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James Bevan Dr. Sarah Wood Advanced Critical Theory January 2013

When does a part become the whole in Aphorism Countertime and Romeo and Juliet? The very layout of Derridas Aphorism Countertime draws our attention to the question of parts and wholes. What is the motivation behind the structure of this essay, if we can call it an essay? Whilst demanding, there is seemingly a coherence throughout, overlap, direction. Visually, the aphorisms appear as self-contained entities, each has its own demarcation and even its respective number, yet it belongs to an apparent whole. This whole, the essay, has a discernible boundary, a beginning and end which the thirty-nine aphorisms frame. The singularity of this literary object becomes actualised by virtue of these boundaries. Aphorism brings the text into being and closes the text. This is the law of aphorism. It is outside our control, once it has touched us, it names, it flees. Left in its wake, aphorism leaves us to negotiate the frontier that we were once never able to see, the ultimate boundary - the boundary of death. Aphorism separated us from a whole, a whole which did not exist. The merging and dividing which we now create through aphorism are but a vestige, a reminder that we cannot come back into contact with the totality from which we were severed. Romeo and Juliet is a story which tries to bridge this unbridgeable gap, although tragically of course, only ever through aphorism. While each aphorism has a clear and distinct boundary, its signification proliferates wildly. Despite appearances, an aphorism never arrives by itself, it doesnt come all alone

(128). Each persons horizon of signification is a factory of networks, a rhizome. The ebbs and flow within an essay serve to illuminate but a small cross-section of these connections, which is all that is ever possible at one given time. To be human is to live in this vast relationality of this network, in this sense the relations become as real as the things themselves. Language is for telling, not naming. A series of names, no matter how large, does not constitute language, it is the consilience between each aphorism where language is found. There is no text, only context. Whilst Aphorism Countertime ends on the thirty-ninth aphorism, this marks only the beginning of its journey. Similarly, the death of the two starcrossed lovers resulted in the birth of the most ubiquitous Romance that English Literature has ever seen. It is the cataloguing of Derridas aphorisms which begs the question, where, if at all, does one aphorism end and the next begin, when do these parts become a whole? To say that each aphorism infects the understanding of the next - is this a contretemps, a clumsy way to say they are part of the same event? Possibly, but our impermanent lines which we use to divide the world are a mark of what is means to be human. To harness the authority to merge and divide is how we negotiate the world, a quality beholden by aphorism. For aphorisms encounter and its contact with the other are always given over to chance, to whatever may befall, good or ill (128). Aphorism outstrips (127), we are powerless to its dynamism. The question of merger and division are introduced to inexhaustible end in Derrida and Shakespeare. The whole which once was Aphorism Countertime has now disseminated into new parts by virtue of this text, sentence, word. As Romeo gallingly comes to realise, it is next to impossible for words to be private property. Erving Goffman in Strategic Interaction argues that information is the hardest thing to guard because it can be stolen without removing it (Goffman 112). Can the same be said for time? Words are not locatable in a particular spatio-temporality, it is for that very reason that aphorism releases us from the straightjacket of the present.

To be released from this present is to make it almost impossible to pinpoint identity, for this is a question which plagues philosophers: where do the boundaries of consciousness lie? The identity of Romeo and Juliet vacillates between the communal and the private: Art thou not Romeo, and a Mountague? (Shakespeare 59). By virtue of its composition, Derridas text also questions the identity of each aphorism and addresses our necessity to divide parts and wholes right at the beginning of his essay: already [emphasis added] this could be read as a series of aphorisms (127). Can the first aphorism bear no influence to our reception of the second, or has an impossible task been implicitly set here? Derrida calls on the irrepressible semiotician inside of us, for dividing our visual field is the ongoing process that is self-reflexivity. At face value, Aphorism Countertime has the appearance of thirty-nine different aphorisms, some are connected in style, content, theme, but they all belong to Aphorism Countertime. To reason that the essay is merely sum of its parts, whilst it is strictly true, does an injustice to the scope of Derridas evocation. The prologue tells us an accurate summary of the events which unfold in Romeo and Juliet, and yet we go on, for we must fill in the gaps between each aphorism, gather the fossils. To be human, to use words, is to be in partly other than the here and now. There is a parallelism between the topology of Aphorism Countertime, the reading process and the bracketing of human subjectivity, all of which create parts from wholes, infected by the past and orientated toward the future. Is all reality unified and our mind splices it into parts - or is all reality fragmented and our mind brings it into a whole? Perhaps reality escapes parts and wholes altogether and relationality is but a disease of the mind. One must leave room to dance. Derrida, in the disjointed arrangement of the text, pays homage to the magic of being released from a single temporal unfolding. Is self-reflexivity and our ability to divide the world different parts of the same thing? Without losing oneself in the spectacle of otherness, where is the foreground to the background, where is the part to the whole? To read is to

