Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Derrida’

Philosophy and Sex have never met, though in some cases they’ve claimed to, Anne Dufourmantelle assures us–and it’s clear she’s done her homework–that they, in fact, have been avoiding this blind date since its conceptual inception.

Aside from being an exquisite writer, Dufourmantelle is best known for the volume she published with Jacques Derrida, Of Hospitality, which is based on Derrida’s lectures in Paris. Of Hospitality, its text, is split, consisting of two texts on facing pages. On the left, Dufourmantelle writes, translates, offers “Invitations” as a response, to clarify Derrida’s “Response” on the right. This act of translating, writing and responding, exemplifies the topic of hospitality that the book spotlights, plays into the dance of me/you, host/guest, oscillating between the two, typifying the dichotomy, asking, transforming hospitality into the question of what happens at the borders, in the initial surprise of what happens with the contact of an other, a foreigner, a stranger, you.

In a way, Blind Date; Sex and Philosophy carries the question further by personifying philosophy, and wondering why, on pains of anxiety, why the immense corpus flees in terror from its silent other, its invisibly conjoined counterpart, sex. Not that sex, she points out, has done anything to keep its appointment with philosophy.

“The meeting was scheduled, they say, three thousand years ago. Officially, at least. Since then, it has been continuously postponed.”

Sex and Philosophy are both too self-involved, wrapped in up the superior euphoria of their own being, in their mutual chase for the height, the decimation of desire. Both exist in and of their own right, and outside the confines of language. Both are complete, lack any distracting object (as Lacan says, there is no such thing as sexual relations. And thinking is a masturbatory act, a groping for “Truth”). They think themselves synonymous, both resolute that they’re the defining line of demarcation, separating life from death. In other words, they’re both jealous of each other, blind to the other.

Blind Date…

is the term for a meeting between two beings who do not know each other, who may be able to love each other–a meeting organized by someone else who knows them both and who will not be present at the encounter.

Blind, this is what hides in the shadows, in the margins of the encounter between sex and philosophy. Blind, the lack of sight, a shade, a veil, curtains, darkness, an obstacle, a barrier between seeing and not seeing. Both sex and philosophy are blind to one another. Have never noticed each other. Pretend the other doesn’t exist.


begins with astonishment (Aristotle), declares itself the science of being, hopes to provide for the soul, finds its etymology in love of wisdom, imagines a spiritual education as its vocation, rights itself into a logic of propositions, lingers in schoolbooks, is written in all languages but is thought to think in just one,

is quietly dying out.

“To philosophize about sex” she writes, “is to think of its philosophical preliminaries, its margins, its surroundings, its subterranean periphery, its steep slopes, its white lines.” Because sex is outside of language, slips out of its grasp as a pure event, nothing more, how can one begin to define its boundaries, its borders, what jouissance exactly, precisely, is? Philosophy, thinking, requires language, lives in the world of words, of precision, in the pursuit, the love of wisdom. Philosophy experiences what it thinks, because it appears only in and through the act of thinking.

Upon reading in Levinas, reading about the infinite distance between two people, one thinks, one ponders then the impossibility of seeing and thinking outside of one’s subjective experience. How we see things as we are, not as the things themselves are. The same goes with people. I see Jil, I interpret Jil, I make assumptions on Jil’s behavior because of past experiences I’ve witnessed in Jil, by the patterns she exibits, by what I already know about her personality. But I have no idea what Jil is really thinking when she talks about her mother, outside of the language she uses to tell me, and that language, those words, are never enough. They never convey the thousands of images blurred together of her mother, the various instances, memories of her mother, the emotions surrounding her mother, the sundry feelings that well up at this conjuration, the infinite possibilities that surround their relationship, etc. I know what her mother looks like, I know some of the relevant and important stories that Jil has shared with me, but I have no idea what’s in her head.

This is always felt most painfully with lovers.

According to Aristophanes, and sung about in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, (wo)man is a being that has been cut in two and that has been searching for its other half, its soulmate, ever since.

In Plato’s Symposium he says, “Now, when our first form had been cut in two, each half in  longing for its fellow would come to it again; and then would they fling their arms about each other and in mutual embraces yearn to be grafted together, till they began to perish of hunger and general indolence.”

This cutting, sings Hedwig, is the origin of love.


ends only when explanations are required, comments on itself only as it disappears, disrupts any script that seeks to isolate its effects,

is present everywhere, all the time,

is absent everywhere, all the time.

