Punctuations: The Time of a Thesis

Should one speak of an epoch of the thesis? Of a thesis that would re-
quite time, a great deal of time? Or of a thesis whose time would belong
[Q rhe past? In shorr, is there a time of the rhesis' And even, should one
speak of an age of the thesis, of an age for the thesis'
Allow me [Q begin by whispering a confidence that 1 will nor abuse:
never have I felt so young and at rhe same time so old. At the same time,
in rhe same insranr, and ir is one and the same feeling, as if rwo srories and
rwo rimes, two rhyrhms were engaged in a sort of alrercation in one and
the same feeling of oneself, in a soct of anachrony of oneself, anachrony in
oneself. It is in this way that I can, ro an extenr, make sense [Q myself of a
cerrain confusion of identity. This confusion is, certainly, not completely
foreign to me and I do not always complain about it; but just now it has
suddenly got much worse and this bout is not far from leaving me speech-
Between youth and old age, one and the other, neither one nor the
other, an' indecisiveness of age. It is like a discomfirure at the momem of
i n s t a l l a t i ~ n , an instability, I will not go so far as to say a disturbance of sta-
bility, of posture, of station, of the thesis or of rhe pose. but rarher of a
pause in the more or less well-regula red life of a university teacher, an end
and a beginning that do nor coincide and in which there is involved once
again no doubt a cectain gap of an alternative between the delight of plea-
Sure and fecundity.
This anachrony (I am, obviously, speaking of my own) has for me a
very familiar feel, as if a rendezvous had fotever been set for me with whar
nor have the means here and now, and in any case, this is not rhe place, [0
analyze this sequence. Bur as, for reasons that are due nor only ro the lim-
i ted amount of time available to me, there can eq ually be no question of
purring together the works that have been submirred ro you in somerhing
like a presentacion in the form of conclusions or of theses; and as, on the
Other hand, I do not want to limit rhe discussion that is to follow by mak-
ing an overly long introduction, J thought that I might perhaps hazard a
few fragmemary and preliminary proposirioDS, indicating a few among rhe
mosr obvious points concerning the intersections becween this historical
sequence and some of the movements or thel Ies that have arrraered me,
that have retained or displaced my attention within the limirs of my wotk.
Around 1957, then, I had registered, as the saying goes, my first rhesis
topic. I had entitled it The Idea/ity ofthe Literar), Object. Today this tide
seems strange. To a lesser degree it seemed so even then, and I will discuss
this in a moment. It teceived the approval of Jean Hyppolite, who was to
direer this thesis, which he did, which he did wirhout doing so, rhat is, as
he knew how to do, as in my opinion he was one of the very few to know
how (0 do, in a free and libetal spirit, always open, always attentive to
what was nor, or nor yet, intelligible, always cateful to exetr no ptessute,
if not no influence, by generously letting me go wherever my path led me.
I wane to pay tribute to his memory here and to recall all rhar lowe [0 rhe
rrust and encoutagement he gave me, even when, as he one day raid me,
he did not see at all where I was going. That was in 1966 during a collo-
quium in the Unired Srates in which we were both taking part. After a few
friendly remarks on the paper I had jusr given, Jean Hyppolite added,
"Thar said, I really do nor see where you are going." I think I replied [0
him more or less as follows: "If 1clearly saw ahead of time where I was go-
ing, I really don't believe that I would take anorher srep to get there." Pet-
haps I then chought rhat knowing whete one is going may no doubt help
in orienting one's rhinking, but that ir has never made anyone rake a sin-
gle step, quite t h ~ opposire in fact. Whar is rhe good of going where one
knows oneself to be going and where one knows rhat one is destined to ar-
rive' Recalling this reply tOday, I am nor sute that I really understand it
very well, but jt surely did nor mean thar I never see or never know where
I am going and thar to this extent, to che excem rhat I do know, ir is not
cerrain that I have eVet taken any step or said anything at all. This also
means, perhaps, rhat, concerning this place where I am going, I in faer
know enough about ir ro think, with a certain rerror, that things rhere are
should above all and wirh rhe utmosr puncrualiry never come at its ap-
poimed hour, but always, radler, roo early or tOO late.
As ro th is stage on which I here appear for rhe defense of a thesis, I have
been preparing myself for it for roo long. I have no doubt premeditated it,
rhen ddjourned it, and finally excluded it, excluded ir for toO long so that
when, rh,lDks ro you, ir is finally taking place, it is impossible for it nor to
have for me a slight characrer of phanrasy or irrealiry, an ait of improba-
bility, of unpredictabiliry, even an air of improviz<uion.
It was almost tWenty-nve years ago now rhat I commitred myself ra
working on a rhesis. Oh, it was scarcely a decision; I was dC thar rime sim-
ply following the course thac was taken ro be more or less natural and that
was at the very least classical, classifiable, typical of rhose who found
chemse!ves in a cerrain highly determined social situation upon leaving
the Ecole Normale and after th" agregacion.
