19 APRIL 06


Arsalan Memon

PHI 620

April 19, 2006

Prof. Silverman


§ 4 The Untouchable, or the Vow of Abstinence

The Exorbitant, I––––Tact “beyond the possible”

––––Stroking, Striking, Thinking, Weighing:

Mourning Eros and the Other Hand of…

§ ––––– Touching Upon Aaron’s Protocol….


            We began with Aaron’s ex-cruciatingly well-written and detail-oriented protocol. Just as Aaron was halfway through his protocol, Professor Silverman interrupted him on the point of savoir-faire, saying that savior-faire is like connaítre. The French word connaítre means, “to be acquainted with.” The standard opposition is between savior and connaítre. Don then intervened and remarked profoundly that the Latin root of connaítre means, “co-birth.” Then Don tied the etymological account with Aaron’s point about the visitor and the host: one’s daily life is just not interrupted by the visitor, but they are both, the host and the visitor, are born out of that interruption. That is to say, becoming acquainted with each other is the emergence of the relationship of the host and the visitor. Don said Irigaray mentions this in the passing. 


§ ––––– Knowing vis-à-vis Knowing How


            Our discussion, beyond the protocol began with Derek’s concern of virtue, hospitality, and its relation to knowledge and know how. Aaron read the following sentence from his protocol:


This would translate into Derridian terms to ‘knowing-how’ to be virtuous without being virtuous. This is, I think, something like what Derek wanted to approach, with true hospitality as a ‘being-ready’ to be hospitable even in the absence of a situation that calls for it.


Professor Silverman: How is this in Derridian terms?


Aaron: It is in Derridian terms in that there is kind of a virtue in being hospitable. When the visitor comes uninvited, the host would already know what to do in a situation. The host would act hospitable and that would be a virtuous act.


Don: It is an already a knowing how to be, not a knowing.


Professor Silverman: It might not work for Aristotle because for Aristotle, one has to desire to do the good. In order to be virtuous, you not only have to know what it means to be virtuous, but you have to want to be virtuous and then you have to act virtuously. But, for Aristotle, one cannot know how to be virtuous and not be virtuous.


Don: In the Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty gives the example of the organ player. The organ player has learned to play one organ all his life and when he is put in front of another organ, this is like, his expressive space, which opens up underneath his hands, his body snaps into shape with slightly different keys, but he knows how to go on. He’s an organ player; he knows how to play another organ. He has an ability to go on, the ability to access that space of the organ.


Professor Silverman: In Merleau-Ponty this comes in the form of tending toward of an orientation toward expression. The organ player has never played on this particular organ, but sits at the organ in the way that it would lend itself to this organ. But what bothers me are the two decidables: 1) Knowing how to be virtuous without being virtuous and 2) being virtuous without knowing how to be virtuous. “Isn’t this an impossible knowledge or a thinking of impossible knowledge?” (68).


Don: The knowledge in the last paragraph on page sixty-eight is about the object that makes it impossible, that is the paradoxical law of tact: touch without touching. It is not so much the structure of knowledge, but the supposed object of knowledge. Tact gets characterized as impossible knowledge. Are we wrong to generalize this to talk about virtue because we are talking about the law of tact? In this case, it’s a very particular moment in Derrida’s text that might not allow itself to be universalized to all knowledge and know how.


Derek: There does seem something very broad about his use of tact and the law of tact in particular. This is the law of the law, not just a law of tact.


Aaron: If tact is the law of the law, then a law of hospitality or law of virtue would necessarily have to do with tact.


Derek: It’s impossible to have a particular law for tact, we can’t define the tactile, and the law itself cannot be touched.


Don: Tact requires speaking. We have to talk about touch, but we can’t talk about touch as Touch with a capital T or as universal.


Derek: It’s always going to pertain to a “who” or a “what.”


Don: Right! Everything is like that for Derrida, that is my understanding. In almost in all cases, we have to resist universalizing these concepts.


Don: That is one reason why I brought up Merleau-Ponty’s example because there is a universal structure that Merleau-Ponty finds in this example.


Professor Silverman: It’s not a universal structure. It’s a very situational condition.


