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The Teaching of Nietzsche a nd

the Poli tics of the Proper Name
Translated IJ} ' I\l'ital Rmlf' ll
Texts and Discussions
Otobiography, Transference,
E,{{,riis1l edition edited b}'
Christie v. Mclkmald
(Bll.<;tyJ('}II tile Frrnch ed ition edited b)' Claude
IArsquemul Cl ' ristir \ '. MclJmurl,IJ
Trunskued J J ) ' I ' t X ~ ' Kwnllf
To the memory of Eugenio Donato
First published by Scho(;ken Hooks 1985
\0 9 8 76 5 -1 3 2 185868788
Copyrijtht 0 1985 by Schocken Books Inc,
Ori gina lly published In French as L'oreille de I'eutre by Vlb Editeur:
e V1b Editeur, Mon treal , 1982
All rights reserved
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publicat ion Date
Derride. Jacques .
The ,'ar of the other.
Tran slation of: L'oreille de l'a ut re.
Bibli ography: p.
I .Autobiogra phy-Congresses.2.Translat ing
and in terpreting-Congresi\oeS. I. Levesque. Claude.
II. McDona ld, Christie V, III. Ti lle ,
CT25.1W713.1985 809 8-1 _16053
n,'signed by Nan cy nal" Muldoon
Manufactured in the United States
IS":": 0-8052-3953- 7
- - - - - ~ - - - ---
Translator's Note
Roundtable on Autobiography
Roundtabl e on Translation
Works Cited
".=:...:=---- - - - - - - - - -
Tms BOOK started on its way to Schocken Books
when its president. Julius Glaser. happened onto several pages
from th e ma nuscript of a n article (deali ng wi t h the tran slat ion
of Jacqu es Derrida's Of Grammatology into English) in a post
office on a small isla nd off the coast of Maine where he sum-
mers. Sleuthing the origins of the piece. from whi ch the name
of the author was mys tertously missing (having been acc ide n-
tall y scattered across an open fi eld. retrieved. and exposed for
the author to rec laim). Glaser soon identified the writer and
beca me fasci nated with the impact that Derr lda's thought was
to have 0 11 American readers. In the curious entanglement of
cha nce a nd neces sity. it now seems no accident that Schocken
Books should publish a book in whi ch Derr tda. as one of the
leading int erpret ers of Friedrich Nietzs ch e. sets the stage for
new and important readi ngs of this enigmati c and controver-
sial philosopher. and engages with a nu mber of interlocut ors
in a forn. i 'f acti ve int erp retation .
This book is the result of a series of meetings held at the
University of Mont real from October 22 to 2-1. 1979. My col-
league Claude Levesque and I invited Jacques Derrtda to come
to Montrea l to meet across the table wit h several acade mi c
profess ionals in philosoph y. psychoanalysis. and lit eratu re
and to di scuss their questio ns abou t as pec ts of philosophy.
viii Preface
From the conversuttons. whic h were taped and transcribed,
we sha ped the book in ils presen t form. making only minor
mod ificati on s of wh at had taken place.
The boo k has three parts. whi ch follow the chronology of
the sessions . The first is a lecture by Jacques Derrt da ent itled
"Otobiographies." In it , Derr ida deals with two import ant but
rarely juxtaposed texts: Nietzsche's autobiography. Ecce
Horne. and On the Future of Our Edu coUo!lu/ Instnuttcn s.
Through them. he discusses the structure of the car (as a .per-
ceivlng organ) . anr!
sche defers the "lmmnlng or hi s texts so that his signature (as
t hat wh ich validates a chec k or docu ment-here a book) ca n
come to be understood. honored as it were. only when a
reader allies hi mself wit h him and. as a receiving car, signs
the text- posthumously. "In other words ... it is the car of the
ot her that signs. The car of the other says me to me. . . . When.
much later. the other will have perceived wi th a keen-enough
car what I will have addressed or destined to him. or her. then
my signature will have taken place." And thi s analys is begins
the cautious elaborati on of the grounds upon whi ch polit ical
readings of Nietzsche 's pedagogy might emerge, readings dif-
fercnt from thoso that have mad e of him predominantly a
Nazi. The readings of Niet zsche's texts arc not fini shed. Der-
rida argues: the same language. the same word s. may be read
by actively opposed forces. Such a transformanve view of
reading. as the incessant rewriting of other texts , marks the
prolongation of t he fundamenta l strat egy of deconstructi on (as
developed in ea rlier works: Of Grommatology, Writing an d
Difference . Dissemination. and Afargins of Philos ophy). in
wh ich no text ca n be redu ced to a single mean ing.
The second part of the book is a roundtable of severa l par-
ticip ant s di scu ssing notions of what consti t utes autobio-
grap hical writing: how the c utes (the self as the subject of
biography) has been det er mi ned in psyc hoanalyt ic. philo-
sophical, and literary ter ms. and how it might be restructured
ot herwise. The third part is a similar roundta ble on the subject
of translation in a wide range of senses. including the forma -
Preface tx
tion of languages and mean ing (in psychoanalysis. for
example). the ki nship of languages. philosophy as the transla-
tion of a truth in whi ch uni vocal meaning is possible. et cet-
er a. Everything is qu estioned: in the complex network of
thought conce rning autobiography and translation de veloped
here. no original ever remains anywhere intact : neith er on e's
mot her tongue. t he empirical sense of life, nor what consti-
tut es the feminine.
In addition to ' Otobiographi es." two other texts served as
specific points of reference for the di scussion: "Me-Psycho-
analysis: An -Introduction to the Trans lation of ' The Shell
and the Kernel ' by Nicolas Abraham"; an d "Living On: Bor-
de rli nes. " La Ca rle postot e was in press at the time; all us ions
to it can be found in t he discu ssions of destinat ion and sex-
ual identity.
In the dis cussions. each partici pan t add resses Jacques Ocr-
rtda. in most cases about his work. and he then responds . li e
chose the subjects for di scussion. but each of the partici pants
pursues the particu lar interests of his own work. Eugenio Do-
nato was a professor of comparative literature at t he Univer-
sity of Californi a il l Irvine; Rodolphe Casche is a professor of
comparative lit erature at the State University of New York at
Buffal o. Seve ral of us teach. or have taught at the University of
Montreal: Claude Levesque is a professor in the Philosophy
Department : Pat rick Mahon y is a professor in the English De-
partment and a practicing psychoanalyst : Christie V. McDon-
ald. a professor in the Fren ch Depart ment . is currently Chai r
of Modern Languages and Classics at Emory Uni versity;
Franco is Peraldl . a professor in the Lingu isti cs Department . is
also a practicing psychoanal yst: and Eugene Vance. formerl y a
professo r in the Program of Comparative Literature. is a pro-
fessor of Modern Languages at Emory Uni versity.
Jacques Derr ida was for man y years a professor of the hi s-
tory of philosophy at the Ecole Normale Superteuro in Paris;
ho is now a profossor at t he Ecole des Haut es Etudes en Sci-
ences Sociales . He has wrought hi s complex and forcefu l cri-
tique of wrili ng wi thin the Western tradition by rereading the
x Preface
works of writers from Plato to our time. In thi s vast project,
always scrupulo usl y exac ting in ils analyses, he has "re-
marked " the theoretical insufficiency of conceptual thinking
and of conce pts in the way we ordinarily refer to them: one of
the se is the concept of context. A written sign, he notes, car-
ries wit h it a force of breaking wit h its context, and this "force
of brea king is not an acci dental predicate, but the very struc-
tur e of the written." The force of this rupture plays itself ou l
rhetor icall y in what Nietzsche called a change of style he
deemed to be plural. The style of Ihis event is a writ ten dia-
logue in many voices. Bec ause of the di versity of the int erests
and backgrounds of the partici pants. beca use (If the part icul ar
linguistic character of the pl ace where the di scussions were
held (Quebec) , and in keeping wit h the rules of the genre. iI
see ms that our questions were bound to displace the context
of Jacques Dcrr ida 's responses-c-as much from the French mi-
lieu out of wh ich they grew as from the ongoi ng American
debat e toward wh ich t hey are now di rect ed . That he was
brought to formul ate cer tai n arguments which can be found as
yet nowhere el se in publlsbod form adds . we bel ieve, to the
int erest and the richness of thi s text.
CHRi STI !'; V , M c DoNAW
Cra nberry Island. Me ine
August 19B-I
Translator's Note
WITH VERY few exceptions. the English transla-
tion of "Otobtographles" by Jacques Derr tda . which was done
with Avit al RoneJl. preserves all of the German included in
Derrlda's text. The passages from Ecce Homo and Thus Spa ke
Zarolhustro are taken, wi th only slight modi ficati on. from
Walt er Kaufmann's translations. The other Nietzsche text
quoted ext ensivel y. On the Fut ure of Our Educalional Instil u-
lions, is ci ted here in a frequ ent ly modified verslon of the
ext ant English Iranslati on, f irst published in 1909, by J. M.
The two rou nd table discussions also incl ude frequent refer-
ence to other texts and extens ive quo tat ion. Whenever possi-
ble. such quot ati ons have been drawn from published trans la-
tions. So as to neither cl utier the bottom of the page wit h
references to these translati ons nor omit such references. a list
of works cited has been appended at the end of the volume.
All quotati ons from texts by Derrida whic h have yet to appear
in English translati on (e.g., Glas } have been tran slated only for
this context.
English readers encounter ing Derrtde's wrili ng for the first
li me may be disconcerted by the dense mi xi ng of styles. the
demanding syntax. and a lexicon thai expands the limits of the
most unabridged di cti onary. Of these lexical sup plements. the
xii Translalor 's Note
ter m differonce-wh ich occ urs several t imes in the followi ng
pages-requires special men tion, although the full implica-
tions of its use within Dernda's thought cannot be su mmari zed
here. (The reader is referred to the essay "Differance" in .\lar-
gins of Philosophy (t 9821.) Demda forges thi s word at the inter-
section of the spatial and temporal sens es of the verb differer: to
differ and to defer. The standard spe lling of the noun differenc(!
correspo nds only to the fi rst. s pat ial sense: there is no standard
noun formed from t he second sense of temporal deferral. The
-nnce ending conforms to the ort hographies of a midd le voice:
neither acti ve, nor passive, both acti ve and passive (as in
resonance). With the term, Derrida designates the movement of
differentiation and deferral, spaci ng and temporalizati on
wh ich must be thought of as preceding and comprehending any
position ing of ident ifiabl e differe nces or oppos itions. Signi fi-
cantly for Den -ida's deconstructi on of the traditional. philo-
sophical opposition of speech and writing. the difference be-
tween difference and differonce is un pronounced.
An occasional translator's note punctuates the following
pages when ever it seemed worth t he risk of distracting the
reader. All other foot notes are the author's or edi tor's.
Miami University
The Teach ing of Nietzsche a nd
the Poli tics of the Proper NaJ11e
Translated by AI;tll l R!m('ll
1. Logi c of the Li ving Feminine
"... for there are human bei ngs who lack everyt hing. except one
thing of which they have too much-human beings who are nothi ng
but a hlg eye or a big mouth or a big belly or anything at all that is
big. Inverse cri pples (umgekehrte " nlppell I call them.
"And when I ca me out of my solit ude and crossed ever this bridge
(or the first ti my) di d fKl.! trust my eyes and looked and looked again.
and said at l a ~ , ' An ear! An ear as big as a man! ' J looked still more
dosely--and iild_ l-;- unde meath the ear something was moving,
something pitifull y small and wre tched and slende r. And. no doubt
of it. the tremendous ea r was attached to a small. thi n stal k-but this
stal k was a human bei ng! If one used a magni fying glass one could
even recognize a tiny envious face; also, tha t a bloa ted litt le soul was
da ngling from the stal k. The people, however , told me thai this great
ear was not only a hu man being. but a great one. a genius. But I never
believed the people when they spoke of great men: and I mainta ined
my belief that it was an inverse cripple who had too lill ie of every-
thing and too much of one thing."
When Zarathustra had spoken thus to the hunchback and to those
whose mouthp iece and advocat e (MundslOck and fursprecherl the
hunchback was, he turned to his discipl es in profound disma y and
said: "Verily. my friends, I walk arnnng men as among the fragments
and li mbs of men [Hruchst ucken uud Gliedmossenj . This is what is
terrible for my eyes, tha t I find man ill ruins [zerstrummert] and
scattered [zerstreut] as over a bat tlefield or a but cher-field [Schlecht-
und Sch liichlerfeld j. ("On Redempt ion ." Thus Spoke Zarulhuslra)
I wou ld li ke to s pa re you the tedium, th e wast e of time, an d
th e s ubserv ience that a lways accompa ny th e cl assi c pedagogi-
cal procedures of forgi ng li n ks, refe rri ng ba ck to p ri or p rem-
ises or arguments , jus tifying one's own trajectory, method ,
sys tem, an d more ur les s skillfu l transiti ons , reestabli shing
., Otohiogruphies
continuity. and so on. These arc but some of the Imperatives
of class ical pedagogy wit h whic h, 10 be sure. one a m II C\'cr
break once and for all. Yet. if you were 10 submit to them
rigorously, they would very SOOIl red uce you to silence. tau tol-
ogy, and tir esome repeti ti on.
I therefore propose my compromise to you. And. as eve ry-
one knows. by the terms of academic freedom- I re peat : a-ca-
dem-ic free-dam-you ca n take il or leave it. Cons idering the
ti me I have at my di sposa l. the tedium I ulso want to spare
myself. the freedom of which I am capable and whi ch I want
to preserve . J sha ll proceed in a manner that some will find
aphoristic or inadmissible. that others wi ll accept as law, and
that st ill others will judge to be not quite ap horistic enough.
1\11 will bu listen ing to me wit h one or the ot her sort of ear
(everyt hing comes do wn to the car you am able to hear me
with ) to which the coherence and continuity of my traject ory
will have seemed evide nt from my fi rst words . even from my
tit le. In any case. let us agree to hear and understand one
another all this point: whoever no longer wishes to lnllnw
may do so. I do not teach truth as such: I do not tra nsform
myself int o a diap hanous mouthpiece of eterna l pedagogy. I
sett le accounts. however I can. 0 11 a certain number of prob-
lems: with you and with me or me. and through you. me. and
me, wit h a certain number of author it ies represented here. I
understand that the place I am 1I0 W occu pying wil l not be left
out of the exhi bit or withdrawn from the sce ne. Nor do I
intend to withold eve n that which I shall call. to save ti me. an
a utobiographical demonst rati on. although I must ask you to
shift its sense a li ttle and to listen to it wit h anot her ear. I wish
to take a certain pleasure in thi s. so that you 1Jl(1}' lec ru Ihis
pleasure from me.
The said "academic fre...tJom, " the car, and autobiography
this afternoon. --
A discourse on life/death must occupy a cer tain space be-
tween logos and gmmme. analogy and program. as well as
between the differ ing senses of program and reproduction.
And si nce li fe is on the line, t he trail that relates the logical to
Otobiogrophi es 5
the graphical must also be working bet ween the biological and
biographical. the thanat ological and thalftographical.
As you know, all these matters arc cur rently undergoin g a
reevaluation- all these matt ers. t hat is to say, the bi ographi-
cal and the a utos of the autobiograp hical.
We no longer consider the biograph y of a "philosopher" as a
corpus of empirica l acci de nts that leaves bot h a name and a
signature ou tside a sys tem wh ich would itself btl offered up 10
an imman ent ph ilosoph ical wading-the only kind of wading
held to be philosophically legit imate. Thi s academi c noti on
utterly ignores the demands of a text whi ch it tries to control
wit h the most traditional de tenni nations of what constitutes
the li mits of the written. or even of "pu blication." In return
for having accepted these limits , one can then and on the
other hand proceed to wr ite "lives of philosophers ," those
bi ographical novels (complete wit h style nourishes and char-
acter development) to which great hi storians of philosophy
occasiona lly resign themselves. Such biographical novels or
psycboblograpblcs claim thai, by followi ng emp irical proce-
dures of the psychologlst tc-c-at times even psychoanal yst io-,
hi storici st. or soclologlst ic type. one can give an acco unt of
the genes is of the phil osophi cal sys tem. We say no to thi s
because a new problemati c of the biographi cal in genera l and
of the biograph y of philosophers in parti cular must mobili ze
other resources. incl uding. at the very least. a new analysis of
the proper name and the signature. Neit her "immanent" read-
ings of philosophical sys tems (whether such readi ngs be struc-
tur al or not ) nor externa l. empirical-genetic readi ngs have eve r
in themselves quest ioned t he dynami s of that borderli ne be-
tween the "wor k" and the " life," the sys tem and the subject of
the sys tem. Thi s border hne-c! call it dynamis becau se of it s
force. its power. as well as its virtual and mobile potency- is
neit her active no r passi ve. neither ou tside nor insid e. It is
most es pecia lly not a thi n line, an inv isible or indi visible trail
lying bet ween the enclosure of phtlosc phemes. on the one
hand , and the life of an aut hor alread y identi fiable behind the
name, on the other. This di visible borde rli ne traverses two
6 O fobiosraphi es
"bodies," the corpus end the body, in accordance with laws
that we are only l ) ( ~ g i n n i n g to catch sight of.
What one cal ls life-the thing or object of biolugy and btogra-
phy-cdocs not stand face to face with something that would be
i1s op posable ob-jec t: death , the t hanatologtcal or thanato-
graphical. Thi s is the first complication. Also, it is pninfullr
difficult for life to become an object of science, in the sense t hat
philosophy and scie nce have always given to the word "s et-
once" and to the legal status of sctent ff icity . All of this-the
difficulty. the delays it entails-is particularly bound up wit h
the fact that the science of life always acco mmodates a philoso-
phy of life, which is not the case for all ot her sciences , the
sciences of nonlife-in other word s. the scie nces of the dead.
This might lead one to say tha t all sci ences that win their claim
to sclentlfictty wit hout delay or rosldue aft) sciences of the
dead: and, further. that there is, between the dead and the sta-
tus of the scientific object, a co-implication which Interests us,
and which concerns the desire to know. If such is the case. t hen
the so-ca lled living subj ect of biological discourse is a part-an
interested par ty or a parti al interest-col the whole field of in-
vestment that includes the enor mous ph ilosophical. ideologi-
cal. and political tradition, with all the forces that arc at wor k
in that tradition as well as everything t hat has its potential in
the subjectivity of a biologist or a communit y of biologists. All
these evaluations leave their mark on the scholarly signature
and inscri be t he bio-graphical wi thin the bio-Iogical.
The name of Nietzsche is perhaps today. for us in the West,
11m name of sornennc who [with the possible exceptions of
Freud and, in a different way, Kiorkegaard] was alone in treat -
tug both philosophy and life, the science and the philosophy
of life "'ilh his na me nnd in his name. He has perhaps been
alone in putt ing his name-his names-and his biographies
on the li ne. running thus most of the risks this entail s: for
"h im," fur "them," for his lives, his names and their future,
and parti cul ar ly for the political futur e of what he left to be
How can one avoi d taking all thi s into account WIWll read-
ing these tcxts? One reads only by taking it int o account.
OtobioSrophies 7
To put one's name on the line (wit h everythin g a name
involves and wh ich cannot be summed up in a self), to stage
signat ures. to make an immense bio-graphical paraph out of
all that one has written on life or death-this is perhaps what
he has done and what we have to put on acti ve record. Not so
as to guarantee him a return, a profit. In t he first place. he is
dead-a trivial piece of evidence. but incredib le enough
when you get right down to it and when t he name's genius or
genic is still there 10 make us forget the fact of his death. At
the very least . to be dead means that no profit or deficit. ~ o
good or evil. whether calculated or not. can ever return again
to the bearer of the name. Only the name can inherit. and thi s
is why the name. to be distinguished from the bearer. is al-
ways and a priori a dead man 's name, a name of death. What
returns to t he name never returns to the living. Not hing ever
comes back to the living. Moreover, we shall not assign him
the profit because what he has will ed in his name resembles-
as do all legaci es or. in French. legs (understand t his word
with whichever ear. in whatever tongue you wtll j-c-poisoned
milk whi ch has. as we shall see in 8 moment. golte n mixed up
in advance wit h the worst of our times. And it did not get
mixed up in t his by accident.
Before turning to any of hi s writi ngs, let it be said that I
shall not read Nietzsche as a philosopher (of being. of life, or
of death) or as a scholar or sci entist. if these three types can be
said to share the abstraction of the bio-graphi cal and the cla im
to leave their lives and names out of their writ ings. For the
moment. I shall read Nietzsche beginning with the scene from
Ecce Homo where he puts his body and his name uut front
even though he advances behind masks or pseudonyms with -
out proper names. lie ad vances behind a plurality of masks or
names that. li ke any mask and even any theory of the simula-
crum. can propose and produce t hemsel ves only by return ing
a consiant yield of protection, a surplus value in which one
may still recognize the ruse of life. However, the ruse starts
incurring !OSSt lS as SOUIl as the sur plus value docs not ret urn
again to the living, but 10 and in the name of names, the
commu nity of masks.
8 OIobioRraphi es _
The point of de part ure for my readi ng wi ll btl what says
"Ecce lI omo" or what says "Ecce lIomo" of it self. as well as
" \Vie mon wlrd. wus mun ist." how one becomes what one is.
I shall start wit h the preface to Ecce Homo whi ch is, vou
could say. coextens ive with Nietzsche's entire oeu vre; so
mu ch so that the enti re oe uvre also prefaces Ecce Home and
finds itself repeated in the few pages of what one ca lls , in the
strict sense. the Preface to the work enti t led Ecce lIomo. You
may know these first lines by heart :
See ing that before long I mu st confront humanity wit h the must dlifi -
cu lt demand t hat has ever been made of i t, it see ms indispe nsable to
me 10 say who J am [wer ich bin is itali ci zed I. Reall y. one should
know it, for I have not left myself " wit hout tes ti mony: ' BUI the
di sproportion be twee n t he great ness of my task and the smallness of
my contemporaries has found expression in the fact that one has
neither hear d nor even see n me. I live on my own credit II ~ al ong
livi ng on my own credit. t he cred it I establish and give myself : feh
Iebe {lUf meinen etgenen Kredil hln]: il is perhaps a mere prejudice
that I live I\ielleich l bless etn VorurteiJ doss ich Iebe].
His own identity-the one he mean s to decl ar e and whi ch.
being so out of proportion with hi s contempora ries , has noth-
tng tu do with wh at the y know by thi s name, behind hi s name
or rather his homonym, Friedrich Nietzsche-the identity he
lays cl aim to here is not hi s by right of some contract drawn
up wit h his contem poraries. It has passed to him through the
un heard-of contract he has drawn up wit h hi msel f. He has
taken out a loan wit h himself and ha s tmphccted us in Ihi s
trcn soct ton throu gh whet. on the force of a slgnuture . remc tns
of hi s tuxt. ",\ uf metnen etgenen Kredil ." It is also o ur bus t-
ness, t his unlimited credit t hat cannot he measured against the
credit his contemporaries extended or refused him under t he
name of F.N. Already a false name, a pseudon ym and homo-
nym. F.N. dissim ul ates, perhaps. behind the imposter. t h l ~
other Pnedrtch Niet zsch e. Tied up with thi s shady business of
contracts. debt. and cred it. t he pseudonym induces us to Ill!
OIobiogrophies 9
immeasurably wary whenever we think we are readi ng Nle-
tzsche's signat ure or "autograph.' and whenever he declares:
I. the un dersi gned, F.N.
He never knows in the present. wi th present knowledge or
even in the present of Ecce Homo, whether anyone will ever
honor the inordi nate cred it that he extends to himself in hi s
name, but also necessaril y in the name of anot her. The conse-
quences of this are not difficult to foresee: if the life that he
lives and tell s to himself (vautobiography." they call it) cannot
be his life in the first pl ace except as the effect of a secret
contract. a cred it account which has bee n both opened and
encrypted. an indebt edness. an allia nce or annulus , then as
long as the cont ract has not bee n honored -and it ca nnot be
hon ored except by anot her. for exa mple. by you-Nietzsche
ca n write that hi s life is perhaps a mere prejud ice. "es isl
vielleichl bloss ein VorurleiJ doss ieh Iebe.' A prejudice: life.
Or perhaps not so much life in general. but my life. thi s "that I
live, " t he "l-Hve" in the present. It is a pre judgment. a sen-
tence, a hast y arrest, a risky predictio n. This life will be vert-
lied on ly at the moment the bearer of the name. the one whom
we, in our prejud ice. call liv ing, will have died. It will be
verified on ly at some moment after or during deet h's ar rest."
And if life returns. it will return to the name but not to the
living. in the name of the livin g as a name of the dead.
"He" has proof of the fact that the " l Iive" is a prejudgment
(and thus. du e to the effect of murder whi ch a pr iori follows, a
harmful prejudice) lin ked to the bearing of the name and to
the struct ure of all proper names. He says that he has proof
every lime he questions one of the ranking "educated" men
who come to the Upper Engadi ne. As Nietzsche's name is
unknown to an y of them, he who calls himself "Nietzsche"
then hol ds proof of the fact that he docs not live presently: "I
live on my own credit: it is per haps a mere pre judice that I
live. I need on ly speak wit h one of the 'educa ted ' who come to
the Upper Engad ine . .. and I am convinced that I do not live
Arrel dO'! mort : bul h death sentence and rellrieve from deat h.c-.Tr.
"Rather than attempt 10 tran slate this word as " account" or "storv" or
"nerrauon," it has been ["II in French throughcut.c.-Tr.
deat h of the one who says "I ltvc" in the prese nt : further . let
us ass ume that the relations hip of a ph ilosopher to hi s "great
namc"- t hat is. to what borders a sys tem of hi s signature-is
a matt er of psychology, hut a psychology so that it
would no longer be legible within the sys tem of phtloscphy as
one of its parts, nor wit hin psychology cons idered as a region
of the philosophical encycloped ia. Ass umi ng, then , that all
t hi s is stated in the Preface signed "Friedrich Niet zsche" to a
book entit led Ecce Homo-a book wh ose final words are
"Haw; I been understood ? Dionysus vers us the Crucified" [ge-
gen den Cekreuztgtenl . Nietzsche. Ecce Homo. Chri st but nut
Christ. nor even Dionysus. but rather the name of the VNSUS.
the adverse or countemame. the combat called betwee n the
two namcs-this wou ld suffi ce. would it not, to plu rali ze in a
singular fashion the proper name and the homon ymic mask? It
would suffice. that is. to lead all the affiliated threads of the
name astr ay in a labyri nth whi ch is, of course, t he of
the ear. Proceed, then . by see king out the edges . the mner
wall s. t he passages.
Bet ween t he Preface signed F.N.. whi ch comes after the
titl e. and the first chapter, " Why I Am.So Wise," there is a
single page. It is an outwork. an hors d'oeuvre . an excrgue or
a I lyshcct whoso topes. like (its) temporalit y. strangely dislo-
cates the very t hing that we. wit h our untroubled assurance,
wou ld Iikc to think of as t he time of life and the li me of life's
rectt." of the writi ng of life by t he living- in short, the ti me
of autobiogra phy.
The page is dated . To date is to sign. And to "date from" is
also to ind icat e the place of the signature. This page is in a
certa in way dat ed becau se it says "today " and today "my
birthday, " the an niversary of my birth . The anniversary is the
moment when the yea r tums back on itself . forms a ri ng or
annulus with itsel f. annu ls it self and begtns anew. It is here:
my fort y-fifth year, the day of the year when I am fort y-five
Otobiogrophi r.s I J
JO Otobiographies
[des Ich Iebe ntch t]. Under these circumstan ces I have a dut y
again st whi ch my habits, even more the pride of my instincts,
revolt at bottom- namely, to say: Hear me! For 1am s uch and
such a person [lit eral ly: I am he and he, ich bin del' und der].
Above all , do nol mi stake me fo r someone else." All of thi s is
He says th is unwillingly, but he has a "duty" to say so in
order to acquit himself of a debt. To whom?
Forci ng himself to say who he is, he goes against his nat ural
habit us that prompts hi m to di ssimul ate behind masks. You
know, of course, that Nietzsche constant ly affirms the value of
di ssimulatio n. Life is dissi mulation. In sayi ng "ich bin del'
und del'," he seems to be going agains t the instinct of dissimu-
lali on. This mi ght lead us to believe that , on the one hand, his
contract goes agai nst hi s nature: it is by doing violence to
hi mself that he promi ses to honor a pledge in t he name of the
name, in hi s name and in the name of the other. On the other
hand. however, this auto-presentative exhi bition of the "ich
bin del' und der" could well be still a ruse of di ssimulation.
We would again be mi staken if we understood it as a simple
present ati on of identity, ass uming that we already know what
is invo lved in self-presentation and a statement of ide nt ity
("Me, such a person," male or female, an individual or collec-
tive subject, "Me, psychoanalysis," "Me, metaphysics").
Everything that will subsequently be sai d about troth will
have to be reevaluated on the bas is of thi s quest ion and thi s
anxiety. As if it were not already enough to unsett le our theo-
retical certainties about identity and what we thi nk we know
about a proper name, very rapidl y. on the foll owing page,
Nietzsche appeals to hi s "expe rience" and hi s "wanderings in
forbidden realms." They have taught hi m to consider the
causes of idealization and mora lization in an enti rely different
light. He has seen the dawning of a "hidd en history" of phi -
losophers-he does not say of phiJ osophy-and the "psychol-
ogy of their great names."
Let us ass ume. in the first place, that the "I li ve" is guaran-
teed by a nom inal contract wh ich fall s du e only upon the
12 Otobiogruphies
years old, something li ke the midday of life. The noon of life.
even midlife cris is.' is commonly situated at ahout t hi s age. at
the shad owless midpoint of a great dav.
Here is how the exergun begins: " A ~ di esem voilkommben
Tuge. 1\' 0 Alles reifl." "On this perfect day wh en everything is
ripen ing. and not only the grape turns brown, tho eye of the
su n just fell upon my life (has fallen due as if by chance: fiel
nur eben ei n Sonnen bl ick a uf mefnen Leben]."
It is a shadowless moment consonant with all the' "mid-
days" of Zarathustra. It comes as a moment of affirmat ion.
ret urning like the ann ivers ary from which one ca n look for-
ward and backward at one and the same time. The shado w of
all negati vity has di sappeared; '" looked back . I looked for-
ward, and never saw so man y and such good thi ngs at once."
Yet. this midday tolls the hour of a burial. Playing on every-
day language. he bu ries hi s past forty-four years. But what he
act ually buries is death . and in burying death he has saved
life-and immortalit y, "II was not for nothing that I buri ed
Ibegrub] my forty-fou rth year today: I had the right to bury it:
what ever was li fe in it has been saved, is immorta l. The first
book of t he Revaluation of AU Values, the Songs of Zcrcthus-
Ire. the Twili ghl of the Idols, my atte mpt to ph ilosophize wit h
a hammer-all presen ts [Geschenke] of this vear. indeed of its
last qu ar ter. lI ow could I foil to be gruleful I ~ my whole li/e?-
and so I tell my li fe to myself" ''' Und so er..:dh/e ich mi r mein
Leben"] .
fi e ind eed says: I tell m}' life 10 mr Sl!// ; I recite and recount
it thus for me. We have come to t he end of the exergue on the
flysheet between the Preface and the beginning of Ecce Homo.
To receive one's life as a gift. or rath er. to be grateful 10 life
for what she gives , for giving after all what is m j - life: more
preci sely, to recogni ze one's gratit ude to life fur such a gift-
the gift being what has managed to get writ len and signed
wit h this name for wh ich I have established my own credi t
and which will be what it has become only on the basis of
' '' I.e demon de midi "; Jillrall y. thn midday de mon.c-rl'r.
Ot obio/lraphi es J J
what thi s year has given me (the three works mentioned in the
passage). in the course of the event dated by an annual course
of the sun, and even by a part of its course or recourse, its
returning- to reaffirm wh at has occurred duri ng these fort y-
four years as having been good and as bound 10 ret urn eter-
nally, immorta lly: thi s is wh at cons tit utes . gathers, adjoins ,
and holds t he strange present of this au to-biographical reci ! in
place. " Und so er.ldhle ich mi r mein Leben: ' Thi s recit that
buri es the dead and saves the saved or exce ptional as immor-
tal is not cu te- biographica l for the reason one commo nly un-
derstands, thai is, because the signatory tells the story of his
life or the retu rn of his past life as life and not death. Rather. it
is becau se he tells himself this life and he is the narration's
fi rst , if not its onl y. addressee and destinati on- within the
text. And since t he "I" of thi s rectt only const itutes itself
t hough the credit of t he eternal retu rn, he does not exist. ti e
does not sign prior 10 the reclt quo eterna l ret urn. Unt il then .
until now. that I am livi ng may be a mere prejud ice. It is the
eternal return that signs or seals,
Thus, you ca nnot think the name or names of Friedrich
Nietzsche, you ca nnot hear them before the reaffirmation of
the hymen, before the all iance or wedding ring of t he etern al
return. You will not understand anything of hi s life, nor of his
life and works, until you hear the thought of the "yes. yes"
given to this shadowless gift at the ri pen ing high noon, be-
neat h that di vision wh ose borde rs are inundated by sunlight:
t he overflowing cup of the sun. Listen again to the ove rture of
Thi s is why it is so difficu lt to determine the do te of such an
event. How ca n one sit uate the advent of an auto-biographical
rectt which, as the thought of the eterna l ret urn. requires that
we let the advent of all events come about in anot her way?
Thi s dif ficult y crops up whereve r one seeks to make a deter-
nunouon: in order to date an event, of course, but also in
order to identify the beginning of a text. the or igin of life, or
the fi rst movement of a s ignat ure. These are all problems (If
the borderli ne.
OlobioRNlphies 15
I shall not read Ecce Homo with you, I leave you with this
forewarni ng or foreword about t he place of the excrguc and
the fold that it forms along the li nes of an incons picuous limit:
There is no more shadow, and all statements. before and after.
left and right. are at once possible [Ni etzs che said it all, more
or less) and necessari ly contradictory (he said t he most mutu-
ally incompati ble things, and he said t hat he said them) . Yet.
before leaving Ecce Homo. let us pick up just one hi nt of this
contradicting du pli cit y.
What happens right afte r th is sort of excrgue. after this date?
(It is. after all. a dote:" signature, anniversary reminder. cele-
bration of gifts or givens. acknowledgment of debt. ) After t his
"date." the first chapter ("Why I Am So Wise") begins . as you
know. wit h the origins of -myv ltfe: my father and my mother.
In other wor ds. once again, the principle of contradiction in
my life which falls between the principles of deat h and life.
the end and the beginni ng. t he high and the low. degenera cy
and ascendancy. et cetera. Thi s contradict ion is my fatali ty.
And my fat ali ty derives from my very genealogy, from my
father and mother . from Ihe fact that I decli ne. in the form of a
riddle. as my parent s' identit y. In a word. my dead father. my
living mother , my father the dead man or deat h. my mother
the li ving femi nine or life. As for me. I am between the two:
this lot has fall en to me. it is a "chance:' a throw of the dice;
and at th is place my trut h. my double trut h. takes after bot h of
them. These li nes are we ll known:
The good fort un e of my existence [Des GlOck metnes Dcsetns]. its
un iqueness perhaps [he says "perhaps." and thereby he reserves the
possibil ity tha t t his chancy sit ua tion may have an exemplary or para-
digma tic character]. lies in its fatality: I am, 10 express it in the form
of a ri ddle IRiilseJforml. already dead as my fat her [015 mcm voter
bereu s ges tcrbe n]. wh ile as my mot her , I am sttllllviug and becomi ng
old lois metne Mutter l d } l ~ ich noch und "'tmlc (J ill ,
"f' "rom "dutn littem." " II'U,' r given." 11m fit!>1 words or II m" di e\'111 formulll
indicating t he li m.. lind plan , 0111 1"1111 1111:1 .- Tr,
Without fail. the structure of the exergue on the borderline or
of the bord erline in the cxcrguc will be reprinted wherever the
quest ion of life, of "my-life," arises . Between a title or a preface
on the one hand. and t he book to come on t he other. between
the title Ecce Homo and Ecce Homo "itself:' the structure of the
cxcrguc situates the place from whi ch life will be reci ted. that
is to say. reaffirmed-yes. yes. amen, amen. It is life t ~ a t has to
retu rn eterna lly (selectively. as the living feminine and net as
the dea d that resides within her and must be buri ed ). as life
allied to herself by the nupt ial annu lus . the wedding ring. Th is
. place is to be found neither in the work (it is an exerguol nor in
the life of the author. At least it is not there in a simple fashi on.
but neither is it simply exte rior to them. It is in this place that
affirmation is repeated: yes. yes. I ap prove, I sign. I subscribe to
t his ack nowledgment of the debt incurred toward "myse lf: '
"my-Iife"-and I want it to ret urn. Here. at noon. the least
shadow of all negativit y is buried. The design of the exergue
reappears later, in the cha pter "Why I Write Such Coml
Books: ' where Niet zs che's preparati ons for the "great noon "
arc made int o a commitment. a debt. a "duty." "my dut y of
preparing a moment of the highest self-examination for human-
ity. a grea t noon when it looks back and far forward [we sle
zuriic kscha ut und htnousschc ut l" ("Dawn").
But the noon of life is not a place and it docs not take place.
For that very reason. it is not a moment but only an instantly
vanishing li mit. What is more. it returns every day. always,
each da y, wit h every turn of the annulus. Always before noon,
afte r noun " If one has t he right to road F.N.'s signature only at
this instant -the instant in whic h he signs "noon, y(1S, yes, I
and I who recit e my life to myself"- well. you can see what an
impossible protocol t his implies for readi ng and especia lly for
teachi ng, as well as what ridic ulous na ivete, what sly, obscure.
and shady business arc behind declarati ons of tim type: Fried.
rich Nlotzscbe said thi s or thai, he t hought this or thai about
this or thai subject- about life, for example, in the sense of
human or biological existence-Friedrich Nietzsche or who-
ever utter noon . such-and-such a pHrsull. 1\11 . for example.
14 Olobiographi es
J6 Otobio1lruphies
Inasmuch as I am nnd fo llow nf ler my fath er, I am Ihe dead
ma n and I am death. Inasmuch as I am and fo llow ujter my
mot he r. I am life that perseveres, I am Ihe living and the li vi ng
feminine. I am my fat her. my mother. and me . and me who is
my father my mother and me, my son and me. death a nd life.
t he dead ma n und t ho living femi ni ne , a nd so 011.
Th ere, thi s is who I am, a certain masculi ne and a certain
femini ne. Ich bi n de r und der. a phrase wh ich means all t hes e
things. You will not be able to hea r a nd underst and my name
unless you hear it wit h a n ear at tuned to the name of the dead
ma n and the living feminine-the doub le and d ivided name of
the father who is dead and th e mother who is living on. who
will moreover out live me long enough 10 bury me. Th e mother
is livi ng Oil , and Ihi s living on is the na me of the mot her. This
survival is my li fe whose shor es she overflows. And my
fat her's name. in other wor ds, my pat ronymt That is the name
of my death. of my dead life.
Must one not take this unrcprcsentablo sce ne into account
each lime one cla ims to ident ify an y utterance signed by F.N.?
The utt erances I have jus t rea d or tra ns lated do not belong to
the genre of autobiography in t he strict sense of the term. To
be sure, it is not wrong to say that Niet zsche spea ks of his
" rea l" (as one says) father and mother. But he speaks of Ihem
"in Iidt scl f arm," symbolically. by way of a riddle: in other
words. in the form of a proverb ial legend, and as a story thai
ha s a lot to leach.
