orientation of all totality. Derrida continues, we propose, to describe this very relation at the same moment as he effaces it therein. For example:
Language is neither prohibition nor transgression, it couples the two endlessly. That point which does not exist, it is always elusive or what comes to the same thing, always already inscribed in what it ought to escape or ought to have escaped, according to our own indestructible and mortal desire [my emphasis].16
It is surely not the “sign as such” of which Derrida speaks here. “That point which does not exist” could only be the “me” of my writing which is (a) always already no longer “mine,” as we have shown, yet (b) no one else’s. That this “me” does not exist is simply a return to the recognition of the non-entity, non-objectifiable, and hence non-subject (in metaphysical terms) that I am. As we have shown too, it is not différance which is “always already inscribed” in the system it would escape—but it is the “me,” as the subject of metaphysics, as the thrown Dasein, who is tossed into a relation of submission to the very thing he would command—the text of life itself. Such is the play of the world, for Derrida according to différance, we suggest. And such is the tragic: “according to one’s own indestructible and mortal desire.” That will to power which is at once installed and overcome is that which we call the “subject.” It is thus that Derrida turns toward the notion of différance as the “play of that dangerous supplement.” For a world as such, the “danger” could not exist. The danger instead is realizing that we have here a notion of writing which is “beyond good and evil”—and which thus opens the space and the conditions of the possibility for both. This space is the space of repetition, which we shall see is both: (a) the space of imitation, respect, repetition as teleologically oriented towards the “master”; and yet also (b) the space of repetition as mockery, as disgust, as subversive, as humorous.
A final note before we turn to “that dangerous supplement.” The division of repetition into the space of imitation on the one hand and of mockery on the other is not reducible in this duplicity to a simple relation to the space of good and evil respectively. Instead the “space of evil” is to be found as the “other side” of both aspects respectively. The “will to power,” which allows the slave to repeat and in the end overtake and become the Master, is no less a movement of “evil” than the space of mockery and irreverence. The first is the space of the “serious,” the second the space of the “comic.” These relations become immediately very complex, as we have indicated, and thus we must return to a more simple basis of exposition—that which is (both) logically (and illogically) prior to the division of “good and evil” as such: “the play of supplementarity.”
(b) The Play of Supplementarity
The notion of the supplement is, for Derrida, analogous to that of différance and therefore exhibits similar structural and functional relationships. We shall attempt to describe here, not only the economic structure which links the “play of the supplement” to the “economy of différance” or the notion of economy as such, but also to show the social, political, ethical, and necessarily non-ethical dimensions of this notion of supplementarity. For Derrida, it describes in a text “what a text is,” and “in writing what writing is”; but we should recall the notions of a text and of writing are for Derrida no longer to be considered materially, or literally. They are not only metaphoric, as we have shown, but illustrate an essentiality of metaphor itself in “the play of the world” as text and as arche-writing. We should also recall that the “supplement” here is and is not interchangeable with the notion of différance. In some respects, the “play of supplementarity” describes more precisely the structure of différance itself, as we shall demonstrate; yet in other respects the “play of the supplement” is one “form” or process of function among others which characterizes the notion of différance for Derrida. Perhaps these are at the deepest level the “same,” but we propose here to approach this issue “as if” they are not. The results of this analysis will, we hope, speak for themselves and let the unsaid and of course the unsayable remain as such. The paradox is of course that it is precisely this “remainder” which we are attempting to describe here. Nevertheless one can always, as Derrida says, shape or shift the “play of presence and absence,” although one can never escape from it as a whole. Thus we will approach the structure of the “play of supplementarity” as the structure of the economy of différance.
(i) The Structural Dimensions
Derrida explicates this structure in terms of its systematic appearance and disappearance (presence and absence) within the texts of Rousseau. His focus on Rousseau here is both: (a) one example among others, and yet (b) the example par excellence for all other examples—the model for exemplarity itself. This is also the case with his “fil conducteur” of analysis—the supplement itself. He explains the situation in the following manner:
In certain respects, the theme of supplementarity is certainly no more than one theme among others. It is in a chain, carried by it. Perhaps one could substitute something else for it. But it happens that this theme describes the chain itself, the being-chain of a textual chain, the structure of substitution, the articulation of desire and of language, the logic of all conceptual oppositions taken over by Rousseau.... It tells us in a text what a text is, it tells us in writing what writing is... [my emphasis].17
Thus, in a profound respect, Rousseau represents for us here the entire schema of “conceptual oppositions” (of metaphysics no doubt), and the “supplement,” as a term, a process, a function, an operation, indeed as a certain economy, represents that which is (a) made present and perceptible by this structure of conceptual oppositions, and yet also (b) made absent by this same structure—indeed by the structure of the same, or identity, of the proper. We must recall here the important distinction which Derrida makes between the text and the book.18 The former admits of no center, of no totality once and for all, and of no essential mediator. The latter is, of course, the reverse and admits of only one proper meaning, theme, point, etc. Thus we are dealing here with Rousseau’s text, which is in some respects one text among others, but in other respects the text of all texts—representing therein textuality itself. Derrida explains his choice in terms of a certain chance: “it happens that ...” and thus leaves his decision here outside the “system”; indeed the point of orientation is always in exile, he tells us. So we must begin on the inside in order to find that outside which we already know is always already the interior of the interior itself.
For Derrida we thus find that:
Rousseau inscribes textuality in the text. But its operation is not simple. It tricks with a gesture of effacement, and strategic relations like the relationships of force among the two movements form a complex design. This design seems to us to be represented in the handling of the concept of the supplement. Rousseau cannot utilize it at the same time in all virtualities of its meaning. The way in which he determines the concept and in so doing lets himself be determined by that very thing he excludes from it, the direction in which he bends it, here as addition, there as substitute, now as the positivity and exteriority of evil, now as a happy auxiliary, all this conveys neither a passivity nor an activity, neither an unconscious nor a lucidity on the part of the author. Reading should not only abandon these categories—which are also the founding categories of metaphysics—but should produce the law of this relationship to the concept of the supplement [my emphasis].19
We must consider carefully the implications of this important passage in Derrida’s text. First, he claims that there is a certain “trick” at work here in the gesture of textuality itself, indeed in the inscription of textuality as such in the text. Yet how can one inscribe such a formulation? Is not “textuality” as such always already inscribed, and necessarily so, in that which we call a text? Is textuality not the essence and property of the text as such? How could we have a text without textuality already inscribed therein? But Derrida seems to be aiming toward something other than the “essence” of a text, properly speaking. There is no such thing for him as we have shown. Thus if the text is without an essence, what could textuality mean in this context? It is precisely this which the “play of the supplement” describes, Derrida claims. First, as he says, its operation is “not simple.” This implies not simply that it is difficult or complex, but that it is not unitary. The “operation” of textuality, its movement as such, is thus divided and indeed contains opposing dimensions, at least two of which we can describe. Derrida himself says we have “two movements within this operation” we call textuality. As we know from the preceding analysis, these are the movements of presencing and absencing—or appearance and disappearance. Together they form a “complex design” or pattern we call the text. More specifically Derrida claims these two opposing movements which are housed à la fois within the term and play of the supplement, include the following notions:
... the concept of the supplement ... harbours within itself two significations whose cohabitation is as strange as it is necessary. The supplement adds itself, it is a surplus, a plentitude enriching another plentitude, the fullest measure of presence. It cumulates and accumulates presence. It is that the art, technè, image, representation, convention, etc., come as supplements to nature [my emphasis].20
(The evident social and political implications will be addressed in due time in the upcoming section. We wish here to follow the structure as such of the supplement, for the moment.)
