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.

On Touching - Jean-Luc Nancy

In 1992 Derrida wore a first version of what was later to become the book On Touching and it was subsequently translated the following year in a special issue of the journal Paragraph devoted to the work of Jean-Luc Nancy. In 2000 what had been only an article was published in a very much expanded form as a book and it was translated into English in 2005. This book is one of the very last published works of Derrida and it is one of the most significant of his career. Peggy Kamuf, in the puff she has placed on the back of the English translation, already stated this declaring its translation to be a "momentous event" as the book is "one of the greatest, most important works" in Derrida's whole oeuvre. The reason she gives for this claim concerns the relationship of the work to phenomenology pointing out that this work "undertakes nothing less than a deconstruction of the phenomenological principle of principles", in terms of the intuitionism of Husserl.

It is not without a certain trepidation that I approach the task of blogging about this book given the claims that Kamuf makes for it. In some respects it might be thought that the works on Husserl Derrida published in the 1960s, culminating in Speech and Phenomena, would have already undertaken the task she argues that On Touching has completed. The "return" to reading Husserl in On Touching would be, in any case, noteworthy given that, since the publication of Speech and Phenomena, Derrida had rarely explicitly addressed Husserl's thought despite devoting considerable time to it up and including in the writing of Speech and Phenomena. So one of the initial questions concerning the book might well be thought to be why it is that Derrida here decides to return to this questioning and what is added here to the earlier responses to Husserl.

However it might also be thought of some interest that a work which explicitly is devoted to an examination of, and response to, the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, should be as engaged as Kamuf suggests in undertaking once again the "deconstruction" of phenomenology. What would it be about the task of investigating Nancy that would produce, amongst other things, such a revisiting of the "deconstruction" of phenomenology? 

In the "Foreword" to On Touching Derrida ventures a few remarks that are themselves intriguing both in what they intimate and in what they avoid. Derrida opens the brief "Foreword" by remarking again on the genesis of the work from the early essay of 1992. Peggy Kamuf translated it into English in the journal Paragraph, the same Kamuf whose remarks concerning phenomenology we have already noted. The publication of the "germ-cell" of the book in an English language journal prompts from Derrida the response that it is often the case that the "measure" of an idea is taken in countries that are "foreign" to its origination. 

After making this initial remark Derrida suggests further that he would have wished to "develop or pursue" the thought that he began stating in 1992 and that he had not, at the time of writing this "Foreword", given up on this. However, rather than  "develop" this thought he has instead stayed with the "motifs" of his first attempt. So the "development" from 1992 is not marked here in 2000 as, instead, it is the same set of concerns that are dominant here.

The "guiding thread" and the "title" are the same even though, as Derrida puts it, they "never ceased to worry me". One of the reasons why there appears to be this "worry" is due to the way that the French title Le toucher marks a kind of indecision between a noun and a verb. But this linguistic point is connected, by Derrida, to "two indissociable gestures" concerning the handling of touch (something apparently superficial) and the need to singularly address the author of such handling (thus to touch him in some way). 

In highlighting the motif of "touch" it will also seem that it is a form of "sense" that is being privileged above others, a different one perhaps to that engaged in such a work as Speech and Phenomena. Doesn't highlighting this one sense risk leaving much untouched? This would perhaps be one of the "worries" Derrida had about the way that the focus of this work had remained apparently constant.

Not only is this the case but, furthermore, Nancy's own work did not cease developing as Derrida was at work expanding the original essay from 1992 to 2000. Nancy produced more works in this period and the scope and nature of his thought appeared more and more evidently to require analyses that would have quite a few different types of range. Not only is this so but the way in which Nancy himself continued to mobilise talk about "touch" has itself developed a kind of "risk" warns Derrida in this "Foreword". The risk would be that of "venturing with this toward the unpredictable, or losing it there". Such a "risk" would itself be one that would perhaps have to be measured in some way?

Not only is there this possible problem of the "risk" of Nancy's thought but there is further the "risk" Derrida himself is taking of pursuing this thought in the way he is, a risk not just of appearing "dated" as Nancy's thought continues its own path but also of being "increasingly deficient" with regard to Nancy. A formidable "risk" indeed.

Finally, Derrida admits that the text that he is presenting a "Foreword" to is itself one that has manifold ages as it sometimes "skips several years from one sentence to the next". So it would be a text that would be particularly tricky to read since this form of "skipping" would require attention to different strata within the text, strata that would point to some of the questions here being very old, some only new born. In spite of the "shortcomings" that the text appears to have Derrida ventures to conclude by hoping that the work will not have been one he was unjustified in publishing at least if it "persuades others to read one of the immense philosophic works of our time".

This final statement appears to point readers beyond the work itself and back to the texts of Nancy to which it would be a response and, not unusually for Derrida, it will doubtless be necessary to constantly break off reading On Touching in order to relate this text back to the ones it apparently analyses. The precautions that Derrida multiplied in this "Foreword" mark the reading of it as unusually intricate, especially for such a brief text. 

In future postings on this blog I intend to work through On Touching piece by piece, breaking off as and when it appears needed in order to refer to the other texts it analyses and the other works that Derrida implicitly refers to both of his own and by others. The reading of On Touching will thus be a somewhat scattered affair but it is one that I hope the readers of this blog - whoever and wherever they may be found - will come to "enjoy".

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Derrida and Plurality

I'm going to begin this blog with some reflections on the reasons why I'm starting it and an indication of some of the things I intend to explore in it. I've no idea how long the blog will continue, knowing, as I do, from previous experience of blogging, that this is difficult to say, not least because the impetus behind blogging can be one that, after a while, dissipates. However the basis of the blog is to try to explore, through reading some texts aloud in a public forum, a general suspicion. 

