In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Nietzsche/Derrida, Blanchot/Beckett: Fragmentary Progressions of the Unnamable
  • Stephen Barker

I. Parallax: Toward a Nietzschean Genealogy of the Paramodern Fragment

To attempt any genealogy, let alone a Nietzschean one, of the kind of fragment one confronts in Nietzsche, Derrida, Blanchot, and Beckett, and to do so within the context of the faux-postmodern,1 is to invite more and less obvious problems of orchestration, content, and performativity. Since my desire is to demonstrate the effect of the paramodern fragment and its vertiginous effect, from philosophy to “literature,” I will desire here instead to move a poiesis of the conception and the use of this disruptive and transgressive site; at this site we will discover a poetic Nietzschean and a critique of what Derrida in Truth in Painting calls the parergonal, as a parasite, and thus marginal and contiguous to something — something that may be a nothing — ostensibly not in any margin, a fragmentary circularity.

What is the work of which the marginal, the parergonal, the fragmentary, is outside? How is one to map this exchange, of terms and of texts, and how will this economy of the marginal, the transgressive, the nameless, or unnamable, operate within the aestheticized space of writing and reading?

The work required to address these questions, adumbrated in Nietzsche’s questions at the beginning of Beyond Good and Evil, is the work of philosophy:

The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect — what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! . . . until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?


For Nietzsche, the nature of the philosophical enterprise, which is simultaneously a poetic exercise, is imbued with the interrogation of the “strange,” the “wicked,” and the “questionable.” The work of philosophy is a ubiquitous vielleicht, the “perhaps” of the circular question of value. In Nietzsche’s own work, when “we finally come to a complete stop” we are, like Heraclitus, just beginning to revalue the stasis by which our questioning is marked. These opening fragments of Beyond Good and Evil have come to fascinate Derrida more and more in recent years, with their implicit questions not only of truth and value but of the transgressive desire for untruth that transparently shines through the cruder truth-questions with which we seem to occupy ourselves. This subtler work is addressed by Derrida as work to

economize on the abyss: not only save oneself from falling into the bottomless depths by weaving and folding the cloth to infinity, textual art of the reprise, multiplication of patches within patches, but also establish the laws of appropriation, formalize the rules which constrain the logic of the abyss and which shuttle between the economic and the aneconomic, the raising and the fall, the abyssal operation which can only work toward the reléve and that in it which regularly reproduces collapse.

(Truth in Painting 37)

But the collapse of the abyssal operation, described in such vertiginous language by Derrida (as both a fall and relève) does not and cannot occur, as Derrida shows, because of the laws of formalization beyond which the law, and the articulation of the law, cannot go, and which must therefore remain the nameless name. The fall and the relève are both consummate transgressions, by which the law of genre, and thus of aculturation, is formed. In Derrida’s elliptical shard, as he economizes on the abyss, the fragment behaves as such: no grammatical sign to open, no period to close the period of its semantic passage: an imitative strategy of abyssal subversion. Thus is the shard, like fragmentarity itself, revealed as oxymoronic: as a parergon in the imperative voice; a parodic work outside the work operating, it seems, sui generis, within earshot of Blanchot’s noli me legere but reading nonetheless.

If, as Nietzsche declares, the world is a work of art that gives birth to itself, does it give birth wholly...

Additional Information

Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.