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THÉRMASMA MAGAZINE - Approved Draft N.2, 1999
The Aporia of the Instant in Derrida's Reading of Husserl
|At a climactic point in Speech and
Phenomena Derrida writes that phenomenology, wishes it or not, knows it or
not, is always a phenomenology of perception. The irony of this remark is not
difficult to grasp: indeed, what is it that a phenomenology deals with, but that
which, as phenomenon, appears to our senses? The trouble is, however, that
perception as such is strictly speaking impossible, since what appears to us as
phenomenon, immanent in our consciousness, is not being "as such", which remains
assigned to a transcendent realm; this is indeed the fundamental problem for
Husserl, who is well aware that all that appears to be immanent in our
consciousness reveals itself to a deeper examination to be surrounded by all
sorts of transcendences. Thus the issue is not to deny the world, rather to ask
oneself to what extent perception may be justified, namely how one may get
perception "as such"; nor is getting rid of presence the issue here, rather
asking oneself why there is, at bottom, so little presence. When I touch an
object, what deposits in my soul is its form, not its matter; I shall never have
but forms (therefore, I shall never have matter), yet I know, of an odd kind of
certainty which is not merely empirical, that the same path which entitles me to
skepticism (we have but forms) leads me by the same token to a naïve although
institutive faith in the reality of the outer world.
Now, the shibboleth of phenomenology consists precisely in this: phenomena are neither shadows nor appearances nor figures of speech: they are as hard to remove as the tree stumps on the snow which Kafka talks about, which look as if you could kick them away, like pieces in the game of draughts, yet they are stuck there instead. And for the world to be turned into the realm of the will-to-power it has to be postulated (or more ponderously, to be shown) that it is available to us as such, which is just what Derrida resolutely excludes. Jews, Kierkegaard wrote, are the most unfortunate of peoples, as they hang between memory and waiting, namely between two unfulfilled presences, which however appear to be the condition of phenomenon. We may here realize the reason of the properly hyperbolic loyalty binding deconstruction to phenomenology: for both, the phenomenon is not to be transcended, yet at the same time, the phenomenon is not everything. Derrida maintains, just like both Kant and Husserl, that is, like two philosophers who programmatically opposed dogmatic idealism as well as nihilism, that the present presupposes two non-presences, i.e. past and future, which define it as such, and that there must be something somewhere (let us call it, following Kant, the synthetic unity of apperception) which by retaining the past and by anticipating the future makes possible the present, the evidence, and the phenomenon alike. Such "something", however, does not phenomenize itself as such, is not itself the subject-matter of representation, and makes possible for something to present itself as being (as present being, that is) while not appearing in turn. As in Kant (A 267-268; B 322-324), the noumenal hypothesis otherwise said, that not everything is phenomenon rules out any reduction of being to pure perception, namely in the last analysis to pure thought and to the realm of some skeptical phenomenalism resting on dogmatic idealism: "To utter force as the origin of phenomenon is doubtlessly to utter nothing. Once uttered, force is already phenomenon. Hegel had already shown that the explanation of a phenomenon through a force is a tautology. When uttering this, however, one should bear in mind a certain incapacity of language to reach out of itself to utter its origin, not the thought of force. Force is the other of language, without which language would not be what it is" (1967a: it. 34).
That not everything is phenomenon, namely that things are not entirely present to us, is then the best proof that something exists beyond the realm of that which is defined altogether presumptively as the realm of our inner representations; in this sense, Derrida's critique of empiricism about which in a moment is not to be taken as demoting experience, but rather, if anything, as acknowledging that the claim of a totally present presence, of a completely internalized outer world, would be tantamount to annihilating the world. The double register or the double hand Derrida uses in his writing consists therein, that the very movement (idealization) which constitutes presence by rescuing it from the ephemeral character of sense certainty, is precisely what destitutes it by shaking the distinction between perception and retention ; such predicament, it should be noted, has nothing to do with the features of some historically produced (therefore historically amendable) metaphysics, it rather belongs to the standard situation of perception. To tell the truth at all costs means then to keep simultaneously standing two hyperboles: both sense certainty and hyperbolic doubt, absolute immediacy and infinite mediation.
In fact, Derrida's early philosophical curiosities pointed at Rousseau and Nietzsche. Retrospectively, such choice appears prophetic: in Rousseau's philosophy immediacy hides within itself a labored mediation, and nature reveals itself at bottom as culture; in Nietzsche the dogmatic denying the subsistence of facts vis-à-vis interpretations, practicing the hermeneutics of suspicion and the genealogy of morals, coexists with the paradoxical zetetic seeking for the ultimate, positive, immediate truth. Here, then, are the two hyperboles: the appeal to the most sensible of certainties as well as to the most methodical of doubts; or, in other words, here are the two authors in which you find channeled that specific taste for hyperbole that Derrida diagnosed to himself: "Exaggerated hyperbolism. In the end, I exaggerate. I always do" (1996a: 81).