Wha t. th en . are the consequences of thi s double ori gi n? Th e
birth of Nietzsche, in the double se nse of the word "birth"
(the act of being born and family lineage). is itself double. It
brings so met hing into th e world and the light (If day out of a
singular co uple: death and life, t he dead ma n and the livt ng
feminine. the fath er and the mother. The double hir th explains
who I am and how I determine my identity: as double and
neut ral.
This double descent [Drese doppd le lIlrkun!II. as it were. from (KIth
the highest and the lowest rungs on the ladder of life, at tile same
_________________ Otobiogrophi es 17
time decadent and a if anrl hin" . explai ns that 1It!U.
tralit y. thai freed om from all par tialit y in relnt lcn tc the total problem
of life, t hat pe rhaps di stinguishes me. I have a subtler sense of smell
(pay allention to what he repeatedI)' says about hunti ng. trails, and
his nostrfls] for t he signs of asce nt and decli ne (Iilerall}' of rising and
sell ing. as one says of the sun: fu r die zetchen von AU!WlIlg und
of that which cli mbs and declines, of the high and t he
lowjthan an}' ot her human bei ng before. I am t he master pur excel -
Ience for Ihis-I know both. I am both (ich kenna beides. ieh bi n
bei de s].
I am a master. I am the master, the teacher [Lehre r] " pa r
exce lle nce" (the latt er words in French. as is decadent earlier
in th e pa ssage). I know and 1am the both of th em (one would
have to rea d ' the bot h" as being in t he singula r). the d ua l or
t he double, I know wha t I a m, the bot h. t he two. life the dea d
11o vie Ie mort I. Two. and from th em one gets life the dead.
When I say " Do not mi stake me for so moone else . I am del'
und der.' i his is what 1 mean: the dead the living. the dead
man tho living feminine.
The alliance that Nietzsche follows in turning hi s signat ure
into riddles links the logic of the dead to that of the living
feminine. It is an alli ance in wh ich he seals or forges hi s
signatur es-and he also simu lates them: the demon ic neutral-
ity of midday deli vered from th e negative and from d ialect ic.
" I know both. 1 am both.c-My father d ied at the age of
t hirt y-six. fi e was delicat e. ki nd and morbid. as a being that is
desti ne d me rely to pass by [wie etn nul' zum Voru bergehn
bestimmles wesen j-c-more a gracious memor y of life rather
than life itself." II is not only that the son does not sur vive hi s
fat her after the lat ter's death. but th e father was utrecdy dead:
he wi ll have d ied during hi s own life. As a " li ving" fat her, he
was already only th e me mory of life. of an al ready prior life.
Elsewhere. I have related this element ary kinshi p str ucture (of
a dead or rather absent father , alr eady absent to himself. and
of the mother living abo ve and after all , living on 10nRenough
10 bury the one she ha s brought int o th e world . an ageless
virgin inaccessible to all ages) 10 a logic of the death knell
18 Otobiu1j raphics
[glus ] a nd of obsequence. There are examples of th is logic in
some of t he best families. for example. the family of Chri st
{with whom Dionysus stands face to face. but as hi s spec ular
double). There is also Nietzs che's famil y. if aile cons iders that
the mother survived the "breakdown. " In sum and in general .
if one "s ets as ide all t he facts: ' the logic ca n be found in all
Before th e cure or res urrection wh ich he also recounts in
Ecce Homo . this only son will have first of all repeated hi s
father' s death: "ln the sa me yea r in which his We went down-
ward. mine, too. wen t downward: at thirt y-si x 1 reached the
lowest point of my vitalit y- I still li ved . but wi thout being
ab le to see three steps ahead. Then-it was 1879-1 retired
from my professorship at Basel . spent the summer in 51. Me-
rit z like a shadow a nd the next winter. the most sunless of mv
life. in Naumberg as a sha dow. This was my minimum.
Wonderer and lfis Shadow was born at thi s time. Doubtless I
then knew about shadows." A little further. we read: "Mv
readers know perhaps in what way I consid er dialectic as a
symptom of decadence; for example in the most famous case,
the case of Socrat es." Im FaJl des Sokrot es: one mi ght also say
in hi s ca sus. his ex piration date and his decadence. He is a
Socrates. t hat decaden t par excellence, but he is also the re-
verse. This is what he ma kes clear at the beginning of th e next
secti on: "Ta king into account that 1 am a decadent , I am also
the opposite." Th e double provenance, already menti oned at
the beginni ng of sec tion 1. then reaffirmed and explai ned ill
secttcn 2. may also be hea rd at the opening of secti on 3: "This
dua l ser ies of experiences . this access to apparent ly separate
worl ds, is repea ted in my natu re in every respect : ) am a
Doppel ganger, I have a ' second ' sight in additio n to t he fi rst.
And per ha ps also a thi rd." Seco nd and third sight . Not only,
as he says elsewhere, a thi rd ear. Only a moment age . he has
ex plai ned to us that in traci ng the purtrait of the " well-turned-
out person" [wohlge mthner Men sch ] he has just dcscnbnd
himself: "Well, the n, I am the opposite or il decedent. for I
have just descri bed myself ."
(}lobio1jraphies 19
The cont radicti on of th e "double" th us gnes beyond wha t-
ever dec lini ng negativit y mi ght accompany a dtalecnca l oppo-
sit ion. What counts in th e final account ing and beyond what
can be counted is a certain step beyond" 1am thinking here of
Mau rice Blanche t's syntax lt$s syntax in hi s Pas nu-delc [v'Fhc
Ste p Beyond"}. There. he approaches death in what 1 would
call a ste p-bv-step procedure of overste ppi ng or of impossible
Ecce Homo: "ln order to un derstand anything at
all of my Zorolhustro, one must perhaps be simila rly condi-
ti oned as 1am-with one foot beyond life. " A foot: and going
beyond the opposition between life and/or death. a single st ep.
2. The Olograph Sign of S lal e
The autobiography' s si gnature is wri tten in thi s ste p. It re-
mains a line of credit opened onto etern ity and refers back to
one of the two t' s, the nameless parties 10 the contract , only
accord ing to the annulus of the ete rnal return.
This does not pr event-on the contrary, it allows-the per-
son who says " I am noon in the fullness of summe r" (" Why I
Am So Wise" ) also to say " I am double. Therefore. 1 do not
mi stake myself . at least not yet for my works."
There is here a dttlerance of autobiography , an allo- and
thana tography- Within this difference. it is pr ecisely the ques-
lion of the insti tu tion-the tea ching instit uti un-that gives a
new account of itself. It is to th is questi on, to this instit ution
that 1 wished to make an int roducti on .
The good news of the et ernal return is a message and a
teachi ng, th e address or th e destinati on of a doctri ne. By defi-
nition. it cannot let itself be heard or understood in the pres-
ent ; it is unti mely, differa nl. and anachro nistic . Yet , since thi s
' ''PU$ uu .,l eM." both " s!tlJlIM) IM, yond" and " nul b\,ynnd: '- Tr .
' TIlt! d eath ot the lather, th.. fool; on' ! ma y IM1wondering why I
am nol speaki ng here uf ullIUlluHor (l' '1li llll M, Th is hell l in
r" M!r Ve fur another rml(lill l( ll irm:tl y (:um:urnml with lht! thf'rIluli c;
of oedipus andth.. name (II OI"lipUS.

20 Otobiogruphics
news repeat s an affirmation (yes, yes), since it affi rms the
return, the rebegi nning. and a certain kind of reproduction
that preserves whatever comes back. then its very logic must
give rise to a magisterial institu tion. Zarathustra is a master
(Lehrer ), and as such he dispenses a doct rine and intend s to
found new instit utions.
Instit uti ons of the "yes:' whi ch have need ofears . But howso?
He says. "Des eine bin Ich. dos andre sin d meine Schriften."
I am one thing. my wri ti ngs are anot her mailer. Before I di scuss
them one b)' one. let me touch upon the question of their bei ng
understood or not understood. I' ll do it as casually as decency per -
for t he for this question certa inly hasn't co me yet . The
li me for me hasn I come yet : some of my wr iti ngs will be born only
post hu mously. Some day institutions Ilns rilu rionenl will be needed
in. wh ich men live an d teach as I co nceive of livi ng and teach ing: It
might even happen thai a few chairs will then be set as ide leigene:
appropriated tal for the interpretation of Zomthusrm. But it would
contradict my character entirely if I expected ears and hands for my
. Ioday: that today one doesn't hear me and doesn't accept my
Ideas IS not only compre he ns ible . it even see ms right to me, I don't
want to be confounded with ol hers-this requ ires Iha t I do no r con.
fuse myself.
The ear. then. is also at stake in teaching and in its new
institutions, As you know . everyt hing gets wound up in Nietz-
sche's ear, in the motifs of his labyr inth. Without gelling in
any deeper here. I simply note the frequent reappearance of
this motif in the same chapter ("Wh y I Write Such Good
Hooks") of Ecce Homo,' and I right away step back, through
""" ;niRI' w,'rd,m posrhum Rclx:lTlm; Kaufmann translates thi s ph ra.<O! as
"Some <HI' burn posthumnusl y: '_ Tr.
'Onll example among ma ny: "All of us know, even know from exp.' ri.,nn' .
whnt II lunll-I';lrnd b east Ihe ass is Iwus etn Lengobr isl]. Widl then, I da r.,
assert that I have thu smallest ea rs. This is of no small interest 10 thu tiu l"
ladies jWl"illl";nl _il SUllms to me Ihal thuy may feel I understand thum
I am the onli(/ss pur " x(:l!IlencI' a nd th us a world -his tonc al mon stur_ 1am in
Gwe k and not unly in Gm,k. the A"l i.Ghrist ." '
Olobi ogruphies 21
another effect of the labyrinth, towa rd a text altogether at the
ot her end. entitled On the Ful ure of Our EducolionaJ Inslitu-
lions (1872).
I have, I am. and I demand a keen ear. I am (the) both . (the)
double, I sign double. my writings and I make two. I am the
(masc uli ne) dead the living (feminine) and I am desti ned 10
them. I come from the two of them. I address myself to them,
and so on. How does the knot of all these considerations tie
up with the tangled politics and policies in The Fulure . . _?
Today's teaching establishment perpetrates a crime against
life understood as the li ving feminine: disfigurati on disfigures
the matemal tongue. profanation profanes its body.
By nature . everyone nowad ays wr ites and speaks the Gennan
tongue as poorly and vulgarly as is possi ble in t he era of journalislic
German: tha t is why the nobly gifted youth should be taken by force
and placed und er a bell-jar IGlasglocke) of good taste and severe
linguistic di sci pline, If th is proves impossible. I would prefer a re-
turn to spoken latin because I am asha med of a language so dtsfi g-
ured and so profa ned. . . . Instead of that purel y practi cal method of
inst ruction by whi ch t he teacher mu st accus tom his pupils to severe
self-disc ipli ne in the langua ge, we find everywhere the ru diments of
a hi stcrlco-scho lastic method of teaching t he mot her-longue: that is
10 say. people treat it as if it were a dead language and as if one had
no obligati on to t he present or the future of this lan guage, ("Second
There is thus a law that creates obligations with regard to
language, and parti cul arl y with regard to t he language in
which the law is stated: the mother tongue. Thi s is the livin g
language (as oppo sed to Latin . a dead, paternal language. the
language of another law where a secondary rep ression has set
in-the law of death), There has to be a pact or alli ance with
the living language and language of the living femi nine against
death. against the dead. The repeated affi rmation- li ke t he
contract, hymen . and alliance-always belongs to language: it
comes down and comes back to the signature of the maternal.
nondcgenerat o. noble tongue. The detour through Ecce Homo
22 Otobiogra phies _
will have given us thi s to thi nk about: lli story or historical
science, which puts to dea th or treats the dead, which dea ls or
negotiates with the dea d, is 'the scie nce of the father. ft occu-
pies the place of the dead and the place of the father. To be
sure. the master, even the good master. is also a father, as is
the master who prefers Latin to bad German or to the mis-
treated mother. Yet the good master trains for the service of
the mother whose subject he is: he comma nds obedience by
obeying the law of the mother tongue and by respecti ng the
living integrity of its body.
The historical method has become so universal in our time. that even
the li ving body of language [der lebendi ge Leib der Spruchel is sacri-
ficed to its anatomical study. But this is precise ly where culture
(Bildung) begins-namely, in understand ing how to lreal the living
as living [des Lebendige ols Iebendi g], and II is here too that the
mission of the master of culture begins: in suppressing ' historical
interest' which tries to impose itself there where one must above all
else act (hondeln: to treat or handl e] correctly rather than know cor-
rectl y (richti gJ. Our mot her -tongue is a domain in which the pupil
must learn to act correct ly.
The law of the moth er. as language, is a "domain" IGebiel),
a living body not to be "sacrificed" or given up [prei sgeben]
dirt-cheap. The expression "sich preisgeben" can also mean to
give or abandon oneself for a nominal fee, even to prostitute
onese lf. The master must suppress the movement of this mis-
treatment infl icted on the body of the mother tongue, thi s
letting go at any pri ce. He must learn to treat the living femi-
nine correctly.
These cons iderations will guide my approach to this "youth-
ful work" (as they say) on the Future ofOur Educational Insu-
tutlons. In thi s place of a very dense cr isscrossing of questions.
we must approach selectively. moving between the issue of the
pedagogical institution. on the one hand . and, on the other.
those concerning life-death. the-dead-the-llvtng. the language
contract. the signat ure of credit. the biological. and the bio-
graphieal. The det our taken through Ecce Homo will serve. in
Olobiollrophies 23
hath a parad oxical and a prudent manner. as our protocol. I
shall not invo ke the notion of an "already," nor will I attempt
to illumi nate the "youthful" with a teleological insight in the
form of a "lesson:' Yet. without giving such a retro-perspec tive
the sense that it has acquired in the Aristot elia n-Hegelian tradi -
tion, we may be able to fall back on what Nietzsche himself
teaches about the line of "credit " extended to a signature. about
delaying the dat e of expiration. about the posthumous differ -
ance bet ween him and hi s work. et cetera. Thi s of course com-
plicates the protocols of read ing with respect to The , . .
I give notice at the onset that I shall not muh tply these
protocols in order to di ssimulate whatever embarrassment
might arise from this text. That is. I do not aim to "clear" its
"author" and neutralize or defuse either what might be trou-
blesome in it for democratic pedagogy or "leftist" politi cs, or
what served as "language" for the most sinister rallying cries
of National Socialism. On the contrary. the greatest indecency
is de rigueur in this place. One may even wonder why it is not
enough to say: "Nietzsche did not think that ," "he did not
want that ," or "he would have surely vomi ted this.?" that
. , say -vomtt" deli bera tel y. x retescbe co nstantly draws our attention 10 the
value of learning to vomit. formi ng In thi s way one's test e. distaste. and
disgust. knowing how 10 use one's mouth and palat e. movi ng one's tongue
and IiIlS. ha ving good teelh or bei nt! hllrd-tIMllhed, undt!rSlandinll how to
speak an d to eat (but not just anyt hi ng!). All of this we know. as well as the
1.11:1 that the wo rd " Ekd " (disgust , nau.... ..a. wlInli n", to vomit) comes bacl
again and aKll in to set the slage lor evaluation. These <I re so m<l ny questions of
styles. It sho uld now be possib le lor lin analysis of the word ",.:1(['1: ' as we ll as
01 e"('1")1hing thai it carriet down wit h it. to make way for a ha nd-ta-hand
combat between Nietzsche and Hegel wirhin that space so admi rably marked
out by Werner Hamach er [Plemrnu . Fkel and /fl'gel in Hegel's
Geis t dl's Chris len tums . In the lectures On the f ut ure of Our Educotionol
Institution s. it is disgust thaI conlrols everything-s-and fint 01 all, in democ-
r'II:Y, journalism. the Stale and its Un iven ity. For example , following only the
lexica l occu rrences 01 ":kel : "Onl y by mean s 01 such di sci llli nt! can the young
man acquire tha t ph)'s ical lOil lhing (Ekeil lor the elegance of style whi ch Is so
dllf1n"daled and valued by IhOM! who worl in ioumalism fact ories and who
scnbble novels: by il alone is he irre\'ocab ly elevated al a st roke above 8
whu le hosl " f absurd quest ions and scruples . such. for Instance. as whl,lh" r
24 O'obiosrophies
there is falsifi cat ion of the legacy and an interpretive mysttfi -
calion goi ng on here. One may wonder how and why what is
so nai vely called a falsificati on was poss ible (one ca n' t fal si fy
just a nyt hing). how and why th e "same" words and the
"same" stateme nts-if they ar e indeed the same-c-might sev-
era l ti mes he made 10 serve certa in meanings and certain con-
texts that are said to be di ffer ent. even incompatible. One may
wonder why the only tea ch ing instit uti on or the only begin-
nin g of a teaching institution tha t ever succeeded in laking as
its model th e teaching of Nie tzsc he on teac hi ng will have bee n
a Nazi one.
First protocol: Th ese lectures do not belong simply to the
"posthumous" state mentioned by Ecce Homo. Had they title
to the pos thumous . t hey might have been binding on their
author. However . Nietzsche expressly said t hat he would not
want to see the text they constitute publi sh ed. even afte r his
death. What is more. he interrupted t he course of thi s d is-
course along th e way. I am not sayi ng that he repudiat ed it
entirely or that he repudiat ed those passages. for inst ance, that
would be most scandalous to any contemporary anti-Nazi
democrat. Nevertheless, let' s remember that he "swore" not to
[Berthold ] Auerbach lind (Karl I Ouukow lire reall y poet s. for his disgust [Ekel]
lit both will be so grea t tha t he will be unabl e to read them any longer, an d
thus the problem will be so lved for him, Lei no on e imagin e that it Is an easy
m..uee 10 develop thi s feeli ng 10 the extent n_ ry in order to have this
physi cal loathing; but let no one hope to reach sound aestheti c judgments
along any other reed than the thorny one of language. and by this J do not
m....n philological resNrch , bUI self-discipli ne in one' s mother-to ngue" (-Soc-
ond l.el.1ure").
Wll houl wi sh ing to e xploit the German word -Sig.nolu r." one cou ld Ny that
Ntetasche's hi st ori ca l disgust is eroused liDt of. 1I by the signature of hi s ere--,
that by wh ich his era di stingui shes, si gnifies. c;haracterires. and identifies it-
'10 self: namely, the democrati c signature. To this sign at ure. Nletzscbe opposes
another one that is untimel y, yet to come lind eull enachrontsne. One could
reread the " First LI!CI ure" lrom this poi nt of view. ..... ith particular attentrcn to
this passage; " But thi s 1>1'101185 to the signature without value Inichtswilrdillen
Signu tur] 01our present culture. The fighb of gentus have been d"rno(;rali t.llu
so that people may be reli eved 01the labor by which one forms oneself, and of
the personal necesaity of cultu re IBildungsol'bt:i1. BHdunllSnotl."
Ol obioBruphies 25
publish these lect ures. On July 25, 1872, aher the Fift h Lee-
ture. he writes to Wagner that "in the beginning of the coming
winter, I intend to give my Basel audience the six th and sev-
enth lectures ' on the future of our educa tional instit utions .' I
wa nt at least to have done wilh it. even in the diminished and
infer ior for m with which I have treated th is theme up until
now. To t reat it in a superi or form, I would have to become
more ' mature' and try to edu cate myself." However , he will
not deliver these two last lect ures and will refu se to publish
them. On December 20 . he wr ites to Malvida von Meysenbug:
" By now you will have read these lectures and have been
start led by th e story's abru pt endi ng after suc h a long prelude
(he is referring to the narrative ficti on. the imaginary conver-
sation th at opens the first lecture], and to see how th e thi rst
for genuinely new thoughts and propositions ended up losing
itself in pu re negativit y and numerous digressions. Thi s read-
ing makes one thi rsty and, in the end. the re is nothing to
dri nk! Truthfully. what I set out to do in th e final lecture-a
series of noct urnal illumi nations filled wit h ext ravagances and
colors-was not suitable for my Basel audience, and it was a
good thing the words never lefl my mouth" (italics addedI,
And toward the end of t he following February. he writes:
"You must believe me . .. in a few years I will be able to do
bett er , and I will want to. In th e meanti me. these lectures have
for me the value of an exhorta tion: they ca ll me to a duty and
a task that are d isti nct ly incumbent upon me. . . . These lec-
tures are summary and, what is more, a bit improvised. . . . .
Fritsch was prepared. to publish them. but I swore not to pub--
lish any book th at doesn't leave me wit h a conscience as clear
as an angel 's ,"
Olher prot ocol: One mu st allow for the "gen re" whose code
is cons tant ly re- marked, for nar rative and fictional fonn and
the "indirect style," In short , one mus t allow for all the ways
intent imnizes or demarcates itself , demar cating the text by
leavi ng on it the mark of genre . These lect ures, given by an
academic 10 academics and students on t he subject of' studies
in t he university and seconda ry school. amount to a theatrica l
26 Otobiographies
infrac tio n of the laws of genre and aca demici sm. For lack of
t ime . I will not ana lyze these tra its in themselves. Howe ver ,
we should not ignore the invit ation extended to us in the
Preface to the lectures where we are asked to read slowly. Hke
anachro nistic readers who escape the law of their time by
taking ti me to read-all the time it takes, without say ing "for
lack of ti me" as I have just done. These arc the ter ms that wil l
enable one to read bet ween the lines . as he as ks us to do. but
also to read witho ut trying to preserve "ancient ru les" as one
usually does. This requires a medltotlc generis futuri, a practi -
cal meditatio n which goes so far as to give itself ti me for an
effective destructi on of the secondary school and univers it y.
"What mu st happen between the ti me when new legislators .
in the service of a totally new cu lt ure . will be born and the
present ti me? Perh aps the dest ructi on of the Gymnasiu m [the
German secondary school ]. perhaps even the destruction of
the university or. at t he very least. a transformati on of these
teaching estab lis hments whic h will be so total that their an-
cient ru les will seem in the eyes of the future to be the re-
mains of a cave-dwellers ' civi lizat ion." In the mea nti me,
Nietzsche advises us . as he will do in the case of Zurct hus trc.
to forget and des t roy the text, but to forget and destroy it
throu gh act ion .
Taki ng into account t he present scene , how shall I in turn
si ft through this text ? And what is to be ret ained of it?
In the first place . a phoen ix mot if. Once again, the destruc-
t ion of life is only an appearance; it is the destruct ion of the
ap peara nce of life. One buries or burns what is already dead
so that life, the living feminine. will be rebo rn and regenerated
from these as hes. The vita li st theme of degenerati on/regenera-
tion is active and ce nt ral throughout the argument. Thi s revi-
tali zati on . as wn have already see n, must first of all pass by
way of the tongue, that is, by wa y of the exercise of the tongue
or language, the Ireotmenl of its body, the mout h and the car.
passing between the natural, li ving mother lon gue and the
scienti fic, formal. dead pat ernal language. And since it is a
qu esti on of treat ment , this nec essarily involves ed ucatio n,
Otohiographies 27
tranung. d isci pli ne. The anni hi lation [Vemichtung] of the
gymnasium has to prepare the grounds for a renaissance [Neu-
geburtl. (The most recurr ent theme in the lect ures is that the
university. regardless of its op inion in the matter, is nothing
but the produ ct or further development of what has bee n pre-
formed or programmed at the secondary sc hool. l The act of
destruct ion destroys only that whic h. bei ng al ready dcgcner-
atod, offers itself selec tively to ann ihilat ion. The expression
"degenerat ion" desi gnates both the loss of vital, genetic , or
generous forces and the loss of kin d. either species or genre:
t he Entcrtung. Its frequent recu rrence characterizes cu lture,
notably uni ver sity cult ure once it has become state-controlled
and journali stic. This concept of degenerati on has-already.
you could say- t he st ructure that it "will" have in later anal-
yses, for exa mple in The Genealogy of Monds. Degenerati on
doe s not let life dwindle away th rough a regu lar and conti nual
decline and according to some homogeneou s process. Rather.
it is touched off by an inversion of val ues when a hostil e and
reacti ve principle act ua lly beco mes the act ive enemy of li fe.
The degenera te is not a lesser vitality; it is a life pr inciple
hostile to life.
The word "degenerati on" proliferates partic ularly in the
fifth and last lecture. where the condit ions for the regenerative
leap are defined . Democrati c and equalizing ed uca tion, would-
be academic freedom in the un iversit y, the maximal extens ion
of cult ure-all these mu st be replaced by const raint, disci-
plin e [Zucht], and a process of selection under the d irec tion of
a guide, a leader or Fuhrer. even a grosse Fuhrer. It is only on
this cond iti on that the German spirit may be saved from its
enemies-that s pirit which is so "virile" in its "seriousness"
lmcnnllch ernst], so grave, hard . and hardy; that spirit which
has bee n kept safe and sound since Luther, the "son of a
miner," led t he Reforma tio n. The German university must be
res tored as a cultural instituti on , and to that end one mu st
"renovate and resusci tate t he purest ethical forces . And thi s
must always be repeated to the st udent's cred it. li e was able to
learn on the fi eld of baili e [18131 what he could learn least of
28 Otobiogru phies
all in the sphere of 'academic freedom': that one needs a
grosse Fuhrer and tha t all formati on begins with
obedi ence." The whole misfortunc of today's students can be
explained by the fact that they have not found a Fuhrer. They
remain j uhrertcs. without a leader. "For I repeat it , my
friends ! All culture [Hildung] begins wit h the very opposite of
that which is now so highl y esteemed as 'academic freed om':
Bildung begins with obedience [Gehcrscmketrl. subordinat ion
IUnterordnung), di scipline IZuchtl and sub jection (Dienstbar-
keil) . Just as great leaders (die grossen Fuhrer] need followers,
so those who are led need t he leaders lsc bedurfen die zu
Fuhrenden der FOhrer)-a certain reciprocal predisposition
prevails in the order [Ordnu ng] of s pirits here-yes, a kind of
preestablished harmony, Th is eterna l order . , : '
This preestablished ord ina nce or ordering of all eternity is
precisely what the prevaili ng cult ure would attempt today to
destroy or invert .
Doubtless it would be naive and crude simply to extract the
word "Fuhrer" from thi s passage and to let it resonate all by
itself in its Hitleri an consonance. with the echo it rece ived
from the Nazi orchestration of the Nietzschea n reference, as if
this word had no other possible context. But it would be just
as peremptory to deny that something is going on here that
belongs to the same (t he same what? the riddle remains), and
which passes from t he Nietzschean Fuhrer. who is not merely
a schoolmaster and master of doct rine. to the Hitlerran Fuhrer,
who also wan ted to be taken for a spirit ual and intellect ual
master, a guide in scholastic doctrine and practice, a teacher
of regeneration. It wou ld be just as peremptory and politi call y
unaware as saying: Nietzsche never wanted that or thought
that , he would have vomited it up . or he didn' t intend it in
that manner, he didn't hear it with that ear. Even if thi s were
possibly true. one would be justified in findin g very littl e of
interest in such a hypothesis (one I am examining here from
the angle of a very restricted corpus and whose othe r comp ll-
cations I set aside). I say th is because, first of all, Nietzsche
died as al ways before his name and therefore it is not a ques-
Ol obi ogr ophi es 29
tion of knowing what he wou ld have thought , wanted. or
done. Moreover. we have every reason to believe that in any
case such things would have been quit e complicated- t he ex-
ample of Heidegger gives us a fair amount to think about in
this regard. Next, the effects or structure of a text are not
reducible to its "truth." to the inte nded meaning of its pre-
sumed aut hor. or even its supposedly unique and identifiable
signatory. And even if Nazism. far from being the regeneration
called for by these lect ures of 1872, were only a symptom of
the accelerated decomposition of European cult ure and soci-
ety as diagnosed, it still remai ns to be explai ned how reactive
degenerati on could expl oit the same language, the same
words. the same utt erances. the same rall ying cries as the ac-
tive forces to wh ich it stands opposed . Of course, neit her this
phenomenon nor this specular ruse eluded Nietzs che.
The question that poses itself for us might take this form:
Must there not be some powerful utt erance-produci ng ma-
chine that programs the movements of the two opposing
forces at once, and which couples, conjugates, or marries them
in a given set. as life (does) death? (Here. all the difficulty
comes down to the determination of such a set , which can be
neither simply lingui stic, nor simply ht stort co-pol tttcal , eco-
nomi c, ideological. psycho-phantasmat tc. and so on. That is,
no regional agency or tribunal has the power to arrest or set
the limits on the set, not even that court of "last resort" be-
longing to ph ilosophy or theory, which remai n subsets of this
set.] Neit her of the two ant agonisti c forces can break with this
powerful programmi ng machine: it is their des lination; they
draw their points of origin and their resources from it; in it.
they excha nge utt erances that are allowed to pass through the
machi ne and into each other, car ried along by family resem-
blances , however incompatibl e they may someti mes appear.
Obviously, thi s " machine" is no longer a machine in the clas -
sic philosophical sense, because there is "life" in it or "life"
takes part in it, and because it pla ys with the opposition Iifel
death. Nor would it be correct td say t hat this "program" is a
program in the teleological or mechanistic sense of the term.
30 Olobiagrophies
Tho "programming mach ine" that interests me here docs not
call onl y for decipherment but also for transformation-that
is. a practi cal rewriting according to a theory-practi ce rela-
tionship which , if poss ible. would no longer be part of the
program. It is not enough just to say thi s. Such a transforma-
live rewriting of the vast program-if it were possible-would
not be produced in books (I won't go back over what has so
often been said elsewhere about genera l writing) or through
readings , courses, or lectures on Niet zsche's writings. or those
of Hitl er and the Nazi ideologues of prewar times or tod ay.
Beyond all regional cons iderations (hi stori cal . poltico-
economic. ideological. et cetera). Europe and not only Europe.
this ce ntury and not only this century are at stake. And the
stakes include the " present" in which we are. up to a ce rtain
point, and in which we take a position or take sides.
One can imagine the following objection: Careful! Nie-
tzsche 's utterances are not the same as those of the Nazi ideo.
logues, and not only because the latter grossly caricaturize the
former to the point of apishness. If on e does more than extract
ce rtain short sequences . i.f one reconstitutes the entire syntax
of the system with t he subtle refinement of its articulations
and its paradoxical reversals, et cetera. then one will clearl y
see that what passes elsewhere for the "sa me" utt er ance says
exact ly the opposit e and corresponds instead to the inverse. to
the reactive inversion of the very thing it mimes . Yet it would
st ill be necessary to account for the possibility of thi s mimetic
inversion and pervers ion. If one refuses the distinctio n be-
tween unconscious and deli berate programs as an abso lute
crit erion. if one no longer cons iders on ly intent-whether con-
scious or not -when readi ng a text , then the law that makes
the perverti ng simpli fication possible must lie in the struct ure
of the text "remaining" (by which we will no longer under-
stand the persisting substance of books, as in the expression
scripta manen!). Even if the int ention of one of t he signatories
or shareholders in the huge "Nietzsche Corporation" had
nothing to do wit h it. it ca nnot be enti rely fortuitous that the
disco urse bearing hi s name in society, in accordan ce wit h
CJtobiographies 31
ci \ jJ laws and editorial norms, has served as a legit imating
reference for tdoologues. There is nothing absolutely cont tn-
Kent about the fact that the only poli tical regimen to have
effecl h'ely brandished hi s name as a major and official banner
was Nazi.
I do not say this in order to suggest that this kind of "Nie-
tzs chea n" politics is the only one conce ivable for all eternity.
nor tha t it corresponds to the best reading of the legacy. nor
eve n that those wh o have not picked up this reference have
produced a bette r reading of it. No. The future of the Nietz-
sche text is not closed. But if. within the still-opcn contours of
an era. the only poli tics calli ng it self-procl ai ming itself-
Nietzschea n will have been a Nazi one. then thi s is necessaril y
signficent and musl be qu estioned in all of its consequences.
I am also not suggesti ng that we ought 10 rerea d " Nietzsche"
and his great poli tics on the basis of wh at we know or think
we know Nazism to be. I do not believe thai we as yet know
how to think wh at Nazis m is. The task remains before us. and
the politica l reading of t he Nietzschca n body or corpus is part
of it. I would say the same is Irue for the Heid egger ian. Marx-
ian. or Freudian corpus. and for so many others as well .
In a word. has the "great" Nietzschean politics mi sfired or is
it, rather. still 10 co me in the wake of a seismic convulsion of
whi ch National Soci ali sm or fascism will turn out to have
been mere episodes?
I have kepi a passage from Ecce Homo in reserve. It gives us
10 unde rstand that we shaJl read t he name of Niet zsche only
when a great politics will have effectively entered int o pla y. In
the interim. so long as that name sti ll has not been read, any
question as to whether or not a given political sequence has a
Ntctzschcan character would remain pointless. The name sti ll
has its whole fut ure before it. Here is the passage:
I know my fate [Jell kenna meln Los]. One day Illy name will be
associated with the memor y of scmet hlug mon strou s [Ungcheures j-,
il cri sis wit hout equa l 0 11 ea rth. t he mos t profou nd coll ision of cnn -
science [Cewlssens -Knlliston ]. a dec tstcn IEntschi edungl thai was
32 Otoblollraphies
conjured up ogainsl everyt hi ng t hat had been believed. demanded.
hall owed so far. I am no man . I am dynamile.- Yet for all that. there
is nothing in me of a founder of a religion-religions are affairs of the
rabble; I find it necessary 10 wash my hands afte r I have come inl o
contact wit h re ligious peo pl e.c-t want no " believers": I t hink I am
100 mali ci ous to belie ve in myself: I never spea k to masses-c. l have a
terr ible Iear that one da y I will be pronounced holy: you wil l guess
why I publish thi s book hefore; it shall prevent peopl e from doing
mi schief wi th me.
I do nol want to be a hol y man: sooner even a buffoc n.e-Perhaps I
am a buffoon.- Yet in spite of that-or rat her not in s pite of it. be-
ca use so far nobody has bee n more mendacious t han holy men- the
truth speaks out of me. ..
The concept of politics will have merged entirely with a war of
spirits: all power struct ures of the old society will have been ex-
ploded--all of t hem are based on lies: there will be wars the like of
wh ich have never yet bee n see n on ea rth . It is only beginning with
me thai t he earth knows great poli lics [grosse Polifikl . ''' Why I Am a
We are not, I believe. bound to deci de. An int erp reti ve dect-
slon does not have to draw a li ne between two intents Dr two
polit ical contents. Our in ter pret ati ons will not be readi ngs of a
hermen eutic or exegetic sort, but rath er poli tical Int erventions
in t he poli tical rewriting of the text and its destinati on. This is
the way it has always been-and always in a singular man-
nerc-for example. ever since wh at is called the end of phi-
losophy. and begi nning wit h the textual Indicator named "He-
gel." Thi s is no accident. It is an effect of the dest tnat tonal
structu re of all so-called post-Hegelian texts. There ca n always
be a Hegelianism of the left and a Hegelianism o! t he right . a
Heideggerianism of the left and a Heideggerianism of the right .
a Nietzsc heanism of the right and a Nietzschean ism of the left.
and even. let us not overlook it. a Marxism of the right and a
Marxism of the left. The one can always be the other. the
double of the other.
Is there anythi ng "in" the Niet zschcan cor pus that could
help us comprehend the double int erpret ati on and the so-
Oroblo1{raphies 33
called perve rsion of the text? The Fifth lecture tells us that
there must be something un hei mJich-unca nny-about the
enforced repressi on (UnterdruckungJ of the least degenerate
needs . Why " unheimlich"? This is another form of the same
The ear is uncan ny. Uncanny is what it is; double is what it
call become; large or small is what it can make Drlet happen (as
in lalsser-Iai re. since the car is the most tendered and most open
organ. the one that. as Freud reminds us. the infan t ca nnot
close]: large or small as well the manner in whi ch one may offer
or lend an ear. It is to her-this ea r- that I myself will feign to ad-
dress myself now in conclusion by speaking sti ll more words in
your ear. as promised . about your and my "aca demic freedom."
When the lectur es appear to reco mmend lingui st ic di scipline
as a counter to the kind of "aca demic freed om" that leaves
st udents and teachers free to the ir own thou ght s Dr programs. it
is not in order to set cons traint ever agai nst freed om. Behi nd
"academic freedom" one ca n discern the sil houette of a CDn-
straint which is all the more feroci ous and implacable because
it conceals and disgui ses itself in the form of lai sser-faire.
Through the said "academic freedom," it is t he State that con-
trols everyt hing. The State: here we have t he main defendant
indi cted in thi s tri al. And Hegel. who is the thinker of the State.
is also une of the principal proper names given to thi s guilty
party. In fact . the au tonomy of the uni versity. as well as of its
student and professo r inhabitants. is a ruse of the Slate. "t he
most perfect et hical organis m" (this is Nietzsche quoti ng He-
gel). The State wants to aUract docil e and unquestlonl ng Iunc-
no neries to itself. It does SD by means of strict controls and
rigorous constra ints which these functionar ies believe they ap-
ply to themselves in an act of total auto-nomy. The lectures ca n
thus be read as a mod er n criti que of the cult ural mach inery of
State and of the educat ional sys tem that was. even in yester-
day's industr ial society, a fundamental par t of the State appara-
tus. If today such an apparatus is un its way to being in part
replaced by the media and in par t associated wit h them. this
on ly makes Nietzs che's crit ique of journalism- which he never
34 Otobiographies
d issociates from the educ ationa l a pparatus-all the mor e strik-
ing. No doubt he implement s hi s crit ique from a poi nt of view
from that would make any Marxist analysis of thi s machine ry,
incl uding the organizing concept of " ideology:' ap pear as yet
anot her symptom of degeneration or a new form of subjection
to the Hegelian State. But one would have to loo k at thi ngs
more clo se ly: at the se vernI Marxist concepts of State, at
Nietzsche's opposition to soci a lis m and democracy (in The
Twilight of the Idol s. he wri tes that "sci ence is pa rt of democ-
racy" ), at the oppositi on sci enc e/ideology, and so on. And one
would have to look mor e closely at both sides. Elsewhere we
shall pur sue the development of thi s critique of the Sta te ill the
fragment s of th e Nochloss a nd in Zcmthustrc. where, in the
chapter "On t he New Idol, " one read s:
State? What is that? Well, then, open your ears to me. For now I shall
speak to you about the death of peoples.
State is the name of the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it tells
lies too: and this lie crawls out of its mouth: " I, the State, am the
people." Thai is a lie! ...
Confusion of tongues of good and evil: this sign I give you as the
sign of the state. Verily, this sign signifies the will to death! Verily, it
beckons 10 the preachers of death. . . .
"On earth there is nothing greater than I: the ordering finger of God
am I" - thus roars the monster. And it is only the long-eared lasses]
and shortsighted who sink to their knees! . . .
State I call it where all drink poison, the good and the wicked;
state. where all lose themselves, the good and the wicked: state,
where the slow suicide of all is called "life: '
Not on ly is th e State ma rked by the sign a nd t he pa ternal
figure of t he dead , it al so wants to pass itsel f off for the
mother-that is, for life, the people, the womb of t hi ngs t hem-
selves. Elsewhere in Zomt hustm ("On Great Events"), it is a
hypocr itical hound, which, li ke the Church, cl aims that its
voice comes ou t of th e "belly of real ity."
The hypocrit ical hound whispers in your car throu gh hi s
ed ucationa l sys te ms , which are actuall y acousti c or ocroa-
malic devices . Your ea rs grow larger and you tur n into long-
Ulobiographies 35
cared ass es whe n, instead of listening with small , finel y tu ned
cars and obeying the best masler and the best of leaders . you
think you arc free and au tonomous with respect to the State.
