I am reflecting on life. All the systems I could devise would never equal these cries by a man occupied in rebuilding his life . . . My reason will certainly one day have to receive these unformulated forces exteriorly shaped like a cry which are besieging me, and they may then supplant higher thought. These are intellectual cries, cries which stem from the marrow’s delicacy. This is what I personally call the Flesh. I do not separate my thought from my life . . . But what am I in the midst of this theory about the Flesh or more correctly, Existence ? I am a man who has lost his life and who is seeking every way of re-integrating it in its proper place . . . But I must look into this aspect of the flesh which is supposed to give me a metaphysics of Being and a positive understanding of life.
Position de la Chair
in Jacques Derrida
Writing and Difference (1967)
Text of the body. Body of text. Text written by my fingers, by the instruments of my body, of my materiality. Text inscribed, visible, dug on the paper or one chip, mark and reminder
/ but reminder of a thought, of the ideal, ethereal, spirit-ual. Impossible economy, unavoidable war of mind and body : the text and its subconscious, denial of the material, “supposed self-presence of the signification”.
Or so would have said one Derrida. David Mikics, in his Who was Jacques Derrida ? An intellectual biography (2009) betrays perhaps an excessive sense of confidence when summarising the diverse and subtle commentarial worlds of Writing and Difference, and even the theory-heavy Of Grammatology, as : “the question of empiricism and its possible relation to an outside of philosophy” (63). Interesting word, this empiricism which has virtually disappeared from the discussions of the so-called ‘continental philosophers’, and Mikics certainly reveals his own intellectual subconscious of what may easily be imagined as his education in the antinomous ‘analytic philosophy’, a sub-branch never in denial of its roots in the British Empiricists.
Foucault, Edmond Jabès, Lévinas, Husserl, Antonin Artaud, Freud, Hegel, Bataille or the structuralists, surely, all present their own labour, in theory or in the practice of their art, with the limits and the outside of a largely Idealist heritage in this thick trunk of western philosophy.
Is Derrida really exploring — and, against his own awareness of it — a spurt of empiricism in the strongly Idealist voices encountered through the essays of Writing and Difference ? Foucault, Edmond Jabès, Lévinas, Husserl, Antonin Artaud, Freud, Hegel, Bataille or the structuralists, surely, all present their own labour, in theory or in the practice of their art, with the limits and the outside of a largely Idealist heritage in this thick trunk of western philosophy. But it is certainly towards a beyond of the reductive and passé dialogue of rationalism vs. empiricism that Derrida, and his many characters, hope to point a finger.
Antonin Artaud, Self-Portrait (1947)
The Theatre and Its Double (1938)
Of Grammatology (1967)
Spectres of Marx (1993)
“I am a man who has lost his life and who is seeking every way of re-integrating it in its proper place.” Artaud, or the fantasy of a theatre that would present and not represent life, away from the binary hierarchy of sound and meaning : aside ideas and their worlds, or : back to the body. A theatre of life, bodily life, a new embodiment, many many centuries later, but this time without the spirit. Embodiment of what ? Embodiment alone. Alone ! Theatre of screams and noises, of fears and odd calms : attempted improvisations of a man of the twentieth century, bordering or beyond sanity, and thus privileged observer to enlighten our reasonable world.
“But I must look into this aspect of the flesh which is supposed to give me a metaphysics of Being and a positive understanding of life.” But the man of madness turns and looks back. Derrida announced it in his “Cogito and the History of Madness” : madness and reason are not opposed ; philosophy has always built itself by including the dual and complimentary forces of both. Even beyond the ô so fantasised tyranny of the ratio, man, no, the flesh, continues the strain, looks inward, yes, still, and enquires, beyond self-talk and word, yes, maybe. The mask is on. Artaud enacts the body :