synthesise a new position by merging our old horizon with the new. Similarly, the phenomenological process, how we as humans open ourselves to time, is a process which is ineluctably bracketed by its historicity, which in turn orients its possible future. In order for consciousness to be of conscious of something, it requires that we are able to define that something. Aphorism removes us from a state of rooted egocentricity by virtue of defining the other. Aphorism is intentionality. The emergence of the subject-object division requires our ability to create parts and wholes, to merge and divide, to define. Aphorism brings to an end by separating, it separates in order to end and to define (127). The degree to which we divide the world calls for the need of a new disciplines. To narrow it down to literary criticism, this discipline varies in its division of the literary object. New Criticism stands at one end of this polarity, arguing for a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object. Postsructuralism stands at the opposite end, inviting not that one should abandon language, for this is a facile misconception, but to join with language on its jaunt. To call upon aphorism one must enter into an anachrony, one must arrest it from its ceaseless journey. Aphorism grows by accretion, it is contracted indefinitely. It amasses its identity throughout its voyage, to use language we must disrupt the semantic drift, we must splice it from its possibility. Language snatches then casts it back on an entirely new path. Derrida argues: An aphorism is exposure to contretemps. It exposes discourse hands it over to contretemps (127). To arrest events into objects, as an aphorism does, is to anchor what is otherwise an overwhelmingly complex event into a single, immutable abstraction. Aphorism is negentropic. It collects little pieces of chaos. Contrary to Baudrillard, the simulacra has already arrived, the simulacra raises the curtain (132), fiction is an integral part of how we can tell the truth. We attempt to avoid contretemps, to be in harmony with our rhythms by bending them to objective measurement (129). The simulacra arrives at that moment when we transform events into objects, be it in the inanimate objects or the sentient,

where the little pockets of the universe and self-reflexivity stumble upon one another. The thing in and of itself, the Kantian noumenon, is a fable, for it disappears the moment it is uttered, as if it were just, nothing. The proper name is the absolute aphorism (142), for it bears the weight felt in its inadequacy when exposed to contretemps. Much to Juliets frustration, the entirety of Romeo can be re-presented by the singularity of the name which he bears, giving him over to contretemps, abandoning him to his letters, for aphorism terminates, delimits, arrests (127). This is a vicarious frustration that we can share, for we oftentimes find ourselves at the mercy of a model which simply does not measure up, cheapens, flouts. No words can that woe sound (Shakespeare 60). At these times we use the silence to speak for us, like the ending of Romeo and Juliet which bequeaths its grief to the silence of its abrupt conclusion. The truncations of Derridas serialisation also carry the weight of their own death. Aphorism Countertime is dense. See how I formalize, in so few words I always say more than would appear? The weight of death can be found at the lexical level as well, in the parataxis of his prose, the omission of numerous conjunctions strips the confluence between clauses, it strips the whole of the sentence into its constitutive parts. The aphorism or discourse of dissociation: each sentence, each paragraph dedicates itself to separation, it shuts itself up (128). We feel very intimately the flow of language being severed in Aphorism Countertime. Each aphorism disappears as it is spoken, as does the performativity of the present, it must say goodbye as it greets. It is in its own space, it stands in the solitude of its proper duration (128), inescapably lodged with the sense of its own finitude. Romeo and Juliet must die.

