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The Tain of the Mirror
The Tain of the Mirror



The Tain

of the Mirror

I . The Tain of the Mirror Dewida and tbe Philosophy of Reflection *# l-4 RodoIphe

Dewida and tbe Philosophy

of Reflection


RodoIphe Gaschi

Harvatd University Press

Cambridgq Massachusetts

and London,England

Gpy.;ght 8 1986 by rhe Raiht and helb af Hnwmrd Colg

Nl ri&s


kinred in rhe Unrtcd hat-

of America

Fifth printins 1997

This book is prind an ad-fm paper, and ia bindii mmdali

hmw brm chmm for stm&

and dmbitity.

Library af Cenpss Caabgaa-in-P.blL.rian Data


The nin of the mirmr.

Bibliography: p.

Indudes index.


Dcmdp. Jactpes.

1. Title,





ISBN 0-674-86700-9 (dorh) ISBN 0-674-86701-3 (paper)



I am grateful to David B. Allison, Man Bass, Barbara Job-


P. bvy, Gayatri C. Spivak, and others who have translated Derrida’s

wotk into English. Thanks to their expert trandations, I was able to complete my own work without dumring the text with numerous refuencrs to Dcrrida’s French. Graceful acknowledgmentis made to the Johns Hopkins Univcrsity Press for permission to quote from

Jacques Derrida, Of Grmnntatology,mans.

Northwcsrrrn University kesr for pmnission to UM Jacques

as m the

Dcrrida, Speech mrd Phenomenon. trans. David B. Allison. Acknowl-

edgment is also made to the University af Chicago Prns for lines

quoted from the following works ofJacques Dmida: D*mninntim.

trans. Barbara Johnson, copyright 0 1981 by the University of Chi-

cago; Marghs ofPh’hilosophy,tram. Alan Bass,copyright 8 1982 by

‘7hcUniversity of Chicago; Posirions. trans. AIan Bass,copyright 0 1981 by The University of Chicago; and Writing old Diflmmm, trans. Alan Bass,copyright 0 I978 by The University of Chicago. 1

m Jacques Dmida’s English publishers for permission to

qua frwm his work, as follows: The Hancsrcr Prcnr, Murpinr of

Philosophy,tram.Alan Baq Rouddlg and Kegan Paul, Writing und

Difference; and The Arhlone Press, Pusitions and Dissenriwrion. I

would also like to thank the Stare University of New Yo& hss for

pemissiw to qum from the two following works by Gcorg WilhcIm

Wedrich Hcgel: The Diff-

Gayaui C. Spivak, as well

am ptehl

betwmn Ficbte’s ad Scbelling’sSys-

tm offpbihopby, trans. W.Czrf and H.5. Harris, translation copy-

tight 0 1977 by State Universiq of New York; and Fdth md Kriwledge, trans. W.Wand H. S. Matis, translation copyright Q 1977 by State University of New York.



Afirstdrafttfthefitsttwopamafrhis book warwrittenin 1981- 82, while 1held an American Council of Learned Societies fellowship. Without the assistance and support of the State University of New York at Buffalo, it would not have been easy ta complete this project. Several sections of rhc book haw bwn published independently. A first version of Chapter 6 has appeared in Italian under the title “Eter-

ologia e decostrurione,” ‘tram. Stefan0 Rosso, in Rivista di Estetiur. 25,no. 17 (1984). A section of Chapter 9 entitled “Infrastructures and Sysremaricity” has becn publishcd in Deconstruction and Phi- losophy, ed.John Sallis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986). Part of Chapter 1I has been printed under the tide “Quasi-Mera- phoricity and the Question of Being,” in Hermmsurics ad Decon- shrrEtion. cd. Hugh J. Silverman and Dm lhdc (Albany: Statc University of New York Press, 1985}.