But chese cwenry-five years have been fairly peculiar. Here I am not re-
ferring ra my modest personal hisrory or to all those routes dut, after
starting by leading me away from rhis initial decision, then broughc me
deliberarely to question ir, deliberarely and, I honestly thoughc, defini-
cively, only to end up, jusr a very sholt while ago, by deciding in a context
that, rightly or wrongly, I believed to be quite new ra take the risk of an-
orher evaluarion, of anorher analysis.
By saying chat rhese tWenty-five years have been peculiar, I am not first
rhinking, then, of rhis personal hisrory or even of the paths my own work
has taken, even supposing cbac ic could, improbably, be isolated from the
environment in which ir has moved chrough a play of exchanges, of re-
semblances, of affinities, of influences, as rhe saying goes, but also and es-
pecially, more and more indeed, through a play of divergences and of mat-
o-inalization in an increasing and at times abrupc isolation, whecher as
1:> '
regards contems, posirions, let us jusr say "rheses," or whether more espe-
cially as regards ways of proceed ing, socia-institutional practices, a certain
style of wriring as well as-regardless of the COSt, and today this amounrs
ro a p-reat deal-of relations wich the university milieu, with cultural, po-
o I
litical, editorial, journalisric representations, there where, today, ir seems
to me, are 10cared some of the mosr serious, the most pressing, and the
mosr obscure responsibilities facing an imellecrual.
No, it is nor of myself that I am chinking when I allude to the rrajec[ofy
of these twenty-five years, but rather of a mosc remarkable sequence in rh"
his[Ory of philosophy and of French philosophical insriwrioDS. I would
not going very well and rhar, all rhings considered, ir would be berrer nor
ro go rhere ar all. Bur rhere's always Necessity, rhe figure I recently wanred
ro call Necessity wirh rhe inirial capiral of a proper noun, and Necessity
says rhar one musr always yield, always go [se rendre] where ir calls. Even
if ir means never arriving. Even if ir means, ic says, to never arrive. Even so
rhac you don'c arrive. [Quitte ane pas arriver. Quitte, dit-eLie, a ne pas ar-
riveI'. Quitte pour ce que ttl. n'arrives pas.]
The ideality of che licerary objecr: chis ride was somewhar more com-
prehensible in 1957 in a conrexc chac was more marked by rhe rhoughc of
Husser! chan is che case roday. Ic was chen for me a marrer of bending,
more or less violenr!y, che rechnigues of cranscendenral phenomenology
to che needs of elaboracing a new rheory oflicerarure, of chac very peculiar
type of ideal objecc char is the licerary objecc, a "bound" ideality Husserl
would have said, bound in so-called namrallanguage, a nonmachemarical
or nonmachemacizable object, and yec one chac differs from objecrs of
plastic or musical an, chac is ro say, from all of che examples privileged by
Husserl in his analyses of ideal objeccivity. For I have ro cemind you,
somewhat blundy and simply, chac my mosc conscanr inrecesr, coming
even before my philosophical imeresr, I would say, if chis is possible, was
direcred roward licerarure, roward chac wricing chac is called lirerary.
Whac is liceracure? And firsc of all, whac is ic ro wrice? How is ic chac
writing can discurb che very quescion "whac i s ~ " and even "whac does ic
mean?"? To say chis in ocher words-and here is rhe saying otherwise chac
was of impoccance ro me-when and how does an inscripcion become
literamre and whac takes place when ic does? To whar and ro whom is
this due? Whac cakes place berween philosophy and lirecarure, science
and liceracure, policies and liceracure, cheology and liceramrc, psycho-
analysis and licerature? Ir was here, in all me abscraccness of ics cide, chac
lay rhe mosc pressing quescion. This guescion was no doubc inspired in
me by a desice rhar was celared also ro a cenain uneasiness: why finally
does rhe inscripcion so fascinace me, preoccupy me, precede me? Why
am I so fascinaced by the licerary ruse of inscripcion and che whole un-
graspable paradox of a crace chac manages only ro carry icself away, ro
erase icself in re-marking icself, icself and irs own idiom, which in order
to cake acmal form [an-iver t/ son evenement] musc erase icself and produce
itself ac che price of chis self-erasure.