Don: There’s a nugget for all learned body-schemas. Any particular one is very contingent, there’s a transcendental ego that can learn the body-schemas and then the habitual body takes over.


Professor Silverman: No! That is Husserl. Merleau-Ponty does not have a transcendental ego that learns these things.


Don: It’s a body ego.


Professor Silverman: It’s not transcendental. It’s a situational event, you know what to do, you tend towards that expression. He talks about the body schema, which he gets from the psychologists. The body schema is neither transcendental nor does it come from the transcendental ego. It’s very situated.


Don: The Phenomenology of Perception presupposes a phenomenology of consciousness. If you’re Merleau-Ponty in his early works, wouldn’t it be the case that these expressions are all traceable back to consciousness, which is embodied?

Professor Silverman: There is no tracing back.


Don: The unity of the subject is around those tendencies.


Professor Silverman: It is those tendencies. 


Don: It still doesn’t submit itself to a de-centered subject.


Professor Silverman: It is neither a centered subject nor a de-centered subject, it’s an embodied subject, an incarnate subject. It is always already bodily, therefore, responding to the situation. It is not as though there is something standing behind it as a transcendental ego. The bodily schema is the schema of the bodily tending towards.


I was thinking about tact and tactfulness, knowing how to touch without touching. Is this knowing (savoir)? Is this savoir-faire savoir? Or is there an interruption between the savior-faire and the savoir? Is there some kind of a break between the knowing and knowing how? It’s an interruption of contact and not just tact. Knowing how to touch without touching involves touching.  Does that require knowledge, that is, you step back and know? Is knowing something entirely independent of knowing how?


Moreover, there is certainly no beforehand knowledge but it is also the case that in the situation, the knowing how is not without knowledge. But there is also no independent knowledge. There has to be a break between the knowing how that is not independent knowledge and the knowledge.


Don: What would knowledge be of knowing how to ride a bike? It would be some sort of a long list of muscle movements, balance, how bikes move, etc.


Professor Silverman: What is he calling that? He is calling all that tact.


Don: Is he calling all of knowledge tact?


Professor Silverman: No, not knowledge nor knowing how.


Don: You can know all of that and not know how to ride a bike when you get on it, that is Russell’s point.


Professor Silverman: Derrida is saying something other than what Russell is saying. Derrida doesn’t see them as two different types of knowledge, knowing that and knowing how, as Russell does. Derrida is saying, I think, that there is knowing involved in knowing-how, but that knowing is not knowledge. And knowledge is not knowing-how. There is a break between knowing how and knowing. This break, this interruption, he is calling tact. What is tact? Tact involves tactfulness, tactile, tactility and so on. There is tact that brings together and separates knowing how and knowing. It is a hinge. If you want to put it in terms of virtue, there’s knowing how to be virtuous, which involves knowing, but it’s not knowledge. There is knowledge of virtue, but its not knowing how. There is tact or tactfulness, which links the two and separates the two at the same time. One must not touch the law that commands that you must not touch. The law that prohibits touching is a law that you must not touch because of the prohibition or another reason?


Derek: I think because of the respect.


Professor Silverman: Where is the respect? It comes between the prohibition to touch and the edict to not touch the law. It is not on the side of the subject.


The negation of touching is used to negate the touching.


The negation to touch the law is used to negate the touching as law. There are two senses of touching, one is touching something in the physical sense and the other is touching upon an issue. You have know how in relation to touching. You know how to touch, but you don’t actually touch. Then the other half is the prohibition to touch upon the question of touch. But there are two senses of touch, as aforementioned, one is touching and the other is intellectual touching.


Don: I think its in John and Lacan, the notion of sin comes in the proclamation not to touch and the desire to touch comes with the proclamation not to touch. The sin comes with the law. Sin only arises when the law arises. When the commandment was spoken, then sin comes into existence.


Professor Silverman: There was no sin before the prohibition of sin.


Don: In Lacan’s analysis of the Oedipus complex in the Ethics Seminar, which he takes the section from John. He reinscribes Das Ding instead of sin. So the desire for the thing or the object of desire comes with the prohibition not to touch. Let us not forget that the intouchable and the vow of abstinence are co-titles of this section. When there is the law of tact, there is the desire to touch. When there is the prohibition, the desire to break that law comes into existence. The possibility of not being tactful comes with the law of tact.


