Monday, 4 February 2013

Coetzee and Nancy (I)

I've recently read both Nancy's The Experience of Freedom and J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello and thought it would be worth voicing some thoughts on certain relations between these works. It is worth pointing out, however, that I was led to Elizabeth Costello not by The Experience of Freedom but instead by Nancy's more recent work Adoration (which marks the second volume in his treatment of the theme of the deconstruction of Christianity). So, in beginning my treatment in this posting, I am going to look at the ways that Elizabeth Costello gets referenced in Adoration before turning in a different posting to some connections between Coetzee's work and The Experience of Freedom.

Elizabeth Costello is cited twice in Adoration and the first citation arises at the end of its second chapter. It is to locate the relation between this citation, its place within Elizabeth Costello and its connection to the message of this chapter of Adoration that this posting is dedicated. This second chapter is entitled "In the Midst of the World", a chapter that opens with a citation from Paul Celan that addresses the "mandorla" or almond shape within which Christ is often depicted. This chapter thus opens and closes with a literary referent. Celan's poem is cited with just the point emerging from it that what "dwells" inside the mandorla is "nothing". The chapter concludes by citing Elizabeth Costello as an instance of the appearance of the theme of the whole work, namely, "adoration", an "adoration" marked in the citation from Elizabeth Costello. What is the movement of this chapter that leads from Celan's claim about the "nothing" and which ends with Coetzee's reference to "adoration" and what is the effect that is performed here on Coetzee's text?

The argument of the chapter opens by addressing the question "why Christianity", a question that has a place also in the architecture of Elizabeth Costello. The question is posed here in Adoration in terms of why it appears that Nancy wishes to speak of Christianity and he immediately suggests he would prefer "to speak of it as little as possible". The "name" of Christianity is one he would like to "efface" as its "corpus" is already "mostly effaced". This opening is an odd one, not least given the Levinasian echoes of the notion of "effacement". However Nancy does not follow up this echo sticking instead to answering the question as to why he has chosen to speak of something that he would prefer not to speak of. The "West" names a world, in Nancy's view, that arises from "Christendom" and this helps to give a rationale for turning attention to the way that Christianity constituted the world that, in some way, is the one within which Nancy's own thought emerges.

Christianity arrives at the apparent "end" of a world, the world that we now term "ancient". In this world there was, states Nancy, an incompatibility between life and death that was absolute. Due to this death appears as an affliction. By contrast Christianity's "good news" could be said to consist in a revaluation of death so that it becomes possible to become "saved" from it. The "salvation" that Christianity promises is based on its claim of a new kind of life that will not be scarred by death, a life that, it claims, will be "eternal". This point about the eternal marks a sense of time that ceases to be bound primarily or only by the rhythm of a life seen in organic terms as proceeding from birth to death by means of a process of growth and decay. It is thus Christianity that opens a new kind of time, a time "outside" time. Christianity thus gives a sense of the "world" that is not "ancient" due to its freeing itself in a sense from chronology grasped by means first of all of an organic body.

This possibility is what would be a life that would be inside the world but not integral to the world or in the world but not of the world. However having reached the point of pulling out of Christianity this sense of a change in the way of living in the world Nancy next moves to a claim that new senses have been given to this view that are not essentially Christian. Wittgenstein, for example, can speak of the sense of the world as something that is not "of" the world without thereby locating it within "another world". This possibility is also a central thought that Nancy finds in Derrida through the notion of "differance" since, by means of it, it becomes possible to speak of "spacing" as something within the world and yet as also not "of" the world. 

The "Western" story to which Nancy adheres is one taken largely from Nietzsche since it includes the view that the history of which he is part is one in which "nothing" is found underpinning the story of its sense. This arrival of a thought of this "nothing" is part of the general way that Christianity has been led beyond the regime of "Christendom". Christianity has thereby deconstructed itself. It has desacralized itself and thus securalized itself. From this movement the discontent that we often name "modernity" finds itself coming. The ground of the "discontent" in question is that, in uncovering the nothing beneath sense we wonder after the question of what it is that makes us civilised. Not least amongst the reasons why this question emerges is that it is from Christianity that we have taken our deepest sense of what it is that makes humanity something onto itself.

Civilization has thus become detached from its apparent source by means of the equivocal legacy of Christianity. Christianity is also a name for an incredible "mixing" together of traits that were previously kept separate, a mixing that gives us now the very idea of what "religion" consists in. Spiritual tonalities are opened for us in the midst of life by means of sacraments that form a chasm within the world through the techniques of the world. Christianity names body as "flesh" and thus hands it over to devils. So the self-deconstruction of Christianity is what has to be tracked if the new invention of a world without "God" can be undertaken.

What will such a world come to look like? It would have to be a world in which the "same" sense of separation from the world named by Christianity no longer required the reference to Christ or the angels. The body has to be rescued from the "flesh" of Christianity. But this is not the possibility, as some think, of atheism. Christianity is already marked by a relation to something other than 'atheism' strictly speaking. Look, for example, at the relation Christ's death has to that of Socrates, two forms of sacrifice united at least in the way that philosophy gives sense to both. In both cases death of someone opens the world up to something that was within it and yet not "of" it. Philosophy perhaps articulated the sense of atheism itself or was part of what allowed Christianity to always have an atheist face. Within Christianity the way this "face" of atheism was manifested was through the "effacement" of "God" through the figure of Christ. (Here again the echo of Levinas.)

In Christ's figure Christianity arrives at a view of death as something absolutely singular and this singularity of Christ's death allows the world to be abandoned to itself. Christianity is a means of "dwelling" (Celan's word) in the absence of God, an absence of relation between beings. God, if such could be named "beyond" Christianity, would be a "relation" of beings that was no longer atheist. The world is in excess of itself, as seen in the chasm between being and non-being. This opposition, the one that was absolute for the "ancient" world, allowed for them a sense by means of the "gods" but our thought is now neither Christian nor ancient. 

Atheism is not enough as the withdrawal of God was already given through and in Christianity. The death of "God" is the absence of necessity in the way that reason operates for us. There is no place for "God" in the sense of a principle that can operate as the name given to this principle did: as an absent centre that still gave sense. The death of God is thus strangeness itself which can only be met in terms of a calling to listen to the possibility of there even being a world. The world is not the world: this message is what Christianity is giving us and yet the failure of the Churches to belong to the message they nevertheless present is what ensures that they live in a kind of fury. 

Christianity remains religious in the sense that it marks the distinction of the world from itself. In this respect it is different from both Judaism and Islam. Judaism names a life that refuses to integrate with all and this refusal practices a separation Christianity names which accounts for the ambiguities of the relations between Christians and Jews. Islam, by contrast, seems lost in adoration of God and in being so lost confronts the world with a fury of its own, symmetrical to that of Christianity. 

The opening onto nothingness is experienced primarily as a crisis of nomination. All the world finds itself in the "West"'s wake and thus becomes disoriented. There is no substantive way in which the world appears as myth disintegrates and reasons appear insufficient for existence. Sense thus escapes. It is no longer the case that the world is one in which the thought of "God" unifies. Revelation has overcome doctrine and the religions are in the wake of the problem created by this. What is at work now is the possibility of an address that appears for us fundamentally through literature. This culminating "conclusion" of the chapter opens Nancy's argument to a citation from Elizabeth Costello and now I want to look at how this citation is taken from the work of which it is a part.

