Our last session began with Derek’s reading of his protocol, which quickly brought to the fore a discussion concerning the distinction between origin and beginning. Hugh and I debated the force of the Greek terms, genesis and arche, employing Biblical usage for help, though at that time, and as I am writing this, I believe arguments exist for the use of either term designating either ‘origin’ or ‘beginning.’ I have decided to suspend judgment on the matter for the time being. Derrida, on the other hand, in his Introduction to Husserl’s Origin of Geometry, investigates the hinge between arche as origin and genesis as beginning. In a later work (Margins of Philosophy-1972), "The Ends of Man," Derrida allocates a difference in their opposite notions, that of closure with regard to arche and that of a potential ending (or termination, telos, goal) in time with regard to genesis. Along similar lines, Don and Hugh discussed the difference between genetic and static phenomenology. In my drastically limited familiarity with Husserl, I took the first to be an investigation into internal time consciousness as it exists over time, and in history, whereas the latter’s scope was focused on a specific act of intentionality at a particular moment in time. Thus ended the discussion of Derek’s protocol.
We began our discussion in the unprecedented manner of immediately delving into the text. Our initial target was the now infamous paragraph on page 2, which we queried at length a week earlier. Don wondered about the direct connection between Derrida’s specific concern in the passage and the asserted reference to Merleau-Ponty. Rather than the question of what happens when two visibilities cross, Don was concerned with a distinction he made between the epistemic look and the metaphoric look. So as not to do an injustice to Don’s position, which I cannot adequately reconstruct from my notes, I will leave it at that, though I find it an intriguing distinction worth further investigation. Hugh and Don decided to be undecided on this indecidable paragraph. From that point we leapt to page 3 and the interesting and obscure paragraph on death. Derrida writes, “as long as you haven’t touched me with your eyes, as long as you haven’t touched my eyes, like lips, you won’t be able to say ‘one day.’ We discussed how Derrida is implying that the ‘other’ is more than a look, but a person who is cared for, loved, and mourned. The mere seeing that had dominated the previous page is here transformed into a person in whom the onlooker finds meaning and significance. The fact that the dying person can no longer touch the eyes of the onlooker – that their eyes can no longer touch each other (se toucher) – means that the former will never be able to utter this enigmatic ‘one day.’ We will get to the ‘one day’ in a moment. Later in the paragraph, Derrida admits his fear, that he is “afraid of being a survivor and bearing death.”
The notion of surviving death prompted a lively discussion on Derrida’s works on the mourning of his lost friends and colleagues – Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas and The Work of Mourning, a collection of essays, each of which is dedicated to a specific friend. In addition to these elegiac writings, Derrida has also tackled the notion of ‘surviving’ death as a topic for philosophical rumination. ‘To survive death’ has the double meaning of i) living on after someone, presumably someone close and meaningful, has perished (or simply living on, where ‘on’ is taken prepositionally. Derrida’s question is, living on what?) and ii) simply not to die oneself. Derrida’s fear of ‘being a survivor and bearing death’ carries both connotations. When a person we care about dies, we fear having to live on without that person and we fear having to carry the weight of that death as we live on. Derrida takes up the hinge that exists between life/death in his essay “Living on Borderlines,” which appears in Deconstruction and Criticism (Continuum). In this work, Derrida contrasts Shelley’s unfinished poem, “The Triumph of Life,” which was his last work before his death – a fact that is no less ironic than it is perfect for Derrida’s purpose – with Blanchot’s short story (recit), L’Arrêt de Mort” literally, “the end of death” but the French phrase in fact denotes the English “death sentence.” Again, Blanchot’s title provides ample fodder for Derrida’s ironic streak, as well as feeds into his deconstructive purpose of unveiling the ‘between’ between life and death.
