PROTOCOL #4 (revised) – DERRIDA / NANCY       




            After a thorough discussion of everyone’s recent haircuts, and a reading of last week’s protocol, we delved into the text, beginning with a discussion of tôt (“early”, “soon” in French).  Then Derek began to wonder if tôt was connected with Hospitality—e.g. hospitality towards a guest arriving too early (like those peskily punctual Germans) or the hospitality of the look.  We did discuss Derrida’s general discussion of Hospitality, which brought up On Hospitality, dealing with Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonnus.  The issue is of the strain of hospitality upon Theseus when inviting the misfortune-marred Oedipus to Athens—did Oedipus arrive too early to Athens and could he have ever not arrived too early.  Gastfreundschaft (German for “hospitality”) is a compound word from guest (Gast) and friendship (Freundschaft), suggesting the friendship aspect of hospitality.  Semi-tangentially, the perennial guest status of Levinas is here brought up by Hugh, that he moved from place to place, always a visitor and never a visitee.  Derrida writes of Levinas after his death, pondering the question: can one ever not die too early.  Aaron asks whether it is possible to die too late (could Aaron be referencing Nietzsche?[1]).

            Hugh then takes it to the next level: “can temporality be too early for Heidegger.  Can there be a soon-ness too soon?” he asks.  This is a question unthinkable in Hedeggerean thought, but might Derrida be wondering if temporality can come too soon: in the form of soon-ness or early-ness or late-ness.  Is there a stretching out of temporality?  If temporality will not allow for “too soon” or “too late”, can temporality be stretched, can it have thickness?  Nietzsche’s Zarathustra is brought up, in which Nietzsche speaks of the “Gate of the Moment”(moment=Augenblicht, which literally means eyeblink).  At the Gate of the Moment one can look in both directions and see the future stretched eternally in one direction and the past stretched eternally in the opposite direction.  Don brings us back to Freud by noting that, for Freud, the depths of the mind are stretched into the past, all the way back to birth.  Events (especially traumatic ones) that happen too soon (at too young an age) become repressed, are too soon for long-term memory and for one’s capacity to handle them.  This may be what Psyche knows nothing about.  And ever more critically—Psyche may be extended temporally as well as spatially. 

            Hugh at this point leaves the room temporarily and without the guidance of our master, the conversation wanders.  Arsalan mentions that Derrida believes that gifts can never be truly given as Hugh returns and Hugh notes the German es gibt (“there is”) contains gift (gibt implies gift, giving over, handing over), hence, to Heidegger, Being is a gift (and thinking is the thanking after the gift of es gibt).  We note that freedom is something that cannot be given, and thus, according to the nature of that which cannot be given, cannot also be taken away.  Hugh notes, of Espacement (the name of the chapter we’ve now broached ambivalently) that the French différer implies both temporality and spatiality (means both to separate and to postpone).  Temporality is the privileged side, and the hinging between them is espacement.  Espacement means spacing, and refers to the spacing between the two sides of the binary pair.

            We then return to the extended Psyche and the paradox of extended Pscyhe, who is untouchable, though extended.  Don notes that late Freud begins to lean toward a theory of the unconscious extended in space.  Extension is both temporal and spatial.  Arsalan notes that Psyche is both untouchable and cannot touch herself.  Hugh says “She can’t touch herself because she’s completely extended” (ie, she would have to curl back upon herself to touch herself).  Psyche has no place for agency.  When Psyche is not an agent/self/ego/subject, when she is extended, she has no reflexivity.  Derek makes the analogy that we can never really know what others think of us (impossibility of reflexive self-knowing via others), and we don’t have even complete access to our self (we don’t know all our memories, thoughts desires: impossibility of reflexive knowing via our self).  Derrida, as Arsalan notes, is questioning whether every extension is touchable, and Derek posits, perhaps there are different types of touch for different types of extension.  Don suggests Psyche cannot touch herself merely because she is dead, and Derek rebuts, Psyche is merely being seen/treated as a dead person: “Psyche sees herself treated as a dead woman”(p 19).  Aaron wonders if Psyche is extended beneath the look, namely seen as extended (is the look itself an extension?), that the seeing cannot touch itself (one cannot see oneself seeing).  Is this interrelated to the problem of what is fully extended not being able to touch itself (i.e. the look cannot curl back upon itself)?  Is Psyche only a look that looks out but cannot see herself?

            We took a break while great thoughts and questions swayed within our minds.

            Upon returning, Hugh introduced us to the French comparution (co-appearance), which is a major word in Nancy.  Comparution is the word used for a court summons, implying that you appear before the judge and the judge appears before you—there is no privileging of who appears before who.  We then questioned why Psyche is completely external, which reminds us of what Derrida says of the importance of words beginning with ex- (e.g., external, extension, exact, extra, exposition.  Ex- is from Latin “out, from”).  Exposition (in English translates as both exhibition and exposure) is mentioned as a critical word in Nancy.

            Hugh reminds us again that Psyche is not dead, but treated as dead, and points out that this could be an analogy for the death of the subject, that this chapter (“Psyche”) is about the death of the subject.  Expropriation (another ex- word) is mentioned as a critical Derrida word: opposed to appropriate (from Latin proprium: “property”, neuter singular of proprius “own”), which means to take ownership.  Expropriate means to take ownership from another.  Psyche has been expropriated by philosophers.  Psyche is ignorant of herself as extended, as a body, and as embodied.  Touching oneself requires agency, which requires self-knowing (owning oneself) as well as knowing oneself as a thing to touch.  Thus, the transcendental self is dead because you need to go back to yourself to touch yourself (i.e., you can’t touch yourself from the realm of the transcendental subject/soul/self).  The slow death of Psyche (as the transcendental subject/soul/self) has been slowly progressing over the past 2500 years, so that now she is almost, but not quite, dead.  Despite that certain thinkers like hyper-materialist and behavioralist, have been interested in completely jettisoning the self, Derrida may not be willing to go so far.  He is certainly not arguing for either side.  He, along with many of his contemporaries argue for a de-centered or displaced self.

            Hugh tells us that Nancy had a heart transplant, about which he wrote a book called Intrus (French for “intruder”).  The body becomes a host for the heart, like Theseus is to Oedipus.  But the heart is an intruder, and one needs to accept it, cope with it, this intruder that is trying to help you, so that both heart and body can live.  It is an issue of hospitality.  This is comparution: of the heart presenting itself to the body and the body presenting itself to the heart.

            Don then brings up the case of Ian Waterman, a man who after losing his sense of joint position and proprioception, could not move any part of his body without looking at it,[2] amplifying Hugh’s suggestion that touching requires agency, which requires self-knowing. 

            To conclude Hugh suggests that Psyche is never able to be an agent (subject/self/ego/soul/pure consciousness) but is also not able to be pure body (if we are to presume that we can’t completely jettison the self).  Then, with infinite disappointment and anticipation for the next installment (could it ever possibly come too soon?), class had to be concluded.

[1] Zarathustra, “On Free Death”: “All-too-many live, and all-too-long they hang on their branches.”  As an aside, Nietzsche here notes that Christ died too early, had he lived longer, “perhaps he would have learned to live and to love the earth—and laughter too.” (Kaufmann trans)

[2] cf Jonathan Cole.  Pride and a Daily Marathon (MIT Press)