Sunday, October 30, 2011

Derrida's "Typewriter Ribbon Limited Ink (2)

Derrida’s text sends me, machine-like, metonymically (?), to re-read and re-think previous texts of his and of others. For example, Frederic Jameson, in Postmodernism, writes,

For the moment, however, it is enough to signal the operative presence in DeMan’s texts of older categories [my emphasis] like ‘fiction’ or ‘irony’, which the Derridean text does not seem particularly to respect or acknowledge. Derrida’s interest (to summarize it overhastily) bears not on the fictionality of the ‘experience’ of the past that Rousseau’s account seems to presuppose but on the internal contradictions of his formulations” (226).

Jameson reads DeMan’s text, as I have mentioned in previous blog posts, as a kind of aufhebung of the primacy of the aesthetic rather than its erasure: “it is certain that DeMan’s form of deconstruction can be seen as a last-minute rescue operation and a salvaging of the aesthetic” (251). For Jameson, this is DeMan’s insistence on reading, an action that Jameson sees as a way to erase larger social, historical, and political contexts. Jameson sees “reading” as that saving gesture of the aesthetic—a seemingly outdated process (which Jameson prefers to replace with “transcoding”) that he puts in quotation marks (we are getting closer to the Derridean text). Jameson argues that DeMan covers up his politics with this “reading.”

Perhaps Jameson has refused to “read” de Man’s (and Derrida’s) text. Jameson really does not “need” DeMan’s text as much as Derrida argues that he “needed Paul de Man [. . .] in order to show [. . .] that he had no need of Rousseau in order to show and to demonstrate, himself, what he thought he ought to confide in us” (358). As Derrida points out, Rousseau is used as an example to show what de Man believes is true of writing and texts in general.

Derrida characterizes this trait as a text’s “materiality without matter” (Derrida 352). Materiality is the mechanical aspect of a text that resists being appropriated. Perhaps we could understand this “materiality” as that which makes the text both possible and impossible to read (to be read completely, to have ‘the last word’). The materiality of the Derridean text is what allows me to think each and every time I encounter another, “he discusses this in this text and this text and this text” and which poses the question: did he say it “differently” in that text? Should I go back and re-read those texts? Do I have the time?

The materiality is also that which can be mutilated or destroyed. Derrida’s notion of the text is not ideal—it is always already threatened with mutilation or a break in its integrity. Derrida points to a few places that de Man’s text is subject to a mechanical materiality. For example, de Man decides not to include two words of part of Rousseau’s text: “Why does he cut the sentence, mutilating it or dismembering it in this way, and in such an apparently arbitrary fashion? Why does he amputate two of its little words before the period: ‘quite old,’ déjà vieux’” (Derrida 318). Are these omissions as significant as the larger omissions of paragraphs that de Man cuts so that he may say, in a footnote, that “nothing in the text suggests a concatenation that would allow one to substitute Marion for Mme de Vercellis in a scene of rejection” (de Man qtd. in Derrida 296). Derrida asks how is it that de Man can see this, if it not there? It is obviously not merely nothing. Derrida seems to use such instances as a way to read de Man like de Man is reading Rousseau; Just as de Man claims Rousseau excuses and confesses, Derrida claims de Man makes similar performative gestures. Just as de Man claims Rousseau did not include “precisely stories that narrate mutilations, or, in the metaphor of the text as body, suppressions,” which would threaten the integrity of the text, so Derrida shows that de Man’s own omissions, revealed in footnotes, asides, and mechanical and arbitrary omissions, threaten the integrity of de Man’s own argument—his own text! De Man argues—no, there is nothing in the text that can suggest this association—he closes off reading (something that de Man surely would never “want” to do—but then again, remember, this is mechanical, it is not “unconscious” and has nothing to do with desire—it is merely an event, something that happens, mechanically, arbitrarily). De Man’s insights apply to his own text and Derrida brilliantly brings this out. It is as if one were to say, “ho, wait there, there is nothing in Shelly’s Triumph of Life that could ever have anything to do with Blanchot’s Death Sentence.” But indeed, Derrida has shown that these texts can “love each other.”

But this is not a “failure” of the text—this omission, mutilation, precariousness, perhaps, dare I say, materiality of de Man’s and Derrida’s texts are what make of them textual events. Or, to use de Man’s language, textual events are like  [following Derrida’s emphasis] l’ouevre—works—works in the sense of material work and work as performance, work as act. And here we need to re-read a passage cited above (never, never can I get to the last word). Derrida writes that he “needed de Man” to show that de Man did not “need” Rousseau. But this must be tongue and cheek on Derrida’s part, right? Such would be a pure performative and not an event, not a work. But then again, perhaps we should note that there was nothing essential about Rousseau’s text. Derrida is saying that, like Rousseau with Marion, used the first object presented to him.

Apropos of the previous reflections, is there a meaningful difference between the claims about the ‘work’ in “Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink” and those claimed for Heidegger’s Sein und Zeit in Aporias? Or what about the claim about work in “University without Condition.” Derrida writes in Aporias:

In order to welcome into thought and into history such a ‘work’, the event has to be thought otherwise. Being and Time would belong neither to science, nor to philosophy, nor to poetics. Such is perhaps the case for every work worthy of its name; there, what puts thinking into operation exceeds its own borders or what thinking itself intends to present of these borders. The work exceeds itself. (32)

Does the work of de Man “exceed” its own borders? Is this characteristic of texts “in general?”

If this is the case, how can we say, along with Jameson, that the Derridean text excludes such “old categories,” like an “old ribbon,” too old, worn out, dried up and out of ink bound to an outmoded typewriter, textual machine?

Furthermore, if the “materiality” of the de Manian (and, can we extend this to the Derridean?) text is not “matter” than what does that say about the relationship between the bugs in amber and de Man’s text in relation to the arche-fossil? What is the relationship between “realism” (QM) and “materiality” if there is any at all? 

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