dipankard at gmail dot com
Composed by dd/ts, 2010.
Can the savage speak?1
I. A local discourse that can speak globally
This book is an encounter of the Lacanian Unsaid with itself, in its bodily form, as that which has always already been said, on distant solar stations of the universe. Somewhere there the Lacanian Real turns corporeal.
We record the voice of the Other within the margins — our adjacent ones — in the West (read: Western Europe and the United States) in and through this book. The question that concerns us is: can the savage speak? That is, can the local speak globally?
Let us be a bit more specific here, at least at this starting point of our journey and specify a specific context, in the form of two quotations, plucked and distorted to suit our purpose.
It (the project of provincializing Europe) therefore looks to a history (writing) that embodies this politics of despair…I ask for a history (writing) that deliberately makes visible, within the very structure of its narrative forms, its own repressive strategies and practices, the part it plays in collusion with the narratives of citizenship in assimilating to the projects of the modern state all other possibilities of human solidarity. The politics of despair will require such history (writing) that it lays bare to its readers the reasons why such a predicament is necessarily inescapable (Dipesh Chakrabarty, 1992).
The subaltern cannot speak. There is no virtue in global laundry lists with "woman" as a pious item (Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak, 1988).
As the margin in the West speaks, another discordant voice from deep within itself often subverts its speech, sometimes speaking out loud to inscribe itself in Western academic discourses. Then follows a life-and-death struggle between the domesticated margin seeking comfort and the Other within it that does not comport well. The rebellious Other chasing the conforming margin and the latter desperately attempting at retreats to retrieve that which it had inadvertently uttered.
The margin that is an immigrant then flees into its homeland. Where it finds, to its utter bewilderment, those utterances (and many such which it only thought but never dared to utter) taking non-conforming bodily forms — confronting him, encircling him, threatening to throw him away into nowhere, as a nobody.
From where do the repressed return? From the future. As the recalcitrant Other within the margin of the West speaks, it raises the repressed dead from their graves in distant solar stations, assassinated ideas, essays and books rise as if from a long slumber and the differend turns referrend clamoring for referendum.
Andrey Tarkovsky has shown us such figures invading the margin, in his movie: Solaris.2 He has called them ‘visitors’. We might call the same MOM — that is, margin of margin.
We have heard such voices of the margin in the West. In Dipesh Chakrabarty’s ‘Who Speaks for Indian Pasts?’ and Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak’s ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’. We have quoted from both of them in specifying our frame of reference. We are eagerly waiting to see how Dipesh Chakrabarty would negotiate with his dissenting voices in his later writings. Will he pursue his project and follow through its consequences? Or, is it only a mock masochistic self-congratulatory gesture of self-flagellation?
As for Spivak, we are less optimistic. We have recently seen how Spivak (1999) flies away from her initial non-conformist stance that it is hard for the subaltern to speak. That if she speaks at all, the voice will either be appropriated by the powers that be or never heard at all.
As a native informant Gayatri Chakrabarty Spivak overheard from her kinswomen what might have been a good story. She did not have to look for the story-line. She found it. She just bent down and picked it up at her native home.
Bhubaneshwari Bhaduri, an activist in a terrorist organization in British India fighting for freedom, committed suicide to register her voice of protest against terrorism. The time of suicide coincided with her menstrual period.
Bhaduri’s kinswomen read the whole thing as the tragic end of a love-story. The heroine killed herself to avoid a scandal, to save a loss of face because she was pregnant. Mind it: the non-feasibility of this possibility was announced from the very start through the moment of her suicide.
The message got lost that the suicide was a stamp of protest, against terrorism. From this basis Spivak (1988) concluded that the subaltern cannot speak. Her voice will either be appropriated, or, never heard at all. And she explored for writing strategies that would masquerade the subaltern, simultaneously enabling her to embody the voice of dissent.
A decade later, we find Spivak (1997) retreating from this position — that it is hard for the subaltern to speak. She does it on the pretext that Bhubaneshwari Devi was not a subaltern, but a middle class lady. Spivak misses that Bhubaneshwari Devi was not just another middle class lady, but a figure embodying a subaltern agency speaking against what is popularly held as manly qualities (heroism, terrorism) that is condemned to fall flat into deaf ears. And the project of exploring strategies for subaltern writing becomes a part of Spivak’s benign forgetfulness. She chooses to settle down as a native informant to the United States, peddling Indian Devi-s (goddesses) that include, among others, Mahashweta Devi. Once the non-conforming other in Spivak asked ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’. Now her conscious self seeks to take flight from such questions.
Perhaps, she was never aware of this Other’s voice within her and confused, conflated and collapsed it with the inaudible plural conflictual others within the Western texts seeking outlets by way of a deconstructive reading strategy. Consequently, she has been engaging herself with the project of constructing a whole lot of surrogate subaltern voices that serve to displace many subaltern voices looking for their surrogate (does not matter, if a bit counterfeit) counterparts. Resultantly, once the project of deconstruction receives a lower priority on her research agenda, the issue of differend and the conjoining issue of how to embody it slip from her mind so that she can sleep peacefully as a native informant in the US academics.
Implicit in this move on her part is the gesture that views differend and deconstruction as two self-contained unambiguous complete categories that never intersect. Spivak colors the difference between being heard (through deconstruction) and non-heard (as a differend) in black and white, forgetting the over ten million shades of gray-scaling that an up-to-date graphics can handle. Now, let us recall what differend is.
One instance of Lyotard’s differend works in the problem of the masterpiece. A writer has written a masterpiece. No editor agrees to publish it. Now, how can she prove that it is a masterpiece? We want to extend the question into the zone of the future that is coming but is still unknown. How the writer can sustain as a writer — who knows that she is writing masterpieces and it is the very knowledge that confines her/him to a solitary cell — no one else is there who knows it too, because the works just do not get published? Her/his masterpieces do not get known as masterpieces due to the very quality of being masterpieces.
