In “The Philosophy of Toys,” Baudelaire writes of how the “overriding desire” of children is to destroy their toys so as to get at the soul of each toy:
The overriding desire of most children is to get and see the soul of their toys, some at the end of a period of use, others straightaway. It is on the more or less swift invasion of this desire that depends the length of life of a toy. I don’t find it in me to blame this infantile mania; it is a first metaphysical tendency. When this desire is implanted itself in the child’s cerebral marrow, it fills his fingers and nails with an extraordinary agility and strength. The child twists and turns his toy, scratches it, shakes it bumps it against walls, throws it on the ground….
But in the midst of destruction, Baudelaire tells us that there emerges a question:
But where is the soul? This is the beginning of melancholy and gloom.
Contrast this to the celebrated French Philosopher Jacques Derrida’s portrayal of his “overriding desire” – in his book The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud to Beyond. It brings him into contact with toys which he, like Baudelaire’s child, destroys:
In effect I believe that the idea imposes itself, this is indeed the word, in any event imposes itself upon me and I want it (want it horribly, flight, no, to enclose myself in a book project, to deploy all possible ruses and a maximum of consciousness, intelligence…while remaining…enclosed in this puerile (and masculine) enclosure of naivete, like a little boy in a playpen, with his construction toys. That I spend the clearest part of my time taking them to pieces and throwing them overboard changes nothing essential in the matter. I would still like to be admired and loved, to be sent back a good image of my facility for destruction and for throwing far away from me these rattles and pieces of tinkertoy), finally you will tell me why I still want all this.
Derrida’s destruction of toys is different from Baudelaire’s child. He destroys them because he wants to be loved in “your” absence. This “you,” in this passage, sounds like his mother. He relates to her absence, to his desire for her, by destroying toys. And he wants this as his image. He wants “to be sent back a good image of my facility for destruction and throwing far away from me these rattles and pieces of tinkertoy.”
He says that he destroys toys for her “in order to prepare in your absence what I will give you on your return, at the end of time. What is it?”
Yes, indeed, what is it? What will he give the absent mother when she returns? It seems as if he has destroyed all of the toys she has given him.
What could this imply? Is the destruction of the toy-gift a destruction of that which distracts the child for the mother’s absence? And, on the contrary, wouldn’t the destruction of the toy do the opposite?
Instead of preparing the child for the mother’s absence, the destruction of the toy would expose the child to the mother’s absence. And when I hear Derrida ask, regarding what gift he will give her upon her “return at the end of time,” I cannot help but hear a man-child’s impotent rage.
It seems as if Derrida is being very sarcastic and angry here. Instead of Baudelaire’s child who sinks into melancholy and gloom, Derrida-as-man-child becomes mad.
Juxtapose this Derrida to the Derrida who celebrates play, the Derrida who plays with texts as if they were toys, and what you might find is the other – less playful – side of deconstruction. Madness, it seems, is the remainder of this exercise in toy destruction since it is the mother, after all, who gives Derrida the toys to play with in her absence. And now there is nothing – that is, there is no toy – that can distract him from her “betrayal.”
Derrida is, on the one hand, like the shocked child that Baudelaire sees as exemplary of the Absolute Comic. But, unlike her, he is not in a stupor. Derrida is mad. He knows he has been duped. And we are reminded of this by the fact that he has broken all of his toys and thrown them outside of his playpen.
And, although this seems different from the melancholy and gloom that Baudelaire refers to in the wake of discovering that the toy has no soul (that the soul is absent), the fact of the matter is that Derrida has ejected broken toy fragments away from him. Nonetheless, they lay around his crib like melancholic ruins. What he wants “back” (in return for his destruction) is an image of himself as a toy destroyer. It is, what I noted in relation to Benjamin, a souvenir of sorts.
This is part and parcel of the man-child’s “overriding desire.”
I’ll close this blog entry with a 1935 Walt Disney Animation entitled “Broken Toys.”