PROTOCOL #2 (revised) – DERRIDA / NANCY       




Don began our meeting not only by recapitulating the discussion of the previous week through the reading of his protocol, but also by reintroducing his persisting concern regarding Derrida’s process of deconstruction. Where does deconstruction end – what is its telos?

Hugh’s orientation of the discussion toward answering this question began by focusing on the question of “origin,” which received particular attention by German thinkers in the 1930s. In 1935, Heidegger wrote his essay The Origin of the Work of Art, where he emphasizes the etymological roots of Ursprung, where ur- means “primitive” or “primordial” and -sprung means “spring forth” in the sense of “going somewhere.” Thus we can ask: what is the primordial springing forth of deconstruction and where is it going?

A year later, Husserl published his Origin of Geometry and Derrida picks up on the importance of historicity as a phenomenological notion for Husserl. We began talking about historicity by going back to St. Augustine’s linear notion of history, which anticipates a point in the future, Judgment Day, and suggests a directionality determined by the goal of salvation. Having established this traditional notion of history, Hugh then asked whether or not before the work of Thales (thanks Aaron), Pythagoras, and Euclid, there was such a thing as a right triangle; implicitly, what is the origin of the idea of right triangle? In strong contrast to Plato’s, “yes,” to the former question based on his concept of the Forms, Husserl’s answer was no. Instead, the idea of the right triangle is an ideal intentional object constituted in a phenomenological act. In this act, meaning is taken from the act of asking itself, a “sense bestowing act,” and we can say that the essence of “right triangle” did not exist before phenomenological investigation. Geometers in general would side with Plato against Husserl, claiming that “right triangle” is eternal. From this dispute, Derrida identifies historicity as the hinge or indecidable between the binary pair “beginning” (γέννησις) and “origin” (αρχή).

In the final leg of the journey of Don’s question, Hugh broke down Derrida’s discussion of “end,” citing three types: first, Kant’s a priori moral imperative: never treat others as a means, only as an end; second, Hegel’s notion of end as Absolute Spirit; and third, Foucault’s idea that each epoche, as a modality of thinking, comes to an end. Coming full circle on Don’s original question, we then asked about the end of deconstruction as each of these notions of “end.” We found that none of them are sufficient. What would the end of deconstruction really mean? Would it become unpopular, stop working, or find completion? Hugh stepped in to give perspective: if we come to a moment of α̉πορία, it is because when we ask after the end of deconstruction, we have to ask what happens after or outside of deconstruction, thereby requiring a delineation of deconstruction itself, and immediately we face another “between” which deconstruction itself might analyze.

We leapt from this “between” into the text, landing precariously but not altogether off balance on the “death of the between.” What kind of touching “intervenes between x and x” (2). What kind of contact inter-venes between two pairs of eyes? What comes (a venir) between (inter-) the between? What inter-rupts or breaks up the between? Hugh, with Luce Irigaray in mind, queried the “inter-val” as the inter-valley: what lies between valleys? Perhaps deconstructing mountains lie between, but Don was concerned that this interval was static. This is a question that perhaps cannot be answered yet, but we at least noted that this is not a Hegelian movement to a third term, which might indeed constitute the death of the between. Also, we should keep in mind as we rely on our translator that Hugh uncovered various translation problems in this paragraph on the second page – the extent to which this problem might perpetuate is unclear.

We continued to unfold the kinesthetic problem of what happens between two lookings. What happens when eyes or looks come in contact? As Derrida asks, is it a caress or a blow? Again, the reflective form of the French, sevoir, is so important (and we must keep setoucher in mind similarly). Here there seems to be a co-givenness in the meeting of the eyes which is different from Sartre’s regard, where one looking dominates and constitutes the other, reminiscent of a Hegelian master-slave dialectic. Is the room between the gazes a mountain, which might deter touch, or a valley, where eyes might meet? If the latter, what kind of touch this is remains unclear.

Before we took our break, Hugh made a point that gave important perspective to Derrida’s concerns in his introduction. Derrida’s whole philosophy hinges on the between, but with his questioning of the death of the between he is asking if the between is nothing, thereby throwing his own project into question.

We briefly considered Heidegger’s notion of Mit-sein, which is meant to cast traditional ontological subjectivity into doubt, but we did not find a ready-to-hand connection to eyes touching. Instead, we turned to Merleau-Ponty’s essays The Visible and the Invisible and Eye and Mind. Visible things are those that can be seen, but the seeing itself cannot be seen; that is, I can never see myself seeing, and mirrors offer no genuine aid. At the bottom of page two, this binary pair is clearly on Derrida’s mind, “And first [we have to make a choice] between seeing the seeing and seeing the visible? For if our eyes see what is seeing rather than visible, if they believe that they are seeing a gaze rather than eyes,…they are seeing nothing, then, nothing that can be seen, nothing visible. They blind themselves so as to see a gaze; they avoid seeing the visibility of the other’s eyes...” This passage brought us the between of the visible and the invisible, which Merleau-Ponty calls “visibility.”  Visibility is chiasmatic – a crossing, but not owned in the sense of “my” visibility or “my” point of view.

Hugh points out that Derrida is taking the question of visibility beyond Merleau-Ponty’s inquiry, asking what happens when two visibilities cross, “When our eyes touch each other…” Arsalon characterizes this as the between of the between or two betweens crossing; that is, the between (of eyes and objects, of the seeing and the seen, of the visible and invisible) of the between (two of the latter, two visibilities crossing each other). We took time to clarify the spatiality of this second order between, making pretty pictures as we went. Our attempts to “see” how the “touching” visibilities lined up, brought forward the confusion between touching and seeing which has been seminal in these early readings of Derrida’s text. Upon facing this strange, almost synesthetic binary pair, we departed for the evening.


Questions of questionable repute: If two visibilities cross, even if two eyes sustain looking at one another, is this all that must happen for eyes to touch, assuming they can touch at all? If I am engaged in idle chatter with a friend and we look at one another, not with emphasis, but merely as a matter of course in the mildest of engagements, is this a casual touching of eyes or no touch at all? Does this looking have any more extension than the half-aware, yet competent stare of driving my car? Must I focus on the other look as a look for my sight to touch anything? In other words, must I put something behind or into the look for there to be a between? If so, what is that something lying on or as a boarder of the between? If not, what meaning or force is there in the effluvial, weightless touch of this look – has this between itself been a semblance? Perhaps this series of questions can be reduced to the following: are there different kinds of visibility, only one or some of which are sufficient for the sense of touch that Derrida wants to discuss?