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Matters of Debt. Apart from Derrida

by Dario Giugliano
18 May 2012 • Comment (0) • Print
Posted: Im-possible Derrida [8] | Commons

Être bête comme ses pieds – an idiotic story

February 27th

Per essere assoluto il Diario dovrebbe contenere le notazioni di

tutte le azioni compiute. Ma tra le azioni notate nel Diario non

vi è mai quella di notare le azioni (benché sia l’unica ad esservi

totalmente rappresentata).
L. Saffaro, Diario autologico, 1968

I have never kept a diary. I remember that, in the past, as a boy, whether I read literature evidence or listened to my classmates, who actually kept a diary, whenever I tried, I always failed. I believed it to be an idiotic aptitude. I was not mistaken. Keeping a diary? Why? For whom? And now I notice that I have never stopped keeping one, because, in the end, every emanation we have, every mark we leave, can be traced back to the work of a diary. But does this act openly assume the revealed disguise of a diary?

I cannot remember exactly why the other day I decided to keep explicitly a diary – because this is what it is about – Restitutions… Taking a notebook and, methodically, writing down Derrida’s text. An operation of style that is not unknown to the French-Algerian philosopher who has always appreciated writing on the margins. And now I would like to mime him, to mime his footsteps, his walk and behaviour – and I would do it in an openly manner, following, faithfully and visibly, the movements of Cartouches. An Embarrassing Circumstance, like any mimesis, because of that parodist taste that inevitably distinguishes it. Mime, step, mimesis, circumstance, and parody: an inventory and, again, not even an implicit one. Nevertheless, even if it is risky, I believe it is the only way to approach this text. Certainly, the only one I tolerate, the only one I can endure at the moment, not because thus I would free myself from the difficulty (the trouble) deriving from the enormous commitment required from a different circumstance, such as a direct comparison: to approach a text directly, whatever it may be, is a good recipe for failure; for a different reason. A note of my apprenticeship shows the belief of a school in the impossible regress (or progress) ad infinitum. It is as if one confirmed the possibility, rather, a bindingness of a level from where an irreducible mimesis is available, a sign that interrupts the meaningful drift.
What is the legitimacy of a similar bindingness?

February 28th

The more I read this polilogue, the more I realize that every attempt not even at circumscribing it, just at crossing it with my mind, delivers me to fiction. It delivers me, it delivers me and each of my gestures to fiction, like the one of the diary: one writes, to communicate what and to whom? To communicate… how pretentious! The need would be the same: perhaps clarify it, make it manifest, evident, obvious to oneself, and, in order to do this, resort to writing. In this case – the utmost fiction – a text would be made clear through another text: a doubling.

March 1st

RESTITUTIONS of the truth in pointure. One could begin from the title. Usually one begins from the title, when starting a seminar. In this case, then, I should begin from the title of the seminar.

Restitutions… In this text, Derrida deals with the issue of restitution; Heidegger’s, Schapiro’s and Van Gogh’s restitutions, and then? He does not write of himself, of course; but, maybe, I should read better. Is there a restitution of Derrida’s? Could this be a point to discuss during the seminar? Derrida who restitutes the true Heidegger and the true Schapiro.

This way is too easy. It is too easy to fight with someone. Usually, one only needs to speak. On the other hand, it is difficult to have someone fight with himself: what Socrates tries to do all the time. But I am not interested in this either. Nevertheless, it would be clamorous – I do not know if it has ever happened in the history of boxing: a boxer who circles his opponent during a round, who does not hit and is not hit, under the eyes of an – at first, surely dumbfounded, then, certainly thwarted – audience (who is there to watch two people hit each other), amid the disbelief of the judges, and of his opponent. What will the judges’ verdict be?

March 4th

I have never appreciated the interventions of the Derridians mocking Derrida, miming the worst image of him, the one conveyed by the weekly newspapers, specialized magazines, American literary supplements, and by Derrida himself: the image of an anemic nihilist. It is certain Derrida himself has done nothing to contain the molding of this public image. It must have surely been convenient for him; after all, the fact that he has always been accompanied by American deconstructionalists, without saying anything decisive about it, I believe it constitutes an extremely obvious circumstance. I have always asked myself what critics such as Bloom, Hartman or Miller, have to do with the practice of deconstructionism. Except for De Man, the writings of the others have always had little or almost nothing to do with deconstructionism.

