- Method, Techne and Auto-kinesis
“I write differently from how I speak, I speak differently from how I think, I think differently from how I should think, and so on into the furthest depths of obscurity.”– Franz Kafka
“That the machine does not run by itself means something else: a mechanism without its own energy. The machine is dead. It is death. Not because we risk death in playing with machines, but because the origin of machines is the relation to death.”– “Freud and the Scene of Writing” (227)
“Auto- repr. Gr.- ‘self, one’s own, by oneself, independently,’ combining form of self. Exceedingly common in Gr.; in L. only in a few words adopted from Gr. without analysis, as autochthones, autographus, automatus; more common in med.L.; and largely used in the mod. langs. In Eng., to a certain extent, a living element, prefixable to scientific terms denoting action or operation, whence occasionally to others, in combinations that are more or less nonce-words. In free composition as a prefix element, its chief meanings are: (a) of oneself, one’s own; self-; (b) self-produced or -induced (pathologically) within the body or organism; (c) spontaneous, self-acting, automatic.”– OED
The Auto-: Derrida and the Human Sciences
Perhaps something about the “auto-” can help us understand aspects of the situation we find ourselves in forty years after “Structure, Sign and Play” (SSaP) as well as the other writings by Jacques Derrida published in the watershed year of 1967, insofar as the Human Sciences have increasingly lost both the human and science into the many disciplinary traps we find lurking in the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences. The division of the faculties of the university that come so naturally and automatically to us now mimic the division of our corporeal faculties, with those most directly connected to the organic senses receiving the most funding and state support insofar as they are found in the physical sciences. The university’s various divisions constitute but one site of the cloven nature of the Human Sciences. Perhaps “the auto-” can offer us a few insights into how we have arrived here because the “auto-” as it emerges in Derrida’s writings functions as a hinge between the event (organic/animate) and the machine (calculable/inanimate). i
The “auto-” reveals the tensions between method and event, mechanical repeatability and organic individuality, and representation and production. It can also tell us much about movement. Movement and momentum occur frequently in the works of Derrida from this period (and others) and are essential to differance, though their influence is often a covert one. The “auto-” can be seen operating in iterability as well, shuttling between the necessary mechanics of repetition and the unpredictability of enunciation central to iterability. In Speech and Phenomenon (SaP), Derrida deconstructs Husserl’s “ideality” through the mechanisms of “repetition” and “repeatability” and thus has iterability in play more or less from the outset though not given its proper name as yet. Thus, the “auto-” offers us a figure and a problematic that is found in the tensions central to both difference and iterability.
As the OED definition presented above indicates, the prefix “auto” over time performs its content. This affix is self-performing, almost auto-grammatic or auto-semantic. The movement from Greek to early Latin, to medieval Latin, and “largely modern languages” embodies “the auto-” itself in a momentum of usage that is indicated by but not reducible to an increase of use and application. “The auto-” enacts its auto-attributes, its auto-ness. And this auto-ness has much to say about the Human Sciences some forty years on from SSaP as they pertain to method (representation and production) and critical reading.
The tension between representation and production as modes and goals of method within the Human Sciences is a tension found in the difficult term “Human Sciences” although it is a tension shot through with complementarity and connections. This tension, which repeats the ancient pull between truth and rhetoric – or in a different register, between nomos and physis -- is one of the explicit inquiries of SSaP. The legacy of the article, however, does little to convince...