Sex allows us to experience what is untouchable in the Other. It collapses as much of the infinite distance between two people as possible, it is the closest we come to feeling whole, to shedding our isolation, our being-toward-death. Sex is outside of time as well, or rather, because nothing is really outside of time, sex is inside a time that pretends it doesn’t exist. Sex lives inside an instant, a time cancelled out or wholly given over, a time fully accomplished. “Considered in this light,” she begins, “sex answers to our anguish at being in time through the rediscovered grace of instants miraculously spared from any duration.” Sex is the antidote to metaphysical insecurity, to ontological anxiety. It is an exchange of saliva, flesh, words, scents, oils, betrayals, distances, jealousies, emotions, caresses, memories, penetrations, humors, traumas, parents, ghosts, desires, love.

Sex is a pure quest for jouissance, for the pleasure that culminates in orgasm and annihilation, reducing everything else, the world, including me and you, to oblivion. It is a miniature death, reminding us, that every instance of death begins with an act of sex.

Eroticism, Bataille had said, is the assenting of life, to the point of death.

Sex is our only true response to the anguish of death. Making love makes us forget that life is always on the verge of ending and that the body itself belongs just as much to death as to life. Making love recalls us to death insofar as death is only conceived on the basis of life, and indeed that is what makes it always unreal to us; what fascinates us in death is its total opacity. Until the end we think within life, with death but outside of death. Sex holds me at the edge of the certainty that one day I will disappear.

Ripped away from our mothers, beyond what makes us human, this original separation affects us forever until death.

This is (wo)man’s plight, being born of a separation, an unthinkable solitude from which we will never recover.

This is also the reality of love, the origin of love.

Love, from which all life, all suffering, all existence is based. Love is the genesis of everything. Love in motion. Love of reason. Love in thought, love of thought. Love in matter, love of matter. Love of love.

And the catastrophe if it ever disappeared!

She says the encounter will never take place.

In other words, it has already taken place in the two protagonists’ lack of awareness, their failure to recognize that they knew each other (already), loved each other (already), had left each other and forgiven each other (already), and had finished, perhaps, with the fatigue of meeting. Of remaining only in the suspension of an unhoped-for encounter.

Beautiful, experimental, comprehensive, embracing, obscure, sexy, the kind of book that excites you to read another, to devour as much as you can, to write.

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It rings. And rings. We can now silence it, but before, we couldn’t. We could only take it off the hook. Ignore that beepbeepbeepbeepbeep. But still, most of us don’t. Most of us want the telephone to ring. We assume it will ring, and when it does, we run to answer it, like Pavlovians. Ring. Hello? You there. Hello?

The mind to body connection is astounding. Ring. Phone in hand. Hello?

It’s instinctual. Like pulling your hand off of a lit stove. Hello? Talk to me.

Women wait by the telephone. (Though now, women wait for the telephone, as they are mobile, wireless devices, no longer stuck inside the home.) Everyone has waited by for the telephone. I’ve waited by for the telephone. Hoping he would call. He, the proverbial he. Hoping he would end my suffering and call. Sometimes he didn’t. Often times he didn’t.

But then sometimes, he did. “I’m sorry,” He mostly said. “I was busy.”

Busy, the predominant emotional state in men.

The words go through a machine then come out differently. They sound differently. The inflections are all wrong. The inflections are faceless. Expressionless. Without eyes.

The words are interpreted. The machine spits out what he said and I reel it in and translate it. He was busy evokes a tree of translations. He was writing. He was out with someone else. He was doing something, anything, other than thinking about me.

This is not a post wherein I discuss past relationships’ failures. This is dissection of the telephone.

Or, as Cixous calls it, the Tele-Vaccination.

Because his voice can be an injection. It can calm the storm. Weather the war within. It penetrates our ears.

The telephone is an appendage that abates loneliness. Ring. Hello? I’m here.

The telephone used to be my savior. In college I used to get nightmares. Horrible nightmares where my friends, my family, me were being brutally murdered for sport. I began reading Sartre’s Imaginary. He said that one cannot reflect in dreams, that when one starts asking questions regarding a dream’s authenticity as dream then one could effectively control their dreams. That night, I dreamt that the outdoor Pedestrian Mall was carpeted. I was walking along the ordinarily cobbled street but feeling the scratchy, clean fibers underneath my bare feet when I thought, The Ped Mall wasn’t always carpeted, was it?