The suspicion can be formulated in both a positive and a negative way. I'll begin with the positive way. This can be put by venturing to remind whoever is reading this that many of Derrida's texts are explicitly set up as plurivocal. This is the case, for example, with Cinders, The Post Card, Glas and at least some of the texts gathered together in Psyche. The plurivocality of these texts is part of the performance of them and is often marked as requiring them to be read in a way in which sexual difference is seen as articulated in them. I take this to be important and there is at least one case I can think of where Derrida underscores this importance. It is when he replies to Jean-Luc Marion's reading of an earlier text on negative theology published in On the Name which Derrida qualifies by reminding Marion that the text in question was written in a plurivocal way, a fact that Marion's interpretation simply erased. In underscoring that this is important Derrida implicitly rebuked the scores of interpreters who have proceeded as if the plurivocal character of his texts is without significance and can be simply ignored. It is to show that such readers have, as Derrida often states, not seriously read his texts.

Now, this theme of plurivocality, if it is connected to the sense that the different voices are in some way a staging of sexual difference, as Derrida says they are, suggests to me a thought that would be a guiding principle that I would hope to somehow flesh out in reading his work. The way in which I would like to try to operationalise this insight is only by means of one access that is opened up by it and I am aware there are others which it would be good if other readers were to try to work on (by, for example, attending to the multiple languages in Derrida's works and how this requires a continual exercise of translation, an area of work outside my competence but which would also be essential for the interpretation of it). My means of extending the insight of plurivocality would be by taking as a formative key to his writing a certain practice that engages intimately and continuously (across his work, sometimes explicitly and, more often, implicitly), with psychoanalysis and its legacy. The immense theme of Derrida and psychoanalysis is one which is, I am waging, only in its infancy of being related to. I would like to begin the process of developing the exploration of this theme and connecting it to the sense that there are plural voices working in Derrida's texts also at points where this plurality is not made explicit.

A negative way of making this same point is by way of contrast with what I am finding in works published since Derrida's death. In these works there is a practice quite distinct from the one I am outlining in which authors are instead finding a single logic to govern Derrida's texts, a logic whose simplicity and privilege will render these darkly difficult writings more simply open to all whilst also enabling them to be deployed more overtly in a polemical way. Such a tendency is openly evoked, for example, in Martin Hagglund's Radical Atheism, a work which stakes everything on a logic which is traced as operative throughout Derrida's writings and sets this logic up against other accounts (such as those given in "theological" readers of Derrida). In some respects this work of Hagglund performs an obvious service reacting as it does to works that are themselves singularly problematic in their unilateral accounts of Derrida's texts. It performs this service, however, by the simple process of rendering a different logic to the ones it "opposes" and in its opposition reframes the debate around Derrida in terms of the degree to which Derrida's texts can be made accessible by means of the logic it elucidates. In a different way, much less polemically and more interestingly, Andrea Hurst in her book Derrida Vis-a-vis Lacan also suggests a general logic is to be found in Derrida's work, a general logic that provides the key to the reading of this work and enables a clearer grasp of its central concerns. (This book is one to which I will return in future postings however since it contains resources that perhaps resist this way of reading that it also champions.)

The hermeneutic postulate adopted by both Hagglund and Hurst is, as a hermeneutic, unimpeachable. There could be no other task when engaged in interpretation concerned centrally with the elucidation of meaning than finding governing logics and marginalizing that in texts which does not fit such logics. It is a classical programme of reading and one whose necessity in central respects is hard to dispute. But it does, as a programme of reading, precisely erase the singularity of Derrida's texts rendering them readable by reducing them to a level of meaning-logic that is meant to be spoken through their textuality and hence ignoring that textuality. Such a form of reading, useful as it is in central respects and inevitable in certain ways, is precisely not deconstructive. This is not merely because the practice of Derrida's texts is precisely one that resists hermeneutic closure through availing itself of textual techniques that resist such reduction though this is evidently true (and manifest in texts such as Glas and The Post Card). It is also, I am waging, because the plurivocal is meant to be insisted upon within Derrida's texts and if these texts are read without this plurivocality in some sense emerging a key feature of them is lost which, once lost, renders Derrida into a writer like many others with nothing special or specific left over to be read. 

One of the effects of such forms of reading that avow their commitment to governing logics is precisely that sexual difference disappears from their purview and, with this, a real sense of the relation to psychoanalysis. This, at least, is the suspicion that motivates beginning this blog and provides me with a rationale for attempting to undertake on it the reading of Derrida's texts otherwise than by means of governing logics. The readings I will provide will instead be focused specifically upon the three inter-related questions of plurivocality within the texts read, the trace of sexual difference within them and the relationship of them to the legacies of psychoanalysis that is marked within them. 

Having announced thus the rationale for the appearance of this blog it only remains to indicate the way that I will proceed in writing it. It will be by means of attending, in postings, to reading specific texts. These texts will be read by means of the guiding themes mentioned above and the reading of them will thus attempt to release these texts for the further analysis and dispute that they will subsequently require. No one of these texts of Derrida's can be given a reading that closes them down and decisively provides "the" essential sense of them. Instead what will be attempted will be provisional ways of giving a certain access, an access that will be interesting in particular to those who concern themselves with a plural event understood in a sexually marked way that manifests a guarded relation to the heritage of psychoanalysis. Whilst this access is only one of the plural ways these texts work it is one that has some call to be regarded as specifically important in relation to the development of Derrida's work in relation to the scene of "French theory" in general. This is because within "French theory" the contestation over psychoanalysis is a matter unlike any other.