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  • Comparative Literature in the Age of the Great Telematic Network
  • David Kelman (bio)

Piglia, Ricardo, Artificial Respiration, Derrida, Jacques, The Post Card, Comparative Literature, comparison, Telematics, Sovereignty

His first novel Respiración artificial (1980) courageously texted the limits of political censorship at a time of torture anddisappearance.”

—“Ricardo Emilio Piglia transfers to Emeritus Status,” posted by Jillian Halbe

I would like to address the secret correspondence between Jacques Derrida and Ricardo Piglia, a correspondence that questions who or what stands as the agent of correspondence. I owe the discovery of this secret correspondence to a typo from an article announcing Piglia’s retirement from Princeton University. The error appears in a sentence, reproduced above, that simply notes that Piglia’s first novel treats the problem of censorship in Argentina during the Dirty War (1976-83), an event that involved widespread [End Page 111] human rights abuses coupled with the inability to testify to those abuses. The writer of the announcement meant to say that Piglia’s novel “tested” the limits of political censorship, but instead wrote “texted.” Clearly this is just a slip of the finger, a typographic error, an accident. But what if Artificial Respiration is indeed a text that texts the limits of censorship, that is, a novel that sends a missive to the very frontiers of what is allowed to pass through determined limits? How is Piglia’s novel texting the limits of the sayable, of what is allowed to be said, of what can be communicated or related? And what would it mean to communicate this text to the limits of the sayable by means of a seemingly anachronistic telecommunications device (“texting” in 1980)?

One of the effects of this typo is not only that it highlights the way that Artificial Respiration indeed takes this problem of “texting” (sending and receiving messages through telematic networks) as a central theme and formal concern but also the way it precisely sends us to Derrida’s The Post Card. The typo, in other words, opens up an unforeseen comparison between the two texts, as if there had always been a secret communication or correspondence between them. Of course this kind of comparison is clearly illegitimate or speculative at best; after all, the correspondence between these two texts seems more or less accidental.1 Both texts happened to be published in 1980, and both texts happen to include missives (postcards, letters) that are supposedly written in 1979 (among other dates). And yet these coincidences become significant when one notices that both texts pose the question of telecommunications in a new way. Above all, both texts, beyond their differences, ask: How does a text text itself beyond its own limits?

I would like to argue that this secret correspondence between Piglia and Derrida both opens up, and is an example of a new notion of, comparative literature that has nevertheless been with us for quite a long time, at least since 1979 (but more likely longer than that). I will therefore refer to 1979 as the date that marks the emergence of comparative literature in the age of the Great Telematic Network. A closer attention to this term “telematics” and the way it “imposed” itself on Derrida’s discourse will suggest that telematics not only changes the way we think about comparison but also sends out a long-distance call to Piglia’s novel.2 Through a comparison of Artificial Respiration, The Post Card, and a few other texts that hover around the year 1979, I will argue that the telematics [End Page 112] age brings about a displacement of the very sovereignty of the comparatist. In short, who or what compares in the age of telematics?

Telematics and the Question of Sovereignty (1978)

But what is “telematics”? For Derrida, telematics is always associated with the post, or rather more generally with the postal principle. In a missive dated June 8, 1977, the writer of the postcard explains: “Want to write and first reassemble an enormous library on the courier, the postal institutions, the techniques and mores of telecommunication, the networks and epochs of telecommunication throughout history” (Derrida 1987, 27). Immediately a problem arises around the...


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