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Derrida, Do I Know How to Pronounce Your Name? or On Reading Monolingualism of the Other with an Accent

by Kyoo Lee
18 May 2012 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Im-possible Derrida [8] | Article

How do the vocal signatures of the Derridian text emerge and persist? Asked differently: what would it mean to read a text, embodied mobile networks of langue or logos, silently with an accent?—whether “colonial,” “post-colonial,” “neo-colonial,” “global,” “idiosyncratic,” “hybrid,” “disciplinary,” or even naturally “French” or “Martian,” or whatever? Furthermore, how could such a silent singular accent, a responsive parole reinscribed and retransmitted as such, turn into a critical resource for non-phono-centric if still vocal exercises in philosophic thinking? Drawing on the dual “authorial” position of not knowing how to pronounce the name Derrida properly, and working through some of the quietly telling passages in Derrida on the echographical (il-)logic(s) of signatures and significations, such as “Signature Event Context,” Signsponge and Monolingualism of the Other, this piece sets out to push (the late) Derrida further and argue for an aural reading without a prosopopoetic closure, configuration or conformity. If Derrida, the name “out there,” refers to the very process of referral in the form of non-contractual deferral, what remains imperative in this vectorial and vestigial “reading” of the accent of the other is the other listening, listening-in-and-for-rather-than-to; the other demonstration, demonstration-in- and-with-rather-than-of. Who knows? With this other attention to the radical idiosyncrasies, phonic singularities, of languages in action, the irony of phonological objectivity or purity, the proper “French” accent, for instance, from which the young and old Derridas of Monolingualism suffer as if having contracted a fever, itself can perhaps be made lighter, less oppressive—or else should be. The point of it all, just in a word?—you can always misspell différance but you can never mispronounce Derrida, as Jacques would (have to) agree.

Jacques Derrida’s death concludes the deaths of philosophers who ‘signed’ something. This is the death, the end of an historical signature, a temporal signature. My first emotion, beyond, of course, the always impressive consideration that a historical moment thus signed has disappeared, is not triumphant. My thought is: ‘Now, we are the old generation.’

Alain Badiou, “Homage to Jacques Derrida,” Adieu Derrida

Derrida, I did not know, and am still unsure, how to pronounce your proper name, Jacques D-e-r-r- i-d-a, which I think I first saw in/out of the corner of my eyes while browsing some bookshelves … a pale pink cover, as I recall, spottably slim, a silent signification in the right bottom corner of a bookshelf in the far left corner, the “foreign books” section, I believe it was, of that used bookstore in Manhattan whose name I no longer recall, alas, perhaps because now it is not there—or was it?

I. (re)Enter the French Sponge—with (the Late) Derrida

Two decades on, I reopen that copy which, I see, is in red, not pink, only the spine fading, Signsponge.

FRANCIS PONGE—from here I call him, for greeting and praise, for renown, I should say, or renaming. FRANCIS PONGE–d’ici je l’appelle, pour le salut et la louange, je devrais dire la renommée.

Much would depend on the tone I want understood. A tone is decisive; and who shall decide if it is, or is not, part of discourse? Cela dépendrait beaucoup du ton que je donne à entendre. Un ton décide; et qui décidera s’il appartient ou non au discours?

But then he is already called, Francis Ponge. He will not have waited for me to be called himself. Mais déjà il s’appelle, Francis Ponge. Il ne m’aura pas attendu pour s’appeler lui-même.

As for renown or renaming, that is his thing. Quant à la renommée, c’est sa chose.

I could have started just as I did: by playing around with the fact that the entire name of Francis Ponge (no deduction drawn from it yet by me) can, in accord with the overture made him a moment ago, very well form the whole of an interpellation, apostrophe, or greeting addressed to him. Not only in his presence but to his presence, the very same, here and now, that opens up my call with an indisputable reference, one which my language will never have a chance to close on, and on which it will never have a risk to run with. The name can [...] give him, for you, the name of Francis Ponge, himself, with a silent indication accompanying the call: here is Francis Ponge, it is him that I name as a third person [...]. The name of Francis Ponge is Francis Ponge. “Francis Ponge” is the name of his name. One can always say this. J’aurais pu commencer comme je viens de le faire: en jouant de ce que le nom entier de Francis Ponge (je n’en déduis encore rien), selon l’ouverture qu’à sa présence, celle-là même qui ouvre ici, maintenant, ma vocation d’une référence indiscutable et sur laquelle mon langage n’a aucune chance de se refermer désormais, aucune risque non plus à courir. Le nom peut [...] le nommer, Francis Ponge, lui, pour vous, d’une indication silencieuse accompagnant l’appel : voici Francis Ponge, c’est lui que je nomme comme une troisième personne [...]. Le nom de Francis Ponge est Francis Ponge. «Francis Ponge» est le nom de son nom. One peut toujours le dire.

This is all very equivocal, and I see him asking himself a number of things, as well as the thing itself. To whom am I speaking in this way, and about what? Tout cela est très équivoque, et je le vois qui se demande bien des choses, et la chose même. A qui et de quoi est-ce que je parle

ainsi ? Will I remove the equivocation by starting some other way? Léverai-je l’équivoque à commencer autrement ?

I start some other way. Je commence autrement. Francis Ponge will have been self-remarked. Francis Ponge se sera remarqué.

I just pronounced a sentence. It can be repeated, by me or by you if you cited it some day. Nothing will keep you from putting it into quotation marks, which it promptly hastens to furnish you. You can put it out to dry—it’s still very fresh—with the kind of clothespins that are used now and then by photographers to develop a print. C’est une phrase que je viens de prononcer. Elle peut être répétée, par moi ou par vous si un jour vous la citiez. Rien n’interdira de la prendre entre des guillemets qu’elle s’empresse de vous fournir aussitôt. Vous pouvez la mettre à sécher, elle est encore toute fraîche, avec telles épingles à linge, comme font parfois les photographes dans le développement du cliché. (S 2/3, bilingual edition)

What was all that about? A frame of reference, please?- you ask. Signing and singing with Ponge, him sponged and spoiled, I too (will) have started (re)reading- the name(s) to begin with. I promise.

What is at stake? – at this point: ‘“Francis Ponge” is the name of his name’ (««Francis Ponge» est le nom de son nom»). What is (t)his “thing,” “it,” the “third person” singular in sight, to which Derrida, in this inaugural seminar on the Thing at Yale University in 1975 (S ix), points repeatedly if not referring?—as if “(t)his” thing, Derrida’s or Ponge’s, were also indeed a thing in deed of some sorts, the two ends of which, its life and death, would be pegged, possessed and propelled by its signatures. Signing being sign-ing, a sign instantly producing and consumed by its own significant excesses/effects, its own life/death, its own trail/train of time, the signature there becomes/remains something of a footwork or handiwork, the becoming foot of a writing hand—a manuscript, for instance, heading somewhere especially when incomplete, arriving too late or too early. Who knows where “it” comes from/departs to?