Differend resides in those confrontations where the ends can never meet, by definition. It is just the situation in case of savage, the protagonist of our model. She can never make heard what she is saying.
So, here, the strategy should be speaking through the text. She will not speak because savage cannot speak. The text will speak on her behalf. The strategy consists of these steps:
The problem for us actually resides here: in conjoining differend and deconstruction: in tracing this spectrality in the voice of the Other. In an obvious and simple sense it is an impossible task, differend and deconstruction cannot be united, if we consider deconstruction in its elitist (Kantian) version. So, in this process of tracing the spectrality of savage, we are going to vulgarize Derrida and his deconstruction. This subverted deconstruction, away from deconstruction pure, can serve us a way out. In a sense, we are going to deconstruct deconstruction and distort it, saying many things of our own in the (holy) name of Derrida.
II. Two Derridas
Comprehending and thus constructing a precise and to-the-point text on Derrida is in no way the game of ours. We are going to create and configure a Derrida of our own from the myth called Derrida, from the legend that is being salebrated under the name.
Let us define our point of departure. A bit of Marx: that is all we know. And it is more or less the same for both Hegel and Althusser, too. Husserl, Heidegger, Levinas et al, the contexts that Derrida builds upon, are indeed a domain removed from us, the savage Marxists of the third world, and we do have no wish at all to wade into the unknown waves. Actually we are going to construct a Derrida that is already known to us: always already within us, expounding the Derrida of deconstructive practice.
For our purposes, there can be three methods of building into Derrida:
But, the very Derridean discourse has already lent us the confidence (once again) to reject the third method on the ground that there exists nothing like the Derrida proper. Therefore, ours will be a drive through a combine of the first and the second way. We begin with a popular discourse on Derrida (Dipesh Chakrabarty, 1997). We shall soon hear what Chakrabarty says.
And, the second method that remains in our hand is expounding the Derrida of deconstructive practice. That exposition, which we will elaborate in the next section of this essay, in its very start, must clarify the connectedness between Saussure and Derrida.
Now, back to Chakrabarty.
We are citing here, a small article by Dipesh Chakrabarty, published in a popular Bengali newspaper. To forestall any possible miscommunication we are translating the complete article from Bengali.3 Later on we will interrogate the guardian-like tonality of this article and contest it with another tonality that underwrites, and in turn, is underpinned by, "Who speaks for Indian Pasts?".
Various versions of ‘deconstruction’ circulate in the market. The most popular one resides in conceiving ‘deconstruction’ as the inverse of ‘construction’. As a result, a large number of people think that ‘deconstruction’ is just the name of anatomizing and analyzing something by breaking it down into its parts. Alternatively, through unfolding layers after layers of thought to proceed into the innermost core (in English, which is called ‘unpacking’). But, these are not moments of ‘deconstruction’ in the sense that the French philosopher Jacques Derrida has used. ‘Deconstruction’, as invented by Derrida, is a reading strategy and deep in its womb lingers a complex philosophical truth. This is the content that I would now seek to convey in a sketchy and simple manner.
In historical, sociological or political descriptions, we work with a particular concept of truth. Say, this statement: "democracy has come in India", or, "capitalism has established itself in India" is a regular thing on part of the social analysts. Now, there may very well be many contentions concerning the arrival or awaiting of democracy (or, capitalism) in India, among the social scientists. The arguments, predictably, may even proceed to include the true significance of the democracy or capitalism that has come. But, usually, the concept that the social scientists would never argue upon is the notion: ‘arrival’ of democracy or capitalism. It is our theoretical presumption that it is possible for a particular society to be feudal or capitalist. This possibility to be — is the basis on which resides the philosophy of politics, and even — Marxism.
So, in social science, or, in the construction of history, a total correspondence between ‘name’ and ‘thing’ is already assumed. ‘Capitalism’ is a name or a category, and again, we assume it to be a successful description of a particular historical social system. If some significant odds emerge between a particular name and a particular thing, we search for another name, like, say, ‘semi-feudalism’, or, ‘colonial mode of production’. The analysis of the social scientist, ipso facto, is determined by the one-ness of the ‘name’ and the ‘thing’. The identity of the thing, which resides in a name, is assumed to be a complete and self-sufficient identity. The man that sees and the world that is seen are supposed to be partitioned by a clean glass — that is, language.
Derrida has named this noumenon, this particular construction of truth, as ‘logocentrism’, or ‘metaphysics of presence’. Derrida considers this as an important lineament of western philosophy: the powerful German philosopher Edmund Husserl in this century through Plato. Truth implies, as if, a presence unbound, original and self-contained. Language is programmed to record this presence, unadulterated, in a name. Derrida does not intend to transcend this notion of truth through the workings of thought and arrive at an alternative, and obviously truer, notion of truth. In this context, he has invented a reading strategy that plays up the theme of the unsurpassable machinations of ‘logocentrism’ in a narration, any narration — a reading strategy that dissects and discusses these machinations. The name of this Derridean reading strategy is deconstruction.
In scores of books, essays and interviews, Derrida has elaborated this strategy — elaboration that elaborated the Philosophy of Derrida himself. In his earlier book ‘Of Grammatology’, Derrida is reading in his own method Rousseau on Language, Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, and French social-anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss to demonstrate that all of them are considering oral language as closer to the presence of truth than the written one. The written language generates the meaning or significance through the difference between symbolic signs. Never a meaning reaches its completeness in the resort of a single sign. The oral language is regarded as something close to human experience. But, in the process of reading these texts minutely through the deconstructive procedures, Derrida is showing that this discrimination cannot be maintained for good. The process that generates meaning in the oral language is characteristically the very one with that in the written language. And if this is true, why these great thinkers are so much prejudiced towards the oral one? Why it is prescribed as near to truth in the writings of these western intellectuals? Derrida suggests that the cause is ‘logocentrism’: allegiance towards a particular construction of truth in western tradition. ‘Truth’ as a term calls to our mind a self-contained identity that has brought the ‘name’ and the ‘thing’ completely together.
