Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

Ses Fantômes: The Traces of Derrida's Cinema

Academic journal article Discourse (Detroit, MI)

Ses Fantômes: The Traces of Derrida's Cinema

Article excerpt

"Le Cinéma et ses fantômes" ("Cinema and Its Ghosts"), the French title of Jacques Derrida's interview with Cahiers du ánéma, is appropriately haunted by the play within the French possessive adjective ses and the traces that both generate it and are left in its wake. In French, ses encompasses all third-person singular possessive adjectives (her, his, or its); its usage creates a direct and familiar relationship between two nouns by supplanting the potential repetition of the first and modifying the following definite article. Les fantômes becomes ses fantômes, and two separate nouns transform into a possessive relation through substitution; ses, in this formation, retains the virtual presence of the preceding term after the conjunction et. It is this virtual presence, trace, or specter in the ses that makes the title more appropriate to the interview's content than meets the eye. At first glance, most will read ses as a substitution for the preceding noun le ánéma, hence the English translation "Cinema and Its Ghosts." Yet it is possible in the context of the interview to return to the possessive adjective ses and to hear it not as just a substitute for le ánéma but also for some other unknowable "thing," a phantom it, she, or he (or her or his), or as I'd like to suggest, a nod to deconstruction (it), Derrida himself (his), and the undecidability that arises when one begins to think about ghosts.1 It is unclear and perhaps irrelevant whether the Cahiers editors had this structural undecidability in mind. Nevertheless, that they refrained from using the French possessive ¿fewith the definite article noun le cinéma, which would have reconfigured the title to "Les fantômes du cinema," or "The Ghosts of Cinema" or "Cinema's Ghosts," is significant, for the genitive ¿fe wording would also relay cinema's "possession" of ghosts, except in a more decisive and inflexible manner. The avoidance of ¿fein the title "Le Cinéma et ses fantômes" causes slippage between someone's or something's spectral possession and consequently stresses the relations between cinema and someone's or something's ghosts (but belonging to whom or to what exactly? cinema? is "it" masculine or feminine? are these ghosts proper to deconstruction? Or perhaps Derrida?) rather than entirely merging them: someone or something has its ghosts in relation to cinema, and that someone or something is permanently veiled in this configuration. She, he, it (hers, his, its)-ses-cannot be identified, assembled, or rolled up into a defined^ho or what.

Partially suspended, the title oscillates between possibilities, and one is obliged to read it in the plural. This irreducible syntactical plurality forms a parallel with Derrida's recurrent use of the French expression plus d'un, which like a number of his neologisms and other idiomatic examples of untranslatability illustrates the differences between the written and spoken articulations of the same utterance, even if they occur in the same language. As Peggy Ramuf points out, the meaning of plus d'un in French depends on the pronunciation of the "s" in the word plus: if stressed, the expression means "more than one," if silent, "no more one." Clearly a challenge for translators and readers, the expression speaks about the mobility of meaning and delivery through its own type of lexical kinesis-it speaks through its silence, in other words. Derrida draws on the written form of plus d'un because when spoken, the expression loses its plurivocality, and in the absence of vocal enunciation, and with its audible form suspended, the plural grapheme plus refuses to line up with its singular phoneme. Kamuf observes that the expression "shifts registers from that of counting by ones to that of counting without number one, or of taking account of the other than one."2 For translators such as her, this usage of plus d'un must therefore take into account both meanings and sounds concurrently and generate a conjunction that broadcasts their reckoning with a language deprived of any one voice. …

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