Pick up a story, the story, for instance, of Robinson Crusoe’s encounter with the print of a naked foot in the sand, which reappears in the hands of Derrida, in the second set of his last ten seminars (2002-3) on “the Beast and the Sovereign.” What we see there in (the late) Derrida, in the series of (t)his (post)Heideggerian signature, as J. Hillis Miller observes movingly, is “the running away from death that is a running towards death” (Miller 2007: 150; 135; 141-5)—death in/by French, as in ‘trouver la mort, “to find death,” “to meet with death”—and that means to die’ (Derrida 2010: 5). At stake, at each and every time of the lively affirmation of a death, in its solitary nakedness autobiographically prefigured and disclosed as such à la Nietzsche (Miller 2007: 140; 144), is then a postal act, a telegraphic process, of a name inscribing itself into the text—rather than the name (in) itself. As Derrida went/goes on to write:

The process of transforming a work into a thing—mute, therefore, and silent when speaking, because dispensing with the signature—can only be brought about by inscribing the signature in the text, which amounts to signing twice in the process of not signing any more. We shall have to pass through this point once again. (S 36)

Signing being dual signing, the serial countersigning of the I and the reflexive I, moi, this reader is led again to ask at “this point through which we shall have to pass again”: what is being cited or carried … over … into and beyond this photographic frame, if not the allegory of its temporal outside mirrored into it, in a certain, different light?—somewhere between Apollonian and Dionysian?

For “Nous nous devons à la mort” (Derrida 2010: 1ff): “we must devote ourselves to death; we owe ourselves to death; we owe each other or we ow one another to death (or up until death)” (Derrida 2010: 73, translator’s notes); “we owe ourselves to death, we owe ourselves to death, we owe ourselves to death, we owe ourselves to death: the sentence kept on repeating itself in my head, so full of sun, but without reproducing itself” (Derrida 2010: 11); ‘Not “we owe ourselves to the death,” not “we owe ourselves death,” but “we owe ourselves to death.”’ (Derrida 2010: 5)

On “this acknowledgement of debt, this IOU [...], like a thing, a simple thing lost in the world, but a thing already owed, already due” (Derrida 2010: 5), on this Derridian thing called deconstruction, almost an instant cliché (print, a photograph), on that “French theory in America [...], an American invention” (Lotringer & Cohen 2001:1), “stripped of its French passport and equipped with a fake American ID” somewhere between its departure and its arrival, as Avital Ronell’s back-cover blurb reminds us, Derrida has this to say, almost as if for the first time:

[...] Naturally, when I foolishly proposed the title in the plural, “Deconstructions: The Im- possible,” I did not just let speak, like a symptom, the spontaneous recoil that the program inspired in me: talk on this subject, pretend to talk on it? Again, no, impossible. Rather, I meant something else that I will try to explain.

After the fact, thus after having improvised the title, “Deconstructions: The Im-possible” [...], I realized that—so as not to play, not to deceive, once again at the edge—I had inscribed the word deconstruction in a title, undoubtedly for the first time in my life, in more than thirty years. And for the first time I had announced that I was going to talk, without subterfuge, about this thing and this name, this name in the plural of course, and in quotation marks, mentioning the name rather than using it, referring to it: to the effects of this name rather than to some improbable thing itself. Deconstruction in the singular does not exist and has never presented itself as such in the present, and the plural signifies first and foremost this: the open set of effects that one can, here and there, in the world and in America, associate with, invest in, love or hate to death under this name. (Derrida 2001: 15)

True enough, as he himself is aware as seen above, “Derrida has the problem of saying what he means without meaning what he says” (Wood 1980: 225), and he does it, (t)his thing, as I have been trying to show from the start, “under (t)his name,” in the name of the other or an-other. Self-identity is under erasure, under siege, insofar as it participates in and constitutes itself through the self-distancing process of self-identification fraught with philosophical high (melo)dramas of contradictions and especially self-contradictions that underlie and escape the law of identity, A=A.

I am at war with myself, it’s true, you couldn’t possibly know to what extent, beyond what you can guess, and I say contradictory things that are [...] in real tension; they are what construct me, make me live and will make me die. I sometimes see this war as terrifying and difficult to bear, but at the same time I know that that is life. I will find piece only in eternal rest. I thus cannot really say that I assume this contradiction, but I know that it is what keeps me alive, and makes me ask precisely the question you recalled earlier, “how does one learn to live?” (Derrida 2007: 47)

Signing as a speech act, for Derrida, would be analogous to sponging: wiping the surface, one is left with evidence of life and death—some call it dirt—caught in that sponge, that is singularly, absorbingly dual, which becomes part of so-called “legacy,” a networked series of wills that cannot be entirely willed, “a (burnt) book,” where “everything in the world exists in order to end up” (Mallarmé 2007: 226). Sponging saves—erases and gathers all at once—marks, all that matters, so that they can be discarded elsewhere. The sponge deepens the surface of time by facing and defacing it. Is this not how the text becomes juicy and dry?

Take this as a way-in, a way of example. As Derrida himself notes without saying it, he tends to use X while mentioning it. For instance, “Je – marque (I – mark(s))”:

I – mark(s) first of all a division in what will have been able to appear in the beginning. (MP 327/275, Je – marque d’abord une division dans ce qui aura pu paraître au commencement.)

But – I mark(s) the division – [...] (MP 327/275)

But – again, I mark(s) and multiply/multiples (multiplie) the division – [...] (MP 328/276)

For Derrida, [...] reflexivity points to [..] the medium and practice of writing itself. (Wood 1990: 145)

So what?—again, you ask. The point is (seen) in the connection, the liquidated dash, the moving- near-and-away of the reflexive. If you don’t get it, you don’t; if you don’t like it, don’t—read on.

Whether you are familiar with “Derridian” imprints/footprints/signatures/ style or still new to them, whether you now consider it passé, pointlessly manneristic, no longer worthy of your precious time, this way of starting—or “commencing (commencer)” which, as the American idiom has it, also means graduating, done with school—to pontificate on (re)naming or the impossible necessity of it, without “saying what he means straight” (Priest 1995: 235), might still come across as self-indulgent or perverse, trite at best; yet another Derridian cliché, to be sure, of which he spoke in allusive reference to Ponge above. (T)his thing endlessly churned out and chewed on, no matter what or whom he is speaking on: again, is it not some kind of cheap, self-referential, purple “trick [he] plays on us” (MO 4) with signatures, his or not—for whatever reason seemingly known only to himself? What is—or becomes of—this “hyperbolic non-knowledge” (Miller 2007:139)?

Allow me further a self-nestling detour at this point, which would bear immediate relevance to our question above, “whatever the reason” (Priest 1995:235). What could be that reason? What might be “it”? Evoking the Wittgensteinian imperative to remain silent in the face of the inexpressible or ineffable, Graham Priest writes, citing Philosophical Investigations:

PI 119 says:

The results of philosophy are the uncovering of one or another piece of plain nonsense and of bumps that the understanding has got by running its head up against the limits of language. These bumps make us see the value of the discovery.

It is just that when we make the discovery we cannot (but do) express it.

“(but do)”: we do it, none the less—or just do it, or else it is (to be) done. Where else will have philosophy, this philosophy, survived, if not in that parenthesis, in its own “absolutely inpersonal” (absolument personne) relentlessness (S 22/23), its eventual it-self-ness? Priest, renowned for his military precision in exposition and priestly neatness in conclusion, whose elegant book, Beyond the Limits of Thought (1995), happened to be for me, as I recall, the very first secondary introduction to the work of Derrida, goes on to read Derrida this way:

14.4 Derrida on Presence

So much for Wittgenstein. Let us now turn to Derrida. Derrida is a literary philosopher. This is true in two senses. The first is that his work falls across the traditional divide between philosophy and literary criticism. I shall consider only that part of his work which bears on the theme of the determinacy of sense (though, arguably, this is the central part of his theoretical work). The second sense in which Derrida is a literary philosopher is that he often eschews traditional philosophical styles of writing in favor of styles that might be more at home in literary works. One reason for this might be the problem—that we have just encountered in Wittgenstein—of saying what he means straight. At any rate, whatever the reason, his style makes him singularly difficult to interpret. For this reason I am unsure that I have understood him