Derrida says that reading any text in the deconstructive way would bring forth two other contradictions within the realization of any significance, definition, identity or meaning. The first contradiction resides in the process of combination of various differences into the generation of a particular meaning or significance. And the second one is that due to all these differences and oppositions the ‘meaning’ seems never to reach a singular self-sufficiency —some other pull from behind elongates and slows down the process of becoming of ‘truth’ or meaning — Deferral. Combining ‘Difference’ and ‘Deferral’ together, Derrida names this as ‘Différance’. That means meaning itself carries the trace of counter meaning. Meaning cannot transcend the collection of differences.
You can grasp the significance of Derrida’s theory if the popularly circulating notions are tallied with it. In our consideration of political unity, in many cases, we assume that a third entity would come up through the differences within two different things — towards which strive the political struggles. Say, I am Bengali and you are Tamil: we presume that the identity of ‘Indian’ or ‘Man’ will hold all the differences between us and again surpass it into a lease of a newer and a self-contained identity. The concepts of ‘Man’ or ‘India’ are assumed here as higher and self-contained categories in a Hegelian way. Reading through the deconstructive strategy demonstrates that ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’ can never reach a pure and original completeness. The words: ‘Man’ or ‘India’ carry within themselves the pulls of their counter-meanings — which hold up the presence of their present meanings.
Ignoring all the uncombined contradictions within various implicit oppositions —running up a resolution in a situation that actually cannot be resolved— we construct categories like ‘India’ or ‘Man’. And, this is logocentrism. Derrida does not consider it a mistake. And positing some truer and more correct ‘truth’ in place of it is never an in-thing, because that presupposes another form of logocentrism. The project of deconstruction is to face this moment of ‘Undecidable’ in the realm of thought.
It would be Derrida to preach that even a text full of philosophical contents can very well be read due to its literary quality (or, the lack of it). That is why he objects to the tradition of writing down the ideas in their composed form of formal or scientific models. This objection actualizes in his writing strategy. His writings are not centered on contents. The moment any definition comes to light he breaks it away by constructing new and newer words. It is the form of his writing that involves so much of experimentation. As he chisels out the limits of language, some have named his texts as ‘philosophy of the limit’.
No-nonsense, busy and democratic people would rise to ask, what is the use of it all? It has already been said before that in the realm of political and practical thought a particular figure of truth is always assumed. We presume that all the ‘name’-s that we are using do invariably ‘be’. So we point our fingers and pronounce, that one is Bengali, this one is capitalist, and voilà — the working class. This way of thought is not ‘wrong’. But, it is the product of pushing into a resolution, unconditionally rejecting all the uncombined contradictions within thought. Derrida reminds us about the process of reaching into the resolution. As we engage in auto-critique, once again the issues of morality confront us.
This is the way Dipesh Chakrabarty formulates Derrida and his deconstruction. Let us intervene in Chakrabarty. Fair is foul and foul is fair — let us dance and hover through filthy air. What is foul for Chakrabarty is fair for us — as far as the deconstruction of deconstruction is concerned.
What is foul for Chakrabarty?
To understand deconstruction as a (mere) technique of reading a text differently — this is one popular and practicing way of salebrating Derrida that Chakrabarty is not ready to buy. Chakrabarty does not name the villains — nor he gives a visage of them — but that is unimportant. This article of Chakrabarty emits the signal that there is another Derrida … moving around and around and … in academic practices.
Moving around in the form of a sophisticated way of reading a text that contests, subverts, destabilizes — turns upside down — all the established meanings of a text. A is here — with a meaning of the text. Now, B presents another, a radically different one, and equally demanding. But, and this is important, without dismantling A, through some outlandish reading strategy that invokes the gray jargons of Derrida. Possibly, A and B are reading the text from different perspectives. They have different focuses. And, obviously, they have different sets of indifferent slips, omissions and commissions specific to each. The different pulls and pushes within and from outside the text combine, confront and confirm the two contending meanings of the text.
Chakrabarty will preach that the subjective biases of the readers are, here, vulgarizing Derridean deconstruction. Chakrabarty’s sole focus is on bringing out the unreason working within the reason of the text — so that, one gets to the philosophy of Derrida: Madness of Reason salebrating self-contained self-certain truths.
Therefore, Chakrabarty would say that, actually, it is the text that deconstructs itself. The business of the deconstructionist is passive: to make this process of auto-unfolding in deconstruction, always already within the text, visible, legible, and accessible.
Chakrabarty vouches for the unreason of reason and thereby re-affirms reason, and hence, its tyranny. What has been recorded will be replayed, even though together with the remakes and the re-mixes of the old records. But, how and where can the unrecorded put its stamp on the discourse? How far the subaltern can make its voice heard?
So, adieux, to you (and you and you — all Nordic purists, elitist Kantians, forefathers on all the four directions, goodbye papa, don’t preach), Chakrabarty. Farewell to Chakrabarty’s pure Derrida. We opt for a vulgar version, giving voice to the dumb and ear to the deaf.
Let us invoke the spirit of this vulgar Derrida and give flesh and blood to it. We will problematize a vulgar version of Derrida that teaches us techniques to read a text differently. We need some concept of Derrida established in discourse so that we, the subalterns, who are condemned to be dumb, can speak through him. It matters little if that Derrida is vulgar or pure. The choice is ours. We choose to theorize the vulgar Derrida so that we can smuggle our voices into it. So that we can speak through this Derrida.