You ope n wide th e portal s [pa vilions ] of your cars to admit
the Stale, not knowing that it has al ready come under the
control of reactive and degenerate for ces . Havi ng become a ll
cars for this phonograph dog, you t ransform yo ur self into a
high-fidel ity recei ver, a nd the car-your car which is al so the
ear of th e other- begi ns to occu py in your body th e dtspr opor-
tlonatc pl ace of the " invert ed cripple."
Is t his our situa tion? Is it a questi on of the same car, a
borrowed ea r. the one that yo u arc lending me or that I lend
myself in speaking? Or rather, do we hear, do we understand
each other a lrea dy wit h anot her ear?
The ear does nol a nswer:
Who is list en ing to whom right here? Who was listening to
Nietzsche when. in the Fifth Lecture, he lent his voice to the
ph ilosopher of hi s fiction in or der to describe, for example ,
this situation?
Permit me, however, to measure this autonomy [Sefbststdndl gkelt]
of yours by the standard of this culture IHi/dung], and to consider
your university solely as a cultural establishment. If a foreigner de-
sires to know somethi ng of our university system. he first of all asks
emphatically: "How is the student connected with [hangt zusummen]
the uni versity?" We answer: "By the ear, as a listener." The foreigner
is astonished : "Only by the ear?" he repeats. "Only by the ear," we
again reply. The student listens. When he speaks, when he sees,
when he walks, when he is in good compan y. when he takes up some
branch of art: in short. when he Hves, he is autonomous, Le., not
depende nt upon the educational institution. Very often the student
writes as he listens; and it is only at these moment s that he hangs by
the umbilical cord of the university [on der Nobelschn ur der
Uni\'ersiftil hangtl.
Dream t his umbilicus : it ha s you by the car. It is an ear,
however, that dictates to you wha t yo u are writ ing at this
mo me nt when yo u write in t he mode of what is called " tak-
ing not es." In fact th e mot he r-the bad or false mother whom
36 Otobiogrophies
the teacher , as functionary of the State. can onl y simulate-
dictates to you the very thing that passes through your ear
and travels the length of the cord all the way down to your
stenography. This writing links you, like a leash in the.form
of an umbili cal cord. to the pat ernal belly of the State. Your
pen is its pen . you hold its teleprinter like one of those Hie
ballpoint s attached by a littl e chain in the post office-and
all its movements are induced by the body of the father figur-
ing as alma mater. How an umbilical cord can create a link to
this cold monster that is a dead father or the State-this is
what is uncanny.
You must pay heed to the fact that the omphalos that Nietz-
sche compels you to envision resembles both an ear and a
mouth. It has the invaginat ed folds and the involuted or ificial-
ity of both. Its center preserves itself at the bottom of an invisi-
ble. restless cavity that is sensitive to all waves which, whether
or not they come from the outside, whet her they are emitted or
received, arc always transmitt ed by thi s trajectory of obscure
The person emitti ng the discourse you are in the process of
lelcprinting in thi s situation docs not himself produce it; he
barel y emits it. He reads it. Just as you arc ears that transcribe,
the master is a mouth that reads, so that what you transcribe
is, in sum, what he deciphers of a text that precedes him, and
from which he is suspended by a similar umbilical cord. Here
is what happens. I read : " It is only at these moments that he
hangs by the umbilical cord of the uni versit y. He himself may
choose what he will listen to; he is not bound to believe what
he hears; he may close his ears if he does not care to hear .
This is the acroamat ic method of teaching." Abstraction itself:
the car can close itself off and contact can be suspended be-
cause the omphalos of a disjointed body lies it to a dissociated
segment of the fat her. As for the professor, who is he? What
does he do? Look, listen:
As for the professor , he spea ks to thes e listening stude nts. Whatever
else he may think or do is cu t off from the st udents' perce ption by
an immense gap. The prof essor often reads when he is speaki ng. As
Otobiographies 37
a rule he prefers to have as many listeners as possible: in the worst
of cases he makes do with jus t a few, and rarely with just one. One
speaking mouth, with many ears, and half as many writin g hands-
the re you have, to all appearances, the external academi c appa ratus
[dusserhc he akademische Appoml ]: there you have the University
culture machin e IBildungsmoschine] in action. The proprietor of the
one mouth is severed from and independent of the owners of the
many ears: and this double autonomy is enthus iastically called
"academic freedom." What is more. by increasi ng this freedom a
litt le, the one ca n speak more or less what he likes and the other
may hear more or less what he wants to-e-except that , beh ind both
of them, at a carefully ca lculated di stance, stands the State, weari ng
the intent expressio n of an overseer. to remind the professors and
st udents from lime to lime that il is the aim, the goal. the be-all and
end-all [Zweck , Ziel und Inbegriff] of thi s curious speaking and
hearing procedure.
End of quotati on . I have just read and you have just heard a
fragment of a di scourse lent or cited by Nietzsche, placed in
the mouth of an ironi c philosopher ("t he philosopher laughed.
not altogether good-nat uredly." before holding forth as has
just been related). This philosopher is old. He has left the
uni vers ity, hard ened and disa ppointed. He is not speaki ng at
noon but after noon-at midnight. And he has just protested
against the unexpected arrival of a flock, a horde, a swarm
[Schwarm] of studen ts. What do you have agains t students?
they ask him. At first he does not answer; then he says:
"So, my friend, even at midnight . even on top of a lonel y mountain, 1-
we shall not be alone: an d you yourself are bri ngi ng a pack of mis-
chief-making students alo ng with you , alt hough you well know that I
am only too glad to put di stance between me and hoc genus omne. I
don' t quite understand you, my distant friend ... in this place where,
in a memorable hour, I once came upon you as you sat in majestic
solitude, and where we wou ld earnestl y deliberate wit h each other
like knight s of a new order . Let those who ca n un derstand us listen to
us: but why should you bri ng with you a thr ong of peopl e who don' t
understa nd us ! I no longer recognize you, my distant friend!"
We did not think it proper to interrupt him du ring his di shea rt-
ened lamen t: and when in melanchol y he became silent. we did not
38 Ofobiogrophies
dare to tell him how greatly thi s di strustfu l repudi ati on of student s
vexed us.
The tempt ati on is strong for all of us to recognize ourselves
on the program of this staged scene or in the pieces of t his
musical score. I would give a better demonstration of this if
the academic li me of a lecture did not forbid me to do so. Yes.
to recogni ze oursel ves, all of us. in these premi ses and within
the walls of an ins titution whose collapse is heralded by the
old midnight philosopher. ("Const ructed upon clay founda-
tions of Ihe cu rrent Cymnc sten-cul t ure. on a cr umbling
groundwork. you r edifice would prove to he askew and un-
steady if a whirlwi nd were to swirl up." )
Yet. eve n if we were all to give in 10 the temp tat ion of
recogn izing our selves . and even if we could pursue the dem-
onstration as far as possible. it wou ld sti ll be. a century later.
all of us men-not all of us women-whom we recognize.
For such is the profound complicity that links together the
protagonists of this scene and such is the contract that con-
trols eve rything, even their conflicts: woman, if I have read
correctl y, never appears at an y point along the umbilical
cord. eit her to study or to teach . Sh e is the great "c ripple: '
perhaps. No woman or trace of woman. And I do not make
thi s remark in order to ben efit fmm that supplement of
seduction which today enters into all courtshi ps or court -
rooms. This vulgar proced ure is part of what I propose to call
No woman or trace of woman, if I have read correct ly-save
the mother. that' s understood. But thi s is part of the system.
The mot her is the faceless figure of a jlgurcnt. an ext ra. She
gives rise to all the figures by los ing herself in the background
of the scene li ke an anonymous persona. Everyt hing comes
back to her. begin ning wit h life: everythi ng addre sses and des-
tines itself to her. She survives on the condition of remaining
at bottom.
Tra nslated h)' p ~ . Kamuf
Rodolphe Gasche: The Int ernal Border
Yesterd ay, listening to "Otoblographies," we heard you,
Jacques Derrida, proceed with a revalorization and a reeval ua-
tion of biography [a ph ilosopher's; in this case, Nietzsche 's) in
relation to a written corpus. This procedure 011" your part
might at first appear paradoxical. not to say disappointing.
That is, if one were to listen to it with the wrong ear, then one
could easil y reinterpret your gesture as sketching out a return
to certai n acade mic pos itions-to psychobtography. for ex-
ample-all the more so since, inevitably, you make use of the
same language. Is it the same, however? As we will no doubt
return to this questi on tomorrow during our discussion of
transla tion, I will set it aside for the moment in order to in-
quire instead int o how YDur approach In the problem of auto-
biography differs from traditional ones.
In the first place, autobiography, as you see it , is not to be in
any way confused with the so-called lire of the author, with
the cor pus of empirical acci dents making up the life of an
empirically real person. Rath er. the biographical, insofar as it
is aut obiographical. cuts across both of the fields in question:
the body of the work and the body of the real subject. The
biographical is thus that int ernal border of work and life, a
border on whi ch texts are engendered. The status of the text-
if it has one-is such that it deri ves from neither the one nor
the other. from nei ther the inside nor the outside.
You say that Ecce Homo is an autobiographical text because
in it the signatory recounts his life. You situate the lift-off point
for this account of self to self in the case of Ecce Homo (and
here I can' t help thi nking of the fantasy of auto-engendering
in "The Case of Philippe," which Serge Leclaire analyzes in
42 Rou ndt ab le on A utobiography
Psychc nclyser 119681} in that leaf inserted bet ween the pref-
ace and the text " properly speaking" whi ch is neith er the
wor k nor the life of the aut hor. As you put it, it is "between a
titl e or a preface on the one hand, and the book to come on the
other . bet ween the tit le Ecce Homo and Ecce Homo itself: "
Heterogeneous to both the work and the life, thi s place of the
"programming machine" engenders the text of which it is a
part to the extent that it is a part larger than the whole,
My questi ons-which are actually a jumble of quest ions-
will focus. then . on thi s localization of an interior borderline
which, in principl e. has to cut across the whole work, I will
focus. that is. on that slice or part of the text whi ch. as you say
elsewhere. is not a part of the whole. is not a part at all. *
First question: What is the relati on of the het erogeneous
space of the text' s engendering. perce ptible in this leaf in-
serted between the titl e and Ecce Homo "properly spea king,"
to the "totality" of the text? Does this leaf have a pri vileged
status preci sel y because it is empirically manifest? Does the
empirical index of its being manif estl y situated between the
text " properly speaking" and the title give rise to some sort of
privil ege (to subvert . to engender. et cetera)? Or is the fact that
it is situated and can thus be located and apprehended by the
senses perhaps hut one of the manifestations (that is. one of
the possible translations) of the text's engendering which is at
"work" throughout the totality of the text . an engendering
which. in principle, necessarily escapes conversion into the
empi rical? In other words, what is the relation between the
engendering place of the text and the empirical manifestations
of this place in the text? What is the relati on bet ween the
text' s engendering border and the emp irical given of the text?
Can thi s relation sti ll be thought of in terms of opposit ions
such as empirical/non-empirical? Does not your notion of text
excl ude. rather. any relation to the empirical? But in that case,
what privileges the status of the Inserted leaf?
' n' "sl pas du tout , une trc nche : n 'est pa s du lou l une Irnncne. St' l' hdllW,
PI'. 104 -05, fnr t his use of "Irullche."- Tr.
Roundtabl e on Autobiography 43
Second questi on : You say that the heterogeneous space of
the double programm ing in Ecce Homo. inasmuch as it is a
space of eterna l return and of the auto-affi rmation of life. is
one of auto-engendering and autobiography, In that space.
Nietzsche in effect proposes to tell himself his life, The fol-
lowing question then arises: Do the heterogeneous spaces of a
text's engendering necessa rily have the structure of autobiog-
raphy? Have they necessarily a relation to auto-biography? Or
rather. would not auto-biography be but one of the possibl e
names for this border of works and lives. but one of the figures
(in the Heidoggerian sense) that can be assumed by the ques-
tion about what it is that cuts across these bodies {of the work,
of the man) at their most intimate level? In short. then. my'
question comes down to int egratin g the status of autobiogra-
phy as such.
Final questi on: What is the difference between autobiogra-
phy as the name of the internal border of text. on the one
hand. and the rol e played by autobiography in academic di s-
course on the other? To as k the same question in different
terms: Do not both the affecti ve cecil and the affinnation of a
concrete life set forth by such a redl uncover but the effect of
the aporias or contradictions of a text's programming ma-
chine? Are they anything more than thi s effect? Do the reflect-
able aporias of an enterprise of auto-constitution and auto-
biograp hy erect thi s machine at the border of the text they
engender? Is the text anyt hing other than the infinit e unfold-
ing of thi s machine? What limit s the play of thi s machine?
What det ermines that this play. which in principl e is unlim-
ited. takes the form of a finite life? Is it the empirical nature of
a concrete life that limits thi s play. or are there rather con-
straints int ernal to the play that limit it?
Jacques Der rida: Reply
. In order not to keep the floor too long and restrict the lime
for ot her questions, I will not try to give some answer based
on princi ple to the very necessary and essential questions you
44 Roun dtable on Autobiography
have as ked- because I have no such answers. Rather. I wHl try
to specify why I cannot answer these questi ons and why their
formu lation is problematic for me. Wit hout going back over
the necessary and thoroughly convinci ng trajector y by which
you led us to this formulation. I will skip right away to the
first question . whic h concerns the relation bet ween t he text
that you call "empirical" or "given" on the one hand. and . on
the ot her. all of that whic h I tried to probJemali ze yesterday
around the value of the border. The problem is thi s: If one
pursues carefully the ques tions that have been opened up
here. then the very value of empiricalness. the very contours
of an empi rica l text or any empirical entity, can perhaps no
longer be determined. I can no longer say what an empirical
text is, or the empi rica l given of a text. What I can do is refer
to a certain number of convent ions-precisely those conven-
tions that sustain tradi tiona l or academic discourse, or even
less traditional and less acade mic ones. When we employ
suc h discourses, we think we know what a given text is--a
text that we recei ve in t he editorial form of an authenticated
corpus, and so on. We also have a cert ain number of "empiri-
cal facts" about Nietzsche's life. Although the re may be any
number of debates on th is subject. any number of disagree-
ments about the content of these givens, the presuppos ition is,
nevertheless, that one knows what one means by Nietzsche's
"empirical " life. That is. one assumes that one knows what is
at the organizing cent er of the debate. If one problemat izes
things as I tried to do yesterday, however. the opposition be-
tween. for example. the empirical and the non-empirical {but
there are ot her names for this opposition} is precisely what
becomes problematic. I then no longer know what this expe ri-
ence is that grounds the value of t he empirical. This is the
case whether one is speaking of Nietzsche's life or his
corpus-his body. if you will --or the cor pus called Nietz-
sche's works. As I tried to indicate yesterday. wherever the
paradoxical problem of the border is posed. then the line that
could separ ate an author's life from his work. for example. or
whi ch. within this life, could separate an essentialness or
Roundtable on Autobiography 45
transcendentality from an empirica l fact, or, yet again. within
his wor k. an emp irical fact from something that is not empiri-
cal-this very line itse lf becomes unclear. Its mark becomes
divided; its uni ty. its identity becomes dislocated. When-this
identit y is di slocated. then the problem of the aulas, of the
autobiographical, has to be totall y redistri buted.
Fina lly, if one gets around to wondering. as you did in your
last question, abo ut the status of the autobiograp hica l. t hen one
has to ask whet her one will under stand the au tobiographical in
terms of this internal border and all the rest, or instead rely on
the stan dard concepts prevai ling throughout tradition. Once
again, one is faced with a division of the au tos, of the autoblo-
graphical, but this doe sn' t mean that one has to dissolve the
value of the autobiographica l recit. Rather. one must restruc-
ture it ot herwise on t he basis of a project that is also btographt-
cal or thanatographical. And what name shall this red istribu-
tion be given in the "Nt etzschean corpus" in general. in
"Nietzsche' s thought " in general, in "Nietzsche's signature,"
and so forth? II would all come down to sett ing Nietzsche's
autobiography. or Niet zsche's au tobiographical thought. on the
back. so to speak. of some t hought of the eterna l return. That is.
the autobiography is signed by something that arises out of the
thought of the eternal return in Nietzsche.
Although 1 cannot undertake her e an interpretation of the
thought of the eternal return in Nietzsc he. I will at least men-
tion that the eternal ret urn is selective. Rather than a repeti-
tion of the same. the return must be selective wit hin a differ-
ential relation of forces . That whic h returns is the constant
affirmation. the "yes, yes" on whi ch I insi sted yesterday. That
which signs here is in the form of a return. which is to say it
has the form of something that cannot be simple. It is a selec-
tive return without negat ivity. or which reduces negat ivity
through affirmation, through alliance or marriage [hymen],
that is, thro ugh an affirmation that is also binding on the other
or that enters into a pact wit h itself as other. The difficult y
and thus the risk with the gesture I' m sket ching out here is
that it will, once again. relate the autobiographical signature
46 Roundlable on AUlobiosraphy _
(which one always expects to be idiomatic, singular. subject to
chance. and so fort h) to something as essential as the eternal
ret urn. Th is might lead one to think that once again something
empirical, individ ual. et cetera. is going to be related to an
essen tia l thought -that of the eterna l return. However. I be-
lieve this risk can be avoided if , preci sely , one thinks in ter ms
of wh at Nietzsche has perhaps made availa ble to thought and
whi ch he calls the eternal return. The point is that the eternal
ret urn is not a new metaph ysics of ti me or of the totality of
bei ng, et cetera, on wh ose ground Nietzsc he's autobiograp hi-
cal signature would come to stand like an empirical fact on a
great ont ological structure. (Here. one would have to take up
again the Heid eggeri an int er pretati ons of the eternal ret urn
and perhap s problemati ze them.] The eternal return always
involves differences of forces that perhaps cannot be thought
in terms of being. of the pair essence-existence. or any of the
great metaphys ical structures to wh ich Heidegger woul d like
to relate them. As soon as it crosses with the motif of t he
eterna l return. then the indi vid ual signature. or , if you like,
the signature of a proper name. is no longer simply an empiri-
cal fact grounded in something other than itsel. Given the
many difficult ies in translating what I am trying to get hold of,
I would say that here per haps may be found not the answer
but the enigma to which Niet zsche refers when he speaks of
hi s identi ty. hi s genealogy, and so on.
Christie V. McDonald: From One Genre to the Oth er
What I have to say concerns the question of genre, specifi-
cally the one that is traditionall y or commonly called autobiog-
raphy and is itself. in principle, the subject of our discussion
today. If one may say t hat genres demonst rate in a particular
way what const it utes the society or institution to wh ich they
belong, then it follo ws that a given society chooses and codifies
those acts that correspond to its dominant ideology. You ul-
ready alluded to thi s problem when you said that an institution
is more tolerant of ce rtain explicit ly ideol ogical expressions
Roundloble on A utobiography 47
(even those having a revo lutionary aim) than it is of a conce p-
tion of writing such as the one practi ced . for example. in your
dcconstruct lve texts. Perhaps it is possible to approach thi s
question through the implici t slippage in your tit le "Otobiogre-
ph tes ." that is. the passage from aut obi ograph y to crobiogra-
ph y, revers ing the chronological order from yesterday to thi s
Let me explain this by means of a certain number of detours.
It seems to me that the synchronic constdera t ton of genre tends
10 make apparent the particu lar elements structuring so-called
literary form. That is. characteristics and techniques of a genre
ca n be described by those functi ons that point to the generic
sys tem. But the question then arises : How is one to place a
specific text wit hin a diachron ic series. wh ich presu pposes
both vari abl e and invariable factors fa tradition. an order, and
conventions that degenerat e before regenerating themselves in
some ot her way)? Here I am thinking Jess of the externa l history
of wh at has been called autobiography (whether one takes it
back 10 Rousseau, Saint Augu stine. or ot her writers) than of the
critical act that , in its interpretive relation to the text , imposes a
meaning on it. In thi s latter context, could one say that the
principle of a tradi tional genre is fundamentally that of an
order which, even though it does not remai n fixed . makes pos-
sible the produ ction of mean ing and gives rise to hermeneuti c
discour se as meaningful d iscourse?
As for the so-called modem genres , it has been observed (by
T. Todaro..' in Les Genres du discou rs 11978)) that one can
detect two divergent ten dencies in a wr iter li ke Hlanchot .
First , the paradoxical notion of the singular book as itself the
ulti mat e genre, wh ere eac h work does not simply derive from
a genre but also interrogates, through its very parti cul arity. the
very slat us of lit erature. The second ten dency is a movement
to replace past genres (such as the story, di alogue, or diaryl
with others that tran sgress or surpass them. It see ms to me
t hat thi s movement cl osel y par allels your own (in "Living On:
Borderli nes ," for exa mple). Now. t he genre we are discu s-
sing-autobiography-marks the confus ion between the no-
Jacques Derride: Reply
I should not have to reply right away to such fully elabo-
rated and serious questions-and by improvising no less. Our
agreement for thi s exchange is that 1should try to improvise a
response even when I am not sure that I can do so adequately.
Well , I am sure that in a few sentences I will not be able to
meet the demands of a questi on whose elaborations and pre-
suppositions are of such a vast scope. Nevertheless. I'll take
my chances wit h an answer.
First of all . as concerns that obviously deli berate transforma-
tion of auto int o oto. which has been reversed in a chiasmatic
fashion today: Notice that the institution has calculated this
reversal so precisely that today we find ourselves in the Great
Pavilion, whereas yesterday we were somewhere else.' The
play that accompanies this transformation would be of no in-
terest if it were not itself carried along by a necessit y which I
tried. to a certain degree, to make apparent yesterday. If today
I am trying to reformulate it, it is because thi s necessity re-
quires that we pass by way of the ear- the ear involved in any
autobiograp hieal discourse that is sti ll at the stage of hearing
oneself speak. (That is: 1 am telling myself my story, as Nie-
tzsche said, here is the story that I am telling myself: and that
means I hear myself speak.] I speak myself to myself in a
certain manner , and my ear is thu s immediately plugged into
"Genre also means "gender.v-c-Tr.
' As in the pavllion of the ear . the visible part of the aural apparatus.c-Tr.
avoid, so as to make him/her appear in thi s wit hdrawing and
in thi s red rawing," You have underl ined not only the ano-
nymit y of the written I lie ecrtt] but also the inappropriateness
of the I write Ii' ecrisl as the "normal sit uation," My question:
In the reading or readings that remaln to be done of Nietzsche
by thi s deci phering ear. and wit hout lelling oneself get caught
in the trap of what you have called gynegogy, does the " I"
have a gender [genre]? "
- - - - - Roundtable on Autobjogruphy 49
48 Roundtoble on Autobiography
tion of the author and that of the person, the confusion that
Rodolphe Casc he has just evoked and which Nietzsche see ms
to refuse in Ecce Homo. In this, Nietzsche wit h you, and you
together wit h Nietzsche, pose the probl em of the text-of its
beginning and its origin- in terms of a relation between the
one who signs (t he author) and the one who reads or, as you
put it yesterday, who hears.
My question has two part s. First of all, can it be that here-
between two texts (Ecce Homo and On the Fut ure of Our Edu-
ca tional Inst itutions) and two terms (autobiography and otobt -
ography), and despite the anac hronisti c order-one encounters
one of those passages from the critical, based on tran sportable
univoca lity and formalizable polysemi a. to the deconstructive?
In other words, is it here that we find a passage to that whieh
overflows in the directi on of di sseminat ion and seems to con-
cern problems of politieal and institutional order in the univer-
sity? If so, is it possible to link the deco nstructi ve to any par-
ticular ideological cont ent (of teaching in the institution)?
Whether the power struggle be politi cal, religious, economic, or
technical, how is one to formul ate it in writing when. at a
certain level , writi ng is itself an int erpretati on of power? What
does one do with the transmi ssion of this power which is the
very decipherment of the text?
Second, as I decided to open wit h the question of the auto-
biographieal genr e, that place of a contract signed by the au-
thor, I would li ke to relate the two parts of my question to the
pronoun "I," which is not onl y the addresser but the addres-
see, the one for whom one always writes, and only in his/her
absence. At the beginning of Speech ond Phenomena , you
placed this passage from Edmund Husser! in exergue: "When
we read the word ' I' wit hout knowing who wrote it. it is per-
haps not meaningless, but it is at least estranged from its nor-
mal mean ing." You then followed. it seems to me. a program
explicitly laid out in a later text (Pas), where you say that "in
order to accede to another text, another's text. one must as-
sume, in a certain very determined manner. the fault , the
weakness , not avoiding what the other will have managed to
s o Roundlable on Autobiosraphy
m}' dis course and my writing. But the necessit y of passing
onto and by way of the car is not just thi s. Nor is it just the
necessit y of the labyrinth motif wh ich , in Nietzs che. plays an
altogether deci si ve role with the figures of Ariadne and Dtonv-
sus. To be more preci se. it is, in the context that int erested me
yesterday, the difference in the ear. First of all, the difference
in the ear is, dear ly, the difference in the size of cars. Ther e
ar c smaller or larger cars, The larger t he car , the more it is bent
toward the pav ilion. if you will, and the more undifferen tiated
it is, the more finesse it lacks in its allention to differe nce.
Nietzsc he prides himself on having small ears (by implica-
tion, keen cars), A keen car is an ear with keen hear ing, an ear
that perceives di ffer ences. those differences to whi ch he was
very attentive. And precisel y to percei ve differences is to pass
on the di stin ct ion bet ween appare ntly similar t hings. Think of
all that was sa id yesterday about polit ical di scou rses and
about ste reotypes that seem 10 resemble each other. Here, pre-
cisely, is where the keen ear must be able to di stingui sh the
active from the reacti ve. the affirmative from the negati ve,
even though ap parently they are the same thing: to decide
with a keen ear in order to percei ve differences and in order 10
sed uce (as wh en Niet zsche says in passing, "I have sma ll ears
and thi s is of no small int erest to women"). The ear is not onl y
an auditory organ; it is also a visible organ of the body.
The most important thing about the ear's difference, wh ich I
have yet to remark. is that the signature becomes effecti ve-
performed an d performi ng-not at the moment it apparent ly
takes place, bu t on ly later. when ears will have managed 10
recei ve the message. In some way the signature will take place
on the addressee's side , t hai is, on the side of him or her
whose car will be keen enough to hear my name, for example,
or to understand my signature, thai with whi ch I sign. Accord-
ing 10 the logic that I tr ied to reconstitute yesterday. Nict z-
sche's signature does not take place when he writes. li e says
dearly that it will take place posthumously. pursuant 10 the
infinit e li ne of credit he has opened for himself , when the
ot her comes to s ign with him, to join with him in all iance and.

____________ Roundtable on AUlobiography 51

in order to do so. to hea r and understand him. To hear hi m.
one must have a keen ear. In other words, to abbreviate my
remarks in a very lapidary fashion. it is the ear of the other
that signs. The ear of the other says me to me and consti tutes
the au las of my autobiography. When. much later , the other
will have perceived wit h a keen-enough ea r what I will have
addressed or destined to hi m or her, then my signature will
have taken place. Her e one may de rive t he politi cal import of
this st ructure and of this signature in wh ich the ad dressee
signs with hi sJher ear. an organ for perceiving difference. As
regar ds Nietzsche, for exa mple. it is we who have to honor hi s
signature by interpret ing his message and his legacy pol lti-
cally. On th is condition, the signat ure contract and the autobi-
ography will take place. It is rather par adoxical to think of an
autobiography whose signature is entrus ted to the other, one
who comes along so late and is so unknown. But it is not
Nietzche's ori gi nali ty that has put us in thi s situation. Every
text ans wers to this structure. It is the struct ure of textuaJity in
general. A text is signed only much laler by t he other. And
this testamentary structure doesn' t befall a text as if by acci-
dent. bu t cons tructs it. This is how a text always comes about.
I make a connection here to one of the ot her motifs in your
question. Wit hin the university-an institution that institutes
above all the transmission of what has been inherited, the con-
servation and interpretation of the archive, and so on-we are
constantly obliged to make the gesture that consists in honor-
ing. so to speak, the ot her's signature. In the terms of this con-
text. the gesture consists in hea ring, while we speak and as
acutely as possible. Nietzsche 's voice. But this does not mean
that one simply rece ives it. To hear and understand it , one must
also produce it. beca use. like his voice. Ntotzsche's signature
awa its its own form. its own event. This eve nt is entrus ted to
us. Politica lly an d hi storically (not just politi cally, un less aile
understands "politically" in the broadest sense of the word), it
IS we who have been entrusted wit h the responsibili ty of the
signature of the ot her's text which we have inherit ed. Nor is it
lust Ntetzscho's text or Nietzsche's signat ure that we are re-
52 Roundtable on Autobiography
sponsible for. since the borderJess text it self is involved along
with the signature and also since. given the questions we have
asked abo ut the border . the signature is not on ly a word or a
proper name at the end of a text. bUI the operati on as a whole.
the text as a wh ole. the whole of the activ e int erpretation whi ch
has left a trace or a remainder. It is in this respect thai we have a
political respons ibili ty. As regard s such responsibility. 1 have
no ans wer of a general sort in the form of a watchword. I have to
be satisfied-and perhaps it's no small matt er-with defining
the general space of this responsibility,
The most difficult qu estion ca me at the end of your remarks.
It conce rns the sexua l gender (and not simply the lit erary
genre) of the "I" whose grammatical form is indeterminate. at
least in the languages we are using her e, When I say "I" or
"[e." "you" or "vcus." the grammatico-sexual mark is not per-
ceptible or audible. This poses many different probl ems from
a lingui sti c standpoint. One may encounter the probl em of
translati on. which we are going to address specifically tomor-
row. I will therefore set this aspect aside. But going a step
beyond. if you will , the logico-grammati cal aspect of the prob-
lem, one finds thai the question of the ear or the addressee
returns. It conce rns the oth er to whom. at bottom. I entrust my
signature. The question is wh ether the differ ence constituti ng
the other as other has. a priori. to be marked sexua lly. I don 't
know. When I say "I don't know." I mean that in order to ask
the questi on as 1 have posed it. one must presu ppose that the
add resser himself or herself is determined before the other's
signatu re. that the sex of the addresser is itself det ermined
before the oth er assumes responsibility for the signature . Well,
nothi ng seems less certain to me. I wi ll go so far as to risk this
hypot hesi s: The sex of the addresser awaits its det erminati on
by or from the other. It is the other who will per haps decid e
who I am- man or woma n. Nor is thi s decided once and for
all. It may go on e way one li me and anot her way anot her lime.
What is more, if there is a mult it ude of sexes [because the re
am perhaps mere t han two) which sign di fferent ly. then 1will
have to ass ume (I-or rat her whoever says I- will have 10
ass ume ) thi s polysexualtty. Th is is wh at I risk, of course , but I
---- Roundtable on Autobiography 53
take the risk wit h t he momentum we received yester day from
Nietzsche 's text wh ere he himself says. I am two. my father
and my mother. Aft er pursui ng its cons equences . one finds
that thi s dualit y is not just any du ality among others. It com-
pel s an irreducibl e and essentia l plurality. His mother and hi s
father. who are of different sexes. who are also life and death.
arc two types of law as well and therefore many other things.
He is not only himself . an hei r. and he has not only inherited
from two sexes. two laws. et cetera. He also writes for them. a
point I think I mad e too rapidly yest erday. (I even wonder ifI
didn' t ski p a sentence in my paper which said that .) The point
is that the figure of the moth er as it is manifested in thi s
corpus is not only that of survival. But. inasmuch as it sur-
vives . it is also that of the ultimate ad dressee in the phantasm.
if you wil l. the ultimate addressee beca use he writes also for
her. If he writes for her as well as for hi s father. if therefore.
one writes not only for those wh o are yet to live but also for
the dead or for the survivors who have gone before us , then
things get very complicated, I'm going to end by going very
qui ckly here : 1 think one writes also for the dead . Obviousl y.
these are diffi cult terms to think in, and perhaps we will be
able to come back to them. Yet they are not so difficult if one
takes int o acount wh at was sa id yesterday about the proper
name which . as you reca ll. is not to be confused with the
bearer and which . by its struc ture. exists and is meant to exist
without the bearer of the name. Thus. every name is the name
of someone dead. or of a living someo ne whom it can do
without. If the desti nation of one's own writing is names or if
one writes in order to call up names. then one writes also (or
the dead. Perhaps not for t he dea d in general. as Jean Genet
says when he writes somethi ng like "I wri te (or the dead " or
"My theater is ad dressed to the dead." Rather. one writes for a
speci fi c dead person, so that perhaps in every text t here is a
dea d man or woma n to be sought, the singular fi gure of death
to which a toxt is desti ned and whi ch signs. Now, if the other
Who signs in my place is dead, that has a cer tain number of
uonsoquenccs .
I have not answered your question . II was too difficult.
54 Roundtable on Autobiography
Eugenio Donato: A Third Logi c
What I have to say is not a questi on. Instead, I would like to
poi nt up several landmarks that suggest perhaps a certain
pat h. I' ll begin by reading the passage to which you made
allusion just a moment ago. "There. thi s is who I am. a certain
masculi ne and a certain feminine. Ich bin der und der. a
phrase whi ch means all these things. You will not be able to
hear and understand my name unless you hear it \..tith an ear
attuned to the name of the dead man and the living femi-
ni ne-the double and divided name of the father who is dead
and the mother who is living on, who will. moreover, outlive
me long enough to bury me. The mother is li ving on. and thi s
livi ng on is the name of the mother. This survival is my life
whose shores she overflows. And my father' s name. in ot her
words my patronym? That is the name of my death . of my
dead life." Somewhat further on in the lecture. one reads :
"There is here a dif ference of au tobiography. an allo- and
then atogrephy."
What I would like to ext ricate are the different thanetogra-
phies or scenarios of t hanat ography. At the very beginni ng of
your work, you informed us that , in some fashion, it would
always be a question of a t hanatogrephy. The sign's "value has
the struct ure of a testament," you said. And. speaking of the
speculative dialecti c, you also said, "The dial ectic is a theo ry of
deat h: ' First of all, with respect to thanatography, the thenatog-
raphy of the dialectic. which is a t hanatography of resurrecti on.
of the resuscita ted dea d, of the speculation that permits resur-
rection (from which t here follow certain consequences). would
one be justified in saying, for examp le, that this is what docs
not sign (as opposed to Nietzsche, t he aile who does sign)?One
may find a rel ati on between this first thenat ograp hy and t he
first logic of deconst ruction in which there was always snme-
thing of the dead that remai ned and that could not be sublatcd
by the dialecti cal operation.
RlJundtable on Autobiography 55
At the ot her end of your work, you proposed a completely
differenl logic which , in fact. totally shatt ered this dla lecnca l
moveme nt. I am referring to the crypt. Is the dlalect tc of the
crypt a different logic from the one you proposed yesterday,
insofar as t he crypt's logic puts in play the living dead and
docs not permit any sublatio n of t he cadaver? I heard yester-
day's texl as a thi rd logic in this tha natology . The logic of my
father the dead. my mother the living, my father the forever
dead, my mot her the forever living would be a logic that
leads to an irreducible doubleness. You say, moreover. that it
would lead to a split dia lectic of the negative. Here. for ex-
ample. one migh t nole the following passage: "As a 'Itving'
father, he was already only the memory of life, of an already
prior life. Elsewhere. I have related thi s elementary kinshi p
slruct ure (of a dead or rath er absen t fethor. already absent to
himself, and of the mother living above and after all. living
on long enough to bury the one she has brought into the
world, an ageless virgi n inaccessible to all ages) 10 a logic of
the death kncll [gkrs] and of obsequence. " Later you add.
"The contrad ictio n of the ' double' thus goes beyond what-
ever decli ning negativity might accom pany a dialectical op-
position," Spea king in very general terms, I sec here a trajec-
tory that sets oul from Nietzsche as a reader of Hegel in
relation to the problem of the dialectic. However, in thi s
Nietzsche reader-of-Hegel. I also read an autobiograp hical
element: Derrlda rereadi ng Of Gromma tology today. And in
Nietzsche's thanatography. I sec the necessit y of the signa-
ture, the necessary inability to ass ume and sublate in t he
autobiography the li mit -posit ion of the living dead, that is 10
say, of the crypt.
Based on what you have wr itten recently on Freud and on
psychoanalysis, one can say that this logic of the living dead
makes the identifi cati on of the Freudian Oedipus absolutely
imposs ible. That is, the father who is always dead and the
mother who is always li ving would constitute in fact a move-
ment that deconst ructs t he psychoanalytic Oedip us. a move-
rnen t t hai would ovont ual ly red uce Freud 10 Hegel.
56 on Au.o biogrophy
Jacques Derrida: Reply
These are very, very difficult questi ons whi ch naturall y con-
cern me and seem to me altogether necessary, although once
again it is going to be hard for me to survey the enormous field
that you have marked off. To begin wit h what I can best grasp
immediatel y, I'll recall what you said ebout Hegel and Nietz-
sche: the former woul d be the one who did not sign and the
other the one who signs Nietzsche. In effect. that appears to be
the case. In Glas , f said that Hegel seemed not to sign; and
yesterday I began by saying Nietzsche is someone who want ed
to sign. That appears to be the case. Hegel presents himself as
a philosopher or a thinker, someone who constantly tells you
that his empirical signature-the signature of the ind ividual
named Hegel- is secondary. His signature , that is, pales in the
face of the truth, which speaks through his mouth . which is
produced in his text, which constructs the system it con-
structs. This syste m is the teleological outcome of all of w est -
ern experience, so that in the end Hegel, the individual. is
nothing but an emp irical shell which can fall away wit hout
subtracting from the truth or from the history of meaning. As a
phil osopher and as a teacher, he seems to be saying basicall y
that not only is it poss ible for his signature and his proper
name to disappear without a loss. to fall outside of the system.
but that this is even necessary in his own system because it
will prove the truth and the autonomy of that system. Thus.
my excl usion from what I am sayi ng-the excl usion of my
signature from the text produced throu gh me-is absolutely
essential and necessary if my discourse is to he a pht losophl-
cal. ontol ogical one. It appears, then. that Hegel did not sign.
Inversely, it appears that Nietzsche signs and signs more than
once. He is someone who writ es his autobi ograph y, recalls his
name, his genealogy, and so forth. Yet, in fact, HI18el signs just
as clearly. One could show, as I have tri ed to do elsewhere. in
what way it was difficult to dispense with the name of Hegel
Roundtoble on Autobiography 57
in his work, to withold its inscription---call it persona l or
biographica l- from his work. It implies a reelaboration of the
whole problemati c of the biographical within philosoph y. In-
versely, Nietzsc he has great trouble signing. He want s to sign
but he is obliged to defer his signature, to entrus t it to some-
thi ng like the eternal return which wi ll not sign just once by
stating an identity. Rather, it will sign the strongest ind efl-
nitely, it will select the strongest, and finally it will sign only
in the fonn of the difference of forces and qualiti es. It will not
sign in the form of the patronym. Thus, Nietzsche has a lot of
trouble signing. He doesn't complain about it, but in any case
he didn't sign in the common sense of the term. He defers hi s
The questi on concerning the crypt is much more difficult
because, in order to reconstitute this problematic carefully,
one would have to refer once more to the psychoanalytic the-
ory of the crypt elabora ted by the French psychoanalysts Nico-
las Abraham and Maria Torok [Le Vernier de I'Homme OUX
loups (1976); L'Ecorce el Ie ncj-cu (1978)). To review very
quick ly, the alternative topical descripti on they have pro-
posed came out of their work reelaborating the Freudian the-
ory of mel ancholia and mourning. They have proposed the
concept of the crypt. Now. what is the crypt in thi s instance?