Returning to the text, we took up the ‘one day’ that the deceased will no longer be capable of uttering. This ‘one day’ could mean some sort of mythical ‘at some point,’ or ‘once upon a time’ (see the first line of the book); additionally it could mean a particular, specific day (again, see the first line of the book). But what does this inability to say ‘one day’ mean? Well, if our eyes have not touched one another, and we cannot say ‘one day’ to one another, then there is no meaning, no connection, no friendship between us. If our eyes have touched one another, and we have forged a friendship, then this no-longer-being-able-to-say is something painful and fearful. What happens when eyes touch? The seeds of a possibility are sewn – a possibility for friendship. “When our eyes touch, is it day or night?” This is a question of the origin (and closure, no?) of that possibility. This is a work in dedication to Jean-Luc Nancy, after all.
The last topic before our break was introduced by Arsalon, who took us to page 6, and was concerned about the touchability of the untouchable in Aristotle’s Peri Psuches. This question arises when Aristotle asserts that the sensation of touch has a medium. If this is the case, do we touch the ‘touchable’ or merely the medium of the sensation? If the latter is the case, then we do not truly ‘touch’ anything but the medium, that is to say, the flesh. A bizarre notion. Don was excruciatingly helpful with his thorough understanding of the text. He illuminated Aristotle’s thesis that contends that the organ of touch is internal, and the flesh is the intermediary between the organ and those sensible objects that exist outside us. All sense has an intermediary element. Sight, for instance, whose organ resides within the eye, traverses air or water in order to reach its object, i.e., that which is seen. What this means for touch is not only that it has both tangible and intangible aspects, but furthermore, everything seems to lie on the periphery of touch. So, not only do we question what happens when eyes touch each other, but we can now wonder if anything ever touches anything else – is touch itself untouchable?
Our post-break discussion broke into the first chapter of the work, “Psyche.” We noted how the first line of the chapter, just like the previous chapter, contains a ‘one day.’ Derrida claims that his narrative will not only revolve around this mythological ‘one day’ but also around a someone – a woman, Psyche. Here Derrida is being playful with the Greek preposition peri, which can mean around in a geographical sense (think of the word ‘perimeter’), as well as about in the sense that Aristotle’s work is about the soul, or Plato’s Republic is about justice. He is also playing with the title of Aristotle’s work, Peri Psuches, and the subject of this chapter, a personified Psyche from Nancy (and Freud). There is another hinge here between the two senses of peri, a hinge which is lost by the Latinization of Aristotle’s title into De Anima. What did Heidegger say about the Latinization of Greek and its effect on Western thought? “The rootlessness of Western thought begins with this translation” (The Origin of the Work of Art). Yikes.
We examined the late unpublished note from Freud: ‘Psyche is extended, knows nothing about it.’ (About it? Concerning it? Around it?). The few paragraphs from Nancy, quoted on pp. 12-13, imply that Psyche is extended, which is the one ‘thing’ that she is certainly not supposed to be, especially after Descartes. The scene in which she lies in the coffin, oblivious, while those around her, Eros included, simply stand there and look reminded us of the earlier passage on death (p. 3). We debated in brief what Nancy and Derrida might be implying with an extended Psyche. The unconscious? After all, she knows nothing about it. Hugh offered an interesting reading, taking Freud’s German word, ausgedehnt, as ‘stretched out’ or ‘strung out’ rather than ‘extended.’ This reading may offer a way ‘around’ the ‘extended’ Psyche in favor of a different psychological reading – the being ‘strung out’ as a state of mind, or something like that. I think in the end, we agreed that Derrida and Nancy are interested in Psyche as a res extensio.
We spent some time pondering Derek’s question concerning a possible connection between the ‘she’ of the original question of the book, and Psyche herself. Though we pondered, we left that issue without resolution, though we made some interesting connections between ‘day and night,’ the time of the arrival of la question, and Psyche’s burial.
Lastly, we began to look at the tôt on which Derrida speaks at length beginning on p. 13. The question of ‘too early’ arose with regard to death. What does it mean to die too early? Is not death something that always comes too early? How does this relate to la question, which arrived before the invitation (see p. 1)? This is the true test of hospitality. The last moments of the session were a bit of a hodge-podge. We were racing, with absolute speed (tôt), from one section of the text to another. The question of the ‘too soon’ still stands before us, as does the rest of the first chapter and the whole of chapter two. Let us make haste into the text.