It is not, however, a purely idiosyncratic pathology, like the prosopoagnosia which Derrida accounted for in Carte postale. Grimm's tale revived by both Heidegger and Derrida points out the problems immanent in such an hyperbole. A hedgehog races a hare for the faster runner, but has the she-hedgehog posted at the finishing-line; so, no matter how fast the hare runs, the she-hedgehog is always already there, at the finishing-line, and says "I'm here already". The she-hedgehog saying "I'm here already" is perception making fun of dialectic, because it has always already begun, before any dialectic, in the same way as time has already settled in when we start reasoning about time and its original constitution; still, in perception there is dialectic, namely Aufhebung, the act whereby matter is known only through its exact antithesis, form.
One should not rush, however, to resolve everything into a universal mediation that constitutes the closest antecedent first of hyperbolic doubt, and then of dogmatic idealism. In fact, sense certainty which remains, as Hegel writes, the richest of all cognitions, is not as naïve as one might think. It is from it (namely, from that which Heidegger qualified as Dasein's thrownness: the fact that I am in a world which has begun before me and to which my reflection is inevitably second), it is from it that I get my standards of reality, adequacy, existence and presence; they, in turn, cater to the doubt, which is always derivative, for it grafts onto an experience just like time's, which surprises and anticipates a questioning that by definition will appear as subsequent. If this is true, then (), we always find ourselves both in excess of and in need for certainty. In fact, on the one hand, all the things we do, doubt included, presuppose a world; on the other hand, just because they are part of this world, they will never be able fully to decide upon their own validity. Which amounts to saying that radical alterity is impossibile, therefore one cannot conclusively distinguish waking from dreaming.
As Derrida makes explicit in Cogito and the History of Madness in his exchange with Foucault concerning Madness and Civilization, particularly Foucault's reading of the Cartesian doubt it is not only that the project to write a history of the other of reason is highly problematic (the other would be assimilated to the same the very moment it entered any history); rather, and furthermore, it is at bottom impossible to rule out the hypothesis of madness waking at the heart of reason, because, precisely, the doubt implied by madness is not the most extreme of all experiences, but only a secondary and derivative version of an all too common uncertainty, namely the check one suffers when attempting to ground in reason the difference between dreaming and waking. Leibniz wrote that metaphysically speaking a life-long dream cannot be ruled out; and Schopenhauer who did not doubt the outer world practically, but rather claimed that such a skepticism could only take hold over a mind marred by sophistry maintained that there is no difference between sleeping and waking, except for the following, that while awake we read the pages of the book of life one after the other, while in sleep we skim through it disorderly. The difficulty therefore lies precisely therein, that if it is reason (order) to tell us whether we are dreaming or awake, then such principle cannot be grounded in reason, for reason itself might be a dream.
It is not just a gnoseological relationship between doubt and certainty, it is also a chronological relationship between a copy and its original, so that the two levels inevitably gets mixed-up. The distinction between dream and wake, as well as between appearance and reality, and between copy and original, postulates an access to the as-such which is highly problematic. After all, if Plato argues against mimesis, it is not because of a generic and anachronistic disapproval of art, but rather () for the same reasons which lead him to condemn writing in the Phaedrus because on the one hand art pragmatically questions the relationship between original and copy, while on the other hand, and most importantly, art thematizes the genesis of idea from iteration. What are ideas but eide, namely pictures organized by a visual code and related to both painting and mimicry this much Plato could stand but also to the matterless phantoms that are everything we have? A good mimesis is one which takes us along the thread of a good memory from the empirical world of repetitions to the transcendental or apriori-like world of simple essences,so as to build up a demarcating line in which what is repeated lies here, on our side, while on the other lies the originary. It does not seem to be irrelevant, though, that such originary, the world of ideas that is, occurs as representation, therefore as, again, mimesis and repetition. Hence precisely the need for a transcendental questioning ().
Now, the pre-philosophical man who believes in what lies in front of him is not simply naïve. He points out from the very beginning that some experience of temporality and spatiality has been at work since the moment of the "this" of sense certainty (which indeed is precisely the "Da" of Dasein); an inevident experience, to be sure, since it vanishes in the phenomenon which gave rise to, but one representing itself according to that very retaining which in the realm of reflection is assigned the task of contesting the alleged immediacy of sense certainty. The relationship between immediacy and mediation thus constitutes, traditionally, the fundamental problem of perception: if perception implies a mediation as its basis, then how can we distinguish between two kinds of repetition, namely the ideal and the real one? As you see, from Socrates on, many have maintained that nothing exists outside the text. Indeed, that perception is nothing simple nor immediate is the traditional finding of the critique of simple or immediate identification of sensation with knowledge, from Thaetetus to Hegel's Phenomenology: if knowledge really consisted in sensation, then we should not even be aware of perceiving, therefore we would not perceive at all; but if, viceversa, perception requires (in fact, it presupposes) retention, then retention both makes perception possible, by safekeeping it, and destitutes it, for what is retained as ideality appears different, in time, from what is perceived in the present impression. This is the argument instituting the critique of sense certainty at the outset of Hegel's Phenomenology: if you say "it is night now" by relying on sense evidence and then make a written note of such alleged truth, you will find that twelve hours later the sentence is no longer true. In this sense the safety of perception, its true objectivity, lies not in the present sensation, but in idealization, which amounts to an interiorization.