The second movement, which is as primary as the first, entails the following:
But the supplement supplements. It adds only to replace. It intervenes or insinuates itself in-the-place-of; if it fills it is as if one fills a void. If it represents and makes an image, it is by the anterior default of presence. Compensatory and vicarious, the supplement is an adjunct.... As substitute, it is not simply added to the positivity of a presence, it produces no relief, its place is assigned in the structure by the mark of an emptiness.21
Further, he claims, there is always “a supplement at the source.” Thus the two movements which Derrida claims produce the operation of textuality itself seem to (a) contradict one another; (b) paralyze one another; and thus (c) produce the conditions of the impossibility of each other at the same instant. This is precisely the case for textuality, we insist. The “play of the supplement” is this mutual exclusion of its “own” other; not unlike the “work of metaphysics,” we might add. The difference, however, which is of crucial significance, is that the supplement does not “banish” or exclude its other, it merely overshadows it. One aspect comes into view as the other “discretely slides into the background.” The “other” in this play remains therefore essential, active, and still within the scene of that which we call textuality. Derrida continues:
This second signification of the supplement cannot be separated from the first. Each of the two significations is by turns effaced or becomes discretely vague by the presence of the other. But their common function is shown in this: whether it adds or substitutes itself, the supplement is exterior, outside of the positivity to which it is superadded.22
Thus the structure of the “strange” economy becomes evident. However, what this “operation” or “play” seems to involve or invoke is the double bind of the simultaneity of “presence and absence.” Indeed Derrida points toward precisely this in terms of the supplement adding itself (a) as an addition to a full presence, and thus already paradoxical; and (b) as a substitute for a presence which was never there. As we have shown, presence is always a result of a prior constitution, in which the Abyss (or absence itself) is simultaneously effaced and included (consumed by writing, as Derrida says). Thus the irony appears of the supplement which would add itself superfluously (seemingly) or add itself as a copy without there ever having been an original. In both cases we have a situation of “mistaken identity,” and it is perhaps this which Derrida refers to as its “common function.” The first case, where presence already purports to be full, reveals that it was not; indeed it needs a supplement to present itself as that full presence. Hence we have the institution of a certain illegitimate entry here. The supplement slides into place within “presence” and must remain there hidden, essential, yet always unannounced. When the absence of Presence becomes “known,” the game will be up, as Derrida says, and indeed as Hegel announced without knowing it. In the second case, the irony must also be felt as unavoidable. Where “presence” is lacking, the supplement arrives to take its place. Yet (a) presence was always never there, and hence (b) the supplement is thus radically originary and indeed can therein (and should be) mistaken for that same presence it would re-present. It is the substitute without difference at this stage. Yet, if one realizes that the supplement is indeed a supplement, and not that originary presence, once again “the game will be up.” So the supplement as a substitution must purport to be that presence it substitutes. Indeed has not “presence as such” always already been this? Derrida says yes.
The difficulty of “thinking” or conceiving of this movement which seems to efface itself, and necessarily so, according to the predominance of the metaphysics of presence and of the concept as such, as pure and simple, must now be addressed. Derrida is profoundly aware of this difficulty, as we have shown, with his reliance on various methods for the “shifting” and “shaping” of this play of presence and absence. Such methods have included: bracketing (as per Husserl), putting the term under erasure (as per Heidegger), nicknames, using inverted commas to shift from the is to the as structure, and indeed of metaphorization of the issues in an attempt to point toward that which “cannot essentially be said.” Yet, as we know according to Derrida himself, “from the moment we have meaning, we having nothing but signs.”23 Yet, “la chose même se dérobe toujours.”24 The “noumenal realm” is precisely that “blind spot” which the system cannot include, or comprehend. And further, it is “blindness to the law” that allows for the constitution, is the constitution, and is the result of the constituting movement of the supplement itself. But we propose to shift the play of metaphors here, and instead of looking for the supplement we shall instead listen for it. Since our eyes and, in particular, our vision has been always ready organized for us by Reason itself, as distinct and opposed to Nature itself, we cannot depend on it to give us a reliable impression of this “essentially non-essential” concept which is not a concept. In the exploration of the “play of the supplement,” we too are trapped within its play. What this means is that we can only present “x” at the expense of not presenting “not x”; or, more precisely, we make absent the “other half” of that which we aim to speak about the instant we set the pen to the page. Looking “between the lines” here will of course not suffice since that space is the space—albeit allowing for articulation—of inarticulation itself. Thus the difficulty arises phenomenologically, yet, of course, is also beyond this formulation of it. Derrida explains the problem in the following manner:
The supplement is what neither Nature nor Reason can tolerate.
Blindness to the supplement is the law. And especially blindness to its concept. Moreover, it does not suffice to locate its functioning in order to ‘see’ its meaning. The supplement has no sense and is given to no intuition. We do not therefore make it emerge out of its strange penumbra. We speak its reserve.
Reason is incapable of thinking this double infringement on Nature; that there is lack and because of that very fact something is added to it [my emphasis].25
As we know, Rousseau had precisely these problems. If Nature is full presence, how is it possible that Reason comes to supplement that fullness? And indeed is not Reason itself always already that full presence? Yet can Reason substitute for Nature? Is Nature not already a result of the movement of Reason, as Hegel has shown? And so on. This structure, indeed the function or, more precisely, the “play of the supplement” (that principle of repetition itself) repeats. It is not only the formation of form itself, as Derrida has shown, but is also the “informing of itself”—that formula which opens itself to non-formalization yet also to a very particular form of formalization. The paradox here is that what we have uncovered in the “play of the supplement” seems to be essentially that “play” which allows for the constitution of the concept as such. Is the concept not the house of an interminable opposition of forces, which although never equal never allow for neither the absolute death of one nor therefore the absolute life of the other? The enslaving of the one side by the other for the sake of “presentation,” in order to constitute an origin as if radically originary, and thus the hidden dimension behind and within all presence makes itself felt over time. Since it is “over time” that the Master will be overcome by the slave which “officially” at least, does not, properly speaking, exist. We already know the structure of this dependency is essential to the Master as such, for Hegel. But for Derrida, it seems we have returned to this same notion of the concept, although via the detour, via the absence, via the slave, via that illegitimate contradiction which can never be radically overcome. As he says:
Something promises itself as it escapes, gives itself as it moves away and strictly speaking it cannot even be called presence. Such is the constraint of the supplement, such exceeding all the languages of metaphysics, is this structure almost inconceivable to Reason.26
Indeed it is the structure that allows for the constitution of Reason as such. It is the phenomenology and the non-phenomenology of Geist. It is indeed that structure which can never be made “present” to “consciousness” and thus never ultimately phenomenogical. It is only almost inconceivable to Reason in this context, rather than totally inconceivable, since, as we have shown, there is always a trace of the “play of the supplement” left or to be found in each text. It is never totally effaced, nor totally presentable of course. It is illegitimate, but not absent as such.