The desire of Romeo and Juliet did not encounter the poison, or the detour of the letter by chance. In order for this encounter to take place, there must already have been

instituted a system of marks (names, hours, maps of places, dates, and supposedly objective place names) to thwart (130). One cannot put the innumerable events of Romeo and Juliet down to bad lack. It is the precise constitution of its events which comprise the play, the conditions of its possibility and actualisation. This is the anthropic principle of Romeo and Juliet. The accidental contretemps comes to remark the essential contretemps. Which is as much as to say it is not accidental (131). For the allegory of aphorism to come to its inevitable end, the lovers must be subjected to the ultimate boundary of death, or this metaphor would be curtailed. One cannot expect to read the greatest play in English Literature and live forever, who do you think you are? It [aphorism] says the truth in the form of the last judgement, and this truth carries death (129). To be given a name is to taste your own mortality, this is why the play is embedded with the inexorable march to its own end. Inexorable because death is the one thing we can be certain of. Shakespeare crafts the play such that this seismic force is so great that everything feels servile to its momentum, which of course, it is. There is no time for mourning. This is echoed in the urgency of his cutting, sententious last aphorism: End of drama. Curtain. Tableau. Tourism, December sun in Verona (142). There is an incongruity between the ongoing concatenated event which carries on regardless and the need to stop and grieve for Romeo and Juliet. The prince concludes: The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head (Shakespeare 125), which suggests that there is a coherence, an affiliation with the natural world, so much so, at the lexical level, the sun is anthropomorphised as he. Is there really a sympathy here, or is this pathetic fallacy? Is this affiliation a form of contretemps? The sun is even referenced by negation, for he did not show his head. Why is there a reference to what is not the case in the very last speech of Romeo and Juliet? To fight through a crowd which is not there. Our ability to talk about what is not the case is the gift of aphorism, it is to escape from the here and now, it is what allows

us to live the heartbreak of the impossible synchronisation of the two lovers. Consciousness had to invoke what is not the case so that being could be for itself rather than in itself. This is a condition of our being, it is also a prerequisite for the play. Romeo and Juliet is not the case. In its self-referentiality, its incessant questioning of the name, it asserts and at the same time undermines its ability to be what is not the case. Romeo is Romeo because he is not Juliet and Juliet is Juliet because she is not Romeo. Is awareness of ones death and knowing what is not the case different parts of the same thing? Despite this, Romeo and Juliet survive through aphorism, they are positive heroes according to Derrida (128). Aphoristically, one must say that Romeo and Juliet will have lived, and lived on, through aphorism. Romeo and Juliet owes everything to aphorism (128). They If Romeo and Juliet live on through aphorism and they owe everything to aphorism, there is a sense that Romeo and Juliet are nothing but aphorism. Not only in their fictionality, but it is in aphorism which they are now alive. Romeo and Juliet and Romeo and Juliet owe everything to aphorism. It is the mother of all things. Even if Romeo does have access to a realm of private interiority, how could this be instantiated if not through aphorism? What becomes progressively more alarming throughout the play is that in order for Romeo and Juliet to be, it must strike at the foundations on which it rests. Its heartbreak lies in its very intelligibility. Each word that we are able to convey from Romeos amatory rhetoric is to depreciate the integrity of his love toward Juliet, for it is not something only they can share, which is what one seeks when one loves the other. Much to the lovers disenchantment, the intelligibility of a sign system has to hinge on its conventionality. Poignantly, Romeo declares: I take thee at thy word when Juliet proposes the he take her in her entirety: Take all of myself (138). A unnerving possibility that perhaps the word is everything. This notion is explored to an almost ludicrous extent when Lady Capulet likens characters within the play to that of a book. On Paris as a potential spouse for Juliet, she states:

Read oer the volume of young Paris face And find delight writ there with beautys pen. Examine every married lineament And see how one another lends content; And what obscurd in this fair volume lies, Find written in the margent of his eyes. (Shakespeare 47)

Man is something to be read. A undeniable and tragic possibility, the corollary of which suggests that to encounter the limits of language would be to encounter the limits of that relationship, to stumble on the border of what once an infinitude.

Can the self ever truly come into contact with the other? Where does the self end and the other begin? Derrida states: They missed each other, how they missed each other! Did they miss each other? (128). Did Romeo and Juliet ever meet? This is a vexing and litigious question that each person will be consider differently. It is possibly too shattering to consider that they completely missed each other, this must resolve itself quickly without us knowing, for it is too devastating to entertain. Derrida describes the connection with the other as the exemplary anachrony (129) this is not to subscribe to a solipsism, but an honest avowal that in the most basic sense our time can never be the others. Romeo and Juliet, much like Derridas conception of deconstruction, is the experience of the impossible. To have a singular temporal unfolding does not give space for a crossing, a crossing where we can relate to the other. This is an example of contretemps, for its temporal logic prevents it from sharing all its time with another place of discourse, with another discourse, with the discourse of the other. Impossible synchronization. I am speaking here of the discourse of time. (129) Each of Derridas aphorisms broaches the pain of asynchronisation. To write is to carve ones