[...]. the denial of presence. [...] (Priest 1995: 235, emphases added)

Still, putting this caveat aside, let us start with Derrida’s principal philosophical thesis:

Apart from the parenthetical asides and whispered monologues, which, on this second reading, I am rediscovering (distractedly) with heightened admiration for their analytic tightness and humility, I would now like to draw your attention to the part-whole logico-rhetoricity of it that sequentially structuralizes the scene of philosophical inquiry A to Z in an exemplarily unproblematic manner: “so much for,” “philosophy/literature,” “one/two,” “considering only that part,” “the first sense,” “the second sense,” “putting this caveat aside,” “favor/deny,” etc. All clear and distinct, no fiddling with or lingering over some sort of “inexhaustible rhetoric of apposition,” no Derridian …

[...] discourse of digression [which] turns in a round of constant rhetorical iteration, saying the same thing over and over in slightly different ways, often within the same sentence. [...] [I]t often advances, and does not advance, through a series of phrases in apposition. [...] Derrida proceeds, without proceeding, by a constant process of capping what he has just said, with a still deeper insight, as if he were saying: ‘You think that is all I can find to say about this I have cited, but you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ He then proceeds to another higher, even less obvious or less predictable insight, like Charlie Parker transposing a melody to a yet higher harmonic. (Miller 2007: 149)

I have compared this repetition with variations to Bach or Jazz. Such repetition is an essential feature of the late Derrida style. Here the stylistic repetition mimes the experience of being haunted by oneself, of retracing a path already traversed and coming back incessantly to confront oneself either as the haunter or the haunted, or, rather, as both. (Miller 2007: 140)

The double-sided stickiness of the Derridian logos bears repeating: philosophy recognizes something while literature responses to “it”:

Those who accuse me of reducing philosophy to literature or logic to rhetoric [...] have visibly and carefully avoided reading me.

Conversely, I do not think that the “demonstrative” mode or even philosophy in general is foreign to literature. [...]

This explanation between “philosophy” and “literature” is not only a difficulty problem that I try to elaborate as such, it is also that which takes the form of writing in my texts, a writing that, by being neither purely literary nor purely philosophical, attempts to sacrifice neither the attention to demonstration or to theses nor the fictionality or poetics of languages.

In a word, and to respond to the very letter of your question, I don’t believe that there is “a specifically philosophical writing,” a sole philosophical writing whose purity is always the same and out of reach of all sorts of contaminations. And first of all for this overwhelming reason: philosophy is spoken and written in a natural language, not in an absolutely formalizable and universal language. That said, within this natural language and its uses, certain modes have been forcibly imposed (and there is here a relation of force) as philosophical. These modes are multiple, conflictual, inseparable from the philosophical content itself and from its “theses.” (Derrida 1995: 218-9)

The suggestion being that the playwright play “it” right, let us try and hear it again, each time differently, this very point: “Since Plato, it has been known that every demonstration presupposes something which is not demonstrable” (Castoriadis 1991: 87)—did you hear Plato or playdough?

Again, to demonstrate with Derrida this hyper- or para- if not meta-philosophical point which I hope I am hearing right:

I think that when philosophers speak of argument they very often have a certain model of argument in mind, and when they fail to recognize that familiar model, they hasten to conclude that there is no argument. I myself say, rather, that there is argument, in another form. I think that literature is argumentative, in another way, with different procedures. Literature attempts to lead to conclusions, even if they are suspensive or undecidable; it is an organized discourse that exchanges with the other, needs the response of the other, is discursive, and therefore passes through a temporality. Such argumentation does not obey the norms of philosophy, even supposing—and it is still a presupposition—that within philosophy there is only one type of argumentation. (TS 54)

Something in, and despite, that norming of philosophy, ‘this “beyond” is what interests Derrida throughout his analyses of ethico-political concept’ (Patton 2003: 21), such that argumentation, enunciation or demonstration is then taken as philosophy in action, philosophy at work, philosophy in deed, institutional or personal, rather than more simply philosophy in view, or philosophy at bay, as the late Derrida formulated it, and performed it, while “learning to live finally” (Derrida 2007). Again, look at, in Priest’s text above, the linear and clear deployment of compositional divide-and- conquer and computational yes-or-no, with which philosophers must become familiar in order to advance forgetfully and forcefully—but, the point, as already registered by the haunter/hunter- philosopher(s) above, is that they also do and are expected to recall, notwithstanding all the stated oppositions (or appositions), those bits and pieces pushed aside or left behind from itself, which, arguably, is the thing that keeps philosophy dynamic, deadly alive, and its logos commanding.

It is like a language you can denounce only in your own language, which is that same language. Even when I give the impression of transgressing, putting into question, displacing, it is always under their authority, with a sense of responsibility in the face of a certain philological morality, before a certain ethics of reading or of writing. In short: before the law. (TS 43)

Such improper, uncontrollable, moments in philosophy will have appeared no matter what, haunting the philosopher in denial (of his denial), in double self-denunciation/inscription:

In order to sign, one has to stop one’s text, and no philosopher will have signed his text, resolutely and singularly, will have spoken in his own name, accepting all the risks involved in doing so. Every philosopher denies the idiom of his name, of his language, of his circumstance, speaking in concepts and generalities that are necessarily improper. (S 32)

Philosophers are present undeniably (and unstraightforwardly), insofar as their names, their idioms, remain demonstrable in certain ways, even at the moment of their generalized self-obliteration. Pilosophers can (not) cover (self)presence with their language, the trinity of logic-law-language they inhabit (by opposition or apposition)—or at least that is their (il)logical or (para)linguistic ambition, an I.O.U becoming reflexive, materially relational, that is. “Philosophers as such are,” yes, I agree, “a little disgusting in that none of them, as philosophers (this being a part of philosophy, car ça fait partie de la philosophie), will have known how to cut short, to stop (whence the “volumeinseveraltominous” character of their work), or to cut, and thereby to shorten and to sign” (S 32, emphasis added). Indeed, perhaps I might not have remembered Priest’s otherwise monosyllabic text, his judiciously glutinous formulation on the “beyond” of some sorts, if the gesture there, the driving force therein, had not been a little “dirty, soiled, sickening or disgusting” (S 30), that way or in some ways.

So Derrida, to turn back to you nominally, to return to our track summarily, this was our opening question: just one more time, what is it that is being said or named when you say, not just “a name” or “his name” but, “the name of his name” by which, as you say, repeatedly, “Francis Ponge will have been self-marked”(Francis Ponge se sera remarqué, S 2/3; 4/5; 6/7; 8/9)?—whose name, in turn, you seem to run the risk of re-appropriating? Or in-personating? What is this hyper- or meta-name hovering or underwriting, seemingly mystifying scenes of identification and self- identification? Even worse perhaps, what is this author, an echo here, trying to show when (s)he is “putting this out to dry,” those secondhand words, out of the memory closet?—only to put that back in there, somewhere? Why this delayed, duplicated, (in)action?—when you say, again:

by leaving Francis Ponge in an overture, all alone in the place of the sovereign subject, where nothing will have preceded the name, I am letting you hear it rather than read it, in order to find there the necessarily invisible quotation marks surrounding the proper name. From you I withdraw the power of deciding, but also perhaps from him who finds himself taking part in this assembly, barely in attendance with his name. You would not know how to operate frankly in a French language purified of all equivocation. (S 8)

No, I wouldn’t know, as I already told you from the start: I did not even know how to pronounce your name in the first place; I will never have been with you, at least on that, to begin with. So here, time and again, simply, “I am letting you hear it,” “it,” you pronounced as is written or read, not just in one way or another, but also differently each time, properly or not.