Let us now start anew, begin from the beginning — the starting point of the whole discourse — Ferdinand de Saussure.
III. Derrida vulgarized
Saussure put forward the postulate that naming of the words carries no in-built logic. It is arbitrary. Thus, the very classification of the referent-space, that is embodied in the process of naming, becomes arbitrary in the same movement, rendering the names/words/concepts relational in the process of signification, in the mode of generation of meaning. These signs can convey a meaning because of these relations between them. And these relations between the signs are all defined negatively, that is in terms of negation. The sign of a chair veils behind it a referent that is not a table/not a stool/not... ad infinitum. All these negatively defined relations unify through the system of signs into a totality in the form of a text that conveys a meaning.
In other words, Saussure wants to establish that the sole demonstration of the color red would never enable a baby to recognize ‘red’. He/she can apprehend red only through the non-recognition of the other colors like blue, green, or yellow. Saussure’s totality is a kind of closed totality, where the difference that plays within the totality is a difference-in-relation.
Here we can recall Hegel or Althusser to cross-compare the respective antagonistic and over-determined difference-in-relation in the Hegelian and Althusserian totalities4. The notion in-built within the Saussurian system is one of equal status within the elements of totality, that is, the words. Saussurian difference-in-relation presupposes equal status of the words or concepts. There is an absence of any hierarchy in the sense that this equality or the equal status is not constructed: or in other words, it does not flow from a postulated definition. This equality is exogenous and given to the system. This is the point of contention where our concept of Derrida intervenes to proclaim the very existence of a hierarchy within the elements of totality.
By the Book of Derrida there are and remain hierarchies within the concepts/words, some of them are dominant, and others are pushed into dormancy. These dominant key concepts, which are the principal and privileged ones within the totality of text, put together and bring forth a structure, through which the other concepts are derived. These derived concepts are garnered up in the background. Creating of this partitioned space of a background and a foreground is crucially linked up with a context: context of reading text. And in fact, the dormancy of the background concepts is very much an abeyance — lying in wait just for a change of context, deconstruction being another name of this process if and when the change is gestated deliberately.
Thus, the Derridean reading of text involves a text-context complex that brings about a quest of the nature of relationship between text and context, concerning which, strangely enough, Derrida keeps mum. Absolutely no theory is there, in the Book of Derrida, about the choice of context or how a particular context is constructed and, in its turn, is built upon. Strangely, the whole of Derrida crucially lacks a comprehensive theory on the correlation between text and context. Even any hint about any overdetermination, if there is any, between text and context is absent from Derrida. The whole theory is confined to the very domain of text and the power politics between the principal and derivative concepts within text. Derrida is intervening into the reading of text, the Saussurian reading, in the pretext of context, and then all of a sudden, he becomes silent. But many things are there, in both the heaven of epistemology and the earth of ontology, which can be said and done about the very politics between text and context.5
It is here that we enter into Derrida.
As a sum up, the position of Saussure accepts that a unique meaning exists but it is relational. It operates through a structure of names and their inter-relationships and never operates outside this structure. In contrast, Derrida says that no true meaning, as one, does exist. Only do exist meanings.6
The journey from Saussure to Derrida consists of the following steps.
We accept the two above assumptions and add a third of our own.
By this additional assumption, we focus the living role of context in vesting the words with a hierarchy:
The alternative context contests the primal context by coming up from the working of the logic of the text itself, independent of the subject: the reader. Contexts and newer contexts are thrown off and thrown up by the logic of text, leaving little or no space for the subject. But it is the object of our distortion to smuggle in the subject in the disguise of logic — a subject capable of creating newer contexts. A question may be asked here, that, how is it possible to view the logical dysfunction within logic through the apparatus of logic?
As a solution of this problem, we add the assumption that text and context are mutually constituting, that is, overdetermining each other. And, in this chapter on the writing strategy of savage in a global context, we want to deal with only one aspect of the two-way mutual overdetermination — the journey from context to text.
So, our focus is the process through which context overdetermines text. The consequences of this assumption follow easily. Our concept of Derrida deliberately breaks down the symmetric spaces of the words. Context determines the uneven stature of the words — their relative position in the hierarchy of the words. Thus, the meaning of the derivative words that flow from the primary words gets constituted by the context. So the context opens up a whole space of interplay between the primary and the derivative words — the elite and the subaltern words — and this play begets supplements to text by way of the Derridean concept of supplement. Now, let us explore what supplement is. We will read Derridean supplement in the form of an intervention in Hegel’s logic.
IV. Derrida’s supplement.
Through the concept of différance, Derrida delineates a departure — at the level of unity. He carries a fight to the Hegelian camp. At the level of difference he has another fight that distinguishes him aside from the other postmoderns. Derrida is the first one to walk out the bandwagon of totalitarian points of view just to stand abreast the underworld: to understand the world of small beings—to understand them not apart from but together with their trace and alterity. Be it the concept of différance or that of trace or spacing-alterity or supplement — all these are just instruments of Derrida in the journey towards reaching the ever-expanding universe of beings growing of themselves. Let us frame a cross-comparison in a Marxly way of this concept of ever-expansion with the autoerotic-procreativity of capital giving rise to the celebrated process of accumulation that accumulates around itself in pursuit of surpassing and superseding its own self and becoming bigger than itself.
In the same way, text is always overflowing and transcending itself to become bigger than itself. And that is why it can supplement to itself. This in no way is an addition. Capital never adds on itself. The very formation of such a model of capital adding on to itself presupposes the concept of a transcendental signified in the form of capital. Which is just never there. Capital: the discursive space with a tag of that name is overflowing and supplementing to itself; supplementing to the discourse of commodity. Or, rather, it is supplementing to the supplement, as, again, in its turn, the signifier of commodity does not carry a transcendental signified too.
