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The Text

Pure Presence and the Task of Translation
  • Martin C. Srajek
Chapter
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Part of the Contributions To Phenomenology book series (CTPH, volume 32)

Abstract

From an epistemological perspective everything can be understood as a sign, i.e., as an indication of the absence or removedness of pure unadulterated meaning. Linguistic and textual practice as the production of signs is what Jacques Derrida calls writing (écriture). He uses the concept of writing as a pattern to show that différence, i.e. a differing/deferring movement, is vital not only to language but to the whole world. This is true despite his cautioning remarks at the beginning of Of Grammatology, where he refers to the “problem of language,” the “devaluation of the word‘language’,” the “inflation of the sign ‘language’,” but he also makes clear that this is a problem that can no longer be contained within the framework of linguistics only, for it has “invaded, as such, the global horizons of the most diverse researches and the most heterogeneous discourses, diverse and heterogeneous in their intention, method, and ideology.”1 He asserts that the epoch that we are living in “must finally determine as language the totality of its problematic horizon.”2 It is this epoch, then, that enables the deconstractive strategy.

Keywords

Kantian Sense Textual Practice Global Horizon Pure Presence Phenomenological Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Note

  1. 1.
    Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 15/6.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Of Grammatology. For the applicability of Derrida’s critique of writing and phonocentrism also cf. pp. 87-93 where he establishes explicitly the relationship between the different power-structures in the world and the possibility of access to the written sign.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On the question of the relationship between presence and the point and the question of temporality in the thought of Husserl see for example Timothy Stapleton, “Philosophy and Finitude: Husserl, Derrida and the end of Philosophy,” Philosophy Today, Spring 1989, pp. 3–15.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In his 1989 dissertation Simon Critchley (op. cit.) asserts that deconstruction is always a deconstruction of a text. “The way of Derridian deconstruction, then, lies in the reading of texts, primarily philosophical texts” (ibid). This, unfortunately, sets the agenda in an entirely lopsided way, as if Derrida’s approach was not also anchored in the problematic of understanding deconstruction as a possibly ethical approach to issues that deal with texts only on a secondary level. The fact that he can use texts in order to show the shortcomings, contradictions, and sometimes oppressiveness of a given tradition or system of thought has its origin not in the misleading notion that only texts can be deconstructed but in the fact that such traditions have caused the proliferation of an infinite amount of documents that all, in one way or another, affirm the tradition in its hierarchical superiority. Yet, what really gives unlimited power to a deconstructive approach are not philosophical texts but the regimentation of the sign that governs all human discourse and interaction.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Jacques Derrida, “Interpretations at War: Kant, the Jew, the German,” New Literary History, pp. 39–95, henceforth referred to as “Interpretations at War.”Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Jacques Derrida, “Interpretations at War,” pp. 39–95, esp. p. 58.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Interpretations at War, p. 41.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    It would be a whole new study to investigate from where Husserl gets his inspiration. It is my own suspicion that his ties with neo-Kantianism were, indeed, much stronger than has been emphasized. It is known that he was on friendly terms with Paul Natorp, but that he did not think highly of Cohen. Yet, much in his thinking looks just like Cohen’s analyses, if only with a more pronounced emphasis on epistemology rather than ethics as in Cohen.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Jacques Derrida, ‘”Genèse et structure’ et la phénoménologie,” L’écriture et la différence, ‘Genesis and Structure’ and Phenomenology,” Writing and Difference, pp.229–253/154-169; henceforth referred to as “Genesis and Structure,” p French/English.”Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Maurice Nathan son, Edmund Huserl: Philosopher of Infinite Tasks, p. 11, points out that “radical certitude must be phenomenology’s method. The person who strives for such certitude must turn to himself as the locus of ultimate rigor.… Past any cheap’ subjectivism’ and beyond all merely idiosyncratic attitudes.” Nathanson here emphasizes a point that to my knowledge has been drastically neglected in the study of Husserl’s phenomenology. This rigorous turn to the subjectivity of the philosopher, not as a last refuge for otherwise threatening nihilism, but as the foundation of anyone’s philosophical insight has had its ramifications all the way down to the present investigation. Both Derrida and Levinas are said to center their writing around an autobiographical focus. (Cf. Mark C. Taylor in Tears, and also J. Margolis in a conversation with me). From Nathanson’s view-point the autobiographical element becomes understandable as a demand made by phenomenology on each true philosopher. Autobiography now is not only an idiosyncratic need for identity but becomes the founding epistemological principle of one’s philosophy. Nathanson in fact quotes Husserl as saying that “anyone who seriously intends to become a philosopher must ‘once in his life’ withdraw into himself and attempt, within himself, to overthrow and build anew [my italics] all the sciences that, up to then, he has been accepting” (Nathanson, Edmund Husserl). Deconstruction, quite clearly, takes off from exactly this demand.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Genesis and Structure, p. 236/159.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Walter Benjamin, “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers,” Illuminationen, pp. 50–63; henceforth referred to as “Die Aufgabe.”Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    A very good and insightful study of the relationship between Derrida and Husserl can be found in John D. Caputo, “The Economy of Signs in Husserl and Derrida,” Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Texts of Jacques Derrida, ed. by John Sallis, pp. 99-114. Caputo’s analysis of this relationship mainly supports my findings in this chapter, especially with regard to the status of the sign in Husserl’s phenomenology and Derrida’s attempt to reintroduce the sign into phenomenology itself by understanding it as the trace of the thing-itself, i.e., the only phenomenon that is epistemologically available. Caputo goes wrong, in my opinion, when he begins to read Derrida as the protagonist of a tradition-defying faction of philosophy (more prounced in Caputo’s other essay,”Gadamer’s Closet Essentialism: A Derridean Critique,” Dialogue and Deconstruction: The Gadamer-Derrida Encounter, pp. 258-265). Although he is right when in the former essay he states that “what Derrida is after [is] …to rid us of idolatry before graven images, to remind us of the radical contingency and reformability of things…” he misses the point that Derrida is attempting to make, for the latter is precisely also affirming tradition. It is simply not enough just to describe one side (like Caputo does) and not see that that side is wholly dependent on the affirmation of a tradition without which Derrida’s thought would have never developed. Derrida is only possible because of Gadamer. One might call this oppositional thinking, i.e. precisely the kind of thinking that Derrida attempts to reject But I am not saying that Derrida is opposed to Gadamer (like Caputo does) and I am not saying that he is opposed to tradition (like Caputo does); I am saying that those oppositions are in a fundamental relationship with each other which makes naively divisive efforts futile. Furthermore, Caputo claims that, the “things themselves are woven products.”(“the Economy…,” p. 111). Now, nowhere in Derrida have I been able to find a statement to that effect. The only constant reminder of significance for our question here is that the thing itself, like différence, like truth, like the sacred language, is inaccessible. But that does not say anything about the kind of thing that the thing in itself really is. If anything, what is woven is the text(s) that, for better or for worse, demonstrate that inaccessibility. Another, especially nice rebuttal of Caputo’s attempt to win Derrida over for the anti-traditionalists is a passage in the essay “The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations,” p. 42, where Derrida makes his position vis-a vis tradition clear beyond all doubt. With respect to the transformation of university structures he says: “In this area I believe in transitions and negotiation—even if it may at times be brutal and speeded up—I believe in the necessity for a certain tradition, in particular for political reasons, that are nothing less than traditionalist, and I believe, moreover, in the indestructibility of the ordered procedures of legitimation, of the production of titles and diplomas and of the authorization of competence.” More will have to be said about this passage in chapter 9 of this part. Derrida is being facetious and serious at the same time. Many readers of his texts, however, have yet to understand how he can be serious about such an assertion.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Jacques Derrida, La Voix et le phénomène; Speech and Phenomena, p. 4/5, (henceforth referred to as “Speech, p. French/English.”Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Jacques Derrida, “Genesis and Structure,” p. 232/157.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Edmund Husserl, Formale und Transzendentale Logik, English translation by Dorion Cairns, Formal and Transcendental Logic, so quoted in J. Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, p. 4/6.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ibid, p. 4/6.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Ibid, p. 4/6.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    J. Derrida, “Différance,” p. 7/7. In “The Time of a Thesis: Punctuations,” Derrida explains that “all of the problems worked on in the Introduction to the Origin of Geometry have continued to organize the work I have subsequently attempted,” p. 39.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Speech and Phenomena, p. 5/7.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ibid, p. 5/7. This was already discussed in Part I, chapt. 4.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Ibid, p. 6/8.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Ibid, p. 5/7.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Ibid, p. 10/11.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Ibid, p. 11/12.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ibid, p. 13/13.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ibid, p. 6/8.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Ibid, p. 13/14.Google Scholar
  29. 29.
    Ibid, p. 14/15.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Derrida, Of Grammatology, p. 22/11.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Ibid, p. 8/9.Google Scholar
  32. 32.
    Ibid, p. 8/9.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Genesis and Structure, p. 242/162.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Genesis and Structure, p. 250/167.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Genesis and Structure, p. 242/163.Google Scholar
  36. 30.
