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Chapter 4 Secret Singularities The thematic organization of this chapter reflects my discussion of Ricoeur’s writings, on the one hand, on the interdependence between singular selfhood, speech, and responsibility, and, on the other, on the ethical relation itself. In the first two sections, I will explore how Derrida’s account of signification and, more specifically, of the personal pronoun goes beyond a dialectics of semiotics and semantics, langue and parole. One of my major concerns here is the link between generality and singularity, compromised responsibility and absolute responsibility. Derrida’s thinking provides the resources for grasping together the demand, here and now, for a rigorously conceived singularity and the requirement that such a demand be always articulated with a certain exemplarity. As a result, singular speech will be shown to be grounded in an originary secrecy, in a principial possibility of perjury which, far from being a negative, provisional, or empirical eventuality, constitutes the positive condition of truthful speech and a genuinely responsible self. Although this commingling of truthfulness and perjury, or singularity and generalizability, is far removed from Ricoeur’s manifest declarations, I will point to specific moments in his texts that bring him closer to deconstruction when he appears to be getting farther away from it. The last three sections will concentrate on the relation between self and other, as this is approached in Derrida’s early reading of Lévinas but also in more recent writings. I will explore the reasons why Derrida sides with Lévinas, against Ricoeur, in affirming the exigency of the absolutely other, while simultaneously underlining with Ricoeur, against Lévinas, some ineluctable contact between self and other. Derrida maintains both the impossibility of the other appearing as such and the possibility of a minimal phenomenalizability, and insists, unlike Ricoeur, on the non-teleological, non-dialectical character of this configuration. The advantage of this structure is that, by introducing a new thinking about the border or the limit, it allows, inasmuch as it resists dialectics, for the possibility of a singular self and an other worthy of its name, although it also expropriates the effects of presence to which it gives rise.1 Throughout this chapter, I will seek to explicate Derrida’s peculiar “less is more” logic, according 119 SP_PIR_Ch04_119-160.indd 119 SP_PIR_Ch04_119-160.indd 119 1/11/10 1:06:00 PM 1/11/10 1:06:00 PM 120 Reading Derrida and Ricoeur to which the chance of the better depends on the irreducible possibility of the worst, and which, moreover, upsets the teleological organization of impossibility and possibility, the finite and the infinite. Spacing, Iterability, Signatures Ricoeur puts forward the singularizing power of the personal pronoun and the instance of discourse with respect to the speaker. The dichotomy between, on the one hand, narrative identity, whose ethicality is destabilized by the plurality of imaginary variations in literature, and, on the other, the singular responsibility of the ethical self is grounded in the requirement that the latter should declare “Here I stand!” Speech and the use of the pronoun are claimed to condition a speaker’s singular selfhood and self-constancy. What is one to make of this coupling of deixis and singularity? Is there a direct and safe passage from the personal pronoun to the singular self without any need to pass through the circuits of meaning? How certain is the ensuing singularity and, therefore, genuine responsibility of the self who says “I”? How does Derrida’s account of deictics and the personal pronoun compare to Ricoeur’s dialectics of the generality of the code and the referentiality of the speech act? Derrida’s argument is marked by the following gestures. Prima facie, by stressing that the provenance of all signification is the possibility of repetition, he links language to generality, thereby subscribing to the idea that the singularity of the “I” is always minimally contaminated. Jean-François Lyotard, in light of his own interest in the referential singularity of deixis, complains that, in Speech and Phenomena, by placing too much emphasis on repetition, Derrida assimilates deictics to other elements of language and reduces singularity to the differential negativity and generality of langue.2 Derrida, then, is reproached for subordinating the singular actuality of the now of a sentence to its transcendental conditions of possibility. However, far from seeking to assimilate deictics to other words, Derrida is concerned, as much as Lyotard himself is, with demonstrating that the relation between the empirical and the transcendental should...


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