The supplement is rather an added outside that is always already present within a text. This formulation can aptly help in our delving into and depicting the very relationship between the formation of the epistêmê and its ontological presuppositions: the intertextualplay between the theory of history and the theory of knowledge, between illusion and reality. Reality is no illusion; rather illusion is a real illusion of reality. Illusion is supplementing to reality. Reality is proceeding and proliferating itself through the extensions in the form of a series of illusions. Philosophy itself subsists in and as literature.8
According to Derrida, because there is a lack of full presence, there exists a condition for the existence of supplement. Supplement means something additional. Now, this addition could be understood as being conditioned by a certain lack to a presence (as in Derrida) or simply as an extra addition to a full presence (as in Saussure, Plato or Rousseau). In other words, presence as understood by Derrida is never complete or total as an identity. There is always an attempt to provide full presence or identity through the supplement but this process of farther fulfillment is thus all the time subverted. This can be called an auto-subversion; the fullness of the identity is undone by its strife to become full, because this word ‘farther’ is open-ended.
Supplements lead to more supplements and to more … and so on. Unlike the case for metaphysical thinkers, for Derrida, the lack and the subsequent supplements are something positive without which the full presence cannot be completed9. This is in opposition to the metaphysical thinkers who consider supplement as a harmful addition to presence and desire an end to its existence. Thus Derrida’s framework leaves us with a social space which contains infinite play of differences devoid of the presence of any transcendental signifier (the other name of full presence). Society cannot be fixed by any full presence. There is no origin, no foundation and no lineage relations in social reality, and the essentialist structure of causality is subverted time and again.10
The theme that is common to all the post-modern positions is the notion of totality with gaps: a sutured totality under subversion. By the standards of tightness no totality is actually possible. If this impossibility were not there, a tight totality would always already have emerged. It is this impossibility of any social reality that breeds the necessity of a hegemony to loom and bridge over all the gaps, to rebuild in virtual reality all the bridges that you ought to have burned but could not because there was not any. The all-pervading post-modern oneness consists of this consideration of the gaps as the weak points of the social: the gaps between the finite and the infinite aspects of the same moment.
Derrida presents a parallel theme in terms of an ever-expanding universe of totality. Totality that is larger than itself, that intermittently and interminably accumulates around itself, but not in concentric circles because all circles have a center — and have a margin too that never merges. This Derridean totality accumulates around itself in uneven spacing of the alterity and the supplements.
One Derridean exemplification of this theme is the case of Europe. In the elucidation of ‘Europe: the other heading’, Derrida plays on the situation when a category comprises and includes its impossibility within itself—the situation what Laclau and Mouffe would aimer to call as an event of pluralism. Europe, the expanding entity, is larger than it is. Its expansion, the growth of the soil, is soiling both Europe and its outside: Asias and Africas and elsewhere. It is a point of strength of Europe that it includes both of Europe and non-Europe. Outside of the outside, there remains the inner force field of the supplement supplementing to this growth of Europe beyond Europe.
For Hegel the finite is larger than itself, is infinite.
Here intervenes Derrida. And proclaims that the finite is larger than itself but not infinite. All the journeys that the being takes (tasks) upon itself ply very much within the realm of finitude. And that is precisely, the cynosure of all (de and/or con)structions.
Deconstruction proper involves, among others, an inversion: transforming the derivative concepts into primary concepts and thus inverting the hierarchy between elite and subaltern words.
Our motto is to unite differend and deconstruction. To do this we are just plucking out differend as a disjoint motif from the writings of Lyotard, and considering our version of deconstruction as a self-sufficient system such that we can join these two. In this system, we are systematically intervening in — inverting — Derrida and his deconstruction, because with the Derrida proper we cannot open our dialogue with differend. The point is to vulgarize Derrida in the following steps.
Derrida’s trajectory is from text to supplement. Text constitutes the ‘pre-’ and supplement configures the ‘post-’ and this logic can never be inverted in Derrida proper, is irreversible. Text is prior. And supplement, in its ability to complete the incompleteness of text, follows from text, is always already within text. This flow from text to supplement, this ‘pre-post-erous’ hierarchy is never to be contested in Derrida proper, a hierarchy that can never be cross-examined. Derrida, the messiah of inverting the hierarchies in text, is never challenging this mother of all hierarchies, is contradicting himself. Derrida is turning back on himself: not everything can be dehierarchized.
Let us conceive supplement as a loose part, a collection of loose parts, not like hanging and protruding offshoots from father-text, but actually without a father — in search of a father. Bastards, lacking a father, looking for one. But supplements supplement to the original — the father. So supplements lacking a father cannot be supplements. Supplement without a father — this is our conception of differend: bastards searching (for) a father, colonized looking for a colonizer, workers anticipating a capitalist.
So our project is to place and placate these preying bastards busy in their father-hunt, to search and explore a text for them. And obviously, recording down these differends, which, in Bhabha’s terms, may qualify for another form of ‘sly civility’11. This project involves:
Then, someday, some memoir of the construction of this discourse, may pronounce,
…many great gaps were left, which were only filled in gradually and bit by bit, some indeed, not till after the official announcement that the wall was finished. In fact, it is said that there are gaps which have never been filled in at all, an assertion, however, which is probably merely one of the many legends to which the building of the wall gave rise, and which cannot be verified, at least by any single man with his own eyes and judgment, on account of the extent of the structure.