Very special thanks are due ro TWO ppIe-ChcryI

Lester and

Philip Barnard-for the mericulouscarcandconrinual gcncrosiry with time and advice with which they prepared the manuscript for pub- lication. Many ,improvements in style and substance are the resuit of their discerning eye. Finally, I am deeply indebted to Bronislawa Karst for the patience with which she awaited this bwk, and for so much more.



Toward the Limits of Reflection

I. DdiningRRdleaion

2. The Philosophy of Rdkcrion




The Sclf-DcmUcd~Of R~tld~n


Isobted Reflection Pbiloropbiurl R&ction



Spccvlatiw or Abrolufe R&ctiou



Identity, Totality, and Mys~icRapnuc


5. Pon-Hqdian Criticism of Rdkxitiq

6. Beyond Reflection: The Interlacing of HetcroIw


On Deconstruction

7. Ah, DrrmrLtEon.DccommKtion

8. Dcconsmmctive Merhodology

The Pmpnedentics of Dcconrtmction

Aaoinst Nentrnlify


Inhartrvcrvrnl Acanmtmg



7hc hfarpnl IrrCrriptmn offbe Ground









A System beyond Being



The Infrastrucrurat Cham


The Generol Theory of Doubling


The General Svstm





Literature or PhiIosophy?


10. Literature in Parentheses



I I. The Inscription of Universality


















The Tain of the Mirror


ITS+ to tfit philomphid amapt--of the concept) always nka within philosophy, rhc /om of an aposteriority or an empiricism. But

his is an &MI of the speculrr nature

of phil-

cmphicnl rekction, philowphy king iscapa-

bleolimcribing (mmprchcnding)whatisoutsidr

ir curhemkc rhm through rhc appropriating rsrimilation of a ncptivc image of it, and dis-

semination is written on the back-the

of that mirmr.


Jnquw Dd&, Dismhatim


The abhwisdnns that appcar in the text, followed br page citations, refer

to the following worts by Jacques Derrida:


The Archmrogy of rhe Frivolour. mns. J. P. Ixavy (Pittsburgh:

Duqucsne, 1980)

D Distmindion. iranr. B. Johnson (Chicago: Univmiy of Chicago


Press, 1981)

“Limited Brc.,”

Hopkins University Pras, 1977), pp. 162-254

in Glyph 2. trans. S. Wcbcr (Balrimore: Johns


Margins of Philosophy, rrans. A. Bass (Chicago Univmiry of

Chicggo Press. 19az1


Edmmd Husserl’s Origin of Ceometty: An Snrductiori, rrans.


J, P. Lcavy (Stony Brook. N.Y.: Nicholas Hays. 1978) Of Grummtob~,trans G. C. Spivak (Baftimore: Johns Hopkins

Universiry Press, 1976)

P. Positions, trans. A. Bass [Chicago: University of Chicago Prcss,


S Spars: Nietrrchc’s Styles. trans. B. Harlow (Chicap: University


of Chicago Press, 1979)

Speech and Phenomena. rrans. D.B. Allison ‘(Evancron, 111.:

Northwestern University Press, 1973)


La Vgriri en peinrure (Paris: Flammarion. 1978)


Wriring and Differace, trans. A. Bass ‘(Chicago: University

of Chicago P, 1978)



Any attempt to interprcrJacques Derrida”swritings in chc perspecrive

of philosophy as a discipline is bound to stir controversy.


many philosophers and literary critics alike agree that Derrida’s work is literary in essence. For the philosuphcrs in question, however, such an assertion is one of uncompromising ,reproof, for It is bawd on what they perceive as an incompatibility with philosophical sobriety, a lack of philosophical problematics and argumentarion. For the lir- erary critics, by mntrast, the epithet literary is a mark of distinction, bad on the fact hat Derrida has writren extemively on literary

