Sunday, July 30, 2006


"As the religious aspect of my existence was wiped out, life became much easier to live. Sartre has said how inhibited he used to be as an artist and author, how he suffered because what he was doing wasn't good enough. By a slow intellectual process he came to realize that his anxieties about not making anything of value were an atavistic relic from the religious notion that something exists which can be called the Supreme Good, or that anything is perfect. When he'd dug up this secret idea, this relic, had seen through it and amputated it, he lost his artistic inhibitions too. I've been through something very similar. When my top-heavy religious superstructure collapsed, I also lost my inhibitions as a writer. Above all, my fear of not keeping up with the times. In Winter Light I swept my house clean. Since then things have been quiet on that front."

— Ingmar Bergman, Bergman on Bergman (1968)
Winter Light, dir. Bergman, 1962

WINTER LIGHT (1962): An Essay by Peter Cowie

Like Quattrocento Italian painting, Ming porcelain, or the late quartets of Beethoven, Ingmar Bergman’s “chamber” films are an acquired taste. Winter Light represents the Swedish director’s most concentrated inquiry into the significance of religion, and of Lutheranism specifically. Does it, can it, have any relevance in a world where—at least in 1962—the nuclear threat hangs indiscriminately over mankind? Or where one individual cannot show compassion to his lover?
Immaculately shot by Sven Nykvist, acted with extraordinary intensity by the entire cast—and by Gunnar Björnstrand as Tomas Ericsson and Ingrid Thulin as Märta Lundberg in particular—Winter Light clasps us by the throat with numbed fingers and demands a response. Gone is the baroque imagery, the grandiose dialogue of Bergman’s 1950s classics like The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Bergman, much influenced at this period by his Estonian wife, the pianist Käbi Laretei, whittles down his style to a level at which every word resonates with significance, every shot is unblinking, and every performance is so authentic as to make us shift uncomfortably in our seats. Björnstrand, playing the cowardly pastor, fell sick himself during the shooting and managed to complete his role only under a doctor’s care, and beneath Bergman’s relentless gaze.
“In 1959,” Bergman told then-apprentice Vilgot Sjöman during the production, “my wife and I went to say hello to the pastor who had married us. On the way, in the village shop, we saw his wife talking very seriously to a schoolgirl. When we reached the vicarage, the pastor told us that this little girl’s father had just committed suicide. The pastor had had several conversations with him earlier, but to no avail.” From such a small incident Bergman weaves the texture of his tale, in which one man’s suicide induces a spiritual crisis for the local pastor and his mistress.
While preparing Winter Light, Bergman visited several churches in Uppland (just north of Stockholm) and sat for an hour or two in each one, seeking inspiration for the close of the film. One Sunday, he asked his father to accompany him. As they waited for a Communion service to begin on a chill spring morning in one particular small church, the pastor declared that he was ill and could not preside over a full service. Bergman’s father hurried out to the vestry, and soon afterwards the Communion began, with Pastor Erik Bergman assisting his sick colleague. “Thus,” recalls the director in his autobiography, “I was given the end of Winter Light and the codification of a rule I have always followed and was to follow from then on: Irrespective of everything, you will hold your Communion. It is important to the churchgoer, but even more important to you.”
Winter Light unfolds in a rigorous time span of just a few hours, from Sunday morning Communion in one church to the start of an afternoon service at another close by. Its language and metaphors may be those of the established church, but it explores human relationships with a candor that goes way beyond Christianity. Tomas is a pitiful figure because he cannot choose between a worldly love (offered to him by the forlorn, ailing Märta) and the unattainable ideal implied in the religious dogma he intones before the altar.
When the anxious fisherman, Jonas Persson (Max von Sydow), comes to him in the vestry for reassurance, Tomas can do nothing but depress him still further. In baring his own misgivings, in lamenting his own situation rather than comprehending the fisherman’s, the doubting Tomas propels the man toward suicide. The pastor even admits to Jonas that he does not himself believe in God’s existence, and when his unfortunate parishioner has left the church, he turns to Märta and says, with shocking complacency, “Now I’m free.”
Later, before the service at Frostnäs Church, it becomes clear through a superb dialogue with his sideman, Algot Frövik (Allan Edwall), that Tomas resembles the disciples who understood nothing during their three years in the company of Jesus, and who deserted him in his hour of need.
Bergman takes more risks in this film than in any other, with the possible exception of Persona (1966). Not only does he commit to it some of the most searing lines ever written for the screen (for example, Tomas’ rejection of Märta as they sit together in the deserted schoolroom), but he shoots the picture with an uncompromising severity that demands total concentration from the spectator. In the opening sequence, the camera scrutinizes each churchgoer in close-up, and then from afar as they shuffle up to the altar rail for Communion; they appear frail, almost disjointed, like puppets on a string, and in desperate need of comfort.
Ingrid Thulin’s reading of Märta’s letter to Tomas is an extraordinary scene; her face seems to project every nuance of the words she is reciting and to express her sentiments with a frankness beyond the reach of the evasive, shifty-eyed Tomas. Not for nothing does the film title translate from the Swedish as “The Communicants.” For Bergman, here, as so often elsewhere, the irony of life is people’s failure to communicate with one another. When Tomas arrives at the riverside to attend the corpse of Jonas Persson, the incessant boom of the nearby rapids drowns out the conversation between the police and the pastor, as well as seeming to blur his emotional response.
There are other subtleties, too. Tomas and his churchwardens address each other in the third person, emphasizing the distance between them as well as the hierarchical structure of orthodox religion. As the worshippers kneel before the altar for Communion, they might as well be accepting medicine from a doctor as bread and wine from the priest. (Later in the film, Märta offers Tomas aspirin and cough mixture in much the same way…)
Film buffs who know Bergman’s earlier film Through a Glass Darkly will note the organist’s scornful dismissal of that work’s conclusion: “God is love; love is God.” Indeed, Winter Light stands as a bridge between Through a Glass Darkly and The Silence, as well as Bergman’s farewell to his own religious upbringing. Some might call it an exorcism.


crappy, no, clarification is never a bad thing. Thanks. I agree that all philosophy exists in the mind, but language also exists in the mind. Both language and philosophy are psychological constructs. The absence of life is conceivable through language, but the absence of life is not possible through language because an absence of life would by definition imply an absence of language. David E. Patton, thank you!

Saturday, July 29, 2006


This is an original work. Copyrights apply.


crappy, I'm sorry, but your statement is vague and extremely unclear, so I'm having a hard time formulating any kind of a cogent response. I will say that language is an evolved method of communication. Of itself, language generates nothing. Language is a method of communication. In the absence of life, language is not only nonexistent, but a misnomer. Thanks for your comment.

This is an original work. Copyrights apply.

Friday, July 28, 2006


For slightly more accessible Placebo music videos, try here ("Special Needs"), here ("The Bitter End"), and here ("Pure Morning").

When I contemplate the accumulation of guilt and remorse which, like a garbage-can, I carry through life, and which is fed not only by the lightest action but by the most harmless pleasure, I feel Man to be of all living things the most biologically incompetent and ill-organized. Why has he acquired a seventy-year lifespan only to poison it incurably by the mere being of himself? Why has he thrown Conscience, like a dead rat, to putrefy in the well?
It is no answer to say that we are meant to rid ourselves of the self: religions like Christianity and Buddhism are desperate strategems of failure, the failure of men to be men. As escapes from the problem, as flights from guilt, they may be welcome, but they cannot turn out to be the revelation of our destiny. What should we think of dogs’ monasteries, hermit cats, vegetarian tigers? Of birds who tore off their wings and bulls weeping with remorse? Sure it is in our nature to realize ourselves, yet there remains the deadly flaw by which we feel most guilty when we are most confidently human and are most to be pitied when most successful.
Is this because Christianity is true? Or is it an ungrained effect of propaganda for the underdog? When did the ego begin to stink? Those of us who were brought up as Christians and have lost our faith have retained the sense of sin without the saving belief in redemption. This poisons our thought and so paralyzes us in action.
Communism is the new religion which denies original sin, though seldom do we meet a real Communist who seems either complete or happy. And yet Original Sin, what rubbish! The Expulsion from Eden is an act of vindictive spite; the Fall of Man, as recounted in the Bible, comes nearer to the Fall of God.


David Patton and The Clown, thanks, both of you, for the feedback. It means a lot to me that you're enjoying the things I'm posting.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The Notorious Bettie Page.

Directed by Mary Harron. Written by Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner. Starring Gretchen Mol. Limited distribution release, April 21, 2006. DVD release September 26, 2006.
by Kenneth Kierans (link)