Then again, one last time, I swear: how will I end this piece “at any rate,” which I began, “whatever the reason”? So you are asking that one question this author has been showing without stating, staging without solving: what is the central question of this paper as a whole, to which I am seeking an answer, even marginally? I am trying to make out the vocal signatures of the Derridian text, how it emerges and persists: I am already in the middle of trying to figure out what it would mean to read a text, embodied mobile networks of langue or logos, silently with an accent—whether “colonial,” “post-colonial,” “neo-colonial,” “global,” “idiosyncratic,” “hybrid,” “disciplinary,” or even naturally “French” or “Martian,” or whatever, idiotic even. Why? I believe and would bank on the possibility that such a silent singular accent, a responsive parole reinscribed and retransmitted as such, could turn into a critical resource for non-phono-centric, participatory, otherwise vocal exercises in philosophic thinking. How will I proceed? Drawing, as I have just initially done, on the dual “authorial” position of not knowing how to pronounce the proper name Derrida properly, and working through some of the quietly telling passages in Derrida on the echographical (il-)logic(s) of signatures and significations such as the “Signature Event Context,” Signsponge and Monolingualism of the Other, I would now like to argue, more specifically, for an aural reading without a prosopopoetic closure, configuration or conformity. If Derrida, the name “out there,” is not so much a reference as this Derridian “thing” that refers to the very process of referral in the form of non-contractual deferral, what remains imperative in this vectorial and vestigial reading of the accent of the other is, as I sense, something like the other listening, listening-in-and-for-rather-than-to; the other demonstration, demonstration-in-and-with-rather-than-of. Who knows? With this alternative attention to the radical idiosyncrasies, phonic singularities, of languages in action, the irony of phonological objectivity, hierarchy or purity, e.g., the proper “French” accent, from which the young and old Derridas of the Monolingualism suffer as if having contracted a fever, itself can perhaps be made lighter, less oppressive—or else should be. The political naïvete aside, or the pre-Babelic fantasy allowed, what is the philosophical point of it all, just in a word?—you can always misspell différance but you can never (or else have always already) mispronounce(d) Derrida, as Jacques (himself) would (have to) agree …

II. Begin by (re)Calling “Derrida” in the Name of the Other

Recall another inaugural line of (non)thought offered by “early” Derrida, on the originary driftiness of names necessarily given and taken as such. “Signature Event Context” (signature événement contexte), one of his earliest and most frequently cited texts, first orally delivered in August 1971 in Montreal, Canada, which has become something of a “signature” text itself, addresses the theme of the conference, “communication (la communication),” where he appears to disorientate everyone including himself. We have already pre-viewed this type of French Sponging Technique: mention and use at once, wipe and leave immediately: the presenter/writer/speaker self-reflexively draws on citational chains and network spillage as the demonstrative prop to the effect of debunking the mythical authority and practical power of signatory self-presence and linguistic possessiveness. Signsponge has the target text “attack itself” (S 6), which is, to recall, how and why and where “Francis Ponge will have been self-remarked” (S 8). To extrapolate the question, the task multiplied here is: “How does a signature let itself be volatized?” (S 10)

This time, the target is J. R. Austin, his stated, implicitly Anglo-centric plan to limit the object of his speech act analysis to “spoken utterance” (l’énonciation parlée) (cited in SEC-LI 367/1, part of the opening epigram); already by now, at least some of us might have a sense of what sort of sensibility this kind of discursive framing and theoretical control would activate, cultivate even; as a further aside, it is also worth rediscovering this astonishingly simple irony, as my colleague Sibyl Schwarzenbach observed, that most “philosophers of language,” especially if not exclusively Anglophone, do not (see or feel the need to) study languages. Is philosophy doomed to be monolingual? One hopes not. J. D. at the conference asks, in turn: what is so special, so significant, about speech? Why this phonocentrism, this valorization of vocalized time and territory? At this meeting of diasporic voices orchestrated by the Congrès international des Sociétés de philosophie de langue française, Derrida announces that he “wants to insist on this possibility,” this other side of the event:

The possibility of disengagement and citational graft which belongs to the structure of every mark, spoken or written (parlé ou écrit), and which constitutes every mark in writing before and outside of every horizon of semio-linguistic communication; in writing, which is to say in the possibility of its functioning being cut off, at a certain point, from its “original” desire- to-say-what-one-means (vouloir-dire) and from its participation in a saturable and constraining context. Every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic, spoken or written (in the current sense of this opposition), in a small or large unit, can be cited, put between quotation marks; in so doing it can break with every given context, engendering an infinity of new contexts in a manner which is absolutely illimitable. This does not imply that the mark is valid outside of a context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any center or absolute anchoring (ancrage). This citation, this duplication or duplicity, this iterability of the mark is neither an accident nor an anomaly, it is that (normal/abnormal) without which a mark could not even have a function called “normal.” (SEC-LI 381/12, emphases added)

Speech or spoken language does not exist except in the putative “unity of thought of voice in logos” (VKS-SP 74), “there [in] an unfailing complicity between idealization and speech (voix)” (VKS-SP 75), in the very phenomenological idea or aesthetic ideology of ‘“normal”’ (SEC-LI 318/12) language, a prized cocktail of the so-called natural language, standard pronunciation, perfect enunciation, pure expression, universal grammar, ideal discourse, etc., the possibility of all of which, ironically, rests on the techno-material persistence or subsistence of writing which speech must overlook in order it to be (self-present in its instantaneous self-identity and unrepeatable singularity).

In order to see such inside workings of logos, as Derrida stresses, we must listen in:

The prerogative of being cannot withstand the deconstruction of the word. To be is the first and the last world to withstand the deconstruction of a language of words. But why does using words get mixed up with the determination of being in general as presence? [...] why is the epoch of the phōnē also the epoch of being in the form of presence, that is, of ideality?

Here we must listen. [...] There is an unfailing complicity between idealization and speech (voix). (VKS-SP 74-5)

At the moment of the idealized constitution of the language of self-presence is writing, writing that listens in through “us.” “We” is the name one can give to various self-forming sets of ever evolving vocal communities stabilized and networked through writing and reading. If speech does not exist except in its own phenomenological fantasy or logocentric circuitry, “writing, if there is any, perhaps communicates, but certainly does not exist” (SEC-LI 393/21), either. So goes the conclusion of “Signature Event Context.” This writing that does not exist but does (to recall Priest’s parenthetical formulation as well, as spotlighted in the previous section)—what and what kind of listening-in does it call for at the moment of its pressurized exodus or ex-propriation? When I transcode this final, theatrical pronouncement, the transferred certainty of this prophetic thesis, into the performative idiom of selfhood, what I “get” (as we say colloquially), or follow, in the reflexively documented self-effacement of a written thesis at the end of Derrida’s presentation is a certain, simple imperative. What I hear is a hyper-philosophical, al-logocentric plea to the audiences there and readers to come: get out of your skin, depart from the logical/linguistic comfort zone of the “native” or “original” language by bastardizing and diasporizing yourself that is your life, by opening the text—including so-called oneself, one’s own—up to infinite possibilities of reframing and regrafing.