Aaron: Isn’t that the perjury?


Don: It is. I think it’s related to what Hugh rightly pointed out earlier that the vow of abstinence could be thought as the epochē, that is, not to touch what you are talking about.


Professor Silverman: The key here is the desire to touch and the prohibition of that desire. The inhibition of the desire, is the abstinence, more specifically, the vow of abstinence. What is the vow of abstinence? Can you have a vow of abstinence if you don’t know how to touch? That is the question.


Don: That is why the intouchable is important here. If the prefix was “un” instead of “in,” then there would be no need for a vow of abstinence because it would be impossible to touch. For example, I promise not to turn that chair into gold. I know I cannot do that. It’s impossible, un-possible, or non-possible.


Professor Silverman: I vow not to go to mars tomorrow. It doesn’t have any value. So presumably, the vow of abstinence is about something that you know how to do, but you vow not to do it and then you don’t do it.


Don: I think it’s even more than that. You have to want to do it. It seems somewhat ingenious to sit here to vow the things I have no desire or intention to do. You have to give up something for lent, as a kid, I wanted to give up broccoli, I knew I didn’t like it, so it was not a big deal. 


Professor Silverman: The intouchable has to be a hinge: it has to be both touching the touchable and the decision not to touch. The intouchable cannot be like I don’t want to go to mars tomorrow or turn the chair into gold. There is nothing intouchable about that. The intouchable cannot be on the side of just touchability, or untouchability, it has to be somewhere between them as tact. It is not simply just respect for the law by itself in the Kantian sense, that is no big deal. But it’s actually where the respect for the law brings you to the point where it’s touching the touching, where it brings you to the point where the law says, “don’t touch” and yet you are right on the verge of touching. In the sense you could touch, but you don’t. That’s what makes the intouchable work. It requires tact to actually not touch when you know how to touch.


Don: And when you desire to.


Professor Silverman: Desire is an interruption between knowing how to touch without touching and the knowledge of touching. In other words, desire is not a condition that stands behind the knowing how or the knowing, but actually is situated in the intouchable. Desire happens. Desire goes right up to the edge of touchability. Desire can’t be back here somewhere. Desire is right at the place where the untouchable turns into the touchable. Desire does not belong to the subject. Think of caress, which comes back many times in this chapter. The caress is not just an idea, it has to be actual touching. And there is abstinence. Desire is not like a Nietzschean will or an Augustinian will. Desire is located on the verge.


Don: Isn’t the prohibition in the body of the other? Isn’t the prohibition not to touch the other?


Professor Silverman: That sounds like Lacan.


Don: I see this as a kind of an indirect attack on the history of philosophy that has taken this vow of abstinence not touch. These are all the philosophers who are talking about touch but not about caress or striking people.


Professor Silverman: They talked about the body as some thing or some substance.


Don: Touch, for them, is some category of sense. This gives them isolation from a lot of the problems.


Professor Silverman: They did philosophy in this pure way without touching on the forbidden.


Don: I am unclear where the attack ends and the positive stuff begins.


Professor Silverman: First of all, I don’t agree with it as an attack. There is a problem with the history of philosophy. We got the sensible/intelligible binary pair: sensing on one side and  thinking on the other. Desire is on the mental side or the side of the intelligible. This is all what Derrida is deconstructing. This is a binary that is full of problems, beginning with the extension of Psyche. I mean its only because Psyche is extended that the law of abstinence and intouchable makes sense. If she was a mind, then there would be no problem, you couldn’t touch her anyway. The vow of abstinence is not something that is mentalistic, it is inscribed in the intouchable, which is itself is at the border between the sensible and the intelligible. Derrida wants to put the thinking, the deconstruction, at this place where the intelligible and the sensible meet. The intouchable is neither a mind thing nor a body thing, but the hinge between them. The desire or the vow to not touch, is also at that place between.