Now on first thoughts one might conceive that it would have been more advantageous in every way to build the wall continuously, or at least continuously within the two main divisions. After all the wall was intended, as was universally proclaimed and known, to be a protection against the peoples of the North. But how can a wall protect if it is not a continuous structure? Not only cannot such a wall protect, but what there is of it is in perpetual danger. These blocks of wall left standing in deserted regions could be easily pulled down again and again by the nomads…. Nevertheless the task of construction probably could not have been carried out in any other way. To understand this we must take into account the following: The wall was to be a protection for centuries: accordingly the most scrupulous care in the building, the application of the architectural wisdom of all known ages and peoples, an unremitting sense of personal responsibility in the builders, were indispensable prerequisites for the work….
For the work had not been undertaken without thought. Fifty years before the first stone was laid the art of architecture, and especially that of masonry, had been proclaimed as the most important branch of knowledge throughout the whole area of a China that was to be walled around, and all other arts gained recognition only in so far as they had reference to it….
One could not, for instance, expect them to lay one stone on another for months or even years on end, in an uninhabited mountainous region, hundreds of miles from their homes; the hopelessness of such hard toil, which…could not reach completion even in the longest lifetime, would have cast them into despair and above all made them less capable for the work. It was for this reason that the system of piecemeal building was decided on. Five hundred yards could be accomplished in about five years; by that time, however, the supervisors were as a rule quite exhausted and had lost all faith in themselves, in the wall, in the world. Accordingly, while they were still exalted by the jubilant celebrations marking the completion of the thousand yards of wall, they were sent far, far away, saw on their journey finished sections of the wall rising here and there, came past the quarters of the high command and were presented with badges of honor, heard the rejoicings of new armies of labor streaming pat from the depths of the land, saw forests being cut down to become supports for the wall, saw mountains being hewn into stones for the wall, heard at the holy shrines hymns rising in which the pious prayed for the completion of the wall. All this assuaged their impatience. The quiet life of their homes, where they rested some time, strengthened them; the humble credulity with which their reports were listened to, the confidence with which the simple and peaceful burgher believed in the eventual completion of the wall, all this tightened up once again the cords of the soul. Like eternally hopeful children they then said farewell to their homes; the desire once more to labor on the wall of the nation became irresistible. They set off earlier than they needed; half the village accompanied them for long distances. Groups of people with banners and scarfs waving were on all the roads; never before had they seen how great and rich and beautiful and worthy of love their country was….
Thus, then, the system of piecemeal construction becomes comprehensible. But there were still other reasons for it as well.
Human nature, essentially changeable, unstable as the dust, can endure not restraint; if it binds itself it soon begins to tear madly at its bonds, until it rends everything asunder, the wall, the bonds and its very self.
It is possible that these very considerations, which militated against the building of the wall at all, were not left out of account by the high command when the system of piecemeal construction was decided on. …
And for that reason the incorruptible observer must hold that the command, if it had seriously desired it, could also have overcome those difficulties which prevented a system of continuous construction. There remains, therefore, nothing but the conclusion that the command deliberately chose the system of piecemeal construction. But the piecemeal construction was only a makeshift and therefore inexpedient. Remains the conclusion that the command willed something inexpedient. — Strange conclusion! … Try with all your might to comprehend the decrees of the high command, but only up to a certain point; then avoid further mediation. …12
Once the differend within double quote is recorded, the project proceeds to the next steps:
Here, no longer text is producing context. Context has become exogenous, given. We are opening the avenue for differend by deconstructing in collaboration with the bastard words. And this we name as decolonization. The process of decolonization consists of deconstruction via the inversion of the elite concepts by the subaltern concepts in collaboration with the forgotten words — within and outside the text. It is a conscious and deliberate vulgarization: a juggling, a circus of words and concepts — words and concepts forgotten and thrown away by the elite. Forgotten words, rejected words, and sometimes, leftover words.13
Decolonization, for that matter, is an umbrella concept that eludes any more theoretical elaboration. It can only be exemplified, because it is, in that sense, not a theory, but a subversion of theory. The whole procedure of decolonization is vulgarizing the true Derrida because we are no more guided here by the logic of the text, by the chronology of ‘pre-’ and ‘post-’. First, we are choosing context, and then, building into text. The whole methodology consists of the following steps.
So, here we are questioning the ideological hegemony of meaning over text. The traditional relation between text and meaning that we inherit — in the cultural, the ideological, and the political — is actually breaking down. Our vulgarization resides in overstressing context — the true Derrideans will obviously object to it. We are making context imbibed with a logical autonomy. We resort to logic because we are talking academic, talking with the ruling class. We cannot break the rules of the game. But with differend, on the plane of the writing table, in our lonesome keyboarding, we can play up unreason, prohibited emotions, reinstate the condemned, the excluded: in hysteria: writing as deviance.
But, as we have already said, no more of theorization, no more can be said in theory, the rest rests at the unrest of the cultural, political, ideological. We would now proceed into exemplifying this methodology in terms of a story by Borges.
VI. Elaborating through Borges
Let us recall the short fiction ‘Theme of the Traitor and the Hero’ by Jorge Luis Borges.
The story narrates the discursive investigations of Ryan — "he is the great-grandson of the young, the heroic, the beautiful, the assassinated Fergus Kilpatrick, whose grave was mysteriously violated, whose name illustrated the verses of Browning and Hugo, whose statue presides over a gray hill amid red marshes".