No, it most certainly was not. My dreaming self took out her cell phone. She pressed some buttons and called a lover whom she wished to see, whom I, the dreamer, had wished to see. My absent lover. The lover that didn’t always call. My lover that existed through the telephone.

This became a repeated gesture throughout my dreams during this period in my life.

If a threatening man appeared in my dreams I would take out my cell phone, dial him, or some number, some friend, and the contact would see me through to a different scene. The phone eased my suffering. Just as it did when my lover called.

The phone would ring. His number would appear, and that number, without fail, was never Hello? it was always Tonight. Later. You will get to see me tonight. His number, his ring, eased my longing. His ring never wanted to talk. It wanted to penetrate.

Cixous asks, why is there no painting of a woman waiting by the telephone?

A woman waiting to be translated, to be understood. Waiting to be heard without being seen.

Both of these, she knows, are impossible. To be heard is to trigger memory. He may be hearing me, unable to see me, but he is thinking about me, imagining my face, my body language as he deciphers my emotions, decodes blindly, with memory, with translation. To be translated is not to be understood.

“Language calls out for its translation precisely because it is untranslatable.”

Lily Robert-Foley wrote that.

And, what about the game Telephone?

The first person is the speaker, the last the listener, and everyone in between represents the machine, the device that words must travel through. This is how we end up with “purple monkey dishwasher” tacked onto the end of the sentence. The device is not pure. The machine is dirty, it crackles, words mutate, fall through its static.

Lily and I are writing a book on the Telephone. Or rather, it’s called Telephone. She writes. I translate. She translates. I write. We began this project because she’s far, too far for the telephone to be affordable. So we write, letters, but with a keen awareness of the Telephone-Other that is not there but would be if we were on the telephone.

I write:

I have read, that Derrida has said, that, “a ‘good’ translation must always commit abuses.” It gives permission to the text to narrowly escape banality by asserting itself as a translation.

A translation is both aggressive and demure.

A translation must continue “seeking the unthought or unthinkable in the unsaid or unsayable.”

I look at your text, your words, and I read them aloud. To illuminate, and to disappear: used as both verb and noun. One syllable crashes into another, leaving the former a memory. A memory that is never remembered accurately, like a feeling.

A feeling that’s locked in a box. Trapped. From head to paper through pen. Trapped again. Inside a box. Inside a dresser sometimes, like the time I found that pack of cigarettes you meant to throw out (one of my trauma boxes, you could say, nestled within my father’s trauma box, as he cannot bear the sight of Lucky Strikes), next to your trauma boxes. One word written on each cubic side. A terrible memory of yours locked inside.

She writes:

Cixous says we repeat a lot on the phone, don’t we, we repeat what we said because we are afraid that the other hasn’t heard what we said or we repeat what we think the other said because we are afraid we did not hear what the other said, the definition of the telephone being that it rings and we respond right away and this is what happens to language in translation as it passes from one language to another for instance language in French has two words, langage, which is the structures of language, the way the unities of language, whatever they may be maybe are put together and in what order and with what value, and langue which is the institution of language, those who speak and protect it, the library and the publishing houses, the debates in the government, not just something I wrote to you, but as we say sometimes, a langue is a language with an Army and a Navy, which is why the Swiss have no langue and that chasm of homophonies, a word or an idiom’s history of iteration, its memory and its interpersonal relationships must be demolished and built up again in a new language, and that’s why Derrida says that translation is impossible, but that it is also necessary…

The Telephone is a trauma box of mine. The pain is stored inside of its receiver. The fear that the other person is not hearing me right. That their translation of me is inaccurate. That I translated inaccurately.

But also, that they are not there, not listening, playing video games, setting the phone down. Walking away as I speak.

I have anxiety about the facelessness, the earlessness of the telephone. That my presence is unwanted, an interruption, an intrusion.

This explains the excitement for the ringing phone, for the gentleman caller.

Ring. Hello? I want to talk to you.

The telephone is a reward for good behavior.

Its removal is a punishment.

I was always grounded from the telephone.

Late at night I would sneak calls. Sometimes I would set up a meeting time, a rendezvous minute, where I would call a 1-800 number and wait for the other to call, for call-waiting, so my parents wouldn’t know I was on the phone.

