Tracing Life: "La Vie La Mort"
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Tracing Life:
"La Vie La Mort"

The sign and divinity have the same place and time of birth.

The age of the sign is essentially theological.

Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology

. . . if deconstruction were reduced to one single thesis, "it would pose divisibility: différance as divisibility."

Martin Hägglund, Radical Atheism

So farewell, elements of reality!

David Mermin, Entanglement

With the passing of Jacques Derrida it is inevitable that the legacy of deconstruction undergo critical reassessment. There is a sense that with the completion of Derrida's oeuvre and the sure knowledge that the last word [End Page 107] has been written, we can begin the forensic analysis of this body of evidence to reveal its binding intention. However, as a "methodology," deconstruction eschews the sort of linear genealogy where an eponymous authority can adjudicate the truth and value of this inheritance. Put simply, deconstruction complicates the logic wherein identities are posited as finite, locatable, as simply present or not—a logic that discovers difference in between existents, as if origins can be separated from ends, causes from effects, or authors from readers. Although common sense tells us what comes first in the unfolding of time's arrow, deconstruction fractures the classical coordinates of temporal and spatial order in ways that resonate with puzzles in theoretical physics. A comparison between deconstruction and physics may seem contrived because it is rarely made. Other than Arkady Plotnitsky's Complementarity: Anti-Epistemology after Bohr and Derrida (1994), the connection, if there is one, goes largely unremarked.1 For this reason, I want to mention some of these provocations, as they will inform the broader implications of my overall argument.

In physics, the phenomenon of superposition is a principle of decoherence, inasmuch as "one" particle can be in different states at the same time. We see the question of identity posed again, yet differently, in the principle of nonlocality, which concedes that "one" photon, split into two, remains coherent across space: interference with any half of the split photon is immediately registered in the behavior of the other, despite the enormous distance that may separate them. In the famous two-slit experiment that tests the wave/ particle duality of light, we have an added mystery that sees the intention of the experimenter (to test for wave or particle) dutifully enacted in the behavior under investigation. It is as if both subject and object are inseparable in this experiment, as if their respective identities are profoundly entangled and compromised. The assault on the way we perceive and conceive both identity and space/time is furthered by John Wheeler's delayed-choice thought experiment. Wheeler, a prominent physicist at the time, wondered if it was possible to disentangle subject from object by delaying the experimenter's choice until after the photon had passed through the slit. In other words, he wanted to know if the photon would simply "be itself," as either wave or particle, if the experimenter's observation occurred retrospectively, or after [End Page 108] the behavior had occurred. Wheeler's awareness that classical notions of both identity and space/time were very much awry in this musing is reflected in his comment, "we decide, after the photon has passed through the screen, whether it shall have passed through the screen" (1980, 354).

Those of us practiced in the counterintuitive complexities of deconstruction are surely used to the awkward twists of expression required to complicate the conventions of logic and everyday assumptions about the self-presence of identity. In this regard, the confusing knot of temporality and spatiality represented above is not entirely unknown. Consider, for example, Derrida's analysis of Nachträglichkeit in the analogy Freud makes between the operations of memory and the child's toy—the mystic writing pad—where the past has yet to arrive.2 Or the temporality of an "always already not yet" that informs many of Derrida's meditations. Conventionally, such considerations are confined to philosophical and literary concerns. Even when the suggestion that the "scene of writing" includes neurological processes, as it does in the discussion of memory, biology is routinely overlooked, as if the identity of biology is somehow outside this text...