works and has also thmatized a number of concepts crucial to the literary-critical enterprise. Above all, the qualificadon limq refers to what is viewcd a5 Derrida’s playful style and fine sensibility to the very matter of literature: that is, language. Yet to judge Derrida’s writing as literary-to exclude them from the sphere of ‘krious,” that is, philosophical discussion, or to recuperate them for literary criticism-is a feeble attempt to mastcr his work, one that cannot do justice to the complexity of theDerridean enterprise.To miect such a characterization of Derrida’s work does not, howcvcr, imply that it must therefore be philosophical. If philosophy is understood as mnstitutcd by a horizon of probiematizariw exclusively determined by the traditional desiderata of a canon of issucs, and if, in particular, such problcmatization is identified with one special technique of ar- gumentation, then Dcrrida’rwritings arc certainly not philosophical. If philosophy is understood in this manner, the purpose of this book camat be simply to reapprupnatc Derrida for philosophy. Yet my exposition of Derrida’s writings is manifestly philosophical, for at least two reasons. First, what Dertida has tu say is mediated



by rhecanon of the traditional problems and methods of philosaophical

problem solving, as well as by the history of these problems and

methods, even if his work cannot be fully situated within the,confines of that canon and history. My interpretation is philosophical insofar as it focus= on Derrida’s relation to the philosophical tradition, and emphasizes the manner in which his wrirings address not only par- ticular philosophical problems and ihtir tradirional formulations, bur, more important, the philosophical itself. Second, my study is philo- sophical because it aics to prove that rhe specific displacements of rradidonal philosophical issues by deconstruction amount not to an

abandonment of philosophical rhaughr as such, bur rather to an at- rempt at positively recasting philosophy’s necessity and possibility in view of its incvirable inconsisrencies. Indeed, Derrida’s inquiry into the limits of philosophy is an investigation into the conditions of possibility and impossibility of a type of discourse and questioning that he rec~gnize~as absolurely indispensable. The philosophical meaning of such an intcllcctual entcrprisc is certainly noreasy tograsp. Its difftcultystems not simply from phi~osoaphy’nnomrioun transgrcs- sion of commonplace representation, but from an attempr, made in full respect of all the classical requirements of philosophical argu- mentation and development, to question the laws of posribjliiy of that transgression itself, without, however, aiming to do away with it. Therefore, reading Derrida requires not only the rraditional sur- mounting or bracketing of rhe natural amrude, ordinary consdous- nm, or habitual modes of thoughr that all approaches K) a philosophical work rcquirc. bur above all an additional retreat or absmnion, whereby the philosophical gcsture and mode of perception themselves become thematic. In short, my exposition of Derrida’s work is philosophical to the exrenr rhac we understand his debate with the condirian of philosophical generality to be “philosophicat’* in intent. Apart from the fact that I ’believe that Dcrrida’s thought can be

adcquately understood only if approached philosophicaIy-that

shown to bc engaged in a constant debate with the major philosophical themes from a primarily philosophical perspecrive-it must also be adrnittcd chat some of my emphasis on thc philosophical dimensions of Derrida’s work is clearly a function of his receprion in this country, particularly, by the proponents of what has comc to be known as

dcconsrruclive criticism. Undoubtedly dcconstruccive criticism has grcdtly profited from Dertida’s thought, both thematicallyand merh- odologically. But to quarry from Derrida’s writings ia not auromat- ically to become deconstmctive in the eminent sense. Indeed, many




dmstnrctionist ctiticp have chm simply m ignore the profooundly philosophical thrust of Derridean thought, and have consequently misconstrued what deconstruction consists of and what it seeks to achieve. From the pmpectivr of what 1establish here as to the naturc of de~onsmctim,hardly any dcconsmctionist aitic could lay daim tothat titlt Yet my sometimcr harsh judgment of that sort of criticism is not meant to be a wholesale njcction. Undoubtdy demnstruc- donist criticism has brought frah air and imagination into the oth- erwise stuffy amosphm of the critical cstablishmcnt. It has led to exciting and highly valuable readingsofliterary tern. But dmnshuc- tionkt criticism also has a spDdficity of in own;it obeys laws and foIIaws intentions that arc nor at all those that underlie Derrida‘s philosophical enterprise. Indeed no one was more aware of &is dis- crepancy benvecn venturn than Paul h Man, as I have tried to demonstrate elmvhtm’ Moreover, deconmuctionist aiticim is the offspringofa heritage rhar has licrlc in common with that ofkrida’s thought. Deconstructionist criticism must be understood as originat- ing in New Criticism; it is a continuation of his American-bred lit- erary scholarship. tt is against this criticism’s appropriation of a philosophical~ypqed notion OF deconstruction, but also against many philosophers’ misreadings of Derrida as literary humbug, that some