Such shift from perception to interiorization and hence to idealization is inevitable, as soon as one pauses to consider sensation. Sense certainty, which is the form of all presence (iterating and alterating itself in intelligible presence), is also the most fragile among all presences, because ephemeral. From Plato to Descartes, from Locke to Husserl, true presence is not the mirage of the senses, but presence inscribed in the soul: "objectivity and innerness  only appear opposite, since the meaning of idealization (from Plato to Husserl) is to confirm them simultaneously, one through the other. Ideal objectivity preserves its self-identity, its integrity and resistence so much better, insofar as it no longer depends on a sensible empirical presence" (1972a: 108n.). The form of truth does lie in sensible presence, but since it is a transient hic et nunc, it will have to be fastened into something more lasting, namely idea, which, on this level, will be nothing but the outcome of a retention occurring within the possibility of indefinite iteration. That is why Aufhebung is so central, whose instituting role Derrida underscored already at the level of perception, and is also why Hegel concludes that language "constitutes a higher truth". Within consciousness we own a reality that is still there at the end of the day, for it constitutes itself as ideality; in it, what outside may appear perishable or fallaciuos keeps in its full certainty (even Hume's skepticism of the outer world spared mathematic idealities, and Descartes could question them only through the hypothesis of the evil spirit). Now, since the opening of the game (it is certainly not us who started it, since it takes place long before we begin to reflect upon it) we find ourselves in an embarassing predicament, for that which ensures presence, namely the form of something under our senses, is also that which destitutes it, because form lends itself to iteration, therefore to shift from an intuitionistic to a formalistic paradigm, and furthermore, from a seemingly immediate presence to an indefinite (that is, iterative) number of either reproductions or simulations of presence. The worst part is, that does not follow from a skeptical intent, but is exactly the result of the research and thematization of certainty.
What are the impasses in which even the best-meaning and least skeptical research exhausts itself? First of all, that which looks like a bothersome but apparently harmless circularity: on the one hand, all concepts whereby form could be determined refer to presence, beginning with the instituting concept of "living present" in Husserl (1972a: 188); on the other hand, and reciprocally, presence is form, and that constitutes the very evidence through which, precisely, past and future cannot ever be thought otherwise than in the form of either a past present or a future present (1972a: 37). Through a telling crisscross, logic takes its model from aesthetics, while at the same time aesthetics finds in logic its own safety and certainty. The unheard-of privilege of the present (Hegel), the present as Urform preserving itself for ever-new matters (Ideen I, § 81), the very notion of "logical form" in Wittgenstein, are the product of a deep-seated solidarity. There is nothing but the present, which means that there is nothing but forms, namely that hyle as such never occurs. Most notably, this is not simply a historical decision, it is rather a phenomenological constraint (and a resource as well).
Now, what do we mean by "form"? The pointe of Husserl's reflection, as well as the critical site of phenomenology, lies precisely according to Derrida's analysis, firstly offered in Speech and Phenomena in identifying the peculiar features of form as ideality. Fallen and degenerated is that metaphysics which has blinded itself to the feature of ideality as chance of indefinite repetition of something which has rather been invented than fallen from the sky, something whose conservation is guaranteed by present, by the presence of the living present. However, this living present (that is, self-present and intentionally animated), as full presence and condition of ideality, is from the beginning haunted by two elements: the shift from retention to representation (as though an instant-like diastem occurred between presence and re-presentation as constitution of ideality), and the necessity of appresentation, namely of the transmission to others and traditionalization. At the moment in which Urform must be able to preserve itself beyond the punctuality of instant, it will have to call for mechanisms of retention and protention that are not structurally present. That is, it will have to employ signs and traces, languages and inscriptions, just in the same way in which Thales's invention, no less than Thaetetus's perception, would have remained a secret had it not been recorded on a tabula, later deposited into a language, and later still traditionalized in a writing. That is why a non-presence originally troubles the present, in its apparently firmest and certainest form, for it is precisely in living present that presence appears to be determined by sign (retention, in the perception of matterless form; appresentation, in the form of expression; the teleological projection of the text, in traditionalization); and the sign is understood within language, which is a logical apriori that paradoxically by now constitutes itself in view of presence.