It is that whi ch is constituted as a crypt in the body for the
dead object in a case of unsuccessful mourning, mourning that
has not been brought to a normal conclusion. The metaphor of
the crypt returns insistently. Not having been taken back in-
side the self, digested , ass imilated as in all "normal" mourn-
ing. the dead object remains like a living dead abscessed in a
specific spot in the ego. It has its place. just like a crypt in a
cemetery or temple, surrounded by wall s and all the rest. The
dead object is incorporated in thi s crypt- the term "incorpo-
rated" signaling precisely that one has failed to digest or as-
similate it totall y, so that it remains there, forming a pocket in
the mourning body. The incor porated dead, which one has not
reall y managed to take upon oneself, continues to lodge there
58 Roundtable on A utobiography
like somethi ng ot her and to ventrtlocate through the "living."
The living dead, to whi ch Eugenio Donato made allusion, is
the one who is enclosed in the crypt. For instance, J lose a
loved one, I fail to do what Freud calls the normal work of
mou rning, wi th the result that the dead person conti nues to
inhabit me, but as a stranger. By contras t, in normal mourning,
if such a thing exists, J take the dead upon myself, I digest it,
assimilate it, idea lize it, an d interiorize it in the Hegeli an
sens e of the term. This is what HCRel calls inter iori zation
wh ich is at the same ti me memorizati on-an Intertortain g mem-
or izatton (E'rinnerung) which is idealiz ing as well . In the work
of mourn ing, the dead other (it may be an object. an ani mal. or
some ot her li ving t hing) is taken into me; J kill it and remem-
ber it. But since it is an Erinnerung, I int eri orize it totall y and
it is no longer other. Whereas in unsuccessful mourning, thi s .
Erinnerung goes only so far and then stops. What Abraham
and Torok call introjection (anot her term for tnterforl zation)
reac hes its li mi t: incorporation marks the li mi t of intr oject ion.
I ca nnot manage to int eri or ize the dead ether so J kee p it in
me, as a persecut or perhaps , a living dead.
My review of thi s theorizat ion is obviously 100 succi nct. As
for the int erpretati on of Nietzsche thai I proposed yesterday. is
it in any way forei gn to this theori zati on? Is not the way in
whic h Nietzsche relates himself to hi s fath er and moth er, for
exa mple, something else? I don' t know, Obviousl y when
Nietzsc he says, "I am at once the dead man and the living
woman," he says to himself , I am both of them. li e has in hi m
some living dead; he is also then thi s coupl e's cr ypt (si nce hi s
fath er and mother are not two but one couple), li e has in hi m
thi s living-dead couple, an d this general situation cou ld open
onto a gener al space within which 10 as k the quest ion of
Nietzsche's crypt. Perhaps, Through hi s father and hi s moth er.
he may be both pointing to and hiding some oth er, far more
determinate ghost. I'm not prepared to enalyzo Nietzsche's
ghost right now, bUI such an ana lysis could he attempted or
situated in the general space where he says: '" am my father
and my mot her; I am my dead father an d my living mother. I
Roundtabl e on Autobiography 59
am the ir crypt and they both speak to me. They both speak in
me so whatever I say, they address it to eac h other."
I don't know if you can tell from thi s very sca nty summary,
but the analysis of a cry pt ca n be done only according to
procedures that arc far from class ical in psychoanalysis. The
forms of the "analytic sit uation," and even the process of
transference and so on, are unse tt led by Abraham's and To--
rok's theory abo ut the crypt. When it' s a text that one is tryi ng
to decipher or decrypt using these conce pts and these motifs .
or when one is looking for a ghost or a crypt in a text, then
things get sti ll more difficult. or let us say more nove l. I say a
ghost and a crypt: ac tua lly the theory of the "ghost" is not
exactly the theory of the "crypt." It's even more complicated.
Although it's also connec ted to the crypt, the ghost is more
precisely the effect of another's crypt in my unconscious.
Now, as for Nietzsche being a reader of Hegel : it' s a sta ndard
topic, of course. Nietzsche is a reader and a major critic of
Hegel. All of Nietzsche 's affirmations can be int er pret ed as
anti -Hegelia n affirmations. Well . obv iously. as is always the
case when one has a great adversary-and HCRel is Nietzsche's
great adversary, isn't he?-there will be moments wh en the
adversa ries greatly resemble eac h other. It would be easy to
show that ther e is a dialectic. II Hegeli ani sm in Nietzsc he.
Patrick Mahony: Play. Work, and Beyond
My first qu estion conce rns the influence of autobiography
on theoreti cal concepts,
Accor ding to the Germa n romantic poet Friedri ch Schiller,
man is thoroughly human only wh en he gives himself over to
the activity of play. In paralle l wit h this provocative notion. I
wil l place the similar position of Donald winnlcott. t he Brit-
ish psychoanalyst , who writes :
It is in playi ng lind only in playing t hat the indi vidu al child or adult
is able to be cre at ive and to use the whole personality, and it is only
in being creat ive that the Individual di scovers the self. (Bound up
60 Roundtable on A utobiography
with thi s is t he fact that only in playin g is communica tion possi-
bl e.) ... In ter ms of free associatio n .. . the patient on the couch or
the chi ld patient among the toys on t he floor mu st be allowed to
communi cate a succession of ideas, thoughts. impulses, sensations
that are not linked except in some way t hat is neurol ogical or physio-
logical and pe rha ps beyond detect ion. . . . Per haps it is to beacce pted
that t here are patients who at limes need the therapi st to not e the
nonsense that belongs to the slate of the indi vidual at res l without
the need even for the patient 10communi cate this nonsen se, that is to
say, without the need for the Patient 10 organize nonsense. (playing
and Reali ty, pp . 54-56)
Winnicott 's ready acce ptance of the nonsense of free asso-
ciation situates him at a certain distance from the principal
approach of the orthodox psychoanal yst s. such as Freud.
(Sand or) Ferenczt. and [Rudol ph] Loewenstein, who insisted
not only that the patient communicate freely but that free
association be comprehensible. Actua lly, Freud's reservations
with regard to free play come to the fore at this point. One day
he was asked what a normal person has to do to keep in good
health, and he replied simply: "Love and work" (IErikl Erik-
son. Identify. Youth and Crisis (1968)). fie did not include
"play." In this way. Freud departs from Schiller and Winni -
cott. A pertinent remark in this regard is Freud' s pronounced
di stast e for music. What is more. when one considers certain
of his psychoanalytic concepts. one notices that several differ-
ent phenomena are repeatedly referred to in terms of work
rather than play: Durchorheitung (working through). psy-
chische Vemrbeilung (psychi cal working out ), sekun ddre
Bearheitung (secondary elaboration), Troumorbeif (dream
work) . Trouerorheil (mourning work), Wilzarbeit (joke work),
Now. play has an enormously important place in your wor k.
play which is nonetheless serious at the same time. Following
the quotations I am going to read. I cannot help thinking that
Freud's superego, which. as he says , casts a shadow over the
ego, must have incited him to work in di fferent terms.
1. "One could call ploy the absence of the transcend ental
signified as limitlessness of play, that is to say as the destruc-
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Roundlable on Autobiography 61
lion of onto-theo logy and the metaphysics of presence... .
Here one must think of writing as the play within language"
(Of GrommatoJogy, p. 50):
2. "The presence-absence of the trace, whi ch one should
not even call its ambiguity but rather its play . .." (ibid.. p.
3. "I try to respect as rigorously as possible the internal
play of phil osophemes or epistememes by making them
slide-without mis treating them-to the point of their non-
pertinence, their exhaustion, their clos ure" (Positions. p. 6).
Finall y, there is your watchword from Glos: "Let the net
float, the infinitely twi sted and crafty play of knots."
1 would like to hear you comment on what is an obvious
difference between Winn icott and Freud and on how you situ-
ate yourse lf in relation to this difference.
After having carefully studied Freud's Beyond the Pleas ure
Principle in the original language as well as various commen-
taries on it, I can justl y say that 1consider the best reading of
it to be your " Freud's Legacy" ("Legs de Freud"). I have
studied your text three times, and each time 1better appreciate
the precise description it gives of the second chapter of
Freud's treatise. The chapter is read as a performative dis-
course with a mimeti c structure and also as an aut o-hetero-
bio-thanat ography which gives "a more or less vivid descrip-
tion of Freud's own writing. his manner of writing what he
writes" (p. 96).
whatever one' s approach to autobiography-literary, philo-
sophical, et cetera--one must pay constant attention to the
unlimited factor of the repetition compulsion. You have es-
sentially taken up this idea again in "Freud's Legacy," and I
would like to explore it further with you. The best way to do
so is to usc the specifi c example you have chosen.
Elsewhere in Freud 's production. one may point to an lm-
pmsslve number of major texts that consist of seven chapters:
The Interpretct tcn of Dreams; Jokes end Their Relolion fa the
Unconscious; "The Question of Lay Analysis," "The Uncon-
scious," and New Introductory Lect ures on Psycho-Analysis.
62 Roundtable on Autobiography
The first two part s of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexua lity
each has seven sections , as docs Freud's favorite text, part four
of Totem and Taboo. Also noti ce that there are twenty-eight
lect ures in the Introd uct ion to Psycho-Anolysis-a mult iple of
seven. The friends hip between Freud and his great friend Wil-
helm Fliess lasted about four teen years, that between Freud
and Jung almost seve n years. The famous Secret Commi ttee
which guided the psychoanalyti c movement consis ted of
seven members eac h of whom wor e a ring. Fina lly, the cit y of
Rome, wit h its seve n hill s, was so off-limits for Freud that for
several years he was unable to visit it, and , after he finally did
so, he went there a total of seve n times.
Prompt ed by your theori es about text uali ty. dccentert ng.
and mise en cbrme;' I would now like to bring to your atte n-
tion a certain series of traces in Freud 's work. More preci sely,
I thi nk we may gain new autobiographical insight if we com-
pare Freud 's treati se on deat h from 1920 to the most famous of
all dreams in the psychoanalytic literature. I am referring to
the so-called Irma dream whic h Freu d had twe nty-five years
ear lier and which, for all we know, revealed to him, t hrough
the ana lysis he mad e of it, the secret of dreams in general. I
want to emphas ize two references in the dream: first, the pa-
tient , Irma. a direc t reference to Freud's wife who was at that
lime pregnant wit h their daughter Anna; second, the very im-
port ant reference to the nose. I will explain the latter first.
The counterpart to Freud's autoanalysis was Fliess's aut o-
therapy or his operations on the nose. Earlier, the two of them
had begun, on Fliess 's suggestion, to keep daily records of
the ir personal observations. These personal observations were
organized aro und the nasal-reflex neurosis, a cli nical cat egory
proposed by Flless. an otorhinol aryngologist. ,... he was repre-
sented in the dream by Otto. (Hence , Freud's au toenalysls was
' The abyssal effect by which a represented objl!(;t. scene. et cetera. alrea dy
figures within the frame of the represe ntation . thus precluding the idea of any
original moment or s pace that is outside the frame. It would btl the effect . for
example. of a pain ting of a gallery wall on which hung the painting of the
gallery wall. _Tr.
Roun dtable on Autob iography 63
li kewise an otoa nal ysts. an d the dream took the for m of an
ot ography.) The nose was supposed to be the source of the
greatest variey of symptoms which might appear anywhere in
the body- from migra ines to back pains-all of which could
be relieved by nasal surgery and t he nasal adminislrat ion of
cocaine . Next, Fll css set out the pr inci ple of femal e cycl es of
twent y-eight days and male cycles of twenty-three days. and
li nked the two in order to determine the days of a person's
birth and death. Finall y, he established a strict relation be-
t ween the morphology and functioni ng of the nose, on the one
hand , and of the genitalia , on the othe r. As we know, Freud
was de light ed wit h th is diagram which allowed one to
gli mpse the possib il ity of 11 biological basis for psychoa nalysis
as well as an effecti ve solution to the problem of birt h control.
Now, in the Irma dream. Sigmund (Sieg Mund : victory
mout h) looks into Irma's mout h and throat as an otorhinolar-
yngologist wou ld do (t hus the dream is a laryngography). At
fi rst Sigmund feels Irma's case has defeat ed him. Then, in
pursuit of victor y. he begins to accuse his friend Otto (Fliess)
of havi ng used a di rt y syringe to give Irma. who is pregnant,
a shot of tr tmet hylami n. But here, leI us listen to Freud's
own association on his dr eam: " I began to guess why the
formula for trime thylamin had been so prominent in the
dream. So many important subjects converged upon that one
word. Tr imeth ylamin was an all usio n not only to the im-
mensely powerful factor of sexuality, but also to [Fltess ] . ..
who had a special knowledge of t he consequences of affec-
tion s of the nose and its accessory cavit ies" (Slonrlard Edi-
lion, 4:117).
For ou r part . when we transcribe the who le of the important
chemical formu la 10 which Freud merely alludes, we notice
tha t the symbol for nitrogen occurs as a heteroatom which is
not in brac ket s. The leit er , the chemical sign for nit rogen, in
its graphic relation, is the sa me as the first consonant of the
word nose (Nose) while it also rep resents a sound that is in-
evitab ly performed nasally, {The dream is thus a rhi nogre phy.I
Wn sec t hat the n signifies mor e than this when we recall that
64 Roundtoble on Autobiography
Freud considered his governess (Kind etjrou) very important
even though he referred to her by the altogether inappropri ate
term "nurse" (Amme). By his own avowa l, it was she who was
the "original author " of hi s neurosi s, who talked to him about
hell and initi ated him into sexual matters.
It is only nal ural to suppose that she played an impo rtant
role in his infantile masturbation. Yet Freud was extremely
reserved on thi s subject, and no reference 10 it appears in his
autobiograp hical Interpretation of Dreams. In fact, alone
poin t Freud totall y deni es that the child has any sexuality, a
striking contradiction wh ich Iung di d not fail to notice. All
the same , several int eresting facts turn up on this subject in
Freud's manu script notes on the Rat Man case. Although
Freud uses both German word s for masturbation-Masturba -
tion and Onan ie-he had the habit of abbreviating this refer-
ence with the capital initia l. This condensation is quite sig-
nificant as a compromise formation, since it remains an iconic
symbol even as it refers to the repressed Nanny. Thus the a is
a trace of his Nanny, of infant ile masturbation, and of Fhess's
nasal theories. 1 said "trace," but the term Freud used was
either Zeiche n Isign) or Spur [scentl-cthe latter, with its olfac-
tory reference, frequent ly occurs in Freud's texts.
What is more, although Freud had broken off relat ions wit h
Fliess in 1900, about ten years later, in 1910, traces-Spuren-
of Fliess still remained with Freud, In that year, when the
father and sons of the psychoanalytic primal horde founded
the International Psychoanalytic Associ ation, there were dis-
agreements with [Wilhelm) Stekel and [Viklor) Tausk, the
ghosts of Fliess. In the same year, Freud wrote his studies of
Leonard o da Vinci and [Daniel Paul) Schreber. in each case a
choice motivated by the homosexual elements which Freud
linked to Fliess. During the same year, he refused to go to
Innsbruck, givi ng as his only reason that it was there thai he
had had one of his first arguments with Fliess. More impor-
tant , it was the year in which the Wolf Man began four years
of treatment with Freud. Here, there are three facts to con-
sider: first of all, when the Wolf Man returned to take up his
Roun dtabl e on Autobiography 65
treat ment with Freud once more, his adolescent anxieties
about hi s nose came out again; second, as [james] Strachey
says (S.E., 17:6), the most important cl inical discovery in the
Wolf Man case was the determini ng role that the pati ent' s
primary femini ne impulses played in his neurosis: third, dur-
ing the second ana lysis of the Wolf Man, Freud was working
on a draft of Beyond the Pleasure Princi ple and he felt com-
pelled to voice certain doubts about Flless's theory of femi-
nine and masculine cycl es.
Let' s return now to the Inna dream in order to pick up
another thread that can be subtly woven into the textual pat-
tern of Beyond the Pleasure Principl e. Recall thai at the time
of the dream, Freud 's wife was pregnant with their daughter
Anna, named after Anna Hammerschl ag, a childless woma n
and the same Anna Hammerschl ag repr esented by Irma. who
is also identified wit h Freud 's wife. Thus, thanks to the identi -
fication bet ween mot her and fetus, there is no metonymy, no
difference between container and contained, inside and out-
side. Similarly, the subject Anna resists being contained by
her father's anal ysis. As a pali ndrome, Anna's name is revers-
ible: its beginn ing is identi cal to its end. What is more, Anna
resembl es Amme and Onanie , and there is thus another link
with Fhess. We alsa know that if the child had been a boy, he
would have been given Flless's first name, Wilhel m. As im-
possible as it seems, Freud later tr ied to analyze his daughter.
This analysis was carried out between 1918 and 1921, a pe-
riod which includes the wr iting of Beyond the Pleasure Prln-
ci ple. In fact, one ought to underst and Anna's lat er book The
Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936) in terms of a de-
ferred moti vation whose context is her analysis and her
father 's approaching deat h. We have reason to wonde r what
sorts of fantasi es occurred to their minds during thts ana lysis.
What sort of mourning work di d they have to do, these two,
ana lyst and analysand? 1suppose that there must have been a
work of mourning not only in advance of death but also in the
face of its fantasized and una pproachable opposite: Freud's
immortalization by hi s youngest daughter, Anna.
66 Roundtobl e on Autobiography
Let me explai n. Freud ident ified death with woman on Iwo
occasions: fi rst. in one of hi s first dreams about the Three
Furies: then , in 1913, in an essay that dea lt with Shakespeare
and the Three Caskets. In a letter to Ferencz! from this period,
we learn t hat the real subject of the latter text was his
daughte r Anna. Cons ider the end of thi s essay, whi ch deals
with Shakespeare's King Lear, and keep in mind that for Freud
the latent subject, Anna, becomes (as in the Irma dream)
mot her, mother-daughter, and his mother-daughter.
Lear carries Corde lia's dead body on to the stage. Cordelia is Death. If
we reverse the sit uation it becomes intelligible and familiar to us.
She is the Death-goddess like the Valkyr ie in German mythology who
carries away the dead hero from the battlefield.. .. We might argue
that what is represen ted here are the three ine vitab le relati ons that a
man has wi th a woman- the woman who bea rs him , the woman who
is his mate and the woma n who destroys him: or that thev are the
three forms taken by the figure of the mother in the course of a man 's
life--the mother herself, the bel oved one who is chosen afte r her
pat tern . and lastl y the Mother Earth who rece ives him once more.
(Sta ndar d Edition, 12:301)
The parentheses of t he Oedipus complex together encom-
pass inside and outside even unto deat h. Odd ly enough. even
though Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and the book
on jokes were written at t he same time, there is little erot ic
material in the latter. This init ial split t urns out to be on a par
wit h a later split. Freud later empha sizes the son's mat ricidal
desire and the castrating mot her's desire for her son. Yet,
thanks to the s plit, it is deat h, rat her t han aggression, that is
aligned wit h the mother-daughter. Anna is Thanatos. the sig-
nifier that eludes all ana lysis and anachroni sm.
I have alread y indi cated elsewhere (Freud as a Writer
[1981]) t hat in Beyon d the Pleasure Princi ple, Freud 's own
descripti on of his grandson's play with the bobbin. as an un-
consciously determined mastery wit h regard to the mother's
absence, is itself unconsciously overdetermined. Between the
hid den inscription of Freud's name and the manif est prese nce
____________ Roundtable on Autobiogr aphy 67
of his grandson Ernst in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, there
is the second generation of ana-logy: a past and present Anna.
an ana-chronism of differences, an incomparable ana-logy
which refers only to itself. Ana, an antithetical preposition
which has the sense in Greek of both progression and retro-
gress ion, comprises the movement of bot h drives described in
Beyond the Pleasure Principle where "beyond" means some-
thing more fundamental than the pleasure princi ple. that is,
both beyond and before, an atop ical and anachronisti c de-
centering in whi ch everything is deferred. Thus. we are caught
in ana , whose difference with Anna is an n. a letter which is a
pr inci pal factor in the Irma dream. Nonet heless, its graphic
form as chemical symbol and all t he rest shows up in neither
the manifest nor the latent dream.
Jacques Derrida: Reply
I don' t know t hat I wou ld go as far as you have in saying
that Freud was so inatt entive 10 play or that he was more
concerned wit h wor k than with play. There are, cl early, Freud-
ian word s and concepts-you read a list of them, but a list is a
list-that turn on the notion of work rat her than play. Yet one
could also find evidence of Freud's int erest in play. More than
once , he begi ns a text by tal king about child's play. I thi nk
that if one becomes fasci nat ed by the classic concept ual oppo-
sition of play and work. one may be letti ng onese lf in for an
infinit e series of combinations. Perhaps it would be bell er to
try to pose the probl em differently. I agree wit h you that. in
effect, every time Freud encounters something called play, he
is very anxious to comprehe nd-that is, to comprehend the
meaning of the play. lie docs not belie ve that play is insignifi-
cant. that it is purely a game. lie believes, then . that t here is a
li mit to play. some operation , some desire. the quest for some
gain or profit, et cetera, wh ich is at work in it in whatever
way. When there is play- well. It's there and he knows it' s
there. for the child obviously. but also for the arti st. His first
concern is to continue the analysis in the face of play. There is
68 Roundtable on Autobiography
anot her att itude-let us call it obscuranlist- that one may
adopt toward play which consists in throwing in the towel
and saying: "Okay. that's a game. Ir s gratuitous. play for the
sake of play: it means nothi ng. it' s pure expenditure. " I would
be very wary of thi s temptation. even though it might fascinate
me. I am very wary of it because it woul d be at this moment
that one risks falling short of the scientific. theoreti cal de-
mand and failing in one's responsibility to try to comprehend
what play signifies. what strategies. interests. and investments
are at work in play.
In short. what is the economy of play? Freud 's interest in it is
an economic interest. He tr ies to see what goes on in play in
energetic terms-in terms. that is. of savings and expenditure. I
will go even furt her in Freud 's defense and say that he is justi-
fied in this by his historical, strategic situation. If right away he
had thrown in the towel when faced with play, if he had begun
by saying: There is a speci ficity of play. the s pecificity of man is
play. language is play. period. and that' s all-psyc hoanalysis
would have stopped right there. But he had a scie nce to inaugu-
rate. that is to say. an endeavor to find the best account for
whatever might appear gratuitous. insignificant. and so forth. I
would thus begin by granting for as long as possible Freud' s
interpretive demand within the field in which he had to
struggle to impose an idea of psychoanalysis. When. however-
and here I come bad toward your pos ition-at a certain mo-
ment he had to suppose that there was meaning and finalit y
everywhere. that everyth ing was part of an economy and. con-
sequently. that play was always bordered by somethi ng whi ch
could be called work, seriousness , the economica l, et cetera.
here there may in fact be a limit. But the limit is not Freud's. It
is the limit of philosophy and sci ence. One could demonstrate
that every time a phil osophy or a science cl aims to have consti-
tuted its own coherence in some fashion, it has in fact been led
to reduce the element of play or to comprehend it by assigning
it a place. to hem it in somehow. Well. ill thi s SlIlSU. Freud is a
classical scholar or philosopher .
In order to make apparent a play that is not comprehended
Roundtabl e on Autobiogra phy 69
in this ph ilosoph ical or scie ntific space. one must thin k of
play in another way. Indeed. this is what I am trying to do
within what is already a tradit ion- that of Nietzsche. for ex-
ample--but one wh ich also has its genealogy. On the basis of
thinking suc h as Nietzsche's (as interpreted by [Eugen] Fink ).
the conce pt of play. understood as the play a/ the worl d. is no
longer play in the wor ld. That is. it is no longer determined
and contained by something. by the space that would compre-
hend it. I believe that it is only on thi s basis and on this
condition that the conce pt of play can be reconstructed and
reconciled with all of the-if you will- "deconstructive"-type
noti ons. such as trace and wr iting. to which you pointed a
moment ago, Once play is no longer simply play in the world.
it is also no longer the play of someone who plays. Philosophy
has al ways made play into an activity, the activity of a subject
manipulating objects, As soon as one interprets play in the
sense of playing. one has already been dragged into the space
of classical philosophy where play is dominated by meaning,
by its finalit y, and consequently by something that sur passes
and orients it. In order to think of play in a radical way.
perhaps one must think beyond the activity of a subject ma-
nipulating objects acco rding to or against the rules. et cetera.
For a long time now. it is this kind of thinking about play
(which is no longer si mply playing) that has interes ted me.
This play is not like a game that one plays with. and. natur-
ally. it may be very ris ky.
In very summary terms. then. this is the princi ple of what I
would have liked to set in motion. The fort /do" at the center
of "Freud' s Legacy" is also. of course , a di scourse on play.
And. typi cally. Freud indeed does propose an interpretation
of the child's game. He pil es up hypotheses: the chil d throws
'In Beyond the l' lt'{] sure Pri ncip le. Freud describes a child's play wit h a
bobbin Oil a strillJj. As htl cas ts it away from him, he utters "0-00," which his
mother interprets li S the word "fort" (away. far ]: as he !Julls it hack. he says
"iIa-il." which acco rding to the mot her means "de" (herll).- Tr.
70 Roundtable on A utobiosraphy
his bobbin, he brings it back in order to say this or that to his
mother, and so forth. I won' t attempt to reconstitute here this
whole very complicated scene. To be sure, the theme of play
is there. However, if one understands the fortldu beyond what
it seems Freud intends to say, then one may exceed the li mits
of the game toward the play of the wor ld where the fort/do is
no longer si mply the relation of subject to object. It is, instead ,
that which has abso lute comma nd over all experience in gen-
eral. To arrive at such a poi nt-and I think I attempt this
gesture, in a di screet manner at least, in the course of that
text-one must nevertheless begin by read ing Freud in a cer-
tain way, If one does, then one realizes that basically he does
not stop at any single interpretati on of the fan/do. He evokes
several types of int erpretati ons which then generally serve as
stop ping-points for those who quote and who use Freud.
Freud, on the ot her hand, always ends up finding hi s interpre-
tati ons insufficient. One by one, he throws t hem away and
moves on to anot he r. He always has to take one more step: he
moves on to another which he also throws away until finall y
he retai ns no single interpretati on. He himself is doingfortldo
wit h hi s own int erpretati ons, and it never stops. His own writ -
ing, his own deportment in thi s text is doing fort/do . Perhaps
the performati ve is in play as wel l. in a very serious man ner,
but t he game is also very serious and dema nds great concen-
tration. He plays with this fort/do in his wri ti ng; he doesn 't
"compre hend " it. He writes himself this scene, which is de-
scr iptive or theoretical but also very profoundly au tobio-
graphical and perfonnative to the degree that it concerns him
in his rel ati on with his heirs: his grandson, his da ughter who,
in fact. died a short time afte r the experience and before he
wrote the text. There is, in ot her words, an immense autobio-
graphica l scene invested in this ap parent ly theoretical writing.
and it is doing fo rt/do . When t his becomes ap parent . there is
no longer a li mit on the fort/do. That is, it is no longer a
determinate structure, which Freud is interpreti ng: rathe r, it is
that whi ch has command of his own interpretation, which
plays with his text and wit h his own testament. Such. in any
_ _ ____ _ _ _ _ _ _ Roundtable on A ut obiography 11
case. is what I heve tried to show in that text. In writ ing
Beyond the Plea sure Princi ple, Freud is wri ting a textual tes-
tament not only as regards his own name and his own family,
but as regards the analytic movement whi ch he also con-
structed in a certain fashion, that is, as a great inhe ritan ce, a
great instituti on bearing his name. The hi story of the ana lytic
sit uation has to deal with that. It is an institution that can' t get
along wi tho ut Freud's name. a practica l and theoretical sci-
ence whi ch for once must come to terms and explain itself
with its aut hor's na me. Unli ke every other science. it cannot
set aside or dispense wHh its found er's name. Mathematics,
physics, et cetera, might on occasion celebrate the name of a
great physicist or a great mathe matician, but the proper name
is not a structural part of the corpus of the science or the
scienti fic institution. Psychoanalysi s. on the ot her hand, has
been inherit ed from Freud and accounts for itself with the
structure of this inherit ance. I think that one must finall y de-
cipher his text by means of these questions: the questi on of
inheritance, of the proper name. of the fortJda , of the play of
the fortlda infinitely exceeding the li mit s of the text.
Claude Levesque: ThaI Incredible Terrible Thing
Which Wa s No l
How does one approach-carefully and wit hout deludi ng
oneself too much-the question of aut obiography and, in par-
ticular, the more obscure, labyrin thine, and perilous question
of the au tobiography of (giving full play here to the double
polarity of that genitive) Jacques Derrida? It is certainly safe to
say that confession is not the privileged mode of his writing,
and he hi mself has not failed to remind us that we must al-
ways cons ider the poss ibility that a confession may be a quo-
tatlon. a pose, a feint, or a parody. It is nonetheless the case
that, for several years now, Derrida seems to be impli cating
himself mow in his writing, or at least more openly. Certain
assertions are made in his own name, precisely in the form of
confessions, These confessio ns, as precious and enigmatic as
72 Roundtable on Autobiography
they are rare, discontinuous, and laconi c, are delivered with
such reti cence that. it seems to me (but one may never
know). they should be taken for what they appear to be. Thi s
one, for example, which continues to haunt me: "Everyt hing
I write is terribl y autobiographi cal." Why the "terribly" here,
which seems strange. sur prising, unusual? In thi s case, the
adverb must be given the meaning that comes directl y from
its nominati ve root- "in a manner that inspires terror" (one
will have to wonder who or what inspires terror . and in
whom)-rather than its more familiar. banali zed meaning,
as, for example, when one wants to signify the intensit y of
one's attachment to someone or somet hing. Yet, notice that
even the latter sense impli es excess and extreme. To say,
then, that the totalit y of what one has written is aut obio-
graphical in the extreme, even to excess. means that one has
overstepped the mark (of discourse and of knowledge) and
reached the peril ous thre shold. In short. it means that there
has been a cross ing at the limit, a step beyond to where
everything breaks down and is overthrown, where unkno w-
ing fascinat es knowl edge and di scourse, lur ing them outside
of the sys tem, outside of language, into a space that we enter
onl y if we no longer are. Thi s is the space of disaster which
Blanchot speaks of, the space "which, as the intense, silent,
and disastrous affi rmation of the outside. undoes solit ude
and overwhelms thought of any sort" (Van Ve1de, p. 21). It is
here that the "t erribly" becomes necessary in a certain way,
since anyone who wou ld "speak truthfull y of himself " can-
not avoid being brough t to the very edge where he en-
counters (as he di sappears into) the impossible, "a terrible
thing," writes Derrida in a text 1 am going to refer to in a
moment. Thus. to tell one's own story is to consort with the
terr ifying. But this non-science is a gay science, an affi rma-
tive knowledge whose origin is its own impossibility. "The
proof," writes Blanchot, "that a book of autobiography re-
spects the center of truth around which it is composed may
be that such a center draws it toward silence. Whoever sees
his book through to the end has not come to the end of
Roundtable on Autobiography 73
himself . If he had , hi s speech would have been 'cut short.'
Yet , the drama-as well as the power-in all ' true' confes-
sions is that one begins to speak only with a view to that
moment when one will not be able to continue. There is
something to be said which one cannot say: it' s not neces-
sarily scandalous. it may be quite banal-a lacuna, a void.
an area that shrinks from the light because its nat ure is the
impossibility of being brought to light, a secret without se-
crecy whose broken seal is mut eness itself" (L'Amttle. pp.
151- 52) .
Derr ida multiplies the terms-none is pr ivileged- when he
tries to name what Nietzsche, [Georges) Batatll e, Blanchot. and
he himself call the impossible, that which escapes possibilit y
and power, prima ril y the power of discourse. This unnameable
is neverthel ess what moves hi m and drives him, what makes
hi m speak and wr ite: thi s terribl e thing, the incredible thi ng
which is not. thi s "secret without secrecy" which leads all
autobiography toward that point where one can no longer say
anythi ng. "I am trying to experience in my body: ' writes Der-
rida in "[a, ou Ie faux-bond: ' "an altogether other relation to
the incredi ble ' thing which was not .? It' s probably not possi-
ble. especially if one wants to make of thi s experience some-
thing other than a consolation. a mou rning, a new well-being. a
reconcilation with death, although that' s not something I sneer
at. But thi s impossi bility as regards "the thing that is not" is,
finally. the only thing that interests me. It's what I call-
awkwardly still- mourning' s mourning [Ie deuil du deuil). It is
a terrible thing that I do not love but that I want to love. You ask
me what makes me wr ite or spea k: there it is. It's something like
that-not what I Jove but what I would like to love, what makes
me run or wait, bestows and withdraws my idiom. And the
"The reference is to the Houyhnhnms' language in Trovels: "He
replied that I must be mista ken. or that I 'said Ihe thi ng whi ch was nol.' (For
they have no words in their language 10 express lying or falsehood.]" Part IV,
Chap. III.
"The "good agai n," or the rebound 01 the gnod.- Tr.
74 Roundtable on Autobi ography
For structural reasons, t hen, as soon as autobiography at-
temp ts to see itself through to the end, it is linked to thi s
"terrible thing" which writ es and which dr ives writi ng, like
play come of age that consta nt ly puts everything into pla y-
life, deat h, speech, writ ing. It or "she" (autobiography is per-
haps inflected in the feminine) pulls on the bobbin's st ring,
bringing it back only in order to send it away, infinit ely: fort/
do. The idiom-or, if you will, the autobiographical- is al-
ways but "the effect of a process of ex-appropriation which
produces only perspecti ves, readi ngs wit hout trut h, di ffer-
ences, intersections of affect. a whole ' history' whose very
possibilit y has to be dl st nscribed and rei nscribed." It so hap -
pens that the proper name, the pat ronymic Derrida. inscribes
in itself this play of fort/do , its process of di sproprialion and
plu rali zation. In "Freud's Legacy," Derr ida translates fort as
'derriere" (Ie rid eau - RIDA), whereas elsewhere, in Glcs . he
openly associates hi s proper name to the word derriere . Thus ,
"derrie re le rtdecu " [behi nd the curta in] would be the ana-
gram of hi s name. The Germa n do can also be retained , and as
a result this doubl e play and dou ble language cut across hi s
name, a foreign name, linguisticall y heterogeneous, only semi-
translated because it ca nnot be completely translated wit hout
loss. In the inscription of hi s name, Derr ida withdra ws behind
the curtain. He is hidden in the writ ing, which moves away
from Itsel f does not make its ends meet, repeats. unli mits, and
disseminates itself, keeping his name by losing it. "I write in
order to lose my name," as Batetll e has said.
I have not yet reall y formulated a question. Here is one: Is
there an evol ution of Derrida in his relation to Blanchot? I am
thi nking of a text on [Antonin) Art aud [" La Parole soufflee"],
which goes back to 1964. where you say the following: " If
cl inical commentary and crit ical commentary ever ywhere de-
man d thei r own aut onomy and wish to be acknowledged and
respected by one anot her, they are no less complicit ... in the
same abstraction. the same misint erpretation, and the same
violence. At the moment when criticis m (be it aesthetic, lit er-
ary, philosop hi cal. et cetera) alleged ly protects the meaning of
_____ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Roundtable on Autobiography 75
a t hought or the val ue of a work against psychomedical redu c-
t ions. it comes to the same result It hat a redu cti on wou ld
come ta l t hrough the op posite path: it crea tes on example.
That is to say, a case." [Michel] Fouca ult, [Jean] Lapla nche.
and Blanchot wou ld offer finally but three different ways to
neutrali ze the singularity of a work, thereby missing the
graphic in the autobiographic. "Blanchet's med itati on stops
there: wit hout questioning for themselves eit her that which
irreducibly amounts to Artaud . . . or what is ' untamed' in this
experience." Derrida then concl udes wit h an exe mplanzatlon.
an essentialist reduction of Artaud's discourse. Now, after a
fi fteen-year int erval. when he is t ryi ng once again to define
the autobiographic, Derrida shows that one cannot avoid this
exempl artza t ton wit h which he seemed to reproach Blanchot.
"Autobiography is also the work on the proper name and the
signature. Thi s work must be sci entific (it must recogni ze or
elaborate laws, that is, utterances wit h a universa l validit y)
but in a way that each ti me accounts for singularit ies that are
not simply cases or examples." No more than Blanchot , then ,
can Derrida avoid the uni versal law. It is even one of the two
simultaneous exigenci es irremedi abl y dividing any proper
name and all autobi ography.
My last ques tion concerns autobiography in its relation to
woman. Here I must refer to your deve lopment in Glos on the
transition to ethical sel l-conscious ness in Hegel. It is at the
point at which the latt er is discussing Sophocles ' Anti gone
and the place of femi ninity in t hi s transition to Sill /ichkeil
[morality] where you write : "Human law. the law of the ra-
tional community which is instituted over against the private
law of the family, always rep resses femininity, rises up against
her, binds her, presses in upon her, and restra ins her. But
masculine potency has a li mit-an essential and eternal one:
the weapon, doubtless an impot ent one, the all-powerful
weapon of the impot ent, the inalienable stroke of woman is
irony. Woman, ' int ernal enemy of the community,' can always
burst out laughing at the last moment. She knows, in sorrow
and in death, how to perve rt t he power that represses her."
76 Roundtable on Autobiosraphy
My questi on is thi s: If, on the one hand, man's substantia l.
effective life is in the State, in science but also in war and in
work- that is, gra ppli ng with the vast external world-s-and.
on (he other hand, if woman, wit h her irony, her veils, and her
lies, is allied with the si ngularity of the unconscious, then can
one say tha t autobiography-if it would see itself through to
the end----can be pr oduced only as the autobiography of the
woman, in both senses of that genitive? In autobiography, only
femininity would lend itself to understanding, only femininity
would lead one to hear and understand t he singular secret that
constitutes it. Onl y a feminine writi ng- in the sense in which
you speak of it in Spurs--can (even as it cannot) tell its story
as the unrelenting quest of that terrible thing which opens
language to its own beyon d.
Jacques Derrida: Reply
I am going to try to answer. Although I woul d like to avoid
giving in to an auto-explanation which can very quickly turn
into an auto-justification, even auto-celebration, the situation
requi res somewhat that I do so. Having said that, I am going to
try to remai n very neutral. Obviously, I agree entirely with
what you said at the beginni ng about the disseminated name
"derriere Ie rtdec u." whi ch. already in Glas, was the object of
a certain amount of work. And you' re right , playing wit h one's
own name, putting it in play, is, in effect. what is always
going on and what I have tri ed to do in a somewha t more
explici t or sys tematic manner for some time now and in cer-
tain texts. But obviously this is not somet hi ng one can decide:
one doesn 't disseminate or play with one's name. The very
structur e of t he proper name sets this process in mot ion.
That's what t he proper name is for. At work, naturally, in the
desire-the apparent desire-to lose one's name by disarti cu-
lating it, disseminating it, is the inverse movement. By dis-
seminating or losing my own name, I make it more and mort!
intrusive; I occ upy the whole site, and as a result my name
gains more ground. The more I lose, t he more I gain by con-
Roundtable on A utobiography 77
cervmg my proper name as the common noun "derr iere Ie
ndeeu," and so on . The more , also, I monumentalize my pro-
per name. So now every time you utt er the word "derriere,"
you'll be payi ng a tax to my name, settling up what you owe.
