In this part of this writeup I am interested in doing two things. First, I want to illustrate that the different rigidities of Warhol and Blanchot can both be ‘taken up’ within the same work, experience, life, etc.. More specifically, I will argue that Derrida does in fact take up both these positions (often at the same time) in his text “Envois”. Secondly, I will argue that in doing so Derrida avoids ontologizing the disaster/event and, thus, calls into question the legitimacy of traditional ontological categories. This, arguably, is the trend his work takes beginning (roughly) with Le Carte Postale and continuing, most forcefully, in Specters of Marx. In place of a philosophical ‘problem’ Derrida gives us a problematization of the problem itself.
Derrida writes: “and if I had to live like this (as I am living), I would not live, I would not make it. Not at all (du tout), not a single instant. Therefore there must be something else” (The Post Card 147). Here we see Derrida’s “narrator”
struggling with Blanchot’s problem. He lives a life he cannot live, yet he continues to live it, to ‘make’ it. And, because he continues to live, he postulates that there must be something else, something more, something authentic. This is what Blanchot would call the disaster. Yet, within the same set of post cards, Derrida writes:
I no longer know what to do with the “dead letter” that you again spoke to me about, as if it could make me hope for a new “remission” (no, not of the pain, but of an illness that I will not get out of alive, I know it now without the slightest possible doubt, the premises of the thing are fatal, written above our heads, they surpass our forces, and yourself, my God, you could do nothing about it, this is why I am so passive at bottom). No, I do not know what to do with it. I do not wish thereby to give you the slightest hope of reading it one day (I’ve told you and retold you why), no more than you would engage yourself to promise whatever in exchange, in any case to promise it to me in such a way that is clear and that binds you irreversibly. I don’t know what to do with it, which means only: I don’t know where to put it. I wish neither to leave it in the house, nor to hide it somewhere, nor to keep it on me. All the same, I am not going to rent a safe deposit box in a bank (although I did get information, it’s very complicated and doesn’t suit my project in any way) (The Post Card 127).
What I find interesting here is the almost comic intertwining of high seriousness and the utterly banal, or even the utterly ridiculous.
We see hints of Blanchot when Derrida writes of the ‘dead letter’ “I do not wish thereby to give you the slightest hope of reading it one day” (The Post Card 127). Taken seriously, we might read this as a metaphysical position: the dead letter, which has been discussed endlessly, is authentic communication (writing that achieves silence). The problem is what to do with it, where to ‘put it’. For Blanchot, the dead letter’s position is never quite settled, we aren’t ever really communicating authentically, but we are always already on the brink of silence. We can only almost get there every time. But, at the same time, ‘within’ the same words, Derrida is posing the most banal of questions: where should I put this letter that I don’t want you to read? Should I get a safe deposit box at a bank? His answer is startlingly reminiscent of Warhol: getting a safe deposit box is too “complicated”. ‘You can’t find a place for the metaphysical/material dead letter?’… so what!
The interesting part is that Derrida doesn’t simply replace the banal for the ‘deep’ or profound; he wraps them up within each other, inextricably. The purely material question of the placement of a secret letter hinges upon a position regarding the status of authentic communication, and vice versa. Rather than offering us up yet another alternative to the problem at hand, Derrida wants us to focus on our interest in a solution. Why do we care, or even why don’t we care? And what do either of these positions mean? In this respect, his thinking is closely aligned with some of Wittgenstein’s remarks in the Investigations.
It is the business of philosophy, not to resolve a contradiction by means of a mathematical or logico-mathematical discovery, but to make it possible for us to get a clear view of the state of mathematics that troubles us: the state of affairs before the contradiction is resolved. (And this does not mean that one is sidestepping a difficulty).
The fundamental fact here is that we lay down rules, a technique, for a game, and that then when we follow the rules, things do not turn out as we had assumed. That we are therefore as it were entangled in our own rules.
This entanglement in our rules is what we want to understand (i.e. get a clear view of). (Wittgenstein §125).
Similarly, Derrida is not attempting simply to ‘resolve’ the conflict, but to get a clear view of it. Blanchot is inextricably bound up in the atemporal ontological commitments of language (and thinking more generally) but the artificial nature of language doesn’t make that entanglement any less 'real'. He has simply ‘followed the rules’ and ended up somewhere unexpected. Warhol, on the other hand, eschews the seriousness and plays it all on the same level. But, in doing so, Warhol ends up ‘dogmatically’
ignoring the disaster. In the end, both end up ontologizing the disaster; both end up ‘fitting’ it into a conceptual scheme. Blanchot sees it as the horizon that we cannot turn away from. Warhol sees it as the banal level at which all things occur.
Derrida gets away from these pictures (though not beyond them). By constantly deconstructing each position in terms of the other, and maintaining each position even while he maintains the other, Derrida’s ‘disaster’ is, I think, closer to what Blanchot may, or may not, have had in mind.
The process of Derrida’s deconstruction doesn’t outline a clear position so much as it avoids tracing the outline of what that position might be. He doesn’t say “this is disastrous” or “this isn’t disastrous.” By acting out vignettes of both these positions, however, Derrida can respect the separateness/differential nature of the disaster. He flirts with the disaster (somewhat literally in “Envois”) in order to avoid fixing it.