More precisely the “play of the supplement” for Derrida, as it allows for textuality as such, performs a certain dance or a certain mockery with the concepts of Reason. It oscillates back and forth between oppositions, never resting long within the arms of any one in particular. As we have shown, the “play of the supplement,” as dance, is what Nietzsche has called the “dance of the pen” (which Derrida notes one can only do while sitting down). The walk, as teleologically oriented, is reserved for the philosopher, but the repose of the seated writer is one that, as we know, is not a leisure. The “dance of the pen” is that participation in writing by a writer which draws him/her into the realm of madness. The process of inscription itself, we suggest, (which would not be surprising at this point) is a process of madness itself. Perhaps the “play of the supplement” could be considered the structure of madness. That double bind which paralyzes all movement. Yet, with an absolute double bind and with an absolute madness, one could not write; indeed any form of inscription would be impossible. Instead the writing of writing or the textuality of the text participates in madness, but always and necessarily so, ends up on the side of Reason. The text is always ultimately in the form of a book, although, as we should recall, it is never totally captured therein. The reduction of a text to the book should be tempered therefore with the recognition of what Derrida calls the difference between “the book and the book” with which we began this analysis. That difference is possible only because of différance, or more precisely, because of the “maddening play of the supplement”:
The supplement is maddening because it is neither presence nor absence and because it consequently breaches both our pleasure and our virginity.27
It is not for nothing, therefore, that Derrida speaks, albeit metaphorically, of the “play of the supplement” as having a not dissimilar structure and function to that of the hymen.28 Thus we must enter into the social and political dimensions of such a structure.
(ii) The Social and Political Dimensions
The child will know how to speak when one form of his unease can be substituted for another; then he will be able to slip from one language to another, slide one sign under the other, play with the signifying substance; he will enter into the order of the supplement, here determined (with Rousseau) as the human order: he will no longer weep, he will know how to say, “I hurt” [my emphasis].29
With the “play of supplementarity,” one shifts therefore from the “pleasure principle to the reality principle,” from the order of Nature to that of Reason, from animality to humanity, and from a certain impotence of immediacy to the potency of being-at-a-distance; indeed to being in society as such. The child, although inscribed at birth into the order of Reason by being properly named (usually), does not, Derrida claims, enter into “the order of the supplement” until he knows how to “no longer weep” but instead how to say “I hurt.” Thus the repression and conversion of the immediate and the incommunicable, meaningless feelings (in this case) and the transformation of the child into a “human being” as such—a member of the society and civilization as such. One does not begin therefore in the “order of the supplement,” but rather one enters into it at the instant one enters into language. The speech of the child, once uttered, severs him radically from that original “animality.” Yet Derrida insists:
Without childhood, no supplement would even appear in Nature. The supplement is here both humanity’s good fortune, and the origin of its perversion. The health of the human race....30
The notion of an “originally good Nature,” as in Rousseau, is not that to which Derrida is referring us here. It is rather a “nature” prior to good and evil, where the “innocence” and incapacities of the child make themselves felt and society comes to its aid. Society responds, in short, to the child when it is able to say “I hurt.” It cannot not respond. The cry instead can be overlooked, misunderstood, overheard, submerged, and it falls victim ultimately to its own incomprehensibility. As we have shown, meaning is for Derrida ultimately a collective affair. The meaningless of the supposed full presence of innocent childhood thus makes its irony felt as we realize the “play of the supplement” here. But also, ironically, it seems that the “play of the supplement” opens the doors to “the work of Reason” and hence to the conceptuality of metaphysics as such—indeed as the only schema of conceptuality we know. Derrida is well aware of this, as we know:
The supplement will always be the moving of the tongue or acting through the hands of others. In it everything is brought together: progress as the possibility of perversion, regression toward an evil that is not natural and that adheres to the power of substitution that permits us to absent ourselves and act by proxy, through representation, through the hands of others. Through the written. This substitution always has the form of the sign. The scandal is that the sign, the image, or the representer become forces and make ‘the world move’. This scandal is such, and its evil effects are sometimes so irreparable, that the world seems to turn the wrong way [my emphasis].31
Thus Derrida considers “the play of the supplement,” that “power of substitution,” to be the essential opening which allows for the constitution of society as such, yet also that very danger and threat which exposes it to its own destruction. When the “representer” becomes a force of its own, the child attains maturity, only with the structure of a freedom which is always already “beyond good and evil.” The freedom of responsibility necessary to learn that same responsibility is also the freedom of irresponsibility. In terms of society and history as a whole, we thus have the “play of the supplement” as a “play of life and death” as such. Yet as we know, the supplement produces its own antidote, in a certain respect, and sets up its own opposing and therefore limiting force. It is not on the loose here, but rather exhibits a certain restraint, and indeed constraint on itself as such. It is subject to its own law, in short. Thus the “play of the supplement” opens the space of truth and falsity, of rhetoric and logic, of literature and philosophy, and at the same instant, or perhaps a little later, closes it. It is the space of articulation as such. It is thus the space both of the Bible and of Mein Kampf. It is the space of political representation—of democracy and of Divine Right. It is the space of elections and yet also of dictatorship: the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the fascists. The opening of supplementarity as such is, as Derrida says, “of a certain madness,” and hence a certain “non-ethical” opening of ethics. There is thus no conception of an original Fall from the original Good for Derrida here, but rather the notion of an always already double universe—the play of history and society being that of presence and absence which seems in the long run to always be ultimately reciprocal. The problem is that our lives contain an essential finitude and thus the return of the “play of the supplement” may not be seen as it moves “full circle” or full ellipse in our lifetimes. Nevertheless Derrida insists upon a certain economy in the long run:
The logic of the supplement—which is not the logic of identity—allows for the acceleration of evil to find at once its historical compensation and its historical guardrail. History precipitates history, society corrupts society, but the evil that links both in an indefinate chain has its natural supplement as well: History and society produce their own resistance to the abyss [my emphasis].32
It seems that the abyss must mean evil here for Derrida, yet this is not simply the case, we suggest. Rather it is metaphysics as such which has defined evil as the exterior and excluded from the notion of “presence” as the locus of the Good, the true, the evident and ultimately the interior. Yet Derrida insists that evil is to be found within society as such, within history as such and indeed “no where else.” This is not an argument for the retrieval of evil, nor of its propagation, as some33 (whose motives we shall not address here) have suggested concerning Derrida’s work. Instead what he shows here is a notion of society as such and history as such, which are submitted to this law of textuality as such, which he has called the “play of the supplement.” This “logic,” this “rationality,” this “economy” is that which governs the “play of the world” for Derrida, and its hazardous aspect must be recognized. As we shall see in the next section, this is death itself. And this is not the work of the devil, but rather that necessarily never-present “play of the supplement.” Thus the tragic cannot ultimately be separated from the comic, but the reverse is also true.
The domain of Reason as such has always been that of a certain, though limited, violence. Its guardrail has been the “play of the supplement” itself. But this violence of the name and of inscription (as such) into a world whose meaning is governed by the “play of signification,” which kills the pure idiom, which escapes yet is dependent on the “play of forces,” is “not to be outstripped,” Derrida claims. One offers oneself up for the sacrifice at the same instant that one offers one’s son in the ultimate “belief” in a certain truth beyond the immediately present or available one. Indeed the secret is that this is the precondition and unavoidable prescription for all inscription as such. It is the violent rupture that cannot be avoided which opens the path to all reproduction. It is indeed perhaps, as Derrida has suggested, the opening of the hymen itself where that original incest gave way to the birth of what we call society as such. It is thus that Derrida points to that always after-Babel situation of language and indeed the myth of the original tower itself. The transcendental signified is nowhere to be found for Derrida, we should recall. That which opens the possibility of language as such is already that which necessitates the production of speech, indeed writing, of languages as such. There never was and will never be one language, for Derrida. This should be already more than evident at this point. The structure of différance itself denies such a possibility. Yet we have philosophy and thus we have the attempt. It will be thwarted from its own absolute accomplishment, Derrida claims, and thus its own finitude will always be infinitely deferred.