So what?—what am I trying to say, with or without J. D.? Such a reflexive staging of acts of writing as speech act, not only in that performative mélange of “Signature Event Context” but in almost all of texts bearing his signature(s) seems meant to be heard and heard otherwise as it were. That is perhaps where philosophy, as “psychology and biography together, a movement of the living psychē” (TS 35) speaks for itself while writing itself out, reading itself out loud, screaming quietly:

It is also the locus in which the question of the signature, psychology and intellectual autobiography is posed: Who thinks? Who signs? What do we make of singularity in this experience of thought? And what do we make of the relation between life, death and psyche? (Derrida 2007: 36)

What one would hear is the life and death, afterlife, of “plus d’une langue: more than a language and no more of a language” (Derrida 1989: 15); “mine, then, is an excessively philosophical gesture” (TS 4) at and towards the “the so-called ‘minor’ loci of” texts that “can irritate the system and at the same time account for the subterranean region” (TS 4), sites of undecidability that are, as I have been stressing here, specifically interlingual. Watch (out). Watch such “micrological” (TS 43) “gestures within a single sentence, or a microscopic element of a corpus” (TS 9): see how such a continuously, excessively, self-altering space of questioning, yet to be articulated into a question, springs from a certain kind of philosophy, almost despite itself:

[...] But is it not quite clear that the questioning of truth does not develop within philosophy? Within philosophy, empirical or skeptical discourses are incoherent and dissolve themselves, following a well-known schema. Nonetheless, the moments of empiricism and skepticism have always been moments of attention to difference. (Derrida 1968: 94)

If it is more or less clear that the questioning of truth does develop within philosophy, I, a philosopher more or less, seem to have been attending, or addicted perhaps, to such Derridian moments marked, textually tightened, by the tension, elastic gap, between the Nietzschen practice of “a psychology of philosophers” (TS 35) and the Husserlian critique of psychologism; it had already happened, Derrida says (TS 35-6), in Algeria, where he read Nietzsche for the first time—how did he pronounce “Nietzsche” then? I wonder.

“Derrida” too, that curious philosophical writer and writerly philosopher, remains at least for me such a photographic memory, a glimpse, an elastic zone between Derrida and “Derrida” sustained by that very inaugural, inscriptive distance that is not so much visual or typographical as zonal, tonal, apostrophic, in each and every time of encounter—in the very sense Derrida sets out to explore generally in “signature event context” and revisits more specifically in Signsponge (Signéponge) in reference to ““Francis Ponge”,” “the name of his name,” as illustrated above. Here I am interested in re-photographing, as it were, what happens between Derrida the “indisputable reference” and “Derrida” the “silent indication,” a certain engineered or constructed precision under erasure which, as Derrida notes above, “is all very equivocal,” which is whatever it is, still in philosophy, that is resisting or will have been resisting an equation, the very logic of equivalence: Derrida ≠ “Derrida”; “Derrida” ≠ Derrida; “this subject of French culture,” as I later heard, “[who would] tell you in good French: “I only have one language; it is not mine”’(MO 2).

If Derrida had formulated something more Augustinian, say, “I only have one language; (please) let it not be mine,” I would have been slightly less interested in what he had to say. It would have better fit the profile of the Aristotelian “prayer” in the following sense, a figure that Derrida himself would find intriguing none the less:

The person responsible for the proof [...] is not he who demonstrates but he who listens; for while disowning reason he listens to reason. And again who admits this has admitted that something is true apart from demonstration. (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, 1006a: 17-23, my insertion)


Every sentence is significant [...], but not every sentence is a statement-making sentence, but only those in which there is truth or falsity. There is not truth or falsity in all sentences: a prayer is [...] is neither true nor false [...], belonging rather to the study of rhetoric or poetry. (Aristotle, De Interpretatione, 17a:1-5)

“We Jews, [...] the last of the Jews,” it would be [...] like what Aristotle says so profoundly of prayer: it is neither true nor false. (2007: 39)

“It is not mine” is a recognition, whereas “let it not be mine” is a request: the first demands a recognition of the problem even when that problem is rendered almost unrecognizable, solved, by its propositional self-recognition, while the second seeks a way out of “it,” by turning away from or to it = an/the imaginary external agent = a/the prosopopoetic correlate = “God”/ God thusly addressed. Such illustrates the aporia of the reflexive closure of tautological reason, which constantly feeds deconstructive discourses. Again, I too “take seriously the axiom that there is a philosophical locus, that there is a type of philosophical discourse or demand, and I attempt to go as far as possible with respect to this specificity, [...] the border of this locus [...], a problem: philosophy fails to be what it wants to be” (TS 55, emphases added), falling therefore somewhere between a prayer and a play.

My own small journey, via reading Derrida(s), of accidental self-deconstruction is also filled with sporadic and often startling memories of hearing that name, Derrida (et al.), pronounced at international conferences in literally so many different and not necessarily Anglo-Euro-phono- oriented ways, which are too fascinating and, again, literally impossible to be reproduced here. Simply instead, let an example—of mine, dare I say?—speak for itself or write itself out. When I find myself leaning towards and learning from the bi-logical interlingual calls and proliferations of (his) philosophy, every time I sense deconstructive movements in this indefinite “us” interfaced as such, when I am reading between myself and a page of the Monolingualism or between a Derrida excerpt in my Philosophy 101 class and an engaged student referring to her, Dorida (as in Doritos), I feel as if I would have to say: Derrida has only one name; it is not his.

Below is a small, further development of just that point on some phono-photo-logical fugue generated by that proper name, Derrida, with which many “I”s, thoughtfully troubled, troubled likewise, also get to identify and stand—endlessly but not pointlessly. So I will, in what follows, continue to, as the American idiom goes, “make a big deal” out of that small capital of non- knowledge or acknowledgement, i.e., me not having known how to pronounce his (or possibly her) name in the first place, in the early 1990s, when I seemed a studious student—still of philosophy or whatever that may have been and in whatever logos I encountered it.

At any rate, before (re)turning to that scene of hyperbolic under-pronouncement, I must first try to respond to this philosophical siren I hear again, all over again: what sort of significance could be held in that tiny tale about a then-un-heard-of name? By extension, what could you possibly say about the im-possible Derrida(s), the “childish [...], self-contradictory [...], skeptic, relativist, nihilist” (MO 4), without “ruining the credit of your rhetoric” (MO 3)? So I hear “you are not a serious philosopher! If you continue, you will be placed in a department of rhetoric or literature. If you push the matter further, the condemnation or exile could be more serious” (MO 4). None the less, as I have been stressing over and over, as necessary:

[...] It would be necessary to think a thought that has no meaning. – Yes, indeed. But grant me then that “to demonstrate” will also mean something else, and it is this something else, this other meaning, this other scene of demonstration, that is important to me. – I am listening. What is the meaning of this attestation you are claiming to sign? (MO 6)

Likewise, as I’m listening, I’m also hearing again this other thing you said about philosophy, i.e., that “in a minimal autobiographical trait can be gathered the greatest potentiality of historical, theoretical, linguistic, philosophical culture—that’s really what interests me” (Derrida 1992:43, emphasis added).

J.D.: Ah, you want me to say things like “I-was-born-in-El Biar-on-the outskirts-of-Algiers- in-a-petit-bourgeois-family-of-assimilated-Jews-but …” Is that really necessary? I can’t do it. You will have to help me …

Q.: What was your father’s name?

J.D.: Ok, here we go. He had five names, all the names of the family are encrypted [...]. (U-P 119-120)

Without fetishizing, essentializing or even transcendentalizing the “exilic” condition of or site for this “other scene” of demonstration—where you would hear yourself/selves as well as some others whispering, aha, “you are playing the card of the exile and immigrant worker” (MO 5), as if we have all forgotten that human history is a history of human movements and labors—we should be able to listen and listen for something else within the usual logic we adhere to and the usual stories we attend to. Could we listen, therefore, without even listening, to the point of becoming almost indifferent to but not oblivious of our own differences? But how is it possible to register a demonstration aurally, when demonstration is by definition visual, to render the demon visible, to start off with?—on top of that, what is that different level and sort of listening that is being asked for? What is this double non-sense? Precisely, that is the trans-paradigmatic task proposed here.