The disseminati on of a proper name is, in fact. a way of seiz-
ing the language, putting it to one's own use, instating its law.
Tomorr ow, perhaps, during the discussion of translation, we
will come back to this in tal king about the story of Babel.
because that is what Babel is: the story of God's proper name.
To lose one's name by transforming it into a common name or
pieces of a common name is also to celebrate it. One takes the
risk of losing one's name by wi nning it, and vice versa. This
always hap pens as soon as there is some proper name: t he
scene is in place where one loses what one wins and wins
what one loses. It is one of the scenes of t he double bind in
Glas, and what I there tried to organize around the proper
name-not only mine, of course, because I was also con-
cerned with other proper names which are subjected to the
same operation, whi ch is naturally different and singular
every lime. The ope ration comes into play dif ferently with the
names of [Francis] Ponge. Hegel. Blanchet . et cetera.
Thus, the proper name is at play and it's meant to play all
by itself, to win or lose the match without me. This is to say
that, at the furt hest limit. I no longer need to pull the strings
myself, to wr ite one way or another. It is written like that by
itself. When it comes to names, the relation between the
proper and the common already programs the whole scenario.
In order not to keep the floor too long, I'll get on to your
next questi on on the subject of Blanchet . There has doubtless
been on my part a certain distance traveled in relat ion to Blan-
chat. However, I would not understand it only wit h regard to
the probl em of exemplarity, unicit y, and so forth. The evolu-
tion is so-what shall I say?- so obvious that there's no need
to wait len or fifteen years. II is said in the same text, at the
end. One must take into account the rhetoric of that text on
Artaud. as well as its own logic and the play that is being
played out there. At the end of t he text, I put in quest ion once
78 Roundtable on Autobiography
again the apparent accusation I launch againsl Blanchot by
saying that I myself have given in to the same operation-in
other wor ds. that I have in turn fashioned an example and that
this gest ure is inevitable. There is a rotation at the end of "La
Parole soufflee" whic h shows that I have done and that I had
to do exactly what , at the beginning, I seemed to reproach
Blanchot, Foucau lt, and Laplanche for doi ng, which is to say
that I have once again made an example and that this gest ure
is irred ucible. Thus, in a certai n way. this is not an evolution:
the move is immediate.
On the ot her hand and from anot her poi nt of view, it is true
that t he wor k of Blanchot has been very decisive for me. At fi rst.
by attac hing myself especially to Blanchot 's so-called critical or
theoretica l text, I thought I had Introlected. interiori zed, assimi-
lated Blanchot's contributio n and had brought it to bear in my
work, alt hough obviously in another language. In a certain way. !
thought I had read Blanchot . And then, rather recently, a few
years ago, I read what I had never managed 10 read in a way
which was at bottom- how shall I say?-an experience. I began
to read or to reread certai n of Blanchet's rectts and to discover
certain of those texts that l thcught I had read but which I had not
really succeeded in reading before. I must say that in relati on 10
Blanchet's narrative or fictional texts (actually these words are
insufficient and I don' t know what to call themI. there then
seemed to me to be a space opening up which was far less easyto
dominate and to ass imilate t han a certain type of Blanchot' s
discu rsiveness that I t hought I could assi milate from the so-
called t heoretical/critical texts. In relation to these former texts.
the work to be done seems to me infinite. From this point of
view. then. my relation to Blanchot' s text has been transformed
and I feel far more overwhelmed by tha t text than I thought I was
at a given moment, for example al the time of "La Parole
soufflee." Th is overwhe lming is of another sort tha n the one I
have already mentioned.
Now, as for femini nity: Here loa , at the risk of being very
succi nct, I will be brief. What you alluded 10 was not exactly
part of that text on Nietzsche (Spurs) but was the answer to a
____________ Roundtable on Autobiography 79
ques tion during the debate thai followed. I asked of my ques-
tioner: "Are you aski ng me an autob iographical question?
Well, yes, I would like to write, which is not to say that I will
wr ite, but that I would li ke 10 write in a woman's hand "--or
somet hing li ke that.
Having cleared up this point. and in order 10 get back right
away to the formu lation which you justified by an earlier de-
velopment , I subscribe wit h litt le difficulty to the formula
"autobiography of the woma n: ' However, this formula be-
comes very indetermi nate and the way the "of" may come
into play is what 's int eresting. The autobiography of the
woman : that means that my autobiography. for example, the
autobiography of someone whose writing. apparently, is mas-
culi ne, is the autobiography of a woman, as in an emanation
Df . which is to say that my autobiography signs itself (and
there is a play of pronouns here) beginning precisely with the
addressee who signs. It is the addressee who signs. So, if I
want to tell the story of my life, it is an addressee, an "I"
marked in the feminine. who wiII sign and who will ther efore
be-I won't say the author because that word immedi ately
destroys everyt hi ng- but the place from which something like
my biography, my autobiography will be signed . In ot her
words, it will not be an aut obiography, naturally, bul a hetero-
biography in the sense in whic h one also says heterosexuality,
and so on. Thus, it will be the autobiography of the woman,
hers. or of her(s), from her, descending from her. as if inher-
ited if from her. from a woman, Df t he woma n. All t his does
not mean thaI she can be iden tifi ed. that there is only one of
her. Rather, each ti me it is she. it is you who signs the text by
receiving it. When I say "by receiving it," whe n I make use of
that used-up language of communication (emission, recept ion.
addr ess, addresser . addressee). I may seem to imply that it' s
man who wr ites and woman-csome woman. a woman addres-
see-who signs and who is first of all herself an add ressee.
Here, t hen, one would have to make a correction. Let us say
that autobiogra phy is not necessarily the man who writes and
the woman who receives. sealing and arresti ng the signature

80 Roundtable on A utobiography
and the message by her reception . Instead, let us say that she
already wr ites when I write. What in the old terminology is
called the addressee is here already in the process of writing
in my place, and thi s implies all the possibil ities of combina-
tion that such a "lending each other a hand " might have in a
sit uation like that .
Eugene Vance: The Ear of the Heart
In "Freud's Legacy" and here in "Otobtogrephies," you have
analyzed two thinkers who are singular in that they are, in
thei r proper names, entirel y, personall y engaged in their texts,
with all the risks you say that involves. I myself thi nk that we
have an undeni able int erest in analyzing as well certai n auto-
biographi cal projects from a far more distant past. In particu-
lar, I am thinking of autobiographi es whose signatories refer
explicitl y to a tran scendent and infinite being, and who thus
enlist thi s infinit e being in thei r own accounts of themselves.
Thus, I would like to say a few words about Sai nt Augustine's
Confessions. I want to tal k about a problemati c of the knowl-
edge of truth in relation to the desire of the writi ng subject for
a return to an origin without aherit y.
First. a wor d about Saint Augusti ne's trinitarian theology.
There is first the originating Father who gives hi mself to the
created wor ld, or who bestows creation in the person of his
Son. By hi s acts and words among men , this Son inspi red a
biographical text- the Gospels-whose profound truth be-
longs not onl y to the Son but also to the Father who is the
aut hor and signatory of the world. Man's cognition of this
Father begins wit h a (re)cogniti on of the Son, but it is only
through the Holy Spirit that man arrives at an immaterial
knowl edge of GDd. It is t hrough t his same "ear of the heart,"
the Hol y Spirit. t hat man accedes to the kernel of hidden truth
beneath the shell of the evangelical text.
On an epistemo logical level, the knowledge of trut h is pro-
duced in the soul in several disti nct stages. First, we experi-
ence an Illu mtnatton. a flash of light which inun dates us. This
____________ Roundtable on Autobiography 81
flash, however, is not at all lasti ng; it is al ready hidden at the
very moment it present s itself to the mind . Yet it leaves traces
(vestigia) or impressions (irnpressiones ) in our memori es
which constit ute a kind of preli nguisti c and purely ment al
writing. Thi s writin g is not produced by God himself, how-
ever, but by and in the mind of the subject visited by the
illumination. There is thus a difference bet ween t he flash of
light and the impressions produced in the memDry, but it 's a
mino r difference. As part of the soul. memory is of a spiritual
rathe r than a material nat ure. and therefore t he text produced
there is adequate to the illumi nati on it represents. However.
we retain these traces in our memory for only a brief moment,
during which we assign verbal signifiers to them, whether or
not these signifiers are voca lized. Here. then, is a second dif-
ference: The signons is outside the sfgnctum. and signifies it
only by convention rather than by nature . But signs uttered by
the voice are themselves also ephemeral, SD that in order to fix
them in ti me and in space, man invented writ ten signs, lett ers.
These written signs are maximall y different from the original
truth they are summoned to represent.
This, then. is a diagram of epistemic differentiation on sev-
eral levels wh ich serves as the matrix for Saint Augustine's
autobiographical project. That account begins with Saint Au-
gusti ne' s earliest childhood. At this stage, logos is given to the
baby not as an Instantaneous flash but as mother's milk. It is the
pure gift of life, a life that as yet has neither insi de nor outside.
Alienation begins very slowly for the baby; smiles proferred
during sleep are the index of a nascent independent will. Then
the child devotes himself to the acqutsttton of human language,
duri ng which time he moves from the mastery of natural signs
to that of conventional signs. This is Sai nt Augustine's first fall
into the abyss, into t he "region of difference" (regia dissimilil u-
di nis). Saint Augusti ne's formal ed ucation begins wit h an ini-
tiati on into the gmmmoucc . the science bot h of written signs
and of the grammatical laws that are t he found ation of lan-
guage. But the Latin language and the corpus whic h were the
object of the gmmmc tlcc were surely altoget her other for him.
82 Roundtabl e on Autobiography
since we may be quite sure that this boy from the North African
plains spoke a pat oi s and not the cla ssi ca l Lat in he studied.
Next, he learned Gree k. a totally alien language whose appren-
ti ceship was od ious to him. Who dispensed this instructi on ? It
was a grammarian whose pedagog}' , like a hor se-trainer's. re-
lied on the whip. The whip is the institutional legacy of the si n
of Adam-the fat her of us all-and its justi ce is di spensed ac-
cording to the ancie nt Law of a Fat her wh o is very angry at the
sons of Ada m. Thus. for Augustine the liber al arts are a form of
sla very , a spir itual labor to whi ch man was conde mned foll ow-
ing his sin and his exile from paradi se. From grommatica. the
child moves on to rhe toric. t he most vain of all the sci ences of
di scourse (or11!Ssermoci nules]. Learning rhe toric had the effect
of alienating Augusti ne from the Gospels, whose di scourse
see med to him unwort hy of Cicero' s, Sp iritual exile from origi -
nal truth was now accomplished, rather, nearly acomplisbed.
si nce hi s mot her was a Christian and was prayin g conti nually
for hi s conversion.
This estrange ment from the ultimate meaning of everything.
this exile in the externa l she ll of language. prepares, however.
the concl usion of Augustine's autobiography, That autobiogra-
phy does not take the di scursive form of a closed cecil; rath er.
it takes that of a return to the Fath er in t he form of an exegesis
of the biblica l text. Thus, having been reborn to life through
Christ and illuminated by the Hol y Sp irit . Augustine joyfully
d oses hi s Confess ions with a long explication of the first
verses of Genesis wh ich tell the story of God's creation of the
univer se. His aba ndo nment of the narrative of hi s per sonal
origins in favor of an exeges is of the creation story is a "liter-
ary" strategy that imposes preci se limits on the autobiographi-
cal enterpri se, even on the inst itution of lit era ture itself.
I hope that one may recogni ze in my improv ised remarks
certain themes that Jacques Derrida has evoked in "Otobiogra-
phles." In both cases, it is a questi on of cred it. of credibili ty.
Saint Augustine says that one must read his autobiograph ical
text charitab ly, wit h cred it- the reader must give hi m cred it
As for Augustine himself , his interlocutor is God, Thus God
____________ Roundtable on A utobiography 83
gives himself cred it by allowing Augustine to compose hi s
text, wh ich God knows already beca use God knows every-
thing. Here is an attempt to inculcate, to establish a meta-
physic in an otherwise differ ent-and deficient--discourse of
I would like to concl ude by suggesti ng that it is probably
just as diffi cult for someone to construcl an autobiographi cal
text that opens full y onto the met aphysical as it is for us to
deconslruct an aut obiographical text in wh ich the metaphysi -
cal is repressed. One of modernity's di stortions, perhaps, is to
tend to make us di sregard any effort toward a pos iti ve con-
structi on no malter how mu ch luci dity it displ ays. One should
take these remarks as a plea for hi story, though not at all as a
defense of the game of the talent ed precursor, On the contrary ,
my remarks lire an invitati on to read those texts which const f-
tut e anot her side of modernity and whi ch give i1--or deprive
it of-another meaning.
Jacques Derrid a : Reply
I don't know what aut horizes me more than someone else to
take the floor again here. I listened with great interest to thi s
rich and fascinating analys is. One is struck by a certain number
of start ling ana logies. How far does the analogy work? What
will prove to be its si gni ficance? What will establish the criteria
for making distinctio ns ? It' s rather difficult to say. Although
answers might come quickly, they ar e surely naive. Thus, for
example, on e could say: In the case of Augustine. it is finally
God who is presumed to sign within the same struct ure; but
God and the eternal return are not the same thing. That's a litt le
facil e. I admit. an d one can't stop there. One must try to go
furt her. beca use it may be that God and the eternal retu rn-
when bot h are thought without faci leness-are not as op posed
as they mi ght appear to be. But I would not want to force thi s
argument too far. Ther e is another questi on , however , concern-
ing the possi ble generality of an autobiograp hi cal structu re. II
may be that the same program and basically the same scene
84 Roundtable on A utobiography _
recurs regularl y. Within thi s scene or this relational system, the
terms might cha nge. The Judeo-Christi an name might be re-
placed by anot her name. whi ch would, however. have the same
functi on. Each mome nt or each instance may be variable in its
content, but the law of t he relation between the variabl es would
remain the same. Each time one had an autobiographical scene
to stage. one would come upon the same structure again. so that
Saint Augus tine, Nietzsche. and a few others-Rousseau. per-
haps, or Montaigne-ccould onl y come along and fill in a trell is
or a grid which is already in place and which in some way
would not in itself be histori cal.
Eugene Vance
Can mode rni ty escape that determinism?
Jacques Derrida: Reply
No. no. As for me. I' m no fan of modernity. I have no simple
belief in the irreduci ble specificity of "modernity." I even
wonder if I have ever used that word . In any case. I am very
mistrustf ul whenever people identi fy histor ical breaks or
when they say. "This begins there." I have never done that.
and I beli eve I have even set down here and there reservations
with regard to thi s type of periodi zati on and distribution.
That' s why I am very interested in work of thi s type. even
though my training. my lack of knowledge places many limit s
on me. I'm convinced that one could expand this kind of
research. It' s not a question of precursors-the notion of a
precursor here would efface all the originali ty of the thing-
but of recurrences wh ich would not efface the si ngularity or
t he idiom of each text. Whatever one might say abou t t he
resemblance between the Nietzschea n autobiography and the
Augustinian autobiography, it 's reall y anot her language in
every sense of the word. However, nothing of the signature's
idiom is lost when one points to the recurrence, t he regular ity
wit h which the scene returns. This is preci sely the paradox of
Roundtable an A utob iography 85
the proper name or the signature: It's always the same th ing,
but each time it 's different: each time it ' s a different history to
which one must pay close att ention. In thi s way one may see
that, in spite of everythi ng. finall y-and this is where I be-
gan- Nietzsche attempted somet hin g which. in relation to the
Christian un folding of thi s scene. was. precisely. of a "decon-
structive" type.
Now. you asked a questi on about deconst ruction which 1
am trying to reconst itu te and you will tell me if I do so
inaccu rately. You wondered whether. instead of deco nstruct-
ing. it woul d not be interesti ng to attem pt. well . a more posi-
tive gesture. per haps an autobiographically deco nstructive
writing . . .
Eugene Vance
No. I would say that it see ms to me just as interesting to
study constructions that don't work as it is to practice decon-
structions that don' t work either. that is. which don 't entirely
Jacques Derrida : Reply
Yes. I agree. But here you are referring to a diagram of decon-
struction whi ch would be that of a technical operati on used to
dismantle systems. Personall y. I don't subscribe to this model
of deconstructi on, What was said earlier. part icularly by
Claude Levesque. demonstrates that what has been called the
deconstructive gesture (in a moment I will try to say a litt le
more about Ihis) is accompanied, or can be accompanied (in
any case, I would hope to acco mpany it) , by an affirmation. It is
not negati ve, it is not destructive. Thi s is why the word "decon-
struction" has always bothered me. Yesterday. during a sess ion
at McGil l Universit y. someone asked me a question about the
word "deconstruction." I said that when I made use of thi s
word (rarely. very rarely in the beglnnlng-conce or twice-so
you can see t hat t he paradox of the message transfor med by the
____________ Ruundtab le rm Autobiogra phy 87
in order to see hO\'\1 it is cons tituted or deconstuuted. This is
cla ssic. What was not so cl assic. however. was what this force,
this Abbcu . was applied to: the whole of cl assi ca l ontology. the
whole hi st or y of West ern philosophy. The word got hi gh-
lighted in the co ntext of the period . which was more or less
dominat ed by struc tu ralis m, The wat chword being "structure.
struct ure. structure:' when someo ne says destructure. destruc-
turing, or deconstruction . well . then it acqui res a pert inence
which personall y I didn't pay too much alle nlion to. To be sure,
I wasn' t al together inattentive to thi s word either. but also I was
not-how shall I sayj-c-involved: J ha d not organized th ings to
such an ex te nt around th is word . When others got invol ved in
it. I tri ed to determi ne thi s co ncept in my own manner. that is .
according to what I thought was the right manner, which I d id
by insisting on th e fact th at it was not a questi on of a negative
operation. I don' t lee l that I' m in a pos itio n to choose bet ween
an operation tha t we'll call negative or nihilist. an operati on
that would set about furi ousl y disman tli ng systems . and the
other ope ration. ll ove very much everyth ing that I deconstruct
in my own manne r: t he texts I wa nt to read from the decon-
structive point of view are tex ts I love. wit h that impulse of
iden ti fication wh ich is indispensabl e for reading. Th ey are
texts whose futu re, 1 think. will not be ex ha usted for a long
time. For example. J thi nk Plat o is to be read. and rea d con-
stant ly. Plat o' s signa ture is not yel flnlshed-c-that ' s the desti ny
of signatures-nor is Niet zsch e' s, nor is Sai nt Augustine' s (like
you. I'm altogether convinced of that ]. nor are the signatures of
sti ll many ot he rs. Thus. if my relation to these texts is charac-
teri zed by loving jealousy and nol at all by nihilisti c fury (one
can't read a nything in the latter condl uc n]. then I don't feel I' m
in a position to choose accordi ng to the terms in which you
have presented the cho ice.
Pi er re Ja cques : Question from th e Floor
You have tal ked about the anterior addressee, which is to
say the dead. as we ll as about the futur e addressee. But what
happens to the ful fi ll me nt and the genre of the signa ture whe n
addressees is fully in play here). I had the impression that it
was a word among many others. a secondary word in the text
which would fade or which in an y case would assume a non-
dominant p lace in a system. For me. it was a word in a chain
with man y other words-su ch as trace or differance*- as well
as with a whole elaboratio n which is not limited only to a
lexicon. if you will. It so happens-and thi s is worth ana lyz-
ing-that this word which I had written only onc e or twice (I
don 't even remember where exactly ) all of a sudden jumped out
of the text and was seized by others who have since det ermined
its Iate in t he manner you well know. Faced with thi s. I myself
then had to just ify myself. to explain. to try to get some lever-
age. But precisely because of the technical and-how shall I put
it?-negative connotati ons that it could have in certa in co n-
texts, the word by itself bothered me. 1do think it is also neces-
sary to di smant le systems. to analyze structu res in order to see
what's going on , both when things work and when they don't,
why structures don't manage to close themselves off, and so
forth. But for me "deconstruction" wa s not at all the first or the
last word. and cert ainly not a password or slogan for everything
that was to follow.
S."" above. p. xil.
Jacques Derrtda: Reply
Yes. When I made use of th is word. I had the sense of
translati ng two wo rds from Heidegger at a poi nt where 1
needed them in the context. These two words are Dest ruk uon.
which Hetdegger uses. explai ning t hat Deslruklion is not a
destruction but preci sely a destructuring that di sman tles the
st ruct ural layers in the system. and so on. Th e 01her wo rd is
Abbnu . which has a simila r meani ng: to take apart an edifi ce
Claude Levesque
Doesn' t the word come from Heidegger?
86 Roundtable on Autob iography
88 Roundl able on Autobiograph.1'
t he addresser is the addressee? What happens when Niet zsche
writes. finally. to himself?
Jacq ues Derrida: Reply
What happens? But when you say he wr ites himself. you
seem to assume that he already has his identity, that he is
already himself .
Pierre Jacques
No, I don 't ass ume it. That' s what I' m asking.
Jacqu es Derrida: Reply
No, he is not yet hi mself when he is in the sit uat ion. pre-
cisely, of di stan ce from t he ot her, the ot her's di stance. When
he wr ites hi mself to himself , he wri tes him self to the oth er
who is infini tely far away and who is supposed to send his
signature back to him. He has no relation to himself that is not
forced to defer itself by passing through the other in the form,
preci sely. of the eternal return. I love what I am living and I
desire what is coming. I recognize it gratefully and I desire it
to return eternally. I desire whatever comes my way to come
to me, and to come back to me etern all y. When he writes
himself to himself. he has no immediate presence of hi mself
to hi mse lf. There is the necessit y of thi s det our through the
other in the for m of the eternal return of that wh ich is af-
firmed, of the wedd ing and the weddi ng ring, of the alliance.
The moti f of the all iance or wedding ring, of the hymen or
marriage. returns often in Nietzsche, and this "yes. yes" has to
be thought beginning wit h t he eterna l ret urn . I want it to re-
turn by making the rou nd which is the cycle of the sun or the
annual cycl e, of the annulus , of the year which annuls itself
by coming back around on it self. Thi s is why so much lmpor-
tance is given to the anniversa ry and to the midday sun's
return up on itself. From this poi nt of view. t here is no diffe r-
____ _ _ _ _ ___ _ Roundtable on A ut obiography 89
ence. or no possibl e di stincti on if you will. bet wee n the letter
I write to someone else and the leit er I send to myself . The
struct ure is the sa me. Within this common structure, there
would, of course, be a difference. If I writ e myself a lett er ,
address it to myself at my address. go put it in the mailbox.
then wait for it to come back to me-and plenty of accidents
can occur in the mea ntime-that's not exa ct ly the same t hing
as when I send a lett er to someone else in the every day sense
of the term. But this is a subdillerence. The fundamental
structure of the dispat ch is the same.
Cla ude Levesque: Introduction
Ther e are obvious links between autobiogra phy. the subject
of yesterday's discussion. and tra nslation. our question for to-
day. Autobiograph y-the autobiographica l genre-has some-
thing to do with genea logy and with the proper name. This
work. on the proper name. on all that is invested in it. repre-
sents an atte mpt to inscr ibe the uniqu e in the sys tem of lan-
guage. and the narrative account in the concept. The point is
that translation cannot hel p meeting on it s way the problem of
the proper na me and the question of idiomatic language
wit hin the body of writing. When Derrida tells us what he
understands and intends by the proper name. he almost al-
ways appeals to the motif of translation and most particul arly
to that wh ich res ists any transposition from one language to
anot her. In "Freud's Legacy," he writ es: "Any signified wh ose
signifier ca nnot var y nor let itself be translat ed into another
signifier without a loss of meaning points to a proper-name
effect." In fact. there are two si multaneo us demands governing
the proper name wh ich one must not be too quick to separate
from each other: on the one han d. a requirement of untran slat -
ability and unreadablll ty, as if the proper name were nothing
but pu re refer ence. lying outside of signi fication an d language:
on the ot her hand. a requiremenl of translatability and read.
ability, as if the proper name were ass imilable to the common
noun. to any word that is ca ught up in a linguisti c and genea-
logical network wh ere meaning al ready contaminates non-
meaning and wher e the proper name is absor bed and expro-
priat ed by the commo n noun.
On the political level. thi s undeci dable double postulat ion
of the particular and the universal is tra nslated in the form of
a cont radic tory opposit ion between. for example. nationalism
and uni versalism. Derrida writes in "Living On: Borderlines":
"Whal thi s insti t ution (the unlverslt y] cannot bear is for any-
ail e 10 tamper wit h language, meani ng both t he national lan-
. 3
94 Roundloble on Transtn tion _
guage a nd , paradoxica lly, an ideal of translatabili ty that neu-
trali zes thi s national language. Nationalism and unf verscusm.
What thi s instit ution ca nnot bea r is a tra nsformation that
leaves intact neither of these two co mplementary pol es."
But now let us ask ourselves what has been happening here
since yest erd ay in thi s double sessi on whi ch redupl icat es aca-
demic di scourse (scientific as we ll as philosophi cal ) with a
whole dimension wh ich that discourse can only reject because
it und?rmines the ideal of total tra nslatability, the very basis
of the Idea of a universit y. If it is true that the philosopher and
the scho lar share a n ideal of universality wh ich abstracts the
pr oper name. the biographical. as well as the corruptio ns of
nati onalism and of di al ect. then it may begin to appear that
around the tabl e he re today there are neither scholars nor
philosophers nor academics. It may appear that an undermin-
ing operatio n is in process which is perhaps no more than the
parod y of the scholar, the philosopher , and the academi c,
Patrick Mahony: Transformations and Patrici dal
Deconstructi on
. Heari ng th? word "translati on: ' one thinks immedi ately of
Its etymological and semantic connections wit h met aphor ,
transfer . transference, and tra ns port. And, of course, the apho-
rism "t mdull ore, tmditore" may come to mind simultane-
ous ly, In t his regard , an d since my approach is of a psycho-
ana lyti c nature, J ca nnot resi st beginning with a somewhat
humorous aside which un ites the noti ons of trea son and trans-
por t. Give n that the di agnosi s of schizophrenia is much more
frequent in America than it is in Europe, if ever someone were
to be d iagnosed here as schizophrenic, then the cheapest cur e
would he quit e simply for h im 10 hook passage on il tran sat-
lant ic ship. It' s a case of transl ati on cur ing tra nslat lon. But
now, let' s be serio us .
In an ussuy which attempted to give a global cl assification of
"Tran slator, trai tor."_ Tr .
Houndlable on Tra nslation 95
tra nslat ion' s linguist ic as pec ts , (Romani Iakobson di sti n-
guished th ree kinds of transl ati on'-
1 int ralingua l translation, or par aphrase;
2 int erlingual translation, or translation in the most com-
mon sense;
3 intersemi ot ic transl ation, in which, for exa mple, verbal
signs are reencoded in nonverbal sign syst ems.
The cons erva tism of Iakobson's approach contras ts with the
audacity of your own procedure, which one of your commen-
tat ors. Sarah Kol man. has summarized as follows: "Dernda' s
or igina lity is to put an end to a pr ocess of translati on and
decision by a formal , syntactic pr acti ce of undecidabilit y"
(Ecart s, p. 182).
The first questio n I will as k refers to the use of the specific
term " translation" inst ead of ..transformation:' which would
describe your procedure in a much more adequate fashion. I
am referring to three of your writings: "Freud and the Scene of
Writing" (1967); your inte rview in Positions (1972); as well as
your introduction, "Me-e-Psychoanal ysis," to Nicolas Abre-
ham's "The Shell a nd the Kernel " (1979). In the first text , you
show that certa in of Freud 's uses of th e term " translation" are
really transformations a nd/or met aphorical uses. Then, in
" Me-Psychoa nalysis: ' you comment on Abr aham' s theori es
as follows: "'Translati on' pr eserves a symbolic and anasemic
relation to transl ati on, to what one calls ' translation. ' " In fact.
in Positions, you propose the term "transforma tio n" as a far
more adequate notion. Thus you say: " In the li mits to which it
is poss ible or at least appears possible, translati on practices
the diff erence bet ween signified and s ignifier. But if thi s dif-
ference is never pu re, no more so is translation, and for th e
notion of tra nslation we wo uld have to substi tute a noti on of
transformation: a regulated transfor mation of one lan guage by
another, of aile text by anot her,"
It see ms to me, mor eover, that !mnsfor mat ion is more in
harmony with your ne ologism trcnche-jert." the key con cept of
S'oe Der rt da's rema rks. pp. 104 -05, below, for all explanation of this 000 10'
Ris rn.- Tr.
96 Roundtable on Tr anslation
your essay "Ou tout" ' ''Of the Who le") whi ch justly contests
the limits of psychoana lytic transference. Let us recall that
early on Freud conceived the latter as a set of "false connec-
tions" and cons idered every isolat ed act and each of the
anal ysand' s associations as a compromise (Standard EdWoll.
12:103j. Since. moreover. all of the pati ent' s ut terances are
more or less closely tied to the trcnche-j en or the false con-
nection. could we not conceive psychoanalysis as a semioti c
of approxi mations. or. better still . a semiotic of decent ered
transfor mat ions? Indeed . in Fats . you show, on the one hand,
that these transformations are operating accordi ng to a radi cal
and interminable devi ation (here one thinks of the poss ible
cleavage of the crypt in the id and the ego) and. on the other.
that a writt en case is but an asy mptotic place of "conver-
gences " for all the possible translations and bet rayals . an in-
terminable approximation of the idiom.
In order to think about these decenter ed transformations
somewhat differentl y, one could take as a guide and by way of
a speci fic exa mple the following cons idera tion: Throughout
our lives, we acquire a series of names, beginni ng with the
nicknames and names of endearment from childhood all the
way to the formal titl es and other names of adult hood . One of
the characteristics of cl inical di scourse in the analytic context,
which sets it apart from all ot her forma l or inti mate di s-
courses , is that one almost never add resses the pati ent by any
of these names which are so egocentrically bound up with
hi m. By setti ng off the di scharge of forgott en material to fill
the void, t hi s narc issistic dep rivation also induces the pati ent
to let himself go toward multiple transpositions and trans fer-
mations of hi s names, whose man y vicissitudes ca n he ap-
proached only by furt her research.
On a strict ly termino logical pl ane, I have done a thorough
inventory of the word "trans lation"-Ubfl l'Sclzung_ in all of
Freud's texts. While he considers repression to be a rift or
fault in the trans lation, on severa l occas ions in his writi ngs he
implici tly conceives all of the foll owing to be translations:
hyster ical, phobic, and obsessional symptoms, drea ms, recol-
Roundtable on Translation 97
lect lons. parapraxes , the choice of t he means of suicide. the
choice of feti sh . the analyst's int erp retations. and the transpo-
sitions of unconscious materi al to consci ous ness . However.
while on occasion Freud specifically uses the word "transla-
tion" as a synony m for "transformati on ," this latter term
seems to be used only with refer ence to the process of libidi -
nal development. as one may eas ily disce rn from titl es such as
"On Tran sformati ons of Inst inct as Exemplified in Anal Erot-
ism" or "The Trans formations of Pubert y" (Part 3 of Three
Essays on lhe Theory of Sexua lity). But it is in the context of
your very provocative and sti mulati ng reflect ions on sexualit y
that I would like to interrogate the noti on of transformat ion
and the meaning you give it, .
1. In your introduction to Abraham's "The Shell and the
Kernel : ' vou writ e: "In 1968 the anasemic interpretation cer-
tainl y bore primarily on Freudian and post-Freudia n probl em-
atics : met apsychology, Freud's ' pansexuali sm' wh ich was the
'anase mic (pansexua lis m) of the Kern el: that ' nucleic sex'
wh ich was supposed to have ' no relat ion with the difference
bet wee n sexes' and abo ut wh ich Freud is supposed to have
said. ' again anasemt calty. that it is in essence virile' (that it
seems to me is one of the mosl enigmatic and provocative
passages in the essay) ."
2. In Spurs: Nietzsc he 's Styl es. you have written: "There is
no essence of the woman because woman se parates and sepa-
rates from herself."
3. In the same essay in Eccrts. Sarah Kofman note s: "The
voice of truth is always that of the law, of God, of the fath er.
The metaphys ical logos has an essential virility. Writing, that
form of disruption of presence, is, like the woman, always put
down and reduced to the lowest rung. Like t he femini ne geni-
talia, it is troubling, petrifyi ng-i t has a Med usa effect " (pp.
125- 26). And again: "Perh aps. as well , it is in read ing Der-
rlda that one best un derstands certain psychoanal yt ic mot ifs.
Der rldean writi ng relent lessl y repeats the murder of the father.
The many decaptt at tons of the logos in all its forms have to
have an effect on the unconscio us scene of each reader. More
98 Roundtable on Transla tion
than Freud , Derr ida makes one know what a father means,
that one is never through ' kill ing' the father. and that to speak
of the logos as a father is not a simple metaphor" [p. 202).
The passages I have just quoted call up two additional
1. , would like you to comment further on sexual dilferen-
tiati on.
2. There are t hose who openly ad mit to you thei r inability
to imit ate your style. It seems to me that the imp lications of
thi s are far-reaching. What ever the filiation of your writing
may be. with its inimit able trait of the murder of the paternal
logos. it is nonetheless the case that, on another level. it bears
the imprint of the father's attributes.
Such a situation leads us to the consideration that wr iting is
a constantly transformed and transforming activity.
Jacques Derrida: Reply
I am going to begin by taking two examples. Finnegans
Wake is for us today t he major corpus. the great challenge to
translation, although certai nly not the only one. However, a
Babelian motif runs from one end of Finnegans Wake to the
other. Although this molif takes many different forms. which I
can' t go int o now, at a certain moment, referring to the event
of the Tower of Babel. at the moment when Yahweh interrupts
the construction of the tower and condemns humanity to the
rj multiplicity of languages-which is to say. to the necessary
and impossible task of translati on- Joyce writes (and here I
isolate these t hree word s only for the conven ience of our dis-
cuss ion, even though it would be necessary to reconst it ute t he
whole page, all the pages): "And he war." That's what one
reads at a certain moment on one page of Ftnn egnns Woke in
all episode concerning Babel. In what language is this wr illen?
Obviously, despite the multip licity of languages, cultural ref-
"Unfort unatel y, the begtnmng 01 Jacques Dcrrtda's reply 10 Palrick Mahony
was nol recorded .
_____________ Round'a ble on Translation 99
erences. and condensations, English is indi sputa bly domi-
nant language in Fln negcn s wok e-c-el l of these refractions and
sli ppages are produced in English or thro ugh the
bod}' of that language. French would translate the English as:
il-guerre [he wars]. he declares war. And that' s ind eed what
happens: God declares war on the tribe of the Shems. who
want to make a name for t hemselves by raisi ng the tower and
impos ing the ir tongue on the universe. But obviously the Ger-
man word war Influences the English word. so we also have:
He was. he was the one who said, for example. "l am that I
am," which is the de finition of Yahweh. And then one also
hears the car, whi ch is very present in the rest of the text. One
hears a thousand thin gs through other tongues . _\
I don' t want to explore all the poss ibilities that are con-
densed in these questions. but I wonder what happens at the
moment one tries to translate these words. Even if by some
miracle one could translate all of the virtual impulses at work
in this utt erance. one thing remains that could never be trans-
_ lated: the fact that there are t wo tongues here, or at least more
-r than one. By translating everything into French, at best one
would translate all of t he virt ual or actual content, but one
could no! transl!Llc the eve nt which consis ts in grafting several
to;l8ues onto a-single body.
I will take another examp le: (Jorge Luis) Borges' "Pierre
Menard." This text gives the account of a Frenchma n who has
conce tved the mad project of wr iting. for the first time, Don
Quixole. That's all t here is to it : He want.s to not versi.on.
not a repetition or a parod y, but Don Quixote Itself. Th ISproject
ce r nes out of a mad , absol utel y raving jealousy. Borges' text is
written in Spanish. but it is marked by the French
Pierre Menard is a Frenchman. t he story takes place III Ntmes.
and there are all sorts of resonances that led Borges to write thi s
text in a Spanish tongue which is very subtly marked by a
certain Fronchnoss. Once, in a seminar on translati on, , had a
discussion with a Hispanist student who said about t his text:
"In the end the French translation is perh aps more faithful and
thus bette r than the original." Well, yes and no, because what is
lost in t he French translation is this superimposed Pronchness
IOU Roundtable on Transl ation
or the Frenchncss that inserts a slight di vision wit h in the Spa n-
ish , all of which Borges wa nted to mark in the or igina l. Transla-

_do everyt hing except mark t hi s linguistic diffe rence

. i.n the th is of language systems
inscribed III a sin gle tongue. Ca n get lw r}:: thing
aCIQSS cXlmpl Ih is ' Ihl' fa(" Ltbat there are, in one linguistic SYS-c-J
itcm- IJOrhttjJn ac'/n n l laog' !agc'ii or Scmctlmcs-c-I "1
wou ld even say alwa ys-csovera ltonguos. There is impurit y in
every language. This fact wou ld in some ,..-ay have to threaten
every li nguistic system 's integrit y, which is presu med by each
of Iak obson's concepts. Each of these t hree concepts [intralin-
gual tra ns lat ion , interli ngua l or translation " properly spea k-
ing." and lntersemlot ic translation) pres umes t he ex istence of
one language and of one trans lation in the literal sense, that is .
as the passage from one language into another. So, if th e unity
of the linguisti c system. is netasurething. all of thi ;[;miC"Cj)iU:
(in the sense of
trans la tion) is threatened.
I chose Babel because I think it ca n provide an
ep igraph for all discussi ons of translati on . What happens in th e
story of Babel? We think we know that story, but it is alwa ys in
our interest , I believe, to reread it cl osely. Also, one should read
it if possible in the language in which it was wr itten, beca use
th e singu larity of the story is that a performati ve takes place as
a recil in a tongue that itself defies tra ns lation. What is being
told in th is biblical rectt is not transport abl e into anot her
tongue wit hout a n essent ial loss. I don't know the or igi na l lan-
guage thoroughly, but I know eno ugh of it (a few words ) to tr v
to defi ne wit h you this challenge to translation. .
What ha ppens in the Babel e pisode, in the tr ibe of the
Shems? Notice th at the wo rd "s hem' ' alroadv mean s nume:
Shom equals name. The Sbc ms decide to raise a tower-not
just in order to reach all the wa y to the heavens but also, it
says in the text. to ma ke a name for themselves. Th ev wa nt to
ma ke a name for the mse lves, and t hey bear the name' of name.
50 the y wa nt to make a name for themselves-how will the y
do it ? fly imposi ng the ir tongue on the enti re un iverse on t he
Roundtable on Tran slation 101
bas is of t his sub lime ed ifica tion. Tongue: act ua lly the Hebrew
wo rd here is t he word that signifi es lip. Not tongue but lip.
Th us, t hey wa nt to impose the ir lip on the entire universe.