March 5th

Van Gogh’s shoes. An idea reaches me that, after all, the West, as it is known, has always been characterized by the model of lines and their development, for example, into a circle. The circle interests me, in particular, as an example of middle class hypocrisy, a certain Hegelianism: begin a thought and develop it, with all its contradictions, until each and every one is eliminated, allowing it to emerge from its (initial) purity. If one thinks about it for a second, it is the representation of a typical day of a middle-class servant: he leaves home in the morning; his pointless day unfolds and ends when he returns home in the evening. The philosophy of returning home in the evening, after a shower, a warm and conciliatory bed waiting for us, who would mind this? Not before taking one’s shoes off, though.

And what if this were the heart of the matter? What if Schapiro and, all considered, Heidegger had hastened to give those shoes to someone, precisely for this reason? What were they both afraid of?

In spite of all, the work of art continued to walk (in circles?), also thanks to these further attempts to make it fit.

March 9th

I’d like to point at what is obvious: strictly speaking, one should never state that, especially in regard to Restitutions…, Derrida has written something in this text. It is the structure of the polilogue to be at stake. A text is always plural. All the more, at the same time that this plurality of voices is denounced by the adoption of a manifestively dispersed style, as it is the polilogic style, it is indeed the foundation of the subject, property, signature, to be called into question. By using formulas of the type “Derrida says…”, “Derrida writes…” and similar others, is it not taken for granted that a text such as Restitutions is maybe written, when it is actually not written?

March 10th

Yet, an attempt to make it fit is required. If the work of art walks, if it has continued to walk thanks to these attempts forcing these shoes to fit someone, then, it is needed. From this point of view, Heidegger and Schapiro’s readings are not wrong; there are no mistakes in them, and I do not believe Derrida reads them in this fashion – perhaps, in this case, I would have to read better between the lines. On the contrary, they are, in some way, even necessary for the life of the work of art, which feeds on these contradictions. The latter make it what it is; they would make it really walk.

But is this the paradigm to adopt? Walking the path?

This year’s seminar has the title of an overused expression of the philosophical establishment, a worn-out cliché of philosophical – and not only philosophical – language: “the path of thoughts”. Do thoughts walk? And where do they go? And what if they didn’t move, if they stayed still? This too has been said of thoughts…

March 11th

It is required and, at the same time, refused. I remember a passage from the Preface to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

By order of the author

G. G., Chief of ordnance

March 12th

To some extent, Heidegger and Schapiro’s readings are an example of the useless comparison, the direct commitment that critics of all times engage with the work of art. Still, the work of art is there, the way we perceive it (essential password!), and these represented shoes laugh at us; rather, they laugh at our attempts to “attribute them”.

“Attribution” (attribuzione) could be a suitable term to begin with. Of course, in art attribution is fundamental. In art, that is, the Western art establishment.

What is an attribution? Each in his own way, Heidegger and Schapiro (Heidegger less, perhaps) tried to do exactly this, to attribute a painting. And they did it. What is an attribution? It is an allowance, a concession, a revelation – synonyms, more or less. But what does it mean “to attribute” (attribuire)? An action. I will break the Italian word «attribuire» into pieces: «at(ad)-tribu(tribus)-ire(tribuere)». I might continue, but I will stop here. In the body of the word it emerges a declined form of the Latin numeral tres, from which it stems the verb tribuere, whose participle, tributus, could give life to several other significant forms, all nonetheless deriving from tribus, which we translate into “tribe”, as mentioned above. Translated, in ancient Rome, tributus indicates the debt the citizen owes, in accordance with his possibilities, to the public authority, and that the public authority collects for each tribe.

The debit and credit mechanism. You give what is owed. You settle accounts, and numbers should add up. Still, a lot has not been burnt in the body of this word, for example, that numeral form. Moreover, three is a number with a strong symbolic connotation. Let’s put this aspect aside, and stop at what we decide to welcome as an obviousness: in an attribution, the number three is always involved. Three is part of the attribution mechanism. Heidegger and Schapiro on one side, the farmer and the citizen on the other, and the work of art in the middle.

It is a pattern that repeats itself all the time. You just need to apply the number three.

