Derrida has recently been preoccupied with what has come to be termed "possible-impossible" aporias. In particular, he has described the paradoxes that afflict notions like giving, hospitality, forgiveness, and mourning. he argues that the condition of their possibility is also, and at once, the condition of their impossibility. In this essay, I will attempt to reveal the shared logic upon which these aporias rely, and also to raise some questions about their persuasive efficacy.
I shall argue that of the two polarities evoked by each of Derrida's possible-impossible aporias (e.g., giving as possible, and giving as impossible), the "impossible" term of the opposition invariably posits a separation between two "radical singularities," or in somewhat more controversial terms, between a self and an other who is wholly other (tout autre). While I will suggest that Derrida emphasises this "impossible" aspect of giving, hospitality, forgiveness, and mourning, Merleau-Ponty's abiding emphasis upon the intertwining of self and other provides the resources to challenge this emphasis, and even to reverse it. While Merleau-Ponty rarely directly addresses the kind of aporias that concern Derrida, his chiasmic account of embodiment, and his emphasis upon the body-subject's propensity to seek an equilibrium within its environment, better accounts for the "possible" side of the aporias that Derrida describes. In the process, Merleau-Ponty's later philosophy also allows for a more politically efficacious idea of responsibility towards the other than the position to which I will argue that Derrida is tacitly committed. Despite the fact that two of Derrida's recent texts-Memoirs of the Blind, and Le Toucher: Jean-Luc Nancy-have sympathetically engaged with the work of Merleau-Ponty there remain some important differences between these theorists that are worth examining. Firstly, however, a sustained exegesis of Derrida's possible-impossible aporias is required.
The aporia that surrounds the notion of the gift revolves around the paradoxical thought that a genuine gift cannot actually be understood to be a gift. In his text Given Time, Derrida suggests that the notion of the gift contains an implicit demand that the genuine gift must somehow reside outside of the oppositional demands of giving and taking, and beyond any mere self-interest or calculative reasoning (GT 30). According to him, however, a gift is also something that cannot appear as such (GD 29), as it is destroyed by anything that proposes equivalence or recompense, as well as by anything that even proposes to know of, or acknowledge it. This may sound counter-intuitive, but even a simple "thank-you" for instance, which both acknowledges the presence of a gift and also proposes some form of equivalence with that gift, can be seen to annul the gift (cf. MDM 149). By politely responding with a "thank-you," there is often, and perhaps even always, a tacit presumption that because of this acknowledgement one is no longer indebted to the other who has given, and that nothing more can be expected of an individual who has so responded. Significantly, the gift is hence drawn into the cycle of giving and taking, where a good deed must be accompanied by a suitably just response. As the gift is associated with a command to respond, it becomes an imposition for the receiver, and it even becomes an opportunity to take for the "giver," who might give precisely in order to receive the acknowledgement from the other that they have in fact given. There are undoubtedly many other examples of how the "gift" can be deployed, and not necessarily deliberately, to gain advantage. Of course, it might be objected that even if it is psychologically difficult to give without also receiving (and in a manner that is tantamount to taking) this does not in-itself constitute a refutation of the logic of genuine giving. According to Derrida, however, his discussion does not amount merely to an empirical or psychological claim about the difficulty of transcending an immature and egocentric conception of giving. On the contrary, he wants to problematize the very possibility of a giving that can be unequivocally disassociated from receiving and taking.
The important point to ascertain is that, for Derrida, a genuine gift requires not just that it be anonymous for the receiver, but also that there is an anonymity of behalf of the giver, such that there is no accrued benefit in giving. The giver cannot even recognise that they are giving, for that would be to reabsorb their gift to the other as some kind of testimony to the worth of the self-i.e., the kind of self-congratulatory logic that rhetorically poses the question "how wonderful I am to give this person that which they have always desired, and without even letting them know that I am responsible?" This is an extreme example, but Derrida claims that such a predicament afflicts all giving in more or less obvious ways. For Derrida, the logic of a genuine gift actually requires that self and other be radically disparate, and have no obligations or claims upon each other of any kind. he argues that a genuine gift must involve neither an apprehension of a good deed done, nor the recognition by the other party that they have received,' and this seems to render the actuality of any gift an impossibility.2Significantly, however, according to Derrida, the existential force of this demand for an absolute altruism can never be assuaged, and yet equally clearly it can also never be fulfilled, and this ensures that the condition of the possibility of the gift is inextricably associated with its impossibility.
In all of Derrida's diverse ruminations there is no easy solution to this type of problem, and no hint of a dialectic that might unify the apparent incommensurability in which possibility implies impossibility and vice versa. At the same time, however, he does not intend simply to vacillate in hyperbolic and self-referential paradoxes, as he has been accused of by some philosophers.3 There is a paradoxical sense in which deconstruction actually seeks genuine giving, hospitality, forgiving, and mourning, even where it acknowledges that these concepts are forever elusive and can never actually be fulfilled. How Derrida can accomplish these different and perhaps even mutually exclusive intentions will be an enduring concern of this essay.
