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Friday, 18 December 2015

Experience in a space of traces (or, more on Whitehead and Derrida)

I've been haunted by this strange and daunting crave to bring together Derrida and Whitehead. I've done that in several recent posts (such as this, and this and this or this). I always do that often especially while reading Critchley's book on Derrida and Levinas (The Ethics of Deconstruction) with which I find myself agreeing with enthusiasm.

In the last few days I came to think that if text is broader than language and written difference precedes (as conditions of possibility) not only meaning and the employ of symbols but also presence and whatever counts as the ontic itsel, writing is the territory where the ultimate object of experience lies. Experience is experience of traces (of writing marks). The Derridean correlate for the ontological difference is that between logocentrism (as in logic, physiology, psychology or ethology) as discourses and text, as the ontological is not the realm of presence - which is transcendentally constituted - but rather the space of traces. It is on such a space that the readers - like actual entities - graze. To be sure, reading is also writing but what is left is primarily traces that themselves carve up differences - the grazed land is the land of differance. Text is what gives rise to both concepts and to the sense of spacial orientation.
It is like the Deleuzian (and Guattarian in Anti-Oedipus) territorial machine. Text is made of traces to be read, to be interpreted. Hence, space and time depend on temporal differences (timings) and spacial distances (forms). This space of traces is what enable readers to read something into this weaving of indefinite differences which are the remained traces. They read through a matrix of differences and indifferences - to say with Whitehead, through their sense of importance. Importance is attached to text to bring in meaning and presence. The space of traces precedes communication and intention. It also makes experience, as prehension, a form of reading the existing text. In Limited Inc, Derrida acknowledges that

[...] the [...] possibility of being weaned from the referent or from the signified (hence from communication and from its context) seems
to me to make every mark, including those which are oral, a grapheme in general; which is to say, as we have seen, the non-present remainder of a differential mark cut off from its putative 'production' or origin. And I shall even extend this law to all 'experience' in general if it is conceded that there is no experience consisting of pure presence but only of chains of differential marks.

Experience is experience of difference (differance), it is experience of what can only be turned into presence if a sense of importance (by a perceiver, an actual entity) is added. An actual entity, an experiencer, is a completed prehension, a completed experience. Both in Derrida and Whitehead presence is explained away (in an at least quasi-transcendental way) in terms of the process of experience. There is no ready-made presence available to experience - experience is an experience of yet unintelligible traces that are never rendered interpreted once and for all.

Now, as Critchley points out competently, for Derrida traces also bring in the mark of the other, they affect. Traces oblige. They make unconditional demands, they make readers go to some directions in their interpretation while avoiding others. In that sense, they are like faces. Faces are text, they are written. Faces are written marks. Their impact on us is often at odds with the conceptual structures that have been used. They resist being conceptualized. Deconstruction, dealing with two texts, two hands, two voices, emphasizes new differences within the text - deconstruction is a triangulation that takes place where presences arise. It is as if two senses of importance were in friction and then new differences emerge. Although it is not easy to explain the process in terms of traces, it is in the space of traces that all this takes place. Traces manifest against the way they are rendered into concepts or otherwise full-fledged presences. They oblige because they generate discomfort to the reader. Such discomfort would be of the same kind, albeit not fully similar, to the effect of the other's face in Levinas. The trace itself has an element of the Dire (of the saying), in contrast to the Dit (the said), in terms of Autrement qu'être. Traces say things that readers try to interpret as what has been said by them, but converting traces into Dit and believing that what has been said is fully present is the rule of the game of logocentrism.

To be sure, the postulation of a space of traces as the ultimate content of experience (or reading, of prehension) could sound like an empiricism unduly ascribed both to Derrida and to Whitehead. Not only there is a non-conceptual content that is available in experience but also there is a sharp distinction insinuated between perceiving (traces) and interpreting them. However, it is clear that intuitions (of traces) without a sense of importance (a reading strategy) are blind (or mute). Traces in themselves don't mean anything - and yet they host obligations. Traces are just traces, there is no ontology of traces - only perhaps a hauntology.

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