- Starting with Derrida: Plato, Aristotle and Hegel
For the series 'Starting with . . .' Sean Gaston presents a thorough and dense study analysing the movements of Derrida's thought according to the figure of the palintrope. Pondering on those moments that in Derrida's work are concerned with the question of the origin and the commencement, this compelling introduction highlights the necessity, embraced by Derrida himself, of a palintropic reading of Plato and Aristotle. As the author explains, Derrida's rereadings of Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, as well as his later retranslations of Heidegger, are concerned with the problem of a history of philosophy in relation to the possibility of a history of literature, and with that of a 'new' history of the senses. The importance of the relationship between philosophy, literature, and history fully appears within Gaston's rigorous interpretation of the Derridean reflection on sensation and thinking, time and space, history and literature, the [End Page 518] concept and the name. The histories of literature and of the senses, respectively characterized by a peculiar 'fictionality' and an irreducible 'physicality', are strictly intertwined. Following Derrida's discussion of the sensible origin of ideality, linking Husserl to Plato, the author lets the question of the possibility of an origin emerge. Derrida suggests that the origin is impossible, or, rather, is possible only as inscribed origin: 'inscribed in a system, in a figure which it no longer governs' ('Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas', in Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), pp. 79-153 (p.115)). As the Hegelian process of idealization indicates, the content of sensible intuition has to become an image in order to complete the passage to conceptuality. Derrida shows that the origin, as pure ideality, is an act of erasure. The inaugural character of the idealizing act is indeed due to its erasing its own past and liberating itself from immediacy and individuality. Turning back to the De anima and the Aristotelian definition of the 'diaphanous', Derrida recalls that the idealization begins with 'retaining the sense of touch within sight as to ensure for the glancing eye the fullness of immediate presence required by every ontology or metaphysics' (On Touching: Jean-Luc Nancy (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), p.120). As Gaston subtly points out, in Glas two tracks in fact cross each other: the conception of the concept, and the one constituted by the various leaps, cuts, and gaps. The leap from animality to humanity, from feeling to thinking, is the leap towards the concept, that is, towards the Aufhebung of a language that, Gaston says, 'vomits a natural remain(s)' (Starting with Derrida, p. 142). Philosophy itself starts by preceding itself and proceeding from itself. Going backwards to Aristotle and Plato, rereading them, once more and more than once, Derrida draws a different way to start, a way to resist Western metaphysics, declaring at the same time that the possibility of a pure recommencement is always already denied. Gaston's work, then, acutely suggests that the palintropic movement in Derrida's œuvre always 'starts differently, with a start, it startles itself as it starts again' (p. viii).