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  • Girard and DerridaPhilosophy for Laughs
  • Andrew McKenna (bio)

René Girard, Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction, Generative Anthropology, Eric Gans, Violence, Mimetic Theory, Humor

In the 500 or so pages of the tapuscript (typescript) of La Bête et le souverain (2008), Jacques Derrida explores, in a fashion that is peculiar to his writings, certain animal figures of sovereignty, especially in its tyrannical and violent manifestations, such as “The Wolf and the Lamb,” “The Deer, the Goat, and the Sheep in Society with the Lion,” and others. It is especially his manner of proceeding and the mannerisms that have become his trademark that I will address here, namely, his addiction to all sorts of wordplay, his insistent self-referential returns to his own writing, and a persistent strain of humor, which is itself exceptional in the mostly cheerless annals of philosophy. He’s having all the fun he can and that has to be taken into account along with what he has to tell us. It is rather more, in terms of Eric Gans’s generative anthropology, the content of the form than the form of the content that I shall examine for epistemological reasons.

Near the end of the first volume, at the 12th of 13 sessions of his seminar, Derrida takes us back to the very beginning to consider the problematic status of thresholds, of “the unsectionable [insécable] unity of the threshold, of the sole step forward [note the play of phonemes: le seul seuil] that we suppose to be indivisible.”1 Here he takes up for the nth time his notorious critique of origins, of the unique entry way that would lead to something [End Page 17] foundational, to the construction of a discourse that would hold up on its own—just the sort of thing that lends itself to deconstruction:

The threshold not only presupposes the indivisible limit that every deconstruction begins by deconstructing (to deconstruct is first of all to never take for assured any compact unity [atomiticité]); the classic figure of the threshold (to be deconstructed), presupposes not only that indivisibility which is nowhere to be found; it also presupposes the solitude of a ground or of a foundation, they too being deconstructable.


A threshold demarcates a difference between interior and exterior space. And what if the exterior always already inhabits that interior, as the reserve that it expels, as its “supplement of origin”? This is what Derrida demonstrates everywhere, when he examines remains, exclusions, the margins of a system that aspires to being without remainder, to being just what it is or thoroughly representing what is the case, rather than having been constructed on what it expels, denies or excludes.2 We find this in his readings of Hegel, of Husserl, of Aristotle, of Heidegger, and, most spectacularly, to my mind, of Plato. In each case, an occlusion is exposed, an exclusion is unveiled as fundamental, foundational for the system, such as writing in Plato’s Phaedrus. In “Plato’s Pharmacy” Derrida demonstrates persuasively how the originality and hierarchic or hieratic centrality of the Father-Logos-Origin issues in fact from the expulsion of its writerly double, which had been proposed as a remedy for memory, for presence of mind, and condemned for being its usurper, its destroyer.3 In sum, Derrida regularly unveils philosophy as a sacrificial discourse, though not in so many words, because of his inveterate mistrust of anthropology, which is amply expressed in La Bête et le souverain. Yet upon examination, we can see that Derrida’s hermeneutic of the supplement is the formal equivalent of René Girard’s anthropology of the scapegoat as the foundation of human culture.

Derrida’s philosophical inquiry is in effect an inquest, one that is deadly, catastrophic for philosophical rationality. Throughout his works he is tolling the death knell of philosophy, its Glas, as in the case of Hegel’s claims for Absolute Knowledge, but he does so rather in the mode of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, that veritable monstrosity of wordplay that in fact he brings up in volume 2 of La Bête et le souverain. Derrida’s deconstructions are notoriously festive: “Glas” begets “Klang” begets “gala,” which...