hyphology

"we might define the theory of the text as an hyphology"

Derrida on Rimbaud

[Translator’s Note: The following brief letter was written by Jacques Derrida as a response to an “investigation” made by Roger Munier. It was written sometime between September 1973 and March 1974. The goal of the investigation was to determine the contemporary significance and reception of Arthur Rimbaud’s work. Fifty participants, primarily poets, were asked to reflect on six questions regarding this topic. Other notable respondents were René Char and Martin Heidegger. The questions mainly asked about the notion of silence as it existed in Rimbaud’s work and as a signifier for his departure from poetry. One in particular remarks that Rimbaud seems to be “stretched to the future,” which Derrida indirectly refers to below. Although the goal of the investigation was to tap into the “spirit of an epoch,” this letter gives a great deal of insight into why Rimbaud, a great opponent of dominant Western conceptions of subjectivity, is not directly engaged with throughout Derrida’s corpus.]

*             *             *

Dear Roger Munier,

Thank you for your gesture and your proposal. I must avow [avouer], very stupidly, that I do not know Rimbaud: reading for me [that is] almost “prehistoric.” I do not doubt the necessity of doing it or of attempting a return. Perhaps it would be shocking. Then, I must avow, most stupidly again, that I do not currently have the strength, availability, etc. Perhaps it is already there to answer you that I am closed to the FUTURE, that I do not have time for the future.

                                                                                                                               my faithful friendship.

*             *             *

Translated by Jake Nabasny.

Source: Jacques Derrida, Aujourd’hui, Rimbaud…: Enquête de Roger Munier, ed. Roger Munier (Paris: Lettres Modernes, 1976), 42.

The Life and Death of a Subject: On Dance Gavin Dance’s Instant Gratification

Who are you? What are you all about? Tell me about yourself.

In these and many other colloquial requests, what is interrogated is none other than the “self.” The self is what each one of us has, but no two are exactly alike. Your self makes you a unique individual, although the structure of selfhood is common to all. This structure is what I would call subjectivity. One has subjectivity (meaning, one is a subject) by virtue of being a unique individual (that is, having a self). While the notion of self may not be controversial in itself, its precise domain has eternally been unsettled ground.

There are those who maintain that the self is what stays constant amidst our changing experiences. For our entire lives, we harbor the same self within us through to the end. However, there are experiences that chip away at our faith in an eternal self. A common experience is looking back at ourselves as we were in the past. Who has not seen a picture from their childhood and thought: “Was that really me?” Yet the past is not the only realm in which one’s self seems precarious. The experience of the “uncanny” in the present can lead one to feel out of step with oneself. This feeling of being at odds with oneself can also occur in our anticipation of future events. The anxiety associated with an imminent break in routine can make one feel the poverty of one’s current self. Nevertheless, each self adjusts, in one way or another, to every novelty.

The occasion for these comments on subjectivity is the recent release of Instant Gratification, the latest album from Dance Gavin Dance. The album provides a timeless meditation on the manifestation and annihilation of subjectivity. The “you” referenced in many of the songs is none other than the subject’s dialogue with itself as it struggles to make sense of the world. While the lyrics are conceptually dense (contrary to what one popular critic believes), they resonate with the form and style of the instrumental sound.

Our current task is two-fold. First, we must clarify how Instant Gratification deals with selfhood and subjectivity in general. Second, we will underscore the contribution that the album makes toward a new theory of subjectivity. Given the fact that the album follows the chronological life and death of a subject, I have chosen to follow the same order from the first to the last track. The album reveals no less than the transcendental structure of subjectivity as it is grasped from the subject’s point of view.

Album Art

Read the rest of this entry »

Nietzsche’s Disavowalist Moment

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, a spectacular event unfolded that would forever change history. God was murdered. This scandalous transgression was met with multiple reactions. For some, God’s role was transformed into the logical truths of rationalism. For others, suffering became an eternal condition that only compassion could alleviate for brief moments. A few even continued to cling to the hope that God was alive and well; they transmuted their hopeless hope into “faith.” Yet, the ultimate scandal, according to one German philologist, was that we had assassinated God.

The death of God, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, meant the complete loss of any absolute or universal meaning to life. Contemporary morality and science attempted to mend this void. While Nietzsche offers innovative critiques of moralists (e.g. Kant) and the scientific method, his most venomous rejoinders are directed toward pessimists such as Arthur Schopenhauer. According to Nietzsche, pessimism essentially throws in the towel when confronted with the void of a meaningless existence. It accepts suffering as the eternal condition of life. If the pessimist does not kill herself, she only continues to live for momentary, compassionate acts that unite humans in their shared suffering. Against the pessimist’s resignation and the scientist’s self-certain rationalism, Nietzsche promotes a “gay science” whose task is to tarry with the suffering of existence in order to discover increasingly powerful moments of joy.