Nancy cites a passage from "Lesson 5" of Elizabeth Costello. This "lesson" is given the general title "the Humanities in Africa". This "lesson" is the counterpoint to "lesson 2" which was entitled "the novel in Africa" and there would be much to say about the relation between these two "lessons". The explicit theme of the "lesson" is that our eponymous character is visiting her sister who has become a nun and lives in Africa, in, to be precise, Zululand. The occasion of Elizabeth's visit is that her sister has written a book about the hospital in which she works that has been an unexpected success and is now to be awarded an honorary degree in recognition.

Elizabeth and her sister: two writers, one of whom has "withdrawn" from the world. In making her move outside the usual run of the world Elizabeth's sister has changed her name from the familiar "Blanche" by which Elizabeth still thinks of her to "Bridget" a name that Elizabeth cannot associate with her. The two of them meet in a hotel and Elizabeth quickly discovers that her sister has about her something of the archaic since her dress is not modernized post-Vatican II. Elizabeth also discovers that her sister is to give an "address" in response to her being awarded her honorary degree, something that will precede the awarding of degrees to the ordinary graduands of the university. 

Sister Blanche/Bridget's "address" is one that strikes a strident note and concentrates on the idea of the "humanities". The Sister traces, in rudimentary fashion, the way that the "humanities" emerged in the Renaissance as a result of historical events such as the sacking of Constantinople. This led, according to the Sister, to a focus on an apparently un-regenerated life in the form of access to the texts of "antiquity". The Sister argues that these studies were intended to complement and enhance the study of divinity and that they have since lost their way as they are unable to offer a means of life to the world. 

The Sister's address is followed by a dinner at which the argument of her speech is central to the conversation. One of the speakers in the conversation contradicts the Sister by saying that the problem lies not with the humanities but with the Church that has never reconciled itself to the diversity of interpretations texts are capable of. Further, such diversity gives a key to the multicultural world we are now within. Our good Sister is unconvinced by this defence and refers instead to the classic figures of the humanist tradition stating that these figures opened the door to relativism. The Sister points out that Winckelmann, for instance, wished to institute a form of counter-religion and that this failed as all secular views of salvation will do.

Elizabeth later also quarrels with her sister and points to the possibility of beauty in art as something that does raise the human spirit but her sister is unconvinced and points to the way colonists tried to see the Zulus as Greeks but that the Zulus themselves preferred Christ. Later, after returning home to Australia, Elizabeth composes an epistolary reply to her sister though it is not obvious she ever sends it. It is from this reply that Nancy takes the citation that he ends the second chapter of Adoration with. Having restored the context of which it is generally part I now want to look at the specific way this citation works within the letter.

Elizabeth in the letter writes about a man with whom her mother became friends, a "Mr Philipps" or, as she also calls him, "Mr P". This man was a painter who painted her mother but who later had an operation that left him scarcely able to speak. He also began to paint Elizabeth but subsequently later her know he would have liked to have painted her nude. In response Elizabeth removed her bra and allowed him to see her breasts. She sat thus with him a while and she wishes to tell Sister Blanche/Bridget about this because the occasion seems to her as one in which through her body the gods manifested themselves, that she became, as she sat there, Aphrodite or Hera or Artemis.

The sense of the way she manifested the gods in her body is centred particularly for Elizabeth on her breasts, breasts which, it seems to her, "exuded" into the room. However having voiced this word Elizabeth's story takes a different turn since, as she says, the Greeks did not "exude". In claiming that her body manifested itself this way she takes leave of what may have simply appeared a humanist reply to her sister's Christian discourse. Who is it who she thinks "exuded" if not the Greeks? Mary of Nazareth but the Mary she finds in a Renaissance work, the work of Correggio: "the one who delicately raises her nipple with her fingertips so that her baby can suck; who, secure in her virtue, boldly uncovers herself under the painter's gaze and thence under our gaze" (149).

We have not yet reached the passage Nancy cites though we may wonder why he did not cite this passage which is so reminiscent of his essay on "Christian Art" in The Ground of the Image. Elizabeth is clearly referring to Virgin and Child with an Angel, a work Correggio began in 1520 and completed in 1524. In this work the nipple of which Elizabeth speaks is plainly visible and the child's hand is raised just above it whilst an angel, unmentioned by Elizabeth, gazes at this breast with attention. Elizabeth's descriptive gestures with regard to this painting are themselves fascinating since she speaks of the Mary in question as one who raises her nipple "delicately" and the nipple is shown in Correggio's painting as emerging from Mary's dress. However Mary is not just seen by Elizabeth as acting with delicacy since she also claims that Mary is someone who acts "boldly" in uncovering herself to both the painter's gaze and to the gaze of the viewer's of the painting.

This pivotal point in Elizabeth's missive is connected next to the way that she imagines the scene of the composition of the work connecting it thereby to her own act before "Mr P". She imagines the painter speaking to the woman in question, directing her how to lift her breast, and even crossing the floor to show her how to do so. Finally she fills the scene in by imagining others gathered at the scene witnessing the interaction between painter and model including apprentices and visitors. It is after so filling in the scene that Elizabeth ventures the move that Nancy cites as the conclusion to Chapter 2 just after referring so crucially to "literature". 

In the passage Nancy cites Elizabeth speculates as to who the woman who modelled for the painting was and ventures to suggest that there was "erotic energy" in the studio with the penises of the men gathered around tingling. However after making this point she concludes the paragraph Nancy cites by presenting as a counter-point to this "erotic energy" something else which Nancy terms "adoration" (and which, in the English text is "worship"). It is specifically this that leads Nancy to cite the text: "The brush pauses as they worship the mystery that is manifested to them: from the body of the woman, life flowing in a stream" (150).

The adoration centres that is on the mystery of life as something that is seen within the body of the woman who models Mary. The displacement that this works on the figure of Mary is clearly what attracts the eye of Nancy. However, there are two codas to the story that Elizabeth tells in this epistle, one within the epistle and one outside it. Within the epistle Elizabeth uses the tale to draw the moral that, in the dispute she is having with her sister both of them until now have failed to capture what "humanity" itself consists in. Elizabeth finds humanity in the "acts" performed by herself for "Mr P" and by the model for the painter. These "acts" are specific to humanity as it is humans who cover themselves and can thus uncover themselves. In making this point Elizabeth centres her sense of humanity not just on the body but more specifically on the possibility of the body being nude.

The possibility of so presenting oneself is something that Elizabeth says emerges out of "the overflow of our hearts" by means of which the beauty inside us comes out. This beauty is shown in the way that the "oddly curved fatty sacs" can become related to as that which receives adoration, an adoration that Elizabeth states women are complicit in allowing men to be obsessed with. This relation between men, women and nudity is what, for Elizabeth, marks humanity and it is what she concludes the letter somewhat surprisingly by saying we have inherited from the Greeks. Within the epistle there are then three displacements: firstly from the scene with "Mr P" to the scene from Correggio, second from the Greeks to Mary, thirdly from the "Christian" scene to a moral derived from it which reverts us back to the Greeks. Underneath them all, as it were, Nancy selects a moment, a moment that he takes to represent "adoration" as a possibility but in so doing the relations between the elements appear to be reduced, peculiarly so in the reference to "literature" when the scene in question, despite being presented in a literary work tells us instead something about what went in to the making of a visual work. Within the visual work spoken of the "adoration" that Nancy selects as his theme makes itself present.