It is not so however for that which we have called here: “the point of orientation” of the system. This point is (a) subject to the law of the supplement, of “play,” as Derrida calls it, yet (b) aims to disrupt the law itself. It is that rupture perhaps which the system (be it metaphysics or the “play of supplementarity” perhaps) as such can never fully comprehend or integrate. It is that opening which allows for repetition but which is not repetition itself. As we have shown, the structure of the “play of the supplement” exhibits itself as play. The supplement supplements, as Derrida says. Thus what is the exorbitant of the exorbitant itself? We must approach the “beyondness” of the “beyond good and evil” aspect of writing or the “play of the supplement,” as we call it here, in order to better portray this “blind spot” in the “play of the supplement” itself.
(iii) The Point of Orientation: Ethics
Society, language, history, articulation, in a word supplementarity, are born at the same time as the prohibition of incest.34
Indeed we would add that the instant before this birth, or indeed the condition of its possibility is the performance of what cannot yet be called incest. It is the end of the virginity of nature and its simultaneous constitution. It is Oedipus once again in bed with his mother who, with the constitution of society as such, becomes his wife. Of course the recognition of the former aspect is always too late. He is always already married to this “double” woman. Indeed it is always woman who received the blame for the duplicity in society. A duplicity Derrida claims, which is intrinsic—its condition of possibility and that which at the same time is capable of threatening it with non-existence. The castration of Reason is not however performed by the woman; it is, as we have shown, Oedipus who performs such a feat, albeit for the sake of, in place of, as a sign for woman herself. Thus Oedipus plays the roles of both Father and son, and of both mother and father. He is essentially therefore asexual—or perhaps bisexual, if this term can still be meaninful for us. Such is the structure of the “non-ethical opening of ethics” for Derrida, we suggest.
As with Nietzsche, Derrida finds himself in a situation which is essentially beyond “good and evil.” He thus speaks of arche-writing as a “writing beyond good and evil.” This is not, however, an abdication from the issue of ethics but rather, as Heidegger and others have shown, a square facing of the issue of this necessarily contemporary problem we call ethics. How can ethics, which was always based on a particular notion of consciousness which we now know to be a “serious” joke (Reason’s), continue to exist? Yet, how can we abandon ethics as such? Neither choice is open to us according to Derrida’s analysis, we suggest. But neither is the option of assuming a certain guilt and a certain tragedy to the “play of the world,” and thus a certain resignation or passivity. We are beyond the metaphysical choice of activity/passivity as well at this juncture. Indeed we have found that that which allows for the constitution of society is a certain vulnerability of the “self,” the child (in us all) to the “demands” of the other—be that a present or absent other. The child is inscribed—like it or not—in society, and it is forced to learn, insofar as it is able, to transform its immediate wants (a) into future desires, and (b) into a scriptural, linguistic form capable first of being spoken, but later and ultimately of being written. The child is, in short, forced to recognize not only the “fort/da” of its mother (or perhaps this relation is more applicable with respect to the father/mother relations respectively to the child) but also of itself It’s own death is what the child must learn to inscribe, in order that it have its own life—in the society as such. This is neither in itself good nor evil, but rather can be made into a good thing or an evil one depending, as we know, on circumstances. Depending precisely on the context, the situation in particular; or particularity as such. As we know, for Derrida, the realm of particularity is that which Reason or language as such cannot describe. Reason speaks only Reason, or more precisely, only the “in general.” The “this here” is always already also the “that there.” The Da is always already most profoundly Fort. It is this that the child must learn. And thus we have arrived again at the “writing” which is necessarily “beyond good and evil.” Thus we have also pointed towards that space within the word, that Abyss within which the subject (a) defines an ethical orientation, but which (b) illustrates the ultimately unethical or evil structure within “ethics” itself, as “ethics itself,” or in general. No ethics in general is any longer possible because, in fact, it was never possible. Ethics as such is always already unethical. The person in general does not exist. “I,” as I speak or write my name, do not therein any longer exist. It is this that it seems to us Derrida’s analysis is pointing towards: that specificity which he names both the sacred and animality. (Animality is, in Derrida’s sense of the term, the non-repeatable and non-representable.) In short, radically exterior to that realm of the supplement. It is thus that the realm of ethics must be shifted to a realm which does not admit of an ethics as such. Ethics, in this situation, we suggest, is intrinsically situated. There is no context in general,35 as Derrida says. The term itself negates its own possibility. That is, it requires for its meaning that it be situated. Thus ethics, as situated, can never be written. In the writing, we not only violate ethics as such, but also require our own death as such. Ethics is not to be based on the martyrdom of Reason, for Derrida, we suggest. Instead the irreducibility of the signifier/signified relation, before the symbol becomes sign, must be the locale of what perhaps we can only term being-ethical. Once inscribed, it becomes its own opposite and necessarily so as we have shown. The “object” of man is no longer an ethical object, by definition. It must be admitted here, however, that Derrida does not write on ethics as such and nowhere has formulated these ideas in any systematic fashion. But we propose that this too is also intrinsic to the situation. Derrida’s work, for the most part, exhibits a profound identity and inextricable complicity of signifier/signified, and such is the case with this issue in particular. Nevertheless a general structure emerges, and it is this “form” of that which is necessarily without form which we have sought to point towards here. We recognize, however, that it is something which can be made neither present or absent, but which opens the space for this play. The latter being the “play of supplementarity,” as we have shown, and the former, we suggest, is the “point of orientation”—that “blind spot,” which even the “play of the supplement” cannot describe. And necessarily so.
(c) The Principle of Death
Heidegger claimed that “... in Dasein there is always something still outstanding, which, as a potentiality-for-Being for Dasein itself, has not yet become actual. It is essential to the basic constitution of Dasein that there is constantly something still to be settled.”36
Freud insisted that “children repeat unpleasurable experiences for the additional reason that they can master a powerful impression far more thoroughly by being active than they could by merely experiencing it passively. Each fresh repetition seems to strengthen the mastery they are in search of.”37 And further: “The manifestations of a compulsion to repeat exhibit to a high degree an instinctual character, and when they act in opposition to the pleasure principle, give the appearance of some ‘daemonic’ force at work.”38
And Derrida claims that “What writing itself, in its nonphonetic moment, betrays, is life. It menaces at once the breath, the spirit, and history as the spirit’s relationship with itself. It is their end, their finitude, their paralysis. Cutting breath short, sterilizing or immobilizing spiritual creation in the repetition of the letter, in the commentary or the exegesis ... it is the principle of death and of difference in the becoming of Being.”39
As we know, that which is “still to be settled” for Dasein will never be actually, and that repetitive attempt to be master of the situation—to control the Fort/Da of life itself—will be forever frustrated as the reality principle necessarily installs itself. But how is it that “writing itself ... betrays life”? How is it to be understood as the “principle of death” which we find in the repetition of the letter, the commentary, or the exegesis? We propose to analyze this fundamental structure of différance for Derrida, first in terms of his relation to Freud and Heidegger on this issue, and second (in each context) as he diverges radically from their positions. Once again we must approach différance, and here in particular the “principle of death,” in an indirect fashion. Aside from its pretentious aspects, it would also be ludicrous to propose an analysis of the “structure of death itself.” As Bataille said: “Concerning death there is evidently nothing to be said.” But concerning our relation to this Abyss—that principle of all principles, perhaps—there is, as we shall explore presently, much to be said. Heidegger’s notion of Dasein’s Being-towards-death shall lead us toward that which is not to be outstripped, that essential structure of “human existence” which no “authentic” theory can overcome (or bury). Eschatology is not allowed in this domain therefore. And with Freud we shall explore that “other” instinct which counteracts Eros—Thanatos itself—as that “compulsion to repeat,” which in appearance seems to be the work of some “daemonic force.” As we have shown previously, Derrida’s work is not an attempt to open the doors to “evil itself” or to justify, rationalize, nor certainly not to welcome that which the Western world has named evil. However, this too is “not-to-be-outstripped,” as we turn towards the “good” of our preference. One is a function of the other, as we shall see, and the doorway which opens us to that which we call good is simultaneously the same one which exposes us to the dangers of evil. Of this aspect Derrida, as we have shown, is well aware. He says: “Writing is the evil of representative repetition, the double that opens desire and contemplates and binds enjoyment. Writing represents (in every sense of the word) enjoyment. It plays enjoyment, renders it present and absent. It is play.”40 We shall return to the play of play as beyond the comic and the tragic, but first a short, but necessary, detour through the “Abyss” for Heidegger, as it relates to that for Derrida.
