- Psyche: Inventions of the Other, Volume I
The enduring philosophical and literary concerns central to "deconstruction" since Derrida's early essays on Husserl reverberate across the surface of this series of essays, creating a sort of déjà vu effect for the Derrida enthusiasts amongst us. First published as Psyché: Inventions de l'autre (1987), several of the essays collected here have long been available to the English reader, albeit scattered amongst various publications and publishing houses, oftentimes difficult to locate. This first volume of Psyche brings them together for the first time in English translation.
From the history of metaphysics to literature, theology, and politics, these essays cover a host of motifs already elaborated by the "early" Derrida and are best characterized as subtle and oftentimes refreshing variations on the classical themes of Derrida's thought: re-visitations. Indeed, these essays remind the reader of Derrida's rigorously philosophical and ethical commitment to a certain way of reading the history of Western metaphysics; it is almost as though the entire "task" (and relevance) of contemporary philosophy were nothing outside this gesture of re-visitation, a certain way of fashioning genuinely new constellations of thought by means of a sort of "deconstructive repetition" whereby the sense of those concepts organizing the field of classical metaphysics becomes internally differentiated and re-distributed according to decidedly "post-metaphysical" concerns.
The first essay, "Psyche: Invention of the Other," treats of the concepts of invention and event. Derrida arranges the essay around a series of philosophical and literary texts designed to create a sort of thread running these concepts through their assorted historical adumbrations. This constellation of texts serves to foreground Derrida's desire to establish fresh coordinates for the contemporary sense and status of these concepts. Derrida's reading of Francis Ponge's "Fable" (1948) sets the stage for a renewed "deconstructive" analysis of J.L. Austin's concept of performativity. For Derrida, Ponge's highly reflexive style creates fundamental difficulties for any theory of language devoted to the possibility of a rigorous distinction between constative and performative speech acts. Indeed, the first line of "Fable" ("Par le mot par commence donc ce texte . . . [With the word with begins then this text . . .]) is already simultaneously constative and performative; being self-referential, the line invents "by means of the sole act of enunciation that performs and describes, operates and states. . . . The constative statement is the performative itself, since it points out nothing that is prior or foreign to itself" (12).
Derrida's "Signature, Event, Context" (1971) already challenged the stability of this distinction. Psyche resumes some of Derrida's earlier concerns by re-deploying the concept of performativity as invention "since there is no language before it, since it has no prior object beneath or outside itself" (13). [End Page 1201]
Operative throughout the history of metaphysics, the border that simultaneously relates and distinguishes literature to/from philosophy (i.e., as belonging to two fundamentally distinct orders of language) cannot be rigorously maintained. Paul de Man's essay "Rhetoric of Persuasion" (Allegories of Reading, 1979) already established this. For Derrida, the "constative performativity" of Ponge's "Fable" helps foreground some of de Man's contributions to philosophy and the theory of literature (the essay is dedicated to the memory of Paul de Man). In any case, Derrida claims that the general "deconstructive structure" of "Fable" can be found amongst texts that lie far beyond the domain of literary discourse (e.g., "scientific and especially in juridical utterances . . ."). Ultimately, "the concept of invention distributes its two essential values between these two poles: the constative—discovering or unveiling, pointing out or saying what is—and the performative—producing, instituting, transforming" (12).
Throughout the essay, Derrida elaborates and deconstructs the rich semantic history of "invention" so as to arrive at a concept of "invention" that retains both the singularity of an event (a genuine discovery or "finding for the first time") and the possibility of its repetition or iterability (i.e., the possibility of its transmission and reactivation in and for...