Curious as ic may seem, rranscendenral phenomenology helped me, in
che first scages of my work, sharpen some of chese quescions, which ar che
cime were nor as well macked our as chey seem ro be roday. In che 1950S,
when ic was srill nor well received, was liccle known oc roo indicecdy un-
dersrood in French univecsicies, Husserlian phenomenology seemed in-
escapable ro some young philosophecs. I srill see ic roday, in a differem
way, as a discipline of incompacable rigor. Nor-especially noc-in rhe
versions proposed by Saccre or Medeau-Ponty, which wece chen domi-
nane, bur racher in opposicion ro chem, 0[ wirhour rhem, in pacricnlar in
chose areas chac a ceccain type of Fcench phenomenology appeared ar
cimes ro avoid, whecher in hisrory, in science, in che hisroricity of science,
che hisrory of ideal objeccs and of cruch, and hence in polirics as well, and
even in echics. I would like ro recall here, as one indicarion among ochers,
a book chac is no longer discussed roday, a book whose merits can be very
diversely evaluaced, buc which for a cercain numbec of us poinred ro a
rask, a difficulty, and an impasse as well no doubc. This is Tran Duc Tao's
PhenornenoLogie et rntlthirdisrne ditrLectique. Afcer a commenrary rhar re-
rraced rhe movemem of rranscendeneal phenomenology and in particular
rhe rransirion from scacic conscicucion ro generic consticucion, rhis book
accempred, with less obvious success, co open rhe way foc a dialeccical ma-
cerialism rhac would admic some of rhe rigorous demands of rranscenden-
cal phenomenology. One can imagine whar rhe srakes of such an arrempt
mighr have been, and ics success was ofless importance rhan rhe srakes in-
volved. Moreover, some of Cavailles's dialecrical, dialecricist conclusions
proved of imeresr co us for che same reasons. Ir was in an area marked out
and magnecized by rhese srakes, ac once philosophical and political, rhac I
had hrsc begun ro read Husserl, sca([ing wim a rnhnoire [master's rhesis]
on che problem of genesis in Hussed's phenomenology.2 Ar rhis early dace
Maurice de Gandillac was kind enough co wacch over this wock; rwenty-
six yeacs ago he alone served as my emice examinacion commirree, and if
I recall chac he was reduced ro one-rhird of che commirree foc a rhesis for
rhe chird cycle (DelagrarnrntltoLogie [OfGrarnrnatoLogy] in 1967)3 and ro
one-sixch of che commicree coday, I do so nor only CO exp cess my gratitude
ro him with chac feeling of fidelity chac is comparable ro no orhcc, bur to
promise him chac henceforth chis parceling our, chis prolifecacing division
will cease. This will be my lasr rhesis defense.
Following rhis fim work, my iIHroducrion ro The Origin ofGeornetr/
enabled me ro approach somerhing like che un-choughr axiomarics of
Husserlian phenomenology, ics "principle of principles," thar is ro say, in-
ruirionism, che absolure privilege of rhe living presenr, che lack of anel1-
rion paid ro rhe problem of irs own phenomenological enunciarion, to
rranscendental dlscourse itself, as Fink used ro say, ro rhe necessity of re-
course, in eidetic or transcendenral descriprion, ro a language that could
nor itself be submitted to the epoche (to rhe epoch)-wirhout irself being
sirnply "in rhe world"-thus ro a language rhat remained naive, even
though it made possible all the phenomenological bracketings and paren-
theses. This unthoughr axiomatics seemed ro me to limit rhe scope of a
consisrent problematic of wriring and of the trace, even rhough rhe ne-
cessiry of such a problematic had been marked Out by The Origin of
Geometry with a rigor no doubt unprecedented in the hisrory of philoso-
phy. Husser! indeed located the recourse ro wriring within the very con-
stitution of those ideal objects par excellence, marhematical objects,
though without considering-and for good reason-rhe threar that rhe
logic of this inscription represented for rhe phenomenological project ir-
sc:>lf. Naturally, all of the problems worked on in rhe introducrion ro The
Origin of Goometry have continued ro organize the work I have subse-
quently arrempred in connecrion with philosophical, literary, and even
nondiscursive corpora, most norably thar of graphic or pictorial works: I
am rhinking, for example, of the hisroricity of ideal objects, of rradirion,
of inherirance, of filiarion or of wills and restamen ts, of archives, libraries,
books, of writing and living speech, of rhe relarionships between semiorics
and linguisrics, of the question of truth and of undecidability, of the irre-
ducible alrerity rhat divides the self-identity of rhe living present, of the
necessity for new analyses concerning nonmathemarical idealiries, and so
During the years thar followed, fi'om abour 1963 ro 1968, I rried ro work