Indeed, it remains to be seen exactly how we can open ourselves to a gift that is beyond the systems of opposition that Derrida argues are intent on reinscribing it back into their calculative logic. According to John Caputo, the impasse that afflicts the notion of the gift is "not conceptually resolved by a bit of intellectual adroitness, but strained against performatively, by an act of generosity, by a giving which gives beyond itself, which is a little blind and does not see where it is going."4 Deconstruction, according to this interpretation, is hence envisaged as encouraging the possibility of something more fruitful than the oppositional logic that it so persuasively delineates, but what does Caputo's "giving that gives beyond itself really mean, and what could a "giving that gives beyond itself entail, if the gift is never present? Such questions will be indirectly returned to, but for the moment an alternative interpretation is also worth considering. Unlike Caputo, Cathryn Vasseleu argues that "the impossibility of the gift, is the impossibility of a difference beyond oppositional significance."5 According to her position, a genuine gift really is rendered impossible by Derrida, and we hence cannot escape the economy of exchange. The necessary inseparability of this more absolute conception of alterity (i.e., a genuine gift) from any other aspect of a relation to the other (i.e., the more calculative exchange of gifts) is precisely what makes a "genuine gift" impossible. However, if this were entirely true, then there would also be no strategy that could even shuffle just a little bit away from meta-physics and deconstruction's various interventions would hence be largely meaningless. An important question for this essay will be whether a "giving that gives beyond itself is ultimately possible or impossible, if we can momentarily resist the logic of Derrida's work that seeks to collide these two notions. According to Derrida, even if there is no absolute altruism, there are degrees and economies of narcissism (P 199), and this essay will examine deconstruction's claim to minimise this narcissistic element.
In order to begin to answer the questions just posed, it is also worth considering the aporia that Derrida associates with hospitality. According to Derrida, genuine hospitality before any number of unknown others is not, strictly speaking, a possible scenario (OH 135, GD 70, AEL 50, OCF 16). If we contemplate giving up everything that we seek to possess and call our own, then most of us can empathise with just how difficult enacting any absolute hospitality would be. Despite this, however, Derrida simultaneously insists that the whole idea of hospitality depends upon such an altruistic concept and is inconceivable without it (OCF 22). In fact, he argues that it is this internal tension and aporia that keeps the concept alive. he makes no attempt to defuse the paradoxical nature of such suggestions. On the contrary, his interest is drawn towards the notion of hospitality because the word carries its opposite within itself: it derives from "hostis," which originally meant stranger, but has now come to mean hostile.6
The significance of Derrida's point is not restricted only to the etymological domain, however. For Derrida, there is also a more existential example of this tension, in that the notion of hospitality requires one to be the "master" of the house, country, or nation (and hence controlling). Derrida's point is relatively simple here; to be hospitable, one must first have the power to host. Hospitality hence makes claims to property ownership and it partakes in the desire to establish a form of self-identity. secondly, hospitality must also involve the host having some kind of control over the people who are being hosted, because if the guests take over a house through force, then the host is no longer being hospitable towards them precisely because they are no longer in control of the situation. This means, for Derrida, that any attempt to behave hospitably is also always partly betrothed to the closing of boundaries, and to the exclusion of particular groups or ethnicities, and often to nationalism (OH 151-55). This is the "possible" conception of hospitality, in which our most well-intentioned conceptions of hospitality have a tendency to render "other others" as strangers and refugees (cf. OH 135, GD 68). Whether one invokes the current Australian insistence upon border control and its territorial waters that cannot be traversed, or simply the ubiquitous suburban fence and alarm system, it seems that hospitality always posits some kind of limit upon where the other can trespass, and hence has a tendency to be rather inhospitable.
On the other hand, as well as demanding some kind of mastery of house, country or nation, there is a sense in which the notion of hospitality also simultaneously demands a certain welcoming of whomever, or whatever, may be in need ofthat hospitality. It follows from this that unconditional hospitality, or we might say "impossible" hospitality, hence involves a relinquishing of judgment and control in regard to who will receive that hospitality. In other words, hospitality also requires non-mastery, and the abandoning of all claims to property, or ownership. If that is the case, however, the ongoing possibility of hospitality thereby becomes circumvented, as there is no longer the possibility of hosting anyone, as again there is no ownership or control. For Derrida, there is hence an aporia at the heart of any attempt to behave hospitably.
Caputo expands upon this suggestion to make an interesting and significant point. According to him, the person capable of being hospitable:
Is someone who has the power to host someone so that neither the alterity of the stranger, nor the power of the host, is annulled by this hospitality. There is an essential self-limitation built right into the idea of hospitality, which preserves the distance between one's own and the stranger.7
In treating a guest hospitably, the host is forced to negotiate a delicate balance between respecting the alterity of their guest and not relinquishing their own power. Moreover, accomplishing this relies upon establishing an important difference between the two parties and a relatively clear demarcation of the boundaries between self and other. It also implies that hospitality to the other, or to the foreigner, consists in retaining and even valorizing this difference between them and "me." There are some problems associated with such a position, and for the moment it suffices to point out that it risks legitimizing an attitude of passive "humility towards an other that is not me,"8particularly if the other is the prioritized term of this disjunction. I want to argue that this is an ontologically problematic and ethico-politically dangerous way of conceiving of our relation with alterity. It is also a position that deconstruction sometimes inclines towards, although this applies more to secondary proponents of deconstruction than to the work of Derrida himself.