(i) The “Abyss” for Heidegger
Heidegger’s concern with Dasein is based on an attempt to come to terms with Being as such. Toward this end, he seeks to understand and explicate the “essential structure of Dasein.” This structure includes: a care-structure, the moods, the situatedness of Being-in-the-world, and indeed a certain thrownness therein. But the principle aspect of Dasein’s essence is a certain lack, a certain indebtedness, which is also a certain Abyss intrinsic to its Being-in-the-world. Yet Dasein has a way of concealing its own essential nature from itself in the mode of Beingin-the-world, which Heidegger calls “inauthenticity.” In such a mode (which seems ontologically prior for Heidegger), Dasein does not reflect on death but rather relates to it in terms of “idle chatter”: that speech which says nothing, which clouds, covers up, and effaces the very possibility of thought itself. So Dasein lives inauthentically, yet, in this fashion, does not realize its own potential. This potential, Heidegger claims, is an authentic Being-towards-death—a certain genuine Angst which Dasein realizes in facing the Abyss, which it knows therein it can never know without losing itself as Dasein. Upon entry one pays the price of life itself, and it is thus the inevitable distance Dasein must live with in its authentic relation to death. In short, it must face its own powerlessness in the face of death itself. It reflects on itself therefore most profoundly in facing death, as if facing a mirror which never lies. The truth of Dasein is thus revealed via this pain of death. Indeed it is, as Derrida says, the “death sentence.” Heidegger explains the paradox in the following manner:
The “ending” which we have in view when we speak of death, does not signify Dasein’s Being-at-an-end, but a Being-towards-the-end of this entity. Death is a way to be, which Dasein takes over as soon as it is....41
Any Dasein always exists in just such a manner that its “not yet” belongs to it.42
In addition, for Heidegger, this movement towards authenticity of Dasein, which is its “ownmost potentiality,” is also a movement of isolation, and indeed in isolation. The “idle chatter” of the crowd continues, yet Dasein, in this particular case, absents itself from it. In such a process the individuating factor of death itself becomes evident for Dasein. One dies alone; one faces one’s death alone; and thus the Being-in-the-world which is essential to Dasein is threatened. It is “inthe-world” only for a while, only for a time, only on the condition that this be a finite relation. As Heidegger says concerning this essential authenticity of Dasein:
When it [Dasein] stands before itself in this way, all its relations to any other Dasein have been undone. This ownmost non-relational possibility is at the same instant the uttermost one.43
Dying is essentially mine in such a way that no one can be my representative ... [my emphasis].44
And thus Heidegger returns to a notion of “my proper death,” which is no one else’s, to a certain non-representability of death. No one can “take my place,” and neither can I take someone else’s. We thus approach what Derrida has called différance as the principle of repetition, or representation, and of the non-proper, albeit from the other side.
We should recall that for Derrida there is a point in the signifying chain which nicknames “différance,” for which the signified can never be made present. We have analyzed this point of no return as that point of orientation which is the subject (albeit effaced in Derrida’s position). It is this “point of no return” which we must now face in terms of Heidegger’s exposé, and beyond it in terms of Derrida as such.
Derrida insists that the “master name” in the supplementary series is “death” itself. It is that signifier whose signified is always already denied it. It points toward the beyond itself, and yet paradoxically is that which allows for the constitution of what is here and present as such. As Derrida says:
... the master name of the supplementary series: death. Or rather, for death is nothing, the relationship to death, the anguished anticipation of death. All the possibilities of the supplementary series, which have the relationships of metonymic substitutions among themselves, indirectly name the danger itself, the horizon and source of all determined dangers, the abyss from which all menaces announce themselves [my emphasis].45
A strange name to be sure, for Derrida—the “master” name. But this term too is a name which is not a name; indeed is one which destroys itself. Since the “master name” has no content and can never have, it is the name of the “unnameable” itself, of that which can never be named—essentially. Thus the Abyss here, as represented by death, in turn returns to represent all that is intrinsically unknowable (and thus unnameable). It is that “representation” for all which would menace life itself (death of course being the ultimate menace) and thus is both inside and outside of the representation. In a paradoxical way therefore death is (a) non-representable, yet is (b) the condition for all representation. It is the abyss which allows for repetition, and which kills (menaces) the repeater and the repeated in that same process. But we shall return to this issue in greater detail in terms of Derrida’s relation to Freud. For the moment we must return to the “work of death” or, more precisely, of the “subject’s relation to its own death” and the effects which this brings.
As we know from Heidegger, the result of “facing death” for Dasein was a recognition of an essential aspect of its own Being which it now knows it could never know: a certain painful authenticity, in short. But for Derrida, the relation of the “subject” to its own death is what allows for the “very constitution of its subjectivity”:
As the subject’s relationship to its own death, this becoming is the constitution of subjectivity. On all levels of life’s organization, that is to say, of the economy of death. All graphemes are of a testamentary essence. And the original absence of the subject of writing is also the absence of the thing or the referent.46
Thus the subject, in facing its own death, in short—in writing—therein constitutes his own subjectivity. What this means is that death, as distinct from Heidegger’s view of it as an isolating factor (for Dasein which is not to be identified with the term “subject,” however), is a certain unifying factor. A certain aspect of the self which is shared, and indeed forms the basis of human collectivity. As we know, for Derrida, the subject is not a master, a radical creator (as Nietzsche would insist), but rather always situated within limits, as a result. Consciousness, for Derrida, is a product as we know, an effect, in short, of the play of différance; and thus is intrinsically collective, as is meaning, its vehicle. Thus, in a certain respect, death as a principle—indeed the principle of writing itself (although it absents the subject and object as such) is also that very element which allows for their constitution. It allows for that writing which is à la fois the becoming conscious and unconscious of the subject—the making present and absent of the object. The “original absence” of which he speaks here is simply the recognition of that which earlier we spoke of as the “radical inauguration” that characterizes writing. The act of writing being, in a certain respect, always “behind the back” of the “subject” who writes and the “object” written about. Writing, as we know, is the condition of their possibility in any meaningful way. Thus writing gives birth to meaning, but also, and necessarily so, Derrida claims, menaces it with death. This relation to death is a function of that principle of repetition we spoke of earlier and must now return to, via Freud and what he refers to as the “death instinct” or Thanatos.