out-in parricular in the thtee works published in 1967s-whar was in no
way meant to be a sysrem but rather a sort of srraregic device, opening
onro irs own abyss, an unclosed, unenclosable, not wholly forrnalizable
ensemble of rules for reading, interpretarion, and writing. This type of de-
vice perhaps enabled me ro detect not only in rhe hisrory of philosophy
and in the related socio-hisrorical rotality, but also in whar are alleged to
be sciences and in so-called posr-philosophical discourses rhat figure
among the most modern (in linguisrics, anthropology, and psychoanaly-
sis), to derect in rhese, then, an evaluation of writing, or, to rell rhe rrurh,
rarher a devaluation of the writing whose insistent, repetitive, even ob-
scurely compulsive character was rhe sign of a whole set of long-standing
constrainrs. These co nstrain ts were pracriced ar rhe price of contradic-
tions, of denials, of dogmaric decrees; they were no: ro be localized within
a limired topOJ of culture, of the encyclopedia, or of ontology. I proposed
to analyze rhe nonclosed and fissured system of these consrraints, under
the name of logocenrrism in rhe form that it rakes in Western philosophy
and under that of phonocentrism as it appears in the widest scope of irs
dominion. Of course, I was able to develop rhis device and this interpre-
tation only by according a privileged role to the guideline or analyser
named writing, texr, trace, and only by proposing a reconsrrucrion and
generalizarion of rhese conceprs (writing, text, trace) as rhe play and work
of dif/hance, whose role is at one and the same time borh of constitution
and deconsri rurion. This straregy may have appeared to be an abusive de-
formation-or, as some have cursorily said, a metaphorical usage-of the
current notions of writing, text, or trace, and have seemed ro those who
conrinued to cling to these old self-interested representations to give rise
ro all sorrs of misundersrandings. But I have untiringly striven ro jusrifY
rhis unbounded generalization, and I believe rhat every conceptLlal break-
rhrough (ftayageJ amounts ro transforming, that is to deforming, an ac-
credired, authorized relarionship between a word and a concepr, between
a [[ope and what one had every interest to consider to be an unshifrable
primary, proper, literal, or current meaning. Moreover, rhe strategic and
rherorical scope of rhese gestures has never ceased to engage me in nu-
merous subsequent rexrs. All of this was grouped together under the tirle
of decomtmction, the graphics of di/firance, of the rrace, the Sll pplemenr,
and so forth, and here I can only indicate them in an algebraic manner.
Whar I proposed ar that time retained an oblique, devianr, sometimes di-
recdy crirical, relarionship wirh respect to evetything thar seemed then ro
dominare the main, mosr visible, rhe most spectacular, and sometimes rhe
mosr ferrile outcrop of French rheoretical producrion, a phenomenon
rhar, in irs various different forms, was known, no doubt abusively, as
"suucruralism." Tkese forms were of coutse vety diverse and very remark-
able, wherher in ·the domains of anthropology, history, lirerary criricism,
linguistics, or psychoanalysis, in rereadings, as one says, of Freud or of
Marx. But regardless of their indisputable interest, during this period thar
was also in appearance the most static period of the Gaullisr republic of
1958-68, whar I was artempring or what was tempting me was of an es-
sentially differen t nature. And so, aware of the cost of these advances in
terms of rheir meraphysical presuppositions, to say norhing of what was,
less evidently, their polirical price, I buried myself from rhis time on in a
sort of rerrear, a solitude rhar I menrion here wirhour parhos, as simply
self-evidenr, and merely as a reminder rhar increasingly in regard ro acad-
emic rradirion as well as ro established moderniry-and in rhis case rhe
two are bur one-rhis solirude was and ofren s[ill is considered ro be rhe
well-deserved consequence of a hermeric and unjusrified reclusiveness. Is
it necessary ro say rhat I do nor rhink rhis is so and rhar I inrerprer in an
enrirely differenr manner rhe reasons for rhis verdicr? Ir is also rrue rhat
the living rhinkers who gave me the mosr to rhink abour or who mosr
provoked me ro reflecrion, and who conrinue to do so, are nor among
rhose who break rhrough a so!irude, nor among [hose ro whom one can
simply feel close, nor among rhose who form groups or schools, ro men-
rion only Heidegger, Levinas, Blanchot, among orhers whom I will nor
name. Ir is rhinkers such as these ro whom, srrangely enough, one may
consider oneself c1osesr; and yer [hey are, mote rhan orhers, other. And
rhey roo are alone.