Now there is a sense in which any self-other opposition at least appears to be broken down by the notion of hospitality. As well as involving claims to mastery and ownership of the house, hospitality also requires that one be graciously open to the other, disavowing all judgment, and it could be argued that this openness to alterity without discrimination is precisely that which eludes the oppositional logic of self and other. This is true in one sense, but it is also important to recognize that for this openness to alterity to count as hospitality, it must nevertheless involve two radically disparate singularities. According to Derrida, it is not hospitality when commerce enters into the equation and either party becomes aware of the ways in which they are indebted to the other. On the contrary, genuine hospitality must retain a disjunction between a self and someone, or something, that is wholly other, such that neither the alterity of the host, nor the visitor, can be annulled. The question that remains is: in what does that alterity consist, and how could it be annulled? What is this alterity that should be so preserved, as if sacrosanct? If we must be responsible to the inaccessible part of an other that should remain somehow pure and untainted, then this would appear to be simply the reverse of the traditional philosophical exaltation of an interior mental reserve (i.e., subjectivity). Were Derrida maintaining such a line of thought, he would still be succumbing to the metaphysical temptation of privileging purity and simplicity at the expense of what is complicated and contingent (cf. M 195, LI 130).
Of course, it is difficult to assert that Derrida is making such a mistake. he is not unaware that conceiving of self and other in such a clearly distinct manner artificially posits a unity to the self that is not only misleading, but also potentially inhibiting in regard to our experience of and for the other. Indeed, this is precisely what his notion of differance sought to guard against, and it is also what his criticisms of the Husserlian "now" moment sought to preclude (cf. SP 154). For Derrida, there is a trace of the other within the self, within any interior mental reserve. However, despite his insistence that the other is always entangled with the self/same, it will be argued that many of his more recent texts on aporia actually presuppose a disjunction between self and other that denies the w:ys in which such differences are always partially breached. This is not to allege that Derrida is a simple dualist, as other theorists have alleged,9 since whenever he insists upon a radical disjunction between self and other in one term of his aporia, this is inevitably accompanied by the converse in the other term of his aporia. That said, his account nevertheless presumes that such dualisms are an important factor in the various concepts that he considers. In fact, more than just being important to these concepts, it will be argued that the "impossible" separation of self and other is the emphasized side of the aporias that Derrida discerns in relation to giving, hospitality, forgiveness, and mourning.
On the other hand, Merleau-Ponty's philosophy can give us reason to reverse this priority-to accept that there is a certain aporetic structure to hospitality, forgiveness, etc., but to affirm the possible side of these aporias. I think his work can do this in two ways-firstly, through providing an ontology that emphasizes that self and other are primordially intertwined. From this ontology, Merleau-Ponty tacitly suggests that responsibility is better located in the intertwining of self and other, more than in their disjunctive element, and it will be argued that this is a necessary corrective to Derrida's account. Of course, this kind of ontological point may seem to work at a different level of analysis to Derrida's discussions, particularly given that Derrida argues that he is simply revealing the aporias at work in these concepts and not inventing them himself. However, one important aspect to the internal logic of all of these concepts (which Derrida does not consider) is the habitual significance of our embodied situation. Through an analysis of the work of Merleau-Ponty, it will be argued that the body-subject's comportment towards the world inclines us more towards the possibility of mourning, forgiveness, etc., than to their impossibility.
Derrida discerns another aporia in regard to whether or not to forgive somebody who has caused us significant suffering or pain. This particular paradox revolves around the premise that if one forgives something that is actually forgivable, then one simply engages in calculative reasoning and hence does not really forgive. Most commonly in interviews, but also in his recent text On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Derrida argues that according to its own internal logic, genuine forgiving must involve the impossible: that is, the forgiving of an "unforgivable" transgression-e.g., a "mortal sin" (OCF 32, cf. OH 39). Like the decision itself (cf. PF 69), there is hence a sense in which forgiving must be "mad" and "unconscious" (OCF 39, 49), and it must also remain heterogeneous to political and juridical rationality. This unconditional "forgiveness" explicitly precludes the necessity of an apology or repentance by the guilty party, although Derrida also acknowledges that this pure notion of forgiveness must always exist in tension with a more conditional forgiveness where apologies are actually demanded. However, he argues that this conditional forgiveness amounts more to amnesty and reconciliation than to genuine forgiveness (OCF 51). The pattern of this discussion is undoubtedly beginning to become familiar and Derrida's various discussions of forgiving are orientated around revealing a fundamental and unavoidable paradox that ensures that forgiving can never be finished or concludedit must always be open, like a permanent rupture, or a wound that refuses to heal.
