- Lignes de Partage:Rodolphe Gasché's Discipline
Though the letter gains strength solely from this indirection, and granted that it can always not arrive at the other side, I will not use this as a pretext to absent myself from the punctuality of a dedication: R. Gasché, J. J. Goux, J. C. Lebensztejn, J. H. Miller, others, il y a là cendre, will recognize, perhaps, what their reading has contributed here.—December 1971. Jacques Derrida (1981, 366)1
How is one to do justice to the work of Rodolphe Gasché? Justice not simply to this or that theme or question in his work but to his work more generally, to his truly remarkable and absolutely unique corpus, to Gasché's more than thirty years of teaching at the State University of New York at Buffalo and his more than forty years of lecturing, publication, and active engagement in so many disciplinary and interdisciplinary debates? How is one to do justice to someone who has been not only a privileged witness of [End Page 1] but a principal participant in so many of the debates and developments of the last four decades in what are called—and these are not all the same thing, as Gasché has constantly reminded us—continental or European philosophy, literary theory, comparative literature, critical theory, or what is sometimes simply called theory? In other words, how is one to do justice to a career that is this wide in scope, this accomplished in works, this distinguished in influence, and this rich in events? One can only begin, I think, by admitting defeat at the outset and by hoping that one's failure will be understood and partially excused by what Derrida calls in the epigraph above "the punctuality of a dedication." Dedicated to the work and person of Rodolphe Gasché, this essay will fail a little less egregiously, I hope, when the punctuality of its event is taken into account.2
Rather than focusing here, then, on a single subject or a single work in Gasché's enormous corpus in order to ask a few hopefully pertinent questions about it, I would like—however daunting, however impossible, the task—to try to say something more generally about the scope and importance of Gasché's work for the fields of philosophy and literary theory, something about Gasché's unique background and intellectual itinerary, and something, especially, about his discipline. Rodolphe Gasché's discipline—that will be my very general theme, and if you catch me straying from it from time to time, well, you can attribute this to the fact that, despite my best efforts and intentions, I have never been able to be as rigorous and, alas, as disciplined as Rodolphe Gasché.
When considering the unique intellectual itinerary of Rodolphe Gasché, it is hard not to want to attribute a formative role to Gasché's bilingual upbringing in Luxembourg and Flemish Belgium. In the beginning of almost every one of the interviews with Gasché that I have read, we see Gasché being asked about his unique linguistic and geographical background, at the center of Europe, yes, but also in its margins, in nation-states that are crossed by so many linguistic, cultural, and geographical borders, so many—let me call them without justifying the term for the moment—lignes de partage. This unique upbringing has surely had its advantages for the type of work in comparative literature and European philosophy that Gasché has undertaken. But consider that in his university studies in Berlin and Paris, [End Page 2] his teaching at Johns Hopkins and at Buffalo, and his numerous publications over a forty-year period, he has never been able to communicate in either of his two mother tongues, Luxembourgish and Dutch, but in German, French, and English, that is, always in related but nonetheless foreign languages. If questions of language, limits, distinctions, divisions, and, as we will see, disciplines have thus been at the center of Gasché's work from the very beginning, this unique background could not have been for nothing in this.3 Though one should not exaggerate the importance of the biographical here, one should also not ignore Gasch...