Ie was already dear ro me rhar [he general rum rha[ my research was
raking could no longer contorm ro rhe classical norms of rhe rhesis. This
"research" called nor only for a diHercnr mode of wriring bur also for a
work of transformarion on rhe rheroric, rhe sraging, and rhe parricular
discursive procedures, which, highly determined hisrorically. dominare
university discourse, in particular rhe rype of rext thar is called the "rhe-
sis"; and we know how all rhese scholarly and university models likewise
provide rhe laws regularing so many prestigious discourses, even rhose of
Iirerary works or of eloquenr polirical speeches rhar shine ourside rhe uni-
versiry. And rhen, roo, rhe direcrions I had raken, rhe narure and the di-
versiry of rhe corpora, rhe labyrinrhine geography of the irineraries draw-
ing me roward relarively unacademic areas, all of rhis persuaded me rhat
rhe rime was now pasr, rhat ir was, in rrurh, no longer possible. even if I
wanted to, ro make whar I was wriring conform co rhe size and form rhen
required tor a rhesis. The very idea of a rheric presenrarion, of positional
or opposirionallogic, rhe idea of posirion, of Setzung or SteLLung, what I
called ar the beginning rhe epoch of rhe rhesis, was one of rhe essenrial
parrs of rhe sysrem rhar was under deconsrrucrive quesrioning. Whar was
rhen pur forrh under rhe ririe wirhour any parricular claim [titre .fans t'itre]
of dissemination explicirly dealr, in ways thar were in rhe end neirher rhe-
marie not [hetic. wirh rhe value of the rhesis, of positional logic and irs
hiscory. and of rhe limirs of its righrs, its aurhoriry. and irs legirimacy. This
did nor imply on my parr, ar leasr ar rhar parricular rime, any radical in-
srjrurional critique of rhe rhesis. of rhe presentarion of universiry work in
order ro have ir legirimized, or of rhe au[horization of comperence by ac-
credited represenrarives of rhe universiry. If, from rhis moment on, I was
indeed convinced of rhe necessiry for a profound rransformarion,
amounting even ro a complere upheaval of universiry insrirurions, rhis was
nor, of course, in order to substi(Ure for whar exisred some rype of non-
rhesis, nonlegjrimacy, or incomperence. In rhis area I helieve in Iransirions
and in negotiarion-even if ir may ar rimes be hrural and accelerared-I
believe in the necessir)' of a ceHain rradition, in particular for polirical rea-
sons thar are norhing less rhan rradirionalist, and I believe, moreover, in
the indestructibiliry of rhe ordered procedures of legjtimarion, of the pro-
dllcrion of rides and diplomas, and of the au thorizarion of comperence. I
speak here in general and not necessa rily of rhe universitas. which is a
powerful bur very particular, very specific, and indeed very recent, model
for this procedure of legitimarion. The structure of rhe univenita.r has an
essential tie wirh rhe onrological and logocenrric onro-encyclopedic sys-
rem; and for rhe pasr sevetal years ir has seemed to me rhar the indissocia-
ble link between rhe modern concepr of the universiry and a cerrain mera-
physics calls for rhe work I pursued in my reaching or in essays rhar have
been published or are in the course of being published on Kanr's The Con-
flict ofthe FamLties, and on Hegel, Nierzsche, and Heidegger in rheir po-
lirical philosophy of the universiry. If I insisr on this theme, ir is because,
given the circumsrances and rhe impossibility in which I find myself of
summing up or presenring rhetic conclusions, I feel rhat I should arrend
hrsr and foremosr ro whar is happening here and now, and I wish ro as-
slime responsibiliry for rhar as clearly and as honestly as possible: from my
very limired place and in my own way.
In I967 I was so lirde bent on quesrioning the nccessiry of such an in-
sti[l\rion, of irs general principle in any case, if nor irs parrjclllar universiry
srrucrure and orgafYization, thar I rhought I could make a son ofcompro-
mise and divisiolJ of labor and rime. according its share to rhe rhesis, to
rhe time of rhe thesis. On rhe one hand, I would have ler rhe work in
which I was engaged develop freely, and ourside rhe usual forms and
norms, a work rhar decidedly did nor conform ro such universiry require-
menrs and thar was even ro analyze, comest, displace, deform rhem in all
rheir rherorical or polirical bearing; bur ar the same rime, and on [he orher
hand, rhe rransacrion or the epoch of rhe rhesis would have amoumed ro
serring apart one piece of rhis work, a rheorerical sequence playing rhe role
of an organizing demenr, and treating ir in an acceptable, if nor so reas-
suring, form wirhin the university. This would have involved an inrerpre-
tat ion of the Hegelian theory of the sign, of speech and writing in Hegel's
It seemed indispensable ro me, fot teasons I have discussed, especially
in Mayges-de La philosophie [Margins of Philosophy],6 ro propose a sys-
tematic inretptetation of this semiology. Jean Hyppolire gave me his con-
sent once again, and this second thesis ropic was in irs turn-regisrered.
This, then, was in 1967. Things were so interrwined and overdetet-
mined thar I cannot even begin ro say what the impact was on me, on my
work and my reaching, on my relationship ro the university instiwtion
and ro the space of cultural teptesenration ofrhar evem that one still does
nor know how to name orhet than by irs dare, 1968, without having a very
clear idea of JUSt whar it is one is naming in this way. The least rhar I can
say about it is this: something I had been anticipating found irs confirma-
tion at that time, and this confirmarion accelerated my own movement
away. I was then moving away more quickly and more resolutely, on the
one hand, from the places where, as early as the autumn of 1968, the old
armatures were being hastily recentred, reconstiruted, reconcentrated,
and, on the other hand, from a style ofwriring guided by the model of the
classical thesis, and even directed by a concern for recognirion by acade-
mic authoriries who, ar leasr in those bodies in which were to be found
garhered together, officially and predominantly, their most effecrive pow-
ers of evaluation and decision, seemed ro me, after '68, to be both ovene-
active and roo effecrive in their resistance to everything that did nor con-
form ro the most rranquilizing criteria of acceptability. I had numerous
indications of this; certain concerned me personally, and if I say that pol-
itics was also involved it is because, in this case, the political does not take
only the conventional distribution along a left/right axis. The reproduc-
tive force of authority can get along more comfortably with declarations
Ot rheses whose encoded conrenr presents itself as revolutionary, provided
that they respect the rites of legitimation, rhe rherotic and the institu-
tional symbolism that defuses and neutralizes everything that comes from
ourside the system. What is unacceprable is whar, underlying positions ot
theses, upsets this deeply entrenched conrract, the otder of these norms,
and that does so in the vety fOrm of the work, of teaching or of writing.