Deconstruction is usually and rightly linked to the philosophical and literary writings of Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man. These writings have come under sharp attack in recent years. I would refer you, for example, to David Lehman's discussion of Paul de Man. Deconstruction, it is argued, stands outside of reason and affirms only an endless, undisciplined, even wild freedom of commentary.(1) Now there is much to be said for this assessment of deconstruction. Geoffrey Hartman's 'Criticism in the Wilderness' is a good indication (I think) of just how arbitrary deconstruction can be. Here, at the extreme point of interpretation, the critic is certain of himself alone and so determined to undermine every specific claim to truth which a text may make.(2)
But there is another and more interesting side to deconstruction, and this has to do with its continuing relation to traditional philosophical ideas of truth. I want in what follows to bring out this other side - the beyond of deconstruction - particularly as it can be found in the thought of Derrida. I see in Derrida's free play of interpretation not only criticism of older forms and a longing for the new, but insight into the substantial truth of philosophy and a talent for speculative thought. To be sure, Derrida believes that the traditional metaphysical hierarchies between idealism and realism, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, substance and subject, and so on, are one-sided and must be overturned. But he also argues that the undervalued terms of these hierarchies can only be affirmed in relation to, or as another form of, the 'higher' ones. Thus, for example, the notion of reality as something given and independent of the ideal world is dogmatic and, like all reversals, a prisoner of the metaphysical hierarchy it seeks to overthrow. In this perspective, metaphysical forms can be seen in even the most naturalistic attempts to escape the constraints of Western thought.(3)
I want to argue that deconstruction in this sense amounts to a rediscovery of traditional philosophical ideas, and a reaffirmation of their truth, even if in one respect in a distorted way. In fact, Derrida from an early date was inspired to consider Western thought in Hegelian fashion; he learned from Hegel to see in the tradition an overarching demand for reconciliation, and thereby to distinguish himself from that kind of superficial criticism which sees the idea of metaphysics as something one-sided and abstract, cut off from reality and hostile to all sense and existence. For Hegel always and everywhere attacked the view that the 'Idea' is a mere logical form: "It is ... false to imagine the Idea to be mere abstraction. It is abstract certainly, insofar as everything untrue is consumed in it: but in its own self it is essentially concrete, because it is the free concept [Begriff] giving character to itself, and that character, reality." The Idea is not the idea of some external thing, or the concept held by this or that individual person. The Idea is the concept which gives itself the form of external existence, comprehends this form ideally, and establishes itself in it. "Every individual being is some one aspect of the Idea."(4)
Hegel's concept of philosophy is determined according to an idea of which all reality is the expression. In grasping this idea, Hegel's consciousness of himself and others necessarily becomes "absolute knowledge", that is, the knowledge of "all essentiality and all existence", the knowledge of the unity of "subject" and its "substance".(5) Now Derrida wants very much to speak from outside Hegel's concept of philosophy, and everyone else's for that matter. Yet despite his critical intent, he has, with great energy and insight, put himself near the standpoint of Hegel's absolute knowledge. For it is relative to Hegel that he has been able to run through the history of philosophy, set forth the various dimensions of the whole - essence and existence, substance and subject - and relate them to one another. And it is relative to Hegel that he has tried to bring this history to a close, and introduce a new standard of judgement and new points of view. Derrida states: "we believe, quite simply and literally, in absolute knowledge as the closure if not the end of history...As for what 'begins' then - 'beyond' absolute knowledge - unheard-of thoughts are required, sought for across the memory of old signs."(6) Derrida then seeks a new beginning beyond the absolute knowledge of Hegel, beyond the metaphysical determinations of substance and subject, of thought and being, and yet looks for this new beginning in these determinations, "across the memory of old signs". He leads us from Hegel to something new and then back again.
Derrida's relation to Hegel - and through him to the whole of the Western metaphysical tradition - is ambiguous. He maintains that his position is beyond Hegel's, but still insists that he is working within the Hegelian philosophy. This would not be the result if anything in Hegel allowed us to separate what we know about the world from what we know about ourselves. But Derrida argues that Hegel makes any such separation impossible. He is no less insistent than Hegel himself that the order of reason is absolute. It is absolute not only because it can affirm everything existing in the world, but because it can endure every possible protest and criticism. Derrida says: "The unsurpassable, unique, and imperial grandeur of the order of that one cannot speak out against it except by being for it, that one can protest it only from within it; and within its domain, Reason leaves us only the recourse to stratagems and strategies."(7) All appeals and protests against reason can only use the language of reason. From this point of view there is no chance of defeating Hegel on his own ground. Derrida confirms this in what he has to say about Emmanuel Levinas, a French theologian and important commentator on Hegel: "as soon as he speaks against Hegel, Levinas can only confirm Hegel, has confirmed him already."(8) Hence Derrida's strategy: he adopts the language of metaphysics, of reason and critique, and works within it, but does so in order to renounce that language over and over again.
Derrida's connection with Hegel and the language of metaphysics is conditioned by the completeness of his critical attitude. On the one hand, he denies that philosophy can gather everything up into one point of view. This is a theme which surfaces again and again in his writings. As a critic of metaphysics, Derrida sees only deception in talk about a pure idea, a thought wholly clear to itself, a being fully present. On the other hand, he does not resist the language of metaphysics by somehow standing outside of it; he is certain that there can be no such standpoint. This explains why he is so critical of empiricism. Empiricism, he says, "destroys itself "; it lives in and from "the opposition of philosophy and nonphilosophy", but cannot sustain the opposition or make its own discourse intelligible. "The thought of this historical opposition between philosophy and empiricism is not simply empirical and it cannot be thus qualified without abuse and misunderstanding."(9)
Derrida would have the empirical world disappear into the language of metaphysics, even though this language in his view is utterly lacking in content. Here he draws on the Hegelian philosophy, or at least that part of it which reveals the naivety of any attempt to distinguish between existence (whether external or internal) and consciousness. Hegelian philosophy arises from the conviction that it is only in consciousness that 'the object' can appear to us, no matter how intuitive a sense we give to this expression. Any thought we may have of transcending consciousness is therefore futile. Even the object in its most limited and finite shape is existent for us only as something of which we are conscious. "Consciousness ... is something that goes beyond limits, and since these limits are its own, it is something that goes beyond itself. With the positing of a single particular the beyond is also established for consciousness, even if it is only alongside the limited object as in the case of spatial intuition."(10) Derrida agrees completely with Hegel on this point. Nevertheless, he says that Hegelian philosophy must be purged of that tendency which still holds it within the confines of metaphysics, the metaphysics of presence.
The connection between Derrida and Hegel emerges out of this reduction of all given phenomena to identity with consciousness. Of course, Derrida takes the appearance of pure consciousness in its abstraction to be a merely negative result. He moves from one thing to another, one way of thinking to the next, with a view to finding something new, and only ever sees nothingness or emptiness in what he encounters. Hegel thought that there was truth in the realm of appearances, of phenomena, and so did not collapse it all into a sceptical consciousness. And yet it is just this scepticism which binds deconstruction and Hegelian philosophy so closely together. "The scepticism that is directed against the whole range of phenomenal consciousness," Hegel writes, "renders the Spirit for the first time competent to examine what truth is."(11) When Derrida finds nothing true or stable in the way things appear to us he comes to the genuinely speculative moment in deconstruction. He comes to the point which Hegel called "absolute negativity", to the dissolution of all content in the abstract 'I' and the reconstitution of the content in a form made stable by knowledge of the substantial 'self' at work within it.(12) Derrida no doubt wants both truth and content to vanish, but the negation of everything existing is itself an element, an altogether necessary element, of the 'spirit' which Hegel wanted to capture whole and entire. This connection between Derrida and Hegel helps us to see the implications of Derrida's position more clearly. Deconstruction assumes that every claim to truth is null and void, but it also presupposes the nullity of its own standpoint and thus remains bound to the substantial content it is so determined to compromise.(13)

(references): page footnotes
by Kenneth Kierans (link)


To begin with the immediate intellectual background to the theory of deconstruction, the early Derrida, as is well known, worked out a detailed critique of the philosophy of Edmund Husserl. Derrida, like others of his generation, started from Husserl's standpoint and developed it, but then went beyond it altogether. From the perspective of a radical critique of reason, he showed that Husserl's philosophy contradicted its own presuppositions and could not be sustained. The way in which he did this will help us to clarify the connection between his position and Hegel's.(14)
Now so far as Derrida's critique of Husserl's philosophy is concerned, we need stress only the following points. First, Husserl aimed to found a science - a "rigorous science" - called "phenomenology", and with that to satisfy the highest theoretical and practical needs of philosophy. To this end, and in conformity with the whole movement of modern philosophy, he made the ego the fundament of all knowledge and consciousness. This ego, as he understands it, is utterly abstract and formal, and every object, every content, is freely constituted by it and rendered transparent.(15) Second, the ego is not only this conscious freedom and activity, but an existing, living individual, and its life presupposes a world that is prior to consciousness and its reflective operations. Phenomenology, in this sense, seeks the origin of truth and consciousness, and finds it in the immediacy of feeling or intuition. According to Husserl, "whatever presents itself in 'intuition' in primordial form (as it were in its bodily reality) is simply to be accepted as it gives itself out to be, though only within the limits in which it then presents itself ". The origin of the judgement of a thing is to be found in the intuition of the thing as it is present in bodily experience. This "principle of principles" is for Husserl in every instance "a source of authority (Rechtsquelle) for knowledge."(16)
One element in Husserl's philosophy is his vision of an absolute science, of a transcendental knowledge or consciousness. A second element is his insistence that the origin of truth is to be found in intuition, in the simple certainty that there is being and life - that is, a world by virtue of which every particular experience is experienced. But then there is no logical priority of consciousness, or of the categories by which the thinking subject posits its objects; on the contrary, since the origin of truth lies in intuition, we exist before we think.(17) Thus, as Husserl argues in Experience and Judgement, it is necessary to return to this origin of truth, to make contact with the world that lies behind our judgements and the categories they embody, to seek the primal experience where reflective distinctions have yet to be made. Husserl speaks here of a "simple believing consciousness", and notes that this involves the perception of a "preliminary presence", a "passive pregivenness", which is "always already there" before any discovery of meaning or "awakening of interest".(18) He explores this perception in a discussion of the preliminary and pregiven experience which grounds all our articulate and explicit knowledge of things. Such experience includes the apprehension of an "original present", a present which contains both past and future, an eternal now, a fully explicit and present object.(19)