Such a sliding inscription, a vestigial re-inscription, of the Derridian/ “Derridian” impulse and force of (non)thought in the infinite dialogue of something else-ness that “has no meaning” (emphasis added) but carries significatory resonances wherever it goes and in whatever language it comes, seems to have left a mark in my mind, a track in my neuro-inter-lingual system. I have come to see that voice, “enduringly (à demeure)” (MO 2; 17; 21; 25; 33; 39; 56; 64; 69), like some Jazzy music that, once my psyched body registers it like a photographic still (Derrida 2010: 9), I cannot get out of my head, like it or not. So in fact, a few years ago, I even had to write about that Derridian logos of persistently inventive self-contradictions, under the cheerful title, “An Open-Ended Song of the New International: (How) Can It Be Invented?” (Lee 2007), focusing on the oddly self-generative power of that refrain, ‘“I only have one language; it is not mine”’(MO 2), the auto-citation that should, as I was then suggesting, un-cloister and amplify the voice of the Monolingualism of the Other.

What matters then, as I am specifying further here, is the lyrical materiality and transferability of the Derridian voice—the rhythm, pitch, tone, etc—the invisible organizer, pusher and shaper of sonic movements, which is what passes through the Derridian Mantra, the Derridian al-logos, “I only have one language; it is not mine” – likewise, I have an accent; it is not mine. How else could we hear such an otherwise illogical thought? Given here is a tremblingly precise, unknowing touch that has already begun, a Derridian “contraction” that occurs blindly, asymmetrically, rhythmically, in and outside time, prior to the hermeneutic contract or prosopopoetic contact with the author:

If I have always trembled before what I could say, it was fundamentally (au fond) because of the tone, and not the substance (non du fond). And what, obscurely, I seek to impart as if in spite of myself, to give or lend to others as well as to myself, to myself as well as to the other, is perhaps a tone. Everything is summoned from an intonation.

And even earlier still, in what gives its tone to the tone, a rhythm. I think that all in all, it is upon rhythm that I stake everything.

It therefore begins before beginning. That is the incalculable origin of a rhythm. Everything is at stake, but may the loser win.

For, naturally, this hyperbolic taste for the purity of language is something I also contracted at school. I am not unaware of that, and it is what needed to be demonstrated. The same goes for hyperbole in general. An incorrigible hyperbolite. A generalized hperbolite. In short, I exaggerate. I always exaggerate. But as with illness caught at school, common sense and doctors recall that predispositions are necessary for their contraction. The presence of a fertile ground must be presumed. (MO 48)

This time, this one last time, which would be then at least the second time, in my return to Monolingualism, I zoom in on Derrida on “accent,” another thing, one of his “things,” one thing one acquires or loses through schooling—we might as well call it the Derridian Accent Complex, with which I will conclude this round of question here in this essay, namely, how to pronounce Derrida.

III. (re)Read the Accent of the Other … with an Interlingual Memory Of Your Own

Revisit the scene.

One entered French literature only by losing one’s accent. I think I have not lost my accent; not everything in my “French Algerian” accent is lost. [...] In the meantime, and until the contrary is proven, I do not believe that anyone can detect by reading, if I do not myself declare it, that I am a “French Algerian,” I retain, no doubt, a sort of acquired reflex from the necessity of this vigilant transformation. (MO 45-6)

Back to the beginning, I am reminded: with what accent did I register the word, this linguistic assemblage, D/e/r/r/i/d/a, when I first simply read it, when I first heard myself voice it to myself?

(In what way) did I lose—and/or gain?—my accent when entering the Derridian text from then on?—how could or should I, then just a casual reader of Derrida just in English, relate to, access, this scene of double self-reading, this theatrical entry of and into the reflexive self through the revolving door called language? What linguistic justice will have been done to the present reader, then just a curious student “hooked” into all this spidery and powdery mess without knowing it? Whence and whither the enduring transcriptively transformative force of this Derridian vigilance?

At least this thing, I remember vividly: when that word, Derrida, first entered my bookshop- browsing vision, I did not know in what language “Derrida” was “originally” inscribed or presented, and so it was simply, minimally, an alphabetic scanning. I hadn’t had a clue or any frame of reference. The case of Derrida is comparable to that of Marcel Proust recalled by Susan Sontag, whose story on Proust and her remains an autobiographical inspiration for me:

Q: Què llegia quan era adolescent?

A: The first day I was in school, I began at the University of California at Berkeley, and the very first day, I was standing on line, registering for class, and I heard that somebody ahead of me who was an older student say “Proust.” And I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s pronounced “Proust.”‘ I thought it was “Proust.” (Laughter) And because I had already started to read Proust but I never met anyone who had read Proust and of course I hadn’t learned French. And in English, “ou” is usually [au], so on my mind, in my head, I thought it was Proust, but I had never said the word, the name, because I didn’t know anyone who’d read, it was just me. (Sontag 2003: 00:00-00:59, my transcription; cf. Heller 1992)

The pre-college Sontag had been reading “Proust,” something like a Sprout. The bookish teenager working in English had readily Anglicized the French writer by unquestionginly familiarizing it, “the name of his name,” again, to use Derrida’s formulation of “Ponge” with which I began this essay. Common to Sontag’s episode and mine is an un-schooled or pre-theoretical encounter with a sign, an unfiltered reception of and a receptive oblivion towards “the foreign” to the point of the solipsistic (mis)appropriation or (de)naturalization of “it,” its signatory materialities and values:

the proper names are already no longer proper names, because their production is their obliterations, because the erasure and the imposition of the letter are originary, because they do not supervene upon a proper inscription; it is because the proper name has never been, as the unique appellation reserved for the presence of a unique being, anything but the original myth of a transparent legibility present under the obliteration (Derrida 1998: 109).

“The original myth of a transparent legibility present under the obliteration”; I am thinking of the systematic Romanization and Anglo-Americanization in particular of the signifiers of the world in the name of one world, be it colonialization or globalization or standardization, which is nowadays speedily facilitated by the infrastructural “electronification of the stock exchanges” (Spivak 2008: 1) as well as the planet Earth. The alphanumeric recodification of languages of the world, the transcriptive reproduction of them, neutralizes all false friends while, through that very asymmetrical inscription and prescription of desires for communication, rendering their dissonances and their violent potentials all the more audible. So in fact, the analogy between Sontag’s Proust and Lee’s Derrida stops there, as I am about to show. The shades of differences, différance, between those two instances of linguistic alteration seem more intriguing, enduring even, for the following reasons.

Take the so-called “educated accent” as in “proper” English or French, as embodied in Derrida’s postcolonialized ambivalence, that is, his “nostalgeria” (MO 52) towards his own accent. An anxiety over “losing” (45) his “strong Southern” (46), “very heavy” (90) accent, coupled with an ambition towards “speaking in good French, pure French” (49), structurally sustains the ironic tone and tonal viscerality of Monolingualism of the Other:

I therefore admit to a purity which is not very pure. Anything but purism. It is, at least, the only impure “purity” for which I dare confess a taste. It is a pronounced taste for a certain pronunciation. I have never ceased learning, especially when teaching, to speak softly, a difficult task for a “pied noir,” and especially from within my family, but to ensure that this soft-spokenness reveal the reserve of what is thus held in reserve [...] (MO 47).