It is not difficult to identify here the point where the circle turns into aporia. As we have just begun to see, what is hiding inside this process is precisely the circumstance that ideality sets itself as a chance of indefinite repetition, so that the determination of being as presence gets confused with the determination of being as ideality. Thus, on the one hand, if idealization is possible, it is because it has already taken place in perception, which grasped a matterless form, so that the diastem between ideal and real appears from the beginning hard-to-find and problematic, in principle at least. On the other hand, however, ideal presence (the perfection of presence) appears to be troubled by two non-presences: analytically, not accidentally, owing to its connection with temporality (which in Husserl's terms is the constitution of present through retention and protention). Firstly, form carries within itself its own matter, its own genesis, archaeologically. Form is form-of; we do not have pictures, rather matterless forms, although we never access hyle as such. Form always has a past, and that is its matter (this is what both Schelling and Levinas hint at when they talk about "a past which has never been present", that is precisely about the dynamis which, although never present as such, must be thought of as implied by enèrgheia). Secondly, and most importantly since this concerns essentially the interiorized ideal form, the perfection of morphè form constantly carries within itself its own teleology, namely its future. If it is an ideal form, a perfect structure, then it must be possible to repete it to infinity. This teleology which exceeds form, introduces a non-presence a not-yet at the heart of the present, which then appears to be constituted, therefore not entirely present: it comes from some past and anticipates some future (as we shall see, if there weren't a future, time would be defluxion rather than fluxion).
Here then is the aporia: on the one hand, presence is self-presence of consciousness in a living present, that is, as instantaneity unmediated by either retentions or protentions, where instantaneity precisely constitutes the telos of every sign, and the sign is defined in turn as provisional reference to some presence; yet on the other hand the living present, as possibility of indefinite repetition, turns out to be determined by that very non-presence (sign, retention, protention) which would merely be its own vicarious, provisional, or supplemental structure. Such substitution, above all, is not accidental, for it proves constitutive of the notion of "presence" designating a possibility of repetition which is capable of surviving the disappearance of the empirical living. Now, if that is so, then the originary point from which Husserl derives his analysis living present as unity of form and matter will turn out impossible to identify as such, and to distinguish, in principle, from ideality and iterability, so that precisely the distinction between originary and derivative, between presence and representation is compromised as a matter of principle. The reasons underlying the crisscrossing of presentation and representation are indeed spelled out by Derrida when describing the movement of temporality and the constitution of intersubjectivity. Let us examine them in detail.
As to the problem of temporization, the aporia can briefly be described as follows: presence is as such something instantaneous, and Husserl aims, through the very notion of living present, at making it the source of any other form of presence. What is present, however? It is simply the limit between past and future, nothing in itself, and if it is something, it is so only insofar as it is the outcome of something which is no longer and of something which is not yet. Since his 1923-24 lectures on First Philosophy, Husserl had considered the thing to have not only an inner, but also an outer horizon, made up by past and future. This is not accidental, since if the past did not constitute the premise of the present, then we would not be able to identify the present as such, and if the present did not constantly orient itself toward the not-yet of the future, then properly we would not have time, which is phenomenologically perceived not just as defluxion from past to present, but as fluxion coming to the present from the past and orienting itself toward the future. It then happens that the very first and ultimate fundamental of presence turns out to be but the limit between two non-presences, so that, properly speaking, instead of thinking of the past and the future as two alterations of the present, one should think of the present as a determined alteration of two non-presences (and therefore conceive of the living present not as an originary irradiating point wherefrom forms and matters will be drawn, but to the contrary, as the junction of matterless forms with formless matters).
By introducing retention and teleology, however, we have now touched upon the problem of the constitution of intersubjectivity. We have seen it already: perception is nothing unless it is firstly retained by the subject, then linguistically deposited, next dialogically transmitted to others, lastly traditionalized through writing. True enough, from the linguistic deposit onwards we are not dealing with something inherent in all perceptions, but only with a principle which proves to be teleologically involved in perceiving. It is easy to remark, however, that even in the case of the solitary self-relationship of the soul, the latter cannot operate in the absence of a scriptural deposit, as is traditionally indicated by the picture of the soul as tabula rasa.
It is just in order to remedy such situation and to let present be something more than a breath, that Husserl feels forced, in the The Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness (1928), to assert the phenomenological validity of retention, that is, to assume within phenomenology, which rests on the principle of evidence, something that evident is not, namely that past is retained and present is defined by way of difference from it. Evidence, in this sense, is not so much perception as rather the fact that retention has been preceded by a perception: indeed, in this sense we may see what ultimately motivates Derrida to turn to the notion of trace, namely to that which, in the presence, refers to something which is not present (typically we just saw it , punctual instant would not be full presence, but would appear to be present better still, would offer itself as the very form of presence only to the extent to which it would refer to a past preceding it and to a future for which is heading). At the same time, certainty would not lie with the living present, which would appear as a surface effect, rather with something which in the strict sense is neither present not living, a sheer resource of retention in which amorphous matters and anhyletic forms may weld together.
