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  • The Different Life [La vie différante]
  • Jean-Luc Nancy (bio)
    Translated by Matthew H. Anderson (bio)

1. The Transformation of Difference

Whether intentional or not, misunderstandings about Derrida's différance have been piling up; "neither a word nor a concept" as he would say, it was a notion to which he accorded a status that one could call transcendental. Sometimes, one sees a pleasing variation on simple difference, and sometimes—because of the verb "to defer"—a simple and absurd suspension until later.

Even if one were to assume that différance retained the quality of the verb "to defer" within it—and up to a certain point it does (right up to the point where "later" remains caught within time, while différance opens time)—one still had to ask oneself what exactly it was that would be suspended or deferred. This was always done in a vague and erratic way, leaving one to believe that it is meaning, the subject, or Being that finds itself suspended until later. It is suspended and promised at the same time, then. Though it is assured for later, this is a fallacious assurance and an empty promise. [End Page 55]

Yet it has to be pointed out that Derrida does not promise—and so does not suspend—anything of the kind. Nowhere does he say that meaning, the subject, or Being would be things that would be for later (he does talk about what is "to come" [à venir], and we are going to look into this). In no way is it a philosophy of/for tomorrow.

It is possible, I believe, to take hold of différance in life or as life. 1

But here we have to make a detour.

One has taken far too little heed of a simple fact, a fact that is nevertheless visible in his texts. Différance is a transformation of Heidegger's onticontological "difference." This means, above all, that it bears on the ontological plane or, more accurately, on the level where ontology is undone (that is exactly what deconstruction is). And it is undone in such a way that it is no longer a question of asking about "being" at all, but only the difference, being-beings (which should moreover be the difference between a verb, itself taken as transitive, and the real that its transitivity "makes be"). All of this—either explicitly or implicitly—is drawn from Heidegger, and Derrida knew how to do so with the utmost precision.

But this attention to detail opened him to the most far-reaching consequences. No doubt, first and foremost among them is difference (being-beings). Derrida understood better than anyone that being cannot be, above all, a substantive; perhaps it cannot even be conjugated as a verb, since it does not give the necessary transitivity. But the fact that it does not offer this also means that there is no transitivity to wait for. What is, is not the product of any action, production, creation, or origin. What is does not come, or appear from, some anterior given.

There is no initial given (donné premier): there is nothing but the gift of the given (le don du donné), and the gift is not itself given. It no longer opens or gives onto the register of being in general but instead opens onto the register—and it is on this register that things are essentially played out here—of a "subject." As Derrida makes clear, "This movement of différance is not something that happens to a transcendental subject; it produces a subject" (1973, 82). [End Page 56]

2. Movement, Coming

It is a movement: it is not a simple relation between terms, as with a difference. There is a principial mobility—principial in principle, and principial as a premise. (Recall that at the same time, Deleuze was also thinking of a double movement: differenciation/differentiation.) Différance once again plays out the struggle—a contest that began with Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Plato—between being and becoming. And without a doubt, it replays the version Hegel already played out: namely, the one where being is negated in becoming.

And what now finds itself suspended...


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pp. 55-63
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