[...] I am not even talking about poetry, only about prosody, about metrics (accent and quantity in the time of pronunciation.) (MO 56)

[...] For example, when I heard René Char read his sententious aphorisms with an accent that struck me as at once comical and obscene, as the betrayal of a truth, it ruined, in no small measure, an admiration of my youth. (MO 46)

About Derrida’s book on (t)his “accent complex,” on the book that can and does demonstrate anything but his accent in the sense I have been unpacking so far, a reviewer of the book writes:

When I read the above, it ruined, in no small measure, an admiration of my youth, namely my admiration of Jacke. His historically determined justification for dropping his own accent is one thing, but his allergic reaction to accent per se is another matter entirely. (Maley 2001:127)

Did the irony “of the last defender and illustrator of the French language” (2007: 34) seem lost there?—why does that passage make me rather salivate more?

JB: At the heart of this hope there is language, and first of all the French language. When reading you, one can feel in every line the intensity of your passion for this language. In Monolingualism of the Other, you go as far as call yourself, with a certain irony, the ‘last defender and illustrator of the French language.’

JD: Which does not belong to me, even though it’s the only one I “have” at my disposal (and even then!). The experience of language is, of course, vital. And mortal. (2007:34-5)

I am now revisiting that moment, mortality, of “trembling” with renewed interest. To return:

If I have always trembled before what I could say, it was fundamentally [au fond] because of the tone, and not the substance [non du fond]. And what, obscurely, I seek to impart as if in spite of myself, to give or lend to others as well as to myself, to myself as well as to the other, is perhaps a tone. Everything is summoned from an intonation. (MO 48, emphasis added)

To return to the question of writing and nationality: whether we are talking about Foucault, Lévi-Strauss, Deleuze, Althusser, or Lyotard, I have always had the feeling that, despite the differences in style, they maintained a common relation to the French language, one that is at bottom very placid, very sedentary. They all write “a certain French”; they have the respect not of an academic or conventional attitude, but of a certain classicism. Their writing does not make the French language tremble; it does not shake up the most traditional French rhetoric. In that regard, I have the feeling that everything I’m trying to do involves a hand- to-hand struggle with the French language, a turbulent but primal hand-to-hand struggle; I mean one in which the entire stakes are set, in which the essential is at stake.

As you know, I have for this language an anxious, jealous, and tormented love. [...] (Derrida 2004: 13-4, emphasis added)

From “Derrida trembling” to “the French language trembling”: in this shift of a gaze, what aspects of the Derridian signature am I (supposed to be) looking at? What sign language (will) have I learned, gleaned, from (t)his “Derridian” attention to the primal/primary text and (t)his subjection to it? I see a call for interstitial languaging; I hear a glimmer of hope for a possibility of setting languages in motion, of verbalizing language itself and its originary agility, in the face “a certain language” instantly fossilized and constantly formalized into the language of certainty, one and the same language.

Read on what Derrida says in the Epilogue of Monolingualism, in his language of incompassibility that is, one the one hand, French, “the only mother tongue” he has, and on the other hand, something idio(ma)tic he knows not but constantly inhabits, struggling in and with:

French is the only mother tongue I have, but while still a child I had a vague sensation that this language was not really my own. [...] (F)rom the very beginning the manner in which the French language was taught, the norms of ‘proper’ speaking and writing, the refenrees to literature, all made it pretty clear that the model was in France – and not just in France, but in Paris. So I had the feeling that this language, which was the only one I had, came from somewhere else. (TS 38)

What, then, are the chances of the readability of such a discourse against its unreadability? [...] Perhaps I have just made a “demonstration”; it is not certain, but I no longer know in what language to understand that word. Without an accent, a demonstration is not a logical argumentation that imposes a conclusion; it is, first of all, a political event, a demonstration in the street [...], a march, an act, an appeal, a demand. That is, one more scene. I have just made a scene. In French, too, the démonstration, with an accent, can be, first and foremost, a gesture, a movement of the body, the act of a “manifestation.” Yes, a scene. A street scene without a theatre, yet a scene all the same. What I am entertaining doubts about, supposing it is of interest to anyone at all, would be the extent to which that scene betrays me, the extent to which, from one listening about which I have no idea, you will hear from it what I meant neither to say, nor to teach, nor to make known, in good French. (MO 72-3)

The demonstration “with an accent” of one’s (impossible) existence is what those “always in school (but) never good at school” (TS 40) do—is it not? When Derrida, the reader and messanger of the European text, writes that “I have but one language—yet that language is not mine,” he is staging:

The anger, the suffering, the upheaval, but also the resolution, of these Algerian men and women: we have a thousand signs of these. One must perceive these signs: they are also aimed at us, and salute this courage—with respect. Our Appeal should first be made in their name, and I think that before it is even addressed to them, it comes from them [d’eux], it comes from them [d’elles], I think that we must also listen.

In any case, this is what I feel resounding in the depths of what still remains Algerian in me, in my ears, my head, and my heart. (TS 123-4)

So what I think I should continue to follow, likewise, is not some supra- or hyper-linguistic Kabbalah, the putatively “proper or native” language of Derrida, but my own interlingual memories, those gradational echoes I seem to keep hearing “in my head,” especially when reading Derrida, which might, nay, must not belong to me after all. For, in other words, as should be clearer by now, “Derrida” is not exactly a Praust correctively turning or disciplined into “Proust” at school; what nurtured Sontag’s passion for and established her singularized authority in European literature including and especially French could not have been just such a formal education—although, as Nancy Miller incisively pointed out at a recent conference on Scandals of Susan Sontag (March 4, 2011, The Graduate Center, The City University of New York), Sontag’s schooled contact with it, the other (side of) literature, would explain something about her strangely, gradually, unlocatable, (un)American accent that sounds rather “Bridish,” as someone in the audience pointed out.

Speaking of a complex accent … “Derrida” is not a French German, either, as in a French Nietzsche or a French Heidegger. Such a predominantly “academic” mode of receiving, hearing, and reschooling Derrida tends to miss, if not entirely ignore, the fractal intricacies of “Derrida” experiences, the aural effects of its inscription. In other words, if “Derrida” is not exactly a Praust getting closer to a Proust, nor is it assimilated/able as a Hegel phonetically “Frenchfied” (à la française), eagle head mut(il)ated, into an “aigle [...]” (Derrida 1974:7/1984:1):

what, after all, of the remain(s), today, for us, here, now, of a Hegel? (qui du reste aujourd’hui, pour nous, ici, mantenant, d’un Hegel?) [...]

Who, him? (Qui, lui?)

His name is so strange. From the eagle it draws imperial or historic power. Those who still pronounce his name like the French (there are some) are ludicrous only up to a certain point.

