The Self, The Other, and the Many: Derrida on Testimony
By Morin, Marie-Eve
This essay takes up the question of whether the self constitutes the other (as Husserl believed) or whether the other institutes the self (as Levinas argues). It examines how Derrida’s concept of testimony and his work on the structure of the sign leads us away from this debate into a necessary openness to plurality or community. Much of the discussion about “the self and the other” in contemporary continental philosophy has centred on the question of “who comes first.” While one side, which we could roughly call Husserlian, argues that all meaning comes from the self and that all otherness must be constituted by the self, the other side, roughly Levinasian, responds that it is the call of the other that first institutes the self in its freedom and responsibility. Jacques Derrida’s work has often been read as a defence of the primacy of the other instituting the self, forcing the self to answer and condemning it to an infinite responsibility. In short, Derrida’s work has been often read and understood in line with a Levinasian ethic. There are numerous texts that undeniably support this reading, not least among them Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas. In this paper, I want to distance myself from this reading and propose another reading of Derrida according to which what is primary for him is neither the self nor the other, but a quasi-transcendental community of witnesses. Of course, by calling the necessary openness to plurality “community,” I am forcing the meaning of Derrida’s texts. Derrida has indeed expressed in many places his reserve against both the word and the thing “community,” as well as an unwillingness to write the word in his own name (Points 355; Politics 304-305). Despite those reserves, I think that a quasi- transcendental “community” is the inevitable result of Derrida’s work on writing and on the sign.
To clarify what is meant by that and to better situate Derrida’s own position, I propose to draw a comparison between Husserl, Blanchot, and Derrida, so as to show where the latter’s community of witnesses is indebted to the two former thinkers, but also takes issue with Husserl and Blanchot. Along the way, it will be necessary to underline some of the key aspects of Levinas’s ethics. From Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations, Derrida adopts the point of view that otherness can never be presented directly, but always needs to be appresented (a term that will be explained later). Contrary to Husserl, however, Derrida does not see the primary appresentation of the other in perception, but, closer to Levinas and Blanchot, in speech (la parole). But because speech is writing, because there is no address without a sign, without the inscription of the singular address in a readable (and therefore repeatable) sign, the appresentation of the other in speech can never be pure or singular. These three points: the necessary non-access to otherness, the necessity to address or to speak to the other, the necessary inscription of speech, are all constitutive of testimony or of what I want to call, in the end, the quasi-transcendental community of witnesses.
Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, as the subtitle tells us, is an introduction to phenomenology as transcendental science or as the science of transcendental subjectivity.We gain access to the transcendental sphere by effecting the transcendental reduction, that is, by putting the world of empirical experiences in parentheses, by neutralizing our belief in it. The bracketing-out of our natural belief in the existence of the empirical world allows the meditating ego to focus on its cogitationes and its related cogitata, or, in other words, on its acts of consciousness and the objects as they are intended in them.Husserl explains: “The epoche [the reduc-tion] can also be said to be the radical and universal method by which I apprehend myself purely: as ego, and with my own pure conscious life, in and by which the entire Objective world exists for me and is precisely as it is for me” (21). In the reduction, not only does the existence of the world get bracketed but also the existence of other egos, so that “rightly we should no longer speak communicatively in the plural” (19).
The question is now: Doesn’t such a radical beginning condemn phenomenology to solipsism? The science of transcendental subjectivity begins as pure egology and has, as its only object of study, the transcendental ego of the meditating person. Can phenomenology as self-elucidation explain the constitution of another ego alien to my own consciousness? The question is highly important for Husserl’s project as a whole. Even if the world does not go away in the transcendental attitude, and even if the phenomenological analysis can explain the constitution of all objects for my consciousness, still the world remains a subjectively “immanent” world, and the objects remain immanent transcendence, as long as they are only constituted by me. The world, for Husserl, is minimally only the horizon of my own experiences, and objects are the unities of my own possible experiences. The third Meditation explains how I, as transcendental ego, constitute something like an object. The ego, while describing its own conscious life, looks for motivations to transcend the manifold of what is given so as to posit one identical, persistent object (see Phanomenologie 8-10). This I can do alone. But to be able to lay claim to objectivity, the objects have to appear as independent of my own consciousness. This means, for Husserl, that they must be constituted intersubjectively. Before Husserl can describe the intersubjective or communal constitution, he must explain how, in my own transcendental subjectivity, other egos can be constituted. Only when the constitution of the transcendental community has been explained can phenomenology lay claim to be the science of the objective world.