(ii) Freud and the Principle of Life and Death
Freud was never convinced that a “death instinct” actually exists, but he did propose several hypotheses on the matter, which we shall attempt to explore here. He suggested that all organic matter (life in all its forms) was perhaps originally inorganic and that it strove during the span of its life to return to that earlier state. It was this “striving to return” which Freud defined as the nature of instincts in general. As he says, an instinct is
... an urge inherent in organic life to restore an earlier state of things.... an expression of the inertia inherent in organic life.... an expression of the conservative nature of living substance [my emphasis].47
Thus life seeks to make life easier for itself—in short, to die. The aim of life is thus, in a peculiar way, death. But we have an additional force at work here that opposes itself to this “will to death,” a force which is called the life instinct, the sexual instincts, and later Eros itself. This is not reducible to the pleasure principle, however, but instead is radically opposed to it. Thus the life instincts divide into two aspects: (i) the pleasure principle, always deferred and mediated by (ii) the reality principle—the repression and deferral of the former. The reality principle is thus not the same as the death instinct, although not dissimilar, as Derrida has shown.48 But first this detour that is life, for Freud, exhibits in its inertia, in its “compulsion to repeat,” that same “death instinct” of which we spoke earlier. The paradox here is that the “compulsion to repeat” which characterizes the death instinct is also the same principle which characterizes the life instinct and allows the subject to “master the situation” and to become no longer a passive victim of the fort/da of life, but rather its active producer. It is thus via the principle of repetition itself that the life and death instincts in Freud are manifested as two opposing forces. The common force itself, at once Erotic and Daemonic, is that compulsion to repeat, which simultaneously saves us from death—for the moment—and condemns us to it ultimately.
Thus Derrida parts company with Freud. This principle of repetition Freud speaks of is precisely the “principle of death” for Derrida. But, as we have shown, for the latter “life [is] death deferred.” Just as all metaphysical oppositions turn into their opposites over time and space which is writing, so too life becomes death for Derrida. But can one say that death becomes life (also as Derrida’s “logic” here seems to suggest)? Indeed we have already said it—death is that which allows for the constitution of subject and object. But how is this possible, since it seems to destroy them at the same instant? For Derrida, we should recall, there is a certain spacing involved in the notion of différance which requires a certain time and indeed timing as such. All does not occur in the blink of an eye nor in the “moment of vision” that opens the way to Heidegger’s authenticity. Indeed the “principle of repetition” which death represents can also be called the principle of imitation: that repetition crucial to all learning, and yet that which kills all originality. In terms of art, Derrida thus explains this notion:
Imitation is ... at the same time the life and death of art. Art and death, art and its death are comprised in the space of alteration of the originary iteration; of repetition, reproduction, representation; or also in space as the possibility of iteration and the exit from life placed outside of itself.49
Thus we find that (a) one can never, properly speaking, repeat, reproduce, or represent anything at all; yet (b) one always only repeats, represents, and reproduces. The “origin,” as we have shown, is a result of this process and not, radically or precisely speaking, an origin or foundation. This is also the case with the “principle of death.” It is the end as telos of all life, yet is never directly aimed towards, can never be directly faced, and is always approached in the detour which is time and space of history itself. Life’s history. A finite history, as Hegel among others, has shown. Thus death upsets the circle of totality which would complete man, which would allow him to “settle things,” and to master the “compulsion to repeat” itself. It is death that is the model for the fundamentally non-closable opening, and thus for all openings as such. It is that which opens man, Dasein, or the subject to its own otherness, which can never be named as such, never be included in a system called “knowledge,” and never be controled by its other principle called Eros. As Derrida says it “opens the space of calculation, of grammaticality, of the rational science of intervals (those differences we call identities as such) and those ‘rules of imitation’, that are fatal to energy.”50
The law is always, for Derrida, a function of writing and is thus always already condemned to its own death. In the end, as we shall see, writing is unfaithful to itself and indeed kills itself. This is its principle, which we shall see it remains ultimately faithful to in its unfaithfulness. (Perhaps these categories too have exhausted their usefulness in this context.) This paradox of writing is thus, as the “principle of death,” that it must (a) include itself as its first and last victim, yet (b) therein vindicate itself as correct, except, as Derrida says, “we will have arrived at a knowledge which can no longer go by that name.” The danger is therefore:
The supplement transgresses and at the same time respects the interdict. This is what also permits writing as the supplement of speech, but already also the spoken word as writing in general. Its economy exposes and protects us at the same time according to the play of forces and of the differences of forces. Thus the supplement is dangerous in that it threatens us with death [my emphasis].51
And thus we inscribe our own death with each movement of the pen. The subject which no longer needs to exist, (and so a fortiori for the object) is thus reduced. It abdicates and decenters itself in the act of writing, and, as we know, all acts are ultimately constituted, authorized (and hence unauthorized) by writing itself. Since writing is ultimately the “principle of death,” it is also ultimately perhaps unknowable as such. But the “as such” structure of knowledge is precisely what is in question here. And thus it is that the “principle of death” opens the circularity of “knowledge” and “names” as such. That always “unknowable” is what for Kant, we should recall, allowed for the knowable. The noumenal realm seems thus to be reinstated in Derrida’s analysis as not a simple “out there” of space itself, as metaphysics would have it, but rather as the intimate relation of the “subject” to spacing itself as it simultaneously constitutes and is constituted by that which we will now refer to as timing or temporalization itself. This is also what Derrida will call spacing, as involving more precisely the spatialization of time itself. These are not a priori intuitions, however, as they were for Kant, but rather the conditions of the possibility of the a priori itself. We shall thus examine this aspect of différance for Derrida as it necessarily defies the formulation of “a new transcendental aesthetic.”
Derrida opens the possibility of a new transcendental aesthetic in terms of his notion of différance, yet closes it again on the same page.52 As we know, différance is for him the space of inscription, or articulation, of meaning, of form, and thus forms the condition of the possibility of the spatiality of space and, at the same instant, the temporality of time. Kant was forced to submit to the “forms of space and time as such” as a priori conditions of the possibility of experience in general. The experience of the “out there” was always already “in space,” and of the “in here” for “the subject,” as the “transcendental unity of apperception,” was always already “in time.” His deduction in the transcendental aesthetic briefly runs as follows. He attempts to isolate, from the concepts of the understanding, those pure a priori intuitions which always necessarily inhabit our experience. As he says:
In the transcendental aesthetic we shall, therefore, first isolate sensibility by taking away from it everything which the understanding thinks through its concepts, so that nothing may be left save empirical intuition. Secondly we shall also separate off from it everything which belongs to sensation, so that nothing may remain save pure intuition and the mere form of appearances, which is all that sensibility can supply a priori [my emphasis].53
Thus Kant seems to move by a method of subtraction and ever-increasing isolation of parts from the mixture of sensibility with the understanding—that which he calls knowledge—to a realm of empirical intuition as such, which is then “reduced” (via the bracketing procedure) to pure intuitions which he says take the form of “the mere form of appearances, which is all that sensibility can supply a priori.” We know from Hegel’s critique of precisely this process that what Kant forgot systematically throughout this procedure was his metaphysical (indeed borrowed from the understanding itself) notion of form as such. The form is not lost as one proceeds by subtraction to arrive at those “pure a priori intuitions.” It is rather presupposed and indeed cannot be left behind, in order to follow Kant here. The notion of form seems therein to transcend both categories of “sensibility”—either empirical or pure—and of the “understanding” itself (wherein we know it has its proper place as well.) Thus Hegel reproaches Kant for imposing and indeed presupposing a certain form (of form itself) on his findings, such that his results are always already preformulated. He can arrive nowhere but where he began. That the “force” of the “understanding” is precisely this escape from its conscious reduction was what initiated our excursion beyond the realm of language as such for Derrida and toward that realm of force as such which can never be informed without also being at once excluded and yet also always inadequately represented. Kant called it the realm of the dangerous, the awesome, and the sublime.54 But not the realm of the origin of space and time, which, as we shall see, is precisely where Derrida advances beyond the possibility of a new transcendental aesthetics.
