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  • Frames, Contexts, Community, Justice
  • Ranjana Khanna (bio)

There is a photograph of Jacques Derrida, aged about three, in a toy car at his childhood home in Algiers [fig. 1]. It is not an unusual photograph; in fact, its typicality is striking. It is the kind of photograph one might find in most family albums. Little boys are often found in toy cars, just as little girls are frequently holding a doll, or dancing.1 The codes of a family album, transposed to an academic album, highlight the manner in which typicality itself tells a story of framing, of gendered gestures, of senses of belonging, of familial legend making, and of intellectual genealogy.2 And such codes provide a frame for a general contextual understanding of the photograph and therefore [End Page 11]

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Figure 1.

Photograph of Jacques Derrida aged 3. Printed in Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida (Paris: Seuil, 1991) 9.

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for what Barthes calls its studium.3 But, as Barthes remarked in his Camera Lucida, a book about photography and about his dead mother, there is frequently something else in a photograph: the punctum. It wounds a viewer, and remains in the viewer's memory when he or she looks away from the photograph. It is a singular relationality, and, for the mourning Barthes, encloses the possibility of a hopeful reciprocity. For me, however, beyond the gendered coding of this photograph, it is not the promise of a reciprocity, but the demand of something unknowable that exists potentially beyond the frame of the photograph. A rectangular void that appears to be the back window of a large car opens onto an unknown. The opening itself is a wounding of the frame.

The photograph includes multiple frames, in the sense that a doubling occurs with one frame in the foreground, with Derrida in his toy car, and another frame in the background, with a real car. The child in his car is enclosed in this scene through perpendicular lines, as if framing him in a safe world. The real car is separated by these lines, as if in a square on its own. And through the rear window of this car, there is another enclosure, a rectangular opening, which alerts the viewer to an infinite regression of frames, each enclosing its own image and its own universe, each thematizing the mobility that suggests it could move beyond its immediate frame. This superimposition of a toy car onto an adult scene of mobility not only alerts the viewer to the thematic exploration of infinite generational migration and immigration but also presents us with a visual doubling and echoing, itself suggesting the excess that always exceeds the frame. The frame may appear to exist on its own terms, permitting or excluding hospitality to its hostile excess, and yet what persists in this photograph is the permeability of the frame and its necessary acknowledgment of the other at its border, which both frames and unframes.

A frame both determines and supplements meaning. It is both host to meaning and simultaneously hostile to its narrow condition. This rendition of the frame visualizes both its enclosed protective nature as host, and its permeability to the outside, to a potentially hostile supplement. Derrida's thinking has explored the concepts of framing and hospitality in a manner that has often called attention to, and yet not engaged with, women as a sometimes hostile supplement. The concept of hospitality, whether political, academic, domestic, or psychical, has allowed, however, for a consideration of something that supplements this thinking, and indeed this boyhood photograph of potential mobility: the various frames in which Algerian women have been situated, and their different relation to gesture, mobility, and symbolization in the modern period. This article engages with Derrida's work on framing and hospitality in order to reach its supplement, allowing for a consideration of the political stakes of doing feminist work across borders. The stakes of the philosophical apparatus that seem pertinent to the ethical work of postcolonial feminism are permeated with questions of framing and hospitality. Academic hospitality means an openness to one's subject matter, which would include...