The second coda to the cited passage occurs after Elizabeth has completed her missive. The story with "Mr P" does not end quite as it appeared to from the evidence of the letter. Later she visited "Mr P" when his health had deteriorated much more. On this latter visit she bore her breast again and not only did so but reached under the bed blankets to caress the old man's penis. She reaches and kisses it despite the sense she has that his body is not that clean. "Mr P" is not a god and has grown old and Elizabeth is aware that this latter set of acts she engaged in is not one that has an obvious name since it is "too grotesque" to be eros and evidently not agape. Perhaps after all she reflects the Christians have the word for this: caritas. This word names for her the second relation she enters with "Mr P" and after so naming it the chapter concludes with her wailing wish to able to speak again to her sister.

Leaving aside the complicated question of the relations between the sisters in this "lesson" the striking way the final engagement with "Mr P" returns to Christianity yet again and does so in a space in which no reference to art is this time ventured suggests that a certain kind of gift of presence to the other is also at work in the relation to Christianity, not merely, as the chapter from which the citation of Coetzee occurs suggests, the distance from the world within the world. This would be one named by Works of Love.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Trauma of Thought

With apologies for having neglected this blog for a while I'd like to restart it with some preliminary reflections on Derrida: A Biography which I've been reading for the past few days. First of all I'd like to say how profoundly moving this book is. It gives insight into the work of Derrida in a way that enables the life of which they were a part to be seen as reflected in them without merely relativistically demoting his works to local episodes. This is quite an achievement given how easily biographies can produce a reductive treatment of thought. The second point about the book concerns the impossibility of what it attempts and the way this impossibility is understood within the work as part of what enables it to function. The impossibility is that of presenting for the reader a picture of Derrida the man and his life, the relation of this "life" to the "works" that have his name assigned to them, and the relation of both these to a largely 20th century history that is already receding from us. It is naturally impossible to do "justice" to all three of these registers and so Peeters has to emphasize at different points either one or the other of these three axes but he does so in ways that keep reminding one of the other two.

The third point that emerged for me from reading the book, however, even though it is never made an explicit theme within it, concerns the way that the book reveals a relationship Derrida constantly had with trauma and that this relationship structures the nature of his thinking. This topic is not thematised as such within the biography, not least because the literary genre of biography would make such thematisation very difficult. The point of biography in one sense is the presentation of a life in terms of a continuous linear story even though this narration necessarily is, in key senses, fictive. A biography that left such an approach entirely behind would, after all, cease to belong to the genre of "biography" as this is recognised. But it remains the case that following a linear account of a life will prevent some matters from being centred as the passage from one set of events to another will tend to impose itself as the "natural" order.

Despite this problem and clearly having no wish to give a psychoanalytic reading of Derrida the book does, all the same, provide a large amount of evidence for seeing the development of the man and the work as related to an "experience" that can be said to be one of repeated trauma. There are numerous signs of this and in this posting I will simply point to some of the most manifest in order to leave possible room, on some other future occasion, for subtler analyses to be presented.

The epigraph for Peeters' work is taken from "Circumfession" where Derrida refers to the "secret" from which he writes and the inability of anyone to "know" it. As is known the theme of "secrecy" is itself one that Derrida made an object of attention in some of his late works. Alongside this attention to "secrecy" is a passionate engagement with memory and the archive which is revealed in Derrida's reluctance to throw anything away and a kind of sense of each moment of the past as something to be treasured. The oddity of this last point when related to the "secret" is that the preservation of such an archive clearly allows for the publicity of the life that is subsequently given in the publication of a work like that of Peeters. 

The next theme that connects to the question of the kinds of "passion" that inhabited Derrida would be the relation to his "origin" in the sense of the genetic place of his birth and its displacement. The birth was within Algeria as part of a group (Sephardic Jews) who had been granted French citizenship during the lifetime of Derrida's grandparents. Derrida was the third child of his parents but the second died aged only 3 months old less than a year before Jacques' birth. The sense of this element of "wound" is manifested for Derrida himself as he spoke, in "Circumfession" of himself as an "intruder" and one who was loved "in place of another". This first sense of displacement is seconded when Derrida's cousin is run over by a car and killed shortly after Jacques enters school, something made worse by the news being wrongly conveyed to him as the death instead of his older still living brother. This double presence of "death" early in his life is one of the first ways that a theme that is central to his thought emerges. Alongside them is a displacement that is later marked in terms of how institutions operate. The exclusion from school that occurs to Derrida under the auspices of the Vichy authorities in 1942 is the occasion for this next violence. 

One of the effects of the exclusion from school is the response of the Jewish community to create its own schools from which, however, Jacques was alienated from the beginning, an alienation that indicates his refusal to accept a placing within a communal organisation that defensively has to mime the exclusionary operation of the authorities. Derrida's alienation from this logic ensures, in its turn, a sense of a displacement not just brought about by the Vichy regime but also from the response to it, despite the latter's obvious necessity. 

These early traumas, real as they doubtless were, might be thought to be ones that could be located within a definable chronology as is the purport of respectable biography. However Peeters' tale places them in a wider perspective. Let's accumulate the signs. In 1949, aged only 19, Derrida travels to France in order to attempt to enter the Normale Superior. Not only does this repeat displacement but the experience of this attempt is both one of delay (it took three attempts to pass the exam allowing entrance) but also of physical rebellion against the pressures of the occasion manifested in illnesses bordering on, as Peeters states, "nervous collapse". Relations with Algeria itself, intermittent and distracted, also become refracted through a sense of the provincial character of the life there which creates a further displacement. Put together we discern the beginning of a pattern: one of anxiety.

Later, after entrance to the Ecole Normale, relations begin with Althusser and reading starts of Husserl, two elements that are not at ease with the institution he has entered. Derrida's romantic life subsequently centres on a gentile who he marries "secretly" whilst in the US. The late 1950s and early 60s include the Algerian War which wrenches Derrida's family from its original environment and entails that he loses any possible further relation to his own "origin". This is all prior to the writing and publication of any of the texts that would later become ones that we would all learn of and some of us would attempt to study. 

The beginning of Derrida's serious publication history with the translation of Husserl's Origin of Geometry and the writing of an "Introduction" to it which is much longer than the original text involves him changing his first name from the way it was given (as "Jackie") to the "official" Jacques. This further displacement would appear to be compensated by the arrival of the man in the terrain of the institution as witnessed by the positive response of Ricoeur to this work. However no sooner is this text published, in a somewhat "conventional" style, than Derrida begins publications that already mark a diversion from it, including works on Foucault and Levinas. Alongside a divergence from institutional norms comes the pressure of political alignments, first with regard to Althusser and second with regard to Tel Quel, that introduce tensions and dissonances that mark the development of Derrida's work and the relation of him to the personnel of French intellectual life.

The blossoming of Derrida's life from 1967 on with the arrival of a mature sense of his own style and the formation of the ability to decisively shape his own sense of intellectual work occur against political backdrops that were, in late sixties France, extremely difficult (as indeed was the case elsewhere but France in 68 is, after all, a by-word for the whole period). The distance Derrida himself felt towards the exigencies of these moments is recorded well by Peeters and the difference  between their tempo and that announced in Of Grammatology is evident enough. The further displacement involved in teaching at US universities begins from this period even though it was to develop more intensely later.

