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MLN 121.4 (2006) 893-910

Derrida's Destinerrance
J. Hillis Miller
University of California, Irvine

[. . .] une lettre peut toujours ne pas arriver à destination, et [. . .] donc jamais elle n'y arrive.

—Derrida, La Carte postale

What is destined to happen to the corpus of Derrida's works? What fate will befall them? As I have shown in another essay,1 Derrida was anxious about what would happen after his death to his "remains," in the double sense of his dead body and the body of his writings. This anxiety is expressed both in A Taste for the Secret and in the long amazing reflection on death, apropos of Robinson Crusoe's fear of it, carried on from seminar to seminar in his last seminars (2002–03). Derrida elsewhere put the reasons he had for worrying about what would happen to his legacy after his death under the aegis of a striking neologism: destinerrance.

What is destinerrance? Discussing it fully would be a virtually endless task. It is a concept, or better, motif, or, better still, spatio-temporal figure, that connects intimately with the other salient spatio-temporal figures in Derrida's work. I call destinerrance spatio-temporal because, like most of Derrida's key terms, it is a spatial figure for time. It names a fatal possibility of erring by not reaching a predefined temporal goal in terms of wandering away from a predefined spatial goal. Destinerrance is like a loose thread in a tangled skein that turns out to lead to the whole ball of yarn. It could therefore generate a potentially [End Page 893] endless commentary. Destinerrance is connected to différance, that is, to a temporality of differing and deferring, without present or presence, without ascertainable origin or goal; to trace, iterability, signature, event, context, play (jeu: in the sense that one says, "There is play in this machine"); to Derrida's anomalous concept of speech acts; to the future or the "to come" (l'àvenir); to the democracy to come in that avenir to come; to decision, obligation, responsibility, and, in another of Derrida's neologisms, irresponsabilisation (Derrida, Donner la mort 89); to interruption, dissemination, the wholly other; to exappropriation, adestination, justice, law, right, the gift, the secret, hospitality, testimony, sendings or dispatches (envois); to the messianic without messianism, as developed in Spectres de Marx and elsewhere; to the specter, singularity, the apocalyptic, the apotropaic or, in John Leavey's coinage, the apotropocalyptic (Leavey);2 finally, always and everywhere, to "l'impossible possibilité de [. . .] mort" (Derrida, Spectres de Marx 187). Each motif is connected in one way or another to destinerrance, in fulfillment of Derrida's claim, in A Taste for the Secret, that his works are not a heterogeneous collection of occasional essays, but that portentous thing, an œuvre, an organic corpus (Derrida, A Taste for the Secret 14–15).

The word or the notion of destinerrance appears in a large number of Derrida's works, early and late. It appears in the contexts of quite different topics. The word, or sometimes the concept without the word, appears in "Le Facteur de la vérité," in La Carte postale (441–524), in "Envois," also from La Carte postale (7–273), in "Télépathie," in "Mes Chances," in D'un ton apocalyptique adopté naguère en philosophie, in "No apocalypse, not now (à toute vitesse, sept missiles, sept missives)," in "Mes chances: Au rendez-vous de quelques stéréophonies épicuriennes," and in L'Autre Cap. These uses, the reader will note, include psychoanalytical and political contexts, as well as the question of letters in the epistolary sense and also the question of the subject or ego. No doubt destinerrance appears in other places too that I have not identified. For lack of space, I must postpone to another essay discussion of the explicitly political uses of the word (or the concept) of destinerrance.

La Carte postale is a novel in letters about the way those exposed letters called postcards deconstruct (if I may dare to use that word) [End Page 894] sender, message, and addressee, all...


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