The dearh ofJean Hyppolite in 1968 was not only fat me, as for others,
a momenr of great sadness. By a snange coincidence, it marked ar rhar
date-the autumn of 1968, and it was indeed the aurumn-the end of a
cerrain type of membetship in the univetsity. Certainly, from the first day
of my arrival in France, in 1949, rhis membership had not been simple,
bur it was during these years no doubr rhat I came ro understand betrer to
what exrent the necessity of deconstrucrion (I use this wotd for rhe sake of
brevity, though it is a word I have never liked and one whose fortune has
disagreeably surprised me) was not primarily a maner of philosophical
conrents, themes or theses, philosophemes, poems, theologemes or ide-
ologemes, but especially and insepatably meaningful frames, institutional
strucntres, pedagogical or rhetorical norms, rhe possibil iries oftaw, of au-
thority, of evaluarion, and of represenrarion in its very marker. My intet-
est for these more Ot less visible framework srructures, fat these limits,
these effects of the margin, or these paradoxes of borders conrinued ro re-
spond to the same quesrion: how is it rhar philosophy finds itself in-
scribed, rathet than itself inscribing itself wirhin a space that it seeks bUt
is unable to order, a space thar opens out ontO anorher that is no longer
even its other, as I have tried to make apparenr in a tympanum
as little
Hegelian as possible. How is one to name rhe strucrure of this space? I do
nor know; nor do I know wherher ir can give rise to what is called knowL-
edge. To call ir socio- political is a triviality that does nor satisfy me, and
even the most necessaty of what are called socio-analyses often enough
have very little ro say on the matter, remaining blind to their own in-
scriprion, to the law of their reproductive petformances, to the stage of
their own heritage and of their self-authorization, in shorr to what I will
call their wtiting.
I have chosen, as you can see, to confide to you without detour, if nor
without a certain simplification, all the uncertainties, the hesitations, the
oscillations by way of which I sought the most fitting relationship with
the university institution, on a level that was not simply political and thar
concerned nor only .the thesis. I will rhus distinguish between toughly
three periods in thlime that. separares m ~ today from rhe time I b e g a ~ to
abandon the proJe'ct of a theSIS. It was ar first a somewhat passIve reactIOn:
the thing no longer inreresred me very much. I would have had ro come
up with a new formulation, come to an understanding with a new supet-
visor, and so forch. And as doctorates based on published works, theoret-
ically possible, were obviously not encouraged, to say the very least, I
turned away, at first somewhar passively, I repeat, from rhose places that
seemed to me less and less open to whar really manered to me. But I have
Punctuations 1"2.3
made rhem j usr abour indefensible, in parricutar as a rhesis, was less rhe
mulripliciry of rheir conrenrs, conclusions, and demonscrarive posirions
rhan, ir seems to me, (he acrs of wriring and rhe performarive srage ro
which rhey had to give rise and from which rhey remained inseparable
and hence nor easily capable of being represenred, rransporred, and
rranslared inro anorher form; rhey were inscribed in a space rhar one
could no rhar I myself could no longer, idenrify or classify under
rhe heading of philosophy or lirerarure, ficrion or nonficrion, and so
forrh, especially at a rime when whar orhers would call rhe autobiograph-
ical involvemenr of rhese rexrs was undermining rhe very norion of auro-
biography, giving ir over ro whar rhe necessity of wriring, rhe rrace, rhe
remainder, could offer of all rhar was mosr bafAing, undecidable, cun-
ning, or despairing. And since I have jusr alluded ro rhe performarive
srructure, ler me note in passing rhar, for rhe same reasons, I have held
back from rhe thesis corpus, along wirh d good many orher essays, a de-
bate thar I had in rhe United Srares wirh a speech acr rheorist, John
Searle, in a shorr work rhat I en ri cled Limited Inc. II
During an inirial period, then, from 1968 ro [974, I simply neglecred
rhe thesis. Bur during rhe years thar followed I deliberately decided-and
I sincerely believed rhar this decision was final-nor ro submir a rhesis ar
all. For, besides rhe reasons I have jusr menrioned and thar seemed ro me
co be more and more solid, I have been engaged since 1974 wirh friends,
colleagues, and universiry and high school srudenrs in a work which I
should dare ro call a long-rerm struggle thar direcrly concerns the insriru-
rion of philosophy, especially in France, and firsr and in a sirua-
riou whose nature has been determined by a tong history, bur rhar was
worsened in 1975 by a policy rhar could-or, one may fear, will-lead ro
rhe desrrucrion of philosophical reaching and tesearch, wirh all rhar rhis
supposes or implies in rhe counrry. For all rhe women and men who, like
me, worked to orgallize rhe Groupe de Recherches sur l'Enseignement
Philosophique (G{'eph) and who parricipared in irs Avanr-Projet, irs re-
search, and irs actions, from 1974 unril rhe meering of rhe Estates General
of Philosophy in rhis very place jusr one year ago, for all of us rhe rask was
of rhe urmosr urgency, and rhe responsibiliry inelucrable.