However, this paradox that Derrida discerns in relation to forgiveness also depends, in one of its dual aspects, upon a disjunction between self and other. Derrida argues that "forgiveness must engage two singularities: the guilty and the victim. As soon as a third party intervenes, one can again speak of amnesty, reconciliation, reparation, etc., but certainly not of forgiveness in the strict sense" (my italics, OCF 42). Given that he also acknowledges that it is difficult to conceive of any such face-to-face encounter without a third party-as language itself must serve such a mediating function (OCF 48)-forgiveness is caught in an aporia that ensures that its empirical actuality looks to be a decidedly unlikely occurrence. To recapitulate, the reason that Derrida's notion of forgiveness is caught in such an inextricable paradox is because absolute forgiveness requires a radically singular confrontation between self and other, while conditional forgiveness requires the breaching of categories such as self and other, either by a mediating party, or simply by the recognition of the ways in which we are always already intertwined with the other (e.g., Merleau-Ponty's chiasmic conception of self and other). Indeed, Derrida explicitly argues that when we know anything of the other, or even understand their motivation in however minimal a way, this absolute forgiveness can no longer take place (OCF 49). Derrida can offer no resolution in regard to the impasse that obtains between these two notions, except that a hyperbolic oscillation between them is necessary for responsibility (OCF 51). But this hyperbolic oscillation between the two terms presumes that both of these demands are equally insistent. However, even if we accept some type of originary disjunction (cf. Merleau-Ponty's ecart), this aporia is diminished if we refuse to accord an ontological priority to either horn of this dilemma.
For example, while Merleau-Ponty also insists upon a divergence that obtains between touching and being touched (VI 148), self and other (VI 83, 160), he nevertheless argues that it is not simply a hyperbolic oscillation that obtains between these respective polarities. There is also an overlapping and encroachment, such that the experience of being touched is always betrothed to the experience of touching, and vice versa (VI 123). When one hand touches the other, there is never a situation where touching is radically opposed to being touched. Rather, there is always an ambiguity, and Merleau-Ponty hence argues that to speak of touching as if it could be disassociated from being touched, is to represent the phenomenon falsely (PP 93). This might not seem immediately related to Derrida's various discussions of the possible-impossible aporia, but Merleau-Ponty also propounds a similar argument regarding the relationship between self and other. Rather than self and other being radically opposed, there is a difference between them, but not a dualistic difference, and not even a hyperbolic oscillation between them (Sartre's master-slave dialectic stages just such an oscillation). According to Merleau-Ponty:
The self and the non-self are like the obverse and the reverse, and since our own experience is this turning around that installs us far indeed from ourselves, in the other, in the things ... by a sort of chiasm, we become the others and we become the world. (VI 160)
Merleau-Ponty's intention in this rather enigmatic passage is not to deny alterity, or to propound an "imperialism of the same" that ignores difference. His chiasmic ontology endorses an encroachment between self and other, but it will not admit of a fusion (VI 123), and his point is that an ambiguous intertwining between self and other obtains precisely because "the gaze of the other reveals an alterity that is already articulated in my own visibility."10 There is a symmetry between the problem of our embodiment in the world-typified as it is by a divergence between the sentient and the sensible that makes any conception of subjectivity possible at all-and the problem of the other. The other is inconceivable without this divergence that is already within the self, and this divergence between the sentient and the sensible is also inconceivable without the alterity of the other. These problems encroach upon each other to such an extent that as James Hatley argues:
Because the self of each particular chiasmic body is already articulated as a multi-dimensional differentiation of itself with itself, the encounter with the other becomes inextricably intertwined with one's encounter with one's self.11
Hatley's position represents Merleau-Ponty well, and there can be no encounter with the other as absolutely other, but only with the other as they impact upon and transform the alterity and divergence that are already involved in our own embodiment. There is a genuine interdependency between these two issues for Merleau-Ponty, and self and other are hence intertwined on several different levels. Now, Derrida has frequently said similar things regarding the encroachment that applies between what we think of as "self and "other" (as well as "inside" and "outside"), especially in his earlier work (cf. WD 126).12 Nevertheless, it remains the case that his possible-impossible aporias retain their aporetic nature only if we acquiesce to this disjunction between self and other (or at least between two radical singularities).
If this is not already apparent, despite insisting that an oscillation between an absolute and a more conditional notion of forgiveness is necessary for responsibility, Derrida's concrete discontent with the current French and international discussions about forgiveness-in relation to the Algerian oppression, for example-clearly revolves around forgiveness being deprived of what he describes as its absolute, "mad," and extraordinary aspect (OCF 39). In On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness at least, Derrida exhibits a nostalgia for a notion of forgiveness that is indebted to a radically disjoined conception of self and other that can admit of no mediation (for if there is any mediation between self and other, that would simply be amnesty and reconciliation). For genuine forgiveness to take place, there must be this impossible separation between self and other in which the other's motivations, background, etc., are not understood.
