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  • In Rhythm: A Response to Jean-Luc Nancy
  • Geoffrey Bennington (bio)

So: Being is always being-in-contact. Contact presupposes a prior separation, and neither precedes nor overcomes it. Contact is never established or given as presence, it is (only) the rhythm or vibration of its own touching and separating, its own touching (even poignant) separation.

Separation has a certain priority in this story. Not: Being first, then relation. Nor: Subject first, then contact. The subject is “subject to the outside,” as you say, always already. Which means that the touch (without which the alterity of the other would not impinge at all) is already withdrawing in its very touch, vibrating away again and becoming, intrinsically, a trace of itself, a trace of touch.

Once touch becomes trace in this way, and once touch is given a certain priority over the other senses (which are themselves differential vibrations of the rhythm or vibration you here choose to call “touch,”) then phenomenology, ontology, “metaphysics of presence” are themselves touched, moved, upset, shaken up. Touch, presented the way you present it as becoming-trace, is already a conceptual insurrection in philosophy, however accommodating you also seem to want to be toward Descartes, Kant, Fichte, Husserl or Heidegger. (Descartes’s “Je suis” may, as you say, not exactly “contravene” the necessity that being be intrinsically relational, but it is nonetheless all shaken up by that discovery—and the same with all the rest, except perhaps Heidegger.)

This can go different ways, depending on the conceptual register chosen: towards a kind of erotology of touch, for example, centered on the human body, which seems to have its attractions for you. But it can also move away from that center, let’s say in two different directions. First, zooming in to a kind of hyper-micrology, it can rub up against something more cosmo-ontological, as it were, not so human, where rhythm and vibration would take us back towards the ruthmos of the ancient materialists, or (perhaps more promisingly) forward to the most modern so-called string theory, which suggests that differential vibration of one-dimensional “strings” subtends the atomic and the subatomic, all “particles” and “matter” resolving into a kind of pure rhythm without presence or substance. Moving this way, your logic of relation-as-rhythm-as-trace might put you in touch with theoretical physicists.

Moving in another direction, this time more logico-semantic, we might find ourselves looking at a kind of differential-relational view of language and conceptuality that has been making its way since Saussure, as famously radicalized by Derrida, “difference-without-positive-terms” [End Page 18] becoming (one aspect at least of) différance. Linguistic or conceptual terms also—so it seems—obey the logic of touch and trace; they mean only in their erasure and withdrawal, their rhythm again, this time in a kind of sub-semantic writing rather than in sub-particle physics (but the ancient materialists loved using the analogy of the letters of the alphabet for their never-observed “atoms”).

How to decide which way to go? Is going physics an option that is fundamentally different from going language? Your own version of touch (your own rhythm), however corporeal in its declarations, seems (as quite often in your work) moved in the first instance (at least in the ordo exponendi) by an encounter with language, a touch of words, here primarily the German terms that give you your title (the ordo inveniendi, on the other hand, seems to begin in the womb, maybe a different story altogether). I want to say that it must follow from the thought of différance (which I think I take in a more strictly Derridean sense than you tend to, as more than an explication of the Heideggerian ontico-ontological difference) that there is no essential difference between these two “ways,” that they are themselves differentiations of the same as non-identical.1 But this would mean that the apparent (touching, affectively powerful) priority of touch in your description is strategic (or perhaps playful) rather than foundational, and that your choice of, say, “rhythm” to help say what you are saying is marked by a kind of necessary...


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