Derrida’s On Touching–––Jean-Luc
§2 S p a c i n g s
I. Prefatory Annoucements: Revisiting Joe’s Protocol….
Class began with some introductory remarks
regarding Professor Silverman’s future trip to
II. Lecture––––Part One: The Question of the Subject | The Subject in Question
The lecture began with a question, a question, in particular from Don, directed towards Professor Silverman.
Don: “I wonder what your understanding is of the relationship between Derrida and Nancy on the question of the subject.”
Professor Silverman: “It’s a good question, it’s a tough
question. One must look in Ego Sum, there
Professor Silverman than went into a detail discussion of Sartre’s critique
of Husserl’s notion of the transcendental ego. Sartre wrote the essay, Transcendence
of the Ego (La transcendance de l'égo ) before Being and
Nothingness (L'être et le néant ), before Sketch for a
Theory of the Emotions (Esquisse d'une théorie des émotions ),
and before the two books on Imagination: Imagination: A Psychological
Critique (L'Imagination ) and The Imaginary: A
Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination (L'Imaginaire:
Psychologie phénoménologique de l’imagination ). One has to keep in
mind that around 1936, phenomenology was just appearing in
Before diverting more into the historical context, let us get back to Husserl’s notion of the transcendental ego. The transcendental ego is the source and the condition of all acts of consciousness. It is a position from which all intentional acts are derived. For Husserl, the transcendental ego is in consciousness and it stands behind consciousness. Sartre thinks that there can be nothing in consciuosness that can do all these activities. But for Husserl, if its an object of consciousness, it can still be at the transcendental level, that is in consciousness. The example that was given to explain the difference between their notions of consciousness was that of the IAPL pencil. Professor Silverman asked us all to perform the trasncendental-phenomenological-eidectic reduction on the pencil. After stripping away all the accidental features of the IAPL pencil, one grasps the essence of it, namely “pencilness” (whatever that means!). In grasping the essence of the pencil, I am reflecting upon it as a transcendental ego. Sartre argues that anytime I reflect upon the contents of my consciousness, its going to be an object of my consciousness. If it is an object of my consciousness, then it can not be in consciousness because it cannot be an object of consciousness and be in consciousness at the same time. Sartre’s reasoning has to do with temporality.
Professor Silverman: “Let’s go back to the example of the pencil. Lets all reflect on the pencil, is the pencilness still there? You reflect on pencilness, the moment you do, it’s a just-having-been. Now try to get an essence of yourself, you will get egoness or selfness. You reflect upon your selfness, the minute you do, it’s also a just-having-been. You cannot catch your own ego at the very moment in the now or in the very moment in your reflecting. Its always already out there. Ego is outside of consciousness and also the pencil. That is why the transcendental ego can no longer be a transcendental ego, but a transcendent ego.”
It is precisely because of the above-mentioned reason that for Sartre, there is nothing in consciousness. If it did then in a way it would be limited and this would be a problem for Sartre because for Sartre, all consciousness is free. I am sure everyone has heard of Sartre’s famous dictum from Being and Nothingness: “Man is condemned to be free.” Consciousness cannot be limited in any way by having anything in it.
In a word, the Husserlian transcendental ego is taken out of its transcendental realm and appears as a transcendent object in the world. From there, many philosophers have developed their views on the notion of the self, such as, Merleau-Ponty in terms of embodiment, Foucault in terms of the absent subject, Lacan as the chain of signifiers, Kristeva in terms of a speaking subject, Derrida in terms of a displaced subject, and Nancy, maybe in terms of a tangible subject.
Arsalan: “Sartre probably got the idea of the transcendence of the ego or that consciousness is always already outside of itself from his reading of Heidegger.”
Professor Silverman: “Heidegger does not have a notion of the subject. You would never a find a discussion of consciousness or subjectivity in Heidegger. Dasein is not a subject. Dasein, in everyday German, means existence. Part of the transcendental reduction in Husserl is that you leave the existence of the object in brackets. When you talk about pencilness, it doesnt matter whether the pencil exists. For Heidegger, you can’t talk about Being without talking about that it exists. Already in some way, subjectivity or consciousness, to use Joe’s word, is ‘jettisoned’ in Heidegger.”
Derek: “But my question is: ‘Without self-consciousness, in Heidegger, I don’t see the journey of the transition between the authentic and inauthentic. Here, we see the Psyche that doesn’t know itself. Is there a journey involved in coming to know itself (i.e. Psyche)?”