From this time on the proliferation of texts mounts at a pace that gets more and more frenetic for the rest of his life. It includes, however, the formation of works whose form was as avant-garde as that of Glas and The Post Card, the latter of which is later cited by Peeters as putting Derrida beyond the pale for many self-declared "philosophers" and this despite the way the defence of philosophy itself is carried out by the formation of GREPH in the seventies. Attempted alliances to extend philosophy in the educational system subsequently were not supported by others employed in teaching the subject. 

The next thematic of displacement occurs around the relationship Derrida had with the "mass media", an area that Peeters traces from the arrival of the nouveaux philosophes in the 70s through to interviews carried out right towards the end of his life. Although Derrida shifts away from initial outright hostility to the media to attempting to play his own game with it the relation is always for him marked by suspicion, not least at the simplification the media performs on thought. 

The failure of Derrida consistently to win secure institutional recognition within France is detailed convincingly in the work with recurrent snubs and refusals of different institutions to award him a role. Similarly, the success he had in the US was one that produced a significant backlash against him, particularly in departments of philosophy that consistently produced his most vicious detractors and some of whom would even attempt to intervene in the workings of French intellectual institutions. The "Cambridge affair" in the UK was also initiated and pursued by philosophers. So the problem with institutions is again and again played out as a problem with "philosophy" despite the opposite accusation, consistently hurled at Derrida from figures as diverse as Foucault and Bourdeiu, that Derrida was "too" philosophical or only really engaged with philosophy.

The recurrence of a connection with death that is striking in so many of Derrida's later works is also connected to the traumas around the deaths of so many friends and colleagues whose funerals he not only attends but at which he is often asked to provide a funeral oration (works gathered together at the end of his life though not by himself). Alongside this we should note the way that Derrida attempted to care for Althusser after the latter's breakdown culminated in the murder of his wife. 

If the connection to death is an insistent theme it is also connected to superstition, including a view of ghosts that Derrida makes thematic not only from the time of the film Ghost Dance as Peeters suggests but as early as the Introduction to the Origin of Geometry where "haunting" already appears as a motif. That death and life are interlaced and that survival is about a sense of this is one of the ways that Derrida consistently articulates a view of his own self-relation. 

Other elements of displacement: the connection to Heidegger's work always being one of vigilance and distrust even despite the way the "inheritance" of this work was part of his most lasting engagement. A further wound: the discovery of the past of Paul De Man, a discovery that complicates a relation to a friend that had been one of his closest. 

These many ways in which displacement can be traced across Derrida's life and working practice are supplemented by the way that Peeters again and again reveals anxiety, sadness and a certain distrust etched into Jacques' connection to the presence of his own life. These points multiply across the volume despite the recurrent sense also of a man who loved life and was capable of great fun. If the effect of Peeters' biography is to at least partly make it possible to see the man in and through the edifice of the work then it will have been very valuable. But it also produces a view of great work as having often a connection to a life that needn't be one that is at all "easy" to have to live. Peeters himself is a fine writer and what it seems to me he makes manifest is the trauma at the heart of Derrida's thought: a trauma that was "original" and which is nonetheless part of the "secret" of its future.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Nancy on the Soul

Before turning to the opening section of On Touching I want to veer off to some texts of Nancy's. The text I will look at in this posting is one of many that I'll have cause to examine in the course of working through On Touching and a text that is specifically mentioned right at the beginning of On Touching as well as in a note to the "exergue". This is Nancy's text "On the Soul", a title that immediately refers us to the work of Aristotle that was discussed in the "exergue" to On Touching. This text of Nancy's is included in Corpus, the work of Nancy that appears to have a particularly crucial status for On Touching.

This text of Nancy's dates  from 1994 and at the opening of it Nancy mentions how the headlines in the daily papers are full of reference to the cruelties that were, at this time, being committed in Bosnia. The point of the reference is to immediately indicate that although this text refers, in its title, to "the soul", it is going to be the burden of Nancy's argument to suggest that it is bodies that we should have in mind.

The text is one that Nancy indicates is not a "lecture" so much as an "improvisation" as he wishes to avoid producing a "body effect" in his discussion in the sense that Plato speaks of a discourse having an organic form. In place of this kind of effect he wishes to trace a sense of the body as something that is "open". However this point already produces a motif that clearly relates to the concerns of On Touching as Nancy writes: "in order for there to be an opening, something has to be closed, we have to touch upon closure. To touch on what's closed is already to open it. Perhaps there's only ever an opening by way of a touching or a touch. And to open - to touch - is not to tear, dismember, destroy." (122)

This indication that to speak of the body as that which is "open" already implies a relation, in some way, to a closure and the ability to open this closure leads Nancy to invoke the vocabulary of touching. It is by "touching" that opening takes place and such opening is not a form of "destruction". The use of the language of opening and the distancing from "destruction" suggest both a closeness to and a differentiation from Heidegger, much as one often finds in the work of Derrida himself.

Rather than immediately develop the possibilities of this relation to Heidegger however Nancy stays with the sense of what the distinction between openness and closure implies. Something completely "closed" would not even be involved in a form of self-touching he claims and so would not be a "body". This apparently negative claim clearly implies the positive conception that a principal characteristic of bodies would be this ability of self-touching. This point is doubtless one to which we will have to return.

Nancy's initial point in raising this view that complete closure would not allow us to arrive at view of the body is to state that the conventional opposition between "body" and "soul" implies a sense that each is closed off from the other. It thus conceptualises bodies in a sense as if they were strictly inorganic although even this notion partakes more of the quality of an "image" than a concept since the sense of the inorganic body implies a connection between the inorganic and the organic that is itself problematic. A sense of something completely closed in on itself should, in any case, be something that would not characterise a body but might, rather, be the way that "God" could be figured.

Such a notion of "God" would, however, articulate this notion in the form of a "mass" and would belong, Nancy suggests to a kind of thought of "substance". One of the ways "substance" has been often articulated, not mentioned here by Nancy but clearly implied by him, is as that which is "independent" of all else. Nancy refers, unsurprisingly, to Aristotle at this point though the way "substance" is articulated by Aristotle is in the Metaphysics and De Anima would thus be dependent upon it. The thought of "substance" in Aristotle would be, as Nancy states, "more complicated" than this sense of independence alone implies but it is by means of something like this that body is often presented. 

Nancy next refers past Aristotle and forward to the tradition of modern metaphysics in thinking bodily substance by means of geometrical determinations such as the sense of the point and the line. That would be involved, for example, in Descartes' claim that the essence of body is extension.

By contrast to this sense of body as extension we can contrast the mind as that which has "spirit". This would give us the contrast that determines body and mind in such a way that each appears independent of the other. However one of the points about bodies is that they appear to be plural, there are many of them. This is illuminated in the sense of bodies as "mass" rather than as "points". Mass alone, however, like the point, gives no sense of the life of body and indicates a view of them as essentially dead.

So this kind of determination of body seems not to come from the body. Bodies are that which howl and cry and the discourse of substance seems not to tell us anything at all about this. In making this point Nancy refers not to a classic philosopher like Aristotle or Descartes but, instead to Antonin Artaud, the dramatist, who thought that it was necessary to, in some way, mark the limit of the philosophical discourse on substantial embodiment.

The discourse on body appears not to speak of the corporeality of body. This would seem to be part of the way that the logic of discourse itself gets structured after the pattern of the incorporeal. The body, by contrast, viewed by Nancy as that which is open, does not fit such a picture. So body is not purely anatomy, it is not only that which is pictured by the stages of articulation of dead mass. Such discourse gives no sense to body.