Now, there are at least two Merleau-Ponty inspired responses to this predicament. The first has already been partially explicated, and that would be to deny outright that this strange negotiation between radical singularities is a major and important factor in the various concepts that Derrida considers. If self and other are necessarily intertwined together, then the argument from Merleau-Ponty, to bring him artificially into the problern of forgiveness, would be that forgiveness is always conditional (i.e., amnesty and reconciliation) and that there is no reason to presume that we are actually motivated by a desire to forgive in the absolute and pure way that Derrida wants us to. This would simply be "high-altitude thinking" that is not grounded in the chiasmic intertwining that Merleau-Ponty argues is the ultimate truth (VI 69).
Such a response is no doubt a little hasty, but it does seem that Derrida's paradoxical insistence that genuine forgiving must involve forgiving the "unforgivable," is at least partly ameliorated by this fact that it is never simply a self-contained "I" that must forgive an act of another who is wholly other, radically disjoined. For Merleau-Ponty, this is ontologically the case, but it is also more empirically true. Habitual associations, or just associations per se, make self and other related and somehow even conjoined (e.g., family and friends), and the whole aporia of which Derrida speaks is hence rendered capable of change. After all, the "unforgivable" has almost always been contributed to by both parties, and forgiving is rather difficult to accomplish alone. If it is the case that any situation has always been contributed to by two people, and also blurred the boundaries between those people, then it seems difficult to suggest that any situation is unforgivable. We may not, in fact, forgive, but no situation is a priori unforgivable. So this kind of response to Derrida would try to minimize the impossible overtones of the aporia.
While these kinds of observations are not the main focus of Derrida's work, they do suggest that the compulsion of the paradox that he presents depends upon a notion of forgiveness that consistently invokes a radical singularity that admits of no mediation. He mentions this radical singularity in many of his more recent texts (PF 37, GD 60), and it seems that there is an emphasis upon singularity in Derrida's work that Merleau-Ponty does not have. For Merleau-Ponty, there can be no confrontation between two radical singularities; on the contrary, the dehiscence of the tangible-touching is the condition of subjectivity and also ensures that the other is always presupposed by and intertwined within the self, albeit in an immensely complicated manner. As Cornelius Castoriadis has pointed out, this almost renders the individual unthinkable,13 and while this might be understood as a criticism of Merleau-Ponty's work, there is also a sense in which it is an accurate account of the complexities of the life-world.
Of course, we should not forget that Derrida argues that the concepts of hospitality, forgiveness, etc., are aporetic according to their own internal logic, and it would be reductive to simply deny that there is any aporia at play in these notions. But what Merleau-Ponty's philosophy can do, I think, is to grant this, and hence to grant that Derrida is correct on the level of what he says. But Derrida, who does not thematize the body in anything like the depth that Merleau-Ponty does, ends up emphasizing the impossible side of the aporia (e.g., the impossibility of a genuine gift), even while acknowledging the "possible" aspect to it. Merleau-Ponty's work, with its embodied focus, does the reverse. He offers us ontological and practical reasons for prioritizing the possible side of the aporia. Rather than there simply being an oscillation between possible and impossible that cannot be resolved (which tacitly emphasizes the impossibility of dissolving the aporia) there may be ontological and habitual reasons for thinking that the structure of any such possible-impossible opposition is inclined to be broken down, and gradually to favor the possible side of these various aporias.
Indeed, the second response to Derrida's possible-impossible aporias that is indebted to the work of Merleau-Ponty is to emphasize the way in which our embodied situation itself inclines us towards forgiving. Even if both polarities of the Derridean aporia can be said to be important and defining features of the concepts that he considers, according to a common-sense conception of things, it would nevertheless seem that many of us do eventually give, forgive, mourn, etc. One explanation of this might be that a past misdeed by those close to us, for example, is gradually reabsorbed into the entirety of our situation, and our lives structured around it such as to overcome the problem. This is something that Merleau-Ponty's discussion of the body-subject's movement towards an equilibrium also implies (PP 153). According to his analysis in Phenomenology of Perception, in order to cope with our environment we consistently adjust our behavioral modes in order to minimize confrontations, aporias, and anything that might disrupt our "intentional arc" towards the world (PP 136, 153, 250). Although Merleau-Ponty does not explicitly suggest this himself, this might also involve excluding anything likely to induce painful recollections.
Now Derrida and Merleau-Ponty are not necessarily in opposition with each other here. By changing one's behavior in order to maintain an equilibrium with the environment, or to retain a semblance of sanity given an unforgivable betrayal, one is also testifying to that which has induced that alteration, and it might hence be argued that forgiving has not really taken place, as grievances are still tacitly held. But it is important to recognize that this is not a consciously reflective activity, and the fact that the body excludes things from our particular horizons of significance is not something that should be ignored. Nietzsche has remarked that "without forgetfulness, there can be no happiness, no hope, no present,"14 and Merleau-Ponty describes an embodied habituality that is an abandoning of the "I think" in favor of an "I can" (PP 137); it is a forgetting that is simultaneously a recognition of a way beyond that which has caused the consternation. Our corporeality accommodates us to our situation, it turns a wound into a scar, and it almost forgives and forgets for us. Of course, forgetting and forgiving are not the same thing, but this type of habitual forgetting, which occurs as the body-subject adjusts to its environment over a period of time, is a necessary accompaniment to the possibility of forgiving and it also blurs the boundaries between these two apparently distinct notions.