This inquiry into the origin of truth which points us to the fulness of experience inspired Derrida to write his first major published essay, his Introduction to Husserl's Origin of Geometry.(20) But already in this early essay one can see a difference between Husserl and Derrida which is of considerable importance for Derrida's later work. For, as Husserl himself had pointed out, the present is never merely present, but always already past and still to come. This is the chief lesson of the famous lectures on the internal time-consciousness which Husserl gave between 1904 and 1910. The present in its immediacy, the 'now', appears as unstable, ever changing, continually 'running-off ' into the past. "Since a new now is always presenting itself, each now is changed into a past, and thus the entire continuity of the running-off of the pasts of the preceding points moves uniformly 'downward' into the depths of the past."(21) The present is the immanently negative and destructive moment which vanishes as quickly as it arises. Every purely intellectual or speculative science, according to Husserl, has as its origin this difference or non-coincidence of the present with itself. But then there arises a question the full force of which Derrida thinks Husserl failed to appreciate: is anything ever altogether present, or does the present itself actually take place?(22)
Husserl's history of European science and philosophy, his vision of the past and the future, hangs on this question. His answer, as Derrida shows, falls in the opposition between fact and reason.(23) In fact, we can be confronted by something from the past, a past way of life, a past way of thinking, the significance of which escapes us. It can mean nothing to us. This is clearly a consideration of some importance for historians or for anybody presented with an artifact or a cultural object of some sort which no longer makes any sense. But by right, according to Husserl, the recovery of an object, the recollection of it, is always possible. We know a priori that a past object is not merely past, but also ideally present. It exists as much in our present consciousness of it, in the 'Living Present', as in material that is constantly changing or passing away: "the absolute primordiality of the Living Present permits the reduction, without negation, of all alterity. The Living Present constitutes the other as other in itself and the same as the same in the other."(24) In this way, in raising ourselves to the level of consciousness, we can attain the highest degree of certainty. By an act of consciousness we can make meaningless objects meaningful, and continue to think what we think despite the radical alterity of other moments and acts.(25)
Derrida observes that for Husserl history is always a "pure history" of "meaning".(26) History is never just haphazard, or violent, or treacherous. It is a series of conscious acts, a succession of meaningful forms, an intelligible pattern of beliefs established across time, from generation to generation. History - the only history that counts - is orderly, peaceful and rational. Behind all of this, of course, there lies Husserl's primary assumption, his most deeply-felt conviction, that being is identifiable with meaning, that the way of the world is no different from an act of consciousness. Still, as Derrida notes, the identity of being and meaning is never given here and now but must be thought within a present that includes past and future, i.e., "the world's infinite horizon".(27) Indeed, it is only because Husserl denies the actuality of reason that he can celebrate the "infinite tasks" of science.(28)
Husserl embraces an ideal, a truth, which is both identical with the world and disproportionate to it. Naturally, he is aware of the contradiction implied within this conception of truth and tries to remove it. He holds that the origin of truth is to be found in the intuition of something absolute which is given and present and that this is to be grasped and made meaningful by the ego in a free act of consciousness. The ego determines what is true and meaningful, but for this very reason is directed to an end which is infinitely remote. There can be no apprehension of this end in what is "factual and worldly", in the here and now, but by right only.(29) The idea of truth or meaning is therefore for Husserl bound up with the idea in a Kantian sense of infinite historical progress.(30)
The passages in Husserl which mention God are equally concerned with this contradiction in human existence, the contradiction between the idea or the ideal of truth and meaning and the reality of meaninglessness. If being is identical with my meaning then I must be one with God and share in eternal truth. Derrida makes this point in a discussion of the traditional metaphysical path which starts from the world and the human consciousness of it and leads to knowledge of God.(31) If the world and my consciousness of truth are to be the same, then I must be one with God. I must acquire, or rather already possess, the divine standpoint of a speculative metaphysics or an absolute idealism. Otherwise, my concept of truth would be no more than "the indefinite openness to truth and to phenomenality".(32)
But for both Husserl and Derrida our divinity is an illusion. We know in advance that right and fact will never coincide. This is what Derrida calls, even at this early stage in his career, the "primordial Difference" between fact and right, between being and meaning, between humanity and divinity.(33) We cannot pass from human consciousness ('I am conscious of being') to divine consciousness ('being is conscious of itself '). There can be no deification of humanity, no humanization of God.(34) But then we cannot say how being and meaning are related to one another. Being is given as it is, and consciousness is something separate and apart.
Phenomenology as we see it through Husserl has a positive though subordinate role to play within Derrida's thinking. This is clear from what Derrida himself has to say about "the hidden historical field" of phenomenology.(35) Husserl makes meaning into an infinite principle which for Derrida means that it is undermined by its opposition to the finite.(36) The problem in Husserl is that of a pure consciousness, an empty ego, which presupposes being but can neither overcome it nor make it intelligible. Husserl sets himself the task of rendering being intelligible, but this task can never be realized, is there simply in the form of "an infinite Idea", the content of which "can never immediately and as such present itself in an intuition".(37)
Derrida goes beyond this opposition in his meditation on language (langage). Language is the place in which Husserl's demand for absolute truth can appear. It is "the indispensable medium and condition of possibility for absolute ideal Objectivity, for truth itself ". Language in the form of speech dissolves the immediate givenness of things and continually shapes and reshapes our vision of the world. "Speech (parole) is no longer simply the expression (Aüsserung) of what, without it, would already be an object: caught again in its primordial purity: speech constitutes the object, and is a concrete juridical condition of truth."(38) Speech is the pure nullification of the antithesis between object and subject, of finite being in its opposition to truth.
But speech is connected to writing which opens up the field of transcendental experience. In writing Derrida encounters the meaninglessness of the past, the stubborn lack of intelligibility in history. He refers to the "silence of prehistoric arcana and buried civilizations" as well as to "the entombment of lost intentions" and "the illegibility of the lapidary inscription". These things, he says, reveal not only that the "transcendental subject" is a failure but that at work within it is a "transcendental sense of death".(39) In other words, the quest for absolute truth is subverted by the very act of writing it depends upon. Writing both institutes and undermines truth and meaning.
All language tends towards meaninglessness, but writing sums up and completes the process. "The field of writing has its originality in its ability to dispense with, due to its sense, every present reading in general."(40) Here Derrida is being deliberately paradoxical. He is not just saying that both meaning and the lack of meaning are intrinsic to writing. He is saying that writing, as the place of truth and meaning, makes meaninglessness possible. Indeed, one could say that, for Derrida, writing is never more meaningful than when one fails to make any sense of it at all!
The activity of uncovering such systematic incoherence within a text or an object, a work of art, for example, is what the later Derrida calls 'deconstruction.' The term has a passive as well as an active sense. Derrida wants to undermine all fixed conceptions of truth, but operates entirely from within the language of truth that is given to him. The simple 'destruction' of truth and meaning is out of the question. "The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside. They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures."(41) The same spirit of resignation, of passive acceptance, can be found in another one of Derrida's terms of art, 'differance', which is not quite 'difference' (with an 'e'). It is purposely misspelt (with an 'a') in Derrida's text and refers to the 'deferral' of meaning in language. Any given structure of truth can be undermined not only because the critic can refer to different interpretive contexts, but because language 'defers itself'. Language refers us to "the entire configuration of its meanings", but the coherent and definitive truth of these meanings is always out of reach, i.e. deferred.(42)
Differance or deferral is at the same time a purely intellectual movement, the movement of that finite which turns out to be infinite, because it is forever negating itself. This is the most important result of Derrida's critique of Husserl's phenomenology. We find ourselves in a situation in which truth can arise only out of the negation of all things finite, as out of pure nothingness. "Certainly nothing has preceded this situation. Assuredly nothing will suspend it...And contrary to what phenomenology - which is always phenomenology of perception - has tried to make us believe, contrary to what our desire cannot fail to be tempted into believing, the thing itself always escapes."(43)
We can perhaps now see more clearly why Derrida was drawn to Husserl's phenomenology. Derrida finds that Husserl not only opposes finite being to consciousness, but points the way to a sceptical dissolution of the opposition. Husserl's great achievement on this view was to show that there is in fact endless discrepancy between our original intuition of reality and the intentions of consciousness, that there can be no reconciliation between our intuition and the free act of consciousness. There is an unbridgeable gulf between them, a gulf which takes the form of an infinite distance, a remote end, an abysmal task.
Derrida maintains that the division of an abstract ego from its content cannot be sustained, that from Husserl's own standpoint the finite is not grounded in reason and consequently cannot be justified. "Husserl describes, and in one and the same movement effaces, the emancipation of speech as nonknowing."(44) It is a small step from Husserl's position to Derrida's view that all the finite is simple nullity. All Derrida has to do is to eliminate the actual content of phenomenology. And he does so as soon as he makes language logically anterior to the conscious ego and to its intuition of existence.
In this way Derrida annuls the distinction between what is original and what is derived, between what is simply present to one and what is there by virtue of an act of consciousness. There is no doubt a certain arbitrariness in this view. Yet it gives us an insight into a whole theory of language. Derrida says, "the system of signs is constituted solely by the difference in terms, and not by their plenitude. The elements of signification function due not to the compact force of their nuclei but rather to the network of oppositions that distinguish them, and then relates them one to another."(45) Language has as its central feature the relation of words to one another, never the relationship of words to things, but always the relationship of words to one another, of discourse to other discourse, signs to other signs. No doubt the influence of Saussure's theory of linguistics can be discerned here. There is, as Derrida indicates, no connection in consciousness or in sensation between a sign and what it signifies. A 'signifier' relates only to other signifiers never to a 'signified.'(46) This is what Derrida emphasizes in his study of Husserl's phenomenology, and he intends thereby to go beyond all limits, to dissolve the apparent givenness of the finite world, and to move directly from this encounter with nothingness into a world of infinite interrelationships and substitutions among words.

