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Editorial: Im-possible Derrida. Works of Invention

by Silvana Carotenuto
18 May 2012 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Im-possible Derrida [8] | Editorial

… I write it and what is produced is that ecstasy that consists in
thinking, in order to love it, the impossible…I am desiring what
I cannot know, the impossible…
- Jacques Derrida, “Voice II”

Many things have been happening since Jacques Derrida’s death – his “each time unique, the end of the world”. Conferences are being dedicated to his thought; many publications are rendering homage to his philosophy; various forms of archive are being institutionalized in order to keep his memory alive. This special issue of darkmatter would like to intervene in this context of work with a strategic necessity: the renovated insistence on the question of the ‘im-possibility’ of deconstruction as a method (its reduction to simple elements); the radical necessity to experience its refusal of ontology, the range of its ultra-radical ‘touches, the hyper-creative value that the Derridean philosophy carries in terms of ‘invention’, of affirmative exigency, of ’still-to-come’.

Impossibility of Derrida/im-possibility in Derrida: the specific concern that we would like to express is linked to an academic choice that, even if praiseworthy in its desire of Derrida, shows a suspect and normative tendency to favour a quasi-canonization of his (effective and not only theoretical) critique: the exegesis of ‘One’ homogeneous thinker, a great philosopher to be unveiled (inventory, detection, interpretation) in his deconstructive complexities. Derrida, a text, one thousand texts; a strange sense of embalmment, rigidity, stasis; the uncanny perception of a will willing to simplify (indecomposably) Derrida’s mysteries, ‘intractable traits’, abyssal richness, marginality or alienation, the impossibility to ‘belong’, ‘conform’ and ‘adequate’. We would, differently, like to constitute the marginal locus where to unfold a reading (a highly stratified analysis) of the limits of such institutional drive for flattening, digestion and appropriation – property, the power of mastery, pure ‘ipseity’ – of the ‘radically other’ of deconstruction. How to act such ‘mise en question’? By writing impossibly on the im-possibility in Derrida (this would mean to rethink the very notion of ‘power’: ‘I can’; sovereignty).

The thought of the im-possible in Derrida has been constant, persistent and consistent: it has affected the emergence of the problematics of the gift, of forgiveness, of hospitality; in more general terms, it has constituted the interpretation of law, ethics, politics – psychoanalysis, responsibility (response vs. moral or political technique), democracy. If these were possible acts or gestures, if they acted in the application of a rule or a given law, if forgiveness forgave the forgivable, if hospitality were offered to the familiar other, if democracy were to adequate to its model, if responsibility played its choice on possible – because prefigurable – alternatives, would the gift, forgiveness, responsibility be worthy of their names? Would they only mean reports, techniques, recordings? These ‘themes’, according to Derrida, must escape the order of the possible, accept the exceptional scandal of the event of their deconstruction – fragility, finiteness, mortality, divisibility; heterogeneity, incalculability, unforeseeability; dissemination, distance, difference, desert – and, placed on the aporetic (a-topian vs. utopian) threshold of their paradoxical assumption, exceed their concept and invent themselves ‘a nouveau’, unremittingly, without assurance, certainty, respite, reserve or rest, itinerary or map, from the very beginning, already and always accepting the risk of their double-bind, the trial, the test, the experience – trajectory, pathway, crossing – of the im-possible, its decisive potency:

…no one has ever said that deconstruction, as a technique or a method, was possible; it thinks only on the level of the impossible and of what is still evoked as unthinkable.[1]

In order to be a decision, it has to cut off this ‘possible’, tear up my history, and thus be first of all, in a particular and strange way, the decision of the other in me: coming from the other with regard to the other in me. Paradoxically, it must carry a certain passivity that in no way lightens my responsibility. These are paradoxes that are difficult to integrate into a classical philosophical discourse,  but I don’t think that a decision, if there ever are decisions, is possible in any other way.[2]

This special issue reflects on such unthinkable ‘im-possibility’, traversing (experiencing, navigating) two very sensitive, critical and interrelated zones (often resisted by the same Derridean scholarship): the postcolonial and invention, the postcolonial like invention (always the analogy!), the postcolonial is invention (couple, coupling, copula; duel, alliance, hymen, repulsion and attraction).”The impossible here is the other”:[3] Derrida, the other from the academia; Derrida and the other (the beast, the slave, the woman, the child); the other like/as/is language; the other as (the poetic economy of) the idiom, un/translatable; the language of the other (“The of signifies not so much property as provenance: language is for the other, coming from the other, the coming of the other”.[4] Postcoloniality might constitute the rights of minorities, linguistic and cultural differences, the threatening face and features of colonial hegemony, cultural usurpations, exile, nostalgia… whiteness, otherness, margins, decentring: our view of postcoloniality would precisely remember the colonial structure of every culture, the always insinuating colonial impulse -  “All culture is originally colonial… Every culture institutes itself through the unilateral imposition of some ‘politics’ of language. Mastery begins… through the power of naming, of imposing and legitimating appellations”[5] – and, at the same time, we would like to take care of the always un-heard-of (irreplaceable, testimonial and vivid) singularity of the martyred ‘hyphen’ in postcolonial subjectivies:

The silence of that hyphen does not pacify or appease anything, not a single torment, not a single torture. It will never silence their memory. It could even worsen the terror, the lesions, and the wounds. A hyphen is never enough to conceal protests, cries of anger or suffering, the noise of weapons, airplanes, and bombs.[6]

Universalization, singularity and… invention – here, it would be a question of unknotting the supplement of ‘invention’ as (like/and/is), (1) the restoring and re-invention of interdicted languages (deforming, reforming, and transforming; radical graftings, deformations, transformations, expropriations, a certain a-nomie and a certain de-regulation) and, at the same time, (2) the invention of a first language, a prior-to-the-first language:

…such a prior-to-the-first language does not exist… it is not even a preface, a ‘foreword’, or some lost language of origin. It can only be a target, a future language, a promised sentence, a language of the other, once again, but entirely other than the language of the other as the language of the master or colonist, even though, between them the two may sometimes show so many unsettling resemblances maintained in secret or held in reserve…

…the prior-to-the-first language can always run the risk of becoming or wanting to be another language of the master, sometimes that of new masters. It is at each instant of writing or reading, at each moment of poetic experience that the decision must arise against a background of the undecidible. It is often a political decision – and often a decision regarding the political side of things. As a condition of the decision as well as that of responsibility, the undecidable inscribes threat in change, and terror in the ipseity of the host.

Since the prior-to-the-first time of pre-originary language does not exist, it must be invented. Injunctions, the summons of another writing… above all, it must be written within languages, so to speak. One must summon up writing inside the given language…

… the gesture here – once again, I am calling it writing (écriture), even though it can remain purely oral, vocal, and musical: rhythmic or prosodic – that seeks to affect monolanguage, the one that one has without having it, is always multiple. It dreams of leaving there marks that recall that entirely other language, in short, that degree zero-minus-one of memory…  this gesture is in itself plural, divided, and overdetermined… this salvation – for it is a salvation addressed to the mortality of the other and a desire for infinite salvation – is also a scratch and a grafting. It caresses with claws, sometimes borrowed claws…

… this new idiom makes things happen, this signature brought forth, produces events in the given language, the given language to which things must still be given, sometimes unverifiable events: illegible events. Events that are always promised rather than given. Messianic events. But the promise is not nothing; it is not a non-event.[7]

This special issue of darkmatter offers its writing space/chora/childbear to such promise: it calls for im-possible readings on postcoloniality as emerging attempts (insoluble tasks/contracts, conventions, prostheses, techno-prosthstatics, writing) to invent another language (chant or prayer) to/for/with the other: im-possible Derrida, Derrida like the other; Derrida and the other, Derrida is the other. “Yes, yes, viens viens!”



Dario Giugliano – “Matters of Debt. Apart from Derrida

The name

Kyoo Lee – “Derrida – Do I Know How to Pronounce Your Name? – or On

Reading Monolingualism of the Other with an Accent”


Jean-Paul Martinon - “Valentin Mudimbe, or the Work of Invention”


Daniel Karpinski – “The Impossibility of Architecture in Post-Colonial Canada”

Liz Rideal – “Dark and light veiled thoughts”

The Law

Peter Langford – “Violence, (Auto-) Immunity, Law: Death, Non-nationals and


Enis Memişoğlu – “Invention Of Law As Example In The Derrida-Event”


Silvana Carotenuto – “Deriddean Cinders/Sacred Holocausts”

Écriture feminine

Nadia Setti – “Im/possible Voices”


1. Jacques Derrida, Memories for Paul de Man, Columbia U.P., 1986, p.135. [↑]

2. Jacques Derrida, “Not Utopia, The Im-possible”, in Jacques Derrida, Paper Machine, Stanford U.P., 2005, p.129. [↑]

3.  Memories, cit., p.32. [↑]

4. Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, Stanford U.P., 1998, p.68. [↑]

5. ibid., p.39. [↑]

6. ibid., p.11. [↑]

7. ibid., pp.61-66. [↑]

Silvana Carotenuto is an Associate Professor at the University of Naples L'Orientale', Italy, where she has been the Director of the Centre for Postcolonial Studies, and teaches Contemporary English Literature. Theoretically, she is a specialist in deconstruction and écriture feminine, translating into Italian Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing by H. Cixous, (Columbia, 2000). Her publications include various books, including La lingua di Cleopatra. Traduzioni e sopravivvenze decostruttive - Cleopatra's Language. Deconstructive Translations and Survivals, (Milan, Marietti 2009) and articles on female writing, postcolonial poetry and contemporary visual art.
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