If the point of this discussion is not yet apparent, there seems to be a way in which the impasse involved in the paradoxical necessity to forgive the unforgivable can be gradually ameliorated through our embodied situation. The structure of Derrida's possible-impossible aporias-in which the terms of an opposition rely upon each other (in that they are considered to be indissociable) but never actually manage to interact (e.g., a wound that refuses to heal)seem to be capable of a recuperation that gradually diminishes the aporia and allows forgiveness to take place. Time, as they say, heals all wounds.
Now Derrida might respond that this claim that our corporeal comportment towards the world inclines us towards forgiving, mourning, etc., is simply equivalent to conditional forgiveness (i.e., amnesty) and hence does not refute the more transcendental and absolute notion of forgiveness that inspires it. Perhaps this is so, but what does it mean for the Derridean aporia if it is the case that this conditional forgiveness is inscribed in our embodied temporality? Our embodiment in the world compels us into action, and into moving on, and this situation delimits the range and extent of our experience of the forgiveness aporia. Merleau-Ponty's philosophy can hence be envisaged to provide an important supplement to the forgiveness aporia, in that the structure of the possible-impossible opposition can be gradually diminished via the body's increasingly refined adjustment to the particularities of its environment. Of course, this is not a supplement that Derrida would be likely to endorse.
I have examined this notion of an embodied comportment towards the world in further depth elsewhere,15 but the main point to ascertain from the preceding discussion is that Derrida's forgiveness aporia partially relies upon a conception of self and other that admits of no mediation. Moreover, in prioritizing the necessity of preventing the alterity of the other from being annulled, his understanding of hospitality has also been seen to depend upon a rather precise self and other demarcation. It is now worth devoting further analysis to another of his possible-impossible aporias, and one in which this type of disjunction between self and other is more difficult to discern.
In Memoires: for Paul de Man, which was written almost immediately following de Man's death in 1983, Derrida reflects upon the political significance of his colleague's apparent Nazi affiliation in his youth, and he also discusses the pain of losing his friend. Given that it is difficult to conceive of the process of grieving without some recognition of the intermingling of self and other that ensures that the death of a loved one is so traumatic, it is not surprising that in this text, Derrida envisages the other as being "within" the self more consistently and obviously than he does in many of his more recent texts.
Derrida's argument about mourning adheres to a similarly paradoxical logic to that which has been associated with him throughout this essay. he suggests that the "successful" mourning of the deceased other actually fails-or at least is an unfaithful fidelity-because the other becomes a part of us, and in this interiorization their genuine alterity is no longer respected. On the other hand, failure to mourn their death paradoxically appears to succeed, because the presence of the other in their absolute exteriority is prolonged (MDM 6). As he suggests, there is a sense in which "an aborted interiorization is at the same time a respect for the other as other" (MDM 35). Hence the possibility of an impossible bereavement, where the only possible way to mourn, is to be unable to do so. If Derrida remained within such a schematic and insisted that this aborted interiorization was a respect for the other as other, then this would return us to the type of problematic that I have already expressed some reservations about-that being the threat of deconstruction engendering a passive humility before an other that is elusive. However, even though this is how he initially presents the problem, Derrida also problematizes this "success fails, failure succeeds" formulation (MDM 35).
Moreover, in his essay "Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok," Derrida again considers two models of the type of encroachment between self and other that is regularly associated with mourning. Borrowing from post-Freudian theories of mourning, he posits (although later undermines) a difference between introjection, which is love for the other person in me, and incorporation, which involves retaining the other person as a pocket, or a foreign body within one's own body. For Freud, as well as for the psychologists Abraham and Torok whose work Derrida considers, successful mourning is primarily about the introjection of the other person, and where they are consumed within us. The preservation of a discrete and separate other inside the self, as is the case in incorporation, is considered to be where mourning ceases to be a "normal" response and instead becomes pathological. Typically, Derrida reverses this hierarchy and order of Subordination by highlighting that there is a sense in which the supposedly pathological condition of incorporation is actually more respectful of the other's alterity. After all, incorporation means that one has not totally assimilated or digested the other, as there is still a difference and heterogeneity (EO 57). On the other hand, Abraham and Torok's "normal" mourning can be accused of interiorizing the other to such a degree that they have become assimilated and even metaphorically cannibalized.16 Derrida considers this introjection to be an infidelity to the other, although it will be argued that this type of mourning has more to recommend it than he allows. Indeed, it will be shown that Merleau-Ponty's notion of responsibility towards alterity is more "digestive" and appropriative, and it will also be argued that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, it is worth recognizing that Derrida's account is not so simple as to unreservedly valorize the incorporation of the other, even if he consistently emphasizes this paradigm in an effort to refute the canonical interpretation of successful mourning. he also acknowledges that the more the self "keeps the foreign element inside itself, the more it excludes it" (Fors xvii). Refusing to engage with the other, we exclude their foreignness from ourselves and hence prevent any transformative interaction with it. When fetishized in their externality in such a manner, the dead other really is lifeless and it is significant that Derrida describes the death of de Man in terms of the loss of exchange and of the transformational opportunities that he presented (MDM xvi).17 Derrida's point hence seems to be that in mourning we must oscillate between introjection and incorporation, but the "otherness of the other" nevertheless resists both the process of incorporation as well as the process of introjection. The other can neither be preserved as a foreign entity, nor introjected fully within. Instead, the other must always resist my memory and interiorization of them, and remains outside the grasp of subjectivity-that is, wholly other (tout autre). Towards the end of Memoires: for Paul de Man, Derrida suggests that responsibility towards alterity is precisely about respecting and even emphasizing this resistance of the other, as well as the concomitant impossibility of mourning (MDM 160, 238). It is on this point that he parts company with Merleau-Ponty, and there are again two main responses that Merleau-Ponty's work can help us furnish.