(references): page footnotes
by Kenneth Kierans (link)


Husserl had elevated all questions of truth and meaning to the consciousness of the free ego, referring us at the same time to the intuition of a world, to a power independent of rational cognition which makes itself felt in sensible reality. In a manner reminiscent of Hegel's critique of Kant and Fichte, the early Derrida discovered a discrepancy between this intuited world and the endless investigations which Husserl conducted into the ego and the inward reflection that characterizes it.(47) The conjunction of intuition and consciousness in Husserl's philosophy implies, as Derrida says, "an immediate eidetic", a purely formal activity of thought which inevitably tends to annihilate the content of intuition.(48) This dialectic, which challenges all given beliefs and convictions, unsettling everything that is external to it, works so that nothing remains at the end but the action of the ego itself, the bare abstraction of thought - consciousness without an object.
In Hegel's philosophy the endlessly critical and destructive aspect of the dialectic is conditioned by "absolute" truth, the "positive Idea that being is strictly nothing outside of the infinite, or apart from ego and thought. Both being and thought are one".(49) The actual content of the world, the substantial totality of things, is not separate and distinct from thought, but absolutely present to it. This is not Derrida's view. He denies that the unity of thought with its object can be clearly or even implicitly present, that the ego can penetrate into and beyond diverse forms of being and calmly contemplate them, that the 'Idea' can be the basis at once of the ego and the external and natural. For this reason Derrida remains tied to the transcendental standpoint he finds so empty of content. He cannot escape the discrepancy he discovers at every stage of Husserl's philosophical development: that which is distinct from the ego still presents itself as an other, an alien and unintelligible affair. Still, there is the other perspective in which Derrida's infinitely critical thinking is closer to Hegel's absolute philosophy than Husserl's finite philosophy is.(50)
Derrida recognizes that Hegel's philosophy brings together opposite tendencies in philosophy. Both objectivity and consciousness, being and thought, tradition and critique, have a place in his system. Hegel's philosophy is profoundly traditional, for it is only the "presence or presentation" of what is already known - i.e., the "truth of man" as it appears to him in his consciousness of the "past". At the same time Hegel's philosophy is essentially critical, for it announces the "death" of the "finite man", the disappearance of "man past".(51) Hegel wants to affirm all past philosophy and religion, but makes no effort to limit modern freedom and self-consciousness. His aim is not only to relate these forces to each other, but to demonstrate their fundamental unity and coherence.
Derrida seems to grasp the unity of Hegel's work and to avoid any one-sided interpretation of his thought. He acknowledges that tradition and critique, positivity and negativity, come together as one in Hegel's philosophy to form a "profound, systematic truth". Yet he does not at all believe that the opposed directions or tendencies of Hegel's thought can be fused in one system. On the contrary, he holds that Hegel's critical self-consciousness, his "very necessary" preoccupation with "negativity", can be separated from the metaphysical notion of "presence".(52) He looks back on Hegel's philosophy as the final truth of its tradition, and thus as the first indication of a new kind of thinking. This thinking overcomes the traditional categories of Western thought precisely because it is free of the "dialectics of truth and negativity".(53)
Derrida portrays Hegel's philosophy as a monumental - and successful - effort to bring together metaphysical thought and modern freedom, traditional belief and critical reflection. Hegel's driving ambition was to enter into the thought of the past and appropriate it, to understand the tradition and make it his own. In realizing this ambition, however, his philosophy inevitably points beyond itself. Derrida agrees with Georges Bataille: "He [Hegel] did not know to what extent he was right".(54) To the extent that Hegel knows the totality of tradition he knows the openness and indeterminacy of the future. This relation of past and future to each other allows Hegel both to recognize and to transcend the "passage" of time, the "vanishing" of the present.(55) It also allows Derrida to explore the possibility of something new and different, that is, a "rigorous critical" questioning which cannot be subordinated to any traditional "law" or philosophical "tribunal".(56)
Derrida develops his position out of a close reading of Hegel's philosophy. In a very fine example of textual analysis, he shows how Hegel distinguishes 'eternity' from the succession of moments presenting itself to consciousness as the process of 'time'. Insofar as the single moment, the "now" (Jetzt), comes and goes, arises and vanishes, it is limited and thus a "finite" expression of the "present" (Gegenwart).(57) Hegel, as a traditional philosopher, makes this point in order to criticize the limited and finite aspect of the "temporal form" of consciousness. He moves from one moment of consciousness to another with a view to arriving at an "eternal" present, but there is a difficulty: every expression of "infinite" presence is as much in time as outside of it. The concept of eternity necessarily manifests itself in time, and in so doing "loses in difference the unity of its beginning and its end".(58) This is really Derrida's last word on Hegel. What he finds acceptable is not the result but the process of Hegel's philosophy. He is certain that Hegel's method yields no real result, that his argument reveals no final truth, because the law under which it operates requires that every concept be turned by an immanent critique into its own opposite. The critique is utterly destructive: everything both true and untrue is consumed in it.(59)
Derrida therefore pits the negative side of Hegel's thought against the positive side. Hegel's concept of Aufhebung, the surpassing and conserving of one form of consciousness after another, is seen not as the point at which negativity is overcome, but the point from which negativity proceeds to undermine every possible system of truth. The Aufhebung is known, not as the appearance of the spirit, of the substantial self, but rather as the "empty form" of its own restless movement. "This displacement is paradigmatic: within a form of writing, an intraphilosophical concept, the speculative concept par excellence, is forced to designate a movement which properly constitutes the excess of every possible philosopheme."(60) This movement of thought subordinates Hegel to a position for which he had harsh words in his Encyclopaedia: "If the result - the realized Spirit in which all mediation has superseded itself - is taken in a merely formal, contentless sense, so that the spirit is not also at the same time known as implicitly existent and objectively self-unfolding; - then that infinite subjectivity is the merely formal self-consciousness, knowing itself in itself as absolute - Irony." The ironic self-consciousness declares that it has superseded all previous religion and philosophy, but in Hegel's view "falls back rather into the vanity of wilfulness". It can make everything "objective" empty and vain but is itself "emptiness and vanity", for it is only by "chance" and "its own good pleasure" that it gives itself content and direction.(61) This is how Hegel understands the "irony" of Fichte and Schlegel. Derrida would collapse Hegel into the ironical self-consciousness of Fichte and Schlegel.(62)
Derrida interprets Hegel against Hegel, but does not propose to offer a more coherent or more meaningful philosophy. Rather he affirms the negativity of time, the ambiguity of everything present, in a way which challenges all past religion and philosophy. We can see this in his account of the history of writing. Derrida finds that there is an entire tradition which subordinates the written to the spoken word. This tradition takes the oral sign to be the sign of something immediately and directly present: an individual's original gesture or action. Writing arises when one takes the oral sign to be insufficient, when one needs to reach others who are absent or incapable of seeing or hearing what has originally happened. The written sign is the sign of the oral sign, the sign of a sign. Writing in this sense fulfils a supplementary function. Indeed, for Derrida, "writing is the supplement par excellence since it marks the point where the supplement proposes itself as supplement of supplement, sign of sign, taking the place of a speech already significant".(63) But this formulation implies that the function of the written sign is really the function of every sign. Every sign is a 'signifier' whose 'signified' is always another signifier, never the object, the thing itself, present before us, in our field of vision.
At the origin of speech and writing there is no origin, no real presence at all, but only a supplement in the place of an origin that is always absent. This explains why, for Derrida, the metaphysical and theological idea of an "originary presence" is so deeply flawed. No system of thought can eliminate the ambiguity of the present, that is, its complicated relation to past and future (both of which are absent). What Derrida calls the "trace" is the present sign of something absent, an absent past or an absent future. Every sign is surrounded by this strange trace of something we can neither fully remember nor make absolutely manifest. It is therefore necessary to conceive of a past which never was present, and never will appear, a past which is no longer bound up with our sense of ourselves - an "absolute past". It is also necessary to speak of a "future", of a "cosmic time", which cannot be anticipated or envisaged within any "metaphysical" or "dialectical" system of thought.(64)
But there is an affinity between Derrida's 'trace' - the proposition that there is no origin which founds knowledge - and Hegel's 'absolute'. Derrida knows well enough that Hegel's philosophy incorporates into itself the 'infinite' movement, the 'negative' attitude which excludes everything that is, but which for that very reason stands in relation to 'totality' and is determined by it.(65) Hegel's philosophy is a vision of the whole that is active and eternally present to itself in everything that can be differentiated from it. There is for Hegel no consciousness without an object, but equally no object without a consciousness. Nothing is absolutely and immediately present from the beginning, everything is derived, to the point where the whole system of 'metaphysical' or 'dialectical' mediations is known as the only reality.(66) Derrida insists that his reflection on time and the present "differs" profoundly from Hegel's vision of these things. Yet he does not want us to see his position as a "break" with Hegel's standpoint.(67)
Derrida's position is a "displacement" of Hegelian discourse as "infinitesimal" as it is "radical".(68) This displacement demands a certain playfulness which is foreign to Hegelian philosophy, but does no more than betray the discourse within discourse, the truth within truth. The displacement is not the experience of a full and present meaning establishing itself at the limit of difference, of negativity, of death. The experience of displacement is rather the experience of "absolute difference".(69) And yet there is a link between Hegel's thinking of difference - which is always in aid of truth and meaning - and Derrida's thinking of difference, which is beyond all identifying thought. Derrida's thinking is not opposed to Hegel's; nor is it a meditation on the negative absence of truth and meaning, a 'negative theology'.(70) Derrida presupposes truth in the Hegelian sense, truth which is active and fully present in the world, for without such truth he would never actually arrive at the point of non-presence, never really experience the displacement of truth and meaning. This is why he is always looking to subvert philosophical discourse, but admits that "philosophy, Hegelian speculation, absolute knowledge and everything that they govern...will govern endlessly in their closure".(71)
From Derrida's point of view both Hegel and the history of philosophy offer no more than a history of ordinary discourse about the external world, reason, and goodness. Philosophy is a speculative discourse, which sets out from a certain experience of thinking, and becomes at length a thinking of experience. Experience and thinking are continuously related to one another in this way through the more or less 'vulgar' concept of 'presence'. This presence is the basis on which 'absence' has traditionally been understood and interpreted. But Derrida does not propose that we now think this absence, make it our foundation, or bring it to light, as if it were some forgotten reality. Rather, we must accept that the history of philosophy cannot be replaced, that metaphysics is destined to govern our thinking. Only then, he says, will we be free of the ordinary or vulgar tendency to see things speculatively, to look around for a still 'hidden' truth: "it is the tie between truth and presence that must be thought, in a thought that henceforth may no longer need to be either true or present".(72)
Derrida's meditation on truth and presence is and is not compatible with the history of philosophy. His meditation is another thinking of truth, another experience of presence. It is a thinking that goes beyond the metaphysical moment toward a less restricted, more general experience of truth and presence. But this more general experience offers itself both in the texts of metaphysics and in Derrida's reading of these texts. Hence the ambiguity of his whole approach. Derrida will limit himself to an interpretation of a given metaphysical text, even as he seeks to uncover traces of "an entirely other text". He says that every text can be divided into two, but denies that there is any real opposition between them: "Two texts, two hands, two visions, two ways of listening. Together simultaneously and separately".(73) It is the metaphysical text which allows the other text to be deciphered, albeit in ways which the metaphysical mind can never grasp.
Derrida's thinking is always both philosophical and anti-philosophical, both inside and outside the truth of a text. Every metaphysical text from the beginning is compromised, fractured, divided into two. Between the text by Hegel and itself there passes in Derrida's words "a barely perceptible veil" separating Hegel's thought from itself.(74) A reading of Hegel's text, as of any metaphysical text, requires a double perspective in order to do justice to this inherent duplicity. This double perspective splits the metaphysical text into two. A slight displacement, a slight play on the meaning of the text, is enough to move from the first to the second. But it is always the duplicity of the first text which enables one to exceed or transgress in the direction of the second text. It is Hegel's text itself which makes Derrida's double reading of Hegel possible.(75)
This brings us back to Derrida's belief that Hegel's absolute knowledge marks the "closure", if not the "end", of history. Derrida distinguishes in Hegel a timeless system of thought, as "servile" as it is "full of meaning", and a critique of tradition, which points the way to something new. This critique of tradition, the "passage" from one form of "past" consciousness to the next, is what he thinks is promising in Hegel - the critique itself and the "play" of meaning and non-meaning it brings into view. Between this arbitrary play and Hegelian speculation there is obvious tension and difference. Derrida's absolute knowledge is not what Hegel thought it was, that is, the consciousness that continuously and forever completes the "circle" of meaning, "which is always where it comes from, and where it is going to". Derrida speaks rather of discontinuity, of the desire to emerge from the "tissue" of absolute knowledge, to break out in an "absolute rending". Such violent Nietzschean desire could not be farther from Hegelian speculation. At the same time, however, Derrida refers to an absolute knowledge "once more become 'solid' and servile in once more having been read".(76) Thus there is continuity between the desire to go beyond absolute knowledge and the need to affirm it. Absolute knowledge, in Derrida's view, is a two-way process of interaction between absolute meaning and absolute non-meaning, between absolute necessity and absolute contingency. Absolute knowledge is the constant oscillation between the timeless and the historical, reason and its other, which is nothing but the work of deconstruction itself.
Derrida could not be more ironical: what he finds admirable in Hegel is the idea of history as a succession of diverse and disconnected forms of life. By contrast Hegel emphasized the idea that history is a connected series of forms, a progressive realization of a universal human freedom. Much could be said about this difference.(77) At the very least it is clear that Derrida has absorbed the Nietzschean and Heideggerian critique of humanism. His animus against Hegel (and Marx) is such that he will not allow the successive forms of spirit from ancient Greece to the present day to embody an uninterrupted history of humanity. What he takes from Hegel is the notion of "ruptures" and "discontinuities" in the continuum of history, "displacements" in the movement of concepts from period to period. "In order to mark effectively the displacements of the sites of conceptual inscription, one must articulate the systematic chains of the movement according to their proper generality and their proper period, according to their unevennesses, their inequalities of development, the complex figures of their inclusions, implications, exclusions, etc."(78) But Hegel says: "These forms of spirit are distinguished from the previous forms in that they are real spirits, proper actualities, and instead of being forms of consciousness only, are forms of a world".(79) Derrida so empties historical forms of worldly content that Hegel's concept of spirit appears to fade away into nothing, to lose all actuality. The identification with 'spirit' or with the history of 'humanity' seems impossible - a more or less naive attempt to secularize the idea of becoming one with God.
And yet what Derrida says about history is linked to a discussion of Plato and Christianity in which he appears to side with Hegel against Heidegger. I am thinking of his attempt to connect philosophy and religion with the development of freedom and self-consciousness in his little book on spirit. Like Heidegger, he finds in the "Platonic-Christian" tradition the origin of that "rational" and "intellectual" freedom which was fully realized only in "modern Idealism".(80) Unlike Heidegger, he does not imagine that the unity of the divine subject and the human subject which underlies this history can be forgotten or overcome. In fact, he argues that Heidegger was insufficiently aware of the continuing "power" of the Christian interpretation of history. "We have here a program and combinatory whose power remains abyssal."(81) But then Derrida at least implicitly acknowledges the integration of the divine and human in his view of history in that human subjectivity, aware in its purity of its own emptiness, is identical with the self-unfolding of the divine throughout the ages.(82) Hegel takes a similar view when he insists that the identity of the divine with the human - abstractly realized in the "Fate" of ancient Greece - is the basis and goal of the entire history of humanity.(83)
Derrida brings out the negative or restless aspect of Hegel's philosophical thought. In this light, the history of philosophy can be nothing but a contest between divergent philosophical positions, a struggle between irreconcilable aspects of the same intellectual tradition. Derrida's "double writing" is intended to reflect this endless shifting of emphasis between the "higher" and "lower" terms of the classical philosophical hierarchies that are forever re-establishing themselves. Certainly, Derrida also wants to be beyond the oppositions: "By means of this double, and precisely stratified, dislodged and dislodging, writing, we must also mark the interval between inversion, which brings low what was high, and the irruptive emergence of a new 'concept', a concept that can no longer be, and never could be, included in the previous regime."(84) But the desire for a "new" concept in this sense is driven by the kind of scepticism with which Hegel was familiar: "The scepticism that ends up with the bare abstraction of nothingness or emptiness cannot get any further from there, but must wait to see whether something new comes along and what it is, in order to throw it too into the same empty abyss."(85)
Derrida resists any suggestion that his position can be reduced to 'scepticism'.(86) He says of his critical standpoint that it is with "all the risks, but without the metaphysical or romantic pathos of negativity".(87) I take it that this is because he regards the critical consciousness as the point at which traditional forms of thought and life continuously come into view. But for this reason he tends to underestimate the risks in his debate with Hegel. Derrida warns us again and again that the opposition in Hegel between timeless thought and historical change, between traditional wisdom and radical critique, cannot be "immediately" overcome. He himself concedes that the opposition of philosophical and historical forms has a certain "necessity", and therefore that the debate with the traditional metaphysical account of history is "interminable".(88) The unbroken connection of the critical deconstructive consciousness with Hegel's account of philosophy and history is in fact everywhere assumed in Derrida's writings.
It would take a longer and more detailed argument to make such a connection clear. Here it is enough to say that it is the nature of Derrida's position to have its opposite within it, i.e. the metaphysical thought which grasps the fundamental unity and coherence of the tradition. Since deconstruction requires that its thinking shall be open and indeterminate it does not understand itself in conformity with its implicit nature. It tries to deny what is in it implicitly and to posit itself as a new and independent standpoint. But the truth is that deconstruction has never really stood on its own ground. Indeed, it has always acknowledged in itself the presence of the metaphysical idea it would refuse. I would argue that this has been the greatness of deconstruction from the beginning. What deconstruction helps us to do - its own intention notwithstanding - is to rediscover the continuity of history, to reaffirm the truth of our almost forgotten philosophical tradition. It does not do this by following feeling or intuition, or by looking to some truth beyond consciousness. It does this - in however tortured a way - by allowing itself to think in conformity with the structures of traditional metaphysical thought. The movement 'beyond deconstruction' can mean nothing other than this reduction of deconstruction to a moment in the history of philosophy. It is necessary only that we recognize deconstruction as the implicit essence of the very tradition it loves to despise.