And the attribution? If I ventured a definition, which I do not want to do, I would expose myself to the tyranny of the case: to each, its own. It is in order to answer this desire of systemizing (putting in order) that critics work. Of course, it is what it is all about, putting in order, in Italian: sistema(zione). To put in order creating a system, in other words, to systemize, to attribute what is owed to each. It seems to be particularly important in art: one attributes a work of art to an important artist, and the prices shoot suddenly up. An economic matter, they would say, the debit/credit at the beginning. It is obvious the prices shoot up. One is inside the economic practice from the very beginning.

March 15th

But is an attribution possible? By this question I do not intend to raise a question on the existence of a mechanism, but on the fact that the latter works exactly the way it is supposed to work.


Intendere (to intend). This verb opens a parenthesis. In many aspects. Its meaning refers to the very vast field of sense. What is sense? Perhaps a convincing way to respond to this question might be to formulate another question: what does one mean when he or she asks, to an interlocutor: “In what sense…?” Here we are taken in an nth circle. One intending recalls another, and so on, to infinity. When one asks a question like this: “In what sense… are you saying what you are saying?” to an interlocutor, one is not asking something that concerns the meaning of the words s/he is using, because this is well clear. When we ask such a question, what we want is other from meaning. The question on sense to intend concerns very simply a direction: the indication of a path to take. With it, we simply want to know towards where our, real or imaginary, feet must direct. “What direction must I take to reach you?” or, “Where do I have to go to find the meaning, just the specific one, among the many that come to my mind, you want to give to the words you are using?”. The question on sense is the question par excellence of the cultural question. The cultural question of imperialism. It is not by chance that we could say that the whole work by Derrida is traversed by it. Not by chance, Derrida often repeats that his writing, his exercise of writing, tries to open a passage in the question of sense, risking meaning nothing. It is, actually, only by starting from the cultural, imperialistic, colonial, gesture, that I decide to address a determinate sense, that is, a determinate direction, a determinate path, a route that will open the passage to other paths, to other exercises of walking (incamminamento), just like when a living being passes through an unexplored land and leaves traces, that will mark the path of his movement. Before this sense, this path, this meaningful passage, there is nothing, but, as it appears obvious, this nothing is everything (what there would be, in the lack of the possibility of crossing). From all this it starts a practice such as that of hermeneutics or a decision such as that relative to the beauty or less of an object. This is the reason why there cannot be beautiful objects per se, being, the question of beauty, a contextual, relative question. At this level, to set oneself at play means to revisit radically the whole references of one’s own position to the world – it means, in one word: to decolonise oneself. But, because this is be never possible, if not in a limit, apocalyptic, perspective, I would then say that it is necessary to let emerge the interminable conflict of all references to every position, starting from our own conflict.

March 17th

One can never be sure, one hundred % sure, of a positive determination of an object’s identity; on the other hand, one can be sure, one hundred % sure, of a negative determination. In other words, I can say that an object is not “that”. Nevertheless, I can say/specify, through science, the aisthesis of an object I have interrupted for a period of time, and that – until it is proven otherwise – “nothing proves that it is or is not that”.

It is true. “Nothing proves they are a farmer’s shoes” is the one incontestable proposition by Schapiro. There is no proof in regard to this matter. Just as there is none, should that not be the case. And there cannot be any – I mean, any proof giving the so-called “mathematical certainty“, things being the way they are: there is no possible testimony. It is precisely the reason why an attribution is never possible – I insist: being things the way they are – unless one denies, in order to make it happen, “the essential cryptogeneis of the object”.

March 18th

Every time I approach this polilogue, I never forget to reveal how enthralling its structure, its style and object are – which form a kind of paradoxical unity, constantly on the verge of explosion, or exploded. Of course, maybe, it is what is all about, an explosion. It is as if all its instants were recorded as part of an image, and I could inspect all of them, at the same time.

Madness! I do acknowledge the inadequacy of every attempt of mine to simply acknowledge it.

March 19th

What’s more, Pointure indicates the size of shoes, of gloves, of hats.

As I have said, attribution is a matter of numbers, sizes, taxes to pay (to tax, tassein, indicates ordering, rating). And, of course, to be on the safe side, taxes should always be paid. It is fair, as it is fair to know, while facing a painting, to whom it belongs, what it represents, what period it is from, how much it is worth…

Pointure/peinture. Derrida has always payed great attention to language, indicating, amongst other things, that what he focuses on, in my opinion with rare sensitivity, is not puns (word-play), of no interest for him, but «fire play». As he said to Lucette Finas, in 1972.

