Happy Birthday, J.D.

Ol' Jackie would have been 86 today. He died under the knife undergoing treatment for pancreatic cancer. 


Odd that his birthday should fall on a day where I experienced vivid dreams of, among other thematically related things, a set of different sized and colored notebooks that would allow one to write freely and endlessly. 

Strange too that it be not only his birthday, but the immediate aftermath of a nexus of events, past and contemporary. July the 14th is French National Day, La fête nationale, Le quatorze julliet, Bastille Day: a celebration of the forging of French freedom in 1789 by way, naturally, of a violent influx of now-autonomous people into a fortress-symbol of tyrannical absolutism (reinforced, of course, by the very protectors of such buildings themselves) –– as well as of the formal formation of France as a self-bounded nation on the same day a year later.

The 14th was also, just yesterday, the date of a 'terrorist attack' committed by a man from Tunisia, which was once a French protectorate during an era when Derrida himself was born, living in, emigrating from and occasionally returning to its neighbor, the then-French territory of Algieria. So far 84 are dead and 202 injured in Nice, of at least 5 different nations.

We could easily go into the relevant Derridean themes about birth, naming, life and death, legacy, institutions, ghosts ... of the fact that Nice is no longer such a nice place today ...

... or, keeping in mind the celebration of 227- and 226-year-old events and the immediate vindication of a not even 24-hour-year-old calamity –– as well as with an eye towards birthdays as well (my own birthday is tomorrow), it might be fitting to 'merely' cite some of what Derrida himself said about the dating of events as a reaction to September 11th, 2001:


"I believe always in the necessity of being attentive first of all to this phenomenon of language, naming, and dating, to this repetition compulsion (at once rhetorical, magical, and poetic). To what this compulsion signifies, translates, or betrays. Not in order to isolate ourselves in language, as people in too much of a rush would like us to believe, but on the contrary, in order to try to understand what is going on precisely beyond language and what is pushing us to repeat endlessly and without knowing what we are talking about, precisely there where language and the concept come up against their limits: "September 11, September 11, le 11 septembre, 9/11." We must try to know more, to take our time and hold onto our freedom so as to begin to think this first effect of the so-called event: From where does this menacing injunction itself come to us? How is it being forced upon us? Who or what gives us this threatening order (others would already say this terrorizing if not terrorist imperative): name, re- peat, rename "September 11," "le 11 septembre," even when you do not yet know what you are saying and are not yet thinking what you refer to in this way." 

"...something marks a date, a date in history; that is always what's most striking, the very impact of what is at least felt, in an apparently immediate way, to be an event that truly marks, that truly makes its mark, a singular and, as they say here, "unprecedented" event. I say "apparently immediate" because this "feeling" is actually less spontaneous than it appears: it is to a large extent conditioned, constituted, if not actually constructed, circulated at any rate through the media by means of a prodigious techno-socio-political machine. "To mark a date in history" presupposes, in any case, that "something" comes or happens for the first and last time, "something" that we do not yet really know how to identify, determine, recognize, or analyze but that should remain from here on in unforgettable: an ineffaceable event in the shared archive of a universal calendar, that is, a supposedly universal calendar, for these are –– and I want to insist on this at the outset –– only suppositions and presuppositions. Unrefined and dogmatic, or else carefully considered, organized, calculated, strategic-or all of these at once. For the index pointing toward this date, the bare act, the minimal deictic, the minimalist aim of this dating, also marks something else. Namely, the fact that we perhaps have no concept and no meaning available to us to name in any other way this "thing" that has just happened, this supposed "event." An act of"international terrorism," for example, and we will return to this, is anything but a rigorous concept that would help us grasp the singularity of what we will be trying to discuss. "Something" took place, we have the feeling of not having seen it coming, and certain consequences undeniably follow upon the "thing." But this very thing, the place and meaning of this "event," remains ineffable, like an intuition without concept, like a unicity with no generality on the horizon or with no horizon at out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany or rhetorical refrain that admits to not knowing what it's talking about. We do not in fact know what we are saying or naming in this way: September 11, le 11 septembre, September 11. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this metonymy –– a name, a number –– points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize, that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about. 

This is the first, indisputable effect of what occurred (whether it was calculated, well calculated, or not), precisely on September 11, not far from here: we repeat this, we must repeat it, and it is all the more necessary to repeat it insofar as we do not really know what is being named in this way, as if to exorcise two times at one go: on the one hand, to conjure away, as if by magic, the "thing" itself, the fear or the terror it inspires (for repetition always protects by neutralizing, deadening, distancing a traumatism, and this is true for the repetition of the televised images we will speak of later), and, on the other hand, to deny, as close as possible to this act of language and this enunciation, our powerlessness to name in an appropriate fashion, to characterize, to think the thing in question, to get beyond the mere deictic of the date: something terrible took place on September 11, and in the end we don't know what. For however outraged we might be at the violence, however much we might genuinely deplore –– as I do, along with everyone else –– the number of dead, no one will really be convinced that this is, in the end, what it's all about. I will come back to this later; for the moment we are simply preparing ourselves to say something about it. ... 

The event is what comes and, in coming, comes to surprise me, to surprise and to suspend comprehension: the event is first of all that which I do not first of all comprehend. Better, the event is first of all that I do not comprehend. It consists in that, that I do not comprehend: that which I do not comprehend and first of all that I do not comprehend, the fact that I do not comprehend: my incomprehension. That is the limit, at once internal and external, on which I would like to insist here: although the experience of an event, the mode according to which it affects us, calls for a movement of appropriation (comprehension, recognition, identification, description, determination, interpretation on the basis of a horizon of anticipation, knowledge, naming, and so on), although this movement of appropriation is irreducible and ineluctable, there is no event worthy of its name except insofar as this appropriation falters at some border or frontier. A frontier, however, with neither front nor confrontation, one that incomprehension does not run into head on since it does not take the form of a solid front: it escapes, remains evasive, open, undecided, indeterminable.  ... "


Transcription of Safaa Fathy’s “D’ailleurs Derrida” // (Derrida’s Elsewhere)

Transcription of Safaa Fathy’s “D’ailleurs Derrida” // (Derrida’s Elsewhere)

"...each time there is a kind of “braid” of voices making it plurivocal –– this word has several meanings, in fact –– a plurivocal quality that works, laboriously or not, on each voice. For instance, here, we were talking about several individuals, several women, and Lorca and all those ghosts that come to haunt the same place and that in a way we take onto ourselves at the moment of mourning, at the moment of contemplation which we mentioned earlier… It must be that these ghosts, which are both masculine and feminine voices, several qualities of voice, several registers of feminine voices, compose together, get tangled up or braid together. In a certain way, whenever we speak, whenever I speak, whenever an “I” speaks, this “I” itself is constituted, made possible in its identity of “I”, by this tangling of voices. One voice inhabiting another, in a way, haunting the other. And I think that repression, all repression, in particular sexual repression, sexual repression of women begins at the place where one tries to stifle a voice or to reduce this tangle, this braid, to one voice only: a kind of monologic. "