The fifth Cartesian Meditation is dedicated to the constitution of the alter ego. The first step is to reduce the transcendental sphere of experience to the sphere of ownness, “by abstraction of everything that transcendental constitution gives me as Other” (93). We put in parentheses all objects that in one way or another point to other subjects, and consequently, the meaning “objective” that is attached to all objects. This reduction within reduction uncovers a sphere of experience, namely the sphere of ownness or of primordial experience, on which the constitution of otherness will be founded. Now, it must be shown how, out of what is left in my primordial sphere, another ego can be constituted, an ego that transcends my own consciousness and does not belong to it as a part. What in my primordial sphere motivates the constitution of an alter ego? To understand this, we must look at the way my consciousness intends or is directed toward otherness.
The other is experienced by means of a pairing association between my animate body (the only body that is grasped as animated in the primordial sphere) and that of the other. This pairing first occurs when a body enters in my perceptual field, whose similarity motivates a transfer of meaning. Thus we have a perception that includes a presentation and two appresentations, two additions in relation to what is given directly:
1) The body of the other as material thing is presented, is experienced originally.
2) The appresentation of my own animated body, as it would appear if I were there at the place of this material thing, is triggered by the similarity between the thing there and this appresentation of myself. The thing there looks like me and behaves as I would if I were there at the place of the foreign body. This appre-sentation can never be turned into a presentation, since my animated body is bound to the absolute “here.” I can never stand there and look at myself standing there from here.
3) A transfer of meaning is triggered and another ego is appresented as acting within or presiding over the presented body- thing. This appresentation can also never be turned into a presentation. If I were able to experience the other ego originally or immediately, it would no longer be foreign or other.While the apperception, the surplus perception, of the back side of a table can be turned into the front side and be presented directly (by walking around the table), the alter ego offers no such possibility. The meaning “alter ego” can only be fulfilled or verified by a harmonization of different appresentations, but never by direct presentations.
Since the animated body of the other is the first object to be intersubjectively constituted, it is also the first to receive the meaning “objective.” It is constituted by me as a certain material thing and it is also constituted by me as being originally constituted in another sphere of ownness. The animated body of the other is the point of intersection of two constitutions and of two spheres of ownness. But how can those two perspectives, those two spheres be brought together? How can the body-thing experienced by me in the mode of the there be identified with the animated body experienced by the other in the mode of the here? Husserl’s answer is simple: what is presented (the body-thing there) and what is appresented (the animated body of the other) always already belong to the unity of the same object. This explains why this perception is an experience of the other and not just an experience of a thing as a sign, indication, or picture of an always absent other. The absolute gap that separated the two primordial spheres (the original and the appresented), was already bridged by the unity of the act of perception that unifies the presented and the appresented. The objectivity of objects arises out of a double layering: to the object as it is constituted in my primordial sphere, an appresentative layer is added, a layer that stems out of my experience of the alter ego. Transcendental egos meet in the world, they experience each other at the intersecting point between spheres of ownness, where the world is not only constituted by me, but also constituted in me as being at the same time constituted by others.We could say that the egos that meet in the world if this expression do not run the risk of being interpreted “naturally” in the sense of the empirical world. To say that the transcendental ego constitutes the other means that otherness, as radical as it may be,must be related to the ego as the sphere of all possible sense in order to be experienced at all. Husserl’s description of the constitution of otherness attempts to show how “meaningful” and “given” are not here terms that designate full presence, full assimilation, or full access.What Husserl shows is that there is no other without an ego who can make its appearance, its entrance, or its coming-on-the- scene meaningful. The ego is, in this sense, the condition of possibility of the other (see Husserl, Cartesian 84-85). But this primacy must be qualified in two ways. First, despite the active connotation of the constitution-story, otherness is first given to the ego by the other, that is by its entering my perceptual field. Second, it is not clear to what extent the fifth Cartesian Meditation does not beg the question of otherness. Indeed, the body- thing there cannot be immediately paired with my experienced body. The pairing of my body with the body-thing there is triggered not by the “inner” or “lived” experience of my body, but by the experience of my body as a physical object, as it would look if I were there. One must ask to what extent it is possible to physicalize and objectify my lived body in my sphere of ownness were it not for a pre-existing structure of otherness (see Smith 220-24; 247-51). To gain a sense of my own body as physical thing, I would have to already have become other than myself.