This is when the telephone became sacred. Because of this, because of my absent lover, I adopted surreptitious telephone habits. The telephone became a secret. The telephone became a symbol, a portal to an affair. The gentleman caller is a voice without a face. He could be anyone to anyone else, anyone other than me. He is a secret. His phone call is also a secret.

Ring. Hello? Shhh, they’ll hear you.

But they can’t hear. Only the one with telephone can hear. Ear pressed against the device she hears words only spoken for her.

These words can bring forth demands. They can be exhausting, annoying.

Ring. Hello? Do this. Ring. Hello? Explain yourself. Ring. Hello? Give me your time.

Or then, the fantasy, the desire to be loved, to be missed, to be heard.

Ring. Hello? I love you. I love you too.

But what if these last two quarrel. What happens when they’re at odds?

Ring. Hello? I love you, she says. Give me your time, he hears. No, he says, and she falls, rejected, sad. He’s confused, that’s not what he meant. He meant he was busy. She dissects “busy,” as she’s wont to do. Still paranoid, still assuming refusal, dismissal. He becomes angry. A cycle. A series of misunderstandings. Miscommunications. Meaning lost inside the machine.

(Ring. Hello? Come to me.)

(To quote Beyoncé, “I should’ve left my phone at home cuz this is a disaster.”)

(Ring. Hello? I’m sorry.)

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Or, La Trahison des Images. Or, Ceci N’est pas une pipe. Or, This is Not a Pipe. Painted by the surrealist René Magritte in 1928-1929. Here, and elsewhere, he mythologizes everydayness by taking quotidian objects, transplanting them in another world, another time, until they lose their mundane, everyday, quotidian qualities, until they have lost their everyday thingness. Here, Magritte transplants the pipe into the world of language. This painting, The Treachery of Images, is not a pipe, which is the point, it is a painting. (And it’s located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.) This painting is a sign, a representamen, a signifier. It’s not a joke. Ceci n’est pas la plaisanterie. It’s semiotics. And yet people scoffed at him. And some people were truly outraged.

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe,” I’d have been lying!

Semiotics: The study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation.

Ferdinand de Saussure, the grandfather of the linguistic sign. His students posthumously published his lecture notes in 1916 on linguistics: Cours de linguistique générale. He is the first to define the linguistic sign as a two-sided entity, a dyad. One side of the sign is called the signifier, which is the material aspect of the sign, the word, the grapheme, the phoneme. And the obverse side refers to the signified, or the mental concept.

The word “banana” in English is made up of the signifiers /b/ /a/ /n/ /a/ /n/ /a/, but what is engendered for the hearer is not the “real” banana, the banana committing suicide, but a mental concept of “banananess”: yellow, fruit, sweet, mushy, phallic, peel, slipping, yummy, nom nom nom.

The “real” banana is the banana in the sentence, the one being described, not a general banana. In this instance, the “real” banana is this poor fella dangling from the shoelace.

Saussure discovered that the relationship between signifier and signified is completely arbitrary. The mental concept of the banana need not necessarily be engendered by the signifier which consists of the sound /b/ /a/ /n/ /a/ /n/ /a/. For instance, in French, when people think of banananess they use the signifier “banane” and in Greek “μπανάνα.”

In other words, there is no natural reason why the signifier “banana” should engender the signified. The relationship is purely conventional, it exists because of conventional rules, conventional agreements. This system only functions because signs signify by virtue of their difference from other signs.

La Différance. Jacques Derrida.

Words and signs can never fully articulate what they mean; they can only be defined through appeal to other words, from which, they differ. Thus, meaning is perpetually deferred, or postponed through an endless chain of signifiers. Saussure didn’t push this idea far enough. To it’s obvious conclusion.

Inside the Cours, Derrida found that Saussure, like most philosophers, championed speaking over writing, that writing was a “secondary” form of signification. Saussure even says, “Language and writing are two distinct systems of signs; the second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first.”

Derrida accuses Saussure of privileging the spoken signifier over the written signifier, that the former is somehow closer to the signified. This is logocentrism. The spoken sign is pure, where the written sign is meddlesome, in the middle, merely a bridge from thought to communication, which it is, but they both are! Derrida doesn’t understand why people fight mediation. It is what it is.

Both speech and writing are systems of difference.


Both words are pronounced the same exact way (especially in French), but the distinction between them can only been seen in writing.

Vive La Différance!

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