Don: The chapter on Psyche was about Psyche’s extension. The chapter, “This is My Body,” was about self-touching and the hinge between the soul and the body. This chapter is about me touching others. There is a spacing because we can respond to a law which is different that just pursuing contact in the animal world. Through this intouchable and the vow of abstinence, we move to the relations of the others. The prohibition is in a sense manifested by the body of the other because they are others. Here in this chapter, we are talking about other self-touchers.


Professor Silverman: You got these two self-touchers, and it is at the place of contact where the intouchable happens. So do they touch? Do they not touch? It is a hinge. Do you touch when you touch upon the question of touching? Even the question of touching that we are touching upon is something that is sensible and intelligible at the same time. But also it is neither intelligible nor sensible. I don’t know how you do that with virtue.


Don: To violate the law of tact is in a sense to rape the other. This is what we are on the edge of. To a certain extent, the law of tact is what spaces us as ourselves as touchers or touched. To rape the other is to violate their existence as a self-toucher, to touch them as objects. If that is the law of tact, then yes I think it is connected to virtue. The virtuous person is the person who knows to respect the law, which is to allow the spacing of the other.


Professor Silverman: The problem is, this question of virtue or the virtuous person doesn’t involve the intouchable. Virtue doesn’t bring you in contact with the other. It is perfectly possible to be virtuous and never come into contact with the other. All the language is a language of tact, contact, tactile, intouchable, touching, untouchable, vow of abstinence, etc. The language is situated between the self-touchers. In being virtuous, there is no contact or touching.


Break time!


§ –––––––––––––––––––––––– The I| n| t| e| r| r| u| p| t| i| o| n| –––––––––––––––––––––––––


The beginning and the ending of the break…..


§ ––––– Thinking the Weight of Thought […] Weighing the Thought of Weight


            After coming back from the break, Don just wanted to point out that deconstruction is not a method, a strategy, a thing, a theme, a motive, and so on.


Professor Silverman: Derrida often called it a strategy, but never a method. There is then the question of the relationship between strategy and tactics. It is not a method in the Husserlian or the scientific sense. It is a strategy for thinking, for reading. Now here in this book, On Touching–––Jean-Luc Nancy, Derrida might want to think of it as a tactic.


There’s this book of Nancy called, The Gravity of Thought (Le poids d’une pensée), which can be translated as The Weight of the Thought. There is this whole question that Derrida is raising here: “This is another way of saying that, in this tactile corpus, one is dealing less with a categorial list of operations that consist in touching than with thinking, which is to say pondering (peser), weighing that which gives itself over a tact in a thousand ways, namely, the body, the corpus, inasmuch as it weighs–––and therefore, in a certain way, thinks” (71).


The word that the translator translated as pondering (peser) should have been weighing. Derrida plays on the two words, peser and penser. If you take the “n” out of penser, you get peser. Derrida says this: “the minute difference of a letter, n, is poised [in French] between thinking and weighing, penser and peser)” (73).


Don: The translator has left out the square brackets in the English translation. The square brackets, in the English translation, should have started from the second paragraph on page seventy-two and they end on page seventy-four, right before the last paragraph. 


Professor Silverman: We will find out that thinking is going to be a form of touching. There is a passage between weight of a thought and the weight of the body. Weight is the indecidable, it is a hinge. If weight is the hinge between the two, weight then can belong to thought and also to the body and neither fully. Further, the connection between peser and penser is discourse. Discourse involves weighing and thinking. It is in the balance. That is the point that is in question here.


Don: Thought weighs. If Psyche is extended, if speaking happens in the words, and they are weighty, if they have importance and gravity, then the word arrives into its very physical expression. Also, there is some inconsistency with the translation between peser and penser as pondering. The translator translated peser as pondering in the last paragraph on page seventy-one and penser as pondered in the first paragraph on page seventy-three.


Professor Silverman: Now people will get confused from this translation and there will be studies on the ponderousness of the thought of Nancy. Ponderous thought is actually not the point, thought is weighty. It has force and meaning. As Nancy goes on to say, “Thinking weighs exactly the weight of the sense” (73). How do you get sense with exactitude? “The weight of a thought is quite exactly [très exactement] the inappropriability of appropriation, or the impropriety of the proper (proper to itself, absolutely)” (73).