Derrida’s positive attitude toward the fifth Cartesian Meditation can be found in his essay “Violence and Metaphysics”: “Husserl’s most central affirmation concerns the irreducibly mediate nature of the intentionality aiming at the other as other. It is evident, by an essential, absolute and definitive self-evidence that the other as transcendental other (other absolute origin and other zero point in the orientation of the world), can never be given to me in an original way and in person, but only through analogical appresentation” (123-24). This reference to the central affirmation of Husserl’s Meditations is found throughout Derrida’s work (see Gift 78; Politics 256; Derrida and Ferraris 73) and can be seen as an answer to Levinas, for whom the analogical appresentation of the other under the form of an alter ego, as an example of the eidos “ego,” violently neutralizes its otherness in making it an object of my experience. For Levinas, the ego exists as appropriation. In other words, the ego necessarily brings all that which lies outside of it-that is, the foreign, the other-back to itself. It lives in a circular movement that always necessarily comes back to the same. This primary egoism, according to Levinas, can only be interrupted or breached by the entrance of the absolute other, of the face. Levinas related this appearance to the idea of the Infinite, which- as Descartes rightly saw-cannot be of my own making since it contains more than what I myself am. What Levinas finds in the relation between the idea of the Infinite in me and the Infinite itself is a relation that does not sublate the transcendence of the transcendent: “Infinity does not enter into the idea of infinity, is not grasped; this idea is not a concept” (Collected 54). The same relation can be found between the idea I have of the other in me and the other itself in its otherness. 1 For Levinas, the other (the face) must be absolutely foreign, it must at any time transcend the idea that I can have of it in me. The face is the way in which the other presents itself in transcending the idea of the other in me. It is the place of resistance to integration, understanding, assimilation. I do not see the face, I see the form that manifests the face as that which is necessarily ab-solute, ab-solved (Taylor 351-52).
So far, nothing that has been said about the relation between the face and the ego is necessarily in contradiction with Husserl. In “Violence and Metaphysics,” Derrida shows how Husserl can resist, at least partially, Levinas’s attacks. Derrida claims, contrary to Levinas, that the analogical appresentation of the other, far from being violent, constitutes the condition of possibility of respect. This affirmation can be broken down into two separate claims. First, Husserl recognizes the necessity that the other appears, for the ego, that he becomes a phenomenon for me. The otherness of the other can only be respected if the other appears to me. Denying the other any appearance out of respect would amount to the worst violence: the violence of nonexistence, of non-meaning. Levinas, too, must let the face manifest itself. Second, despite this appearance, Husserl is not transforming the other into a part of my own ego, but is speaking of the absolute other under the name of the alter ego. What he describes by means of the analogical appresentation is exactly the appearance of an original non-presence, of an irreducible non- phenomenality. The transfer of meaning allows the thing there to be experienced as animated body, as a body over which a transcendental ego supervenes. Otherness is always given in an appresentation. Worldly objects owe their relative otherness to appresentations, which can become presentations by changing position (e.g. their back side). The radical otherness of the other results from the fact that the other is, like me, a transcendental ego. Thus, in saying “ego” to the other, I do not assimilate it into myself (also an ego) but grant it an absolute otherness that is refused to all other objects: “If the other were not recognized as a transcendental alter ego, it would be entirely in the world and not, as ego, the origin of the world. [. . .] The egoity of the other permits him to say ‘ego’ as I do; and this is why he is Other, and not a stone, or a being without speech in my real economy. Despite the logical absurdity of this formulation, this economy is the transcendental symmetry of two empirical asymmetries” (“Violence” 125-26). Derrida explains this paradox further: “the other is absolutely other only if he is an ego, that is, in a certain way, if he is the same as I. Inversely, the other as res is simultaneously less other (not absolutely other) and less ‘the same’ than I” (127). Because we are as egos the same, we are separated by an unbridgeable gap-that is, we are not the same.