Now, it is not difficult to find the common root of these difficulties. If full presence is "not susceptible to be exhibited phenomenologically" (Bernet 1986: 54), that is not due to some immaterialistic whim, but because "the idea of pure presence is contestedby phenomenological descriptions referring to the movement of temporization and to the constitution of intersubjectivity" (Costa 1996: 21). The paradox therefore is that of that presence which appears to be the clearest thing, there is but a mirage. The problem that tormented Husserl was in fact to tell what distinguishes a hallucination from an actual perception, and what holds for the presence of the object also holds for the self-presence of the subject, namely that it should be a guarantee from the uncertainties of the outside. There is no need to go back to the ancient questions concerning the distinction between being and phenomenon; it will suffice to consider that Kant (A 120n.) underscored that imagination already intervenes in perception, first of all because the grasping of an event as such presupposes the retention of past events as well as of the present one. Thus it happens that traditional criteria employed to distinguish reality from hallucination, namely constancy and consistence of representation, turn out to be the same ones involved in the genesis of hallucination.
We understand why the risk of total madness, in Descartes, does not consist in the experience of the few, namely being naked and believing to be kings, rather in that which everybody has, namely being men and dreaming every night. Against the objection that hallucination (or dream) is less constant than perception, it is easy to see that here we are dealing with a purely empirical appeal, while as a matter of right (as Leibniz replied to Locke, and as Derrida will remark in his reading of Austin, 1972a: 367-393) we have no criteria to distinguish the veridical picture from the hallucinated one. What is real is evident from the viewpoint of naïve understanding (as a matter of fact from this viewpoint we have no problem); as retention, however, ideality defines both ideal and real, and it is at this level that the distinction appears problematic. In fact, it is just at the level of either right or ideality that the question arises of discriminating between two representations, the ideal and the real one. Téniers's painting discussed by Husserl in Ideen and placed by Derrida at the outset of Speech and Phenomena epitomizes the situation: now, Husserl suggests, let us suppose that the paintings in the gallery represent in turn other paintings, which in turn represent "inscriptions which can be deciphered", according to an unstoppable mise en abyme, which is not just a matter of pictures, but of traces and writings, namely all that in the presence refers to something else. At this point the question arises: how to distinguish presentation from representation, simple presence from all its iterations, on the one hand, and on the other hand from the chain of references which it may give rise to? This mise en abyme is, to a certain extent, the standard condition of perception: not owing to a decision, but just because if we have no criteria to distinguish the ideal from the real, then the circumstance whereby these difficulties may only be encountered at the level of right and ideality, not at the level of fact, cannot be exorcised by shrugging one's shoulders and saying, for example: "but these people are crazy, and I would be just as crazy if I conducted myself after their example". In fact, what would it happen if instead of conducting ourselves following the crazy we tried to follow the example of the sane? To perceive means to make notes, which amounts to saying that perception is conceived from the beginning as matterless form (eidos aneu tes hyles; cfr. De anima 424a17 and De memoria 450a31-32). Husserl's aporias therefore summarize a long-standing tradition.
Firstly, there is the aporetics of presence. The first and most apparent problem is that here no distinction is secured between aesthetics and logic (both sensations and thoughts are impressed on the tabula, both sharing a purely formal character, namely that of form as form of presence). The second is that it seems to be very difficult, from this perspective, to distinguish perception from memory. In Philebus (38e 39a), after memory has been defined as the "safeguard of sensation" (in fact, as we are beginning to realize, memory is at the same time the possibility of sensation), the soul is described as a book in which an internal scribe writes down speeches; when "this comprehensive process of affection writes the truth", then speeches and opinions (doxai) turn out true, false in the opposite case. Now, if in any case we are dealing with forms, it does not seem easy at all to determine the criterion to distinguish true from false opinions; the difficulty reappears in De anima, when Aristotle maintains that the difference between doxa and phantasia lies in this, that the former may be either true or false, while in the latter we may deliberately pretend. Here, apparently, the problem is that on this basis there are no criteria to distinguish between veridic impression and imagination, just as, logically (following Wittgenstein), the discrimination between following a rule and thinking of following a rule gets complicate. The third problem, following from the difficulty immanent in the distinction between perception and memory, concerns the difficulty to distinguish between simple presence (presentation) and representation. When fully developed, this argument leads to the difficulty of distinguishing between presence and absence. It is not difficult to see, at this point, why the problem of writing is so central: in Phaedrus (275c-276b) outer writing is condemned, but only because it spoils memory, namely "the discourse that is written with knowledge in the soul of the learner"; the bifidity of this approach, thematized in Plato's Pharmacy, consists however in this, that the soul (the inside) seems to draw its model from the outside (which on the other hand is repressed and condemned, namely demoted to mimicry), and the possibility of something's presence to someone's soul in the end coincides with the possibility of an absence, since the character of writing lies in its capacity to function even in the absence of the original intentionality, as well as of the addressee.