Had their enterprise succeeded. the un iversal tongue would
[ have bee n a particular language imposed by violence. by forcel
"by violent hegemony over the rest of the wo rld . It would not \
ha ve been a uni versal langua ge-for exa mp le in the Leib-
nizian sense-a transparent language to which everyone
wo uld have had access. Rather , the master with the most force
wo uld have imposed thi s language on the wo rld and , by virtue
of th is fact. it wou ld have become t he universa l tongue. This,
the n, is t heir project: to ma ke a name for t hemsel ves by impos-
ing their li p a ll the wor ld. God-tha t God who is ca pable of
resentme nt. jealousy , an d ange r- become s bes ide hi mself in
t he face of this incredible effronter y a nd says to himself: So
that' s what they wa nt to do, th ey wa nt to make a name for
themselves and impose th eir li p on t he world. He then inter -
rupts the edification and in turn imposes hi s name on their
tower [or his tower). The tex t says : God procl aimed his na me
loudl y, th e name which he himself has chose n and which is
thus hi s. Already one can see that the conflict is a war be-
t ween two proper names and the one th at will ca rry the day is
the one that eit her imposes its law or in any case pr events th e
ot her from imposing it s own. God says: Babel. It is thus a
proper na me. Volta ire. in the article "Babel " in the Diction-
no tre phtlosophtque. says some thing like t his: " It seems that
Babel means the na me of th e fath er in th is case, as in Babylon ,
et cetera , so it ca n be translat ed as the name of the fat her ' s
ci ty." But all t he same, Babel can be understood wit hin th e
language of the reel! and only wit hin that language. It ca n be
understood confused ly because it is by virt ue of a somewha t
free phonet ic association tha t thi s co nfus ion is pos sible. II can
be co nfused ly understood as "confus ion"- il is a word tha t
wil l come to signify co nfusion . He imposes conf usion on the m
at the sa me ti me as he imposes hi s prope r name, the name he
has c hosen which mea ns co nfusion. which seems confused ly
to mean co nf usion and wh ich the Shems understa nd in their
1Q2 Roundtable on Transl ation
tongue. confuse dly. as confus ion. Hew, nne might concl ude
thai the Iranslation is intralingual. but that wou ld btl incor rect
it .is of a name. To trans late Uabel by
confusion IS alrea dy to give a confuse d and unce rtain trans-
lation. II translates a proper name into a common noun. Thus
aile sees God declares war by forcing men, if you will . to
translate Ius proper name with a common noun . In effect. he
to them: Now you will not impose a s ingle tongue: you
Will be condemned to the mult tpli ciy of tongues; translate
and. to begin with, trans late my name. Trans lale my name,
says he. but at the same time he says: You ''''i11 not be able 10
trans late my name because. first of it' s a proper name and,
secondly, my name. the one I myself have chosen for t his
tower. signifies ambiguity. confus ion. et cetera. Thus God in
his rivalry wi th the Iribe of the Shems, gives them. in a certain
way. an absolutely do uble command. lie imposes a double
binA-Pn them when he says: Translate me and what is more
don 't translat e me. I desire that you trans late me, that vou
translate t he name I impose on you: and at the same ti me.
whateve r you do, don't tran slat e it. vou will nol be able to
Iran slate it. .
I would say that thi s.Q. iut is at wor k in every proper name:
t ranslate me. do n' t translat e me. On the one hand . don't trans-
late me, that is, respect me as a proper-name. respect my law
of the proper name which stands over and above all lan -
...aPd. a ll the ot her hand, translate me, that is, under-
sta!,d preserve me with in the uni versal language, follO\\<
my law, andso. on. Th is means that the divi sion of the proper
name, insofar as it is the divi sion of God- in a word. insofar
it God himself-in some way provides the par a-
di gm for this work of the proper name. God hi mself is in the
double bind , God as the deconstructor of the Tower of Babel.
He interrupts a construction. Thc deconstructlon of the Tower
of Babel. moreover, gives a good
is: an unfi ulshed edifi ce struc tures arc
viaibl e, lett ing one ..scaffolding th_em. li e
_____________ Rou ndtabl e on Translarion IOJ
interr up ts the cons truction in his name: he int errupts himself
in orde r to impose his name and thus produces what one
could call a "dtssch cminat lon" wh ich means: You will not
impose you r meaning or your tongue, and 1. God, therefore
oblige you to submit 10 the pluralit y of languages which you
will never get out of.
Yet the origi nal text was absolutely original: it is the sacred
text. As (Walter( Ben jamin says, t he mod el of all tran slat ion is
the intrali near tran slation int o one's own language of the sa-
cred text [vThe Task of the Tra nslator ," in lIIuminal ions). A
sacred lext is untranslat abl e, says Ben jamin. preci sely because
the mea ning and the lett er ca nnot be dissoci ated . The flow of
mea ni ng and the flow of lit er ali ty ca nnot be dissoci ated-.-t hus
the sac red textis un tran:slatable. The a'nl)'- thingone can do
wh en tran slating a sacred texl is to read between the lines,
between- its Iines.-Sen jamiTi.-saysthal t his read ing or this intra-
Iinearve rSiOiiOf the sacred text is the ideal of all translatio n:
pu re translatability. Here, then , we are dealing with a sacred
text in the se nse that it is irreducibly lied to a language, to a
proper name whi ch can belong 10 only one language and can
desire its translation into only one language. Babel equals
This is the par adi gm of the
t her e is a mult ipli cit y of languages and in wh ich translati on is
both necessary and impossibl e. At that very moment . it per-
forms the sit uation it describes : in other words , the name of
God here is, at the same li me. the name of all proper names.
They are all in a state of Babel ; in all of them the desi re is at
work to impose the proper name wit h the demand: "Translate
me and don't translate me," If we could read Benjamin' s text
toget her. we would sec that this requirement , t hi s demand,
this wret chedness of the proper name, crying after its transla-
tion even as it makes it impossiblc-"translate me but. wh at-
"Der rida condenses III ltJil sl lour senses in th is Invented wor d: dlssemlna-
linn . deschematlza tiun . lind dero uting lit diverting f W IIl d
[);jIll [Ihe word chemi n rn"llninR pnt h nr rUlIl ll -Tr.
IQ4 Roundtabl e on Transl ation
ever you do, don't tra nslate me"-all of t his is of an abso lutely
general or der. Thi s gene ralized singularity is wha t the Babe l
account describes,
Just a few more wor ds on thi s subject. In the latest French
tran slati on of the Babel slory, [Ihe transl at or) Chouraqui's lan -
guage tries to be poetic and as lit eral as possible, But there
comes a moment when he is obliged to write: Bevel . Then,
however. he hesitates over whet her or not to translate into
Frenc h the meani ng audible to the Shems in the origina l text.
He has to make the French ear hear tha t it means confus ion,
but he is unable to do it in a way that is inte rnal to his transl a-
tio n, tha t is, a way that isn' t an analysis or a clarification. So
what he does is to wr ite: "Bevel . Confusion." capitalizing
Confusion. In the language of the or igi na l tex t. there is only
one word. whereas the translation has recourse 10 two words.
But the translator rea lizes that without the capi tal letter, he
loses the effect of a pr oper name. He thus arrives at this rnan -
ner of co mpromise . which . naturall y. is insuffici ent . but
which has been forced on hi m by God's deconst ru cti on.
This inscribes the scene of transl ation within a scene of
inheritance a nd in a space which is precisely tha t of the ge-
nealogy of proper names , of the family. th e law, indebt ed ness.
Obviously. one ca n see th e quest ion of the father . which you
as ked at the e nd of your remarks, taking sha pe here. At a
ce rtain moment you made allusion to the "tmncbe-jert ." but I
fear this all us ion may have remained un cl ear for those who
are unfamil iar wit h the very spec ific context in which that
wo rd was pu t forward. Perhaps I'll say a few words about it so
that it will no longer be suc h a secret. The expression tranche-
fert is one I ventured to put before some French psychoana-
lyst s during a working sess ion I had with th em. what l wa nted
to indi cat e with this word is what is called the trcnctre. * I
don't know if th e sa me word is used in Quebec. but in France
the tmnche is t hat analysis psychoa na lysts sometimes do for 11
while with a colleague. Tha t is, an analyst who is sBtt lml into
'I'j"u ,. slice. from tm ucher: 10 slice. sepa rate. decide. Tim pla y Is (Ill till!
psvchoanalyt! c term trnnsjert : transf..rence.c.-Tr.
Roundtable on Tronslo tion 105
the ana lytic profess ion, who is certi fied as an ana lys t and prac-
ttces enalvsis. at some point deems it necessar y for whatever
reason to return for a not he r litt le bi t of ana lysis wi th a colleague.
This is what is called a tranche. Well. sometimes this seCond
ana lys t-or the third or t he fourth one-to whom he or she goes
belo ngs to anothe r psychoanalytic group . As you know. in
France there are at least four groups wit hi n Ihe ana lyti c es tab-
lishment. a nd the fact of going from one a na lyst to another or
from one group to a not he r-some ti mes also from one sex to
another (from a man analyst to a woman analyst or the other way
around}-poses a certain number of problems on different lev-
els which I think are importan t. It was in or der to pose the
problem of transference entailed in th is situation that 1 played
with the word " Imnchefert, whi ch Patrick Mah ony referred to.
Before gett ing to wha t you said about the co ncept of transla-
tion in Freud-and 1 don' t want to keep the floor too long-I
would li ke to ve nture a wor d on the subject of the history of
names in one's li fe. As you have already said. we ha ve a series
of names throughout ou r lives. We are co nstantly be ing named
by different names which add up, disappea r. accumulate. and
so on. But what one may well as k oneself is whether. beneath
the proper name or names that are in one way or another
public knowl edge, there does not exist a proper name that is
unco nscious and secret , a name we are in search of or th at the
reader or a na lyst must seek out. For example. to pick up on
what Claude Levesque was saying yesterday. reading a dis-
membered or di sseminated proper na me in a text ca n some-
times be an interesting, mow or less difficu lt exercise, a more
or less fascinating piecing together of cl ues, But it can also be
a total trap. In effect , once one has reconstituted. for exa mple.
the name of Fra nci s Ponge" di sse minated in his text. once one
has exp lained all th e rules of this dismembering an d thi s
mon umentallzatton. perhaps one has gott en off on altogether
the wrong track. And t his beca use Francis Ponge has pe rha ps
a secret or un consci ous name which has noth ing at all to do
S.oe where UtlITlda woeks oul a readt ng of POll ,l(" ' S
signat ure in and UII his wor k.--;Tr.
106 Roundtable on Transl ati on
with either Franci s or Pon ge. Perhaps all of the poetic work he
does in order to mark his patronym in hi s text , eit her in pieces
or in a n integral fashion, is a means not only of mi sl ead ing the
read er or the det ect ives-the critical det ectives-but also of
los ing himself. Perha ps he doe sn 't know hi s proper name. Is it
possi bl e not to know one 's own name? In any case, this is t he
quest ion you wa nted to as k: Is it possible for th e un con sci ou s
proper name-that to which the other addresses him/herself in
us. that - wh ich res ponds in us-to be secret? Can there be
unconscious proper names. names that are at work in the
whole psyc hic orga nization. the whole topical structure? Can
suc h a na me exist? It is difficu lt alrea dy to formul at e and
support the hypothesi s that there exists su ch a first name,
before the na me. a kind of abso lutely sec ret first name wh ich
functions all the time wit hou t our knowi ng it . (All of a sud-
den. when a certain appeal is made either by some voi ce .
some tongue, some gest ure, or some kind of scene, I respond
to it because it touches my secret desiro-that is. my proper
na me.) But let us nevertheless put t he hypothesis forward.
Let 's suppose I ha ve a secret proper name that has nothing to
do with my public pr oper name or with what anyone may
know about me. Suppose also that from ti me to time some
other may ca ll me by thi s secret proper name. eithe r by utt er-
ing cert ain words or syllables or by making cert ain gestures or
signs. (The secret proper name, the abso lute id iom. is not nec-
essa rily on th e order of language in the phonic sense but may
be on the order of a gest ure. a physical association. a scene of
some sort , a taste. a smell . And it is to thi s a ppeal that I wou ld
essentially respond , thi s call that would comma nd me abso-
lutely.) My proper name may be associated with- ( don' t
know-let' s say a sce nt. to take the easiest hypothesi s. It
wou ld be enough to present me wit h it in a certain situation in
order to ca ll me by thi s scent. This, then, could be the secret
Although our hypothesi s is a difficu lt one. I wo uld like to
express certai n reservati ons as to this hypothesis itself. ( think
it' s necessary to formulate it , but ail e mus t also be awa re that ,
Roundtable on Translation 107
however dari ng it mi ght be. it nevertheless pr esumes the pos-
sibili ty of some absolute properness. an absolute id iom. How-
ever, if an id iom effect or an effect of absolute prope rness ca n
arise only wit hin a sys tem of relati on s and differences wit h
something else that is eit he r near or far. t hen the secret proper
na me is ri ght away Inscnbed-c-structurall y and a priori- in a
net work where it is contaminated by common na mes. Thus.
even this secret proper name would be impossible. at least in
a pure state. Th ere may be effects of a secret proper name. but
they cou ld not possi bly occur in a pure state because of the
diff erential st ructure of any mark. This secret mark could be
wha t it is only in a rel ation of di fferentiati on and th us also of
contaminati on. in a network or common system. It would gi ve
up its secret . then. at th e very momen t in which it would have
the best and cl osest hold on it. If th is absolute secret cannot
exist in th e st rictes t pu rity. I ca n never be assured that an
appeal is addressed to me. You spoke of the address: you said
that in analysi s there should come a moment when t he analyst
addresses th e patient by hi s/her name. This may be very diffi-
cult , \'ery lengthy. very improbable. but. finall y. the ideal pole
or concl usion of ana lys is would he the possibility of address-
ing th e patient using hi s or her most proper name, possibl y
the most secret. It is t he moment . then, when the anal yst
would say to the patient "you" in suc h a way that t here woul d
he no possib le mi sunderstanding on the subject of t h i ~ " ~ o u . "
Well , if what ( ha ve jus t said is at all perti nent. that IS, If t he
most secret proper na me has its effect of a proper name on ly
by risking contaminatio n and detour within a sys tem of rela-
ti ons, then it follows that pure address is impossible. ( can
never be sure when someone says to me-or to you-says to
me. "you. you:' t hat it might no-t1m just a ny old "you." I ca n
never be sure that the secret address might nut be diverted.
li ke any message or lett er. so that it does not arrive at its
des ti nation. This is inscribed in th e most gene ral struct ure of
the ma rk. Th e proper na me is a ma rk: somet hing like confu-
ston ca n occur at any timu because the proper name bears
confusion wit hi n itself. Tl iP. most sec ret proper name is, up to
lOB Roundtabl e on Transla ti on
a ce rtain point . synony mous with confus ion. To the extent to
wh ich it can immediately become common and drift off
course toward a sys tem of relati ons where it functions as a
common name or mark. it ca n send the address off course. The
address is always deli ver ed over to a kind of chance . and thus
I ca nnot be ass ured that an appeal or an address is addressed
to whom it is addressed. There ar c. then . aleatory or chance
clements at work in every kind of message. every type of let -
ter. all mail. if you will.
I am goi ng on too long. so I will try to acce lerate things a bit .
As for psychoa nalys is. everyt hing Freud tell s us about transla-
tion. all the uses he makes of translati on. may in part appear
to be metaphorica l as regard s the common conce pt of transla-
tion. which is wh at Iakobson calls int erlinguistic tran slation,
or trans lation in the everyday sense. Freud , on the other hand,
very often, as in the examples you gave, also speaks of transla-
tion as the passage from one semiotic sys tem to another. When
one speaks of hysteria , of oneiric or hysteri cal translati on , one
is speaking of tran slati on in Iakobson 's third sense. the pas-
sage from one se miotic system to another: words- gest ures.
words-images. acous tic -visua l. and so forth. but to the ex-
tent that Freud see ms to want to use the word "translation" in
a metaphorical se nse, he cons tantly looks as if he is taking t he
liter al sense (t hat is, interli nguistic translation) as the mod el
referent for all poss ible translation. Here we see how the li n-
guls t lcistic temptation ca n inhabit psychoanalysis. I don' t
think Freud gives in to thi s temptation ver y much: but . wit h-
out a doubt. [Iacques] Lacan gives in to it- that is, he eve ry-
where engages in it in the most forceful and the mos t sys tem-
atic manner , whi ch one may judge from the fact t hat it is the
li ngu istic body or li nguistic rhetor ic whic h organizes all the
other translati ng tran sformations. In Lacan. t he lingui stic
code , the spoken code, has a dominant role over the ot her
codes and et her transformations whic h, in a certain way, can
all be translated int o language by means of translation in t he
linguist ic sens e. This is a very serious problem and I can only
evoke it here. It is. however. inevit able whenever one speaks
of these differ ent mea nings of the word "trans lation."
Roundt able on Translation 109
I want to say a few words on the subject of anasc mla. It is an
easy transition to make, I think. after what has just been said
about Lacan or ltngui stlci sm. and I would also add about logo-
ce ntrism and phallogocentrism. You vorv lucid I\' isolated that
one little sentence in my int roduction to N i c o l a ~ Abraham on
the subject of the anasemic translati on of Freud's statement
according to wh ich the libido is essentia lly viril e. The phrase
is Abraham's. He tri es to demonst rate t hat when freud savs
that all libido is essentia lly vi rile (with all the consequences
that that mi ght have within hi s sys tem. bu t we can' t go int o
that here ). this mus t be heard and understood anasern tcallv.
That is, it mus t not be taken lit er all y but understood accord ing
to what Abraham calls anasemia: the return toward conce pts
which are not only originary but pre-or tginary. whi ch are. in
other words. on this side of mean ing. Briefly. Abraham ex-
plai ns that when psychoanal ysis talks about Pleasure. for ex-
ample, or about Ego, it ca pi tal izes these words in order, for
one thing. to translate words that. like all Germa n substan-
tives . are capitalized in Freud' s text. However, acco rding to
Abraham. when Freud talks of thi s or that major ana lyt ic con-
cept. he does not int end t hem in the ordinary sense of the
language. Thus. Pleasur e does not mean what one understands
by pl easure. Rather, Pleasure is that on the basis of which the
meaning or pleas ure ca n be deter mined . This is to say that one
must go back to this side of meaning (thus , the sense or direc-
t ion of the word "a nasemia") in order to understan d how
meaning has been formed. On wh at conditions is there plea-
sure? On what conditions does the word " pleasure" have a
mea ning? On that condit ion wh ich Freud calls Pleasure in his
metapsychology and whi ch has an anas cmlc se nse: therefore it
is capitalized. Thus, it is all t he basis of thi s sys tem or this
theory of anasemia (it is , I remind you, Nicolas Abraham's
theory, and I am only commenting a ll it in my own manner in
the text you cite ) that Freu d's statement accordi ng to which all
libido is virile . eve n in t ho woman. does not signify what one
may understa nd in general when thi s statement is mad e in
everyday language. It do es not signify. that is, the primacy or
t he privilege of the phallus, but rat her tha t basis on which
110 Roundt abl e on Transla tion
there can be a phallus or libido. In my opinion, the problem
remai ns intact. I cla im no responsibility here. nor can I go into
thi s probl em because of the lack of time .
I say just one final word about patricide. Obviously.
the Idea that everything I do is of a patri cidal nature. as the
texts you ci ted say or as you yourself have said. is an idea that
only half pleases me. II's not wrong, but if it were essentially
that or only that. I would be very disappointed. Of course I
agree that there is patrici de in it-in a certain ,..'ay pat ricide is
I also try to do something else wh ich. in my
opinion. cannot be und erstood simply with in the scene of
pat ricide that is so recur rent and so imit able. Thus. if you
trying to suggest that what I do might be in some way
Illimitable as. for insta nce. in patri cide. well. I would have to
say that noth ing is more imit able than patricide and therefore
nothing is more often repeated. If. for t he reason I mentioned
at the beginning. the manner in which I writ e-but the same
goes for anyone-has something barely imitable about it (I
don 't believe that there is anything inimita ble. so let's say
barely imitable). it would be to the extent that something were
not of a patri cidal nature. because nothing is more imitable
than patricide. However. 1don't believe in the inimitable any
more than 1 beli eve in the secret and absolutely pure proper
Rodolphe Gasche: The Operator 0/ Di/ / erance
Before gelli ng to my questions. I want to make a preliminar y
remark, The invitation I received to participat e in t his round-
table on translati on cannot be explai ned-c-or at least I don 't
imagine that it cen-ccnly by the fact that I translated your
Writi ng and Diff erence int o German and thus into a language
which is not. any more than the other ones I use. my mot her
tongue. SD that it won' t be a secret, I will tell you t hat my
mother tongue is double-cFleml sh and Luxembourgtsh. Two
"See above, II. xii, on thi s word .
Roundtabl e on Tra nsl ation J J J
dia lect s, therefore. bet ween which, for better or worse. I have
had to and have managed to sit uate myself. Thus, the fact that
I have been asked to parti cipate in thi s discussion is not com-
pletely determined by the translation problems that I may
have encountered with the German transposition of \Vriling
and Difference. It is also. I hope. overdetermined bv this
double aspect of my mother tongue as well as by the tr-ans la-
tion problem whi ch that implies from the very beginning. (I
note here. right away. t hat thi s bilingualism does not necessar-
ily bring with it any kind of mastery in the matt er of tran sla-
tion. On the contrary. as my translation readily demonstrates.)
Jacques Derrida. I remember that several years ago. you said
to me (permit me this indiscretion if it is one) that you were
writing ogoinsl the Fren ch language. more precisely against the
institutionalized language of the metropolis. whi ch was not .
strictly speaking. your mother tongue. Let me then set this
statement in a border alongs ide your life and your "works" (if,
once again. I may permit myself such an expression) and open
your text s and your writing to the question of this double rela-
tion to your mother tongue. It is. then, a mother tongue that is
yours without reall y being yours and whose duplicit y you take
on. The day before yesterday. you spoke of autobiography in
this strong sense of the term. and it is in this sense that again
today I would li ke to interrogat e the problematic developed, for
example. in "Me-Psychoanalysis." your introduct ion to the
English translati on of Abraham's "The Shell and the Kernel. " It
seems to me that what interests you first of all in the wor k of
this psychoanal yst is t he idea of afissure or a crack in the very
notio n of t he materna l tongue (and, thi nking of your text "Du
Tout" ror the w hol e"]. I wou ld add in the maternal language
of the psychoanalytic institution in France as well). You then
remark the dou ble translati on that occur s de facio in any mate r-
nal tongue. You ill ustrate this. on the one hand. with the
phenome nologica l reduct ion of language to its intentional
meani ng carried out by Abraham and, nn the other hand, by the
asemlc translation of psychoanal ysis which. from the asemic
agency of the unconscious. questions the "ery phcnomenality
112 Roundtable on Tranda lion
of meani ng. You then show that this double translation operat-
ing wit hin the same language precedes anything called "t rans-
lali on" in a phenomenological sense. Thi s doubl e translati on
operating in the ver y place of t he moth er tongue and contami-
nating it in such a way t hat it becomes a heterogeneous space is
not only the condition of possibil ity for all translation into
ano ther language. a foreign language or the language of the
other. In effect. this double translati on di srupting the unity of
the mother tongue is not simply a symmetr ical translati on be-
ca use. contrary to the phenomen ological redu ction. psychoana-
lyti c di scourse, according to Abraham, returns to the ascmic
poss ibili ty of the very meaningof language ass umed by phenom-
enological di scourse. In other words. psychoanalys is, at its
most rad ical. would account in thi s way for the very possibili ty
of translation as it operates in its ot her or counterpart- here . in
phenomenology. However. it accounts for it in a singular fash-
ion by mining. in effect. the dissymmetry betwee n the two
ori gina ry tran slations. In this dia logue (if that is what it is).
only psychoanalys is forces language to speak t he non language
condit ions of speech. As you show qu ito well, this opens psy-
choa na lysis. de jure. to a rea pplication of its corpus juri s. that
is. the set of conce pts operative in its own discourse, in psycho-
analysis it self. Hence your question in this case about the l-:RO
or the "me" of psychoanalysis.
I'll conclude rapidly before aski ng my questi ons. Not only
docs all translati on int o a forei gn language rest on the very
poss ibil ity of the double translati on already at work in any
language. but alltran slali on of wha tever sort is "rooted" in the
asemic by the very dt ssymrnetry of thi s double translati on and
therefore in that which ca nnot legiti mately function as a
"root": in the nonlan guage condit ions of language. Hence the
following three quest ions:
First qu estion : Wha t has bee n called, ill reference to your
work. the indetermination of any translati on. you yourself
have conceived (I won't say exclus ively) agai nst Heldegger's
t heory of tran slation and of language. I will per mit myself to
su mmarize here (but. given the ci rcumstances . it will be an
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Roundtoble on Tran slation IIJ
altogether imperfect su mmary) the way I understan d Heideg-
gcr on this point. The de naturation which takes place bet ween
Greek and Lati n (and. as a later result . German! represent s not
only a di stortion or historical acci dent. but is also most lmpor-
tant ly a historical destiny. Thi s is because t he di stortin g trans-
lati on of Greek conce pts int o the Latin tongue deri ves from an
"unt hought" of the Greek language itself (that which, for ex-
ample, makes possible the adve nt of modern tech nique as well
as the Ge-sleJl [frame], insofar as it is an unt hou ght of Gree k
thought conce rning the not ion of thesis]. This explains. more-
over. Heid cggor' s refusal of a nostal gic return to the Greeks.
For him. it is at most a questi on of returning- if it ca n be
called a ret urn- to something that ca n be envisio ned only
through the Gree ks and that takes shape as the Heim [horne] to
come. Th us. the Iteid eggerian return cannot be a return to the
Greek mot her lon gue (and to Greek tho ught). hut to something
before the Greek mother tongue. to something already at work
in it , crack ing it apart. and which it renders onl y imperfect ly.
It is a return to a mot her tongue that has perhaps never taken
place but that is. for Heldcggcr. the place we already occupy,
sti ll wit hout knowin g it. Consequently. my question shapes
up as follows: 1I0w do you sit uate yourself in relation tu Hel-
dogger 's at least implicit recognition of a fundamental lack in
every mother tongue. in this case the Gree k language, but also
in every lan guage in gen eral?
My second qu estion is a questi on b)' circumlocut ion. Doyou
speak the some French as the French do. or do you rather
tra ns late French in the direction of an asemic kern el wh ich is
French's othe r within itself? What . then . is the relat ion- if
there is one-of t his othe r French within French to the Ger-
man language?
Finall y, my third qu esti on. whi ch is more general. H, as you
have indeed shown in "Fors." an y translati on . of wha tever
sort. has its star ting point in the impossible translation of each
language's asomlc kerne l- a kern el that is obv iously non iden-
tical and nonpresent to itself-does translation leave it intact
as an unrepresentable kernel or, on the contrar y, docs every
114 Roundtable on Translation
translati on onl y help 10 bet ter d isplace and better defer the
absolute nonpresence of this kernel itself? Or to put it sti ll
more simply. isn't translati on the operat or of differe nce. def er-
ring and di ffering that which makes it possible? And in thi s
case. should n' t we instead take up the problem again of the
conditi ons of poss ibility of any translati on and of its effcet-
namel y. di ffer ance?
Jacques Derr ida: Reply
These very d ifficult questions ar e very lucidly formulated.
there where it is quite certa in and cl ear that I ca nno t res pond .
Therefore. thank you. I am going to see if there is not among
them some common kernel. And I believe there is one: it is.
precisel y. the " kernel." The question is whether there is a
kernel intact somewhere or ot her. When Heidcggcr. in your
readi ng of him. ass umes that behi nd the Greek language
itself- that language which the Roman s. for example. are sup-
posed to have forgott en. disfigured. and rnist ranalated -e-there
is another lan guage. an " unt ho ught" for the Greeks themselves
of their own lan guage. he presupposes something like an
archi-originary int act ness that has bee n bas ically forgott en in
advance. immediat el y covered over with oblivion from the
first. for exa mple by the Greeks. Thi s explains . in effect. ll ei-
dcggce's remark that we should avoid int erp reting his text.
accord ing to a well -known mot if of German thought . as a nos-
talgic return to Greece. Nevertheless. if it is not a question of
retu rning in the direction of t he Gree k language. it is at least
necessar y to presu ppose somet hing absolut ely forgotte n and
always d issimulated in advance behind the Greek language-s-
an ar ch- mot her tongue. a grand mot her tongue. a granny of the
Greek language who would be absolutely vi rginal: an untouch-
able. virgin granny. Thi s motif of the unt ou chabl e is not insig-
nifi cant. One also finds it in Benjami n's text where we read
that translat ion ca nnot "touch" or attain something, There is
somet hing " untouchable." somet hing of the orig inal text that
110 translati on can at tain. Two of Benjamin 's metap hors in thi s
_____________ Roundtab le on Translation 115
regard intersect in a curious fash ion with the central metaphor
of "The Shell and the Kerne l." The kernel of the original text
is untouchable by the tran slation. and t hi s untouchable some-
thing is t he sac red. wh ich says: Don' t tou ch me. Thu s. for
lIeidegger there wou ld also be something untouchabl e. Trans-
lati on . in t he sense Heid cggcr gives to thi s wor d. is no longer
simply a lin gui sti c operatio n that cons ists in transporting
meaning from one language to another. He says somewhere
that it is an operation of thou ght through which we mus t
translat e ourselves int o the thought of the other language. the
forgott en thinking of the other language. We mus t translate
ourselves int o it and not make it come into our language. It is
nceessary to go toward the unthought thinking of the other
language. Let' s suppose that ther e is an untouchable kern el
and that we must presume its permanence without hoping to
make it come simply into our language. When you ask me.
coming now to your second qu esti on . if I speak the same
French as the French do. thi s qu esti on presupposes that there
is a French language I circle ar ound. do violence to. writ e
agains t. transform. and so on. It presupposes that there is a
body of pure French wh ich I seck to violate or to appro priate
to myself and in relati on to which I will determine myself . It
would be this bod y of pu re French whi ch makes the law and
in relation to whose law I defi ne myse lf. Finally. the intact
kernel is directl y impli ed in your third qu estion.
Well. I can' t answer all these questions in a serious. analytic
fashion. II seems to me t hat. if I were able to work out a
response. the diagram I would follow woul d be rou ghly li ke
thi s: The desi re for t he int act ker nel is desi re itself . which is to
sa" that it is irred ucible. There is a preh istori c. preo rtgmary
relati on to the intact ker nel. and it is only beginning with thi s
relation that any desi re whatsoever can cons tit ute itself . Thus.
the desire or the phnntcsm of t he inta ct kerne l is irreduclblo-c-
des pite the fact t hat there is no Intact komol . I would oppose
des ire to necessit y. to ullClllke. The Illlunke is that there is no
int act kernel lind ther e never has been one. That's what aile
wa nts to forget. and to for get that one has forgott en it. It' s not
JI B Roundtable on Translation
that something has been forgotten : rather. one want s to forgel
that thoro is noth ing to forget, that there has been noth ing to
forget. But one can only forget that there has never been an
intact kernel. This phantasm, thi s desire for the intact kernel
sets in motion every kind of desire, every kind of tongue,
appeal. address. This is the necessit y and it's a hard one. a
terrible necessity. But just as without the desire for the intact
kernel which doesn't exist. the desire for the untouchable. for
virgin ity (the taboo on virginit y has an esse ntial relation to all
thi s)-just as wit hout this desire for virginity no desi re wha t-
ever wou ld be set movi ng. likewise without Necess ity and
wit hout what comes along to int erru pt and thwart that desire.
desire itself would not unfold. I don't know what else to call
this but Necessity with a capital N. something that no one can
do anything about and tha t is not a law instituted by any
subject. Without this Necessity, it's law against law. desire
against desire. proper name against proper name. But there is
a law above these laws. which I am calling cncnke and which
controls it all (in this way. perhaps. I thi nk in Greek. more in
Greek than in Jewish). Thus. above the scene of the war be-
tween Yahweh and the Shemites, there is cncnke. thai is. a
law which is not produced by any desire but which controls
the struggle betwee n these desires and these proper names.
This cnnnke. no less than the desire for virginity. is what
makes possible the kernel des ire itself-the Intact desire for
Ch r istie V. McDonald : The Passage into Philosophy
In "Plato's Pharmacy," you stated: "To a cons iderable de-
gree, we have already said all we meanl to say . . . . With the
exception of thi s or that supplement. our questions will have
not hing more to name but the texture of the text , reading and
writi ng. mastery and play. the paradoxes of supplementarily.
and the graph ic relations between the living and the dead."
You add ed that the strange logic of the term "phurmekcn."
which is trans lated as both "remedy" and "poison," wou ld
Roundtabl e on Translation 117
from then on be linked to what you called the problem of
translation in whi ch one wou ld "be dealin g with nothing less
than the problem of the very passage into phil osoph y."
M ~ ' remarks today concern the relationshi p between reading
and writ ing, a relationship which seems to have been taking
shape in your work for a long time now in terms of translation
considered as an enterprise that is at once possibl e and impos-
sible. In Spurs. one finds a single text dis persed across the
page. which is div ided into four columns. each one a trensla-
tion int o a di fferent language by a di fferent translator. As a
result. any Questi on of translation becomes right away a prob-
lem of readi ng. If meaning remains intact from one language to
another. is transmissible and susce ptible to a legilimat e opera-
tion of readabi lity (in teaching. for example). it is because it
first of all conforms to the rul e according to which a good
translation follows the intern al logic of what is called the
"original." At the same time. however . this meaning is dis-
persed by the excessive play within the historical and seman-
tic transference of languages. In Glcs. reading is also fract ured
by the columns and other elements at play (such as the ety-
mologies and the explanations set apart on the page). but thi s
fragmentation no longer translates a (so-called) same text.
I would therefore like to raise once more the questi on that
returns both in the text entitled "Living On" and in its com-
panion or mat e (its shipmate. so to s peak): the log," Thi s ques-
"Here is how this text is laid oUl lypognphically: Allhe bottom 01the pege,
running the length ol the text entitled "living On " and accompanyi ng lt, a
not e. anothe r text is inscribed whic h has t he mle "Borderlines" [' ournol de
bord: ship's jou rnal or log]. Both were wruten by jacqu es Derefda and both
were mea nt lrom the first to be translated. The wager is the following: The
note. "Borderlines," wntten in a stenutelegraphic style. tends lby principle
and by co ntract] towa rd the greatest polIsib!ll trans!llillbilit y. "Llvlng On," on
the ethe r hand, whic h is the chief or princi pal text , puts int o motion an
enigmatic and disjointed wrUi"K where the "unr" pl"fls" ntahle" Is In force-
and th is. precisely. by means of the redt or 111" perl ormetive. Thesetwo texts
play at the limits of the everyda y conce pt of transla tion: the note cannot be
totally trans latable ["Iotally trenelata ble.' says the narretc r. " i t disappears liS a
I"",t"): just as "Living On " ca nno t remain rxun plutely untranslat able [vtotally
118 Roundtoble on Tronslation
tion is the following: How, in effect. does one text read an-
other? By proposed contract , your ship's log- "Borderli nes"-
promises, just like some translati ng language or translator
metal anguage, to aim for the great est possible translatability.
Be that as it may, it nevertheless tends toward a distorti on of
the initi al contract, and in the end you say as much. You do
not keep your promi se. since the double band reproduces the
suppleme ntary trait of thi s structure and gives rise to a lesson
(to your translators). This lesson is not in the form of a revela-
tion of a paradigm. but rather of a cross-reference to the net-
work of texts which are livi ng by means of what you call
"Jiving on" [sur-vie], and li ving on only because they are at
once translatable and untranslatable. You say that if you are
continui ng to speak of "texts" instead of making reference to a
differential network. an indefi nite movement of traces refer-
ring back to other differential traces. it is partly for strategic
reaso ns. I wonder if the force of thi s strategy does not come
from mai ntaining divisions that are always both arbitrary and
nonarbitrary. I say this because it see ms to me that writing- in
the sense you give to the term---draws at least part of its con-
testat ory force from that whi ch it contests: the instit uti on.
Benjamin writ es: ''There is no muse of philosophy, nor is
there one of transl ati on. But despite the claims of sentimental
artists, these two are not banausi c. For there is a philosophical
genius that is characterized by a yearni ng for that language
which manifests itself in translati ons." Just as one could pro-
pose , as Claude Levesque did yesterday, that Derrida is to be
found somewhe re "derriere 1e rldec u" in the fort/do, making
allusion to the text entitled "Freud's Legacy." couldn' t one
umranalatable .. . the text dies immediately"). Although the typographic lron-
lter ootwtM!n the nole and the text seems d ear CUI. one comes 10 realize that il
15 desti ned 10 00 constantly overrun. The same is true of its corollary: the
division which Is marked between the criticol (the translallnll metelenguuge
or the nOl ll) and the ceccnsnucnve (the play of writing in "LivingOn," which
overflows in the direct ion of dissemination). II is. moreover, the coupling of
the terms "deconstruction" and "criticism" that gives the whole volume lis
Roundt able on Translation 119
also propose the hypothesis that , in the series of couples
("Living On/Borderlines"; The Tri ump h of l.ifelDeath Sen-
tence ; the narrator and t he woma n in Blanchet's Death Sen-
tence; and, finally. the most ext raord inar y couple of all. the
two women separated by the partitioning of the two parts of
the latter text ). one finds. in a certain manner . the staging of
the poss ibility and impossibility of wr iti ng in the notion of
read ing as an act of translati on? In the same text already men-
tioned. Ben jami n writes:
Fra gment s of an amphora which are to 00 glued together must
match one an other in t he small est detai ls, alt hough they need not be
like one another. In the sa me wa y a translati on. ins tead of resembling
t he meaning of the origi nal. must lovingly and in detail incorporate
the origi nal's mode of sign ificat ion, thus maki ng bot h the original
and the translation recogni za ble as fragments of a greater language.
just as fragments are part of an amphora .
As an insti tuting ru le. I was taught at school to avoid what
were called false friends. t hat is. a word that is the same in
two languages but whose mea ning is different. In an altogether
different context, might one not suggest to you the followi ng.
slightly mad hypothesis: Your remar k in "Living On" about
the two women who, perhaps. love each ot her across the parti -
tion of t he two parts of t he text -these two aphonic voices
telephoning each other, just like your two texts whi ch com-
municate only by telegraph- takes up a positi on analogous to
that of false friends doing what one must not do on the basis
of an unconscious and imperceptible structure of the reclt.
Among all t hese reclts. yours as well as those of Blanchet. that
int errogate so radicall y t he hermeneutic process of interpreta-
lion, what has become of that translat ion problem announced
as the program in "Plato's Pharmacy"-the problem of the
passage into philosop hy?
Ja cques Ders-ida: Reply
The program of the passage into philosophy signifies in thi s
context, it seems to me, that the philosophi cal operat ion, if it
120 Roundtable on Trans/aUon
has an originali ty and speci fici ty, defines itself as a project of
translation. More precis ely, it defines itself as the fixation of a
certain concep t and project of translation. What does philoso-
phy say? Let's imagine that it' s possible to ask such a ques-
tion : What does phil osophy say? What does the philosopher
say when he is being a philosopher ? He says: What matters is
truth or meani ng. and since meani ng is before or beyond Ian-
guege. it follows tha t it is translatable. Meaning has the com-
manding role. and consequent ly one must be able to fix its
univocality or. in any case, to master its plurivocaltty. J this
plurivoca lity can be mastered, then translation. understood as
the trans port of II semantic content into anot her signifying
form. is possible. There is no philosophy unless translation in
this latter sense is possible. Therefore the thesis of philosophy
is translatability in this common sense, that is, as the transfer
of a meaning or a trut h from one language to another without
any essentia l harm being done. Obvious ly, this project or this
thes is has taken a certain nu mber of forms wh ich one could
locate throughout the history of philosophy from Plato to He-
gel. pass ing by way of IGottfried Wilhel m) Leibnitz. This ,
then. was what I thought of as the passage into philosophy,
the program of translat ion. The origin of philosophy is transla-
tion or the thesis of translatabilit y. so that wherever transla-
tion in this sense has failed , it is nothing less than phil osophy
that finds itself defeat ed. Thi s is precisel y what I tried 10 deal
with in "Plato's Pharmacy" by means of a certai n number of
words such as phormakon. whose body is in itself a constant
challenge to phil osophy. Philosophi cal discourse cannot
master a word meaning two thi ngs at the same lime and which
therefore cannot be translated without an essential loss.