Even if Derrida wants to grant Husserl the necessity of the manifestation of the other to an ego, and thereby grant a certain primacy to the ego, he does so only by modifying significantly the mode of appresentation of the other. Otherness is not primarily appresented by means of a worldly perception, but in discourse, language, speech. I do not see the other, or more precisely, I do not see its otherness. Nor do I see what the other sees, and consequently I do not see it seeing me.Where there is sight, there is no desire, and where there is no sight, there is speech. This resonates closely with the work of Levinas and Blanchot. For Levinas, the face of the other speaks (Totality 66); its absolution from its manifesting form is above all a verbal command, an address, that takes the form “Thou shalt not kill” (Collected 55). This command transforms the self into an answer, it institutes the self as infinite responsibility, as an infinite apologetic (Totality 87).
Blanchot, following Levinas, interchangeably names the absolute relation-the relation between two ab-solved terms-language or speech (parole) (see, for example, The Infinite Conversation 55). It should be noted right away that, for Blanchot, “speaking, like writing, engages us in a separating movement, an oscillating and vascillating departure” (28). Therefore, speech is not linked to the presence of the ego who is thereby presented to the outside, but is first and foremost an absencing, an interruption that measures the absolute distance of otherness. An indication of this distant interruption is the fact that, despite the expression, we never speak together, but always one after the other: “when two people speak together, they do not speak together, but each in turn: one says something, then stops, the other something else (or the same thing), then stops” (75). The interruption of speech can be dialectical, it can be the one that gives speech its breathing and makes dialogue possible. But there is also another, more radical form of interruption: a certain waiting or exile that measures the absolute distance between the two interlocutors (78-79). In The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, Blanchot works out this relation:
That “we” impressed me, appeared to have a different tone. It seemed to me that before he spoke he had withdrawn from my vicinity, had exiled himself, and this exile became the basis of the understanding, whence, then, like a breath exhaled, the life of speech, worn, burned, yet strangely alive, was expressed. That “we” appeared to me to be an allusion to that exile, to the fascinating need to distance himself under the pretext of coming close, and it occurred to me that if I had to expend such strength in these conversations, it was because I first had to distance him, distance myself from him, and the greater the distance was, the more profound and true the speech was, like everything that comes from far away. [. . .] What I have just called exile did not evoke separation, but return, presence in the shinning world of negligence, and perhaps the effort I was making consisted in opening up, everywhere I happened to be, an interval that was his dwelling place, in erecting the tent of exile where I could communicate with him-because he was not there. (44-45) The absence of the two members has to do with a certain not-seeing: the other comes to me in speech when I do not see him or her (Infinite 69). Blanchot recalls the story of Orpheus and Eurydice: “Eurydice is the strangeness of the extreme distance that is autrui at the moment of face-to-face confrontation; and when Orpheus looks back, ceasing to speak in order to see, his gaze reveals itself to be the violence that brings death, the dreadful blow” (60).We do not speak in order to share what we have in common, but so that we can reach the absolutely remote. Speech cannot be communication because there is no common world between us, where our gazes would meet: “Every relation in the world is established by means of the world: we meet around a table, we gather together around a task, we find one another around truths and values. [. . .] But in this instant we are trying to delimit, the density of things is no longer between us. The walls have fallen: those that separate us, those too that permit us to communicate, and those, finally, that protect us by keeping us at a distance” (60). The human relation that Blanchot describes as speech is without world, and therefore without sight; it happens in the disappearance of the world (68). In Husserl, in contrast, the transcendental egos relate to one another in the world and for the sake of the world. First, the other transcendental egos are constituted by means of an app- resentation that is an essential part of a perception of a body. Second, the goal of transcendental communication is the constitution of a common, objective world. I encounter the other in the world, where our spheres of ownness meet. But what if they didn’t meet? Then, we would have to speak.
