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  • Of Seminal DifferanceDissemination and Philosophy of Nature
  • Mauro Senatore (bio)

If it is precisely at this point that we recall that Artaud died of cancer of the rectum, we do not do so in order to have the exception prove the rule, but because we think that the status (still to be found) of this remark, and of other similar ones, must not be that of the so-called “biographical reference.” The new status—to be found—is that of the relations between existence and the text, between these two forms of textuality and the generalized writing within whose play they are articulated.

—J. Derrida, Writing and Difference (1978, 420)

The Seed and the Genetic Program

In the final pages of the preface to Dissemination (1972), entitled “Outwork. Prefaces,” drawing attention to Novalis’s fragmentary project of Encyclopedia, Jacques Derrida appeals to the relation between the textual preface and the Book as follows: “The question of the genetic pro-gram or the [End Page 67] textual preface can no longer be eluded. Which does not mean that Novalis does not in the final analysis reinstall [rengainera] the seed in the logos spermatikos of philosophy” (Derrida 1981a, 66).1 Hence, the genetic program and the seed (or the seminal differance).2 How can we think of the seed, as the genetic program in general, as the minimal structure of genesis, in a fashion that is altogether different from the logos spermatikos of philosophy? These are the stakes of the reading of Derrida’s early texts that I am attempting to develop here.

In the footnote to the quoted passage Derrida demarcates dissemination from the philosophy of the seed as it is analyzed by Gaston Bachelard in The Formation of the Scientific Mind (1938) by referring the former back to the project of conceiving of the program (namely, the possibility of inscription in general) as the structure of genesis in general, which is announced at the beginning of Of Grammatology (1967). Derrida writes:

It is for this reason that the philosophy of the seed, conceived as an enrichment in the return-to-self, is always substantialist, and also derives from a romantic metaphorism and a myth of semantic depth, from that ideology which Bachelard analyzes (when he isn’t giving in to it himself) in La formation de l’ésprit scientifique, in reference to sperm and gold. (A seminal differance: not only the seed, but the egg.) The treatment which they undergo in dissemination should break away from all mythological panspermism and all alchemical metallurgy. It is rather a question of broaching an articulation with the movement of genetic science and with the genetic movement of science, wherever science should take into account, more than metaphorically, the problems of writing and difference, of seminal differance (cf. Of Grammatology, p. 9). Elliptically, we cite this sentence by Freud, which should always be kept in mind [dont il ne faut perdre le cap]: “All our provisional ideas in psychology will presumably some day be based on an organic substructure” (“On Narcissism: An Introduction,” in Standard Edition, trans. James Strachey, [London: Hogarth Press, 1957], XIV, 78).

(Derrida 1981a, 50)

Chapter 10 of The Formation of the Scientific Mind gives an exemplary account of the ideology evoked by Derrida, that of a “substantial panspermy” by which [End Page 68] the diverse seeds refer to “a unique principle,” that is, the “universal seed” (Bachelard 2002, 203–4). It would be possible to demonstrate that, for Derrida, this ideology is at work in philosophy itself, at least from Plato to Hegel. For instance, one may recall the relation between the father and the instance of the logos as it is analyzed in the section of “Plato’s Pharmacy” (1968) entitled “The Father of Logos.”3 For a reading of Hegel, I refer to Derrida’s engagement with the final sections of the Philosophy of Nature in Glas (1974) in the following pages.

Dissemination breaks with the logos spermatikos of philosophy insofar as it brings to fulfillment the grammatological project of thinking the genetic program in general, which would explain—more than metaphorically—the genesis of sense in general, from the properly called genetic...


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