Kilpatrick was … a secret and glorious captain of conspirators, … perished on the eve of the victorious revolt which he had premeditated and dreamt of. The first centenary of his death draws near; the circumstances of the crime are enigmatic; Ryan, engaged in writing a biography of the hero, discovers that the enigma exceeds the confines of simple police investigation. … murdered in a theatre; the British police never found the killer; the historians maintain … the police themselves who had him killed. Other facets of the enigma … are of a cyclic nature: they seem to repeat or combine events of remote regions, of remote ages. … the officers found a sealed letter in which he was warned of the risk … likewise Julius Caesar …. Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, saw in a dream the destruction of a tower decreed him by the Senate; false and anonymous rumors on the eve of Kilpatrick’s death publicized … the circular tower of Kilgarvan had burned, … he had been born in Kilgarvan. These parallelisms (and others) between the story of Caesar and the story of an Irish conspirator lead Ryan to suppose the existence of a secret form of time, a pattern of repeated lines. … He is rescued from these circular labyrinths by a curious finding…: certain words uttered by a beggar who spoke with Fergus Kilpatrick the day of his death were prefigured by Shakespeare in the tragedy Macbeth. That history should have copied history was already sufficiently astonishing; that history should have copied literature was inconceivable … Ryan finds that … Nolan, oldest of the hero’s companions, had translated the principal dramas of Shakespeare into Gaelic; among these was Julius Caesar. He also discovers … an article by Nolan on … theatrical representations which require thousands of actors and repeat historical episodes…. Another unpublished document reveals to him that, a few days before the end, Kilpatrick, presiding over the last meeting, had signed the order for the execution of a traitor whose name has been deleted from the records. Ryan … manages to decipher the enigma.
Kilpatrick was killed in theater, but the entire city was a theater as well, and the actors were legion, and the drama crowned by his death extended over many days and many nights.
Nolan, under the responsibility of discovering the traitor that Kilpatrick had charged, declared in the meeting that the traitor, for whom the revolt failed repeatedly, was Kilpatrick himself.
He signed his own sentence, but begged that his punishment not harm his country.
It was then that Nolan conceived his strange scheme. Ireland idolized Kilpatrick; the most tenuous suspicion of his infamy would have jeopardized the revolt; Nolan proposed a plan which made of the traitor’s execution an instrument for the country’s emancipation. He suggested that the condemned man die at the hands of an unknown assassin in deliberately dramatic circumstances which would remain engraved in the imagination of the people and would hasten the revolt. Kilpatrick swore he would take part in the scheme, which gave him the occasion to redeem himself and for which his death would provide the final flourish.
Nolan, urged on by time, was not able to invent all the circumstances of the multiple execution; he had to plagiarize another dramatist, the English enemy William Shakespeare. He repeated scenes from Macbeth, from Julius Caesar. The public and secret enactment comprised various days. The condemned man entered Dublin, discussed, acted, prayed, reproved, uttered words of pathos, and each of these gestures, to be reflected in his glory, had been pre-established by Nolan. Hundreds of actors collaborated with the protagonist; the role of some was complex; that of others momentary. The things they did and said endure in the history books, in the impassioned memory of Ireland. Kilpatrick, swept along by this minutely detailed destiny which both redeemed him and destroyed him, more than once enriched the text of his judge with improvised acts and words. Thus the populous drama unfolded in time, until on the 6th of August, 1824, in a theater box with funeral curtains prefiguring Lincoln’s, a long-desired bullet entered the breast of the traitor and hero, who, amid two effusions of sudden blood, was scarcely able to articulate a few foreseen words.
In Nolan’s work, the passages imitated from Shakespeare are the least dramatic; Ryan suspects that the author interpolated them so that in the future someone might hit upon the truth. He understands that he too forms part of Nolan’s plot … After a series of tenacious hesitations, he resolves to keep his discovery silent. He publishes a book dedicated to the hero’s glory; this too, perhaps, was foreseen.
Like any fabulous piece of fiction, this story is complex, intricate and many-folded. At the departure of our discussion, we single out the discursive interaction between the nodal characters of the story: Ryan and Nolan, the present and the past. In fact, these two are the true protagonists of the story, enacting and actualizing the fact and the fiction through the communication that reaches Ryan from Nolan past the gap in time.
The passion that drives Ryan into and through his search is the identification with the revolt, the passion that makes the great-grandfather a hero before his eyes. This passion for the revolt he shares with Nolan, the cool fighter, but not with the great-grandfather Kilpatrick, whom he has already discovered to be a traitor.
But, this is not the only oneness between Ryan and Nolan. They both share the same discursive knowledge concerning history, Shakespeare’s dramas, Swiss Festspiele — the collective theatrical representations. And the ability to attach and correlate that knowledge with the different cues (put in by Nolan, and read out by Ryan) is shared by both of them.
Nolan and Ryan share the same search about the traitor and Ryan repeats the same trajectory that Nolan had traversed. The same discovery and the same suppression under the same passion to cover up the same Fergus Kilpatrick, due to the same regards to the Irish revolt. Here, Ryan represents, discursively, the lineage of Nolan. It is only biology, and a biology that Ryan would obviously dislike after the discovery that he and Nolan made, that lets Fergus enter between Nolan and Ryan.
The probe, and in its follow-through, the pre-conceived exposure and ensuing concealment — this is the process through which Ryan lost his lineage, the biological one. The one that passes through the father, grandfather and forefathers — the lineage of a lofty gray height of stony death — gray in the twilight of heroism and treachery. He looses it only to relocate the true and passionate one, discursively placed between him and Nolan, one standing for the vibrant red marshes of water and weeds, borrowing its hue from the Irish revolt.
We will not venture into an elaboration of the story against a model of guilt and suppression. We want to fix the frame of our reading strategy of decolonization against this story and demonstrate that the theme of writing on part of a writer is actually always in unrest between the poles of the hero and the traitor. The role the writer intends the text to play — the intended meaning and the final and actualized and selected meaning, selected by the reality of the readers that interact the text: there is always a hide and seek between these two. The text produces offshoots, the bastards: the differends, to balance between the lust and the illustrious.
Nolan recorded the differends.
Some hints, and obviously, some gaps, were there to be filled in someday by Ryan, searching about his great-grand-father and discovering him not to be so great and grand that it seemed to be.