Silverman: “Sartre calls self-consciousness non-thetic self-consciousness. That is his technical term. Husserl talks about the thetic as well. Every intentional act is thetic, it is a thesis, it posits something, there is an essence or meaning in question. The transcendence of the ego can be understood as a transcending of the ego: the ego is taken out of its transcendental position and understood to be transcendent. If you want to talk about self- consciousness, it has to be non-thetic self-consciousness. In an intentional act of self- consciousness, nothing comes up.”
Derek: “How without that thetic self-consciousness does self-understanding play into achieving a better understanding of ourselves?”
Professor Silverman: “It brings us to the notions of authentic and inauthentic. Heidegger can have a notion of self-understanding but not of self-consciousness because the notion of self-consciousness suggests reflexivity, and if there is reflexivity, then there is something doing the reflecting. Reflexivity is being ‘jettisoned.’ I don’t think you would find any reflexivity in Heidegger, something reflecting upon itself. Understanding (Verstehen) or self-understanding doesn’t involve reflection. What there is, is a differential model, a notion of difference, specially in his notion of the ontico-ontological difference. It’s a way of talking about Dasein in a differential way, rather than through an identity. It is never an identity, it is always somehow in the difference between Being and beings. Dasein can be understanding, it can be possibility (Möglichkeit), it can be Being-towards-death (Sein-zum-Tode), it can be care (Sorge). It can be all of these activities. Not of one of those turn back upon themselves. There are two levels, on ontic and an ontological level. On the ontic level, Dasein is inauthentic, its just another being. It’s just acting. These are concerns as oppose to Sorge (Care), which is authentic. It is when Dasein is most thoughtful that it can be.”
Derek: “I might be stuck in the old mode of self-conscious thinking where I need to see some sort of reflexive act in order to tell me that it is a different kind of thinking or mode of being, whereas a fact that it is already there, as long as I am engaged in the world or I am doing the kinds activities that would indicate a more authentic Being.”
Professor Silverman: “Who is this I ?
Every time you bring it back to an identity, it’s not going to work. Authentic being-in-the-world is not an identity. If you want you can read Derrida’s essay, ‘Ousia and Grammē: Note on a Note from Being and Time’ from the Margins of Philosophy. There he takes up the notion of time in relation to Aristotle, Hegel, Bergson, and Heidegger.
Also, Derrida, says in the essay called ‘Ends of
Man,’ which is also in the Margins of Philosophy: who is this we that we most often speak of?
Derek: “I can’t help but bring up the dialogue of Meno and Socrates. The dialogue fails to get at virtue.”
Professor Silverman: “Why not? Why did the dialogue fail?”
Derek: “Meno couldn’t let go of his previous understanding of virtue. The point is that it does seem that there has to be a between for that virtue to be successful. Perhaps, a between them, but not only as the virtue of discussing virtue, but also the discussion as discussion and the virtue of discussing.”
Professor Silverman: “You (i.e. Derek) could read the Meno in deconstructive terms.”
Aaron: “I have a problem. What do we do about even just the grammar in the way that we interact with the world. I seem to be identical with myself. What about memory? What about the things that make me seem to myself to be a self. I mean this is all great to talk about the between us, but this seems to me in a way that is disconnected from the way I actually engage the world. I don’t know how I would begin to engage in the world otherwise, unless you can show me a way to bring them together.”
Professor Silverman: “It’s like those old plantation slave owners, who couldn’t imagine a world in which you don’t have slaves. It’s a conceptual shift. It takes a lot work. It’s challenging the traditional well-ingrained expectations. Sure, even our syntax is formed that way, we have a subject, predicates, and a direct object. But think of Perniola’s notion of the transit from The Art and Its Shadow. The verbal form is a transitional form. If you focus on the subject and the direct object, you would understand the transit, the in between, which is the verbal form. That is what all of these postmodern figures are all paying attention to.
What kind of extension does this self have? Can you put your finger on it? (Directed towards Aaron)”
Aaron: “I am trying to talk about the self that the ordinary person thinks or says ‘I’?”
Professor Silverman: “Do you want the ordinary person to be doing philosophy?”
Aaron: “I want a philosophy that would speak to an ordinary person. If they have no idea of what Derrida is talking about. How would they relate to it?”