In The One Who Was Standing Apart from Me, where the world is lacking and the distance remains (11), the narrator is asked repeatedly to describe objects: “-You mean that I should describe things to you as I see them? -As I would like to see them, as I would see them” (29, 59, 61), as if speaking were the only way to share the world. As if there were no common space/world, where a here-and-now could be translated into another here-and-now. Because we never see the same thing, we must speak. And because the description is never complete or final, the necessity of speaking is never appeased: “it is urgently necessary, you haven’t said everything to him, the essential part is missing, the description must be completed, ‘It must be. Now! Now’” (93). What remains between the two acolytes (or better, anacolytes), what “relates” them, are not things, but words, words that link as much as separate:
Why, outside my companion and as though to a certain extent they [the words] had a free life,must I look at them without linking them to him, with a gaze that is perhaps connected to the word “write,” [. . .] I can ask myself that, I could try to find out at what moment they first attracted my gaze, they turned me in their direction to the point that all things are visible to me through their transparent presence and they hold me in the fixedness of their appearance. When did this happen? A vain question, it has always been happening; but I didn’t perceive it, [. . .] I didn’t see them as an obstacle, I didn’t see them whereas now, I am looking at them: as though they have risen from their graves. (75)
In describing the relation between the one and the other as testimony, Derrida is going to focus exactly on those words, or those signs, that mark the gap between the two anacolytes.
Husserl’s insight that the other can never be given to me in an originary presentation, but always only in an appresentation, is taken up by Derrida in his discussion of the singularity of the other as absolute secret (see Derrida and Ferraris 57-58; Derrida, Papier 162). Derrida uses the semantic of the secret to emphasize the separation of the interiorities, of the spheres of ownness, as opposed to their expressibility and communicability. Because of this radical separation, because we can never gain a direct access to the other, we are condemned to testimony. This means that we are condemned to show, by means of signs (that is primarily, but not exclusively, by means of words), that which is happening on one side and which cannot be seen from the other side, but should be.We can differentiate two aspects to each testimony: first, the non-access of the addressee to the experience, and second, the promise to tell the truth (or the appeal to faith). Those two aspects are linked: because the addressee does not have a direct access to my experiences, he has to believe me when I promise and swear to tell the truth.While the first aspect is in line with Husserl’s insight, the second aspect actually transforms Husserl’s concept of the world and the role it plays in relating to the other.
A testimony happens where no other can speak in my name or in my place.2 The witness is always singular. In the testimony he always expresses his secret, that is, his singular experience of an event (Demeure 30). The witness says what he alone has seen, heard, touched, or felt (51). Of course, events are sometimes experienced by more than one witness, but the access to the event always remains singular. Every witness occupies a single here-and-now that cannot be occupied by anybody else. No matter how many witness accounts one could gather, one would never gain access to the event as such, but only always to aspects or points of view. There is no universal point of view, no meta-witness, no outside of the testimonial space. Our social space always remains divided between points of view or singular accesses, and it is not possible to totalize or bring those points of view together, not even in an ideal or an idea in the Kantian sense. In this sense, the testimony of a second witness can never, as such, refute the testimony of the first. Because the witness speaks from the site of his irreplaceable singularity, he always speaks last and his testimony remains irrefutable. Consequently, a testimony can never become a proof because it can never be authorized from a meta-position (see Derrida, “Self- unsealing” 195). Even the confession is no proof, it is only another testimony, another sign given to the other from the inaccessible side of my subjectivity.
What makes an utterance a testimony is not its content, its “what,” but my relation to this content. To say “the car is blue” does not, as such, constitute a testimony. It becomes a testimony when this utterance is used to signify what I experienced, what I saw.We must therefore distinguish between two levels or two types of truth. A testimony can be true in the sense that it corresponds to the facts, without being truthful, without the witness speaking in good faith. On the other hand, a testimony can be truthful because the witness relates what he has experienced, even though his account does not correspond to the facts. This is not to say that the objective world, the one true world, does not exist, but rather that it cannot guarantee the truth of the testimony, or more precisely, the truthfulness of the witness, because what is essential to the testimony is the relation of the singular witness to the event. Ultimately, a testimony is always about the “secret” regardless of whether it testifies to a worldly event-in principle accessible to all-or to an “internal” event-in principle inaccessible to any.