The first would to point out that while Merleau-Ponty has rarely written specifically on either death or mourning,18 he regularly implies that responsibility towards alterity is precisely about respecting the ways in which self and other, as well as self and world, are inextricably intertwined together. For example, while Sartre tries to respect alterity by maintaining that the other is that which is forever elusive and can never be known, in The Visible and the Invisible Merleau-Ponty accuses Sartre of propounding an "agnosticism in regards to the other" (VI 79). What Merleau-Ponty is trying to elucidate via this phrase is the way in which when Sartre tries to guarantee the alterity of the other. he does so by arguing that for Sartre there can be no perception of the other, because any attempt to describe alterity inevitably marks the triumph of "disguised solipsism" (VI 79). Rather than limit alterity to any determinate shape or form, Sartre simply describes the other as a freedom that transcends my freedom. But for Merleau-Ponty, the worst of infringements upon alterity is to privilege it simply as that which is forever elusive. In the end, this engenders an "anonymous, faceless obsession, an other in general" (VI 72), that ignores the importance of the ways in which we are always intertwined with the other-a recognition which is, of course, necessary for the other to challenge or de-center us at all.
For Merleau-Ponty, responsibility towards alterity is precisely about immersion in the "natal bond" where self and other chiasmically encroach upon one another (VI 136). 19His philosophy affirms the transformation of self and other (a mutual devouring, and alterity is best construed as that which literally alters), whereas Derrida more actively affirms an ethics of the other's resistance to this transformative dialectic (an aversion to digestion). From this perspective, Merleau-Ponty would hence be more inclined to affirm the possibility of mourning, and the way in which a responsible treatment of the dead other would be to successfully mourn and hence incorporate/introject them within.
But secondly, Merleau-Ponty's work also highlights that our embodied situation itself goes a significant way towards allaying the aporia of which Derrida speaks. As was the case in relation to the forgiveness aporia, Merleau-Ponty would affirm the importance of the body to any process of grieving. just as forgiveness is made increasingly possible by the bodies adjustment towards its environment, so our habitual forgetting makes possible something that we may call successful grieving. Without wanting to sound reductive to those of you who have experienced intense grief, it seems coherent to argue that the process of grieving becomes easier, or at least changes, as the body acclimatizes to its new environment, develops new habits, and hence necessarily forgets certain important things from the past. Derrida does not discuss the body, or this kind of possibility, and I think that his aporias are hence presented in a way that does not do justice to either the phenomena themselves, or to an important aspect of the logic of these concepts.
To summarize, I have two related criticisms of Derrida's later work. Firstly, it downplays the significance of the ways in which self and other are intertwined together by insisting upon the importance of two radical singularities to each of his possible-impossible aporias. secondly, even if we grant Derrida the efficacy of a certain aporetic structure that governs giving, hospitality, forgiveness, and mourning, he does not consider the ways in our embodied situation may itself incline the aporias of which he speaks more towards the "possible" rather than the "impossible" side of the aporia. While Derrida argues that genuine forgiveness requires the separation of self and other, before then bemoaning the impossibility of this ever occurring, Merleau-Ponty argues that it is in the transformation and intertwining of categories like self and other that meaning actually resides.
University of Tasmania, Launceston 7250 Tasmania, Australia
1. Jacques Derrida, as cited in John Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), pp. 18-19, cf. p 144.
2. For Derrida, it is undecidable whether the notion of the gift is a possible or an impossible ideal, as it is inordinately difficult to justify any suggestion that a gift beyond the economy of exchange (i.e., calculative giving and taking) exists. How could anybody conceive of a giver who had forgotten their own act of giving in the act itself, and hence forgotten and abandoned their own irremediable individuality? And yet it cannot be said, a priori, that the gift does not exist. From what Archimedean perspective could one sceptically repudiate altruism?
3. Thomas McCarthy, "The Politics of the Ineffable: Derrida's Deconstructionism," The Philosophical Forum 21 (Fall-Winter 1989-90): 146.
5. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 112.
5. C. Vasseleu, Textures of Light: Vision and Touch in Irigiray, Levinas and Merleau-Ponty (London: Routledge, 1998), p. 63.
6. Jacques Derrida, "Hostipitality," Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 5 Dec (2000): 3-4. Also see Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, p. 110.