So the concern with body that has led to the production of Nancy's talk is one that concerns the embodiment of body and this concern is one that seems particularly contemporary. Body, in some way, interrupts the pattern of "sense" as this has been produced in discourse.

At this point Nancy addresses the question of why his piece is called "on the soul" when he appears to be speaking about bodies and in so doing explicitly refers to Aristotle's De Anima. One of the reasons for using this title, as Nancy puts it, is that in the text after which he has named his talk, the text of Aristotle, we find also a concern with body. Why would this concern with body be marked by both Aristotle and Nancy in a way that eccentrically states it will address the soul?

Nancy's reply to this obvious question is to state that the word "soul" is the word that names a "being outside itself" (which is a way of translating Heidegger's term ex-sistence). The soul is not to be addressed as a "spiritual body" says Nancy as when, in images, an angel is presented leaving the dead body. This representation has to be put aside as we instead concentrate on a view of the soul as being "the body itself".

In other terms the soul is the body's self-relation, that which would enable it therefore to touch itself. If the soul is a term for something it would be that which enables a form of self-differentiation. So, for example, Aristotle determines the soul as the "form" of the body. But this determination could be taken to mean that the soul is still distinct from body unless we say that a body without form is that which we already discounted, namely, a pure mass.

The form of the body is thus what enables us to say we have body at all. So it's not something opposed to matter as if matter and form were exterior to each other. Rather form is the articulation of the matter that allows us to say we have a body. If body is related to itself or to another body it is by means of this articulation. Another way of speaking of form would be to say that there is "sensing" going on as a body is that which senses. So when we say that there is "aesthetics" we mean that there is body.

The body is that which senses and that which gets sensed. The matter of the body is what is sensed and the form of the body is what does the sensing. Since both take place the body senses itself and this self-sensing is the life of the body. The being-sensed of the body cannot be penetrated except in destruction so this is what it is destroy a body, to prevent its sensing from continuing to take place.

A final determination that Nancy takes from Aristotle is that the soul is the "entelechy" of the body. An "entelechy" is that which organizes the body and makes it a whole but we can see this means that the sensing-sensed unity takes place. So entelechy is the operation of the body as a particular. Bodies are articulated as particulars and in relation to each other. So each time there is a body there is occupation of a given area, a space that makes it possible to determine the limits of the given body and distinguish it from other bodies.

So if Aristotle claims that the soul is the "entelechy" of the body then this is the same claim as Heidegger's that there is ex-sistence. The way in which we find ourselves to be is in this being-beyond that is embodiment. The first way we can present this to ourselves is by means of the surface of our own body, as, for example, through skin. The body, in touching itself, touches skin. 

Nancy here refers to "classic" phenomenological analyses of body although he does not here attempt to look at them in depth but he does name both Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. Their analyses of body, he implies, are strange in always concerning themselves with self-touching as a kind of interiority rather than staying with the simple evidence of skin. There is a basic exposure of body to itself in the surface it has, the surface we term in general skin. 

Sensing the body involves the way that it announces itself to the one who has senses and this sensing tells us that there is something going on by means of a kind of eruption. The eruption that we sense is by means of our ability to sense and this ability is what Nancy is here terming the possession of "soul".

Soul is thus a way of speaking of how the body articulates itself by means of an exterior relation it possesses to itself. Leaving behind Aristotle Nancy next mentions Spinoza. Spinoza is the one who claims that the soul is the "idea" of the body and this means that it is the way that God relates to the body. However given that Spinoza performs the radical trick of making God and God alone that which can be named as "substance" it follows that the duality involved in the claim that the soul is the idea of the body is one determined through attributes of the one determination. This claim leads very quickly to thinking God in such a way that the name "God" appears unnecessary.

For Spinoza body and soul are thus internally related as the soul is the body's idea. When Spinoza thus speaks of the feeling of the eternal he means that the body is necessary to itself. Despite the contingency of all that takes place bodily the sense of the taking place is necessary so that the contingent becomes necessary. 

Nancy next looks at Descartes, particularly his Second Meditation. Here we have the figure of the piece of wax. When it is heated it appears to lose all its qualities so that its extension is something opposable to the idea of it. But there is a relation all the same as Descartes speaks here of the two as involved in a form of "touching" as when the sense of touch is still involved even after the burning of the wax. We can touch it even if doing so would burn.  So the extension is one we can touch, even in extremis. 

When Descartes speaks later of the "union" of body and soul he, like Aristotle, accedes to the view that "sensing one's self" is at work. When the soul senses it senses body and the body in being sensed is sensed by means of itself. The body is sensed to be that which is the experience of the "Subject" for Descartes. Essentially the basic relation the "subject" has for Descartes is to touch.

The "I" of Descartes finds its singularity in its way of touching.  This claim about Descartes is made quickly and a longer treatment would be needed but the view that there is "self-sensing" and that is experience is marked in Descartes. It is what makes Descartes' "I" resonate with Heidegger's Dasein. The question of being-there, of occupying a place, is what emerges for Dasein as something that it can question. It is a mystery for it.

But the mystery in question is not one of incarnation in the sense of that which lacks place suddenly occupying space. It is rather that Dasein finds itself as being-a-there and this being is what is inevitable for it. The body is always there and being-there is being open. This conception is different to the one that sets body against soul. Such a view continues in the way that body is spoken of as an object or presented as "objectified". The criticism of "objectification" continues the division of the body/soul duality as it implies that bodies are good or bad in presentational form. 

The body, by contrast, for Nancy, is a "self-sensing"  where such sensing is the opening of the body to that which is other to itself by means of itself. Soul is this being-outside the self. So if the body is an ex-tension it is also an in-tension, that is, a sensible unity that experiences tension as interruption and whose interruption is its way of being itself.

Bodies are being in a certain way, a way that differentiates itself. Soul is thus the way of experiencing the body and experience is only of the body. Bodies are limits that touch themselves. "But touching upon the self is the experience of touching on what is untouchable in a certain way, since 'self-touching' is not, as such, something that can be touched." (134-5) The untouchability of the basic experience of body is articulated as that which self-affects and thus self-disrupts. Bodies are exposition to the outside so that bodies have weight. 

This articulation of bodies by means of soul is what sets "On the Soul" up as a way of thinking bodies as alive. We will next look at how Nancy addresses "psyche" as his text on this will be the one which "opens" On Touching and the sense of which we will find articulated throughout On Touching as part of the way that the soul is thought in its relation to self-affection.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Unity of Touching

In the last posting I looked at the 11th section of Book 2 of Aristotle's De Anima and in this posting I want to address the second part of the "exergue" to On Touching where Derrida's text lists some points concerning this part of De Anima and connects them to some thoughts about Jean-Luc Nancy.

The "exergue" returns to one voice when it addresses the notion that Nancy is a great thinker of "touching" and responds to the scepticism of the second voice concerning this claim by stating, in a way said to show "tact" that Nancy is the greatest thinker of this topic since Aristotle hit upon the "manifold aporia" of touch. Touch appears not to have been clear for Aristotle since he termed it adelon, that is, "obscure" or even "nocturnal". 

