Having interrupted our conversation
for a week, we recommenced with a consideration of syncope and interruption.
Our focus was chapter 3, “This is my body”. Hugh began by suggesting that with
syncope, the interruptions are as important as the continuity. For instance, as
Louis Marin suggested, in musical expression the silences that separate the
notes are as important as the notes themselves. This emerged for Marin through
the logic of semiotics, where the meaning of any sign is the difference, or the
interruption, between it and other signs. In music, the interruptions motivate
the discourse of the composition. Hugh went on to suggest that in an analogous
manner, Derrida was here interested in pursuing
We should perhaps keep in mind the
three main registers in which the term ‘syncope’ finds a place. In music, syncopation is the shifting of the
accent to an off beat, which is of course the possibility of rhythm. In
grammar, syncope is the ellipsis of
the interior of a word, such as “Bos’n’ in place of ‘
After this we got a bit side-tracked as we scoured Hugh’s office for a Dichtung, a washer, kind of in response to Aaron’s question of the role of Dichtung in relation to syncope. Aaron observed that in a sense, syncope was temporal, an interruption in the continuous flow of time, while Dichtung was a physical spacing, an interruption in the flow of space. Hugh reminded us all that Dichtung, as Heidegger’s word for that highest of arts, poetry, is best thought of as a thickening that interrupts the daily. Dichtung is also used to refer to the fog, for instance, in that the fog becomes thick and makes the daily movements of life difficult. Poetry interrupts the daily continuity of discourse, as Derek pointed out, authenticity is the breaking of the chatter of Division I of Being and Time.
After considering some of the
difficult issues around silence and ‘call’ [Beruff],
in both Being and Time and some of
Heidegger’s later formations [including the call of consciousness which brings
Dasein (in silence) to its ownmost possibilities, and the later formulations of
speaking as a listening to language, as language speaks], we were directed by
Hugh to the influence an early course held by Merleau-Ponty had on the
development of the body/soul problematic in France. In 1947-48, Merleau-Ponty
offered The Incarnate Subject:
Malebranche, Brian, and Bergson on the
Just before the break, I suggested that four key terms need to be tracked through the reading of Derrida’s book: extension, partes-extra-partes, touch, and self-touching. This list is somewhere in the text, but I just can’t find it…
** Break **
After the break, Arsalan pointed to a passage where Derrida suggests “touch remains the motif of a sort of absolute, irredentist, and post-deconstructive realism” (p. 46/60). The first question was: “what the heck does ‘irredentist’ mean?”, and it basically is from an Italian root meaning “One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one's nation but now subject to a foreign government.” Thus, the trope of incorporation and re-incorporation are at stake in the ‘irredentist’. The notion of touch is a sort of incorporation of the homogeneous, a suggestion which is followed by the notion that the Thing self-touches where ‘one’ touches Nothing. This passage is infinitely difficult and rich…
The image begins with the ‘spacing’ of space, the things spaced are not reducible to a mathematizable extension – or in other words, the spacing of space is a sort of absolute realism. The thing, the body, the soul, is self-touching without any reduction to a world of extension, of partes-extra-partes, or of touch. Here Hugh held up some match boxes, touching each other, but then separated them. Looking to one, the point seems to be that it is self-touching, not that we can really look to it, for we can’t ‘see’ self touch. This, suggested Hugh, is what Derrida is trying to tell us about the body and the soul, they are a se-toucher, the hyphen being added, perhaps, to denote a (new) logical operator.
Aaron pushed on the notion that in some sense the inner and the outer are touching when we say the match-box is self-touching. But Hugh insisted that the question is not one of parts touching other parts, but of self-touching. I suggested that the image might be that the soul and body pervade each other. If we were to reduce this to parts touching other parts, or inner touching outer, then we would have the same body/soul structure, and the same patient/agent structure that Derrida and Nancy are trying to get away from. Soul and body are not two parts of a whole, they are two co-interruptions of shared continuity.
We turned to consider the notion that Merleau-Ponty (and earlier Husserl) and investigated, of touchant toucher, or touching touch. In a certain sense, this turns the parts of the body into agent and patient. The lending of intentionality or directionality to the right hand touching the left hand gives precisely the structure that Aaron wanted to question, the parts touching other parts. But Nancy and Derrida are suggesting something more radical. There is always already self-touching going on, the soul and the body, which is not discovered in the intentional act. Derrida is breaking the tie to an acting intentionality that is the basis for Merleau-Ponty’s corporeal phenomenology.
Aaron made the suggestion that this seems to be more of a whole/parts question, even if we do think of a soul pervading a body, and vice versa. To this I suggested that the touching of a part of my body is the turning into a mere part, or mere thing, of one hand, and the coupling of an intentional (transcendent ego) nugget with the touching hand. Self touching is a breaking of the touch from the ego who is acting, touching. In an important sense, Merleau-Ponty’s account of touch is not about un-intentional touching (Aaron’s legs touching each other), because touching is related to the intentional ego doing touching. Derrida is being really radical here, whereas it is in a sense merely neo-Kantian to do the phenomenological move. Thus, Derrida is getting free from the ‘soul’ doing all kinds of heavy acts…
Aaron still held tight, suggesting that this was indeed his point: that he can indeed touch his hand and also his legs can touch as mere parts of a whole, as two parts touching each other. Hugh suggested that if you go down this part/whole road, then you are going to end up with an agent/patient relationship. Hugh argued for this by suggesting that in that despite the necessary presuppositions of this road, you can never identify the soul, and indeed, you could never really identify the body either. Descartes and others made the mistake that they could not identify the soul, so it must have been in a different realm. But they failed to notice that the body is not identifiable either, only Spinoza might have thought this – when as Deleuze points out, he suggest that “we do not yet know what a body can do…”. The body and soul interrupt each other, they are integrated, but not in a phenomenological sense.
I tried to formulate the point as follows:
“One of the hardest things to get to is to not reify focus. Focusing, in a certain sense, one hand touching the other is a certain focusing on an event that is going on, but as Hugh was pointing out, this is hardly all that is going on. There is also always the union of body and soul, the unconscious history that conditions my current experience, there is still the legs touching each other, there is still the fact that the pen as incorporated into my body means that the limits of a body cannot be universally drawn, and still all of this complicated stuff is going on in subjectivity. And what phenomenology does is to reify this moment of focusing. This moment of experiencing a subject touching an object, and now I can do a phenomenological reduction and my ego is safe! What Derrida is pointing to is that all of this other important stuff is lost, all of that is important, and so this thickening that Derrida and Nancy have brought into the phenomenological moment, perhaps the paradigm phenomenological moment of touching touch, has the effect of taking away the safety net of the transcendental ego from Merleau-Ponty and Husserl, not to mention the history of western philosophy...”
After this we turned to think about what gets into the self-touching club. This we didn’t really resolve, the question is what constitutes the other, or the thing? Having thought a bit more about this point, perhaps I would suggest that the question of interruption is one that emerges as to the source of the interruption. The unity of the thing self-touching (insofar as it has the unity of a thingness) is interrupted from outside, whereas the continuity of subjectivities are self-interrupted – self-touched. It is that my soul can interrupt my body, and vice versa, that makes me a subject. Thus, we might not have to have a humanism here, but even with a decentered subject the question of humanism looms large…
We basically spent the last 15 minutes jumping around the text, Hugh notably reminding us that only gangsters thing of the body as merely ‘meat’, in response to Arsalan’s pointing to translation issues between corps, chair, corps propre, Lieb, Korper, body, flesh, etc… The End…