(references): page footnotes

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Drowned Boy. Copyright to holder.
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Founded in 1994, Placebo entered the British rock scene with a profoundly dissociated and astringent sound. Dubbed 'delirious rock' by some, Placebo's musical style is distinct, perhaps more so due to the immediately recognizable voice of vocalist Brian Molko. A combination of harshly melodic guitar riffs, multi-layered synthesizers, and slow-tempo pianos compose the majority of Placebo's oeuvre, occasionally rounded out with more unusual instruments such as the glass harmonica, the keytar, and the saxophone.
Influences would no doubt include bands such as Jesus and Mary Chain, the Pixies, and especially the thick, warmly androgynous sound of Irish shoegazer band My Bloody Valentine. This latter influence is perhaps mostly strongly felt on Placebo's fourth album, Sleeping with Ghosts.
Although Placebo has never achieved widespread popularity in the U.S., they have released a number of singles (the first being “Nancy Boy” from their eponymously-titled first album) as well as performing collaborations and duets with influential musical artists from David Bowie and Michael Stipes to Robert Smith and Timo Maas.
Placebo retains a critical following in Britain and Europe to this day.


indeterminacy, why, thank you. I appreciate the feedback, and I'm glad you enjoyed it.
BRIAN MOLKO: Photographs

Brian Molko (b. December 10, 1972) is the bassist, guitarist, and vocalist for the band Placebo.

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Monday, July 24, 2006

UNTITLED POEM: The Werewolf, No. 2

his face is a composite mask:
everyone that I have ever known
each eye paints him a thousand colors
an unfamiliar, unforgetting clarity is
a perspective
limited in scope but not in range
an emptiness of soul;
an emptiness of limb;
nothing can yet quite compare to the emptiness of him
this transposed dimension brings to mind
the emptiness of nothing
and the nothingness of all.


Lark, I'm glad. I'd be more than willing to discuss things. I'll try to send you an e-mail tomorrow at work, but feel free to shoot me an e-mail or a telephone call sometime. euthydemos, yes, I am going to use the word 'mimetic' in everything now.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Cécile De France.

HIGH TENSION: A Film By Alexander Aja (2003)

Annika Barranti sums it up best. 'There are a couple of standard horror movie tricks (or clichés, if you must) that really bother me,' she says. 'One is the twist ending. They tend to either be really obvious or make absolutely no sense. There are exceptions, of course, but few and far between.' She embodies my deepest issue with 2003's French grindhouse flick High Tension.
The 'twist' at the end serves little purpose beyond ascribing to an increasingly popular (and even somewhat expected) cliché. Had the film eschewed this cliché, it would have been far better. In the 'Making of...' featurette, director Alexander Aja states that the original screenplay was originally different. The film was going to be a story told by Marie from the hospital about a violent psychopath who attacked Alex's family and herself. At the end of the film, it would have been revealed that her entire story was a lie, and that it was indeed Marie who was the killer. This idea has potential that the final cut simply does not.
Criticisms have been made against the film accusing it of ultimately expressing an extremely homophobic message. '...what had been a tale of revenge and fearless loyalty becomes a fantasy of lesbian lust gone horribly awry.' (1) I can't help but disagree with this interpretation. The story does indeed involve a 'twist': the revelation being that 'The Killer' is actually a visually mimetic character representing a fragment of Marie's psychopathic personality.
The argument that this aspect of her disturbed psyche is a result of her possibly latent lesbianism is ridiculous. Nothing in the film specifically seeks to relate lesbianism and psychopathology with one another. Psychopathology is not the result of a sexual orientation, and I don't think that the director would attempt to assert otherwise. At the very least, nothing in the film indicates that this would be the case. Were Marie instead a male, I doubt it would be argued that the film was guilty of specifically correlating heterosexuality to psychopathology.
Rather than making any claims about sexual orientation, High Tension does something that few horror films have the guts to. Despite being flawed on a number of levels, it provides the audience with a perspective not usually seen: in actuality not the perspective of the victim, but that of an element of the killer's personality. To a first-time viewer, there is little that hints of this later development. I'm not arguing that the film illustrated this perspective flawlessly, but it was a decent try.
Notice that I shy away from referring to High Tension as an intelligent film. Surely I admit that the film is well-made on every front from direction and acting (with special props going to actress Cécile De France) to artistic and musical production. Unfortunately, as with my reviews of many horror films, High Tension fails to achieve any intellectual depth. I would argue that it doesn't even attempt to. Stylish, yes, artistic, yes, even beautiful, in its way, High Tension doesn't try to present itself as an intellectual film. The generally reviled 'twist' is ultimately not the medium of some statement but rather an (unfortunately) failed attempt at further disorienting the audience.
Ultimately, I think that High Tension is one of the better horror films I have seen in the past couple of years. If considered, perhaps many insights could be made about the film, but relegating the film to 'a knuckle-headed journey into the heart of homophobia', or even just another in an increasingly long chain of 'torture flicks', is a mistake.
This is a brutally unpleasant, ultimately artistic work of expressionistic violence.

Friday, July 21, 2006


My name is Peter Schreve. I am twenty-one years old. I am a white male. I am six feet tall. I weigh one hundred and seventy pounds. My hair is brown. My eyes are brown.
I wear steel wire-rimmed spectacles. My eyesight began to fail me at age fourteen.
My wardrobe is limited. I have recently begun expanding it. I am currently wearing a green button-down shirt, khaki slacks, a brown belt, gray underpants, gray socks, and brown shoes.
My feet are size eleven.
I am attending a local university. I am a junior. I am majoring in software applications. My classes for this period include: ADVANCED C++, JAVA BASICS, and INTRODUCTION TO LATIN AMERICAN LITERATURE. I am doing well in these classes. I have been doing well in my degree program. My GPA is a 3.80.
I work at a local bookstore. I have been working there for four years. I serve in a supervisory position. I am on reasonably friendly terms with all of my coworkers. I am paid $7.50 per hour. I work thirty hours per week.
I was born in Springdale, Florida. My father and mother are named Peter and Lisa. My parents are divorced. I am an only child. My mother visits me every Sunday.
I attended elementary through middle school at Springdale Primary Academy. I attended Saltsburg High. My GPA was a 3.90. I never got into trouble at school.
From age eight to age eighteen, I attended the local chess club held in the community library every Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 P.M.
I do not smoke.
I do not drink.
I do not take drugs. I have never taken drugs.
My bicycle was stolen when I was fifteen. I was given a replacement for Christmas.
I exercise four times a week.
I have never broken the law.
On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, I run three miles between 6:00 A.M. and 7:00 A.M. I make sure to stretch all of my major muscle groups both before and after running. Then I take a shower.
My parents names are Peter and Marie. My mother is dead. She died of cancer.
On Tuesday afternoons, I go to the rental store, where I make two selections. I watch one movie that evening and one the following evening. I return the videos punctually on Friday afternoon.
When I was seven, I fell off of the porch after accidentally flipping over the swing. My mother told me not to swing so hard many times before. I received eighteen stitches on my forehead. There is still a scar. It has been suggested that I got what I deserved. My brother did not push me.
I visit the laundromat every week. The price of a single load is fifty cents less on Wednesday evening, so that is when I go. I never have more than two loads each week, so I spend exactly $4.00 per visit.
I am single.
I am an only child.
I have never broken the law. I always wear my bicycle helmet now. I have never hurt a person. I do not speed.
When I was seven, I fell off of a porch swing.
I have never murdered anyone.
I want to be a policeman when I grow up.
My parents are named Peter and Jamie. I was born in 1975 in Peaceton, Ohio. I am an only child.
I do not speed. I have never received a parking ticket. My car is a blue Honda Civic '94. My wife recently had the transmission gaskets replaced.
I remain unmarried.
Each Friday, I leave work early.
Edward Murrow


Following is a link to the full transcipt of the March 9, 1954, broadcast of CBS-TV's "See It Now" program, entited "A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy".

Edward R. Murrow: See It Now (CBS-TV, March 9, 1954):
"A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy".

William S. Burroughs.


Jack Kerouac (in disgust): "Bill, what is all this stuff about young naked boys being hanged in limestone caves?"
William S. Burroughs: "No idea. I know I'm some kind of interplanetary agent but I don't think my signals are decoding properly."
EDGE OF CHAOS: Probability and Possibility Models

"In the sciences in general, the phrase [edge of chaos] has come to refer to a metaphor that some physical, biological, economic and social systems operate in a region between order and complete randomness or chaos, where the complexity is maximal." (Wikipedia: Edge of Chaos.)

The following figure represents what is referred to as the ‘edge of chaos’, which is a graphical model which illustrates, specifically, what is referred to as the ‘life-generation zone’ against what on the model constitutes the mathematical equivalent of the binary possibilities 0 and 1. Here is an example of this figure:

Copyright Mark Maxwell.

Two possible models of comprehension present themselves for interpreting the base figure, illustrated below:

1. Probability

-->(to infinity)Off|On/Off Possibilities(Limited)|On(to infinity)-->
-->(representing a linear progression baseline)-->

2. Possibility

|(1 instance)=Off --
oo(infinity)(1 instance)=On/Off --
|(1 instance)=On --
--- (representing a static per instance baseline) ---

The former model is one which represents linear progression of any given and the probability of that given falling within the mathematical range of infinite 0 (off) or the mathematical range of infinite 1 (on). The limited range in the middle is limited in terms of the probability of the given falling within any of an infinite combination of 0 and 1.
The latter model represents a static non-progression, in which the given’s position on the base figure is examined not by the probability of where it might fall but as a measurement of where it does fall per instance per occurence. The possibilities for the given’s location per instance are 0 (off), 1 (on), or an infinite possible chain combination of 0 and 1.
The model which asserts itself for the base figure is ultimately the former.
Another way of illustrating the base figure is demonstrated here:

Copyright ???.

Dynamics, Computation, and the "Edge of Chaos": A Re-Examination
Revisiting the Edge of Chaos: Evolving Cellular Automata to Perform Computations

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Two men in an ambiguously located restroom.

M: So this is what it all comes down to, huh? You and I, this shitty bathroom.

R: Just us.

M: I said goodbye to them in the car, but I don’t think they got it.

R: Do they ever?

M: I don’t know. I’ve never done this before.