Now in turning to Aristotle at this point the discussion in Derrida's text articulates a view of aporias that was the explicit topic of the work Aporias. As it is put here the aporia is not necessarily "a moment that can be passed or surpassed". Aporias are, in terms of their "name", something with which one is not ever done. An aporia is not something that one can see the end of. So let's not hope to simply "step over" these ones that are listed in De Anima or On the Soul as we term it in English.

The discussion in the last posting of De Anima showed a set of questions that were raised there but here one point is picked out initially and this concerns the unity of the "sense" (if it is one and only one) of touch. Starting from this the text moves from the unity of touching "itself" to the unity of that which would be "tangible", the unity of sense which refers touch to the tangible and the question of the credit that should be given by philosophers to common opinion or doxa

These four aporias are next tracked back to precise points in Aristotle's text and become somewhat refined as they are so followed up. The first question of whether touch is a single sense or a "group" of them is related to the question of what the organ of touch is. In placing these points together in the citation it appears from Derrida's text that these are two sides of the same question. This means that the controversy that Aristotle sets out concerning whether or not flesh is the 'organ' of touch is viewed as part of the problem of whether touch is a single sense or many senses.

The second citation given concerns what the "single subject" (2.11.422b) [hupokeimenon] is which underlies the different qualities of touching. In listing this citation separately from the first question it appears from Derrida's text that this problem is distinct from the one concerning what the "organ" of touch is. Going back to the initial statement of four aporias this question would concern the unity of sense not of touch but instead of the tangible.

The third citation concerns how different movements are transmitted to our bodies and articulates the claim that there is something manifold in touching given we get a manifold set of qualities by means of it. This third question would concern the unity of sense between touching and the tangible.

The fourth citation asks whether the perception of all objects of sense is one that we receive in the same way with different senses or in different ways with different senses and here Aristotle mentions the doxa that suggests that touch is in an immediate relation to that which it touches. This fourth citation is related by Derrida's text to the question of the credit that should be given to common opinions or doxa

The four citations related to the four aporias Derrida's text has mentioned come together in a way in this questioning of the credit to be given to common opinion. Aristotle will question this common opinion, at least in a certain way. However since the questions being raised are not necessarily clear for Aristotle it is not obvious that the text will state things that are free of enigma. 

Derrida's text mentions the way the four aporias are apparently resolved within the course of the argument in terms of asserting that the "organ" of touch is interior, thus not flesh; that flesh is only the "medium" of touch; that touch concerns both the tangible and the intangible and that such propositions question, in some ways, the status of views held commonly. However after mentioning the ways the aporias are thus apparently addressed Derrida's text goes on to make the point that there are questions in the course of this treatment that are not even raised including what is meant by the notion of the "interior" of the body, what a "medium" or "intermediary" is and, most mysterious of all, how there can be a form of "intangible" touching.

The last question is one that raises, in particular, the general question of how we can touch upon that which is untouchable.  That general question, which we can see emerges from the problem of the intangible, produces something that is named here both an "obsession" that persists in the thinking of touch and one that "haunts" such thinking. The reference to the notion of "haunting" brings straight to mind the claim about spectrality mounted in Specters of Marx and appears thus to connect the questioning (dating from 1993) of Aristotle here to the earlier questioning of Marx. 

Surfaces would surely be what gets touched. This claim, which we could find also to be part of what is made at a different point in the same section of Aristotle that Derrida's text here engages with, would keep us at the sense that touch has something to do with the "limits" of bodies. But Derrida's text pursues this notion of limit by asking whether limit is itself really part of body since that which is a limit seems, in a sense precisely not to be that which is touched or to be that which cannot touch itself. (Similar here is the peculiar question raised about bodies touching in water in Aristotle's text, something not mentioned in Derrida's text but which raised the same problem.)

Having arrived at this point Derrida's text lists some distinctions that have, so far, not featured in the discussion of Aristotle's text. Included here is the distinction between actual and potential that is central to Aristotle's claims about the sense of touch and which led to the view that the senses are potentialities and thus do not sense themselves unless something from outside intervenes. This claim concerning the need for reference to the exterior infects the whole question of what is going on with "self-touching" or, as it is also called, auto-affection.

Even before we touch on touching itself this question about the status of sense arises since it is a general thesis of Aristotle's that relates to his treatment of each sense and to his view of sensation as such. Touch, however, it is suggested, is distinct from other senses as well since it does not have one proper object in the way that hearing relates to sound but rather encompasses many different types of qualities. 

This claim that touch "discriminates more than one set of different qualities" is taken to be so important that it is listed next as the "epigraph" of the "exergue". In so taking this we find thus an emphasis upon the view that qualities that are so distinct are nonetheless related, in some way, to an apparently unitary sense.

It is with this point that Derrida's text reverts again to the point with which the whole "exergue" began, namely that it will be necessary to engage in "storytelling". Having stated this we arrive again at the classic reference to the statement that there is something occurring "once upon a time". But the story in question will not be one that can be told in a linear fashion and will instead require "tangents" even if they will be ones that will be, in some way, around the topic of "the soul" or De Anima. Words of trouble are involved here: words such as "soul", "mind", "spirit", "body", "sense" and "world".

These words are ones that the text declares to be "inexact" and not to be ones that are "understood". These words lack "exact sense" and have, it is claimed, no "reliable value". In this respect these words, like "being" itself, let alone "presentation" will be ones that will focus our attention. The clear emphasis, however, on the status of what is "exact" is related now specifically to Nancy for whom, we are told, the "exact" is specifically important since Nancy will have required us to attend to it. Indeed, what Nancy understands by the "exact" is what it is the "sole ambition" of the book to "explain".

A number of things arise from looking at the second part of this "exergue" but I wish to conclude with three. Firstly, let's look at how the treatment that has been given here of Aristotle relates to the motifs that emerged in my last posting. The four questions or aporias that Derrida's text listed were all emergent in the argument as I analysed it. It was less obvious to me that the claim concerning the single sense of touch was one that should be collapsed into the question about the tangible object. The nature of what a body consists in was not specifically listed in the aporias Derrida's text stated but it came back in how he responded to the questions the text raised. The argument for viewing the "organ" of touch to be interior was not treated by Derrida but the reason why it was not became clear, namely, that the notion of the "interior" itself is one that he viewed Aristotle as having assumed a view of.

A second question concerns the way that the status of the "exact" and the "inexact" are to be tracked from now on. Derrida's text names Nancy as central to the question of how we will come to look at this although no one who has studied Husserl can fail to see that the question is one that was also decisively important for Husserl. Perhaps this question of the relation between the "exact" and the "inexact" will be one of the ways that Nancy and Husserl will be brought into relation. In any case the sense of exactitude as one that is key to the whole book is the most decisive claim in the "exergue" in terms of the clues it gives for how the rest of On Touching should be viewed.

The third point will concern precisely the status of De Anima and the reference to it for the understanding of Nancy. In a footnote Derrida refers to Nancy's own text "On the Soul", one of those collected in Corpus but which Derrida states here he only became aware of "after" writing this analysis. In the next posting the questions pursued by Nancy in "On the Soul" will be analysed prior to returning to the main text of On Touching.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Aristotle's Aporias of Touch

The second part of the exergue to On Touching reports on, and responds to, a section of Aristotle's De Anima. In the next posting I will look at how the section of Aristotle is reported on there but in this posting I want instead to move away from Derrida's text and to look directly at the section of De Anima in question in order to first give my own summary of how this section goes. When, in the next posting, I then look at how it is treated in the exergue to On Touching it will be possible to compare the treatment I have given with that set out in the exergue.