Yet this too we have seen in Husserl there is a second family of aporias, which Aristotle already pointed out in the fourth book of the Physics, and Derrida thematizes in Ousìa et grammé (1972a: 31-78); they concern the present, for a change. In fact, what appears to be chiefly present, namely the instant (here we are!), the exact moment wherefrom the here of Being-there and the this of sense certainty are thought, cannot be really such, for if presence were not simply a limit between past and future, but had a density of its own, then things from ten thousand years ago would be contemporary with things of today, and time would not be, but would turn into space (that is, it would shift from the order of succession to that of coexistence). On the other hand, it is not clear how, if time is made up by non-beings (namely if present is simply a limit and not a being), what is inside time may have any density at all. We thus have two versions: either the instant is something, and then time, as sum of instants, is not, for it becomes an order of coexistences rather than an order of successions; or instant is not (namely it is only a limit between past and future), and then it is impossible to see how, since it is made up by non-beings, time may have a being of its own. Hence, Aristotle concludes, time is not, or nearly is. The difficulty then is that what makes possible to experience beings as beings (that they are present and in present, in space and in time) eludes ontological thematization.
Within this framework Derrida, confines himself firstly to sum up. If we are looking for true presence, we are certainly going to find it, only, however, as ideal presence, and then our certainties lose the ground on which they rest: "Ideality is either salvation or mastery of presence in repetition. In its purity, such presence is not presence of anything existing in the world, it is correlated with acts of repetition which are in themselves ideal" (1967b: 114). How to distinguish, as soon as you reach ideality (it happens right away), between retention (primary memory) and recollection (secondary memory), namely, in Aristotelian terms, between mneme and anamnesis, or in Hegelian terms, between Erinnerung and Gedächtnis? Psychologically such a distinction appears very problematic (1967b: 73). The issue is not (1967b: 103-105) to reduce the abyss separating retention and recollection, rather to consider that, lacking a certain absence, it would be impossible even to define retained presence, in the same way that language works as a system of differences, and we would not properly be able to talk about a color if that were the only color. Still more seriously, can we really set aside the most hyperbolic hypothesis, consisting not so much in the factual difficulty to distinguish between dreaming and waking, as rather in the theoretical evidence which conceives both wake and the vigilance of living present as the secundary outcome of iteration? This would not be against Husserl, but would comply with his own analyses, which in this case contradict his intentions: "Vorstellung [representation] itself is thus as such made contingent against Husserl's expressed intention upon the possibility of repetition, and the simplest Vorstellung, namely presentation (Gegenwärtigung), upon the possibility of re-presentation (Vergegenwärtigung). The presence-of-present is derived from repetition, not viceversa" (1967b: 58). Living present and, more globally, the notion of life lying at the very heart of it appears to be divided in itself and determined by something which appears neither present nor alive: "Presence is therefore posited and particularly consciousness, the being-by-itself of consciousness not as the absolute form-matrix of being, but as a `determination' and as an `effect'. Either determination or effect inside a system which is no longer the system of presence but of difference, which no longer tolerates the opposition between activity and passivity, nor that between cause and effect or determination and indetermination, etc." (1972a: 17). It is on the basis of these remarks that many have wished to see in Derrida a skeptic, a postmodernist, in short, a "charlatan" hiding behind a smoke screen, and did not consider that smoke is always sign of something, although not currently present or not so easy to determine.
Secondly (as we shall we, this is the general method ruling Derrida's work) the aporia which was neither wished nor invented, but handed down and justified by tradition is to be turned into an asset, although not a merely speculative one, since there is no doubt sense certainty testifies to this that the present is there. We just cannot prove it, no more than Baron Münchhausen could get himself out of the pond by pulling the nape of his own neck; here, in fact, we are facing the typical transcendental problem: how can you give what you do not have? Scholastics employed the formula: forma dat esse rei, and after all Derrida merely underscores that by giving being to thing, form (that is, presence and retention together) posits the premisses to revoke it. Yet that which, with the one hand, is summoned as destituting presence, also appears as the way through which another hand might proceed to constituting it. The duplicity of pharmakon, both poison and remedy, begins its therapeutic action. In a different lexicon that of dialectics, which Derrida thinks he has at least partly abandoned the issue is then of making contradiction productive. The original synthesis giving rise to perception and to idealization is synthesis of matter and form, outside and inside, originary and constituted temporality (1953-4: it. 155-6). Like all syntheses, this one too is an impure in which we mix together perceptual faith and uncertainty concerning sense testimony generally.