R: Oh. Right.


R: I have.

M: Yes.


M: I’ve known all day, I think.

R: I think you’ve known a lot longer than that.

M: I know I’ve been thinking about it a lot longer, at least.

R: What’s really going to drive you up the wall is have you just been thinking about it or have you actually known it?

M: What?

R: You’d be surprised, some of the answers I get.


M: Whatever. It’s nearly done now.

R: Yes.

Pause. R smiles.

R: Tell me what you did today.

M: I got up, I went to work. I saw her when I went off-shift.

Slight pause.

M: I took myself out to lunch. Everything tasted different. I went to the diner and got a cup of coffee and a club sandwich. It tasted so real.

R: What do you mean?

M: Or maybe it tasted unreal. I don’t know. I could feel every bite in my mouth.

R: Don’t you always?

M: Yes, but I noticed this. I could feel the chunks of bread, the ham, the lettuce, shredded. I felt it with my tongue; I felt it inside my esophagus all the way down to my stomach. It wasn’t just the food, either. I remember seeing an old man walking past the window, and I noticed the creases around his eyes, the tired wrinkles in his forehead. Everything seemed strangely significant, but it wasn’t.


M: I never really pay that much attention to what I’m eating, you know?

R: You do eat fast.

M: I mean, I like eating when I’m hungry, but it’s always been more about relieving hunger than really enjoying or paying attention to the meal.

R: Did you enjoy it today?

M: Not really. I just couldn’t stop noticing, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Maybe it wasn’t surreal. Maybe it was hyper-real. I don’t know. It was bizarre.

R: So it meant something?

M: What?

R: If you noticed this so profoundly, it must have meant something to you.

M: What?

R: Just the fact that it seems like it’s affected you.

M: But what did it mean? What does it mean?

R: I can’t tell you that.

M: If not you, then who? I know I can’t, even if it did mean something.

R: Why not?

M: I can’t because even if it did mean something to me, I don’t really feel like whether it did or didn’t has any real significance to anything.

R: Not to you?

M: No.

R: Well, there you have it.

M: Yeah. Wait, what?

R: It doesn’t seem like it meant anything.

M: Doesn’t it? Then why’d I notice?

R: I don’t know. Maybe you were bored. Did you notice anything else today?

Pause. M thinks.

M: My mom.

R: What about her?

M: I feel kind of sorry for my mom.

R: Why?

M: I don’t think she’s very happy. I don’t anyone would be, stuck in that huge house all by herself. Whenever I go see her, she always latches onto me, I think because no one visits her. If I go, it’s the highlight of the week. Everything else is just groceries and cats and potted palms.


M: I don’t think she’d like this very much.

He laughs.

M: She wouldn’t approve.

R: Nobody wants to think of their son like this. Here. With me. Would you?

M: Of course not.


M: I’m still going to feel guilty.

R: No, you’re not.

M: I don’t want to leave her by herself.

R: There’s your dad.

M: You know what I mean.

R: Maybe she’ll be happier with a bit of peace and quiet.


R: It isn’t really like you got along that well anyway.


R: ‘Hell is other people.’

M: No, it isn’t. That’s ridiculous.

R: Why?

M: Hell is being alone in the dark and knowing that there isn’t anyone there. Hell is screaming into the abyss and not even hearing an echo.


M: The world around you, everything you see, is an illusion. But not the sort of illusion that once removed reveals any sort of cosmic truth. There’s nothing higher, nothing cosmic. We’re totally irrelevant to the cosmos. If there’s any truth, if there’s any bigger truth than you or me, then this is it: The world is a gauzy lie superimposed over shadows. What you see is a painted scrap of paper covering a deep well. The foundation of the world rests not in shifting sand but in emptiness so profound, so still in its clarity, as to make its absence instead seem a nearly tangible presence.


M: It’s something you know because it lives inside you. This knowledge lives inside of everyone. Most people try to forget it. They try to shut it up inside, boarding it over with planks, weighting the planks with stones. They ignore it because if you acknowledge that crawlspace in the basement, if you give it any recognition or consideration, it slowly starts sucking everything in. Your emotions, your opinions, your personality. Everything you are gets consumed, until eventually you’re just a mere façade of humanity wrapped around a dying star, a black hole. It displaces your soul; it cuts out your core, and replaces it with itself. And you can feel it inside your head, looking out through your eyes. It’s underneath your skin, feeling what you feel. And one day, you realize that it isn’t even your hands, it isn’t your will, but this, this thing’s. This thing which you’ve created or maybe it’s created you. You don’t even know what you are anymore. You try to ignore it, you tell yourself lies, but no matter what you do or say, it starts creeping out, leaking out of your pupils, dripping out of the pores in your skin, sucking light and joy and satisfaction out of everything you see.


M: You can feel all this happening, you can feel it, but you can’t stop it, you can’t control it. You see it everywhere. You want to cut out someone else’s eyes and paste them over your own so that you don’t have to see this happening. It paints the world with its dark brush, thicker and thicker, until you don’t see how you could have ever found anything beautiful at all. It eats everything: things you loved, people you cared about, worlds you didn’t even know existed. After exposing everything, you eat away at yourself like a starving man devouring his own flesh: all alone, in the cave, no light, no companions, unbound and unrestricted with no place to go and nothing to do but scream or pray.


R: That bad, eh?

M: No. It isn’t anything. It doesn’t even mean anything.

R: It must.

M: No.

R: Then why even tell me all this? Why tell me about lunch, or about this? We could just get it over with, you know.

M: I want someone to hear me. I don’t know.

R: So you came to me.

M: Yes.

R: That doesn’t seem wise.

M: Depends on your point of view. Try to imagine where I’m coming from.

Pause. M looks at his watch.

M: Last stop.

He beckons R to him.

R: Wait.

M: Yes?

R: Tell me what it feels like.

M: What it feels like?

R: Yes.

M: It feels like everything and nothing. It feels like everything you’ve ever felt wrapped around a hollow core. You’re angry, you feel it eating you up, but you know that all your rage is impotent, would be impotent even if the whole world was consumed by it. You feel overwhelmed with awe or love or common, everyday feelings; all of it could bring you to your knees if it mattered. Every time you feel something, you’re just throwing yourself against a door that’s been locked, welded shut, forgotten about.

R: I wish I could feel something. Anything. Just once.

M: No, you don’t. Be grateful. You open up that door and you’ll end up like me.

R: Is that really so bad?

M: I don’t know.

R: What’s the alternative?

M: Forgetting it, I suppose.

R: You could do that, you know. You could walk away right now and forget all this. Everything.

M: No, I couldn’t.

R: What if you could? Would you?

M: I don’t know. No.

R: Why not?

M: Because once you’ve seen the truth, you can’t just forget it. You don’t want to. Forsaking the truth is totally inhuman. People are truth seekers. We’re truth-addicted. It’s the whole issue, the point. ‘What is the answer?’ ‘What is truth?’ Even Jesus couldn’t answer that one. Just being happy doesn’t suffice. Happiness isn’t a sufficient substitute. We’re not animals. We’re all too willing to throw away happiness in search of something greater, more beautiful, more real, something somehow truer than existence itself. This isn’t enough; this world does not suffice us. We desire truth more than we value life because we know that life is truthless, but we’re terrified of facing that, so we try to hide ourselves away in fictions. We try to make ourselves forget, but everyone knows it. Everyone knows that it’s hiding somewhere deep in that basement, even if we’ve managed to board it up and convince ourselves that we’ve forgotten. But I remember:

The lights flicker.

M: Significance only exists in abnegation.

The lights continue flickering.

M: The only truth is its absence.

The lights start to die.

M: Hell is existence.

R: Kiss me one last time.

They kiss.


Seconds after the blackout, the sound of a pistol shot is distinctly heard.

by Jorge Luis Borges

And the queen gave birth to a child who was called Asterion.
- Apollodorus: Bilbliotheca, III, I

I know they accuse me of arrogance, and perhaps of misanthropy, and perhaps of madness. Such accusations (for which I shall extract punishment in due time) are derisory. It is true that I never leave my house, but it is also true that its doors (whose number is infinite)[note: The original says fourteen, but there is ample reason to infer that, as used by Asterion, this numeral stands for infinite.] are open day and night to men and to animals as well. Anyone may enter. He will find here no female pomp nor court formality, but he will find quiet and solitude. And he will also find a house like no other on the face of the earth. (There are those who declare there is a similar one in Egypt, but they lie.) Even my detractors admit there is not one single piece of furniture in the house. Another ridiculous falsehood has it that I, Asterion, am a prisoner. Shall I repeat that there are no locked doors, shall I add that there are no locks? Besides, one afternoon I did step into the street, if I returned before night, I did so because of the fear that the faces of the common people inspired in me, faces as discolored and flat as the palm of one's hand. The sun had already set, but the helpless crying of a child and the rude supplications of the faithful told me I had been recognized. The people prayed, fled, prostrated themselves; some climbed onto the stylobate of the temple of the Axes, others gathered stones. One of them, I believe, hid himself beneath the sea. Not for nothing was my mother a queen; I cannot be confused with the populace, though my modesty might so desire.
The fact is that I am unique. I am not interested in what one man may transmit to other men; like the philosopher, I think that nothing is communicable by the art of writing. Bothersome and trivial details have no place in my spirit, which is prepared for all that is vast and grand; I have never retained the difference between one letter and another. A certain generous impatience has not permitted that I learn to read. Sometimes I deplore this, for the nights and days are long.
Of course, I am not without distractions. Like the ram about to charge, I run through the stone galleries until I fall dizzy to the floor. I crouch in the shadow of a pool or around a corner and pretend I am being followed. There are roofs from which I let myself fall until I am bloody. At any time I can pretend to be asleep, with my eyes closed and my breathing heavy. (Sometimes I really sleep, sometimes the color of day has changed when I open my eyes.) But of all the games, I prefer the one about the other Asterion. I pretend that he comes to visit me and that I show him my house. With great obeisance I say to him: Now we shall return to the first intersection or Now we shall come out into another courtyard or I knew you would like the drain or Now you will see a pool that was filled with sand or You will soon see how the cellar branches out. Sometimes I make a mistake and the two of us laugh heartily.
Not only have I imagined these games, I have also meditated on the house. All the parts of the house are repeated many times, any place is another place. There is no one pool, courtyard, drinking trough, manger; the mangers, drinking troughs, courtyards, pools are fourteen (infinite) in number. The house is the same size as the world; or rather, it is the world. However, by dint of exhausting the courtyards with pools and dusty gray stone galleries I have reached the street and seen the temple of the Axes and the sea. I did not understand this until a night vision revealed to me that the seas and temples are also fourteen (infinite) in number. Everything is repeated many times, fourteen times, but two things in the world seem to be only once; above, the intricate sun; below, Asterion. Perhaps I have created the stars and the sun and this enormous house, but I no longer remember.
Every nine years nine men enter the house so that I may deliver them from evil. I hear their steps or their voices in the depths of the stone galleries and I run joyfully to find them. The ceremony lasts a few minutes. They fall one after another without my having to bloody my hands. They remain where they fell and their bodies help distinguish one gallery from another. I do not know who they are, but I know that one of them prophesied, at the moment of his death, that some day my redeemer would come. Since then my loneliness does not pain me, because I know my redeemer lives and he will finally rise above the dust. If my ear could capture all the sounds of the world, I should hear his steps. I hope he will take me to a place with fewer galleries and fewer doors. What will my redeemer be like?, I ask myself. Will he be a bull or a man? Will he perhaps be a bull with the face of a man? Or will he be like me?