The section of De Anima that Derrida treats is the eleventh paragraph of Book II. It is here that Aristotle arrives at the treatment of touch and lists some "aporias" (or "problems") concerning this. The first question that arises concerns whether touch is a "single" sense or "many" senses. Now, if touch is more than one sense it would follow that what is "tangible" is the object of many senses. But this first problem is followed rapidly by a second one which concerns what the sense-organ of touch is. Two alternatives are listed here by Aristotle as possible answers to this question. The first is that the "sense-organ" is the flesh. But the second answer would state that flesh is only the "medium" of touch whilst the original sense-organ is something different, something more "interior". 

After raising this second problem Aristotle lists, as is common within his work, a common view and, is also often the case with him, proceeds to complicate the response to it. The common view would be that senses are governed by a "single" opposition as hearing for example would be by the difference between sharp and flat. By contrast, touch would appear to include many oppositions (thus giving credence to the view that it involves many senses) since the contrast between rough and smooth is different to that between hot and cold for example. Having set this up and used this point to apparently reinforce the claim that touch is something that belongs to many senses Aristotle proceeds to state something that undermines such a ready conclusion. For, as he now states, there are many oppositions with regard to the other senses and not just with touch. The example Aristotle uses to show this concerns "voice" which is said to include as much variety of pitch as touch does variety of that which is tangible (and which would therefore undermine the earlier claim about hearing since voice and hearing would be inter-related senses). However if this discussion of a common view undermines the way that such a view appears to resolve the question of whether touch is one sense or many it remains the case that nothing said has addressed the question of the organ of touch and related to this point is the further (third) question of whether there is something that "underlies" the phenomena of touch in the way that sound does with hearing and speaking.

Aristotle returns next to the question of whether the "organ" of touch is the flesh or something interior and he now points out that we have no way of getting an answer to this purely from the claim that the sensation of touch arises immediately from contact between flesh and object. After all an overall surface that stretches over all our flesh would have the same effect of immediacy and yet this surface still would not be the organ of touch. Similarly if flesh itself acts as such a membrane on top of the interior organ as might be suggested by a champion of the view that touch arises from the interior then the fact of immediacy alone could not lead one to the view that flesh is the organ of touch.

This point concerning immediacy is reinforced by some considerations Aristotle adduces with regard to other senses and principally with regard to air. The result of this is to lead his discussion in the direction of the claim that the "body" in general is the "ongrown medium" of the faculty that is responsible for touch and that sensations take place through the body. So this question of the sense-organ of touch is apparently resolved in favour of the view that the organ is interior and is not the flesh. This view is also linked to the claim that touch encompasses many senses since the tongue is engaged in touch but in such a way as to inform us of flavour whereas other forms of touch inform us of other phenomena.

At this point, however, Aristotle poses another problem. This concerns the understanding of body. Bodies, he argues, all have depth which is something like their third dimension. Further where there is a body interposed between two others the two in question are not able to touch. Something that is wet also has body but one that incorporates water so that if two things touch in water this is by means of connection through water as a medium. However the problem here is that water is presumably saturating the bodies in question in such a way that it becomes unclear how the bodies can touch given that water acts like a third body between the first two.

This problem concerning the touching of bodies in different media is next related to one concerning how perception takes place. Is perception the same with regard to different things Aristotle now asks or does it have a different relation to distinct things? If it is the latter then perceptions of different sorts would differ in the way that touch and taste do. But Aristotle indicates this is not the case given that we perceive the rough and the smooth by means of other media just as we do the audible and the visible.

The difference with different senses is that with some we perceive them at a remove as when smell is distinct from that which has the smell whereas with other senses, such as roughness and smoothness there is an apparent immediacy in the relationship between the phenomena and the way we perceive it. But in fact every thing appears before us by means of an intermediary that enables us to perceive it. In the case of what Aristotle terms the "contact senses" we often fail to note the presence of the intermediary which is why some forms of sense strike us as more immediate than others.

Tangible objects are different from visible ones as we grasp the intermediary elements in the latter case more readily than in the former though the earlier hypothesis of a membrane covering the whole flesh showed us how it is the case that there is no evidence for the immediacy of touch purely from our naive phenomenal sense of it. However with touch we are not affected by the medium but, as it were, at the "same time" as it. This is like when someone is struck by means of something he is holding which vibrates throughout him simultaneously with the thing being held. 

Aristotle moves now to the view that the sense-organ or faculty of touch is something interior rather than being the flesh itself. The sensations of touch are thus no more in the flesh than the sensation of sight is in the eye even though we appear to perceive objects "through" the flesh. 

The next step in Aristotle's argument is that the "organ" or "faculty" of touch is potentially like that with which it is affected. This is due to his general claim that perception consists in being affected in a certain way. So if the senses are so affected then what affects them is something active and the senses, as that which is passive, are made potentially like that which is active is in actuality. Sensation is like a kind of judge between the opposing elements of the active affection which discriminates between their contraries so that we not do not note all the ways the affecting element is distinguishable. 

Touch, in the conclusion of section 11, concerns, states Aristotle, the tangible and the intangible where that which is intangible is either that which is only slightly tangible or excessively so. And with this claim Aristotle closes his discussion. In the next posting we will look at how Derrida's text includes a response to this account.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Exergue to On Touching

In his essay White Mythology, collected in English in Margins of Philosophy Derrida has a section at the opening which he terms an "exergue". An "exergue" is the term used for the place on a coin beneath the design that is on the reverse side and usually lists the date and location where its making took place. In White Mythology it is used to make an extended point about the metaphoricity of words, not least given that words are often spoken of as forms of "coin" which can be exchanged, at least in traditions of rhetoric. An "exergue" is also an epigraph.

If I apply the term "exergue" to the opening section of On Touching there are a number of separate reasons for doing so. It is, firstly, the original part of the work being a re-translation of the piece that was first translated in the journal Paragraph in 1993. So here we find the "location" of the origin of the thought that is being advanced in the book. Similarly, since 1993 is seven years prior to the original French publication of On Touching we are also reminded of the date of the questions that arise here. The suggestion we have of a kind of traded "word" is one whose reserves we might uncover on a later date. Finally, in relation to an epigraph the title of this section of the work provides one in terms of an alleged quotation concerning the touching of eyes, one that is stated within the "exergue" later. The subtitle of the "exergue" refers to "signing a question", one derived, apparently, from Aristotle. In this posting I will go up to, but stop just prior to arriving at, the "question" from Aristotle as interrogation of this "question" will deserve a couple of subsequent postings, both in terms of a look at Aristotle's text and at the uses Derrida puts it to.

A last point worth making about this "exergue" is that, within it, we find a form of "dialogue" between at least two (unidentified) voices though the "dialogue" only opens after nearly two pages have been written and closes after the name of Aristotle first appears. The brevity of the "dialogue" included in the "exergue" belies, however, the stakes of what is stated within it.

The first voice which emerges in the "exergue" and does so before we are aware there will be a second voice starts by discussing the "day" and even invokes the notion of the beginning of a story with the expression "once upon a time". The story is of the voice in question being approached "one day" by a "question", a feminine question (la question). The "question" itself, however, is not stated initially as, first of all, the nature of the arrival of the question is laid out.