I specify: rhis
rask was urgenr and inelucrable in rhe places we occupy-reaching or re-
search in philosophy-the places ro which we cannor deny rhat we belong
and in which we find ourselves inscribed. Bur of course, other rhings are
urgenr roo; rhis philosophical space is nor the only one available ro rhink-
co admir rhar in certain siruations, mosr norably rhose in which I am wrir-
ing and in which I am wriring abour wriring, my obsrinacy is grear, con-
srraining for me, indeed compulsive, even when ir is forced ro rake rhe
mosr roundabour parhs. And so beyond rhe rhree works published in
1972,R I kepr worrying away at rhe same problemaric, rhe same open ma-
rrix (opening onco rhe linked series formed by rhe rrace, diffirance, unde-
cidables, disseminarion, rhe supplemenr, rhe grafr, hymen, rhe par-
ergon, and so on), pushing ir coward rexrual configurarions thar were less
and less linear, logical, and ropical forms, even typographical forms thar
were more daring, rhe inrersecrion of corpora, mixrures of genres or
modes, Wechsel der Tone [changes in rone], sarire, rerouring, grafring, and
so on, ro rhe extenr rhar even roday, alrhough these texts have been pub-
lished for years, I do nor believe rhem ro be simply presentable or accepr-
able ro rhe universiry and I have nor dared, have nor judged ir opportune,
ro include them here among rhe works co be defended. These rexrs in-
clude Gfas,? despire rhe conrinued pursuir there of rhe projecr of gram-
marology, rhe encounrer wirh rhe arbirrary characrer of rhe sign and rhe
theory of onomaropoeia in Saussure, as well as wirh rhe Hegelian Aufhe-
bung, rhe relarion berween rhe undecidable, rhe dialecric, and rhe double
bind, rhe concepr of generalized ferishism, rhe pull of rhe disco urse of cas-
trarion roward an affirmarive disseminarion and coward anorher rheroric
of [he whole and rhe parr, rhe re-elaborarion of a problemaric of rhe
proper noun and rhe signarure, of rhe restamenr and rhe monumenr, and
many orher rhemes besides. All of rhis indeed was an expansion of earlier
arremprs. I will say the same rhing abour orher works rhar I have deliber-
arely Jeft our of rhis defense, works such as Eperons: Les styles de Nietzsche
(!:>}JUrJ' Nietzsche's Styles) or La cartepostale (The Post Card), In which, each
in irs own way, neverrhe1ess exrend a reading (of Freud, Nietzsche, and
some orhers) begun ar an earlier stage, the deconsrrucrion of a cercain
hermeneurics as well as of a theorization of the signifier and rhe lerter wirh
irs aurhoriry and institutional power (l am referring here ro rhe whole psy-
choanalyric sysrem as well as co rhe universiry), the analysis of logocen-
rrism as phallogocenrrism, a concepr by means of which I rried ro indi-
cate, in my analysis, the essenrial indissociabiliry of phallocenrrism and
logocenrrism, and to locate their eITecrs wherever I could spor them-bur
rhese effecrs are everywhere, even where rhey remain unnoriced.
The expansion of rhese rexrs dealing wirh rexrualiry mighr seem
anamorphic or labyrinrhine, or borh ar once, bur whar in parricular
Punctuations 12
ing, nor the first one in the world, nor is it the one with the grearesr de-
termining inHuence on, for example, politics. We dwell elsewhere as well,
and this I have tried never [Q forget; nor indeed is It something rhat allows
Itself to be forgotten, What we in Greph were questioning wirh respect to
the teaching of philosophy could not be separated, and we have always
been attentive to this point, from all of the other cultural, polirical, and
other relations of forces in this country and in the world,
In any case, as far as I was concerned, my participation in Greph's work
and struggles had co be as consistent as possible with what I was trying ro
write elsewhere, even if the middle terms between the tWO necessities were
not always easy and obvious. I insist upon saying this here; although
among the wOtks presen ted to you I have included neithet the texts I have
signed or rhose that I have prepared as a militant of Greph nor, a fortiori,
the collecrive aCtions in which I have participated or which I have en-
dorsed in that capacity, 1 consider rhem ro be inseparable, ler us say in
spirit, from my other public aCts-most norably from my Other publica-
tions. And the gesture I make today, far from signifYing that I have aban-
doned anything in this tespect, will, on the COntrary I hope, make possi-
ble other involvements or other responsibilities in the Jame struggle.