In Politics of Friendship, Derrida uses as an example of a testimony the sentence “I love you”: “To express this in the case of a telegram: ‘I love you’ cannot and must not hope to prove anything at all. Testimony or act of faith, such a declaration can decide only providing it wants to remain theoretically undecidable, improbable, given over in darkness to the exception of a singularity without rule and without concept” (219). The truth of the declaration of love, like the truth of the confession, can never be proven by means of any signs, statements, or deeds. Even though it is always necessary to give a sign to the other, to signal him (and the statement “I love you” is such a sign), the signs will never be a proof of the inner feeling or experience. They will be but another testimony. The truthfulness of the testimony cannot be proven; for that we would need a direct access to the subjective experiences of the other, an experience that is necessarily barred, as long as the other is to remain other. Any discussion about “the Truth,” about what really happened, what was really there, presupposes a promise on the part of the witness: “I am telling you the truth,” and a reciprocal act of faith on the part of the addressee: “I believe you” (“Self-unsealing” 195). It is the truthfulness of the witness that “guarantees,” without ever assuring it, the truth or objectivity of the testimony. Objectivity, therefore, is not a question of time (of fulfillment) as it is in Husserl, where the objective object is the sum of all the possible profiles and aspects that could be experienced and that could theoretically be gathered over time. It is a promise. Derrida writes: “That which we call ‘the world’ is the irreducible anticipation, in an act of faith, the presumption of a community, the gathering of the infinite dispersion of worlds. It is faith itself.” The act of faith, the gathering as act of faith, is as inevitable as the infinite dispersion of worlds: “Of course, if there were only the scattered infinity of real worlds, it would be inevitable that there be no relation to the other” (Millet 248, trans. mine). Truthfulness, or the promise to tell the truth, the basic engagement toward language that Derrida, following Heidegger, calls Zusage (Of Spirit 129-30n5; Politics 38) is the condition of possibility of sociality and of the world, as the “gathered” dispersion we live in. To think the relation to the other as testimony allows us to conceive of an absolute separation as well as of a certain promise of gathering. Yet the act of faith described above seems to be best epitomized by the community of lovers, and it is not without reason that Derrida uses the “I love you” as an example. Why then use this community of witnesses to describe the primary opening of the social or communal space? To understand this, we must look closer the structure of the sign used to perform this “act of faith.” The sign-that through which I enter into relation with the other-is structurally repeatable; it can necessarily be identified outside of the singular and untranslatable context in which it is used and across different variations: “This is why every mark has a force of detachment which not only can free it from such and such a determined context, but ensures even its principle of intelligibility and its mark structure- that is, its iterability (repetition and alteration). A mark that could not in any way detach itself from its singular context-however slightly and, if only through repetition, reducing, dividing and multiplying it by identifying it-would no longer be a mark” (Politics 216; see also Writing and Difference 297). Iterability means identity and difference together, or identity through difference: the repetition of the same and the affirmation of the new (see Derrida and Ferraris 68). For example: the sentence “I love you” is uttered in a singular instant and is marked at that instant by a singular address. At the same time, the same sentence can be uttered in other contexts (by someone else, addressed to someone else, as a joke, louder, in written form, etc.) and identified despite its variations. The sentence is at the same time singular and ideal. It is the same with the ring. A ring is essentially a replaceable singularity: it can be replaced without problems by any other. It becomes irreplaceable, it becomes a sign-thing, when it is marked by a singularity and attached to a singular instant (for example the instant of engagement). But even then, the sign-thing can be identified outside of the singular context (of the engagement) in other contexts (on the table). This is the only way a thing can play its role as sign- thing: when it is a presence that has gathered a singular event in itself and re-presents this singular event beyond the instant of the event.