7. Ibid., p. 110.
8. This is a phrase Vicki Kirby uses to encapsulate a certain interpretation of Derrida that she associates with Drucilla Cornell, among other theorists. However, Kirby rather vehemently disagrees with this interpretation of Derrida that makes alterity forever elusive and a "difference that is so foreign to me that it cannot be known." While Kirby is right to be wary of this tendency on the grounds that it prohibits a genuinely ethical relation to the other, I think that Derrida equivocates on this issue rather more often than she allows. see Kirby, Telling Flesh: The Substance of the Corporeal (London: Routledge, 1997), p, 99.
9. M. C. Dillon, Semiological Reductionism: A Critique of the Deconstructionist Movement in Postmodern Thought (Albany: SUNY Press, 1995), p. 3.
10. James Hatley, "Recursive Incarnation and Chiasmic Flesh: Two Readings of Paul Celan's 'Chymisch,'" in Fred Evans & Leonard Lawlor, eds., Chiasms (Albany: SUNY Press, 2000), p. 237.
11. Ibid., p. 238.
12. Moreover, Derrida' s notion of difference also arguably entails a quite closely related position, even if it is not, strictly speaking, within the purview of phenomenology. For a collection of essays that explores the relationship between Merleau-Ponty's notion of ecart and Derridean differance, see M. C. Dillon, ed., Ecart and Differance: Merleau-Ponty and Derrida on seeing and Writing (Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press 1997).
13. Cornelius Castoriadis, "Merleau-Ponty and the Weigt of the Ontological Tradition," Thesis Eleven 36 (1993): 18.
14. Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), pp. 57-58.
15. see my article "Habituality and Undecidability: A Comparison of Merleau-Ponty and Derrida on the Decision," International Journal of Philosophical Studies 10 (November 2002): 449-66.
16. For a more detailed account of this predicament, see P. Deutscher, "Mourning the Other, Cultural Cannibalism, and the Politics of Friendship," in Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 10(1998): 166.
17. This is a persistent theme of Derrida's eulogies in regard to his colleagues. see his collection of essays entitled The Work of Mourning, and in particular his evocative essay on Deleuze.
18. Merleau-Ponty's personal life was shaped by both death and mourning, however. As well as the perpetual absence of his father, who died in World War I, according to Sartre, the death of Merleau-Ponty's mother in the 1950s induced depression in him for a very long period of time. Sartre even goes so far as to suggest that Merleau-Ponty was himself "born to die." see Jean-Paul Sartre, "merleau-Ponty," in Situations, trans. Benita Eisler (New York: George Braziller, 1965), p. 246. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty also briefly claims that we live in an atmosphere of death in general. Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962), p. 364.
19. I argue for this understanding of MerleauPonty's later work at length in my article "Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, and the Alterity of the Other," Symposium 6 (2002): 63-78.
TEXTS OF DERRIDA AND MERLEAU-PONTY AND THEIR ABBREVIATIONS
Derrida, J., Acts of Literature, trans. Peggy Kamuf, ed. Derek Attridge. New York: Routledge, 1992 (AL).
_____. Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, trans. Pascale-Anne Braull and Michael Naas. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1999 (AEL).
_____. The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, trans. Peggy Kamuf, ed. McDonald. New York: Schocken Books, 1985 (EO).
_____. "Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok," trans. Barbara Johnson, in Abraham, N. and M. Torok, The Wolfman 's Magic Word: A Cryptonomy, trans. ??? Rand. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986 (Fors).
_____. Gift of Death, trans. David Wills. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995 (GD).
_____. Given Time: i. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992 (GT).
_____., "Hostipitality," mAngelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities 5 (December 2000): 1-14.
_____. Le Toucher: Jean-Luc Nancy. Paris: Galilee, 2000.
_____. Limited Inc, (inc. "Afterword"), ed. Gerald Graff, trans. Samuel Weber. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998 (LI).
_____. Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982 (M).
_____. Memoires: for Paul de Man, trans. Cecile Lindsay, Jonathan Culler, and Eduardo Cadava. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989 (MDM).
_____. Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993 (MB).
_____. Monolingualism of the Other or the Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensh, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996 (MO).
_____. Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1976 (OG).
_____. & Dufourmantelle, A., Of Hospitality, trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000 (OH).
_____. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. London: Routledge, 2001 (OCF).
_____. Points... Interviews, 1974-1995, ed. Elizabeth Weber, trans. Peggy Kamuf etal. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995 (Points).
_____. "The Villanova Roundtable: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida," in Deconstruction in a Nutshell, ed. John Caputo. New York: Fordham University Press, 1997, pp. 3-28 (DN).
_____. The Work of Mourning, eds. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
_____. Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978 (WD).
Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962 (PP).
_____. The Primacy of Perception: and Other Essays on Phenomenology, Psychology, the Philosophy of An, History and Politics, ed. James M. Edie. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964 (PrP).
_____. Prose of the World, trans. John O'Neill. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1969 (PW).
_____. The Visible and the Invisible, trans. Alphonso Lingis. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1968 (VI).…