It remains the case that duting this second period, beginning around
1974, I thought, tightly or wrongly, that it was neither consistent nor de-
sitable to be a ca ndidate for any new academic tide or responsibility. Nei-
ther consistent given the work of political criticism in which I was partic-
ipating, nOt desirable with regard to a litde forum that was more internal,
more private, and where, through a whole endless scenography of sym-
bols, representations, phantasies, traps, and strategies, a self-image re-
counts all som of interminable and incredible sturies ro irself So I
thought I had decided that, without further changing anything in my
university situation, I would continue for better or for worse doing what
I had done up ro then, from rhe place where I had been immobilized, and
without knowing anything more about where I was going, indeed know-
ing less no doubr about it than ever. It is not insignificant, I believe, that
during this period most of the texrs I published placed the grearest, if not
rhe most novel, emphasis on the question of rightS and of rhe proper [Ie
propre], on the rights of property, on copyright, on the signature and rhe
marker, on the matket for painting or, more generally, for culrute and all
its representations, on speculation on the proper, on the name, on desti-
nation and testitution, on all the institutional borders and structures of
discollfses, on the machinery of publishing and on the media. Whether in
my analyses of tbe logic of the ptlrt';gon or the interlacing srrictute of the
double bind, wherhet in the paintings of Van Gogh, Adami, or Tirus
Carmel, or the meditations on art by Kant, Hegel, Heidegger, or Ben-
jamin (in La Vend en peinture [The Tmth in Painting]),i.l Ot again in my
attempts ro explore new questions with psychoanalysis (for example. in
exchange with the works, so alive roday, of Nicolas Abraham and Maria
Torok) I"_i n all of these cases I was increasingly preoccupied with the ne-
cessity of re-e1aborating, with new stakes, questions said to be classically
insticutional. And I would have liked in this respeer to have been able to
harmonize borh a discoutse and a practice, as the saying goes, to fit the
ptemises of my earliet project. In fact, if not in principle, this was not al-
ways easy, not always possible. At times indeed ir remained very burden-
some in a number of ways.
Of the thitd and final period, the one in which I find myself here and
now, I can say very litrle. Only a few months ago, raking account of a very
wide numbet of different facrors thar I cannot analyze here, I came to the
conclusion, putting an abtupt end to a process of delibetation that was
threatening to become incenninable, that everything that had justified my
earliet resolution (concerning the thesis, of course) was no longer likely ro
be valid fOt the years to come. In particular, for the vety reasons of insti-
tutional politics that had until now held me back. I concluded that it was
perhaps betrer, and I must emphasize the "perhaps," to prepate myself for
some new type of mobility. And as is often, as is always the case, it is the
friendly advice of this or thar person among those present here, before or
behind me, it is others, always others, who effected in me a decision I
could not have come ro alone. For nor only am I not sure, as I nevet am,
of being right in taking this step, Jam nor sure that I see in all clarity what
led me to do so. Pethaps because I was beginning to know only tOO weU
not where I was going but 'INhere I was, nor where I had arrived but whete
I scopped.
I began by saying that it was as if I was speechless. You recognized, of
course, that this was JUSt anOther manner of speaking; nevertheless it was
nat false. For the wpttltio in which I have just indulged was not only ex-
cessively coded, excessively narrative-the chronicle of so many
anachronies-it was also as impoverished as a punctuation mark, rather, I
should say, an aposrrophe in an unfinished rext. And above all, above all,
it has sounded roo much like the rotting up of a calculation, a self-justifi-
carion, a self-defense (in rhe Unired Srares one speaks of a thesis defense
for a Joutenance de thhe). You have heard roo much talk of srrategies.
"Srrategy" is a word that I have perhaps abused in rhe pasr, especially as ir
was always ro specify in the end, in an apparemly self-col1(tadicrory man-
ner and at rhe risk of cuning the ground from under my own feet-some-
rhing I almost never fail to do-a srrategy withom any goal (ji11.afite). The
srraregy wirhour any goal-for this is whar I hold to and whar in rum
holds me-the aleatory strategy of someone who admits thar he does nor
know where he is going. This, rhen, is not afrer all an undertaking of war
or a discourse of belligerence. I would like it also to be like a headlong
Highr srraight toward rhe end, a joyous self-conrradicrion, a disarmed de-
sire, rhar is to say, somerhing vetY old and very cunning, but thar also has
just been born and that delights in being wirhour defense.
- Translated ~ y IvuMeen McLaugMin

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