- Chronicle of Separation: On Deconstruction’s Disillusioned Love by Michal Ben-Naftali
In this sprawling, confounding, and remarkable text, Chronicle of Separation: On Deconstruction’s Disillusioned Love, Michal Ben-Naftali injects the body, particularly the female body, into the act, or identity, of deconstruction. As the back of the book warns, the text contains “disparate, yet beautifully interwoven” considerations. While the less generous reader (and deconstruction, as Ben-Naftali notes, has always been good at finding ungenerous readers) may find the progression of chapters confusing or even random, the book is an act of exegetical and creative labor that manages to maintain a constant level of emotional and embodied involvement on the part of the author while respecting the depth and controversies of previous critical conversations.
The text begins with a foreword by Avital Ronell—a meditation on philosophy, friendship, and women existing within/without the community of deconstruction “in our salad days” (xiv). Rather than making a solely interpretive [End Page 194] move, Ronell offers friendship to Naftali and a declaration of herself as a “practicing paranoid lectrice” (xiv). She rejects, or at least expands, the foreword’s transmission of authority or discursive boundaries to enter into what is essentially at stake in Ben-Naftali’s work: the relationships between women (and between self and other/others/other(s)-within-the-self) as philosophers, bodies, and participants in deconstruction. Ben-Naftali eventually addresses these themes in conjunction with Lillian Hellman and the controversially and most-likely fictive Julia, to Ruth and Naomi in The Book of Ruth, and to the body of the anorexic and/or deconstructionist.
The specific goals of Ben-Naftali’s work, laid out in the Preface, are purposefully difficult to unify. “Ben-Naftali does not produce familiar discursive runs or collate conventional academic dossiers,” Ronell warns us: “She takes liberties; she takes pains; she digs up dirt on missing concepts” (xvi). Following in the footsteps of Rei Tarada’s Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the “Death of the Subject,” Ben-Naftali seeks to uncover the presence of emotion and affect in deconstruction. Her use of Jacques Derrida’s later works and her creative interventions in the book’s fourth and fifth chapters break some new and compelling, if not tidily coherent, ground.
The first chapter takes on friendship in Derrida’s late writing, particularly texts from the 1980s on Paul de Man. Asserting from the beginning that “Freud is Derrida’s intimate other,” Ben-Naftali offers a reading of Derrida’s own interpretation of narcissism and mourning. Though the pathways and frequencies of Ben-Naftali’s exegesis insist that the process of the argument is more important than any clear “takeaways,” the crux of this chapter lies in how the absent or lost friend becomes ingrained in the self in a way that is always narcissistic to a degree but ultimately outside of the socio-political trappings of an economic friendship. As Ben-Naftali writes, “deconstruction… is seen to enact its notion of friendship, its ongoing work of mourning and memory by creating a symbolic environment that is shielded from any real contact with the world and is shielded, in fact, from any real contact with the friend” (19). The chapter ends with an illuminating reading of Derrida’s views on mutuality in friendship and the masculine lexicon that characterizes the history of the philosophy of friendship. This opens the door, Ben-Naftali believes, to the feminine, ending with the somewhat haunting utterance, “She leaves behind / He almost understands her.”
The second chapter, on Derrida’s The Post Card, argues that philosophers taking on “the condition of address” (34) perform a provocative act that shifts their language and emotional register (36). Tracking the “violent neediness of the self” (36) in one of Derrida’s most confounding and literary works, Ben-Naftali meditates on the postal technologies of address, the philosophical [End Page 195] conditions of the epistolary mode, and the need for the self to expropriate the other in the act of writing. Her reflections on...