The intended meaning of Nolan was to unveil the traitor and to instigate the man, in this case Ryan, who unveils, to leave the mythology, the intended truth, as it is. Ryan did as Nolan intended him to do. The gaps, the lacks, the differends supplied the context from where Ryan started his discursive journey and finally supplied the text, in the form of a biography of Fergus Kilpatrick, written in a way that Nolan intended. It is true for any Ryan that starts the journey and is equipped enough to complete it.
Ryan actually inverts Nolan. The bastards of Nolan’s differends find their father in the text of Ryan, the discursive inheritor of Nolan.
Or, isn’t that Borges, the writer, who does this inversion?
Borges inverts the time and the space so that times can be Time and spaces can implode into Space, rehabilitating the differend. For, what is differend in one space is referendum in another. The lost in one time becomes the illustrious in another — at a later point. The stage is then set for the local-global to emerge and the mountain starts speaking to Muhammad.
Notes:1This Chapter builds on a portion of the on-going Ph.D. thesis of Dipankar Das, the second author of this book.
2Never mind, please, if Tarkovsky’s Solaris is, well, a bit different from the Solaris that we are discussing.
3 This translation intends to be as close as possible to the original article, acquiring a higher degree of awkwardness in the sentences, as a by-product. Truthfulness, at least in translation, is not always very aesthetic.
4 Hegel's logic gives us the very definition of a category through a leap. A leap which brings into its inclusion both the reality and its negation and thus avoids the epistemological trap of being caught into the bad infinity. This bad infinity proceeds through an endless negation, indefinitely, and indeterminately, to reach absolutely nowhere. And an Althusserian category ,in the last but other instances emerges through the (inter)play of three complexes, thus rendering all categories carriers of some epistemological mythologies on their spinal chords, in the last instance controlled by the economic, thus opening the gateway for an ontological intervention.
5 Thus spake Derrida about the hierarchy of privilege within the words/concepts in a text and prescribed a deconstructive tactics of inverting these hierarchies among words/concepts by shifting the context of reading text. The Derridean process of deconstruction, in that sense, can be called a production of meanings by means of inversions of hierarchies of meanings. But this needs attention. This whole fabric lacks and looks towards a more rigorous theory. A theory of words/concepts as parts of a rhetoric in the forms of metaphors and metonyms. Derridean literature deals words as metonyms. These metonyms as generations and r/degenerations of the prior presence, as dual of the primal, represent a colony and a colonization, a rule by metonyms, through which the whole meaning is being colonized. The fear of death (and old-age) is a metonym of death that rules the youth and exorcises her/him into exercises, and thus builds her/him into a carrier and a colony of death. So, the rule by words as metonyms is a colonization of meaning — where text/discourse plays a colonizer’s role and creates the effects of colonizing. The Derridean deconstruction can be viewed as an anti-colonial move against this colonization of meanings.
6 In fact, we are imagining that, this is the way Derrida intervenes in Saussure. This is our interpretation, our construction.
7 The forgotten words vest the discourse with their footprints — traces that in their interpellation give us astounding shocks. Take the word motherland — every one conceives the motherland in the image of her mother. Place the discourse on motherland before a reader of a son of a sex-worker. Does the flexibility of the discourse allow it to be carried away into the unknown quarters — the pros-quarter — the semi-lit ante-chamber, where the son of a sex-worker, recently brought under the literacy program, goes on constructing his own image of the motherland — in the image of his mother? Here the mother in the form of a sex-worker is the forgotten word.
8 This formulation is just another version of the Kantian theory of expansion of knowledge allowing the formal Western logic a backdoor entrance. Formal Western logic with its formal methodology of reading a text plays on the role of a preacher sermonizing the reader to become aware of the forgetfulness both on his part and the text’s: be aware of the things that both you and the text have forgotten. As if the project of deconstruction is a kind of a social awareness program, pushing literature more and more into the jurisdiction of reason.
9 This completion, is obviously, an epistemological completion. Completion of the category in question, as an understandable category. Remember: there is always the ontological slippage from the epistemological category, différance being the key there, a freeze shot that both differs and defers.
10 Laclau and Mouffe reproduce Derrida’s argument on a different (Marxian) plane. They point out that closure of society is impossible because of the absence of any transcendental signifier that could serve as an underlying and intelligible element with whose help the society could be closed. In society, there is an infinite play of differences originating from the non-fixity of meaning and multiplicity of contexts. Attempts to constitute a society exist (what Laclau and Mouffe calls a sutured totality) but is constantly subverted. Since social meanings are defined by moments in which different elements come together, the field is open to a play of articulatory practices producing hegemonic relations. Hegemonic constructions are attempts to secure a sutured totality (that is, socially constructed totality) whose effort is to tie the differences together and prevent the system from collapsing. However, since each of the elements in the contextually produced enforced unity are wrought by surplus meaning, that is, differences, the hegemonic construction can only survive momentarily as the dominant unity in the social space. Hence the proposition: society as a closed totality is impossible. We would come back to this point in our Chapter Two.
11Homi Bhabha, Location of Culture.
12 Franz Kafka, The Great Wall of China, Selected short stories of Franz Kafka (The Modern Library, New York, 1952). Note the last dictum in the quotation: avoid further mediation. Did not the stalker say almost the same thing to the writer and the scientist?
13 This process may be both announced and surreptitious. Some part of the text is written down, some part of the text waits in abeyance. Some distant chanting (distant in space, distant in time) may incarnate the unwritten part of the text: conjuring, voodoo, witchcraft, Zinicism. May be the stalker’s own child is growing up with it. It is a deliberate move that he does not deliver them all. May be he is parrying with the aged academicians, glasses sliding down their slithery noses — a Dronacharya that slices out the thumb off Ekalabya: kill Ekalabya, kill them all, kill the newer ones, that is the only way you Dronaacharya can lengthen your life.