The morning sun reverberated from the bronze sword. There was no longer even a vestige of blood.
"Would you believe it, Ariadne?" said Theseus. "The Minotaur scarcely defended himself."


"The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said."
- The End, 1946

"To him who has nothing it is forbidden not to relish filth."
- Molloy, 1951

"Ah, if only this voice could stop, this meaningless voice which prevents you from being nothing, just barely prevents you from being nothing and nowhere, just enough to keep alight this little yellow flame feebly darting from side to side, panting, as if straining to tear itself from its wick, it should never have been lit, or it should never have been fed, or it should have been put out, put out, it should have been let go out."
- The Unnamable, 1954

(from Waiting for Godot [1952]):

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It'd give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited). An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That's why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let's hang ourselves immediately!

Pozzo: (suddenly furious) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (calmer) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.

Waiting for Godot: Act I
Waiting for Godot: Act II

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

METAPHOR, ONTOLOGY, AND SCIENTIFIC TRUTH: Against Some Dogmas of the New Anti-Realism (link)
by Christopher Norris (link)


Anti-realism is currently the prevailing trend across many schools of thought in epistemology and philosophy of science. There are, to be sure, some strong countervailing voices and some well-developed arguments in support of an alternative (ontological-realist or causal-explanatory) approach (1). But these latter have enjoyed nothing like the same degree of acceptance among workers in other disciplines - history of science, sociology of knowledge, cultural studies, etc. - where anti-realism is nowadays the orthodox line. Nor is it hard to understand why this should be the case. For those disciplines clearly have a large investment in the idea of scientific 'truth' or 'reality' as relative to - or constructed within - some culture-specific discourse, framework of enquiry, historical paradigm, conceptual scheme, or whatever (2). Hence the rapid diffusion of arguments from recent (post-Kuhnian) philosophy of science which are taken as lending powerful support to the anti-realist case. Other sources include W.V. Quine (on ontological relativity, meaning-variance, and the underdetermination of theories by evidence); late Wittgenstein (on language-games and cultural 'forms of life'); Heidegger, Gadamer, and other proponents of a depth-hermeneutical approach; Foucault's relentlessly sceptical 'genealogies' of power/knowledge; postmodernists such as Lyotard with their talk of paralogism, narrative pragmatics, and 'performativity' as the sole criterion of scientific truth; and the 'strong programme' in sociology of knowledge with its declared principle of according equal treatment to all scientific theories, whether true or false as judged by our present-day cultural lights (3). What they all have in common is the turn toward language - or some version of the socio-discursive constructivist argument - deployed as a counter to realist claims of whatever variety.
In so far as these arguments have found support from within the Anglo-American philosophical community it has come mostly from 'post-analytical' thinkers - Richard Rorty prominent among them - who seek to demote science (and philosophy of science) from its erstwhile position of high prestige (4). Of course there are others like Michael Dummett who continue the analytic project (broadly defined) but who none the less espouse an anti-realist position according to which we can have no grasp of verification-transcendent truth values (5). On this view - in short - it is strictly unintelligible that our present best notions of truth, method, observational warrant, theoretical adequacy and so forth might not correspond to the way things stand 'in reality'. That is to say, we could have no possible grounds for suspecting this to be the case given the fact that any reasons adduced would always be reliant on criteria derived from those same (for us truth-constitutive) standards of evidential reasoning. It is mainly under pressure from arguments of this sort that philosophers like Hilary Putnam have retreated from a strong realist position - such as Putnam took during the early 1970s - to a stance of (so-called) 'internal realism' which concedes most of the adversary case while hoping to avoid its more extreme relativist implications (6).
Still it is clear that the 'linguistic turn' in its various forms has done more to promote anti-realist than realist approaches to philosophy of science. That is to say, it has most often been enlisted in support of conventionalist, instrumentalist, or cultural-relativist doctrines, all of which manifest an elective affinity with the idea of truth as a discursive construct devoid of any real-world ontological grounding7. In what follows I shall take a rather oblique route by way of addressing these issues. My main concern is with Derrida's essay 'White Mythology: Metaphor in the Text of Philosophy', a work that is often read - mistakenly I think - as adopting an extreme anti-realist (or 'textualist') position with regard to philosophical truth-claims (8). Of particular interest in the present context are Derrida's lengthy and detailed discussions of the role of metaphor in scientific concept-formation and its bearing on matters of ontology and epistemology as raised by philosophers of science from Aristotle to Bachelard and Canguilhem.

Derrida and Benveniste on Aristotle

Let me give more substance to this generalized claim by quoting a further passage from 'White Mythology', this time at a length adequate to convey the complexity of Derrida's argument. The passage has to do with Aristotle's account of metaphor and its place within what Derrida calls 'the great immobile chain of Aristotelian ontology, with its theory of the analogy of Being, its logic, its epistemology, and more precisely its poetics and its rhetoric'. (p. 236) It is also concerned with Aristotle's attempt to distinguish human from non-human (animal) modes of being on the basis of a theory of language - a philosophical grammar - that would define man as a speaking-and-reasoning creature as opposed to a mere producer of pre-articulate, meaningless, unintelligible sounds. Hence the importance of the letter (stoikheion), the minimal distinctive element that possesses no meaning - no semantic content - in and of itself but whose role it is, within Aristotle's system, to create the possibility of articulate utterance by accomplishing the passage from 'sound without signification' (phone asemos) to meaningful speech-production (phone semantike). From this point, so Aristotle argues, one can go on to derive the entire inventory of human linguistic resources - from syllables, via nouns and verbs, to the highest, most complex levels of logico-grammatical structure - which set human beings decisively apart from the rest of the animal creation (9). Yet there is also another distinctive human attribute, one that enables us to acquire knowledge, to 'perceive resemblances', to apply words to objects in habitual or unaccustomed ways, or to reason analogically from one context of knowledge, usage or experience to another. Mimesis and metaphor are the two chief terms that Aristotle uses in connection with this range of capacities. And since they occupy such a crucial place in his system - since without them that system would fall apart - therefore it is wrong (a misreading of Aristotle) to assign them a subordinate or derivative role.
Here is the relevant passage from 'White Mythology', omitting those extended citations in the original Greek which Derrida is careful to provide but which are not (I think) necessary here:

This is the difference between animals and man: according to Aristotle both can emit indivisible sounds, but only man can make of them a letter... Aristotle does not analyze this difference; he interprets it by teleological retrospection. No internal characteristic distinguishes the atom of animal sound and the letter. Thus, it is only on the basis of the signifying phonic composition, on the basis of meaning and reference, that the human voice should be distinguished from the call of an animal. Meaning and reference: that is, the possibility of signifying by means of a noun. What is proper to nouns is to signify something, an independent being identical to itself, conceived as such. It is at this point that the theory of the name, such as it is implied by the concept of metaphor, is articulated with ontology. Aside from the classical and dogmatically affirmed limit between the animal without logos and man as zoon logon ekhon, what appears here is a certain systematic indissociability of the value of metaphor and the metaphysical chain holding together the values of discourse, voice, noun, signification, meaning, imitative representation, resemblance; or, in order to reduce what these translations import or deport, the values of logos, phone semantike, semainein, onoma, mimesis, homoiosis... Mimesis is never without the theoretical perception of resemblance or similarity, that is, of that which will always be posited as the condition for metaphor. Homoiosis is not only constitutive of the value of truth (aletheia) which governs the entire chain; it is that without which the metaphorical operation is impossible: 'To produce a good metaphor is to see a likeness'. The condition for metaphor (for good and true metaphor) is the condition for truth. ('White Mythology', pp. 236-237)

Again this is couched in Derrida's mixed-mode style of direct or oblique citation from the source-text (Aristotle) combined with analytic commentary and critical exegesis. Moreover, as the context makes clear, it is offered by way of an illustrative statement of precisely those 'classical' presuppositions which have governed the philosophic discourse on metaphor and - beyond that - the predominant (post-Aristotelian) way of thinking about issues in ontology, epistemology, philosophical semantics, and kindred disciplines. So there can be no question of reading the passage as an affirmation of Aristotle's views or even as signalling partial assent to any link in the 'great chain' of Aristotelian argument.
Yet it is equally unjustified - here as elsewhere in Derrida's work - to suppose that a deconstructive reading is a priori committed to the disarticulation of all truth-claims and the undoing of any theory (such as Aristotle's) predicated on values of truth, reason, logical form, conceptual adequacy, empirical warrant, and so forth. For this is once again to mistake the whole purpose and argumentative tenor of an essay like 'White Mythology': namely, its critical questioning of such values in a manner that itself maintains the highest standards of analytical consistency and rigour while not taking anything for granted in the way that those standards have hitherto or traditionally been applied. In other words deconstruction carries on the critique of established (commonsense, naturalised, or consensus-based) modes of perception or conceptualization which has characterized philosophy in the tradition from Aristotle to Descartes, Kant, and Husserl (10). No doubt it does so through a method of analysis - the rhetorical close-reading of various cardinal texts in that tradition - which departs very markedly from other, more conventional ideas of what constitutes a proper philosophical critique. No doubt it raises issues - about truth, representation, the extent to which metaphors can be 'adequately' conceptualized or intuitions brought under 'adequate' concepts - that have provoked consternation (or outright dismissal) among many philosophers. Yet the above passage should at least give pause to anyone who is tempted to regard 'White Mythology' as a mere exercise in 'textualist' mystification or an argument devoted to such simplified (pseudo-deconstructive) slogans as that 'all concepts are metaphors', 'reality just a fictive or rhetorical construct', or 'truth just a product of the will-to-power vested in figural language'.
Thus Derrida is not for one moment suggesting that just because Aristotle has recourse to metaphor - or to metaphor-related notions like resemblance, mimesis, the 'perception of similarity', etc. - at crucial points in his argument, therefore his entire ontology and epistemology (along with his logic, metaphysics, and conception of enquiry in the natural or physical sciences) comes down to nothing more than a series of figural tropes and substitutions, indifferent with regard to their truth-content or capacity for conceptual elucidation and critique. Nor is he committed to the absurd view that truth and reality just are what we make of them according to this or that favoured rhetoric, language-game, discourse, vocabulary, or whatever. Such a doctrine could be extracted [from] 'White Mythology' only by ignoring those many passages - among them the sections on Aristotle, Canguilhem, and Bachelard - that offer a precise and detailed account of the critical epistemology of metaphor and its role in the process of scientific knowledge-production. In short: '[m]etaphor, as an effect of mimesis and homoiosis, the manifestation of analogy, will be a means of knowledge, a means that is subordinate, but certain.' (p. 238)
This is not to deny - what is in any case quite evident - that Derrida is here paraphrasing Aristotle and drawing attention to the way in which metaphor has traditionally been treated as 'subordinate' to other (more directly reliable) means of acquiring knowledge. Thus: 'metaphor... is determined by philosophy as a provisional loss of meaning, an economy of the proper without irreparable damage, a certainly inevitable detour, but also a history with its sights set on, and within the horizon of, the circular reappropriation of literal, proper meaning'. (p. 270) To this extent Derrida is describing - and calling into question - an entire set of axioms (along with an implicit teleology) aimed toward the 'proper' understanding of metaphor as a detour on the path to adequate conceptual knowledge. This is why, as he writes, 'the philosophical evaluation of metaphor has always been ambiguous: metaphor is dangerous and foreign as concerns intuition (vision or contact), concept (the grasping or proper presence of the signified), and consciousness (proximity or self-presence); but it is in complicity with what it endangers, is necessary to it in the extent to which the de-tour is a re-turn guided by the function of resemblance (mimesis or homoiosis), under the law of the same.' (p. 270)
But again we shall mistake Derrida's purpose - or (not to beg the intentionalist question) the logic of his argument in 'White Mythology' - if we read such passages as opening the way to a wholesale metaphorization of philosophy, or a levelling of the metaphor/concept distinction that would view it as merely a symptomatic instance of this drive for the 'reappropriation' of metaphor by the philosophic will-to-truth. For there could then be no accounting for that other (often strongly counter-intuitive) process of conceptual 'rectification' that enables scientific metaphors, models, and analogies to bring about genuine advances in our knowledge of physical objects, processes, and events. Empson makes the point more succinctly when he remarks - in a review of E.A. Burtt's book The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science - that 'it is unsafe to explain discovery in terms of a man's intellectual preconceptions, because the act of discovery is precisely that of stepping outside preconceptions' (11).
One could go into a lot more detail with respect to Derrida's position on these issues of ontology, epistemology, and the logic of scientific enquiry. A crucial text here would be his essay 'The Supplement of Copula' where he argues - as against the linguist Emile Benveniste - that Aristotle's table of the categories (the various forms and modalities of predicative judgment) cannot be treated as mere products of a particular language, namely the ancient Greek, whose lexical and grammatical resources they erect into an absolute (quasi-transcendental) set of laws for the conduct of rational thought (12). Of course there is a very real question - much debated by philosophers, Kant among them - as to whether Aristotle's really was, as he thought, a complete and exhaustive (a priori deducible) listing of the categories concerned (13). Also there are problems, as scarcely needs remarking, with Aristotle's essentialist definition of 'substance' as that to which the categories apply but which cannot itself be qualified or modified in its essence by any such categorial predicates. However Derrida's argument has to do with Benveniste's more sweeping (and strictly unintelligible) claim that the very idea of 'categoriality' is one that could only arise within the context of a given natural language that provided the lexico-grammatical means for its expression. For this involves Benveniste in a confusion of terms, a failure to observe the crucial distinction between particular categories (which may indeed be language-dependent) and categoriality as the precondition for making any judgments whatsoever, including judgments with regard to the priority of 'language' over 'thought' or - as the issue presents itself here - linguistics over philosophy. The latter is a transcendental question, taking the term 'transcendental' (as Derrida specifies) 'in its most rigorous accepted sense, in its most avowed "technicalness", precisely as it was fixed in the course of the development of the Aristotelian problematic of the categories' (14). In this sense of the term, quite simply, 'transcendental means transcategorial', i.e. pertaining to the condition of possibility for thought and judgment in general. It literally signifies 'that which transcends every genre', every particular (as it might be linguistically-instantiated) mode of categorical predication.
Thus 'none of the concepts utilized by Benveniste could have seen day, including that of linguistics as a science and the very notion of language, without a certain "small document" on the categories [i.e. Aristotle's table]'. ('Supplement of Copula', p. 188) And again, more pointedly:

