But can the fool(ish) text do Humanity any Good? Maimonides, Derrida, and Gasche (Part II)

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Echoing Jacques Derrida’s reading of Stephen Mallarme’s “Mimique,” Gasche writes that:

If the mime of “Mimique” only imitates imitation, if he copies only copying, all he produces is a copy of a copy.  In the same manner, the hymen that comes to illustrate the theatrical space reduplicates nothing but the miming of the mime.  Miming only reference, but not a particular reference, Mallarme keeps the Platonic differential structure of mimesis intact while radically displacing it.  Instead of imitating, of referring to a referent within the horizon of truth, the mime mimes only other signs and their referring function.

Derrida, Gasche tells us, calls this miming of other signs re-marking.

Gasche notes that this remarking has the “structure of the hymen.”  But instead of focusing on a static structure, Gasche looks to depict its dynamic nature.  For this reason, Gasche focuses on “the manner” in which “the double structure of the hymen relates to itself.”

He calls this “manner” a “reflection without penetration.”

In other words, Gasche sees the mime and the reader as taking on a manner of reflection without penetration.  Gasche derives the evidence for this “manner” from a line in Derrida’s essay that depicts the double structure of the hymen in terms of a “violence without blows.” But what Gasche misses is that Derrida links this dynamic structure, which manifests a “violence without blows, or a blow without marks,” to a person who is “made to die or come laughing.”

In fact, for Derrida, remarking is an event.  The manner of reflection without penetration happens when there is a “violence without blows, or a blow without marks.”  When this happens, one “is made to die or come laughing.”   And this laughter is exemplary of what is, so to speak, remarkable.

With all the undecidability of its meaning, the hymen only takes place when it doesn’t take place, when nothing really happens, when there is an all-consuming consummation without violence, or a violence without blows, or a blow without marks…when the veil is without being, torn, for example, when one is made to die or come laughing (232)

Gasche fails to underscore that, for Derrida, the “manner” of the double movement is comic and perhaps tragic (as one is made to either “die” laughing or made to “come laughing”).   Derrida is denoting how the event of  “a reflection without penetration” is the event of laughter.

Perhaps this is because language, unlike God, does not show us, in a prescriptive manner, ethical or political ways of being; rather, the text shows us its absent-minded ways.  In fact, if the text prescribes anything, it prescribes the manner of absent-mindedness.  Or, as Derrida says in his essays in on the poet Edmond Jabes (in Writing and Difference), the text prescribes the detour and the ellipsis.

In the same essay on Jabes, Derrida notes how the text prescribes exile from God. Unlike Maimonides, Derrida would say that the text does not prescribe any ethical or political ways of being.  The text doesn’t perfect man.   While Maimonides would say that Moses was exiled from knowing God and having a “penetrating reflection,” he would not say that God only prescribed exile for Moses.  In fact, as Maimonides argues, God prescribed His ways to Moses for emulation, imitation, and practice.

In contrast, if we reread Gasche by way of Derrida’s own remarks, we can say that the manner of the reader and the text is the manner of a schlemiel.  This manner is prescribed.  Unlike the text (which is unaware of itself), the attentive reader is aware of its absent-mindedness.  If one reflects on the text’s schlemiel-ish “reflection without penetration,” the attentive reader will be conscious or become conscious.  And this, Derrida might say, would happen when one laughs.

But are we who laugh at the foolish text, for this reason, better (or superior)?  As I have shown in other blog entries, this is exactly what Baudelaire proposes at the end of his essay on laughter.   However, this is a conclusion which, as I also have shown, Paul deMan disagreed with.   In fact, if anything, the consciousness that comes out of this, for deMan, leads to madness and self-destruction not superiority.

Would Derrida agree with deMan?  Does the absent-minded schlemiel text, and the reader’s attendant “reflection without penetration,” lead to vertigo, madness, and self-destruction?  Should we read Derrida’s comment that one may “die of laughter” in lieu of deMan?

By virtue of its inability to know itself, by virtue of its being a “reflection without penetration,” the text presents itself as absent-minded.  Recognizing what the text doesn’t see, Derrida seems to be suggesting that the reader will either “die” of laughter or “come to” laughter.  Why?  Because he or she realizes that the only thing he or she can follow is an opaque and aleatory text which, in its absentmindedness, dynamically flows, warps, and weaves in different directions, one will either die of laughter or come to laugh.

Regardless, one laughs at the text’s absent-mindedness.  Perhaps one also laughs at the fact that one’s “reflection without penetration” on the text is also risible.  But in knowing that language doesn’t have a meaning or know of any, are we, in a deManian sense, mad?

Derrida’s text implies that, upon reading the hymen, we are either made to die or “come laughing.”  Derrida seems to be suggesting that we either affirm this “reflection without penetration” with a yes, and laugh or we don’t.  This, in fact, is a suggestion he makes on his essay “Ulysses Gramophone: Hear Say Yes in Joyce.”  Without such a suggestion, it would seem that deMan and Derrida would be in agreement: the manner of the text would be a manner of madness and self-destruction.  In other words, the person who reflects on what deMan calls the “irony of ironies” would die laughing or go mad.

Derrida, in that essay (which I will return to in an upcoming blog entry) suggests that we should describe and affirm the reflection without penetration; and, in doing so, say yes to it.  This affirmation, this yes-saying, in a Nietzschean and Joycean spirit, is a prescription of sorts.   Like Sancho Panza who follows Don Quixote on his Journeys, the postmodern saint says yes to following the aberrant and absent-minded ways of the text.  Instead of Moses following the ways of God, we have a much more secular (and risible) model of observance.

So, here’s the question: Do we – like Sancho Panza – learn and repeat the schlemiel’s manner?  Is this, according to Derrida, our postmodern prescription and destiny?  Is this our postmodern ethic?  And will the foolish text do humanity any good?

Since the text has the structure of the hymen, Gasche would say that the repetition of the text (and the “reflection without penetration”) is inescapable.  The text repeats itself and we repeat the text repeating itself.  That’s it.  Nothing more nor less.

But what is the point of the text or our lives if they always remain caught up in an endless textual ellipsis?  Again: What good will this do for humanity?

The structure of the schlemiel, its manner, for Gasche and Derrida, would be an endless reflection on the surface.  It would be a manner of moving across an endless surface or as Deleuze might say, a thousand plateaus.  And in response to it we will, as Derrida –that is, Rabbi Derissa – de (of) the risus (laughter) – claims, either die laughing or come laughing.

(Enter laughter)

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