Trying to make sense of Derrida

Children fear bogeymen, Derrida writes. It is only through the repetition of some kind of magical incantation that we can rid children of this fear. The “exorcism” or “antidote” they seek is dialectics (121). He calls this practice “anamnesic dialectics,” in other words the un-forgetting dialectics, the re-membering dialectics.

There are antidotes and problems and fences and coverings, which are protections as well.

Derrida then goes on to talk about the laws. Laws are another kind of repetition, a kind of antidote against the poisons of the other. In this case, the other can stand for (signify?) something outside of the kingdom, anything not under the king’s purview. As Derrida writes: “law is always a law of repetition, and repetition is always submission to a law” (123).

There is an issue of attachment as well. People, like Socrates, become attached to their protections, to their laws, to their coverings or fences. We see this in his reluctance to leave the city in our earlier readings about the Phaedrus. If there had been less attachment on Socrates’ part, he would have been less “reluctant to cross the borders of [his] country” (123)to face the possibility of bogeymen.

Like his body, “the Socratic word does not wander” (124). He keeps his word within the law of the king, regulated by an authority. There is a fear of death if he leaves the city or the bounds of law. Derrida says this fear is “bewitching” and the reason that Socrates sticks to the laws so strictly, as though he “were under the power of an initiatic spell” that “carries away the inner courts of the soul” (124).

What I think Derrida is keying on here is the fact that this repetitive spell, this pharmakon, has no substances. It is not a medicine, per se. You cannot hold it in your hand or swallow it down your throat. It is “aneidetic” (126), which as I gather, means that it is without any image to represent it. “Eidetic” means related strongly to visual imagery; therefore “aneidetic” must mean “without visual imagery.” This seems like it might be separate from another word I will make up: polyeidetic, in which the pharmakon would have multiple images.

Derrida writes that this pharmakon as both cure and poison cannot be handled with complete surety (126). It can shift purposes or meanings. It can be poison at the same time it sparks new life. “Ambivalent.” The pharmakon becomes “the movement, the locus, and the play…the differance of difference” (127). Rather than being either cure or poison, the pharmakon is both, yet neither. Is spare significations are held in reserve, stored, “constituting [a] bottomless fund” and keeping itself forever in reserve (127). Like a trickster, the meaning of pharmakon promises much yet always manages to slip away through “concealed doorways” leading into a labyrinth: the pharmacy (128).

Are these reserve significations stored “within” pharmakos? I don’t see that being possible, since it is a word. More than that, it is a word now typed onto a computer screen, if any such idea can be real. Nothing is on my screen, except maybe some dust. These words I type are represented on the screen by energized electrons. What I see, what is presented to me, are my thoughts, my words, re-presented to me in a form that is not the way I created them.

I find it fascinating that I create these words with no sound but the soft clacking of the keyboard. My thoughts begin in my mind, then are translated into words by my mind, which are then translated, through repetitive training, into finger movements, then through the wires of the laptop to the screen, where a computer program has been taught to accept certain finger movements as letters. The letters spell out in English words readable by all English readers.

So, follow this chain of signification:

My mind/thoughts – Words (thought) – Finger movements – Electronic signals – Charged Electrons

Yet it is not so simple as this. Derrida talks about Plato’s argument against writing, in that it is only an imitative art form. I can see a certain validity in this argument, especially when I think of the idea of letters being merely interpretive images of sounds our mouths are able to make. Writing therefore only imitates speech, imperfectly at best, in much the same way that a landscape painter cannot perfectly recreate the landscape. At the most basic level, the difference that makes the landscape painting unreal is its scale. It is usually painted on a canvass no larger than four feet square or so. The real landscape painted is far larger than that, being likely several miles in size. This also works for writing. Letters written, no matter how big they are, cannot represent something without physical form: speech. They translate something that takes up no space to something spatial. Hence, writing is only imperfectly imitative, and not original.

There is more: even original thoughts which lead to speech are imperfect representations of the ideals of god because they are filtered through language. No human language, it is presumed, can come close to the perfection of the holy word. So, even when we speak, our language is not accurately representing the ideal. Language is already one step removed from perfection. Writing then, is two steps from perfection. Considering that my writing is based on Derrida (who is himself filtered through Plato, Plato’s writing, a printer, Derrida, and Derrida’s writing), filtered through a translator, a printer, my mind, my language, my fingers, my keyboard, and the monitor…by the time you get to what you read here, you are about 13 (THIRTEEN) steps from true nature. And I think I’m being conservative. No wonder so little of this makes sense!


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