On the one hand he claims:
A new transcendental aesthetic must let itself be guided not only by mathematical idealities but by the possibility of inscriptions in general, not befalling an already constituted space as a contingent accident, but producing the spatiality of space.55
Thus we cannot admit to the non-possibility of “mathematical idealities” since indeed we do have them, by some means. Yet the notion of the mathematical ideality as a model, or indeed as the model par excellence for the production of idealities in general—Hamlet, for instance—must be rethought, Derrida suggests. As we know, for Husserl as well, there was a transcendental realm, beyond experience as such, which admitted of a certain ontological structure which therein allowed for the constitution, not only of geometry and such like forms, but also of a life-world and all its various dimensions not reducible to mathematical form. In addition, as we know, Husserl focused on the role of writing, in particular with respect to the “origin of geometry,” as an essential element in its constitution as an “object for anyone, at any time,” indeed as an ideal object. Yet Husserl also insisted that all “worldly representations” of ideal objects could be destroyed in fact, empirically, and this would or could change nothing with respect to the essential ideality of those same ideal objects. They were thus (a) dependent upon writing for their constitution within intersubjective time and space, yet (b) once constituted as such became radically independent of that same form which once served to house them. Thus the “origin” of the origin is effaced, Derrida claims. But first, he recognizes the important shift made by Husserl which advances from Kant’s transcendental aesthetics to a realm of transcendental kinesthetics:
The Husserlian project not only put all objective space of science within parentheses, it had to articulate aesthetics upon a transcendental kinesthetics [my emphasis].56
Yet, in spite of the movement of consciousness in the constitution of temporality as such, which thus opens the possibility of spatiality as such (also a Kantian priority of time over space, of interior over exterior, and ultimately of subject over object), Husserl eventually had recourse to the metaphysical notion of the present (the time of all evidence) as always a combination of present past and a present future that would thus produce the present as such. This is, as we have shown, not radical enough for Derrida, since the “abyss,” that inner space, or spacing, which allows for the constitution of temporality as such, in Husserl’s sense, is still effaced in this process. That same spacing, or spatiality, is collapsed within the ultimately dominating form of the present. Just as Kant used form both prior to his “reduction” to the “pure forms of intuition a priori” and indeed in the latter formulation, so does Husserl begin and end with the notion of a present that is purely and simply the essence of consciousness. Nothing escapes it (that is of any importance) Fink tells us.57 That which is unconscious has no place in transcendental phenomenology. Indeed it plays no part, therefore, in the formulation and indeed preformulation of science, truth, knowledge, or evidence itself. Derrida does not agree, as we have shown. That which can never (in the past or the future) enter consciousness as such is precisely that which allows for its constitution as such. It is, in short, the “structural necessity of the abyss.”
We thus move beyond Kant, Husserl and Hegel in this domain and turn to Derrida’s claims as such.
Origin of the experience of space and time, this writing of différance, this fabric of the trace, permits the difference between space and time to be articulated, to appear as such, in the unity of an experience (of a “same” lived out of a “same” body proper [my emphasis].58
As we know, différance is that movement (a) which allows for the formation of form itself, and (b) which will eventually overturn and unravel that same production. Différance, in short, is always on the move and does not come to a halt once something is produced. And as we know, différance is, in a profound way, an “unauthorized” movement—without plan, without design, without motive. Yet it is “that force which forces force”—the “force of preference” itself. Thus we have space and time as such conceived here as results of this productive process. We experience the “effects” and “results” of différance, and these are precisely those “forms of all intuitions” which Kant described. But they seem to betray a certain commonality of root in Derrida’s analysis, and it is this which we must explore more fully now.
For Derrida there is a certain spacing intrinsic to all articulation. He insists that spatiality as such is (a) a result of différance, yet also (b) its fundamental opening as such. The movement of différance is, in short, both the collapsing of spatiality into moments of identity, ideality, or the “sameness” we call an object, or Heidegger called a clearing, and the opening of spatiality within all ideality, which leads it to its own “overcoming” or unravelling. The “first” movement here is the production of the possibility of meaning as such for Derrida. It is the realm of the “differences” between “full” terms, wherein the space gives both à la fois a certain contextual significance. Thus Derrida says:
It is the systematic play of differences, the traces of differences, of spacing by which the elements relate to one another. This spacing is the production, simultaneously active and passive—of the spaces without which the ‘full’ terms would not signify. This is also the becoming-space of the spoken chain that one calls temporal and linear; becoming-space makes writing possible and all correspondence between speech and writing, all passage from one to the other [my emphasis].59
Thus the spacing which is the work/play and effect of différance allows for the moments of meaning we call speech and writing as such. Evidently one cannot write or speak the totality of one’s message within the “instant” or the “blink of an eye” as such. Evidently one cannot and does not run all of one’s words together in speech or in writing to form one single term. Evidently one does not write one letter on top of another in the process of writing or enunciate all letters of a word at once in the process of speaking. The time it takes to enunciate, to articulate, in either form, is the process of spacing which is irreducible within the production of meaning itself. This may seem to be a trivial point, but with the notion of spacing also comes that of context and the difficulties which must ensue in terms of a spatio-temporal demarcation of the latter. Where does a context begin or end? Derrida will say always—in context. Quite simply, the notion of context as such cannot and indeed does not exist. There is no such thing as a context-in-general, by definition. Yet the term exists as such. So one must define context as such always according to the context.60 The text-context relation here shall illustrate that movement of différance Derrida terms habitation—that inscription in general which is always already situated, although indeed paradoxically. As Derrida says:
Indeed we speak of inscription in general, in order to make it quite clear that it is not simply the notation of a prepared speech representing itself, but inscription within speech and inscription as habitation always already situated [my emphasis].61
But what could inscription as habitation entail here in this context? Precisely, we suggest, the question of context itself. As is well known and generally all too flippantly expressed, the meaning of a term is (largely) determined by its context. For Derrida it is not possible to decontextualize a term and save its meaning as such. Indeed to “free” a concept, an ideality, of its chains of inscription—the ‘sound-image’ as such. As we have shown, the signifier and signified are thus, for Derrida, inextricably intertwined. The “becoming-sign of the symbol” is never complete, and thus the radical separation (of signifier and signified) as the “transcendental signified” can never, for language, ever be more than an Idea in the Kantian sense—and perhaps should be left external to our discussion here, which is not “moving in that direction” as its telos. Thus the situation of inscription is that “chain of signifiers” which always already entail a certain chain of signifieds and thus a texture, a “fabric” (as Derrida says) of signification. The removal of one thread would destroy the entire tapestry of course, to pursue the metaphor slightly further. But the notion of context seems to be even more precisely situated than this general demarcation. Indeed it is for Derrida. The opening of a text, in particular, and the usage of a particular term always already situate that term in that time and space of the text. If, as is usually the case, the “same term” (which is by definition an impossibility for Derrida) appears later in the time/space of the text, one can be sure that its meaning is no longer the “same” as before. In this sense one can never repeat the “same thing” for Derrida. It is always already otherwise. What we have in the “second instance” of the “same term” is, more precisely speaking, an “exact homonym”; indeed a word that may sound and look the same, but whose meaning is radically altered due to contextual shifting, indeed due to the play of différance itself. Thus one might be tempted to suggest that there is perhaps a notion of a transcendental signifier in Derrida’s position, such that the meaning—the signified aspect of a term—may alter but its form, but not its body. Perhaps. But the point here is that: (i) the notion of context is contextually determined itself and cannot be discussed in general, except in negative terms; and (ii) the play of différance at once constitutes the context of a term and therein its meaning, and also shifts that same context so as to therein already alter and defer its meaning as such. Derrida has given us sufficient examples of this process through his deconstructive practices. We might consider Husserl and the notion of the living present as it is undercut yet sustained by his later notion of internal time consciousness and that “unnameable movement”; we might consider Condillac and “good and bad” metaphysics; we might consider Plato and “good and bad” writing; we might consider Hegel and the simultaneous constitution and unravelling (which he effaced from himself) of the Concept; we might look at Heidegger and his simultaneous adherence to and attempts to destroy metaphysics as such; and we might finally consider Derrida himself.