Given that we are in such impure mix, there is no need to assume a primary evidence, immanent in consciousness, which might be counterposed at a later time by some faith in the outer existence of intuition qualifying it as sensation: faith comes before consciousness, just as sensation precedes the reflection questioning it; the originary presenting of sensation to consciousness is characteristically a sensation of something; by itself, the sheer circumstance that such presenting takes place in a present, in time that is, shows that outside there is something, although not necessarily what we want or, more seriously, see. As Derrida remarks (1967b: 82-3 n.), in both Aristotle and in Heidegger the sense of being precedes the notion of being. Be it the sense of the word being (as in Heidegger), or the sense as sensation (there is nothing in the understanding that has not earlier been in the senses), we have here a circle emptying a priori all possible ontological radicalness of the hyperbolic doubt, while obviously preserving intact all its legitimate gnoseological claims or precautions. We do not in any way doubt that beings, if they were there, would be existing; yet, if we know what is existing (if therefore we must have had some experience of it), then not only do we assume some existence, we also have already experienced it. Just because of this, sense certainty is not a mere inaugural fiction, the false belief which shall have to be refuted so that a different truth comes in. It is true that as a matter of right, reality and representation cannot be distinguished from one another, precisely because we always grasp forms, never matters. It is a fact, however, that they are distinct from one another, and that the task as well as the soundness of an ontology rest with the right which is granted to that fact. Now, if someone argued that nothing is, there would neither be room for the hyperbole; sense certainty then inhabits the center of the hyperbolic doubt. Do not we already possess some experience of that which we question through the critique of sense certainty and more globally (literally) of the existence of the outer world?
If this is so, then the fact that it is impossibile to ground sense certainty is not enough to justify in the last appeal hyperbolic doubt; the latter remains the shadow of things (). That the difference between retention and reproduction is not a distinction between perception and non-perception, but between two alterations of non-perception, has the value of an hyperbole, and essentially relates God's viewpoint; it is to this viewpoint that Descartes refers in the hyperbolic doubt, which in fact he can ground in its ultimate consequences only thanks to the fiction unthinkable before Ockham of an all-powerful demon capable of deceiving even about the most evident matters. Which means, when viewed from another angle, that if it is necessary to call upon God to defeat sense evidence, the latter's value is no less hyperbolic than the doubt's.
This line of reasoning is leading us to consider that, as Derrida has often insisted, only failures produce something. In the case in point, the opposing hypotheses of pure empiricism and pure idealism annul each other: 1. Be the idealism hypothesis. As dogmatic idealism, it is worth nothing; as problematic idealism, Kant remarked, it is "in accordance with a thorough mode of thought". But it is so precisely because it carries within itself something spurious, for in the Cartesian hypothesis sensible reality has already been introduced (the cogito is a phenomenon, a temporal one precisely); and together with an inside, a tabula has been postulated in which flowing and temporization may take place. Here is the meaning of the hyperbole of sense certainty: the object (let it even be the subject as phenomenon for itself) is given before the law and any sort of doubt are given. 2. Let us now consider the hypothesis of pure empiricism. Without the alterity of bodies, not even the alterity of the alter ego could rise (1967a: 157-158), yet the very experience of other bodies and other selves testifies to the impossibility of wholly transposing oneself into the other, namely of achieving pure empiricism. When Levinas, concerning death, talks about an "empiricism that has in itself nothing positivistic", Derrida (1967a: it. 195) wonders whether it is generally possible to talk about "an experience of the other or of difference"; in fact, if the concept of experience is determined as present experience (present to a conscience, that is), then a contradiction opens up between presence and experience, where by "experience" is meant the reference to some alterity. Empiricism would therefore represent (1967a: it. 194-5) the complete "inclination of thought in front of the Other", a "resolute acceptance of inconsistent inconsistency, inspired by some truth deeper than the `logic' of philosophical discourse", insofar as it is a "resignation of concept, of apriori and of the transcendental horizons of language". The mistake of radical empiricism would lie in "presenting itself as a philosophy", while on the contrary it presents itself as "the dream of a thought which is purely heterologic in its origin. Pure thought of pure difference. Empiricism is its philosophical name, its metaphysical claim or modesty. We say dream because it vanishes in the light and since the dawn of language". Experience of the as-such, or experience as such, is impossible, just as it is impossible a radically alienated look at the world which we always already inhabit. Yet by the very impossibility of reaching certainty a certainty is achieved.
In fact, it is the unfeasibility of a total phenomenization, namely the defeat of empiricism, which far from corroborating hyperbolic doubt, lends a decisive hand to sense certainty. That not just persons, but indeed things and bodies in the first place, hide something which can be simply anticipated by way of analogy (for instance, the unseen faces of a die) reveals that alterity belongs to ontology generally. Now, what is hiding in the empiristic dream is thus the other hyperbole from what is represented by the Cartesian dream: in fact, "self-presence  has never been given, rather dreamed of" (1967c: it. 131). To be able really to annul the outside, the cogito should be entirely certain of itself, but that would in turn require it to be sure that all it sees is entirely immanent, with no residue or transcendence; yet this is something the critic idealist has no proof of (isn't this the reason why he doubts?), and he could certainly not be satisfied with the convictions of dogmatic idealism. On the other side (the empiricism's), if it is problematic to hold the position of hyperbolic doubt in its absolute claim to ontologically revoke the world, it is equally hyperbolic the demand of an absolute empiricism aiming to a philosophical access to the other as such, namely to a full presence as a for-itself which were not also a for-us, namely that wished to penetrate the world not just as representation but also as will. In short, the very fact that I only know myself through others, that is that I know myself as other and as phenomenon, implies an underlying realistic faith. Alterity is always already at the heart of ipseity, just because the latter is not present to itself. So that precisely what interrupted the self-presence of the cogito in the living present ends up providing the proof of the outer world. In other words, the proof we possess of the outer world derives just from our very incapacity of ultimately funding experience, included of course the instituting experience that is the cogito's self-intuition. This is why Husserl, and Heidegger in his sway (1927a: § 43a), found unmotivated the demand for the proof of the outer world. The reason did not lie, as in Moore's argument, in the being "evident" of the outer world, but rather in a certain inevidence, namely in the fact that the object's as well as the world's sense of being are supplied within an impure framework, that is within a temporal synthesis which we cannot grasp as unmediated given.