desire to share a moment in time, for what is writing if it is not an attempt at contact with the other, what is Romeo and Juliet if it is not to be read? Whilst the self arguably cannot share the same temporal unfolding as the other, it can be avowed that the other is the very condition by which we are actualised, not just an occasional feature of my being. If the self only ever comes into being through the other, that part of ones being flees from oneself, and yet it is oneself. The self and the other become interchangeable, for they are symbiotic prerequisites. I am headless without the other. In this respect, not only did Romeo and Juliet come into contact, but they never left - art they not Romeo and Juliet? The aphorism that is the titular identity is singular, but it contains both their identities, they live on through this singularity, at each utterance: It survives them, but they also survive thanks to it. Would such a double survival have been possible without that title, as Juliet put it? (141).

In the famed balcony scene, which is arguably the most pressing and tragic in scope, Romeo and Juliet explore the limit of the contact with the other. It is a scene which is equally beautiful as it is exasperating, the tension is never really released from their desire to adequately capture their inimitable love. Romeo, in an attempt to convey his private interiority, is reduced to use signs to which we all have access, rendering his vow of love into hackneyed commonplace. Ironically, he even addresses the reinvocability of the sign earlier on in the play. Romeos servant asks him: Perhaps you have learned it [to read] without book. But I pray can you read anything you see?, Romeo insouciantly replies, unaware that this is the very limitation which he will wrestle with later: Ay, if I know the letters and the language (Shakespeare 44). It is the different permutations of these letters and language from the Petrarchan tradition which he uses to court Juliet, she swiftly diffuses: O swear not by the moon, thinconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb, / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable (Shakespeare 61). Romeo, pitifully, but at the same time


judiciously, retorts: What shall I swear by? By a name I know not how to tell thee who I am? (Shakespeare 61). Juliets efforts to use a different name results in an infinite regress, for they are conterminous, aporetic. The two lovers spend the entirety of the scene slipping back into their own scrutiny. Juliet refers to Romeo in two referential capacities, as in the apostrophe which has become more famous than its referent: O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? (Shakespeare 59). Juliet does not ask why Romeo is called Romeo, as if it were a disposable, ancillary attachment, but she asks: Why are you Romeo? (Shakespeare 59). It is Romeo who Juliet loves, yet she wishes to dispend of him. Romeo, the bearer of the name Romeo, he cannot survive the death of his name, but he can survive the death of his name in aphorism, which is him in his entirety. Perhaps this is a duel which they must enter, even if though they know they shall lose; she knows it: detachable and dissociable, aphoristic though it be, his name is his essence (136). One cannot appeal to a lower order of abstraction than aphorism. There is an embedded circularity in the overlapping references which Juliet scurries too in the hope of a new label for her lover. Aphorism is the name, but every name can take on the figure of aphorism (127).

This scene, the balcony scene, takes place in the dark, for this play is about aphorism and aphorism cannot be seen. In the lunar face of this shadow play (140) Juliet is poised in this liminal space, between night and day, between Romeo and the Nurse, between the realms of her public life and her private life. The play constantly vacillates between these two domains, for it is in darkness where the lovers take refuge from their intransigent familial divide, calling upon the night's cloak to hide from their eyes" (Shakespeare 60). it is in broad daylight when the barbarous fighting in the streets occur. The notion of darkness is crucial, for words are not locatable to a particular space or time. Derrida writes:


She recognises him [Romeo] and calls him by his name (Are you not Romeo and Montague?), she identifies him on the one hand by the timbre of his voice, that is to say by the words she hears without being able to see, and on the other hand at the moment when he has, obeying the injunction, renounced his name and his father. Survival and death are at work, in other words, the moon. (140)

Aphorism so omnipresent that it is the background to which we are the figure. Aphorism is the whole! Our visual field is aphorism, for aphorism has made room for the totality of this horizon. It is the very division that we found ourselves thrown into, we find ourselves, always already having been. What was already always there is now visible by virtue of aphorism, as if someone had turned on a light. Aphorism tells me that I am a dreamless sleeper. The moon is emblematic of the death the day, but also the survival of the night. Juliet recognises Romeo in the dark. She transcends. Without aphorism, each time one closes ones eyes the game is over. To think that the Romeo and Juliets that existed before aphorism are but thoughts that we burn like beacons against the darkness (Gass On Learning to Talk), perhaps the ones that got away, the ones we did not see, these are the greatest tragedy.

