Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"A Name Is Sacred": Archive Fever in Freud, Derrida, and Hubert Aquin

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

"A Name Is Sacred": Archive Fever in Freud, Derrida, and Hubert Aquin

Article excerpt

Derrick's book Archive Fever shows Freud in the feverish pursuit of origins, origins more archaic than archival memory itself, such as the origin of monotheism, and the Egyptian identity of Moses in Moses and Monotheism, or the pursuit of the slave girl Gradiva in Jensen's novel, who leaves her footprint in the ash of Mount Vesuvius. Hubert Aquin's novel Neige noire, translated by Sheila Fischman into English as Hamlet's Twin in 1974, betrays a similar archive fever in the main character Nicolas Vanesse, not only because of his "quest for the absolute" (28), the sacred place called "Undensacre," but also because his quest involves the archival source for Shakespeare's Hamlet, the thirteenth-century History of the Danes (1208-1218) by Saxo Grammaticus. The quest for Undensacre takes the narrative to a primal scene of incest in a fictionalized version of Saxo Grammaticus's Ur-Hamlet by way of a labyrinth of symbolic names, for, as one of the characters proclaims, "A name is sacred" (Aquin 32). Derrida himself is not immune to the mal d'archive where the name and the sacred are concerned, a mal d'archive that can be translated both as the "illness of the archive" or the "desire for the archive." In his essay "Comment nommer" ("How to Name"), (1) Derrida pursues the poetic source of sacred nomination in the poetry and the poetics of Michel Deguy, where Deguy "links poetic nomination, and therefore salvation in this place, namely the Vita Nova, to a Christian onomastics" ("Name" 150). The claim that Derrida seeks a poetic source of the sacred puts me at odds with Martin Hagglund's book Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life, in which he argues that Derrida's work is radically atheist and, thus, that for Derrida "nothing can be unscathed" (9). While I have great admiration for the book, Hagglund's conclusions regarding Derrida's relation to religion and the sacred are, to quote his chosen term of refutation, not only "untenable" (135) but hardly Derridean. Hagglund attempts to purge Derrida's thought of any vestige of the sacred and religion. I will argue, however, that Derrida deconstructs the traditional notion of the sacred as unscathed, or absolutely immune, discovering a new kind of sacredness, an autoimmune "sacred without the sacred."

The structural parallel between Derrida and Hubert Aquin on the matter of sacred names is that both search for the origin of the sacred through the name, much like Freud searches for the origin of the sacred in Totem and Taboo and for the origin of monotheism in Moses and Monotheism. Aquin's character is attracted to Undensacre because it is the imagined sacred place of the Oedipal fantasy and also the earthly paradise where, as one Saga states, "everyone who came there turned his back on sickness and age and would not die" (Saxo Grammaticus, II: 66). Such absolute immunity from sickness and death underlies Hagglund's objections to religious immortality. We should be careful to outline Hagglund's important objection to the religious sacred, which is based on Derrida's notion of autoimmunity as it appears in the essay "Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone." Hagglund summarizes his argument as follows: "Derrida here maintains that all religions are founded on the value of 'the unscathed' (l'indemne), which he glosses as the pure and the untouched, the sacred and the holy, the safe and the sound. According to Derrida, 'every religion' holds out such a 'horizon of redemption, of the restoration of the unscathed, of indemnification' (84n30; 75n25). The common denominator for religions is thus that they promote absolute immunity as the supremely desirable" (8). Against St. Augustine's Confessions, in which the ideal of absolute immunity is presented as the highest good and therefore the most desirable, Hagglund proposes as Derrida's argument that "nothing can be unscathed" because "autoimmunity spells out that everything is threatened from within itself, since the possibility of living is inseparable from the peril of dying" (9). …

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