Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Uncanniness of Spectrality

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

The Uncanniness of Spectrality

Article excerpt

Correspondance, ici, entre deux qui, selon les apparences et les criteres communs, ne se sont jamais lus, encore moins rencontres. Freud et Heidegger, Heidegger et Freud ... Ils n'ont pas pu se lire--donc ils ont passe tout leur temps et epuise toutes leurs forces a le faire ...

--Derrida, La carte postale

For Julia

The deconstruction at the heart of any "hauntology" or "spectrology" will always be performed in the context of a clear and present danger, a danger which is found in writers as various as Sartre, Foucault, and Derrida, the danger that in specifying the role that such archaisms as lie within the compass of its concerns have played in language, we will be led inexorably into a revival of those ancient systems which had long been delegitimized in light of a scientific, empiricist, or materialist resistance to their hegemonic illusionment. This danger is found in the very root of deconstruction, in Destruktion, not only because it is destructive, but because it is anachronistic. That is to say that, to the extent that we repeat the contingencies of history, even theoretically, we thus become burdened with the responsibility of the possibility of any actual recurrence of their errors, illusions, and actual calamities--at least when we do not chance on their successes. It is this historical danger and this post-historicist remedy which re-animates the thesis concerning Gespenst as Foucault was intending in "Qu'est-ce qu'un auteur?" with God, man, and the author, to specify the rules by which such concepts have been formed and have functioned in our language, (1) so with the spectral language which determines them. As Deleuze would have it, (2) it is not so much that God and other concepts have died and must be mourned, but that we come to realize that, no matter what we are able to say about them and the effects they have had on our world, such illusions never really existed in the first place.

I would like to begin with a distinction between Sophocles's word to deinon (Unheimlichkeit, uncanniness) and Heraclitus's daimon? While the latter can be interpreted with or through Heidegger's reading in his "Letter on Humanism," along with ethos and anthropos, in the phrase ethos anthropoi daimon (Heraclitus 119), the former is found in the opening line of a Choral Ode in Sophocles's Antigone: polla ta deina kouden anthropon deinoteron pelei, which latter line is given considerable attention in Heidegger's Introduction to Metaphysics and in his Holderlins Hymne "the ister" Both these terms, deinon and daimon, possess a great deal of uncanniness and spectrality; they are "of the spirit," geistig, or geistlich. Indeed, Heidegger's letter to Jean Beaufret is particularly concerned with restoring the spirituality of daimon, its rootedness in divinity. The unfamiliarity of Unheimlichkeit signals the uncanny familiarity of these two words deinon and daimon, a resemblance which would have a more daring etymologist discovering therein a common root, but there is a clear difference between daimon and deinon. Once to deinon is translated, as in Holderlin and Heidegger, Unheimlichkeit (uncanniness), deina becomes "uncanny" and deinoteron or deinotaton, depending on which edition one is using, becomes "uncanniest" or "most uncanny." The Ode's incipit would then read something like: "there is much that is uncanny in the world, but man is by far the uncanniest," a phrase which would be echoed through the ages in the phrase of Max Stirner, in which anthropos would be die unheimlichste alle Gespenster.

Heidegger's original reading of this Heraclitus fragment attempts to come to a closer conception of the Greek meaning. Beaufret is concerned with knowing the relationship of Heidegger's ontology to a possible ethics, and in his reply, Heidegger offers an interpretation of Heraclitus's three words. Heidegger suggests that before Plato's Academy, formal disciplines such as "logic," "physics," and "ethics" were as yet unknown:

The tragedies of Sophocles--provided such a comparison is at all permissible--preserve an ethos in their sagas more primordially than Aristotle's lectures on "ethics. …

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