In The Gay Science, details of this new science are interspersed with attacks on ancient and modern attempts to escape pessimism (e.g. art, Greek tragedy, Wagnerian opera, religion). The culmination of these guerilla-style interventions is the fourth and final chapter titled “St. Januarius.” (In the second edition, a preface and fifth chapter were added to the book.)  In this chapter Nietzsche turns away from criticism and focuses in on his positive philosophy. It opens with the inauguration of a new year and a new type of person: “I do not want to accuse; I do not even want to accuse the accusers. Let looking away be my only negation! And, all in all and on the whole: some day I want only to be a Yes-sayer!” The Yes-sayer becomes the pinnacle of affirmation; she is the person who resists pessimistic resignation to suffering and creates the new values required for a joyful life. Read the rest of this entry »

Heriberto Yépez: “The Post-Borderzone”

Introduction

What is a border? Is it the imaginary line that divides two countries? Perhaps, it is the width of an object obstructing free passage between two territories. Yet, a border implicates other spaces. At the U.S.-Mexico border, a long line of cars stretches perpendicularly to the border. Attendants at the border refer to it as la línea, the line. In this way, the border is stretched out and its points are multiplied along a two-dimensional surface. The border is really a zone of its own, a transfronterizo or borderzone.

In “Lo post-transfronterizo,” Heriberto Yépez probes deeper into the question concerning the nature of the border. In his investigation, he unravels the popular mythologies that have come to explain the borderzone and the socio-cultural practices that give rise to “border culture.” Yépez’s essay interests us not only for its unique and timely revelations, but also because the borderzone is a territory outside of territory proper, a terra incognita. It is that space which is neither one nor the other, neither North American nor Mexican, and certainly not both. How to approach this space without falling victim to the common mythological trappings (e.g. postmodern “hybridization” of culture) is a strategy we have sought out in various other milieux; this tendency toward the outside is undoubtedly part of the configuration known here as disavowal. For this reason, we offer the following translation of “The Post-Borderzone.”

Translator’s note: I have chosen to translate transfronterizo as “borderzone” when used as a substantive (but as “trans-border” when used as an adjective). “Borderzone,” as the reader will find, has the conceptual benefit of highlighting what Yépez believes is at stake in the transfronterizo. Additionally, I have bolded phrases that appear in English in the original text.

Read the rest of this entry »

Poppin’ Xanax: On Lucki Eck$’s Body High

Lucki Eck$’s second album, Body High, is only the most recent work within a milieu that has been slowly coming into focus. One might say that this milieu (known here as disavowalist works of art) first became visible in Charles Baudelaire’s prose poem, “Be Drunk!” However, this was only the first manifestation of a tradition that has always been clandestine; radical disavowal is akin to an untranslatable secret, like those (un)covered in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Having just been released this month, now is the perfect opportunity to look more closely at a contemporary example of this tradition.

In this album, we find the mutual manifestation of challenges to the sovereignty of the autonomous subject, projected “lines” of escape through drugs, and the search for a community of those who have nothing in common. Eck$ leads the listener on an outlandish Bildung in which the transgression of law is only the first act. We float along with him, at different rates of speed and slowness, like drunken boats who dance on savage waves. The light at the end of this bizarre trip is not the lighthouse guiding us home, but the illumination of transactions yet to come. Read the rest of this entry »

18 Theses on Schopenhauer’s Will

The following aspects of the will are articulated in Book Two of Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea. They are roughly in chronological order. This list is not comprehensive, but merely reformulates some of the key qualities of the will and its manifestation.

Thesis 1: My body is the condition for knowledge of the will. Through it, I have immediate access to the objectivity of the will.

Thesis 2: As a pure knowing subject, my existence is not exhausted by my body. I am really a “winged cherub without a body.”

Thesis 3: All bodily functions, conscious and unconscious, are directed by the will. The will is carried out through assemblages of organs. For example, the teeth-throat-intestines assemblage satisfies the objectification of hunger. To this extent, assemblages are always in process (e.g. digestion) and vary by speed. Read the rest of this entry »

The Death of Sisyphus (Part 2)

We had previously arrived at King Midas as the ultimate existential hero. Meaning is impossible to produce ex nihilo and by attempting this we only find ourselves lost in a meaningless world. Yet, is there a place to go after this? Is it true that—as we previously concluded—any existentialism necessarily ends in anxiety and despair? Indeed, it would appear that the conclusion was premature. King Midas does not exist in a vacuum, but is only part of a more complex continuum. Closely related, but on the opposite side, one finds Hermes. It is somewhere between the perilous Midatic-Hermetic chasm that we may find an answer to Camus’ fundamental question.

