PROTOCOL #6 (revised) – DERRIDA / NANCY       

15 MARCH 06




Protocol 3-15-2006

María Prado Ballarín


          In our last session Professor Silverman insisted that the target of criticism in Derrida’s appropriation of Nancy was still Descartes. The active process of self-formation of “the modern subject and its truth”, as Descartes narrates or recounts it, is the hinging between Nancy’s writing and Derrida’s reading in their shared attempt to expose “the fictionality at work within the cogito” (25).

          The Cartesian notion of the ego as indivisible and present to itself by originary intuition is undermined by showing that the singularity of the “I” is always plural, that at the heart of the “I” touching itself, at the outset of the Lacanian mirror stage, there is difference, a doubling, a splitting. As Derrida puts it, “I self-touches spacing itself out, losing contact with itself, precisely in touching itself” (34). In other words, as soon as you posit the “I” you call for the other term of the binary, installing the familiar “you” (tu-toi) as the addressee, and therefore a “between” which implies the impossibility of self-transparency and of the plenitude of non-mediated self-presence. Silverman reminded us that in the Freudian oral stage there is no touching properly speaking because there is still no difference, alterity or otherness.

          So it seems that fiction as a kind of narrative doing is already at work at the origin of the self-feeling as self-touching that explains the genesis of the modern “I”. This doing without a “doer”, this making of which the subject is an effect, eliminates any possibility of recovering or re-appropriating an imaginary unity and coherence ex-propriated with “the opening of the mother’s lips at birth”, “the first ex-pulsion”. The “I” loses itself trying to identify with the singular and self-contained image in the mirror, in an opening of the mouth- characterized as “the gaping place of the ‘quasi permixtio’ between soul and body” (29)- which brings the ego into being at the same time that it exposes its fictional and precarious nature.  “The subject gives way” in that very process of active self-formation which makes up a certain unity and autonomy, in that “reflexive fold” which is supposed to put the subject in touch with what is felt as its most “proper” substantiality and singularity.  That’s why Derrida connects fiction “in an extra-moral sense” with some kind of activity that tries to make up for the lack of essence by doing and saying. Fiction is the making that is happening when the “I” self-touches, when the mouth opens and utters its being in a performative act pronouncing “I am, I exist”. We make the event at the same time that we are being made by that event.

           We also talked about the attempt to deconstruct the Cartesian binary pair “res cogitans vs. res extensa” by destabilizing the notion of extension applying it to thinking or the psyche,  and therefore turning “the ego’s subjectivity into exteriority” (27).             

          According to Derrida, Nancy highlights the “between” soul and body as that inter-space in which the “I” touches itself and “feels itself feel” in what can no longer be conceived as a purely spiritual or non-corporeal experience in the Cartesian fashion.   

          Besides, it seems clear that Derrida wants to avoid falling into the trap of merely replacing sight with touch as what would be just another -centrism as misleading as the others, since the notion of center itself remains largely unquestioned. That is to say, Derrida’s strategy could not be reduced to going from the singularity of one (either vision or touch as posited as central) to the plurality of senses. It would not constitute a deconstructive gesture in itself. He wants to go from the centrality of touch to the non-centrality of touch, trying to rethink “touching” as neither central nor absent by asking himself: What is between touch as the center and no touch at all?

          Through Nancy, Derrida tries to show how the whole Cartesian argumentation that leads him to the conclusion “I think, therefore I am” depends on the fact that there is a “thing” that thinks or does the thinking. And by introducing a “thing” Descartes inevitably moves to that place which is neither purely intellectual nor purely sensible.