Texts, was Re: War as a happening thing

rc-am rcollins at netlink.com.au
Sun Jan 23 22:35:27 PST 2000

Carrol wants explanations. This might help -- or not. But there seems to be no briefer way to consider the phrase 'there is nothing beyond the text'. The substance of the citation is in the second para; but it doesn't make much sense without situating it in the discussion about writing, speech and trace, Derrida, Althusser, Foucault.

from Warren Montag's excellent essay in _Ghostly Demarcations_, "Spirits Armed and Unarmed: Derrida's Specters of Marx" Verso [An especially good conclusion in Montag's essay, which I don't cite here.]

"In an interview conducted by Fernanda Navarro in 1984, Althusser employed the idea of the trace in a discussion of materiality: 'materiality may be different from the matter of the physicist or the chemist or the worker who transforms metal or earth. I will take it to the extreme: it could be a simple trace, the materiality of the gesture that leaves a trace, the indiscernibility of the trace that it leaves on the wall of a cave or on a sheet of paper .... Derrida has shown that the primacy of the trace (of writing) is found even in the phoneme emitted by the voice that speaks' ('Philosophie et marxisme', 43). Althusser of course refers to Derrida's critique of logocentrism, the priveliging of voice over writing, the assumption of 'the essential and immediate proximity' (_Grammatology_) of voice to mind [...]

To the extent that he [Foucault] offers an interpretation of the same works, however, his assessment is diametrically opposed to that of Althusser. [...] For as Althusser's reading of _Grammatology_ (and some early texts) makes it (with considerable justification) a materialist or at least an anti-spiritualist work, Foucault insists that the notion of the trace (of writing), exactly as isolated by Althusser, represents transcendental-religious thought _en son ultime eclat_, a way of preserving the very hierarchy of thought-speech-writing (a hierarchy implicated in the category of the author) that Derrida would subvert. The idea of an originary writing, instead of calling into question every notion of an ideal origin, transposes it into 'an a priori transcendental' that replaces living voice with the living text, a ' "textualising" of discursive practices' (_Archaeology_, 27). Foucault accuses Derrida of practicing 'a very determinate little pedagogy ... which teaches the student that there is nothing outside the text {il n'y a rien hors du texte}, but that in it, in its interstices, in its lacunae and its silences, reigns the reserve of the origin; that it is in no way necessary to look elsewhere than here, not in the words certainly, but in the words under erasure' ('My Body', 27). Much of this, particularly the subtle transposition of 'il n'y a pas de hors-texte' into 'there is nothing outside the text', appears to attribute to Derrida statements that are not to be found in his work and whose meaning seems to run counter to his philosophical objectives, both as they were stated and as they were realized. And yet Foucault's formulations found their way into a number of critiques of Derrida in the Anglophone world years before his response to Derrida was translated into English through, among others, Edward Said's counterposing of Derrida and Foucault in his essay 'The Problem of Textuality: Two Exemplary Positions' (1978).


Unfortunately, the phrase 'il n'y a pas de hors-texte', which stresses the materiality of texts, their irreducibility to something 'more real' than themselves, the need to seek another way of understanding their determination than through the concept of representation, was rendered 'there is nothing outside the text' -- a phrase which, even with the French placed next to it in brackets, suggests an idealism foreign to _Of Grammatology_. Thus, 'there is nothing outside the text' became the flash-point for a misunderstanding of Derrida's work that continues to proliferate today." pp.75-81


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