March 21st

There are, at least, a couple of aspects in this polilogue, to which he recurs, and which prove a particular interest to me. They have to do with a structure that develops into a question (into several questions), and into what it is based on, and is, then, reflected into another question.

There is an obviousness implied by the form of these interrogations. An obviousness that brings with itself no more than what it implies, double speech. Obviousness is as it follows: both Heidegger and Schapiro wrote on a painting, signed by Van Gogh, which represents shoes.

These three requirements, these three times pair with three dogmas, previously revealed by another voice.

Both Schapiro and Heidegger, one in one way, the other in another way, one in a more openly manner than the other, seem to be talking of an object. What is it? A pair of shoes?

Now, if you take a moment to ponder, naturally, you will wonder whether the two professors have gone mad. Because, good or evil, they both attribute shoes to someone. What shoes? The painted shoes, of course. But those painted shoes, are they still shoes? One could claim that an image is like the real thing, what does it represent? Here, we are right at the middle of the problem of representation, which is also the problem of a possible relation between the image and (its) real representative on the outside.

It is a big problem. To some degree, it is rather the fundamental problem of classical metaphysics, implying by this term to distinguish the Western elaborations from Socrates to the present, and to supply arguments to the philosophical and scientific discourse, in its apparent homogeneity: true Western madness.

This discourse is marked by what appears as a paradox. It lies in a reasoning that might be described by resorting to the circle: to have the constant need to reduce the difference – in the name of a full and self-sufficient presence; still, this very reduction needs a different opposition, which would be reduced by it.

Now, in Aesthetics, which is however a philosophical and scientific production as part of the history of metaphysics, the subject does not change. With it, one watches, in reconnaissance, though superficially, the same circular “game” along its history; the opposition and the reduction would form – together – a system. One reduces the work of art (as a sign), trying to nullify the difference between it and the emotion-inspiration, which should convey and should have produced it, and, at the same time, in this reduction, one recurs to the very different opposition one wishes to reduce, first investing in one (inspiration) and, then, in the other (work).

Actually, at the time of dealing with a critical reconnaissance regarding a work of art, one always attempts to “go upstream”: one goes upstream, that is, the “body” of the work of art reaching meaning, its meaning, which, then, should always coincide with the author’s intentions-emotions. Operating with the Aristotelic terms of deed and power, for instance, we could have this discourse: as an artefact, the work of art is in act what, in power, was a project (an idea, a feeling) to the author; still, it is in power that what is in act at the moment (of the act) of fruition, when one returns to the idea-feeling of the author because, if the act is the moment of determination or perfection, one cannot avoid recognizing that the perfection or the determination of a work happens at the very moment it has lived as such. Now, as it is known, the act has always had a primacy over power, because it is an aim, but, since nobody knows the aim, it comes to verify the – mentioned before – condition of circularity, where, according to Derrida, one witnesses a circular coherence of contradictions, from which – as I have just stated in reference to works of art – the act and power start inverting, continuously exchanging their position, precisely when the first reduces the second (Metaphysics, 1-6,7).

It is certain that handling the problem of representation this way means avoiding it completely. I realize I am proceeding in a rush and I’m moving too briskly, whereas, in fact, I should be more cautious and moderate. The risk is one could be cut into pieces, without even realizing it. The pick of comedy. Like those sight gag comedies where a character, after the catastrophic event of an explosion, continues to move as if nothing has happened (to him), even though he/she is torn to shreds. But when did I start – I mean, days ago? And today? Something on madness. Those two must have been mad; and Derrida? And me? Supposedly, here is a piece of writing by someone who gathers the accounts of the other two, who write on another person who has painted something. I do not believe it is the way things are. There is no piece of writing here – at least, not in the classical meaning of the word. Perhaps, this is the starting point. And me? The problem remains. And what am I doing? Would I be looking for a direction for others, that is, first of all for myself, realizing (suitably representing) the written performance that Restitutions is? I would rather continue, exactly the way I began. I bring matters to the surface. I point out at what is already evident. The aim of this gesture should be to delve into its own statute. In-depth examination, that necessarily needs to be explicated: being the bad consciousness of someone or something?

It is certain that, from an in-depth evaluation, one realizes there are different levels of madness. But I would rather not talk of madness. I would rather talk of idiocy. The character of the transcendental idiot fascinates me. One should, then, analyze the different levels of this idiocy.

