Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

The Rhetoric of Survival and the Possibility of Romanticism

Academic journal article Studies in Romanticism

The Rhetoric of Survival and the Possibility of Romanticism

Article excerpt

Is it possible, when one is in memory of the other, in bereaved memory of a friend, is it desirable to think of and to pass beyond this hallucination, beyond a prosopopoeia of a prosopopoeia?

--Jacques Derrida (1)

"I am myself torn ..."

IN THE OPENING SECTION OF ROGUES, ONE OF HIS LAST BOOKS, JACQUES Derrida describes his own position in approaching a topic whose contours deform and whose borders multiply with every word. Indeed, the word with which Derrida begins is "le tour"--or turn--which then turns itself becoming "la tour" (tower), trope, chance, before passing from French to Spanish, Latin, English and back. These first two "tours" also evoke, from the outset, the "Twin Towers" and the "tours" on which they were demolished, the turn of tropes (and implicitly of verse), the movement of alteration and opposition (to take turns, or speak by turns), and finally the wheel, sign of man, technology, mobility, and also of torture. The turns of which Derrida speaks also come to inflect (and reflect) the position from which he speaks, a position in which the act of speaking might preclude the position of which one speaks, which is to say, a situation of testimony. All of which is manifest in his confession: "I am myself tom or split in two." (2)

Some years earlier, in an interview devoted to forgiveness ("La Siecle et le Pardon"), Michel Wieviorka identified this structure of self-division in terms of ethics, and asked Derrida whether he is permanently divided between a "hyperbolic" ethical vision of forgiveness (or pure pardon) and the reality of a society at work in its pragmatic processes of reconciliation." (3) Here Wieviorka highlights upon a position that Derrida agrees is very much his own, and Derrida goes on to explain: "Yes, I remain 'torn,' as you say so well. But without power, desire, or need to decide. The two poles are irreducible to one another, certainly, but they remain indissociable. In order to inflect politics, or what you just called the 'pragmatic processes,' in order to change the law (which thus finds itself between the two poles, the 'ideal' and the 'empirical'--and what is more important to me here is, between these two, this universalizing mediation, this history of the law, the possibility of this progress of the law), it is necessary to refer to a '"hyperbolic" ethical vision of forgiveness'" (51). If in speaking of forgiveness, Derrida acknowledges that he is torn between the actual occurrence of forgiveness and the impossibility of true or pure forgiveness, between the empirical (that it happens) and the ideal (that it cannot), he also enjoys a relatively placid experience of this division and remains apparently untroubled by living in uncertainties.

Yet, despite the structural repetition, the experience of division emerges in quite a different way in Rogues, when Derrida promises to introduce the double question that orients--and divides--him. He begins by asking: "What is this question, divided or multiplied by two?" (7), and then goes on as I already have cited: "At the moment of confiding it to you, I am myself torn or split in two" (7). The moment, like the question, like the one who asks is divided. The question of the question ("What is this question ...") is divided, insofar as it both asks of itself (what is this question that is only of itself?) and of another (the question to come: what is it?). It is both the question of which it refers and it indicates another question yet to be asked (or recognized). And the self is divided insofar as it says that it is and insofar as it refers to itself as an object while also acting as a subject. When Derrida proceeds to refer to the moment of confession ("At the moment of confiding it to you"), he speaks both of a moment that has yet to occur as well as the moment that has just passed. Thus, both past and future, he finds himself split in two, subject and object of a question that will turn out to be the question of the very possibility, even necessity, of speaking democratically of democracy. …

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