Protocol #5

Seminar - October 25, 2004

CLT 601: Deconstruction and Criticism

Prof. Silverman

Sergey Toymentsev




Derrida's Truth in Painting

1. Passe-Partout

2. Parergon

3. Restitutions


1. Passe-Partout


Passe-Partout - movable structure that links/separates the two: painting and frame (" Between the outside and the inside, between the external and the internal edge-line, the framer and the framed, the figure and the ground, form and content, signifier and signifiered, and so on for any two-faced opposion." (12, emphases in original)) It functions as match. Literal translation: "passing everywhere." Derrida refers to the usual meaning of the passe-partout: "master key," "a password to all doors." (ibid.)  In Truth in Painting, the passe-partout may be seen as the "key" for the four essays. However, Derrida insists on the in-between structural specificity of the passe-partout, rather on its ability to "decipher all texts and keep their chains under surveilance." (ibid.)


 Truth in Painting opens with the words:


Someone, not me, comes and says the words: "I am interested in the idiom of painting." (1)


Thus, from the outset the identity of the narrator is already displaced.  Further:


As he comes and has just come, the frame is missing, the edges of any contexts are open out wide.(ibid.)


Missing frame/context (in the work of art) is the major problematic of Truth in Painting. 


2. Parergon


Derrida illustrates the problem of situating the frame of the artwork by invoking Kant's distinction between the Greek terms ergon, or 'work', and parergon, or 'outside the work'.  Derrida translates parergon as "accessory, foreign or secondary object," "supplement," "aside," "remainder." "It is what the principal subject must not become". (54) Therefore, the integrity of the ergon depends on the essential secondariness of the parergon, on its suplementarity. In this chapter, Derrida discusses the problematic nature of Kant's theory of the aesthetic judgment.


3. Restitutions


One of the epigraphs to this essay is Cezanne's phrase from his letter to Emile Bernard (10/23/1905):


I owe you the truth in painting and I will tell it to you. (255)


The question of debt and truth, or truth as debt, is central In "Restitutions." "Restitutions of the truth in pointing," or pointure (shoe's size), is based on Derrida's cross-reading of Heidegger's essay  "On the Origin of the Work of Art" (1945) and Meyer Shapiro's "The Still Life as a Personal Object - A Note on Heidegger and van Gogh" (1968). The title points to the struggle for truth via restitution of it within the "proper" frame.

In his disscusion of the essence of the thing and work,Heidegger includes the description of one of van Gogh's painting of shoes, which is as follows:


As long we only imagine a pair of shoes in general, or simply look at them empty, unused as they merely stand there in the picture, we shall never discover what the equipmental being of the equipment in truth is. From Van Gogh's painting we cannot even tell where these shoes stand. There is nothing sorrounding this pair of peasant shoes in or to which they might belong - only an undefined space... A pair of peasant shoes and nothing more. And yet---

....In the shoes vibrates the silent call of the earth, its quiet gift of the ripening grain and its unexplained self-refusal in the fallow desolation of the wintry field. This equipment is pervaded by uncomplaining anxiety as to the certainty of bread, the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending childbed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. This equipment belongs to the earth, and it is protected in the world of the peasant woman. From out of this protected belonging the equipment itself rises to its resting-within-itself. (33-4, emphases in original.)


Heidegger is not interested in van Gogh's painting as the work of art; rather, his primary concern is truth which is narrateted/created by/in the painting. Heidegger invokes van Gogh's painting following the procedure of the hermeneutic circle.That is, truth is revealed/disclosed by art, while the essence of art can be derived from the art work; what the work is can be learned only from the essence of art. Thus, Heidegger's hermeneutic circle consists in three parts: truth, art, artwork. Van Gogh's painting helps Heidegger distinguish the work of art from the mere thing: the painting expresses the being or essence of a peasant women's shoes and her relation to nature and work. Such a larger equipmental context constitutes Heidegger's frame of reading.


And yet---. Heidegger's choice of van Gogh's painting as example of truth as non-concealment/opennes to the world is rather enigmatic. Why shoes? This question is at length discussed in Derrida's essay.


Meyer Shapiro claims that "the philosopher has indeed decieved himself. He has retained from his encounter with van Gogh's canvas a moving set of associations with peasants and the soil, which are not sustained by the picture itself, but are grounded rather in his own social outlook with its heavy pathos of the primordial and earthy. He has indeed 'imagined everything and projected it into the painting' ". (206) Furthermore, Heidegger overlooked the artist's own presence in his work.


Thus, the subject of the shoes in van Gogh's painting - for Heidegger, it is a peasant woman, while for Shapiro, it is a city dweller - is the object of restitutions of the truth in pointing in Derrida's essay.  Each opponent in this polemic stands for a certain type of framework (Gestellen) that discloses truth in its own way.