Dec 26, 2010

Derrida's Definition of Western Philosophy

  Derrida writes in "La Différance," in Margins of Philosophy, "For the middle voice, a certain nontransitivity, may be what philosophy, at its outset, distributed into an active and a passive voice, thereby constituting itself by means of this repression" (9).
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     In the Freudian vocabulary, to repress something means to unconsciously put it away, out of the conscious mind. The repression of the middle voice in philosophy implies that the middle voice is operative in a nonoperative manner a priori to how philosophy in the main perceives itself in its logical functionality. In the conscious sense of being, philosophy discusses being consciously, as an ontico-ontological difference, as a difference between things in the world, and a formal sense of being, in the idea of the supersensible. Philosophy has constituted itself by repressing an anterior middle voice autoreflexivity that is neither agent nor patient. To put it in another way, philosophy ignores middle voice, represses it, and instead goes the route of a univocal ontology, all is one, or all is active, or all is consciousness, or thought is consciousness. For Derrida, there is no overarching arché — no originary being, to account for Being itself. Derrida is drawn to middle voice autoaffection precisely because of its non-transitive structure that does not presuppose logocentric obliteration. Logocentrism is Derrida's umbrella term to encapsulate his critique of traditional "first philosophy," or metaphysics. Derrida's main point is that philosophy is logocentric, in that it privileges the logos, as a cognitive property of consciousness that distributes difference between an active and a passive principle. Logocentric repression is made in philosophy when it relegates the difference between the active and the passive as an aporia, or as an undecidable supplement. In other words, just as in psychoanalysis, when the subject cannot articulate in words his own "problem," he represses it because it is conflictual with his very idea of self, philosophy does the same for ideas that it clashes with. Middle voice works through a structure of disavowal, when a subject knows something and does not know it at the same time. Repression is the articulation of pleasure, as Freud writes in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, that is not as such, a form of disavowal. For Derrida, Western philosophy, throughout its history, represses the undecidability of middle voice autoreflexivity, or what is in transition. In this sense, we can say that for Derrida philosophy is a psychoanalysis of the return of the repressed. Derrida is interested in middle voice as a return of the repressed because it is an example in language where an undecidability can sustain; a supplement without excess.
    How is such a philosophical middle voice articulated? The verbal reflexivity of the middle voice is what Derrida refers to as the "double play" of writing with both hands, in an interview with Henri Ronse, "... marked in certain decisive places by an erasure which allows what it obliterates to be read, violently inscribing within the text that which attempted to govern it from without" (Positions, 6). Middle voice allows what is put under erasure, sous rature, which would otherwise not be able to be read to be read, not by a governance of an active principle, but by what Derrida calls a “violent inscription within the text.” What captivates Derrida's imagination is the middle voice is neither active nor is it passive. To philosophize actively is to think from without, and to philosophize passively is to think from within. Is philosophy, then, done in the between?
   I think an interpretation of Derrida's method is sometimes misconstrued at this juncture. Binary oppositions, which could characteristically take an active principle or a passive one, do not combine to form a radically different concept. Derrida's method of deconstruction is not a dialectic, where a positive force meets a negative force and in a production of transformation new knowledge is produced. Philosophy has manifested itself in this way, and in another way, so has psychoanalysis. In the middle voice mood, a third term is not produced, distributed, or mediated between the first two. A third term is not mediated, but the difference between the two collapses and a third term is not possible. This is what Derrida means by “putting under erasure.” To speak of différance is to think of it in quotes, as a structure that does not govern from an active principle without, as an external authority, nor is it to be thought of as an internal structure, within. To think of différance is to think of it provisionally.

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