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"With a View to Speech"

From: Criticism
Volume 55, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 345-350 | 10.1353/crt.2013.0009

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The first two volumes of an ambitious project to publish Jacques Derrida's complete "teaching lectures" or seminars, delivered between 1968 and 2003 in French and in English, begin at the end with Derrida's last, unfinished seminar "The Beast & the Sovereign," which he presented during 2001-3 in France and the United States. Geoffrey Bennington and Peggy Kamuf, who supervise the English edition of "The Seminars of Jacques Derrida," and are also involved in the French project published by Galilée, explain the process by which Derrida's lectures, which he called "seminars" and which were in most cases written out in their entirety beforehand, originally by hand, then by typewriter, and eventually electronically, were transcribed, and with minimal editing, published first in French and then in English translation. "In all cases," write Bennington and Kamuf, along with their cosignatories of the "General Introduction to the French Edition" (Marc Crépon, Marguerite Derrida, Thomas Dutoit, Michel Lise, Marie-Louise Mallet, and Ginette Michaud), "our primary goal is to present the text of the seminar, as written by Jacques Derrida with a view to speech, to reading aloud, and thus with some marks of anticipated orality and some familiar turns of phrase" (2009, xi, original emphases).

Already at work in this complex project is an irreducible ambiguity regarding the phenomenality of the object, its objectivity (and objecthood) as such, but also its authority, specifically its authorship. These signatories, all of who worked closely with Derrida (including Marguerite), and whom Derrida trusted deeply, are also involved in an expanded economy of authorship that is not unrelated to Derrida's work. As they write in the general introduction, "It is not certain that Jacques Derrida would have published the seminars as they stand; probably he would have reorganized or rewritten them" (2009, xi). These supplementary texts, written and spoken by Derrida, bear the marks then of a quasi authorship, a virtual authorship he shares with his colleagues posthumously. This precarious authorship bears significantly upon the continued understanding of Derrida's oeuvre as a singularly important event in the history of twentieth-century thought since it is precisely one of the themes to which Derrida turns and returns consistently, here and elsewhere: Who or what writes? Is writing written or spoken by a subject or does it arrive, return, take place ipso facto with or without an author? In his or her absence? And what constitutes writing, what are its genres, its genders even? Who or what is sovereign in writing, an author, he or she?

Among the notable phrases in the editors' introduction is the claim that these seminars, to be distinguished from Derrida's published work, which he authorized as their author, which he authored in a more conventional sense of the term, are texts written by Derrida but "with a view to speech." That is, their authorship is performed as it were live, in full view, perhaps, a spectacle of speech and thought. What might such a view be, and how to view or review the visuality implicit in speech, inherent in the two volumes that signal the arrival of a writing genre with a view to and perhaps of speech? What mode of speech is made visible in these publications? What does this thought look like? As the editors suggest, it is Derrida himself, the dynamic temporality of his thought, what Jean-Claude Lebensztejn once referred to as Derrida's "extravagant patience," and the rhythms with which his thought unfolds that become visible. Not simply the thought made text, made flesh, transposed from and to a body fixed in space, but a movement in time, changing in time, over time and through space from one session to the next. What is immediately but also slowly visible in these volumes is the remarkable manner in which Derrida's signature form of teaching takes place, marks time, a genre of thought made sensual and temporal.

Along with the careful pacing that Derrida sustains in his seminars, a kind of musical structure with its own measures, refrains, keys, motifs, variations, deviations, and contretemps, the seminars also reveal Derrida's incredible mobilization of thought: Derrida moves vast philosophical, literary, political archives forward in...


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