Don: Is the exactitude a difficulty or a feature? Isn’t it in a sense Nancy’s point that there is nothing outside of the weight of the thought? Thinking weighs exactly onto those words that are exscribed.


Professor Silverman: The key word is exactly. It gets appropriated to get some extra weight with it. If you say something as exactly, then that gives it extra weight as oppose to just saying, “yes” or “that’s right.” Also, something that is exact has no room for error.


Don: It’s exacting, excruciatingly.


Professor Silverman: In order to have exact determination, he uses more than one expression:
“inaccessible, contradictory, or indecidable” (73). There’s this kind of view that indecidability, contradictory and so on are fuzzy terms that are imprecise and inexact. What Derrida is saying is that no they are very precise and very exact and exacting. That is really important that the indecidable is exact. Like the intouchable is not a fuzzy place, it’s a very exact and precise place.


Aaron: I agree that it has to be an exact determination.


Professor Silverman: It doesn’t have to be, it just is.


Aaron: I don’t know what that means.


Professor Silverman: The has to be makes it a necessary condition, therefore it is a condition of the possibility, where it is a condition that is independent of the actual status of the event.


Don: At different times, for me, there is an indecidability between the between two and the between that pervades both. For instance, with self-touching, the body and the soul pervade both, whereas with touching, there is a between.


Professor Silverman: I think the word, “pervade” is too indeterminate. There has to be a seam between thinking and body. 


Don: The poles are not decidable. The old assumption that we can talk about the soul and body as separate concepts and things is gone. Doesn’t that suggest that there is a certain fuzziness between the two? How can we think of the seam between the soul and the body? I don’t even know what a seam would be between the soul and the body?


Professor Silverman: Thinking-weighing, there is a hyphen between the two (73). If you take the n out or put it in, you get the intersection between peser and penser. Here he says, “unthinkable-unweighable” [l’impe(n)sable] (73). The indecidablity is right here in the difference between the two words with and without the n, its like différance. It marks the hinge.


Don: There is even the formation with the brackets. To suggest that it is between the brackets. That itself is a typographical expression, a co-interruption of impensable and impesable.


Professor Silverman: So the n graphically separates the two and brings them together.


Derek: So how does this answer Don’s question?


Don: Wouldn’t we want to leave open the question of their relationship [i.e. mind and body]?


Professor Silverman: Is one imposed on the other? Is one insinuated in the other? I don’t think pervade is excluded. Interruption is more radical than pervading, an interruption is like a seam. Pervading is a mixing up such that there is no way to find the break, the gap, the link, and that’s the problem with pervading.


Don: Would you want to put the weight of difference into a logic that has two sides and a seam (or a hinge)? Derrida is constantly throwing into question the logic that reduces these terms to some kind of universality. If you are suggesting that there is always a hinge that is indecidable between the two. Then the hinge itself cannot be deconstructed. 


Professor Silverman: The hinge is the place of deconstruction.


Don: The hinge is not a universal, it has particular features.


Professor Silverman: The hinge is not out there as something Platonic.


Don: What would be the logic of deconstruction then?


Professor Silverman: It’s the logic of supplementarity. The hinge is a supplement, it’s a super addition of sense. How can you weigh sense? What kind of scale do you need?


Arsalan – Would that have to do anything with transitivity and intransitivity? Because Derrida says,


“Transitivity: thought weighs, and by weighing it examines and weighs out what it is weighing, evaluating sense exactly; it indicates its exact weight.


Intransitivity: thought weighs: it is weighty as much as pondering or thinking; it has the weight of sense; it weighs, itself, what sense weighs, neither more nor less, exactly” (74).


Professor Silverman: So the difference is that as transitive, thinking weighs something and as intransitive, thinking weighs. The former has a direct object, while the latter has no direct object.



My car runs at ten miles per hour is intransitive.

I run my dog ten miles per hour is transitive.


Professor Silverman: If it answers the question “what,” then it’s transitive, and if it answers the question “how,” then it’s intransitive.


§ ––––– Postlogue: Décision


            The question that we must ask now is:


Should we finish this chapter or move on to the next?


It is a question of decision, a decision that must be made…


So what is it going to be?