Professor Silverman: “Derrida and Nancy is working on a very high level. That is why we are here for. In some way to mediate and extend it.”
Aaron: “How would one conceive of an extended self?”
Professor Silverman: “The point that all of these guys are making is that it is a fiction. Even going back to Ryle, calling it a ghost in the machine. Where is this self? What kind of extension does it have? Descartes said it has no extension. That is the key aspect of it, that it exists, but has no extension. People have been stuck with this view for a few centuries.”
Aaron: “You can’t deny the identity. There is an identity. I could not even talk to you about things if there was no identity. There is an ‘I’ that is doing this speaking. How am I able to generate any of the thoughts I have?”
Professor Silverman: “It suggests that there is an ‘I’ somewhere back there, sorting these things out and speaking.”
Aaron: “I don’t know if I want to say that, but it seems plausible to say something like that is happening. How else would I be writing notes when I see an allusion to Nietzsche in here? How do I know that it is from Nietzsche? Where is this coming from? Shouldn’t I have read Nietzsche before to know that this allusion is from Nietzsche?”
Don: “We want to get rid of this unextended soul. Not personality or identity, which is complicated.”
Professor Silverman: “It’s dangerous even to say ‘to get rid of anything,’ because there is nothing to get rid of.”
Maria: “Is this is a moral issue for you (i.e. Aaron) that you don’t want to let go of the self?”
Aaron: “I don’t want to bring morality into this, it’s not a moral issue for me.”
Professor Silverman: “This kind (i.e. postmodern) of thinking of the subject is been around for forty or fifty years. Derrida and Nancy are not even arguing for ‘jettisoning’ the subject. That is what Sartre did in 1936 and Heidegger did before him. It would be like defending the Platonic Forms.
Can you (i.e. Aaron) imagine a world where there aren’t any eternal Ideas?
How can you (i.e. Aaron) not believe that there are Ideas of these glasses somewhere that makes these glasses be what it is?
How can you (i.e. Aaron) possibly not believe that?”
Professor Silverman then decided that we would keep that problem in mind while reading the text and urged us to return to the text.
Professor Silverman: “Extended Psyche is spacing or espacement. Let’s take a break … We need a break after all this back and forth questioning and answering…”
III. The Break–––Between the First and the Second Part of the Lecture
This is really not important to read since this is just a reporting of what happened during the break. That is why we can skip reading this part.
Aaron: “We really do experience the world in ways that are fundamental to the way that we understand the world philosophically.”
Professor Silverman: “Who is this we?”
Aaron: “Me, I do. I just don’t want to give in to the 20th century philosophy.”
Professor Silverman: “We are in the 21st century.”
Aaron: “Yeah but we are reading a 20th century text.”
Professor Silverman: “This was published in 2000.”
Aaron: “I don’t want to give into it. I see it as a kind of a fashion. I want it to prove itself to me. I am not ready to give up my notion of the ‘subject.’ The question, where is the self? does not make sense to me. It’s not anywhere. It is not the right kind of question to ask.”
Professor Silverman: “It is just that the self is taken as
extended. It is reading Descartes against himself. Thinking the self as
extended is unthinkable for Descartes. That is what Derrida is saying, that it
is impossible for Descartes to even think of an extended Psyche. It is an
impossible paradox for a Cartesian to claim that the self or the ego is
extended. The question is, what could that possibly mean? That is what Derrida
is trying to present here in his reading of
I was also talking to Professor Silverman about Kashi and he asked me what it means. I had no clue. But I promised to look it up. I went on their website and found nothing. Then I decided to look it up in dictionary.com, I found this entry:
Part of Speech:
Japanese for confections, pastries, sweets or snacks; also written kashi
Then I looked it up in answers.com, and found something very interesting:
IV. Lecture––––Part Two: The Subject of the Text, Spacings, and the “ex-” Words
The second half of the lecture began with a comment I had regarding the French word, espacement, which is also the title of the second section of this book.
Arsalan: “When I looked up espacement in the French dictionary, I found out that it means spacing and also distance. Then I thought about it, that the between is only possible, if there is a distance, which would make time/space, temporality/spatiality, I/Other, mind/body, and so on, possible. It is a distance that brings together and separates at the same time.”