At our critical vantage point, having spent the entirety of the scene jostling over the name which Romeo cannot rid, how can one treat the private or the public realms preferentially, despite the undeniable moments of compassion we feel at the times when they are alone? Is the division of the private and public yet another example of contretemps, dividing a whole which cannot be separated? Are they different parts of the same event? The balcony scene is tenacious in its attempt to identify a private self, arguably in vain, for Juliet frustratingly cries at the end of the scene: A thousand times goodnight! (Shakespeare 62). The private is the public, Romeo is his name, aphorism is ones essence, aphorism is the


whole, aphorism is its divisions, aphorism is countertime. To accept that one is servile to forces which are much bigger than they are is not something easy to broach, perhaps Romeo and Juliet is a play which fights this to the very death. Are we merely listening to language speak? It is much more comfortable, perhaps even necessary, to live with a problem that cannot be fixed rather than entertain a solution one does not like. Each aphorism is a contretemps trap, an attempt to conquer diffrance, like the dates, timetables, property registers, place names, all the codes that we cast like net over time and space in order to reduce of master differences (129).

We are reminded how syncopated consciousness is when life washes past us, we reassemble the fragments and then remember how we washed up there. Dreamless sleep. Aphorism. Echo. There is a sense that communication operates so transparently that we only notice it when it breaks down. Romeo and Juliet spends the entirety of the play in miscommunication, Friar Lawrences letter being the coup de grce. From the very opening speech we are greeted by Sampson and Gregory using the same word moved three times in three sentences, each of them has a different inference. David Lucking writes: there is not a single instance of one of these missives arriving directly at its intended destination (10). Perhaps a letter can never arrive at its destination, because we abandon it to its letters. The very fact that we are able to read something is because of its unreadability. Mercutio in Act I Scene IV responds to Romeo, who has just taken one of his metaphors literally: I mean, sir, in delay / We waste our lights in vain, like lights by day. / Take our good meaning: for our judgement sits / Five times in that, ere once in our five wits (Shakespeare 49). Mercutio asks that Romeo selects the sensible intended meaning as if it always were a clear feature independent of language. The play demonstrates how radically wrong Mercutios is, for


Romeo and Juliet is riddled with imbroglios, several that we miss, several that Shakespeare missed.

In a play replete with puns and an evasive dance around its own language, have we already lost by assuming that there is a stable conduit between text and reader, sign and signifier, parts and wholes? Is Romeo and Juliets most powerful asset its ability to anticipate itself as a tragedy, whilst operating much more surreptitiously than that, like aphorism? Perhaps we come up short and miss the greatest tragedy the whole time? To assume that there can be a successful transposition of its contents in a play where not one letter is delivered to its intended recipient is it arrogant to assume that Romeo and Juliet arrived at its destination? When one thinks one has found the perfect opportunity to show what irony is, for example in Romeo and Juliet, one is disappointed, for it is no longer a question of irony (141). True irony is at work precisely when we are oblivious to the trompe loeil depth of its paradigms (127), it is mutually exclusive to its observance, cosmic in scope but needs no one to collect it. This irony hangs over Romeo and Juliet. To simply be able to read Romeo and Juliet is when it operates at its most tragic. To reflect nothing is one thing, but to be able to see that nothingness is bitterly painful. The infection of the is not. When would it ever be enough? To remove the ultimate other is to remove death, this would kill us all. If there is one community that we can conclusively agree upon, we are the community of the dying. We are united in that. Awareness of that tragic boundary and aphorism are, sadly, interchangeable, for they are merely different parts of the same event.


Works Cited

Derrida, Jacques. Psyche: Inventions of the Other Vol 2. Aphorism Countertime. California: Stanford University Press, 2008. Print. Gass, William. On Learning To Talk. Humanity. 1979. Washington University. Web. 2 Jan.

Goffman, Erving. Strategic Interaction. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania University Press, 1970. Print. Lucking, David. That Which We Call A Name. Enotes, n.p, n.d. Web. 2 Jan. 2013 Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2000. Print.