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  • Titanic Times:Epimetheus and Prometheus between Différance and Deferred Action1
  • Eran Dorfman (bio)

In Plato’s dialogue Protagoras, the famous sophist recounts the myth of how mortal creatures were created. The gods, he says, gave the brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus the task to deal out to each creature the equipment of its proper faculty. Yet Epimetheus, literally the afterthinker, asked Prometheus, the forethinker, to distribute the qualities himself: “‘And when I have dealt,’ he said, ‘you shall examine’” (320d). So Epimetheus distributed to each animal qualities according to a principle of equilibrium and compensation, each becoming either swift or strong, skilled or large, and thereafter he provided all creatures with their appropriate food and clothing. Only then, however, did he realize that, lacking foresight, he had forgotten to take care of one particular creature:

Now Epimetheus, being not so wise as he might be, heedlessly squandered his stock of properties on the brutes; he still had left unequipped the race of men, and was at a loss what to do with it. As he was casting about, Prometheus arrived to examine his distribution, and saw that whereas the other creatures were fully and suitably provided, man was naked, unshod, unbedded, unarmed; and already the destined day was come, whereon man like the rest should emerge from earth to light. Then Prometheus, in his perplexity as to what preservation he could devise for man, stole from Hephaestus and Athena wisdom in the arts together with fire […] but Prometheus, through Epimetheus’ fault, later on (the story goes) stood his trial for theft.


Bernard Stiegler draws on this myth to characterize epimetheia as an originary forgetting and delay, and prometheia as a looking forward which is actually an anticipation of death (142). In this way, he aims to combine the Heideggerian structure of temporality with the Derridean notion of différance, focusing on writing as one of the techniques stolen by Prometheus, writing that negates and forgets its origin in the fault of Epimetheus.

Although inspired by Stiegler, my aim in this paper is not so much to follow in detail his analysis of the Platonic myth, but rather to further develop his view of différance as movement of life that has temporal, spatial and psychological variations. Whereas Stiegler refers to epimetheia [End Page 61] and prometheia as abstract qualities that lie in the heart of différance, I will highlight the concrete traits and actions of the twin brothers, arguing that each brother incarnates and employs only one aspect of différance: difference, in the case of Epimetheus, and deferral, in the case of Prometheus. To understand the relationship between these two aspects, I will turn to Freud’s theory of deferred action (Nachträglichkeit), and propose that in order to relaunch the movement of différance by integrating difference and deferral, the two brothers should encounter each other through an intersubjective process, which is analogous to that which takes place in the psychoanalytical session.

Epimetheus and Prometheus: Could Différance Be Split?

Let us start with Prometheus’s punishment, namely his being chained to a rock where his liver is eaten daily by an eagle and is regenerated by night. According to Stiegler, this daily ritual constitutes the titanic clock, where Prometheus’s liver is never eaten completely and his death thus perpetually deferred (203). Stiegler therefore characterizes this clock as participating in the movement of différance, but the problem I would like to point out is that whereas différance in Derrida always contains both deferral and difference, the movement of the titanic clock seems to be rather mechanical and monotonous. If each day repeats exactly the same ceremony as the precedent, involving the liver being first eaten and then regenerated, what difference is to be found between the days?

As a first clue to this difference let us examine the characteristics of Epimetheus (afterthinker) and Prometheus (forethinker), as suggested by their names, the one gifted with hindsight and the one with foresight. Each of them seems to think and look in an opposite direction, backward and forward, but is this actually the case? If we examine Epimetheus’s actions, we may note that it...


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