The arrival of this "question" is not one that arises, says the voice, by means of a kind of "visit". Rather this "question" is one that "took hold" of our voice, it "touched" this voice so, although there wasn't a "visit", there was a form of "visitation". Already this reference to a kind of "visitation" is a kind of citation since, as readers of Nancy will recall, one of the essays in his work The Ground of the Image is concerned precisely with the way the scene that is termed that of a "visitation" is dealt with in different paintings and, principally, in a work by Pontormo. From the analysis of these paintings Nancy alleges far-reaching consequences for the understanding of Christian painting. So if the "question" with which our first voice is approached arrives as if by means of a "visitation" then its arrival echoes that of the way that Mary, the Mother of God, is said to have connected with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Given Nancy's project of the "deconstruction of Christianity", a topic broached later in On Touching, the reference to this notion is surely one we are expected to pick up on.

The "visitation" that the question represents is indicated by our first voice to be one that tests "hospitality" since there had been no prior invitation that was given out before this question turned up. Rather than pursue this point about hospitality, however, the voice instead indicates that naming the question in the feminine is to give it a kind of "nickname" and that giving this "nickname" to the question might well create a problem with describing the story that it appears we have ventured upon. Why would this be the case? Principally because the story's form is one that begins with "one day" whereas the question itself would appear to be one about the "day" itself. As our first voice puts this: "By right, 'she' thus came to light before the light of a day."

This "coming to light" before the light of a day is one we might well question in terms of its possibility. It implies something concerning the possibility of a form of light that is not available by means of the kind of questioning that is assured about the source of light. Amongst other metaphorical resonances it may remind us of the way that lunar light, for example, was, prior to solar light, taken to be the form of light that was primary by certain kinds of ancient worship. Not only was this so but the lunar light was feminine in its characterisation by contrast to the later solar light (later incarnated by the Greeks in the god Apollo, one of the central figures of Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy).

This reference, whether one we are assumed to take on board or not fits the suggestion of a light prior to the day, one that came, as the voice puts it, "the evening before". It would be, as the voice states, an earlier riser than the day and perhaps be that which "watches over" the phenomenon (a first reference to phenomenology). This question, if it has to do with the day and questioning the view that the day is the first and original source of light, is something "pre-phenomenological" or, and this is also marked here, "trans-phenomenal".

Having worked this far into the "story" it is of interest to note that the next thing questioned by this first voice is the assurance with which it apparently began that the question was one that came to or from the voice itself. It would seem that the question did not originate in the voice but rather came to it from "the other", an other marked here as feminine. 

At this point let's state the question given that our first voice now allows the question to be stated. The question is, as follows: "Quand nos jeux se touchent, fait-il jour ou fait-il nuit?" This is translated into English by Christine Irizarry as: "When our eyes touch, is it day or is it night?"

So the question, the question which came to the voice from without, is one that touches exactly upon a theme concerning the relationship between day and night and yet which connects this question to one that concerns a connection between at least two, a connection related, in some way, to how eyes are themselves to be said to have relations with each other.

The first voice next tells us that, once the question was one that had arisen, that this voice tried subsequently to "have it out" with the question itself. Such "having it out" involved, suggests the voice, a kind of "limitless patience". Such a patience is connected to a view of "experience" and the way the question is phrased takes a further turn when the touching of the eyes is next related to the touching of lips. Can eyes, in the second rendition of the question, touch in the way lips do? That is, can they "press together"? (Which kinds of lips? After all, after the writing of Irigaray, who cannot be aware of the sense that lips are not just, at least for those who are "feminine", on the mouth?)

This comparison of eyes to lips is not simply dropped either. The comparison is one that is raised due to the suggestion raising something interesting about eyes. Lips have a surface and when they connect it is this surface that is the basis of the connection. When eyes connect is there a "surface" in question? Surely there is a form of "touch" when eyes look at each other? Is there not a contact here?

The questions that arise once the comparison between eyes and lips has been made multiply and I will depart from strict commentary in failing to list all of them. The question that strikes me through the multiplicity that quickly gathers is one concerning "interruption" as the relationship between eyes appears to have something about it, or the questions gathering around it do, that manifests a form of interruption.

After the questions have gathered the first voice concludes its oration by stating that the resolution of the questions in terms of a suggested "benediction" emerging from the contact between the eyes is one that presupposes something. Namely, that the eyes "see each other".

It is after this "presupposition" has been stated that the second "voice" asserts itself for the first time. This second voice raises its own question asking whether what is at issue is "eyes" at all and not rather "gazes" and that the first voice would err in running these two different notions together. Two gazes are not evidently equivalent to two eyes after all and not all eyes see. Even eyes that don't see (the theme, amongst others, of Memoirs of the Blind) have some form of light.

The first "voice" reasserts itself now suggesting that where the two voices are is in the night. This indication that the whole "dialogue" is one taking place at night is one that is subsequently related by this voice to the choice between "looking" in the sense of gazing and seeing as seeing. This difference is amplified into the distinction between what it is to see seeing and what it is making seeing visible. To see seeing, the voice now suggests, is meet a gaze and meeting this is not to meet something that is, in the strict sense, visible.

If you see that which is gazing you then are away from visibility. You don't see the other's eyes so much as their way of merely seeing. This suggestion - which, as will emerge later, mirrors some theses of Merleau-Ponty - is related to other questions the first voice also raises concerning the "finite course of a sun" and the relation, once again, between day and night. The point that emerges this time is that it might be necessary to make the night appear in order to see oneself looking at the other. This idea is one we will again note later as connected to certain motifs in Levinas.

The second voice emerges again to repeat a question the first voice raised concerning the time at which the "dialogue" is apparently taking place. Is it occurring in the daytime or the night?

Voice one displaces the repeated question by first noting that naming the "night" suggests a blind touching and then stating that the question "itself" has objected saying that it might be by means of this that hearing and understanding is first taking place.

Voice two states next that the meeting of gazes is where both gaze and eyes meet and distinguishes visibility as that which touches on objects in the world from seeing as that which is the "origin" of the world. Another resonance here points again to the ambiguity of "lips" however since The Origin of the World is the title of a "controversial" painting by Courbet that concerns, as Nancy puts it in Corpus "staring at the slit of the vulva". If the "origin of the world" is also not just from lips but from "seeing" then the kind of seeing in question would have a form that would be, as this voice puts it, "daring".

Voice one next mentions how there may be at the moment of touching something like space for "an interval" which is now named (as in On the Name) as "chora", a resonance from Plato. Everything can turn itself around says this voice when it is not yet daylight. This turning around is illustrated by this voice now in terms of how one might come to wish that one dies before others so that one does not live to suffer the experience of seeing them die. 

After this "turning around" the question is one that is said now by voice one to have been signed after which this voice speaks of "inventing" a story despite the story being one that is "true" and the story concerning the question being one on a wall in Paris, such an inscription inspiring the voice to make it into the epigraph to the questions intended as the basis for an address to Jean-Luc Nancy, who is now stated to be "the greatest thinker about touching of all time". The final question before the apparent disappearance of the second voice concerns this hyperbolic claim asking whether it is "really" the case that such a claim can be made. Only after the hyperbolic claim and its questioning does the dialogue apparently end as, for the rest of the "exergue", the first voice takes over again and does so in order to look at some problems from Aristotle's On the Soul. Those questions, in terms of how Aristotle states them and how they are summarised in the "exergue" will be the subject of the next postings.