Philosophy is not only before linguistics as one might find oneself facing a new science, a new way of seeing or a new object; it is also before linguistics, preceding linguistics by virtue of all the concepts philosophy still provides it, for better or worse; and it sometimes intervenes in the most critical, and occasionally in the most dogmatic, least scientific, operations of the linguist. (p. 188)

I must refer the reader to Derrida's essay if he or she wishes to follow this argument in all its intricate and rewarding detail. Sufficient to say that it operates both through the mode of transcendental-deductive reasoning - as defined above - and through a critical exegesis of Benveniste's text alert to those items of empirical (i.e. natural-language) evidence that contradict his avowed thesis. Thus, as Derrida remarks, '[w]hat is not examined at any time is the common category of the category, the categoriality in general on the basis of which the categories of language and the categories of thought may be dissociated'. (p. 182) And as a matter of empirical evidence there is the case of Ewe - a language spoken in Togo - which according to Benveniste possesses no equivalent (no lexical equivalent) of the verb 'to be' in its jointly existential and copulative function, but which turns out, on Benveniste's own submission, to require that those resources be ascribed to it (in whatever lexico-grammatically distributed form) if Ewe is to make any sense in its various social and communicative contexts. Thus the transcendental argument receives confirmation at the level of empirical research, that is, through Benveniste's reflection on the evidence of how Ewe speakers actually communicate as distinct from his preconceived ideas about linguistic or ontological relativity.
There is another passage from Benveniste - cited at length by Derrida - which brings out the close relationship between these issues in the fields of linguistics, anthropology, philosophical semantics, epistemology, and philosophy of science. 'Surely it is not by chance', Benveniste suggests, 'that modern epistemology does not try to set up a table of categories. It is more productive to conceive of the mind as a virtuality than as a framework, as a dynamism than as a structure. It is a fact that, to satisfy the requirements of scientific methods, thought everywhere adopts the same procedures in whatever language it chooses to describe experience. In this sense it becomes independent, not of language, but of particular linguistic structures. Chinese thought may well have invented categories as specific as tao, the yin and the yang; it is nonetheless able to assimilate the concepts of dialectical materialism or quantum mechanics without the structure of the Chinese language proving a hindrance. No type of language can by itself alone foster or hamper the activity of the mind. The advance of thought is linked much more closely to the capacities of man, to general conditions of culture, and to the organization of society than to the particular nature of a language.' (15)
It is a remarkable passage for several reasons, not least its espousal of an extreme dualism between 'language' and 'thought', its casual (as if unnoticed) throwing-away of the linguistic-relativist thesis, and its distinction - equally fatal to Benveniste's arguments elsewhere - between language in general and 'particular languages'. What emerges through all these manifest contradictions is the acknowledgment that there must be some order of reality that thought can apprehend or that language (language-in-general) can articulate quite aside from all mere relativities of time and place. Thus the 'advance of thought' seems a process that can indeed occur - whether in quantum physics or Chinese philosophy - through a process of conceptual development that cannot be attributed to the formative influence of this or that 'particular language'. Rather it belongs to the 'capacities of man' as a knowledge-acquisitive agent, with perhaps some allowance - and here Benveniste slides back toward a relativist stance - for 'general conditions of culture' or the 'organization of society'. But these latter conditions are apparently conceived as belonging to an order more permanent - or at any rate of far longer duration - than anything on the scale (historic or geographical) that Benveniste associates with 'particular' localized languages or cultures. In short, the whole passage tends towards a transcategorial conception of thought, language, reason and truth which Benveniste cannot bring himself to endorse explicitly - given his linguistic-relativist credentials - but which comes through in his argument despite and against its overt professions of belief.
Quantum mechanics has become a standard topos in current debates about ontological relativity and the issue of linguistic representation (16). It has spawned a great range of philosophical positions - realist and anti-realist - with regard to the status of quantum phenomena and their implications for philosophy of science, epistemology, and interpretation-theory. Benveniste makes only passing reference to this debate in the above-cited passage. However it does lend support to the view that some degree of ontological realism is presupposed in any discussion of quantum mechanics that seeks an 'advance of thought' through the elaboration and testing of specific conjectures. This applies even to highly speculative thought-experiments - such as the famous series conducted by Einstein and Bohr - for which, as yet, there existed no means of observational or experimental proof (17). For those experiments would quite simply have lacked all probative force had they not presupposed certain realist postulates concerning - for instance - the space-time trajectory of photons or electrons, the effects of particle charge, the well-defined limits placed upon simultaneous measurement of location and momentum, the behaviour of waves and/or particles under certain specified conditions, etc. (18) Nor is this argument in any way refuted by their having given rise to heterodox ideas (complementarity, undecidability, Heisenberg's uncertainty-principle) that on the face of it would appear incompatible with a realist interpretation. For here again it is the case that these theories were arrived at only in response to certain deep-laid conceptual problems, problems that would not have arisen - or required such strongly counter-intuitive 'solutions' - except on the premise (the ontological-realist premise) that they captured something that was deeply and genuinely puzzling in the quantum-physical domain (19).
I should not wish to place too large a philosophical burden on Benveniste's brief reference to quantum mechanics or on Derrida's citation of it in support of his case - as against Benveniste - for the impossibility of relativizing truth to language. Still it is a passage of some significance in the present context of argument. This emerges more clearly if one considers Benveniste's suggestion that 'modern epistemology' has no need of anything like Aristotle's table of the categories since 'it is more productive to conceive of the mind as a virtuality than as a framework, as a dynamism than as a structure' (20). There is an echo here of Whorfian ethnolinguistics, more specifically of Whorf's much-debated claim that the ideas of relativity-theory or quantum mechanics could be better expressed in Hopi Indian than in any of the modern European (Greek-influenced) languages since Hopi manifested a different metaphysics, a world-view unencumbered by the subject/object dualism or the rigid categorical framework of predicative grammar and logic (21). What is curious about this claim, as many commentators have noted, is the fact that these theories were expounded and developed not - as it happens - in Hopi but in a range of other (mainly European) languages that on Whorf's account should have put up maximal resistance to their adequate expression.
All of which suggests that Davidson is right: that there is no making sense of the argument for ontological relativity if that argument is pushed to the point of denying the very possibilty of adequate translation from one language to another (22). What is involved here (once again) is a kind of thought-experiment, in this case an experiment with the idea of 'radical translation' conducted - as by Whorf or by Quine - with a view to establishing the incommensurability of diverse languages, conceptual schemes, ontological frameworks, etc. (23) But the result is rather to prove just the opposite: that any evidence adduced in support of such claims (whether ethnolinguistic evidence like Whorf's or hypothetico-deductive 'evidence' like Quine's) will always presuppose the possibility of comparing languages and hence, a fortiori, of translating between them. Thus, as Davidson remarks, Whorf is here attempting to have it both ways, on the one hand declaring that Hopi cannot be 'callibrated' with English, while on the other presuming to describe in English those various lexical and grammatical features of Hopi that supposedly render such description impossible.
My point in all this is that thought experiments may have various (positive and negative) kinds of result. In some cases - like the Einstein/Bohr debates and subsequent quantum-physical conjectures - they serve as a means of formulating and testing theories which cannot at present be physically verified but which none the less require that their terms be taken as referring to certain entities, processes, or events whose behaviour under given conditions is (to put it simply) what the experiment is all about. In other cases - as with Quine, Whorf, and Benveniste - what begins as an argument against ontological realism (and in support of the linguistic-relativist case) ends up by undermining its own thesis and thus showing such ideas to be strictly unintelligible. Nor should we be over-impressed by the fact that quantum mechanics has so frequently figured as a paradigm instance of ontological relativity in the thinking of Quine and others (24). For this is to ignore what emerges very clearly in detailed accounts of those original thought-experiments; that is, the extent to which they all necessarily relied on a realist understanding of quantum phenomena even if the results turned out to require some drastic modification to accepted ideas about the ontology of the microphysical domain, the limits of precise measurement, the wave/particle duality, or the distinction between observing 'subject' and observed 'object'. In this respect the Einstein/Bohr conjectures were on a par, ontologically speaking, with such previous classic thought-experiments as that by which Galileo proved the uniform (mass-independent) rate of gravity-induced acceleration for bodies in a state of free fall. He imagined the case of two such bodies, a cannon-ball and a musket ball, securely fastened together. 'Go figure!', as they say; the experiment is enough to demonstrate conclusively, as a matter of conceptual necessity, what Galileo would later put to the proof by his better-known series of empirical tests at the leaning tower of Pisa (25).


(White Mythology - J. Derrida)