Or perhaps I should ask what it tells us about this course?
Some background – over the last few weeks we’ve been discussing the nature of authorship in relation to discourse and creativity, with reference to texts by Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Janet Wolff and Jorge Luis Borges. As a way of galvanizing some further insights into this subject, for the Lab session this week we watched the film ‘Derrida’.
The reason why I ask what it tells us about this course is because this was the second time we’d been shown this film as part of it. The previous occasion was two weeks ago for the Philosophy And… lecture with Alex Düttmann. For that, the discussion centered around what it meant for there to be a film about a philosopher and could a philosopher’s ideas be translated into the cinematic medium?
The section of the film that Alex lighted upon as particularly significant was the point at which Jacques Derrida is asked what he would like to see in a documentary about a philosopher – Hegel or Heidegger, say. Derrida replies after a moments thought with: “their sex-lives,” later clarifying this as those things about which they never speak, in this case their personal lives.
This was then related by Alex to the exploration of certain understandings of ‘truth’ evinced by philosophers—and indeed filmmakers. An understanding that cinema could perhaps help by concentrating on these impromptu remarks that ‘betray’ truth. Betrayal was contrasted with stating truths – what philosophy is normally concerned to do.This other dimension of truth would only manifest itself in that it is ‘betrayed’.
Looking back over my notes, I’m a bit unsure whether Alex was referring to Derrida’s impromptu remark or the possible impromptu remarks that Hegel or Heidegger would make during their own documentaries. I guess it’s irrelevant. What we have here is an example of Derrida performing his own detournement within the film, revealing more than he would have wanted perhaps – I think his being filmed watching previously shown footage of himself demonstrates his complicity in this action – at one point he watches footage of himself watching footage of himself just to over-emphasise the point. This surely is a state of deconstruction, a situation whereby the subject is always already showing the way to their own disassembling?
After the second showing we touched upon the presence of the ‘other’ as the agent creating meaning through the actions of the subject, so relating back to the author as just the first body to fix meaning after which there are a multitude of possible meanings. Towards the end of the film the narrator reads a quote from Derrida where he talks about a “secret self” revealed to the other that I cannot see and which is able to see meanings that the author cannot envision:
How can another see into me, into my most secret self, without my being able to see in there myself? And without my being able to see him in me. And if my secret self, that which can be revealed only to the other, to the wholly other, to God if you wish, is a secret that I will never reflect on, that I will never know or experience or possess as my own . . . (Derrida, 1995)
Our tutor, Paulo Plotegher, positioned this relation between the author and the other to Foucault’s ‘reversed’ conception of the author:
How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fiction threatens our world? The answer is: one can reduce it with the author. The author allows a limitation of the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations within a world . . . (Foucault, 1969)
Paulo said “instead of being the origin of meaning, fulfilling the work, he’s really a sort of device to enable us to make order in the potential proliferation of meaning”:
The truth is quite the contrary: the author is not an indefinite source of significations which fill a work; the author does not precede the works; he is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and re-composition of fiction. (Foucault, 1969)
Foucault returns the agency back to the author, in contrast to Barthes ‘death of the author’ (published two years previously). Returning to the film, Jacques Derrida creates a conception of the secret that is only visible to the other, and of which the author is unaware, which seems to move back into Barthes’ territory.
Barthes, R. (1967). The Death of the Author.
Derrida, J. (1995). The Gift of Death. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Düttmann, A. (2007). Discussion following screening of Derrida film. 31 January 2007
Foucault, M. (1969). What is an Author?
Plotegher, P. (2007). Discussion following screening of Derrida film. 8 February 2007.