Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Lost and Found in Translation: Romanticism and the Legacies of Jacques Derrida

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

Lost and Found in Translation: Romanticism and the Legacies of Jacques Derrida

Article excerpt

IT IS A CURIOUS IRONY THAT JACQUES DERRIDA RARELY SPOKE OF ROMANTICISM, or of a certain "romanticism," yet the example of his thinking, teaching, and writing profoundly shaped and continues unpredictably to inflect whatever it is that we know or think we know by that volatile term. To be sure, the instability of "romanticism"--as a fickle catachresis for something that cannot quite be named and so is interminably involved in the process of being named--did not originate with Derrida's unique intervention in the humanities, but its active afterlife in the academic postmodern was ensured and made more productively convoluted because of it. In ways small and large Derrida demonstrated an uncommon generosity towards colleagues in the field, and this would include the unasked for gift of his thought, yet he happened not to make romanticism a thematic focus of his work, at least not one that he described as such. Several contributors to this volume make this point, but each exemplifies what it nevertheless means to write in the midst of a still unfolding inheritance while at the same time making the obscurities and challenges of that inheritance a part and indeed an important part of his or her work. As Derrida argued, the work on mourning and the work of mourning are always intertwined in consequential, troublesome, and responsibilizing ways that make being a legatee and a survivor both impossible and unavoidable. The futurity of the future of thinking and of making an intervention in a field of thought rests on our negotiations with the past (including a rigorous critique of the claims made in the name of the pastness of the past, and of the periodization that appears to ensure its difference from the present), whose already-thereness and thus eternal return makes it feel not like a distant memory, like "one of those speculative statements of a German Idealism that we would today study through the mists like some great philosophical archive," (1) as Derrida says ironically of Friedrich Schelling (in an essay to which we will have recourse in a moment), but something much more pressing and urgent, like what is coming or what is to come--yet another lesson that he taught romanticism and that romanticism in turn continues to teach us. The seemingly one-sided conversation that obtains between "Derrida" and "romanticism" thus stages and anticipates the opaque operation of the legacy it describes, for, to switch metaphors from a vocal to a visual register, in the wake of the philosopher's oeuvre, whose outer edges no longer seem discernible, romanticists seem almost to fall under the gaze of a gracious and beneficent master whose eyes they cannot meet, and whose mastery is anything but a sure thing. In Specters of Marx, his most sustained exploration of the vicissitudes of inheritance, Derrida called this enabling and imposing asymmetry "the visor effect"--a phenomenon that is vividly captured by Antony Gormley's steely and implacable sculpture, different images of which grace the front covers of this special double issue of Studies in Romanticism.

With the memorable exception of "Living On," an essay written not so much about but on the unending occasion of P. B. Shelley's Triumph of Life, Derrida had relatively little to say about romanticism as such. But thinkers working on the archives, histories, and conceptualities written in its name have had many different things and a great deal to say about Derrida: sometimes directly or discreetly or inadvertently, sometimes indirectly in the shape of negotiating with what is called "theory," sometimes in the form of a kind of commerce (without commerce) with troublesome ghosts ("de Man" and "history" are scholarly apparitions that come quickly to mind), sometimes with boundless curiosity or thoughtful hospitality, and sometimes inhospitably in the mode of repelling an unbidden specter. (On this latter point, it's worth recalling that it is Den-ida who argues towards the end of his life that hospitality and inhospitality share a relationship much finer than one of contrast. …

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