Given its structure, no sign can be addressed only to one singular other, no address is ever purely singular. Such an address could never reach the other: “It is impossible to address only one person. To put it bluntly and without pathos, such an address would have to be each time one single time, and all iterability would have to be excluded from the structure of the trace. Now, for only one person to receive a single mark once, the mark must be, however minimally, identifiable, hence iterable, hence interiorly multiple and divided in its occurrence-in any case in its eventness [evenementialite]” (Politics 215, trans. modified). When I turn myself toward an other, I necessarily turn myself, at least potentially, toward a multitude of others. The sign, which binds two absolute singularities together, has already opened the couple to the third.
We are now in a position to understand why the couple is, for Derrida, impossible without a third.Without the third as distance (as the in-between and the sign, that marks the in-between), the other would melt into the one, and even a narcissistic dialogue would be impossible (Derrida and Vattimo 65). This, Derrida had already recognized in Speech and Phenomena where he shows, through an analysis of Husserl’s theory of signs, that pure self- affectation is impossible, and that even in soliloquy, in the most intimate discourse, I must use sign. This does not only mean that in soliloquy I am already other to myself, in the spacing of the voice to the ear necessary if one is to hear oneself speak. It also means that I am with myself as another through a sign that is structurally identifiable, repeatable, and can be addressed to any others (in me or outside of me). In soliloquy lies already the dissemination of others.
The model of a relation without distance would be Montaigne’s friendship: one soul in two bodies (see Politics 178-180).When friendship is perfect, when the friends perfectly suit one another, then the separation concerns only their bodies, but not their soul and will. The narcissistic jealousy of the couple, which always remains stuck between me and myself (between me and my image, between me and my soulmate) is interrupted by the plus-one, or the more-than-one. In counting, we begin with the number three, since the couple without the plus-one has all the traits of solipsism.
The third is primarily not another person, but the place between the one and the other, where a word or a sign stands, and where the third as other person can also enter. There is always two plus a sign, plus that which survives beyond the instant. The one and the other performs a testimony: the one says: “Believe me, I am telling the truth,” and the other receives the sentence that is addressed to him singularly with an “I believe you.” But the testimony happens only when a sign (a sign-thing, a word, a gesture) has gathered the instant of testimony in itself and promises it to a maintenance, to an out-living.Without this trace or rest, the testimony collapses in the unrepeatable instant. Between the two lovers, a sign will always have insinuated itself as a third that testifies to a love that seemed to exclude all third parties. Or in more general terms: if a singularity as absolute secret is condemned to testimony, then it is also, as a result of the structure the sign, condemned to community.
To say that, for Derrida, the other is appresented in language, in an act of speech, does not put into question Derrida’s deconstruction of phonocentrism, of the primacy of the voice through archi-writing as the general possibility of inscription (Grammatology 60). It is even this focus on the necessary inscription of the address of the other and to the other that leads Derrida to assert an essential plurality as the precondition for the relation between two, as well as the pre-condition for self- relation. In the debate I mentioned at the beginning, the proponent of the primacy of the self will always be able to say that there must be at least a point of egoity3 so that I can be called by the other and instituted as responsibility. In the same way, the proponent of the primacy of the other will always be able to say that there must be at least a point of otherness so that I can appear to myself. What my reading of Derrida, through Husserl and Blanchot, attempts to show is that, if there is a self, there is necessarily an other, and if there is an other, there are necessarily many others. In other words, plurality is the condition of possibility of the one, the other, and the couple. If we call the plurality a quasi-transcendental community, it is because it also means the impossibility of a pure self, a pure other, and a pure relation between the two.
1/ I recognize the awkwardness of the use of the pronouns “it” and “its” in referring to the other, but I use them consistently and intentionally to respect a certain sexual neutrality of l’autre in the French language.
2/ Some of the points discussed in this section are taken from Derrida’s seminar on testimony, which took place at the University of Stony Brook in the Fall semester of 2002.
3/ I am indebted to Jacob Rogozinki for this concept.
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MARIE-EVE MORIN is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alberta. She received her doctorate from Albert- Ludwig University of Freiburg, Germany in 2005. She has recently published a monograph titled Jenseits der bruderlichen Gemeinschaft: Das Gesprach zwischen Jacques Derrida und Jean-Luc Nancy (Wurzburg: Ergon, 2006).
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