Unlike primitive aesthetic assessments (e.g. Apollonian-Dionysian), the Midatic-Hermetic is grafted onto a parabola. The inflection point signifies a tectonic shift from absolute meaninglessness to equivocal encryptions of meaning. At this point, which is, itself, always already an origin splitting apart from itself (attempting to generate what-it-is by becoming-what-it-is-not), one finds the precarious scaffolding for a theory of meaning. Scaffolding, to be sure, is of terminological importance. Whereas previous theories have failed at the very beginning by attempting to locate a foundation (arche), the aporias of meaning have suggested that any theory of meaning will be without foundation (an-arche). Thus, the indeterminacy of this inflection point cannot be under-determined.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

A Footnote to Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

A guiding thread runs through the recent Mission: Impossible movie. At times it represents a rupture, but in other instances it becomes the entire paradigm of the film. This point reveals itself as the constant fear of disavowal. From minor revelations (a supposed reason for Ethan Hunt’s imprisonment) to the complete thematic (“…if you choose to accept it”), becoming-disavowed is what the characters attempt to avoid at every turn.

Disavowed from what? The characters are caught up in a signifying apparatus that totalizes itself throughout the film. The mantra of those that hand out the missions is essentially avowal or death. Like all structures, this implies several dichotomies that the characters cling to as necessary. To be disavowed would be to recognize these oppositions as contingent, which suggests the death of the subject and the melting away of certainty. Some of these dichotomies are global, while others are defined by local events: success/failure, good/evil, west/east, friend/foe, functional/non-functional, and so on.

To give up on these basic (insofar as what is essential for the current signifying apparatus) distinctions would also serve to shake the foundations for any founding principle of metaphysics (e.g. subject/object). Becoming-disavowed involves giving up one’s subjectivity as much as it implies negating the Other’s objectivity. In becoming-disavowed, one loses one’s “agency” (literally, the characters lose membership as an agent of the government).

The anxiety of the death of the subject propels the characters to construct fictions that postpone the reality of disavowal. By the end of the film, “ghost protocol” has still been issued. This means that the characters no longer belong to any agency. Nevertheless, Ethan Hunt takes the role of the agency’s secretary and hands out the next mission to his team. This shows that one signifying apparatus will always be ready to replace another. And yet the threat of radical disavowal continues to infect these structures like the secret that is used to cover up a homicide.

Prefatory Notes on the Poverty of the Soul

“Let us never fear robbers nor murderers. Those are dangers from without, petty dangers. Let us fear ourselves. Prejudices are the real robbers; vices are the real murderers. The great dangers lie within ourselves. What matters it what threatens our head or our purse! Let us think only of that which threatens our soul.” – Victor Hugo

The word “soul” has been reprehensible for too long. The theologians that preach the salvation of the soul only end up strangling what little bit of soul we may have left. There is a soul, but it is fundamentally different than how we have thought about it until now. It must not be reduced to the mind or body: it is a third substance. An essentialist conception of the soul fails to recognize this important differentiation. What actually composes the soul is the question at the heart of these notes. Read the rest of this entry »

Automobile Advertising

[This is an excerpt from Open Structuralism: An Answer to Derrida, a project that attempts to find a third position between structuralism and post-structuralism.]

There is a unique phenomenon that is particular to the advertising of automobiles. Commercials portray their product in motion. Cars drive through fields, deserts, mountains, and cities, which are all completely empty. Even in the cities, there is not a single car or person around. Trucks are magically loaded with heavy objects to show off their suspension, but there is no one doing the loading. Even the driver is often totally occulted. When the driver is revealed, it is usually a masked professional or only the hands. The question arises: why is the automobile always presented in isolated environments? What can a synchronic analysis tell us?

To really understand the commercial-structure, it must be isolated in time from any transformations that may have existed before it or will exist after it. As Barthes instructs the reader on the last page of Elements of Semiology, this method is infinitely favorable to one that accounts for the evolutionary development of the commercials. (This is also a condemnation of the trace.) So, one is left with a bundle of commercials that share the characteristics described above. A contrast exists between the product and its environment that resembles the figure-ground relation. The car is emphasized by being in an empty field; it draws the viewer’s attention like the eyes of the Mona Lisa. The absence of the driver is an invitation to imagination. (To invite the viewer to the dealership has become common practice. Buying a car is treated like a festival, which should remind the reader of the lyric from the Claude Channes song in La Chinoise (1968): revolution is not a banquet.) One can picture oneself steering the car through the vacant city streets. The commercial allows the viewer to test drive the car in the very best environments. Thus, a synchronic analysis can provide an answer to our question. It has revealed the viewer’s relation to the commercial to be part of the very sign-system established by that commercial, and has also explained the meaning of the isolated environment to be a tactic of emphasizing the product. The quality of this answer will now be weighed against that of an open structuralist analysis. Read the rest of this entry »