Whet her one translates pharmakon as "poison" or "remedy,"
whether one comes down on the side of sickness or health.
life or death, the undecidabili ty is going to be lost . So, pJHJr-
mokcn is one of the limit s. one of the verbal forms-but one
could cite man y others and many other forms- marking the
limit of ph ilosophy as translati on.
I noticed that when Benjamin, in the first passage you reed.
_____________ Roundlable on Translation 121
speaks of phil osophical genius, he makes use of a word that
does not belong 16 his language: "tngent um.' In the French
translation of Benjamin. Mauri ce de Gandillac notes at the
bottom of the page: .. 'Jngenlum,' Latin word meaning, et cet-
era." In other words. he was obliged to trans late a word Beula-
min left in Latin. Right after "Ingentum,' there is the [Ste-
phane) Mall arme text in French. which Ben jamin does not
translat e because he knows that Mell arme is untranslatable.
These utt erances of Mel larme that say Babel. utterances I can-
not reconstitute by heart. Ihese superb texts speak the Babe-
lian situations: "ces tongues imporfailes en cela que piu-
sleurs. et cetera ." Thi s syntax is untranslat able and Ben jamin
knows it, so he leaves Matlerme's language intact in his own
text. The result is that when Gand illac translates Ben jamin
into French and leaves Mallarme once agai n intact, thi s latter
Mall arme is no longer the same . Benjamin left it intact in a
German context. but by reproduci ng it in the French transla-
lion one reproduces another example of the situation men-
tioned above .
Since we are talking about "Living On" (I don't know
whether I will come back to the text to whi ch I gave that titl e:
I would rather insist on what Benjamin calls "living on" in his
own text and whi ch is a central conce pt there). it happens that
Benjamin says substantially that the structure of an original is
survival. what he calls " Oberleben," A text is original insofar
as it is a thing, not to be confused with an organic or a physi-
cal body. but a thing. let us say. of the mind , meant to survive
the death of the author or the signatory, and to be above or
beyond the physical corpus of the text. and so on. The struc-
ture of the ori ginal text is survival. Here. Benjamin has re-
course to a certain numbe r of Hegelian-type sentences to ex-
plain why one must understand Iife-"Lcben"-not all the
basis of what we know in general about organic. biological
life, but , on the contrary. on the basis of the life of the mind ,
that is. life that rises above nature and is in its essence survi-
"<These impllr fl'!C1 in thet they am seve ral.. ,"- Tr.

J22 Roundtable on Tra nsl ation

vc E.JJLI,I ndejstand a . toxLali3n.....Qrigi [l.',lLl$_lQ....UfldcJstan<l j L
_ Independently, oUJsJ.ivi ng condi tions-the conditions. obvi-
ous IY:.!Jf its aut hors_.!ife-and to understand it insteadJ!1J.ts _
_ su,:".iving structur::...At ti mes he says " Uberleben" and at other
times "Fcrt teben." These two wor ds do not mean the same
thing l"Uberleoon" means above life and therefore survival as
something rising above life; "Fcrtleben" means survival in the
sense of something pro longing life). even though they are
translated in French by t he one word "survl vrev lto survive. to
live ani. which already poses a problem. Given the s urvl vtng
struct ure of an origina l text-always a sacred text in its own
way insofar as it is a pure original- the task of the translator is
preci sely to respond to thi s demand for survival which is the
very struct ure of the original text. (Notice Ben jamin does not
say the task of translati on but rat her of the translator. that is.
of a subj ect who finds himlherseU immediately indebted by
the existence of the original, who must submit to its law and
who is dut y-bound to do somet hing for the ori gina L) To do
thi s. says Benjamin. the translator must neither reproduce.
represent. nor copy the original. nor even, esse ntially. care
about communicoling t he meani ng of the or iginal. Translation
has noth ing to do wit h rece ption or communication or ininr-
mation. As Christie McDonald has just poi nted oUI.J he)ra l!!:-
lator must assure the survival. of
the...,g.dginaL.. Translation augments and mod ifies the origina l.
wh ich. insofar as it is living on. never ceases to be tran s-
formed and to grow. .1t modifi es the original even aa. It .alsc
_ l!!!Ldifics.J hc.Jranslating language. This process- transforming
the original as well as the translation-is the translat fcn con-
tract between the origina l and the translating text. In this con-
tract it is a question of neither represe ntation nor reproduction
nor communication; rather. the contract is destined to assure a
survival. not onl y of a corpus or a text or an au thor but of
languages. Benjamin explains that translation reveals in some
way the kinshi p of langueges-,-a kinship that is 110 1 In btl U )Jl-
cel ved in the man ner of histor ical li nguislics or 0 11 t he basis of
hypot heses about language famili es. lind so forth . It is a kin-
_____________ Roundt able on Tr anslation 123
ship of another ord er. as Ben jamin explains several times. One
must not think about the life or the survival of a wor k on the
basi s of what we beli eve to be life in general. nor about the
kinsh ip of the famili es of languages on the basis of what we
believe to be kinship or fami lies in general. On the contrary. it
is on t he basis of languages and rel ati ons among languages
t hat one must begin to underst and what "life" and "kinshi p"
mean. How. then. can translati on assure the growt h- what he
calls "the hallowed growt h"--of languages and the kinsh ip
among languages? By trying to fulfill that impossible contract
to reconstit ute. not the original. but t he larger ensemble that .
precisely. is gat hered toget her here in the metap hor of the
amphora- the "metamphor a." That is. as in any symbolon. as
in any symbolic system. it is a questi on of reconstit uting a
whole on the basis of fragmen ts that became separated at the
moment of the agreement. both of the parties taking a piece of
the symbolon into their keeping. What one must t ry to do is to
reconstitute a symboJon. a symbolic alliance or wedding ring
between languages. but reconstitute it in such a way that the
whole of the symboJon will be greater than the original itself
and. of course. t han the translation itself. However . this
simple growt h of languages. wh ich aims to complete and ex-
tend each language. supposes its own limit: the sacred text.
Thi s impossible possibilit y nevertheless holds out t he prom-
ise of t he reconci liation of tongues. li enee the messianic char-
acter of translati on. The event of a translat ion. the performance
of all translati ons. is not that they succeed. A translation never
succeeds in the pure and absolute sense of the ter m. Rath er. a
tran slation succeeds in promising success . in promising recon-
cili ation. There are translations that don' t even manage to pro-
mise, but a good t ranslati on is one t hat enacts that performat tve
called II promise with the result that through t he translation
c ue sees the coming shape of II possible reconci liation among
languages. It is then that one has the sense or the presentiment
of what language itself is-"die relne Spmche." Pure language.
says Benja min. is not one which has been purified of anything:
rat her. it is what makes a language II language. what makes for
124 Roundtable on Translation
the fact that there is language. A translati on puts us not in
the presence but in the presentiment of what "pure lan-
guage" is, t hat is, the fact that there is language. that len-
guage is language. This is what we learn from a translati on.
rat her than the mean ing contai ned in the translated text.
rather than this or that part icular meaning. We learn that
there is language. that language is of lan guage. and that there
is a pluralit y of languages wh ich have that kinship with eac h
other coming from their being languages. This is what Benja-
min calls pure language. "di e reine Sprcche." the being-lan-
guage of language. The promise of a translati on is that which
announces to us this being-language of language: t here is lan-
guage, and beca use there is something like language. one is
both able and unable to translate.
One more remark, but it is neit her an answer nor a commen-
tary-just a freestyle gloss on Deet h Sentence. It hap pens that
in Death Sentence one of the two women dies. As you know.
the book is divided int o two absolutely or ap parently indepen-
de nt reclts. In each case, the nar rat or (but it is not even certain
that the one who says "I" is the same in bot h parts ) has
fanned a couple-s-a very curious couple-with a woman. Let's
just leave it at that. In the second case . the woma n happens to
be a translator. and he has a relation to her that is cur ious in
man y respects, only one of which I need mention here. She is
a transla tor whose mother tongue is a foreign language---a
Slavic language-that he doesn't know very well. When, from
time to ti me. he wants to say irres ponsible things to her.
things that . as he says, do not put him under any obligation-
when he wants to have fun or say fooli sh things to her that are
not binding on him- he speaks to her in her language, At that
moment he is irr esponsible, because it is t he other's language.
He can say anythi ng at all. since he does nol assume responsi-
bil ity for what he says . (Or , to come back to Rodolphe
Casche's quest ion , let' s say that when I speak French. I am
perhaps washing my hands of everyt hing I say because it isn't
my tongue; if one is not responsible when aile spea ks the
other's tongue, one is let off the hook in advance.) One finds
Roundtable on Translation J25
oneself in the following paradoxical situation. which also
seems to me to be paradigmatic: You can on ly enter into a
contract. a hymen. an esse ntial all iance. if you do so in your
own tongue. You' re only responsi ble. in other words. for what
you say in your own mother tongue. If, however, you say it
only in your own tongue. then you're still not committed,
because you must also say it in the ot her's language. An agree-
ment or obligati on of whatever sort-a promise. a marr iage, a
sacred alliance-<:an only take place, I would say. in transla-
lion , that is. only if it is simultaneously utt ered in both my
longue and the ot her's. If it takes place in only one tongue.
whet her it be mine or the other' s, there is no contract possibl e.
When the narrator speaks to her. a translator. in hor language,
Slavic, he is not res ponsible: he can say anyt hing whatever
and it is not bi nding on him. If he wanted to speak only in his
longue, she would not be bound either, and she would not
acknowledge recei pt. In orde r for the contract or the allia nce
to take place, in order for the "yes. yes" to take place on both
sides. it must occur in two languages at once. Now, one may
think of t hese two languages "at once" as being two nation al
languages, for example French and Slavic. and that' s the easi-
est way to understand it. But it can also be two tongues wit hin
t he sa me language, for example your French and my French,
which are obvious ly not the same. Thus, the agreement. the
contract in general. has to imply the difference of languages
rather than trans parent translatabilit y. a Babeli an sit uation
whi ch is at the sa me time lessened and left intact . If one can
translate purely and simply. t here is no agreement. And if one
can' t translate at all , t here is no agreement eit her. In order for
there to be an agree ment. there has to be a Babeli an sit uation,
so that what I wou ld call the translati on contract- in the tran-
scende ntal sense of this term, let' s say- is the contract itself.
Every contract must be a translati on contract. There is no con-
tract possibl e-no soci al contract possible-wit hout a trans-
lation cont ract, bringing with it the paradox I have just
mentioned, To conti nue, then, in Deat h Sentence the extracr-
dinary sit uation of these two women, who perhaps draw up a
126 Roundtable on Translation
secret contract between the mselves and not only wit h the nar-
rat or. is at wor k in the contract as I have just described it. This
compli cates the situation infinitely. but I thi nk one mus t refer
to it.
The expression "false friends." which you cited. exists in
French as well. but there is another expression in the everv-
day code of translation. In school. as one says. one had 10 be
on one's guard also against "bell es infideJes" (beautiful. faith-
less ones). These belles infideJes are the same as false friends.
t hat is. apparently correct translati ons that in fact lay a trap.
Euge nio Donalo: Specular Translation
I am somewhat at a loss following my colleagues Rodolphe
Gasche and Chr istie McDona ld, who have already covered the
grou nd of the several remarks I wa nted to propose to you . Thus.
I will be extremely brief. In fact. I am not going 10 ask a ques-
tion, but rather will simply propose severa l signposts for a pos-
sible iti nerary by mea ns of certain quotations from Derrida.
Have we not in a certain way always t hought-and for tho
reason that Jacques Derrida just gave in res ponse to Christie
McDonal d-that a perfect Iranslat ion. if possible. has its only
poss ibility in t he philosophic text where the text is effaced 01
its own accord, and that t he philosopher, in t he Hegeli an
sense , is the hori zon of the li terary text? The very const it ution
of meaning in the text wou ld imply t hat there is a hori zon of
poss ible translation wit h a subject. In fact , I beli eve one
should also put in questi on the translator- subj ect. We always
postulate an ideal subject who will one day perhaps master
the two languages and make them communicate with each
other in an identity that would efface the path of the sign (or
t he path of the trans lation as the path of the sign). Hence. the
whole problematic of the ground covered by translutton lif it
is isomorphic wit h the path of t he sign) should fall within the
critique Derrida has done of the sign in the relatio n of philoso-
phy to literat ure and of thai remainder which must always
remain and inhabit every text.
_____________ Roundtab le on Translation 127
From this. then. I post ulat e, on t he one hand. that the neces-
sity of poss ible translati on is the necessity and the impossibil -
Itv at the same time of the autotrans lation of each text by itself;
and. on the other hand, that translation is only the possibility of
translati on, only the possibilit y or impossibility of every text's
self-speculation by itself. It will not surprise us tha t Hegel. for
exam ple, says in The Aestheucs that poetry is defined by bei ng
always translat able. It' s not sur prisi ng, after Derri da's ana lyses
of Hegel. that it woul d be Hegel who said t hat. If ph ilosophy is
translatable, poetry is all the more so, because poetry. as he
defines it. is subordinated to philosophic meaning. 10 a "Be-
deut ung" already comprehending itself.
The second stage I wanted to propose was once again on the
subject of Heidcgger. I want to come bad: to a lext of Heideg-
ger' s in order at least to suggest that . in Heideggcr. the Hegelian
gesture remai ns all the same, perhaps in spit e of everything.
inscribed in this problem of translation. Unfortunately, I don 't
have the text here, but I was thi nking of that first paragraph in
"Ocr Spruch des Anaximander" ("The Anaximander Frag-
ment"], wher e Heidegger says more or less t hat, in order to
speak this origina l speec h. the origi nal speech which speaks
the origin. we mus t do an "Dbersetzung," a translati on, et cet-
era. It is interesting to note here that the word "Dbersetaung"
has a double etymology in German and thu s a somewhat
stronger semantic fi eld, since one of the senses of "Uberset-
zung" (trans lation. metaphor, transfer ) is to leap over an abyss .
Thus it poses both the abyss dividing things in two and at the
same time the possibili ty of leaping over the abyss. The text
continues and in the same paragraph. beginning with thi s pos-
sible translati on, the opposition appears betwee n language and
thought. Thi s opposition, which is perhaps still an echo of a
Hegelian problemat ic, is always there to t he extent to which he
says, "Dlchten Ist denken" ]"! make poet ry is 10 t hink "]. If one
verifies the etymology of the word "dlcht en" in Ding's dict io-
nary (wh ich is justi fi ed insofar es Heldeggcr ventures into
etymological considerations), O IlC realizes thai "dtchte n" also
means "t o th ink," and t hus one remains within the circle of the
128 Roundtable on Translation
opposition betwee n "d ichten " and "d enken," while at the
same time it comes down to the proposition "denken is!
denken." Beginning wi th the problem of translati on, Heidegger
poses a necessary and irreconci lable doubleness , but at the
same ti me he maintains an ambiguity in the terms that create
the opposition engendering this doubleness.
Returning to the thought of Jacques Derrida, one becomes
aware that the problem has been radi calized. In "Borderlines,"
we read;
"One never writes either in one's own language or in a foreign lan-
guage.... Dbersetaung and "translation" overcome, equivocally, in
the course of an equivocal combat, the loss of an object. A text lives
only if it lives on, and it lives on only if it is at once translatable and
unt ranslatable {always "at once ... and . . .': hama , at the same time}.
Totall y translatabl e, it disapp ears as a text, as writi ng, as a body of
language. Tot all y unt ranslatable, even within what is believed to be
one language, it dies immediately. Thus triumphant translation is
neithe r the life nor the death of the text, only or already its living on,
ils life after life, its life after death. The same thing will be said of
what I call writin g, mar k, trace, and so on. It neither lives nor dies; it
lives on. And it "starts" only with living on (testament , ilerabilit y,
remaining [restcnce], crypt, detachment that lifts the strictures of the
"living" rect io or direct ion of an "author" not drowned at the edge of
his text).
I would thus propose quite simply that ther e is perhaps work
to be done here if it is true that the concept of translation,
such as it has been thought of in a certain philosophic tradi-
tion , is still marked by the concept of speculation. In fact , one
can understand Derrlde's mistrust with regard to certain con-
cepts such as the mi se en ubtme" (in "Freud' s Legacy," you
say that you mistrust the mise en abfme), since it remains
within the specu lative movement. Tr anslati on can be thought
of as a speculati ve mi se en cbtme of each text. Conversely, it
wou ld be necessary to t hink about translation's topology in
"See above, p.6 2.
Roundtable an Translation 129
the complete ly different ter ms that Derr ida proposes to us,
that is, the possibili ty of inva gination, in which nothing
would remain but edges or borders.
If I may, I will concl ude with a piece of whimsy. I am going
to try to tran slate the problem of tran slation in function of the
probl ematic of the dead father. the living mother, and so on. If
the problem of tran slati on is linked to the probl em of the
maternal tongue, thus to the li vi ng language, wou ldn 't the
dead father in this tabl eau occupy t he place of constit uted
mean ing, wh ich would only be consti tuted by the loss of the
object . the murder of the object in that typicall y Hegelian ges-
ture? If so, then, trans lati ng invagina lion in function of the
problematic of the li ving mother and t he dead father, I wonder
whether the following formu lation would not be possib le: The
tear in the mother 's living body must always give bir th to and
must always abort the memory of the fat her who is always
Jacques Derrida: Reply
You'll have to give me time to take in that last formulat ion. I
will simply converse with the motif of the Hegel-Hetdegger
di alogue. I too am aware of the possibi lit y of a Hegelian repctl-
tion in Heldegger's discourse, but, paradoxicall y, instead of
seeing it from the angle of ph ilosophical translatabilit y-or
rather. instead of pulling Heidegger in the dir ection of Hegel-
per haps inversely one could pu ll Hegel in the direct ion of
Hei degger . That is, one could remark certain utterances in
Hegel concerning precisely t he possibility of speculation, of
speculati ve language and a certain nu mber of words in the
German language which Hegel says arc naturall y speculative
and , in a certain way, untranslatable. (There's a whole list of
words that Hegel used in decisive passages and about which
he remarks tha t they belong to the good fortune of the German
tongue, which is, in these particular words, naturall y "specu-
lati ve.") Thus, when Hegel says "Aufhebung'' or "UrteH" or
"Beispiel," he is clearly marking a certain unt ranslatability of
130 Roundtable on Translation
these wor ds. The word "oufheben' means at once to conserve
and to suppress. and thi s double signification cannot be trans-
lat ed by a single word into other languages. One can interpret.
one can find analogues . but one cannot translate purely and
simply. At the poi nt where the word "Aufhebung" is pro-
duced in the German tongue. there is something untranslat-
able. and far from bei ng a limit on s peculation . it is the chance
for speculation. Thus. when lI egel writ es " Aujhebung." when
he makes use of "Aufhebung" as a word in a natura l language
wh ich is supposed to be nat urall y speculative . at that moment
one is dealing wit h something that goes toward Heidegger
rat her than Hcidegger moving toward Hegel.
On the subject of "Dlch ten -Denken." Heidegger of course
associates them. as you have said. But there are also texts
where he says very precisely that. whil e "Dicht en-Denken "
go together and fonn a pair. they are parallels that never meet.
They run para llel one beside the other . They are really other
and can never be confused or translated one into the other.
Yet. as para llel paths. "dtchten " and "denken' neverth eless
have a rel at ion to each other whi ch is suc h that at places they
cut across each othe r. They are parallels that intersect . as para
doxica l as that may seem. By cutt ing across each other. they
leave a mark. they cut out a notch. And this language of the
cut or break is marked in the text of Hei degger' s I'm thinking
of: Unterwegs zur Sprcche (The \Vay to Lcnguoge]. They do
not wound each other. but each cuts across the other. each
leaves its mark in the other even though they are absolutely
other. one beside the other. para llel. There is also. therefore. a
trend in lIeidegger emphasizing the irreduci bility of "Dich-
ten-Denken" and thus thei r nonpermut ebillty.
Forgive these remarks. If I may say so. your remarks did not
call for an answer, I can only add thai I will try to let your
final sentence resonate .
Frunccis Peraldi : False Sense
Three remarks occurred to me as I was reading your intro-
duction to Nicolas Abraham' s "The Shell and the Kernel." I
Roundtable on Transla tion 131
want to share them with you without knowing whet her they
wi ll constitute a question in the proper sense or not. In effect,
they tend perhaps to constitute a kind of int errogati ve suppo-
sition and to remain on thi s side of a questi on.
First remark: In a nice litt le text that has already been men-
tioned here. Jakobson defines the three aspects of translat ion:
intralin gual translation . int erlingualtranslation (or trans lation
prope rly spea king). and tntersemiottc translat ion. I ca n't help
thinking that psychoanal ytic translation wor ks like a kind of
intralingual translation whose function would be the empty.
ing out of meaning. Thus. in the passage from. or the transla-
tion of. pleasure into " pleasure " into Pleasu re. whi ch you
point out in your text. the same word. pleasure. returns and
"is translat ed into a code where it has no more mean ing:' the
signifier remai ning un changed except for the capital letter
(which is not insigni ficant). I was reminded here of the role of
the capital letter in Charles Sanders Pei rce.
Second remark: In another text where he shows how the
phonetic sys tem becomes constituted for the child according
to a rigorous and quas i-universal order of impli cation [lebtals,
den tals . posteri or occlusives. fricatives. and-the emblem of
virile speec h-the apical r], Iakobson demonstrates-if that' s
the word-the validity of his litt le edifice by remar king that in
certa in cases of aphas ia. the destruction of the phonic edifice
follows the inverse order of its acquisition. That is. it follows a
kind of reversal of the original order of implication that ends
up at an ultimat e and last word. the last that the aphasic can
utt er . a kind of "rnmma-mmma, ma-rna." before sinking into
the gurgling silence of complete aphasia.
Third remark: Reading your introduction. therefore. I fol-
lowed with interest the order of het erogeneous conversions of
the same word in the same language that arrives finally at the
psychoanalyti c translation. This translation itself ends up at a
discourse that "using the same words (those belonging to ordi-
nar y language and those. bracketed by inverted commas. be-
longtng to phenomenology) quotes them once more in order to
say something else. something else than sense." As I read. it
occurred to me that there existed in the psychoanalytic world a
132 Roundtable on Translation
process that is just the reverse of this one. That is. just as apha-
sia manifests itself by a kind of dissolution of the phonic ap-
paratus. a destructuring reversal of the order of implication
prevailing in the acquisition of phonemes. one could say that
there exists a kind of aphasia or ideological destruction of psy-
choanalytic discourse. This destruction . which proceeds under
the auspi ces of what Lacan has named the SAMCDA (Mutual Aid
Society Against Analytic Discour se). follows a reversal of the
order of those conversions that . start ing out from ordinary dis-
course. end up at psychoanalytic discourse. passing by way of
phenomenology. Thi s reversal is a kind of turning inside out of
that translating oper ation which ends up at the anasemic or
antisemantic terms of psychoanalytic discourse. Basicall y what
you have then is a rephenomenalization of the di scour se. a
resemanti ci zation and a reconstruction of what the psychoane-
lytic translation had-perhaps-deconstructed.
I would like to give an example of thi s process and. of course.
it comes from a text by the famous "New York Trio": Heinz
Hartman . Ernst Krts. and Rudolph Loewenstein. The trio. for
reasons it would surely be fasci nating to study. has found itself
taking on the role of the collective agent (or agents) of thi s
resemanti ci zing operation of the Freudian di scour se at the
heart of the Nort h American psychoanalytic establishment.
In an article wr itten in 1949 and entitled "The Theory of
Aggression." the three authors confide that they don't know
what to do with the Freudian theory of the death instinct.
which- in other words- makes no sense in their reading of
Freudian metapsychology. In effect. they say (and they are
going to be playing on the register of interlingual translati on
in a man ner that is at the very least equivocal), the instincts.
which they di stinguish from drives. are an object for biology.
whereas drives and only drives constitute psychoanalyti c no-
ttons. They oppos e aggressive dr ives to the deeth inst inct
wh ich. beca use it is an instinct. they leave to biology and to
Freud's biologizing spec ulations.
There is a surprisi ng translation mistake here. a false sense.
to be precise. In Beyond the Pleasure Pri nci ple. where he in-
Roundtable on Translation 133
troduces the questi on of death in a new form. Freud does not
talk about a death instinct (whi ch in German would be Todes
Insttnkt). but of Tode Trtebe. which. strictly spea king, could
only be translat ed as "death drives" in English. Thu s. by keep-
ing only the external manifestations (the aggressive drives ) of
this anasemic concept par excellence. our three aut hors have.
one may say. rephenomenalized. rescmantlctzed the psycho-
analytic di scourse at the very point where Freud was leading
them towa rd one of those anasemic terms that arc essential to
the constitution of th is psychoanalyti c discourse. Thi s diver-
gence in the translati on. this false sense. is all the more inter-
esting in that. several pages later. the authors are careful to
emphasize the difference bet ween drives. which is the transla-
tion of the German Triebe. and Insunct. wh ich translates the
German Instinkt.
The destiny of psychoanalytic discourse is being played out
in thi s sleight of hand . thi s complex playing of translation
effects and of meaning attr ibuted to the translating oper ation.
The survival of that di scourse de pend s on what meaning wi ll
be assigned to the trans lation confli cts traversing it . But in
what di rection or what sense?
Jacques Derrida: Reply
Here. once again. I can acknowledge receipt but I have no
response. So I'll begin by the freest associat ion on the subject
of what you said about an eventual deconstit ution or a regres-
sion of psychoanalytic discourse toward a kind of aphasia,
according to the well-known motif of regression: pathology as
regress ion that reverses the orde r of acqui sition and ends up at
the mere proterrtng of "mama." the word that in some way
would be at once the first to be acquired and the last in the
regress ion. In the Joyce text I made allusion to here ear lier.
there is a long sequence of two very rich pages where. at the
end of the terrib le story of Babel. the last word is something
like "mummummum . .." (I can't vouch for the spelling, but
it' s something like that) . It means mama. mutism. the murmur
134 Roundt able on Trans/orion
that will not come out. the minimum of voca llzatlon. And .
obvious ly. it confronts the oth er counterpart in the patern al
war. One has both the structur ing of language. beginning with
the father's name. and t hen the final . ap has ic regression or the
first word "mummum . . . " This is a free association on Finne-
guns Wake. It may be t hat the worldwide psychoanal ytic (J5-
tablt sbment is on its way toward "mummum . . .' .
Anot her association. which is a bit more than an association.
conce rns what you said about psychoanalytic translation as an
intralingual phenomenon in the Iakobsont an sense. Yes. it' s
very tempting to say. for exa mple. in the context in which
Nicolas Abraham talks about anesemla (that is. in the context of
metapsychology or the discourse of analyt ic theorization}. that
t he word Pleasure or Unconsci ous is an Intr allngua l trans lati on
of these words as t hey arc commonly used. One translates plea-
sure int o a homon ym. Pleasure. but the homonym is already a
translati on of the homonym and a translating int erpretation.
Things no longer work quite so simply. however. wh en one
reca lls thai the hypothesis of anase mia cl aims to return to thts
side of meani ng. In an intra lingual interpretat ion or t ranslatio n.
on tho other hand. the two words or two equivalent s have
meaning; one explains. analyzes. or clarifies the other. hut bv
going from meaning to moani ng. It is thus a semantic operation.
an operation of semantic transformati on or equivalence. In ana-
semi a. however. the ca pitali zed word is in some way without
mea ning. It is before meaning. if that is possibl e and if Abraham
is correct . The anasemic word has no meani ng and does not
belong to the se mant ic order; it is asemanlic or prcsemanttc. II
is not rea lly par i of lan guage in t he sense in which the words of
an intralingual transformati on are all equally part of language.
Moreover . accordi ng to Abraham. there is in anasemla. in ana-
lyti c translati on. and in the ana lytic usc of language a kind of
shift or departure from the eve ryda y ord er of language whic h
cons tant ly disloca tes the normal order of language. B}' mea ns of
the same wor ds . the anascmtc shift would say. not somet hi ng
utt erl y different . but rat her that condi t ion on whi ch the ever y-
day words of language acquire mean ing. It would btl a very
Roundtoble on TransloUon 135
irregul ar type of translation. since it would be an interpretati on
going back to the condit ions of possibilit y. not of such-and-
such a meaning. but of meaning in general. This anasemic reas-
cent must he Involved in order for the re to he meaning. Going
back toward what is preoriginary-not in the phenomenologi-
cal sens e of going back to the origina l mea ni ng of a word. a
concept. et ce tera . but in thi s case toward the preoriginary- in
thi s sense. it would be the fundament al translati on begi nni ng
with which meaning in genera l could be produced . However. it
would he intralingual in appearance only. that is. only accord-
ing 10 the homonymic disgui se.
Eugene Vance: Trans lation in the Past Perf ect
Duri ng yesterday' s di scussion. Jacques Derrida spoke sev-
eral limes of hermeneuti cs in the "class ical" or "tradit ional"
sense of the term. 10 usc his words. J have the impression that
Derr ida meant by that a hermeneutic tradition goi ng back only
to a relatively rece nt period. the one that saw the inaugura-
tion. in [Friedrich) Schleiermacher and [w llhelml Dtlthcy. of
a grundoi sc project of un derstandi ng Understa nding itself.
vcrstehcn in all its majesty.
In Dllth ey. Versl eh en is the systematic return eit her to a
kernel of ori ginal meaning occulted by the effects of li me. or
to a subli me meaning that ca n he expressed on ly wi th diffi-
cult y in "literal" terms. The privileged instrument of thi s her-
meneutic is the science of philology.
Dilt hey's reflections are sit uat ed at the davvning of t he mod-
ern university. a roma ntic insti t ution whose "recuperative"
mandate remains more or less unchan ged with two excep-
tions: The movements of regression have now become un-
thi nking habit s sus tained by a vague feeling of nostal gia. and
the quest for "origins" has come to be rep laced by the quesl
for inert ki nds of erudition. Phil ology. except in Germany and
Ital y. has lost its former speculative di mension.
To thi s degraded hermeneu tic. Dcrr tda wants to oppose a
keen sense of hea ring-that of the "li ll ie ear"--opcni ng ont o a
136 Roundtable on Tra nslation
new, affirmati ve productivity. He has made it d ear to us t hat
th is is what he meant to say when in the past he used the term
" deconstructi on: ' a term he now seems to have more or less
Everyone knows that the term " hermeneutic" has had diff er-
ent connotati ons throughout its long hi story, As lean Pepin
has pointed out ('"L'Hermeneutique ancienne," Poeuque 231,
in Greek thought the term hermeneio signified not so much
the ret urn, by way of exeges is. to a kernel of hidden meaning
within a she ll , but more the act of extro vers ion by the voice.
the natural instrument of the so ul. It is a n ac ttvc and pro-
pheti c producti vit y which is not connoted by the Latin term
lnterpretnuo. For the Gree ks. the poetic performa nce of rhap-
sodes was a " hermeneutic" pe rformance .
Likewise, Sa int Paul wi ll say to the Christia ns thai it is not
enough for th e faithful who ar e possessed by God ' s truth to
"s pea k in tongues: ' This truth must be uttered in a hermeneu-
ti c act (d ierme neue in l that will make it compre he ns ible even
to the uninitiated,
I a m insisting on th es e semantic nuances in order to unde r-
score my co nvicti on that. when we try to delimit the motif of
"tran slation: ' we are dealing with a term that has become
greatl y impoverished today, Among the remed ies we have at
our d isposal is that of reinstating a semantic hor izo n which
was much more vas t at other moments of West ern cult ure, I' m
all for trying to ex te nd as far as possib le the modern con ce pt
of translat ion. However. our language is but t he wake of a long
hi story, And if we do not take thi s hi stor y int o account, then
the deba te among "modern th inker s" may become sti fling,
Accordi ng to Gtanfranco Folena. the French word tmduc-
lion as we ll as the Italian troduzi one arc neo logisms of civ ic
humansi m at th e beginning of the fourteen th centur y, * This
term d isp laced the terms Int erpret nuo a nd truns/olio prevalent
." IJ ' t rad urre' " in La Iro<l uziOill': SU,lIJ( i t' studi. I' (\. centro
per 10 studio dellInsegnumentc all' dellItallann. lJniv"l'liitil shuli
ti ll T r illsl lJ [Trieste: Lint. 1973). PI). S9 - 120.- T r.
Roundtable on Tra nslaUon J 37
during the period. It see ms to me that thi s new term retncor-
poratcd the noti on of an act ive productivity that had bee n left
behind when the Greek wo rd hermenem was t ranslat ed by
in! erprefolio a nd then lat er neglect ed by scholast lctsm-cex-
ccpt perhaps in the "art s of pr eaching" from the end of t he
Middle Ages .
This humanist neo logi sm. moreover, was the sign of pro-
found ideological revisi ons. Th e old post-Ro man and medi eval
notion of hi story as a tragic process of th e " translati on of
empires" was replaced by a much more affirmati ve notion of
temporality. Thus. th e transl at or who brings to hi s vernacular
lan guage treasures from the past -wheth er it be a Bibl e or an
encycl oped ia- now offers hi s fellow ci tizens n;-
sources adeq ua te to initiate pos iti ve actio n in a dynamic urn-
verse. The transl at or promulgat es a politica l becoming, even a
mat erial prosperity, which is th e natural goal of the polis. If
meaning is supposed to enrich man's mind by ci rcu lati ng freel y
and abundantly in t he langua ge of present. lived ex pe rie nce,
likewise gold and othe r mat erial goods are supposed to circu-
lat e-thanks to co mme rce and lmnsportolion- just as blood
has to ci rculate in th e body (a frequ ent metaphor in the seven-
tee nth century), Isn 't the coloniza tion of the New World basi-
call y a form of trans lati on?
On the level of human psychology, th is process of transla-
tion had to take subt ler but no less important for ms . Th an ks to
the energe ia of speech (a word' s ca pac ity to make the image of
a th ing present to the mind ), language can act on ma n's will
an d ind uce him to act. Energelc ca n also incite ma n to trans-
late anger (iro ) into a libidinal form (concupiscen tio}. Thi s
positive appet ite transport s ma n toward woma n in hymene.
allowing for a transl at ion of semen, thanks to whi ch the for ms
of life succeed each other. Thanat os becomes Eros. Thro ugh
libid inal translati on, nat ure ma nifests itself. over t ime , in its
totality .
To refuse translation is to refuse life,
Duri ng t he Renaissance. tran slators acqui red t hei r own Hod.
li e was call ed Prot e us, Proteus was t he son of Oceanu s and
J 38 Roundtabl e on Transla tion
Neptune. and from the latter he received the gift of prophecy
because he kept close watch over the monsters of the sea.
Proteus is the very principle of mutabilit y and transformati on ,
two powers that arc also the glory of man. Through transla-
tion, one lived experience is tran slated into another, Proteus
contains Pan. the god of nature, whi ch means that the totalit y
of nat ure \ \-,i11 not be expressed otherwise than in di versit y.
Yet. Ihis translati on of nature into itself. however violent it
may be. is not a redundancy or a simple repe tit ion. It is a
becoming, giving rise to the futu re: it is the princi ple of abun-
dance and not of redundancy. In the ci ty. this abundance is
su pposed to begin in the princes' di scourses. thereby making
poss ible many other kinds of abundance. Thus. the term copia
("abunda nce") rep laced a more peiorat ive termc-cmphfi-
ccttoc-ln the rhetori cal theory of Erasmus. author of a rhetori -
cal manual whose title begi ns with the words "De copia . . ."
COpiD is that figural capaci ty of discourse which allows man
to express the di versit y of his nature. as well as that of sur-
round ing nature. and even to inaugurat e mutati ons in its be-
ing. Without cc plc. there is only repetition. Erasmus says that
repetition without di versity can be avoided if we acquire the
capaci ty to translate a t hought (sent entia) int o new forms
more numerous than tho se ass umed by Proteus himself.
Jacques Derrida said a moment ago tha t the ph ilosophical
operation is a process of translation. During the Renaissance.
poets considered themsel ves also to be "translators," not only
of a poetic legacy from past anti quit y. hut translators whose
poeti c performance was propheti c in the sense tha t it tnaugu-
rat ed a fut ure. 11 seems to me that the philo sopher Jacques
Derrida aspires to something similar. If, however, during t he
Renaissance, rhet oric and poetry were considered to be the
pr ivileged instrumen ts of human speculation. it was al 11m
expense of philosop hy. If Socrates is a good philosopher . it is
because first of all he is el oquent : that is. the art of rhetoric
makes Socrates' philosop hical discourse effect ive. For a long
li me now in Derrlda's wr itings, t here has boon a fascinati on
wit h t he poetic in the broadest sense. In "Plato's Pharmacy,"
Raundl abl p- on Transla tion J 39
poeti c di scourse is formally marked, and we cannot avoid be-
ing struc k by its intrusion int o phil osophical discourse. If Gins
can be considered a rep resent ati ve wor k. thi s trail is becoming
more and more pronounced in Derrlda's wr itings.
All of whi ch leads me finally to my question: If poets. like
philosophers. t hink they arc the best translalors, I would li ke
to ask whether Jacques Dcrrtda the poet is the master or the
traitor of Jacques Dernda the philosopher!
What gives the philosophic message its specificity?
Jacques Derrid a: Reply
Before gell ing to your final questions, I want to say that I
subscribe en tire ly to the necessity you have signa led of reread-
ing the history of the words "t ranslation: ' "hermenetc." and
so forth. Thus , I can only subscr ibe to what cons titutes t he
totali ty of your present ati on up to t he end, t hank you. and tell
you I am in comp lete agreement. With respect 10 your final
ques tions. t here may nevertheless be some misunderstanding.
As to whet I was saying abo ut Ihe relation between philoso-
phy and translati on, I did not- -
Eugene Vance
I meant to say, between phil osophy and poetry as translat-
ing performances.
Jacques Derri da
Yes, but I did not say that philosophy was a translati ng
perfor mance. I said that the philo sop hic project was the pro-
ject of a certain typo of translation- translatio n interpreted in
a certain manner. Tha t' s what I meant 10 say in "Plato's Phar-
maey" and what I reiterated just a moment ago. That is, the
philosophica l act does not consisl in a translati ng perfor-
mance in that transformat ivo or producti ve sense to whic h
you have just referred. Rather, I was point ing 10 the idea of the
'40 Roundloble on Trans la tion
fixation of a certain concept of translat ion : the idea that trans-
lation as the transport ati on of a meaning or of a trut h from one
language to anot her had to be possible. that untvocalt ty is
possib le. and so on-the whole class tcal topos. you see. When
I said that philosophy was the thesis of translat abilit y. I meant
it not in the sense of translation as an active. poet ic, produc-
tive. transforrnat ive "hermenem." but rather in the sense of
the tran sport of a uni vocal meani ng. or in any case of a con-
trollable plurtvoca llty. into anot her linguistic element. In t his
regard. I was not at all passing myself off as a phil osopher. It
was. rather. an analysis. One could have done a critique of the
philoso phical clai m to wh ich I referred rather than praising
anythi ng whatsoever about the philosopher quo translator.
This is where there has perhaps been a misunderstand ing.
Likewise. I wouldn't say that I am not at all a philosopher. but
the utte rances I pro liferate arou nd this problem are put for-
ward from a position ot her t han that of philosophy. This othe r '
pos ition is not necessaril y t hat of poetry eit her . but in any
case it is not the position of philosophy . I ask questions of
philosophy. and naturally this supposes a cer tai n identi fica-
tion. a certain translat ion of myse lf int o the body of a philoso-
pher . Out I don't feci t hat t hat's where I' m situa ted.