It is the reasoning developed in the Kantian refutation of Descartes (B 275-276). The cogito perceives itself as temporal fluxion, but in order for the fluxion to recognize itself as such, there ought to be, outside, something stable to insure the flowing of the cogito. If this argument may sound a bit dry and formal, it might be better to draw on a second argument, less evident but exactly to the point, which refers not to the temporization of the cogito, rather to a certain intentional relation that links us to the world. Can we really doubt that something is there? Where would we get the feeling of this lack from? (as you see, it is the core of Descartes' argument for the ontological proof of the existence of God, stripped of the objectivist element). Assuming that one may imagine to feel joy, and that such imagination be different from joy, why on earth would one imagine to suffer? At bottom, in Locke's argument (Essay, IV, II, 14) in favor of the outer world, reference is made to this specific point: we may well think that there is no difference between burning and dreaming of burning, but at that point arguments are of no use. In other words, though one might always find insufficient the Kantian proof of the existence of the outer world in the first Critique, the true proof is that which Kant, in the Critique of Judgment, had rather used as an argument for aesthetic disinterestedness vis-à-vis the existence of the objects. The analysis of feelings, namely the critique of judgment concerning not the existence of the objects but rather the examination of the effect they exert upon us, in fact qualifies itself as a self-affection which, exactly like in the case of temporality, reveals itself to be a hetero-affection (1978a: 55). That is indeed the meaning of time as self-affection which acknowledges itself to be both internal and external, precisely insofar as it presupposes something to exist as the cause of sensation, and gets proof of it in the very moment in which it estimates the effects of the outside on the inside. Now, in the judgment of taste we do not care whether things are there or not, we are only interested in the pleasure and displeasure they effect upon us. Even if we doubt about everything, even if as a matter of principle we have suspended any reference to the object, still the latter keeps generating in us a feeling of pleasure and displeasure. This amounts to saying in phenomenological lexicon that alterity has already constituted ipseity, and that such constitution fails neither in the skeptical hyperbole nor in the aesthetic epoch . And yet, is that not precisely the moment when the two hyperboles join hands, namely when sense certainty of naïve physics and hyperbolic doubt come together? We bear within us traces of the outside, which means that we cannot wholly interiorize (phenomenize, that is) the outside, and that our doubt will never be able really to hit the question of being, only that of the veracity of representation.
Something is present (pharmakon as a remedy) only to the extent that it is not entirely present (pharmakon as poison). We do not have an experience as such and the other remains transcendent, therefore dense. Given these premisses, the proof of the outer world would be a variation of the Freudian theme of mourning (1988a, 1988h, 1994b, 1994e). Mourning can never succeed: you either leave the other alone, and then you have not brought it back to the ego; or you eat it, and bring it back to the ego, but then mourning fails. Now, just as mourning can never succeed because it either leads to integral extraneity or to integral identity, so the constitution of subjectivity appears itself determined by an outside which it cannot grasp as such, but which nonetheless it must necessarily presuppose. It is clear that we are dealing with a recurring structure which consists, according to the first gesture of deconstruction, in hyperbolizing traditional counterpositions (for instance and typically, that between sense certainty and hyperbolic doubt), and, according to the second gesture of deconstruction, in bringing out of this tension a third element which suspends the validity of traditional pairs or oppositions.
This procedure is made possible by recurring to that hyperdialectic performance which Derrida named "logic of supplement" (which can in fact be recognized in the bifidity of writing as pharmakon, of double bind and of all double figures thematized by deconstruction): 1. It is just what ensures presence (the possibility of retention) that which destitutes it (because of the permanent chance of confusion between retention, idealization and iteration). 2. On the other hand, the very fact that this impasse inheres in form, and that form is never entirely present, testifies to the fact that not everything is phenomenon and indeed, that something exists, although as reference, namely as a supplement which both reveals how presence is not full (fully present), and makes possible the becoming-present of presence. At the origin, then, there is not simple presence, rather a reference which Derrida characterizes by the figure of the "supplement" that "takes the place of something that gave in, of a non-meaning or of a non-represented, of a non-presence. There is no present before it, therefore it is only preceded by itself, by another supplement, that is. Supplement is always the supplement's supplement. If one wishes to go back from the supplement to the source, one must acknowledge that there is some supplement at the source" (1967c: 342-343).
- prof. Maurizio Ferraris -
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