For the latter, as we know, “writing denounces itself.” Writing or différance, as that movement of spatiality and temporality itself, makes repetition (a) impossible as we have shown, yet (b) also all that we ever have. Of course repetition is therein used in two different senses of the term; indeed it is perhaps always already more than one term.
We thus turn toward the notion of writing, for Derrida, which, as we have shown, he uses interchangeably with trace, arche-writing, reserve, the play of the supplement, the movement of différance, and so on. He also slides, it seems to us, back and forth from the term writing as “this inscription here” to a notion of writing as inscription anywhere and at any time: indeed as he says, inscription in general. His justification of such a move is to show that he is referring to a “sort of writing” which is also prior to “speech” as such and which is not a representative thereof but which radically originates that same possibility. Yet, he claims that writing (in general) is the “articulation of the living on the non-living”; it marks the “dead time” within the present that was always already there.
We suggest that “writing” in this double role for Derrida is more than simply an innocent metaphor; in fact this duplicity is essential to its usage. And further, we suggest that “writing” is not severable from its “original” context as written inscription; indeed this “borrowing” allows for the constitution of a model which is then transplanted from the “empirical” plane of this writing here to one which can only be considered, if not metaphysical (inscription as such), at least, in the sense that Kant used the term—transcendental. Writing as différance, in its ontological role, thus appears to us much in the way that “form” appeared to Hegel when he read Kant on the “forms of a priori intuitions.” Derrida seems thus to transplant the form of writing in particular out of its particularity into a realm of the in general, where it not only sustains the same form but, in taking on a transcendental character (beyond empirical intuition as such), it returns to organize and preformulate all experience as within that same form. Derrida seems to acknowledge this transcendental aspect of his “theory” when he refers to the “originally non-intelligible sphere” which he calls that of writing, indeed arche-writing, the intelligibility of which “remains to be seen,” just as Kant’s “a priori forms of intuition” extend beyond knowledge as such to a realm which organizes the conditions of its possibility.
Derrida formulates his position in the following manner, with respect to what could only be called an “arche-reading” that would parallel and yet transform “arche-writing”:
The space of writing is thus not an originarily intelligible space. It begins to become so from the origin, that is to say from the moment when writing, like all the work of signs, produces repetition and therefore ideality in that space. If one calls reading that moment which comes directly to double that originary writing, one may say that the space of pure reading is always already intelligible, that of pure writing always still sensible [my emphasis].62
Is not the “reading” which is that “moment which comes directly to double that originary writing” precisely that which we (and Derrida also, we suggest) call metaphysics itself? We should recall that we began, in our search for Derrida’s différance, with the opening of the possibility of a “double universe,” that movement from the “circle” of metaphysics (with one sun) to the “exorbitant” orbit of différance, “which comes directly to double” that origin—which Derrida claims is not an origin (pure and simple). One might justifiably ask where are we at this juncture? Have we returned to a space, indeed the movement which produces spatiality itself, and indeed therefore the movement which would allow for, account for, and open the possibility of not one universe, but two? It would seem so. That second universe was first shown to be the realm of différance itself, the realm of the “still sensible,” in Kant’s sense of the term, which we have paradoxically shown exists also at the highest of transcendental heights. Yet now we arrive at “another” formulation of a “second universe” which is that space of “reading” which makes intelligible, indeed formulates, informs, articulates the first “only sensible,” although more “original” universe. This space of reading as always a posteriori to that space of writing seems to be a slight paradox, however, in terms of that which we formerly addressed as the “second universe.” More precisely, have not these terms been inverted in this second usage as compared with the first? Indeed. And necessarily so. If we have explicated anything at all concerning the movement of différance for Derrida, it should have been at least the necessity of this inversion. Although we insisted that the “inverted world” of which Hegel spoke with reference to Kant was not simply reducible to the realm of différance for Derrida, it should now be clear why Derrida’s position can “no more be severed from this notion than be reduced to it.” Derrida, it should be recalled, situated his own work in the same way with respect to Husserl’s phenomenology. We suggest it might be more appropriately situated with reference to what Hegel called “Force and the Understanding.” Although not therein reducible to force as such, différance, as we have shown, is not dissimilar to it. The “play of the double universe” is itself both a movement of force and a movement of play, we insist therefore. Since one sun is that of metaphysics, and the other is that of différance—or is it not perhaps the moon of which Derrida speaks, which has no light of its own, which has the power of eclipsing the sun periodically, and which lights that part of the world which the sun by its absence cannot reach—do we not have two forces at work here? Hegel would say yes, and we know the immediate result of such a formulation. Names in this case mean everything. Perhaps it is thus that différance has no proper name and exceeds all conceptualizing as such, yet can it therein exceed all transcendental formulation of the same? We have suggested that it cannot.
But if we have gone “full ellipse” in this process in the explication of différance to show that it is (a) precisely what it claims it is not, yet also (b) is not precisely that which it claims to be, have we not therein established both the existence and non-existence of différance as such? Has Derrida said anything else? It was he who from the beginning claimed (a) différance does not exist; (b) it has no proper name; and (c) it cannot be said as such. “We can only point towards it with a silent movement of the finger.” We would add only one thing in this context, and this concerns that “other hand” which Derrida spoke of in our opening citation. Perhaps now when we re-read this “same” piece of writing, its meaning will have changed for us. Perhaps this time that “other hand” will present itself for us. If it does, it will surely be the result of nothing but the uncanny movement of différance itself. If it does not—what more can be said?
The future is not a future present, yesterday is not a past present. That which is beyond the closure of the book is neither to be awaited nor refound. It is there, but out there—beyond—within repetition but eluding us there. It is there like the shadow of the book, the third between two hands holding the book, the différance in the now of writing, the movement between the book and the book, this other hand ... [my emphasis].63