“Derrida” remains neither a Praust nor an eagle but just Derrida under quotation marks: is he (not) “French” to begin with (that is, up to a certain point)? Again, “with this question in mind, I would like to demonstrate telegraphically” (TSA-N 124), to “appeal non-neutrally” (TSA-N 124, emphasis in the original), that that word, that name, although phonetically simple, remains rather queer, not lending itself easily to hasty naturalization, domestication, codification, conventionalization or institutionalization, French or otherwise; it is not a typical French(fied) name or is yet to become a French(fied) thing, an ethno-nationalized textual canon such as Shakespeare, Twain, etc. “Derrida,” whether in hissing French or rolling English in which it has been more actively read and reproduced at least uptil now, cannot as easily fall into the category of “easily mispronounced” foreign words, because it is easily pronounceable and mispronounceable at once. “I think we must also listen” (TSA-N 124), as one can already imagine at least three different ways of becoming phonologically stressed about it: where should or could the stress fall, DErrida?-DerrIda?-DerridA?—although the French seem to have almost standardized it to DerridA, if I hear it correctly. Just the same, even if the word, the name, at that time had been exposed to me in a non-alphabetic transcription I could have read, I would have encountered the same kind of issues, the simple mathematical question of permutation to start off with. (So, as an aside, the question of how many languages I speak and/or write is beside the point, although relevant is the fact that I do seem to be able to inhabit, more or less, at least more than one language. Must I (not) also point out that this mysterious-looking “Kyoo” too, obviously not an “English” name or the usual Korean name “Kyu,” seems phonically trickier than “Proust” and even “Derrida”? Am I (not) expected to be almost born with a certain awareness of constructive and constitutive differences? Besides, forget it, my dear readers: unlike a certain Derrida, who had already impatiently told us that his father had five different names, I won’t and don’t have time or authority to go further into any autobiographical detail, at least here, such as ““I-was-born-in-El Biar-on-the outskirts-of-Algiers-in-a-petit-bourgeois-family-of-assimilated-Jews- but ….”.”) If Derridian(/“Derridian”) language “has no meaning” save its name that demonstrates itself, carries its own evolutionary genealogy, it certainly pronounces something “postal,” producing an accent (/accents) in the recipient at least, in all possible permutations. In other words, to repeat: if “Derrida” remains neither a Praust nor an eagle but just Derrida in quotation marks, what we see within those brackets comes in various colors, styles, and forces. Accents are like an open-ended festival of typesets, the typographical fugues of words played across multiple platforms.

So: what I hear above, in ensemble, is a complex accent as well as an accent complex per se. Layered therein is an “unreadable” accent that remains audible in and beyond French, “pure,” sure, but not simple. Is not Derrida’s (post-traumatic) fidelity to the text, his (perhaps compensatory) graphocentrism, however, a little unnecessarily and a little necessarily overdetermined? That is a question coming out of a sympathetic ear. In this certain, decouplingly, positively “post-Derridian” attention to the spectragraphic multiplity and diversity of sounds as I am trying to pay here, I sense a small possibility of liberating printed matter from itself, us becoming at least a little less dependent on it, which chimes with Derrida’s inaugural ideas on communication and radical reiterability we have considered in the previous section. The text, especially the Derridian (inter)text par excellence, communicates its singularity or singularities through uniquely accentuated signatures often loosely called a style, a postal style in the case of Derrida. Thinking postally “after Derrida” now, as it were, would then involve something (hyper)literally more than the literal re-inscription of the Derridian (vocal) code. Rather, readers of Derrida would access “Derrida,” the spider archive, through encountering a differential, quite literally differentiated, accounts of it. What I have in mind, more specifically here, is the infinitesmal accentuatability of Derridas of the world alongside, rather than a la, Derrida; I am deleting the French accent there, while doing, say, “Henry James,” ‘“trying to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost”’ (James 1972: 35), following the footsteps of James’ curious auto-citation. As Derrida goes on to scribble in the far left corner of the first page of the Glas, where the legendary “l’aigle” (eagle/Hegel) first appeared, ready to fly, without capitalizing (on) its head:

remain(s) to be thought: it does not accentuate itself here now but will already have been put to the test on the other side. Sense must confirm, more or less, to the calculi of what the engraver terms a counterproof (reste à penser: ça ne s’accentue pas ici mantenant mais se sera déjà mis à l’épreuve de l’autre côté. Le sense doit répondre, plus ou moins, aux calculs de ce qu’en teremes de gravure on appelle contre- épreuve). (Derrida 1974:7/1984:1, emphases added)

“It” remains otherwise accentuated, as if further counterbalancing its own mutated ambivalence towards itself, its spirit.

And so repeat after me, repeat—the contradiction—after me, for I, for one, over the last two decades or so seem to have “contracted” (MO 48) such writing/reading accents while accessing the text of Derrida, accessing—myself through—the text of Derrida. I, a non-native reader of French who still reads Derrida in English first, get to realize that such a thing, a Derridian thing, of which Derrida speaks in reference to Ponge, his thing, is possible and possibly transferrable, and that’s especially when someone says, often accusingly, “you write like Derrida”!—or do/should i?

It is a bit as if I was dreaming of awakening them to tell them: “Listen, pay attention, now that is enough, you must wake up and leave [...]. One day, you will see that what you are calling your mother tongue will no longer ever respond to you. Off you go, on your way, now. Listen, believe me, do not believe so quickly that you are a people; cease listening without protest to those who say ‘listen’…” (MO 34)

Listen, I mean, again, it is not as if Derrida would know how to pronounce his (own) name.

And let me pause here, for otherwise, I would not know how to stop the music, all (t)his jazz.

I have simultaneously—I ask you to believe me on this—the double feeling that, on the one hand, to put it playfully and with a certain immodesty, one has not yet begun to read me, that even though there are, to be sure, many very good readers (a few dozen in the world perhaps, people who are also writer-thinkers, poets), in the end it is later on that all this has a chance of appearing; but also, on the other hand, and thus simultaneously, I have the feeling that two weeks or month after my death there will be nothing left.

Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live Finally



MO Monolingualism of the Other

MP Margins of Philosophy

MS-SP “Meaning as Soliloquy” in Speech and Phenomena

S Signsponge

SEC-LI “Signature Event Context” in Limited Inc

TSA-N “Taking Sides for Algeria” in Negotations

TS A Taste For the Secret

U-P “Unsealing (“the old new language”)” in Points…: Interviews, 1974-1994

VKS-SP “The Voice That Keeps Silence” in Speech and Phenomena

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DERRIDA, J. (1972) Marges – de la philosophie, Paris, Minuit; DERRIDA, J. (1982) Margins of philosophy, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

DERRIDA, J. (1973) Speech and phenomena, and other essays on Husserl’s theory of signs, Evanston, Northwestern University Press.

DERRIDA, J. (1974) Glas, Paris (9, rue Linné, 75005), Éditions Galilée.;; DERRIDA, J. (1986) Glas, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press.

DERRIDA, J. (1984) Signéponge/Signsponge, New York, Columbia University Press 1984.

DERRIDA, J. (1988) Limited Inc, Evanston, IL, Northwestern University Press.

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DERRIDA, J. (1992) “This strange institution called literature”: an interview with Jacques Derrida, in ATTRIDGE, D. (Ed.) Jacques Derrida: Acts of Literature. London, Routledge.

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DERRIDA, J. (1998) Monolingualism of the other, or, The prosthesis of origin, Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

DERRIDA, J. (1998) Of grammatology, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.

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DERRIDA, J. (2002) Negotiations : interventions and interviews, 1971-2001, Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

DERRIDA, J. (2004) For what tomorrow : a dialogue, Stanford, Calif., Stanford University Press.

DERRIDA, J. (2007) Learning to live finally : an interview with Jean Birnbaum, Hoboken, N.J., Melville House Pub.

DERRIDA, J. (2010) Athens, still remains : the photographs of Jean-François Bonhomme, New York, Fordham University Press.

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MALLARMÉ, S. (2007) Divagations : the 1897 arrangement by the author; together with “Music and letters”, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

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Kyoo Lee, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at John Jay College, CUNY, who also teaches courses in feminist and critical theories at the Graduate Center, CUNY, is dually trained in Continental philosophy and literary theory. She publishes widely in the intersecting fields of the theoretical Humanities such as Aesthetics, Asian American Studies, Comparative Literature/Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, Critical Race theory, Cultural Studies, Deconstruction, Feminist Philosophy, Gender Studies, Poetics, Post-phenomenology and Translation. She has been working on a series of “alterities” projects, beginning with _Reading Descartes Otherwise: Blind, Mad, Dreamy and Bad_(Fordham University Press, 2012), her first and forthcoming monograph.
All posts by: Kyoo Lee | Email

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