Professor Silverman: “Espacement is not spatiality versus temporality. It is the spacing and the hinging between the two. To explain this, let’s take the example of Heidegger’s usage of Dichtung. A Dichter is a poet and Dichtung is poetry. Dichtung is an everyday German word. A Dicthung is also a ‘washer.’ The washer spaces, tightens, and thickens the nut and the bolt. ‘Dich’ in German literally means ‘thick,’ hence, Dichtung would literally mean ‘a thickening.’ Dichtung thickens the spaces, it separates and brings together. Espacement does the same thing.”
Lets think about the Psyche as a washer and also poetry. Poetry thickens life, it finds depth in the surfaces.
Don: “Is poetry between things? Like the washer is between two things?”
Professor Silverman: “No it just thickens the world. In fact, poetry could be between literality and metaphoricity. It is a spacer. If the table is uneven, you put the spacer underneath it, so that it won’t wobble. Spacing is like signifiant, which in French means signifier, but can also mean signifying. Espacement could be translated as spacer. It has another sense of spacing. Spacing inserts a space, it separates and brings together at the same time.
Think of Pysche as extended as a spacer or as spacing. Psyche occupies this strange kind of spacing or space between both, what is extended and non-extended. Psyche is like that. There is this sense of opening up, hence, all this discussion of orality, buccality, aus and this whole idea of mouth, gap, and oral cavity. Cavity as a spacing, it is the place where speaking takes place. Psyche is filling this space and occupying this space, and in a way, inserted in this space, appearing in this space.”
Professor Silverman told Joe to read the passage on orality.
Joe: “The mouth speaks but it does so among other things.”
Professor Silverman: “It is an interesting translation, because for the IAPL conference, we are calling it ‘Between Three.’ That is a grammatical error because you can’t have between three, but only between two. The whole sense of the between three is also a Heideggerian thing (i.e. the relation of Dasein to Being and beings), namely, the hermeneutic circle.”
Then Don made a comment that trinity is also a between three. Professor Silverman then said that if the Holy Ghost is between God the Father and God the Son, then it’s not between three, but between two.
Professor Silverman: “Let’s focus on the French for a moment. In French, there is a perfectly good word for “among” which is “parmi” but Derrida uses “between other things.” Spacing is usually between two things, but what does it mean for spacing to be between more than two things? Now remember we are talking about the Psyche extended as in some way between all of these things. It’s never this one between all of these things, but it is this spacing, that gives distance and proximity at the same time.
If you think about the mouth speaking, its not the ‘I’ speaking, but the mouth, which is doing the speaking between other things.”
Joe further read.
Joe: “It can also breathe, eat, spit.”
Arsalan: “Breathing might have a connection with life, since Psyche meant breath originally.”
Joe: “It has ‘not always been speaking,’ not always been an oral agency: ‘the instant speaking begins, an unstable and mobile opening forms.”
Professor Silverman: “Lacan’s famous essay, ‘The Instance of the Letter,” which has been translated as ‘The Insistence of the Letter,’ of ‘The Agency of the Letter,’ is important here in our discussion. There’s clearly a temporal aspect to instant. Instance could be understood as an ‘example’ or as a temporal moment. Agency is a complete mistake. That is a terrible translation (i.e. translation as ‘oral agency’). It reinstalls the whole question of the agent. If it’s an oral instant, if it has not been an oral instant. Speaking has not always been a question of orality or of an oral authority. Orality has never had the command. There’s very much of the temporal aspect to it.
Then Joe read further:
Joe: “For a few instants, nothing is discernible; ego will not say anything. All that ego does is open up this cavity.”
Professor Silverman: “For a few instants” is not the correct translation, but ‘For the moment.’ The part ‘ego will not say anything’ can also mean that the ‘ego does not mean.’ All the ego does is open up its cavity. The ego doesn’t want to say anything and also the ego doesn’t mean anything. All the stuff in Heidegger about the opening, the place of truth, the mouth is like one of those places where truth happens. Truth speaks. The mouth is the locus of truth speaking.
Joe: “The mouth that can scream, the closed mouth at the breast, thus opens up before the ‘oral stage.’”
Professor Silverman: “About the oral stage, who ever knows Lacan, they will hear the mirror stage or when the self comes to recognize itself as a self. Derrida is not calling it the mirror stage, but the oral stage.
Don: “I was reminded of Freud, when reading this passage.”
Professor Silverman: “The mirror stage includes the oral stage.”