March 7th

The brutality of my gesture fascinates and, at the same time, frightens me. As always. As it is obvious.

To begin all over again, as if it were nothing. After three years. To begin again on the basis of that trace, that line left by writing.

In the book given to me, Moscou aller-retour, there is an interview, rather a conversation, entitled Philosophie et littérature, of the author Derrida with, in order, Valeri Podoroga, Natalia Avtonomova, Mikhaïl Ryklin.

In this conversation, there is a moment when its reading contributes to my rewriting this diary. This conversation is about modalité neutre ou ces unités de sens microscopiques; it is also about thèses, mouvements de communication, démonstrations.

I am interested in a certain stratification created in reaction to cette modalité neutre ou ces unités de sens microscopiques and thèses, mouvements de communication, démonstrations. My concern is also for that “feeling” of tremblement nouveau ou une secousse du corps qui ouvre un nouvel espace dexpérience. Surely, in front of Derrida’s writing, one cannot be indifferent to it.

To be indifferent; here, “indifference” is a key word. Another one. Unlike what happens with other texts, here, one must put oneself to test. One must openly declare on what side he/she is. Whereas, on ne peut savoir avec lequel ou contre lequel on est. It is the point. Derrida is not immediately traceable. And this, for those finding it painful to think, appears difficult to accept: a philosophy of trace, whose author is not traceable? Perhaps, it is because one would like to interact with him, maybe showing him all possible displeasure at being disappointed by his lack of stance, for not seeing him parade in the street, alongside the others shouting slogans («Parfois, on doit manifester dans les rues avec des slogans très simples, parfois… Bon, non, j’ai besoin de temps…»).

Things are never easy. I believe Derrida takes a stance, of course, but he takes it the only way allowing him not to slip into an illusion. Insomuch as one could say, all things considered, he is not traceable because he is looked for where he can never be found. Who is Derrida? And the author of the polilogue, that is right now before my eyes? Or, perhaps, does the polilogue test and subvert the concepts of identity and of the author? All things considered, I am not even interested in knowing who the author of this polilogue is; it is the polilogue that interests me, apart from Derrida.

However, it could be a title for this diary: Apart from Derrida. Violate the rickety structure with a touch of homogeneity – as a title could be: a dream of unity. It would be an odd dream. Like the one when people dream – or know? – of sleeping and dreaming: a title showing, charmingly, all possible disenchantment with the opera(zione) [Italian: work(action); in other words, a work of art is the product of an act, TN] which needs to be entitled, and with the opera(zione) of entitling. Apart from Derrida. Reason of the polilogue. When one writes a polilogue, the first thing to be called into question is his signature, the statute of a signature, propriety, appropriation. To call into question means to question, to interrogate. The way investigators do. It should be their duty to never cover up.


Rereading these thoughts, gathered over a period of time, and which constitute the trace of the seminars I promoted and conducted on behalf of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Bologna, I cannot help but considering a further and founded obligation, as part of the adopted writing method with the doubling meaning of public and private. Far from concerning, as it always happens, exclusively the interests of the private sphere, this meaning bears the seal of an interrogating force, referring to responsibilities/ duties I will certainly not shirk. It is about a double level of responsibility, which invests a double space of experience: it is immediately linked to the drafting of this writing, and, at the same time, it is part of a general posture, which would invest the so-called behaviour sphere, my behaviour, with what all this means to me. What is the limit that allows us to speak of the privacy of experience? Well, then, what does experience make of a private matter? And how does the structural lack of shame characterizing literature, writing, and written things in general, fit in with everything else? These matters cannot pertain to anything else but to the deep reasons of the diary.

(translation by Monica Dolcemascolo)

Dario Giugliano teaches aesthetics at the Academy of Fine Arts (Naples). He is the autor of a series of book of which the first is “Derrida-Saussure. Segno & differenza” (1994) and the most recent is “Il discorso sospeso – sul corpo dell’arte” (2003), that examines visual arts, philosophy and corporality. He is editor of the journal “estetica. studi e ricerche”. His recent essays are on Deleuze (“Rue Descartes” no 59, 2008), Heidegger (“Etica & Politica/Ethics & Politics” no XI:1, 2009), Pasolini (“Third text”, no 101, 2009; “aut aut”, no 345, 2010), ontology of cinema (“Rivista di Estetica” no 46, 2011).
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