- IntroductionProbing Liminal Spaces: Theory and Praxis of the Membrane
Open the so-called body and spread out all its surfaces: not only the skin with each of its folds, wrinkles, scars, with its great velvety planes . . . but open and spread, expose the labia majora, so also the labia minora with their blue network bathed in mucus, dilate the diaphragm of the anal sphincter, longitudinally cut and flatten out the black conduit of the rectum, then the colon, then the caecum, now a ribbon with its surface all striated and polluted with shit; as though your dressmaker's scissors were opening the leg of an old pair of trousers, go on. . . .—Jean-François Lyotard, Libidinal Economy
And Lyotard does go on, enumerating the ways the body and its tissues should be dismantled until such a point that the three-dimensional "so-called body" has been both reduced and extended to a roughly two-dimensional topography of previously enmeshed or intertwining networks. What we are left with is film (pellicule), here in the corporeal sense; but as we will see, both in the body of [End Page 5] Lyotard's work and in the membranous topographies exposed in this journal issue, the membrane surfaces as a particularly effective trope that opens exploration to the ultimately untenable inside/ outside oppositions of a number of discourse systems. In other words, this issue centers on how the membrane operates in the non-place of catachresis—that frontier which separates and differentiates, but must not, cannot, close off the inside from the outside. In particular, the articles included in this special issue of Discourse tend to hinge on three principal conceptual points: the in/out binary opposition, the workings of the membrane itself as point of mediation, and the inflammatory response often ensuing when critical operations probe the membrane's fluid boundaries.
The work of Jacques Derrida has perhaps most saliently exposed the myriad ways that binary, hierarchical oppositions have served as building blocks for the edification of Western thought. These insights have of course led to a number of valuable studies, but they have also been met with numerous reductive misreadings that seek a quick fix to the problem of binary models such as inside/ outside, man/woman, speech/writing, etc. Such readings ultimately lose their effectiveness insofar as they fail to heed the way a third term always mediates the relation between the two, but "exists" only as a function of this relation of the two presumably oppositional terms. This third term is often thought of as the limit, the border, or the frontier between the two. This issue of Discourse, then, maps out the space of this relational, proliferating third through the figure of the membrane, in order to highlight both the liminal space that is evoked by relating inside to outside as well as the constitutive component of the membrane that is lacking or secondary in other formulations: the question of permeability.
In an interview collected in Positions, Derrida warns of the dangers of thinking that one can simply transgress or leap cleanly over boundaries, in this case those of metaphysics. Just as the transgressive move is still part of metaphysics's machinery, this issue of Discourse highlights the membrane both as a point of contact with the external world, as well as an integral part of the cell, discourse, discipline, etc. that gives it its form and delimits its field of operations. In other words, the first issue at stake in organizing this collection was acknowledging Derrida's reminder that: "Now, even in aggressions or transgressions, we are consorting with a code to which metaphysics is tied irreducibly, such that every transgressive gesture reencloses us—precisely by giving us a hold on the closure of metaphysics—within this closure" (12).
Nonetheless, Derrida does not simply annihilate the work that such a move can bring about. The first move is indeed critical, [End Page 6] scolding the intellectual naiveté that encourages the romantic hero to set himself apart from his society or the revolutionary to destroy his society in order to start from scratch. This mode of inside/ outside thinking is, at best...