Euge ne Vance
Allow me to rephrase my questi on. What is the place of a
manifest ly poeti c performance in a text such as Glos or
"Plato's Pharmacy"? Do you consider poet ry to he subordi-
nated fi nally to phil osophical di scourse, as Paul Rlcoeur. for
example. would cla im?
lacques Uerrida : lleply
Yes, well, here I wou ld say: Neither one nor t he ot her. And I
don' , say t hat to evade your quest ion easil y. l think t hat it text
li ke GIns is neither philosophic nor poetic. It circulat es be-
tween these two genres, trying mean while to produce anot her
Roundlable on Tra nslation '4'
text which wou ld be of another genre or without gen re. On the
other hand. if one insists on defining genres at all costs, one
could refer histor icall y to Meni ppean satire. to "anatomy" (as
in The Anolomy of Melancholy). or to somet hing like philo-
sophic parod y where all genres-poetry. philosophy, theat er,
et cetera-are summoned up at once. Thus, if there is a genre,
if it is abso lutely necessary for there to be a genre within
which to place the likes of Glcs . then I t hin k it is something
like farce or Menippean satire . that is, a graft of several genres.
I hope irs also something else that doesn 't simply fall under
eit her ph ilosophy or what is called the poetic as both of these
are class ically understood. To do thi s. of course. I had to int e-
grate into thi s corpus lots of limbs and pieces taken from the
philosophical discourse. There is a whole book on Hegel: it' s
full of philosophy and literature. Mallarme and Genet. Yet I
myse lf do not read the genre of thi s body as either philosophic
or poetic. This means that if your questions were addressed to
the philosopher. I would have to sa}' no. As for me. I talk
about the ph ilosopher , but I am not simp ly a philosopher. I
say this even though. from an instit ut ional point of view, I
practice the trade of phil osophy professor (under certain con-
di tions which would have to be closely analyzed) and even
though I believe t hat in a given histori cal. politi cal situation of
the university, it is necessary to fight so that somethi ng like
philosophy remains possible. It is in thi s strategic context that
on occas ion I have spoken of ph ilosophy' s usefulness in trans-
lating or deci phering a certain number of things. such as what
goes on in t he media. and so on. .
I will add just one mor e thing. It' s a min or point in compari-
son with the essential part of your presenta tion to whic h, as I
said, I totally subscribe and whose necessit y I believe in. Your
remark about "repudiati ng" deconst ructi on is a somewhat
bruta l translat ion of what I said yesterday. I said. with out
really insisting on it. that that word had been some what am-
plified beyond the point that I might perhaps have wished. In
spite of that. I have not repudiated it. Moreover, I never repu-
diate anything, through eit her strength or weakness. I don' t
142 Roundl oblc on Tro nd ation
know wh ich : hut . whet her irs my luck or my naivete, I don 't
think I h<\\'I1 ever repudiated any thing. What I meant to say
yesterday on the subject of deconstructi on is that the fortune.
let' s say. of the word has surprised me. If I had been left all to
myself. if 1 had been left alone with that word, I would not
have given it as much import ance. But fina lly. rightly or
wrongly. I sti ll bel ieve in what was bound up with this
word-c-l am not agains t it.
Cla ude Levesque: The Exile in Language
It is diffi cult for me to let pass in silence and avoid under-
scoring a fact that in itself may be ins ignificant: I am, today as
yes terday. t he on ly Quebecois who is participating in this
roundtable discussion on trans lation. [Isn't Quebec a pr ivi-
leged place wh ere an interminab le case of translati on is being
tr ied and played out, a process of one-way mean ing which. for
t hat very reason, is a case of do mination and appropriation?
This. at least. is not insign ifica nt.) I am also one of the on ly
ones here (along wi th Francois Peraldi and perhaps Jacques
Derrid a as we ll- I don' t kno w) whose maternal tongue is
French. Yet . as we belong to such different mili eux. is it reall y
a questi on of the same language for each of us? Is there such a
thing as the identit y of a language? Docs French usage some-
where conform to the pu rity of an essence or an ideal? What
can be said of the life and death of a language in language?
By underscoring thi s fact , this posit ion of solit ude-which.
by the way. I put up with rather well -my solit ude at t hi s
table but more broa dly a solit ude at the heart of the mass ivel y
anglophone North Amer ican milieu, I am not trying to claim a
privil ege (solitude is ne ither a privil ege nor a catastrophe).
Nor am I t rying to attract an easy, far too easy. sympat hy or
pit y for our fntc as Quebecois. for people who speak a lan-
guage that has been hu mili ated . contaminat ed, dominated .
and colonized, (wen tho ugh rece nt ly, perhap s foreve r. it has
been per emp toril y affirmed in it s difference, its singularity,
and its sovereignty. Rather, I simp ly want to ask a question
Houndl able on Tra ns/alion 143
that takes int o account a positi on that is perhaps unique, per-
hap s universal. and perhaps also at once the one and the
Several Quebecois poet s. as well as noveli sts and essayists,
have tirelessl y and tragically sta ted their dista nce (rom the
materna l tongue. their nomadi sm and their di scomfort in the
lan guage. Some have gone so far as to deny the very prese nce
of a maternal tongue. as if the Quebec oi s writer (as well as
the Quebecois peopl e themselves) spoke-spoke to them-
selves-only from a posi tion of exile in a foreign language
t hat is irreducibl y other and impossi ble to appropriate. as if
they spoke only out of the ap proximati on. incompleteness.
inj ustice. and empti ness of a translation language. Thus, like
anyo ne wh ose language has been expropriated . the Quebecois
conti nues to cher ish a nostalgia for a language that is hi s. a
properly Quebecois language. a maternal tongue that will re-
fash ion an identit y for him and reappropriate him to himself.
It is a dream of fusion wit h the mothe r. with a tongue t hat is
like a mother. that is, nearest at hand. nourishing. and reas-
suri ng. It is a dream to be at last joined in body wi th the
mother language. to recogni ze himself in her who would re-
cognize him. with the transparency. spontaneity. and truth of
origins. without any risk. contami nation. or dominati on.
This. the n, is my questi on: What ca n one say of thi s cur ious
relati on to the maternal tongue wh ere the lall er never appears
except as a translation language. one that is constant ly being
deported from a so-ca lled ori ginal language that is itself. more-
over, inaccessible and impossibl e to sit uate? Is t his relat ion to
language-let' s call it "schizoid"- t hc norma lly abnormal re-
lation to any language? Can language get us dear of any dis-
tancc and any forei gnness? I know that , for you, in order for
any language to be a language. it can only be-cstr uct urally-c-a
place of exile . a medium where ubscnce. death, and repet ition
rule wit hout exception. A language can only consti tute itself
as such by vir tue of an original catast rophe. a violent separa-
tion from nature. a morta l and infinit e fall putt ing us forever
and since forever at a distance from the mother-any
144 Roundtable on Translation
moth er-destining us to the strangeness of that which has no
homeland, no assignable li mit s, no origin , and no end.
If thi s is the way it is , one ca n s pea k the matern al tong ue only
as anot her's language. As you have written in "Living On": "A
tongue can never be appropriated: it is only ever as the other's
tongue t hat it is mine. and reciprocally." The matern al tongue
could therefore only be the langua ge of the bad moth er (but
there woul d be no good one) . that is, of the mot her wh o has
always already weaned her child. who keeps her d istance, far
off (fort) , and whom one woul d vain ly an d repeated ly try to
make come back (do) . The figure of the mother cou ld only be
d isfigured, fragmented. and d ismantled in language, fi guri ng
only that wh ich is not or that which is baseless and facel ess.
Language would be always already aba ndoned to its own de-
vices , bas tardized. bet rayed, contaminated, and foreign. The
purity of language (of any language and thus also of the so-
ca lled Quebecois language) receives here a mortal blow. The
cris is arises. Mall arme said. from the fact that "on a louche ou
vers... Here. let us say . language has been tamper ed with. and
as a result its whol e system has been shaken. in particu lar the
ill usion . as far as language is concerned. of appro priation.
speculertza t ton, mastery. an d identification .
For the Quebecoi s writ er , this estrangement in relatio n to
language. this lack of mot her ton gue in a tongue that neverthe-
less lacks for nothing. is a torment, to be sure. and an unt enabl e
contradiction. It can lead to silence. paralys is, and eve n mad-
ness. Yet . it mu st be said. this expropriat ion and expatriat ion
arc also perhaps a chance: the possibili ty (and impossibilit y) of
reinventi ng language as if from the beginnin g. We should not
Iorget that the curre nt of ever yday language hu rries by and goes
beyond. To be sure. it holl ows out its riverbed. but it also over-
flows it constan tly. No shore. no limit can hold back its break-
ing waves. It is a questi on, the n. of wi dening language, of cast-
ing it off and sending it back out to the wide open sea. of
' ''P(lll lry has been tampered wilh," but also it has bl!t!ll "to uched upon. "
"reached." "o\l oi ned."- Tr.
Roundtable on Translation 145
releasing its safety catches so it can ventu re forth beyon d its
limits int o absolute danger , in the di recti on of the fascinating
unknown which is forever out of reac h. Doesn't the writer be-
gin writing at t he moment words escape him, when familiar
words become once again unknown? Doesn 't he write in order
to tran slate silence-wit ho ut breaking it- int o writin g, in ord er
to bring to ordinary lan guage the d ignity of a translat ed lan-
guage (tha t language we lack wh ich al ways appears more melo-
dious. more sonorous. more concrete, richer in its images than
ou r own. and therefore sacred. so to speak)? Whoever reinvents
t he tongue. the maternal tongue , doesn' t he break with both the
mat eriali sm of language and the pat ern al law t hat kept him at a
distance from it? This is a questi on I urn asking you-e-el you.
with you . and almost in you r own ter ms. What is to be said of
the situatio n of the (Quebecois) wr iter in his/her language?
Jacques Derrida: Reply
I agree that it is time for us to take our bearings from the
lingui sti c place in which we find ourselves . this strange lin-
guistic pla ce that is Quebec wher e, after all, the probl em of
trans latio n is posed in forms and with a force , a character. and
an urgency-in part icular a political urgency-that are alto-
gether singular. I think that if anythi ng in thi s colloq uium con-
sti tutes an event, it is in relatio n to the lingui sti c pos ition of
Quebec. where . at every momen t. at every step. texts arrive not
only in trans lation-that's obvious ly the case eve rywhcrc-c-but
in a tra nslati on that is remarked and unde rscore d. One has only
to walk down t he street or go to a cafe and right away one
receives utt eran ces in several different languages (such as
French or Engli sh on publicit y posters, ct cetera). Or else sev-
eral Ianguages-c-scmottm es there art: threc- int ersect each
ot her wit hin the same utterance. For the last two or t hree days.!
have ex perienced uttera nces in three languages in a st nglc scn-
tcncc. and it is thi s, after all. that ma kes for the singularity of
wha t is going on for us right now. as well as t he fact that the
part ici pants at thi s rou ndt able are themselves in a very particu-
J 46 Roundtabl e on Transl ation
lar linguistic sit uation. By going arou nd the table, we could
remark the fact that not one of us is like a fish in water in the
language he or she is spea king. Unless I am mistaken, not one of
the subjects at t his table spea ks French as his or her maternal
tongue, exce pt perhaps two of us. And, even then, you [Pereldi]
are French : I'm not. I come from Algeria. I have t herefore st ill
another relation to the French tongue, But still, it would be
amus ing to analyze the complexity, the internal translation to
which our bodi es are continuously submi tting, here. at thi s
Donald Bouchard: Question from the Floor
I wan t to come back to the idea of the double bind whi ch
you have introduced. II seems to me that in the end what the
double bind indi cates is a closed system from which one can.
not esca pe, Madn ess is a Babelian idea which does not teach
us an} about God's power. the history of the logos, and
thu s the Idea of power. Yet power encloses individuals. One
way of as king my first question would thus be: Is it possib le to
find a way out of madness? One can und erstand mad ness on
the basis of t he "capacity" to get out of it-and is there a way
out of it? I would also li ke to as k anot her question about
W ~ l t e r Benjamin.. It concerns the way in which one generally
thinks of translation. tha t is, the idea that an origina l is always
presumed and that the "something" coming after is never as
good as what comes first. It is in this manner that you have
introd uced words such as "sac red" and "nostalgia."
Jacques Derrida
I' m not the one who int roduced them.
Donald Bouchard
My second question is this: Is it necessary to have sacred
texts and is a perfect t ranslation possible? I thin k thatl ransla-
_____ ________ Ruundtable on Trans la tion J ,I7
lion is always a man ner of introducing an imperfection . Can
one regard translati on as the intruduct ion of an imperfecti on
from one culture to anot her?
Jacques Derrl da
To respond, or rat her not to respo nd but to resonate with
your first question: 1 don't know if one can get out. I don't
thi nk there is any sense in always wanting to get out. One can
get out for a moment. but actually I don't know whether mad-
ness consists in not bei ng able to get oul or in wanting to get
out. Basicall y. what form does an exit take? All one can sa}' is
tha t in every dosed place. there are thin gs called "exits ," and
that's what defines it as a closed place. To this first type of
quest ion-s-and I am nol sure 1 have unders tood very well
where it was going-I cannot repl y.
Concerning your allus ions to Benjamin and the questi on
about the necessity of sac red texts. I am goi ng to be very pru-
dent -and not ani}' by refusing to take responsibility for Ben-
jamin's text. It' s t rue that t here are things in that text which
can make one uncomfortable and which begin with the sacred
text . insist on the messian ic character of translation. and so
on. Yet. a sac red text. if there is such a thing, is a text t hat
does not await the question of whether or not it is necessary
t hat t here he such a thing: if there is a sacred text. then there is
a sacred text. You arc wondering whether or not the sacred
text is necessary: thi s is a question which that lext couldn' t
care less about. The sacred text happens, it is an event. if there
is such a thing, and it doesn' t wait for anyone 10 accept the
idea t hat there may be such a thing. It's an event, and that's
what Benjamin means. One alwa ys has to postulate an origl-
nal. This may look li kea very cl assical position and basically
like a disti ncti on between t he original and the translated ver-
sian. This appearance is very reassur ing, but at the same time,
in a less classical and less reassuring manner, Benjamin oflen
says thai one recognizes the difference bet ween a translation
and an original in that tim or iginal can be translat ed several
J48 Roundlable on Transl ation
ti mes but a transla tion cannot be retranslat ed. Despit e the fact
that we know of examples of tran slati ons that have been re-
translat ed . when this occur s-when. for example. one trans-
lates [Frtednchl Holderltn's translation of Sop hocles- t he first
translati on. if it has the force of an event. becomes an origina l.
There is always a struct ure of "original translati on" even
when translati ons are retranslated. This does not mean that
Benjamin kneels before the existence of sacred texts. that he
bases what he says on the dogma of the existence of the sacred
text. Perhaps what he is saying to us is this : Every time t he
event of an untranslatable text occurs. everv ti me there is a
text that is not totally translatabl e. in other words. cverv ti me
there is a proper name. it gets sacralized. It is this process of
sacralization that has to be explained. Benjamin tells us that
sacraliza tion or the sacred is the untranslat able. and every
ti me there is some pro per name in the language t hat does not
let itself beco me tota lly common. that cannot be translated.
one is deali ng with a text that is begin ni ng to be sacra ltzed .
One is dealing with poetry. Thi s is why Ben jamin refers li tera-
ture or poetry to a religious or sac red model. because he
thinks that if there is somet hing untranslatable in literatu re
(and. in a certain way. literat ure is the unt ranslat able ]. then it
is sacred. If there is any literatu re. it is sacred: it entails sacral-
tzat ion. This is surely the relation we have to literature. in
spite of all our denegations in thi s regard . The process of
sacralization is under way whenever one says to oneself in
dealing with a text: Basically. I can' t transpose thi s text such
as it is into anothe r language: t here is an idiom here: it is a
wor k: all the effort s at translati on that I might make. that it
itself calls forth and deman ds. wil l remain. in a certain way
and at a given moment. vain or limited. Th is text . the n. is a
sacred text. Thus. per haps Ben jamin docs not begin with reli-
gion. that is. with the posited existence of such-and-such a
sacred text by t he history of reli gions. Perhaps he wants to
explain what a sacred text is. how one sacrallzos a text. and
how any text. to the extent that it brings with it it proper-name
effect. is un its way to becoming sacred. At this point. t hen,
Roundtabl e on Trans /alion J49
one doesn ' t have to wonde r whet her sacred texts are neces-
sary. There is sacred ness : and if there is sacredness. then it
looks like t his . In th is sense. t hat text one is reading is bot h
unique and a paradi gmat ic exampic wh ich gives the law and
in which one reads the law of sacralizat lon-c-t hat's how it
always is. There is Babel everywhere. Every li me someone
savs his or her own name or creates a literary work or imposes
a s ignature. even though it is translat able and untranslatable.
he or she produces somet hing sacred, not just some prose like
Monsieur Iourdain" who makes prose. On the contrary. when
one does something poetic. one makes for sacredness and in
that sense one produces the untranslatabl e.
Now. to be sure. the problem becomes more serious and
more acute in t he type of ans wer I am giving you. tha t is.
when I say that there arc processes of sacralization and to
account for them one must begin with t hese problems of trans-
lati on. of language. and of t he limits on tran slation. My di s-
course here is one that is not vel'}' respectful of the sacred
because it says: We' re going to explain how sacralization.
which is everywhere . happens: here is how it comes about. et
cetera. On the ot her hand. someone who receives the sac red as
an event and before trying to explain it says: Okay. I believe
on faith that thi s particular text-s-eit her t he Gospels or the Old
Testament-is not an example in wh ich to study the pro-
cesses of sacraltzat lon: these texts arc absolute events which
look pla ce onl y once and I am answerable to t hem. This is
someone who wou ld say: No, one docs nol begin wit h the
processes of sacraliza tion in order to st udy t he sacred: one
begins wit h the sacred. whi ch has already taken place and
whose event is explained only wit h reference to itself. in order
then to bett er understand history, I don' t know if what I am
saying is clear. My point is that there arc two apparently in-
compati ble alt itudes with regard to t he sacred. One tries to
understand the genes is of the sacred and sacrah za tlon. II he-
"Mol iere's bourgeuls gentlernan whu. upon It'ilrning thut everytblng whlch
is nul poetry is prose, exd aims : " Su. 1am SIH'll kinR prcsel't-e-Tr.
150 Roundtable an Trand ati on
gins with sac ralizati on in order to understa nd th e sacred. TIm
other says: No. th e sacred is not sacral ization: it hegin s by
happening: fi rst there were th e prophets. Babel. or the Cos-
pel s. and Hum th ere is sac ralization. Th us. everyt hing I've re-
counted here can lake on another meaning if one believes
sacral izat ion has its meaning in the sacred rather tha n the
othe r way around. The debate here is ope n-e nded : the only
response -is the event. Also. don't forget that for Benjamin t he
limit on translation (the sacred text in which the sense and the
lett er ca n no longer be d issociated) is bot h the untranslat able
and the pure tra nsl at able. the place and t he appeal for transla-
tion. th e model IUrbild) of all translati on-lhe "l ntre linear
tra ns lated version" of the sacred text. It translates without
transl ati ng; it tra ns lates itself in the original. I don' t know if I
have a nswe red your questi on.
Monique Bosco: Question f rom the Floor
I have been struck bv someth ing. Since you have spoken a
good deal abo ut psychoa na lysis, I wo uld like to talk a lillie
about repression. I received a sheet distribut ed by t he De pa rt-
ment of French St ud ies that as ked anyone who wan ted to
pa rti cipat e in these round table discu ssi ons to read certain
texts which were to serve as the basi s for the two sessions .
On e was a very beautiful text by Derrida I"Living On: Border-
lines"] which he has not yet publi shed- -
Ja cques Derrfda -
Yes, it ha s been publi shed in transl ati on. II's a text that was
writt en in French but which I kne w wou ld appear first in
English. so it is marked by thi s pa rti cul ar address. It appea red
a few days ago in the United States.
Monique Bosco
The ot hers are very important , very d ifficult texts by Ulan-
chot: Death Sentence and "The Madness of the Day." This was
Roundtabl e an Trunsl ution 151
an opport unit y to ha ve a transl at ion or an interpretation of
these two Blanch ot text s by Derrida. I notice. however (is it by
cha nce or as a result of repress ion?), th at no one has mentioned
th em. Th ese text s interest me very much, part icul arl y the pas-
sage on the rose or the gypsum flower inscribed in the text ,
wh ich, in my opinion, is somethi ng fundamental. I wa nted to
as k about the problem of translating poe try, a problem that
Henri Meschonntc already rai sed severa l years ago when he
talked about "traducia Celan." Once aga in, it is a questi on of
someone who has to die for his work to be made ava ilable to us.
This, in a nutshell. is the problem of the transl ati on of a poet .
Th e [French] tra ns latio n of Niema nd srose [The No-One's- Bose]
ca me out for the first time this year. The work of Paul Celan.
who was also exiled in hi s language. is an ext remely di stu rbing
problem. I think, one that co uld concern all of us. How does
one transl at e these sacred texts-since a poetic text is almos t
always sacred---especia lly t he text of someo ne exiled from hi s
own language. jus t as IFranz) Kafka was? Give n that we are.
after all, in those di sciplines that ar e concerned with th e sacred
text which is poetry , I wa s wondering how it is th at it has been
pushed as ide, avoided. repressed? Isn't it the case that . even
when one transl at es , integrally or by extracts . one ado pts a
particular wa y of transl ating, but in an absolute fashion?
Doesn' t the problem of transl ation pass by way of the trans la-
tor ' s sex? In this case, the Frenc h transl ati on of Niema ndsrose
wa s done by a woman . In another case, that of the Ameri can
poet Sylvia Plath. both women a nd a man have translat ed her
wor k. . . . In Dee th Sentence. th e woman lover is a translator (as
in the case of Kaf ka and Mil one) . " Must th e woman alwa ys be
not onl y the poet's serva nt but the poet' s translator as well? It 's
a problem that' s been around for a long time. since I noticed
while readi ng about Ste nd hal tha t he also said to women: Don't
write, transl at e, and you wil l earn an honorable living, Th us it's
a who le political ques tio n.
' Milena who l nmslahd some ,, ( Kafka's works Into
C:r.ech.- Tr.
152 Round' able on Translation
Jacques Derrid a
If one refers to a certain concept of translation Ihat prevailed
up until Benjamin perha ps, the conce pt according to which
translation is derivative, or in a position of derivation in rela-
tion to an original that is itself semi nal, the n the fact that
women are often translators or that they are invited to do so
(objecti vely. statis tics woul d show that they are often in the
position of translat ors ). this fact. in effect, comes out of a
subordination wh ich poses a political problem. I don't want to
insist on thi s-it's obvious to everyone. If . however, one dis -
places somewhat the concept of translation on the basis. for
example. of what Eugene Vance did just a moment ago. or
from a perspective that wou ld see translation as something
other than a secondary ope ration, at that moment the position
of the woman translator woul d be something else, even
though it would still be marked sexuall y. One must not fail to
notice that Benjamin uses the term "translator" in the mascu-
line and not in the feminine. I believe thi s is consonant with
the whole system of his text. He speaks of the translator. not of
the woman translator. and the translator in general can be
either a man or a woman. It is in thi s general sense that Benja-
min presents the translator. If one displaces this classical per-
spective, one becomes conscious-from within that classical
perspective and from withi n the text I'm talking about- that'
the so-called original is in a position of demand with regard to
the translation . The original is not a plenitude whi ch would
come to be translated by acci dent. The original is in the situa-
tion of demand . that is, of a lack or exile. the original is in-
debted a priori to the translation. Its sur vival is a demand and
a desire for translation, somewhat like the Babelten demand:
Translate me. Babel is a man, or rather a male god, a god that
is not full since he is full of resentment, jealousy, and so on.
He calls out, he desi res. he lacks, he calls for the complement
_____________ Roundtable on T'1JRs/a t;on 153
or the supplement or, as Benjamin says. for that which will
come along to enr ich him. Translation does not come along
in addition. like an accident added to a full substance;
rather , it is what the original text demands-and not simply
the signatory of the original text but the text itself. If the
translation is indebted to the original {t his is its task. its
debt (Au/gobell . it is because already the or iginal is in-
debted to the coming translat ion. This means that transla-
tion is also the law. There is a dissymmetry here but it's a
double dissymmet ry. with the result that the woman transla-
tor in this case is not simply subordinat ed. she is not the
aut hor's secretary. She is also the one who is loved by the
author and on whose basis alone writing is poss ible. Trans-
lation is writi ng; that is. it is not translation only in the
sense of transcri pti on. It is a producti ve writi ng called forth
by the original text. Thus. as in Blanchot's texts (Death Sen-
tence as well as "The Madness of the Day"). woman is on
the si de of the affirming law rather than only in that deriva-
tive situatio n you have spoken of. And, in effect. thi s is
what is going on and what one can read in Death Sentence:
the woman translator can be translated as secondary, subor-
dinated. oppressed femininit y. but one can also translate her
as absolutely desirable. the one who makes the law. truth.
and so forth. This possibility can be read in Death Sentence,
in "The Madness of the Day"-it can be read even in Benja-
min if one makes a special effort. All of this means that the
polit ical problem. which seems to me inevitable and real.
has a very complex strategy. All of its terms must be laid
out again; one must rethink translation- -
Monique Bosco
Yes. that' s cl ear. On the other hand. however, do you agree
that there is a problem of sexual difference which enters in at
the level of translation? Only one of my books has been trans-
lated by a man, and it was a completely different book.
154 Roundtable on Translation
Jacques Derrida
And that's because a man translat ed it?
Monique Bosco
I' m beginning 10 th in k so . [Laught er.]
Jacques Derrida
It' s altogether possible. I'm convinced you' re right to ask the
questi on. but the analysi s of the effects rema ins very tri cky.
When you raised the questi on of sexuality in translati on. I was
thinking of somethi ng else. I was thi nking of what happens
when one has to translate sexed personal pronouns with un
sexed ones . Let me explain what I mean. At the end of Death
Sentence. there is a passage where Blanchet says first of all "10
pensee." and it is clear that he is talking about "thought," Then
there is a slippage which takes one to the last line of the text
where he writes: "1-; , aelle, je dis ' vlens ' et eternelle ment elle
est 10 ("And to that thought I say eternally, 'Come: and eter-
nally it is there"]. From the grammatical point of view (and one
can follow the grammatical and rhetorical order of the text
leading to the grammatical point of view), the feminine pro-
noun "elle" unquesti onably refers to "Ic pensee" or "thought: '
Yet. obviously Blanchot has played on the "eire,' or he has let
it play. let it slip toward "elle" or "she.v In English , naturally, a
rigorous translation must relat e "elle" to "pensee" so that it
becomes "it." At that moment, the text totall y caves in, More-
over, in the existing translation of Deeth Sentence, thi s is just
what happened: the "elle" at the end- which is a sublime
"eUe"- is crushed, broken down by the necessity for a gram-
matically rigorous translation, There are problems like this all
the ti me in translating from French to English as well as be-
tween German and French, When the translator becomes aware
" " - - - ~
___ _ _ ___ _ _ _ _ _ Roundtabl e on TranslaUon I SS
of the problem. he can of course add a note* or else put words
in brackets. but what he is doing at that point is not an opera-
tion of translati on: commentaries, analyses. warn ings are not
translations, Thus , one also has to consider the economic prob-
lem of translation, Basically, to produce an ideal trans latio n,
which would be only a translati on and nothing else, one would
have to translat e one word by one word, As soon as one puts
two or three words in the place of one, translation becomes an
analytic explicitation; that is, it is no longer strict ly speaking a
translation, To translate "elle" by " i t ." then, without losing too
much, one must add a note, thereby giving in to a work of
interpretation whi ch spoils the economy of translation strictly
spea king-linguistic translation. This is the quantitative prob-
lem of translati on, which we haven 't talked about very much or
even at all , Yet it is, I think, a central problem,
Andre Beaudet : Question f rom the Floor
I have several questions, The one I will as k first is banal and
simple: Do we or do you always translate by ear? In what way
is a translation an autotranslation which consists in turning
something uncanny or unfa mili ar around in order to make
oneself underst ood as in a familiar context but still otherwise?
1would assimilate this autotra nslation to something I've heard
for the last three days-certain effect s of a thi rd ear, (or ex-
ample, a third mouth, a third tongue, or a third position be-
" But can an y note la ke u p the slack here, in this situali onr In his essay on
Benjamin's "The Task 01 the Tra nslator ," Blanchol w r i t ~ : "The translat or is
i ndeed a strange, nostalgic man: he experiences in hi s own langualtO, bUI in
the manner of somet hi ng missi ng. everyth ing promised hi m in the way of
present affirma tions by the original work (the work which remai ns more'
over- he can' t quite reech it since he 's not at home. at r"51 in its language but
is an eternal guest who doesn 't li ve th ere ]. Tha I' s why, oif we can believe the
testi mony of speclelists, he is always in more d ifficult y as he tranaletes with
the language to which he belo ngs than et 1I loss wit h the nn e hu doesn't
possess" ("Traduim," l n VAmit;e, p. 72; my trllllslati"n).- Tr.
lot on thi s theme. and I am doing it once more: I have tried to
wr ite texts that don't return and don't allow for rctrans lation. I
can't retranslate any more than anyone else can, so I'm not
extolling what I do. I don't believe one can retrans late one's
own utt erances in an exhaustive fashi on. It's better to produ ce
texts that leave and don 't come back altogether, but that are
not simply and totall y alienated or foreign. One regulates an
economy with one's texts, with other subjects. with one's
family. children, desire. They take off on their own, and one
then tries to get the m to come back a little even as they remain
out side, even as they remain the other's speech. Thi s is what
happens when one wr ites a text. Mutn u s muland is, it's like a
child-an old topos which has its historical patent of nobil -
ity, But a child is not only that toward which or for which a
father or mother remai ns; it is an other who starts talking and
goes on talking by itself, without your help, who doesn't even
answer you except in your fantasy. You thin k it' s talking to
you. that you are talking in it, but in fact it tal ks by itself. On
thi s basis, one constructs paternity or maternity fantasies: one
says that. after all , it' s still one' s own, that life is sweet, et
cetera. Finally. however . if one is sti ll a littl e attentive to the
cnunke that we were talking about earlter, one knows that
children don 't belong 10 us but we console ourselves with the
fantasy that they do. Like everyone. then, 1 have fant asies of
children and of texts. That's how I work things out with the
uncanny. I don't know if I have met your questio n.
Roundtable on Translation 157
Jacques Derrida
What docs that mean: "on the basis On the basis of
means starti ng from, which is to say going away from. As to
what you called an echo: There are, in effect, echoes. It would
If your own text comes back as a kind of echo, I was wond er-
ing whether it was possible for someone else to plug into your
work. Is it possibl e to writ e on the basis of )'our work?
Andre Beaudet
' In English in th.. urigin"l.-Tr.
156 Roundtable on Translation
Jacques Derrida
, I am translating your last quostton to myself.
I ve received II, but I have not understood it very well , if by
understanding one means being able 10 reprodu ce and trans-
late it. Like everyone, I always try. I think, 10 translate or to
translate myself- to eutotranslate-c-which incl udes that ges-
ture of appropriation that is part of translation. However. if
you have seen or noti ced or heard a th ird ear for the last few
days, then it may be that this operation of autotranslation is
impossibl e. I am conscious of it in part . It is less a questi on of
autotranslation turned back in on itself, Irving to master the
.the uncanny so that it becomes simply the
familiar. than It ISof the opposite movement. But thi s is not to
say that one has to turn oneself over. bound hand and foot. to
the Unheimliche, because I don 't believe in that. In other
words, I don 't believe in seeking out absolute risk. absolute
nonreappropri ation, alienation, and madn ess for their own
sake , and, besides, I don't want to have anything to do wit h
that. I'm too afraid of It. What I was trying to do was work out
a kind of economy with the means at hand, an economy that
would not be one of a maniacal and "self-centered:" auto-
translation. Let's say I was trying also to produce texts that
produce other ears, in a certain way-s-ears that I don't sec or
hear myself, things that dan" come down to me or come back
to me. A text, I believe, does not come back, I have insisted a
tween phil osophy and poetry. It is a question here not of
simple listening but of an attention thai has a cutting edge to
the extent that , as Nietzsc he says in Beyond Good and Evil ,
with thi s third ear one "handles hi s language like a supple
blade and feel s from hi s arm down to his toes the peril ous
delight of the quivering, over-sharp steel that want s 10 bite.
hiss. cut. " These three words-bite. hiss, cut-already com-
prehend some of the operations that you have translat ed into
your wor k.
J58 Roundtable on Translation
be int eresti ng 10 analyze cl osely what happens when a text
you wr ite comes back to you in one form or anot her. Whal
dons it mean : "10 come back"? II means that another makes
usc of it or d ies it. I' ve had thi s hap pen to me. Ta king the
situation here for the last two days as one to analyze, I've
functi oned a litt le like the "original." (It's tru e----one mu stn't
try to hide suc h things from oneself.) Each of you has taken
the f loor. t hen I have s poken after each of you has, and . after
all , I'm t he one who has bee n quoted most often, so t hat these
thi ngs have come back to me. But it would be necessary to
analyze very closely the experience of hearing someone else
read a text you have alleged ly written or signed. All of a sud-
den someone put s a text right in front of you again, in another
context, wit h an int ention that is both somewhat yours and
not simply yours. Each time it happens, it' s a very curious ,
ver y t roubling experience. I can' t analyze it here. What I ca n
say is tha t it is never t he same text. never an echo, that comes
back to you . It ca n be a very pleasant or a very un pleasan t
experience. It can reconci le you with wh at you've done, make
you love it or hat e it. There are a thousand possibili ties. Yet
one thing is ce rtain in all this diver sit y. ami that is that irs
never the same. What is more, even before someone cites or
reads it to you. as in the pres ent situat ion , the text's identity
has been lost. and it's no longer the same as soon as it takes
off. as soon as it has begun, as soon as it' s on the page. Dy the
end of the sentence, it 's no longer the same sentence that it
was at t he beginni ng. Thu s. in this sense, there is no ec ho. or ,
it ther e is , it's alwa ys di storted. Per haps the desi re to write is
the desire to launch things that come back to you as much as
possible in as many forms as possible. That is, it is the desire
to per fect a program or a matrix havi ng the greatest potent ial.
variability, undecidabi lity. plurivocalt ty. et cetera, so that
each ti me something ret urns it wil l be as different as possi ble.
Thi s is also what one docs wh en one has children- talking
beings who ca n always outta lk you. You have t he lll uslon that
it comes back to you, that it comes from you- that these un-
pred ictable words come out of you somewhat. Th is is what
Roundlable on Translation 159
goes on wit h texts. When I saw, for exa mple. that it was a
piece of "Living On" that Donato was quot ing, I was readi ng it
through Donato's text: it was somet hing very strange which
returned ull erl y without me. I thought: That' s not bad , but it' s
not t he same, It' s never the same in any case, and it never
returns. This is both a bad thing and a good thing. Obvi ously,
if it came back. that would also be terribl e. One want s it to
return exactly like it is , but then one also knows very well that
if it did come back exactly like it is , one would have only one
wish an d that is to run away.
Nicole Bureau: Question from the Floor
Does n' t the work of Blanchet seem, in some way, to be a
"fictional" practi ce of translati on? The ti t les never seem de-
finitive. The "mood,' t he s pace, and the rhythm of hi s speech
ar e conti nua lly transformed, as if in order to prevent wri ting
from fixing its object (or sett li ng on its objective) . There is no
"first" text. but t here is also no definiti ve----or unique-version
which would have the force of law by guaranteeing the writ-
ing's seal. The on ly thing " proper" to Blanchot 's writing is the
unflagging search for his language. hi s "genre" (theory? fie-
ti on?). or hi s name.
Would it be possible to see a relation bet wee n "reci tat ton't--.
to whi ch you have already all uded, most notably in Pas-and
translation? Doth of them are li nked to the work of repeti tion,
and both of them are also undone by repeti tio n.
Doesn ' t t his generalize d pract ice of d ivid ing language in two
manifest it self in a singular fashi on in Deeth Sentence? Cer-
tain names, which arc first fragmented or red uced to thei r
ini tia ls, suddenly come back up to the sur face of t he rectt
where they already di st urb the reading of the narrati ve text ;
others have no speci fi c identit y and am dressed now in th,e
feminine. now in the masculin e (I am thinking of Simon/Sf-
mane, among ot hers).
What do you t hink of these var ious manifestation s of Blan -
cha t's wor k?
160 Roundtabl e on Translation
Jacques Derrida
I completely agree . Indeed. all he has done is to translate
translation in the most enigmatic sense. He does thi s not only
thr ough mul tiple versions but sometimes by very small modi-
ficat ions. Sometimes it is the mention of the word "rectt" or
"novel" that simply di sappears; or else he del etes one lillie
page from the end. leaving the rest of the text intact; or still
other times there are massive mutations. as with Thomas the
Obscure. where. of the 350 pages crammed into the first ver-
sion. he retains someth ing very economical, 120 or 150 pages.
for the second vers ion. What is remarkable is that. in spite of
everything. this translati on and thi s transformation . even
when they erase somethi ng. keep the memory or the trace of
what they are erasing. The version is not a translation that
comes from the original and-how to put it?-from which
comes the original as if there was here an original and there a
translati on. No; there is an increa se. The second translation of
Death Sentence keeps the trace of the erasure in the erasure
itself. The memory of all the versi ons is archived. as in the
Library of Congress. It is a still larger language. as Benjamin
woul d say: it is an increased corpus whi ch has grown from the
original to the translation . from the first to the second version.
As for proper names in Blanchot. they are at once apparently
insigni fi cant names which are then loaded with a thousand
possible transl ations and meanings. I ment ioned Thomas. Well.
there is an immense impli cit discourse on Thomas' proper
name. One has to interpret the rectt as the translation of t he
proper name into the story wh ich transfor ms it int o a common
name. One finds there a translat ion of Thomas' proper name
beginning with the bibli cal references. the character of the
double Th omas. of Dldyme. of Thomas the Obscure. Since Tho-
mas' su rname-t he Obscu re-is a common noun qualifier. one
can see the whole rect t as a tran slati on. in a certain way. of the
propflr name. One could also talk about the initials in Death
Roundt abl e on Translation 161
Sentence. The 1can be translated right away into Jesus and then
into a number of other th ings. Natalie can also be translated
into Jesus. since it signifies Noel. Nativity. Thus. in a certain
sense the proper name is pregnant wit h the recn. whic h can be
interpreted as a translati on of the proper name.
Cla ude Levesque
We must necessaril y bring to a close thi s exchange whi ch.
all the same. is infini te and thank Jacques Derrida very
warml y. His passage among us will have been an even t. but
the kind of event that is much more ahead of us than already
behind us. I speak as the int erpreter- the translator-for each
one of us when I say to him: Thanks for many things-for
coming. for hi s generosity wh ich each one of us has so clearl y
felt. for the total and careful attention he has brought to each
of us. Finall y. we thank him for being what he is. A question
still rema ins in the end : Who is he? Who is Jacques Derrida?
Perhaps we may vent ure to answer by saying that he is unique
and innumerabl e. like all of us. differently than all of us.
Jacques Derrfda
I too want to thank you for your presence. your attention.
your patience. This is not just a polit e formula on my part. but
a real sign of gratit ude. Thank. you.
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