- Impossible InventionsOn Genius and Sexual Difference
It is not an overstatement to say that Rodolphe Gasché has taught an entire generation of literary and philosophical scholars how to read Derrida’s texts responsibly, by taking fully into account both the philosophical tradition into which they intervene and the singularity of this intervention. Given this exemplary mode of philosophical engagement with the work of other thinkers, which motivates Gasché’s own thinking and writing, responding to his own texts is not an easy matter. The difficulty in question is not only the rigor and the complexity of his texts, but precisely the modality of response that his thought exemplifies. To indicate this exemplary modality of responding to another text, we could do no better at this point than to recall the questions Gasché poses in his Inventions of Difference and redirect them to his own work: “From what angle does one look at these works . . . which not only ponder questions of difference and singularity, but put these questions into action? How is one to read works that do not limit themselves to making a point, but also perform and enact it? And finally, what do these [End Page 139] works . . . that meditate on the rules of breaking the rules, expect from the critic? . . . For what mode of relating do they properly call?” (1994, 1).
In my mode of responding to Gasché’s groundbreaking contributions to contemporary philosophy, I will look less for the philosophical rigor and precision for which his work is justly famous and more for the unique places of in(ter)vention his work opens, and which call for a response. I am particularly interested in how the question of invention intersects with Gasché’s ongoing reflections on philosophical aesthetics. Since Gasché’s work is most well known for its rigorous interpretation of the philosophical implications of deconstruction, for the elaboration of the necessary philosophical framework and consequences of Derrida’s thought, for a concern with “the honor of thinking,” and most recently, for the philosophical elaboration of the idea of Europe, it is easy to overlook his ongoing investigation of philosophical aesthetics and its implications for the study of philosophy and modern literature. One may even risk the hypothesis that this engagement with aesthetics is what enables a shift in Gasché’s work from the infrastructural analysis of the conditions of possibility and impossibility of thought to the “inventions of difference,” and the models of relationality and responsiveness such invention implies. In the scope of this essay I cannot do justice to the rich and provocative engagements with the question of aesthetics in Gasché’s work more generally. I will limit myself to Gasché’s interpretation of Kant’s concept of genius: first, I will reread it in the context of Gasché’s own notions of invention and minimality, and second, I will reinterpret these three closely related concepts from a feminist perspective. I will speculate on the way Gasché’s problematization of difference from the point of view of invention calls for a certain reinvention of genius—the source of original artistic invention par excellence—from the point of view of sexual difference. In so doing, I will gesture toward an alternative reading of Kant’s conception of genius, and then turn to Virginia Woolf’s fictional invention of the feminine genius in A Room of One’s Own.
As a preface to the discussion of Kant’s genius, I want to begin with Gasché’s “invention of difference” and the model of relationality and response such invention presupposes in order to argue that both of these issues are crucial for feminist criticism and philosophy. In his debate with Rorty in [End Page 140] Inventions of Difference, Gasché rigorously opposes the claim that such invention is limited to a private philosophical language game or fantasy; on the contrary, he shows its public and political implications. By discussing Derrida’s concept of invention, Gasché underscores both the original, inaugural character of invention as well as its public, repeatable future. Thus, on the one hand, invention breaks with the preceding rules, contracts, and norms and, in so doing, constitutes an inaugural event bringing unprecedented...