Joe: “The mouth attaches itself to the breast in an ‘identification more ancient than any identification with a face,’ the mouth slightly open, detaching itself from the breast, in a first smile, a first funny face, the future of which is thinking.”
Professor Silverman: “It’s not ‘funny face’ rather its ‘mimic’ because it has to do with mimesis, mimicking, mirror stage, imitation, etc. Also the word figure is ambiguous in French, it could either mean a face or a figure. The mouth going for the breast has to do with a shape or figure, not face.”
Don: “Maybe the translator is keeping in mind the Other of Levinas.”
Professor Silverman: “It could be. There is in one sense that it could be a face, in the sense of identity, any particular face of this mother as opposed to another mother.
Remember, touching is important here.”
Don: “We also have to focus on the ‘O’: the first figure or the opening, or the moment of opening, more ancient than any connection with any linguistic or cultural structure.”
Professor Silverman: “Ego is associated with the ‘O’. There’s this orality, the preliminary stage. There is no agent that is doing this stuff. There is just simply the opening of the mouth and touching of the breast.”
Derek: “It might have something to do with one’s basic needs that are satisfied, then one can philosophize. That is, once the child is satisfied, he or she, can sit back and think.”
Professor Silverman: “What’s going on with the mouth and the breast? There is a spacing going on. The mouth opens up, there’s a breast filling the mouth. When it’s not there, the child cries. The point is that the distance between the mouth and the breast is a spacing, a thickening, like a Dichtung. All of this is about touching. The infant is not reaching out to touch the breast. What is happening in this spacing between the mouth and the breast? Is there an alterity between the breast and the infant? This brings us all back to the mirror stage because before that an infant cannot recognize him or her as a self. There is no distinction between the mouth of the infant and the breast. It’s all part of the same world, the same texture. There is some spacing going on in the touching that happens between the mouth and the breast. The touching that is happening is bi-directional. The touching doesn’t come from either the infant or the breast as such. That is what this notion of spacing mean.”
Don was looking for the passage
where Derrida highlights how
Arsalan: “Is it this passage:
the opening of the mouth responds to the lips moving––the other’s lips, the
mother’s lips at birth, then mine, if I may say so––always nearest to birth
into the world, and from a mother, a first ex-pulsion? The word ‘mother’ does
not appear, despite
Don: “Yeah it was this passage. The parting of the space between the mouth and the breast is a co-doing, if doing makes sense at all. It is an ex-pulsion, which means kind of like a throwness.”
Prof. Silverman wanted to look at an earlier passage. But Don wanted to point us to the next paragraph on the same page.
Don: “Why? If it is the mother, in any case, who opens the bordering edges as well as the lips of a mouth first described as an opening, then this happens before any figure–––not before any identification, but before any ‘identification with a face,’ as a later remark specifies.”
Professor Silverman: “Derrida talks about four types of figures: 1. Figure as extension (i.e. shape). 2. Figure as fashion or a way of doing (i.e. means or to figure it out). 3. Figure as a rhetorical trope. 4. Figure as a face (or a surface).”
Time was running out and Professor Silverman wanted to go back to an earlier passage before we end:
“And there, what comes to pass is that [the ego] spaces itself out
[ce qui s’y passe c’est qu’il s’y espace].”
This initial spacing, having to do with origin, like an originary spacing. “Ce qui s’y passe” should have been translated as “What’s happening.” It’s a play on “s’y passe” and “s’y espace.” The former is normal French, but the latter is not normal but made up. Derrida is taking the temporal and the spatial, and turning the temporal into the spatial, by inscribing a ‘spacing’ in between them.
Also, the spacing has to with the mouth. The mouth is the place between the inside and the outside. The Psyche as breath is always taking from the inside to the outside, which is already in space. Think of exorbitant, which means going from the inside to the outside or going beyond the circumference. So what does incommensurability mean, it means that they are not on the same plane. You cannot bring them together. They can’t lay over each other. They share and separate.
Before we go, let’s look at the last paragraph of this section. Touching is this ghost that is the revenant. The last paragraph is impregnated with many ideas that can be explicated.
My suggestion is that we should start today, with the next section, section 3, “This is My Body: Points Already: Counterpoint, Mourning Pysche, and the Hand of…” It is a quite lengthy section, which would require a close reading and a lot of skipping around to the main “points.”
So who is with me?