    It is interesting that not only Husserl but also Cohen himself started rethinking the systematic position of psychology over against philosophy. Presumably under the influence of Natorp he started lecturing on psychology. (Cf. Schwarzschild, “Introduction (to Herman Cohen’s Religion of Reason),” unpublished essay.)Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Speech and Phenomena, p. 79/87.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Ibid, p. 79/88.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Ibid, p. 117/104. Franz Rosenzweig, who is generally in agreement with Derrida on the question of the impossible present, makes an exception for the one situation in which I confess my love imperatively to my lover by saying “love me!” Rosenzweig explains: “The indicative has behind it the whole cumbersome rationalization of materiality, and at its purest therefore appears in the past tense. But the ‘Love me!’ is wholly pure and unprepared-for present tense, and not unprepared-for alone, but also unpremeditated.” (Stern, p. 197/177) Rosenzweig sees thus inscribed the difference between “Gesetz” (“law”) and “Gebot” (“commandment”). Whereas the former always appears in the indicative mode (i.e., a past that is still waiting for the future) the latter “knows only the moment”(Stern). It is tempting to apply this logic to the difference that Derrida makes between law and justice (for this see the following chapter). But the problematic of Rosenzweig’s approach is the strong notion of phono-centrism that is woven through this passage. The English version only renders this insufficiently. But it is clear that the imperative’s appeal to the present stems from the fact that “Lautwerden und Entspringen sind beim Imperativ eins” (“for emerging and finding voice are one and the same thing in the case of the imperative”) (Stern). It is then clear that Rosenzweig merges the audible qualities of the imperative with its logical ones in order to arrive at what he calls “die Sofortigkeit des Gehorchens” (“the immediacy of obedience”) (Stern). However, that it was especially phonocentrism that causes the mistake of believing in the possibility of presence is clearly the thrust of the first part of Of Gramatology (“This notion remains therefore within the heritage of that logocentrism which is also a phonocentrism: absolute proximity of voice and being, of voice and the meaning of being, of voice and the ideality of meaning.”) and maybe at the heart of everything Derrida has to say about the possibility of presence.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Cf. the introduction to the translation of Speech and Phenomena by Newton Garver.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Derrida thus strikes a line here that is reminiscent of Hegel’s reflection on the question of the immediacy or mediacy of a given object to sense-certainty. Hegel argues that although commonly we would assume that an object in front of us is given to us immediately within the confines of space and time, he can show that it is exactly the framework of space and time which is given as “here” and “now” (“Mer” und “jetzt”) that indeed causes the mediacy of any given object to sense-certainty. Even though the “now” and the “here” both can be maintained (“aufbewahrt”) in their universality, their sense of immediacy with a respect to a specific time or place changes constantly and cannot be maintained in the same fashion. Hegel concludes that sense-certainty is nothing but the history of its movement (“…daß die Dialektik der sinnlichen Gewißheit nichts anderes als die einfache Geschichte ihrere Bewegung ihrer Erfahrung und die sinnliche Gewißheit selbst nichts anderes als nur diese Geschichte ist.”).Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Speech and Phenomena, p. 4/6.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Speech and Phenomena Ibid, p. 60/54.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Speech and Phenomena Ibid, p. 9/10.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Speech and Phenomena Ibid, pp. 31–32/29-30.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Speech and Phenomena Ibid, p. 70. Derrida introduces the trace with explicit reference to Emmanuel Levinas and his most recent work (Autrement).Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Jacques Derrida, “Des tours de Babel,” Psyche: Inventions de l’autre, trsl. and ed. by Joseph F. Graham, “Des Tours de Babel,” Difference in Translation, pp. 203-237/165-207; henceforth referred to as “Babel, p. French/English.”Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    Walter Benjamin, “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers,” Illuminationen.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    Babel, p. 203/165.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique, reprinted edition from 1700, Paris, 1969.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    So quoted from Derrida, Psyché, p. 204/166.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Babel, p. 205/167.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Ibid, p. 220/187.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Ibid, p. 228/195-196.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Ibid, pp. 233/202-203.Google Scholar
  56. 56.
    Ibid, p. 233/202.Google Scholar
  57. 57.
    It might be beneficial at this point to remember also that virtually the same structure that Benjamin suggests for the process of translation is what Bergson had, approximately forty years earlier, expressed in his Matter and Memory about the function of memory. At least one aspect of this memory-image, which is also asymptotically located between pure memory and pure perception, is that every part of it bears a date and is thus unrepeatable. In other words, every new experience adds another layer to the memory already accumulated. Bergson thus notes “at each repetition there is progress” that is to say the repetition is never simply just a repetition. It includes an ever-increasing surplus.This became especially clear to me during a conversation with my friend and colleague Gereon Kopf who is presently working on a thesis on body-mind philosophy in relation to Bergson.Google Scholar
  58. 58.
    Die Aufgabe, p. 51. 59 Babel, pp. 217/182.Google Scholar
  59. 60.
    Ibid, p. 218/184.Google Scholar
  60. 61.
    Ibid, p. 219/184.Google Scholar
  61. 62.
    Ibid, p. 224/191.Google Scholar
  62. 63.
    Ibid, p. 224/191.Google Scholar
  63. 64.
    Ibid, p. 233/202.Google Scholar
  64. 65.
    Ibid, p. 235/204.Google Scholar
  65. 66.
    Apocalyptic Tone, pp. 10/3-4.Google Scholar
  66. 67.
    Derrida also makes a couple of remarks about the possibility of thanking and gratitude in this context which should probably be read together with similar thoughts in his essay “En ce moment dans cet oeuvre me voici,” At this point it should suffice to say that gratitude, like translations, are impossible, since they presuppose the possibility of a return to the giver/author of the gift/text. In that sense the giver/author will always remain other to my own efforts to respond.Google Scholar
  67. 68.
    Babel, p. 235/205.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin C. Srajek
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIllinoisUSA

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