of my emphasis is directed,

Yet since this book is concerncd neither with the history of dm- mructionist criticism and its miscomprchmsion of deconstruction in

a smct sense, nor with cstablishing the distinctive spedficity prop

avoidcd all dctailcd debate with de-

cmsrmdwe criticism. In order to undertake such a debate at teast wo things would be required, neither of which this book could hope to achicvc: B determination of the autonomy of this rypc of critiasm, and a dchtion of a criticism that would yield to deconstruction dcvelopcd herein. Rather this book confines itself M an analysis af the philophid background and implications of deconstruction, and to a discussion of some of the prernisa of a criticism bad on it. In


to this type of P;ti&m, I havc

short, anyone will undoubtedly be deceived who

me to es-

tablish what a “true’” deconsrmaianist criticism wauld be, bcyand what Barbara Johnson has diagnosed. in an ekgant phrase, as the double infidtliry of dcconsrrucrionisr critiasm, which, through irs incursion into the exotic-the seducdvc foreipncss of Derrida’s thaught-comm to remember what it was thar had appealed IO it in what it was being unfaithful t~:that is, Ncw Criticism.2 Bur all rhcsc tats are dependent preascly on a prior elucidation of that which



deconstructionist criticism is onfaairhful to in Derrida’s writing, and

rhat is all I want to cstablish

Some may argue that my attempt to present Decrida’s thought in a perspective of disciplinary philosophy. although perhaps ,feasiblein the caw of his earlier work, which is obviously philosophicd and conteprual in a technical sense, could be succcssful wirh the later work only if this portionof Derrida’s writings wcreviewed somewhat selectively. As a matter of fact, this book is based on atmost the enrirery of Derrida’s writings up to La Viriti m peinrure (1979)- wirh rhe exception of Gbs-as well as on a host of essays. Purring aside the delicate question of whar is to be counted as more philo- sophical or more tirerarily playful, not to mention earlier or later, I havc adrnitrcdly given greater prominence to the marc philosophically

discursive texts. It has not been my intention to mver the totaliry of Derrida’s oeuvre up to this point, or to speak for what he may publish in the future. This hook cerrsinly does nor claim to be ,exhausrive. The question, then, is whether the analysis of the supposedly earlier and more philosophical texts has any bearing an Derrida’s later writ- ings. But has not Dcrrida insisted time and again on the continuity of his intellectual mterpriw? For instance, in “The Time of a Thesis:

Punctuations” (19821, he rcmarks thar “all of the probIema worked on in the Introduction to The Origin ofGeomehy have continued to organize the work I have subsequcntly atrempted in connection with philosophical, literary and even nondiscursive corpora, mosr notably

that of pictorial

the earlier iexrs continue to inform and direct Dertida’s more “play- ful” texts. The diffcrcnce between the more “philosophical” and the more “literary” approach consirts, primarily, in making philosophical arguments in P nondiscursivc manncr, on rhe level of the rignifier, syntax, and textual organization. A5 is well known from the Platonic dialogues, such a proccdutc is itself thoroughly philosophical. and thus shows these texu to beconcerned with problems similar to those discuscd in a technically conceptual manner in the cxplicirly philo- sophical works. To affirm such continuity, however, is not to deny difference and evolution. An cxtcnrive cvolurion is widmr as one passcs from thc carlicr to rhe later work, insofar a5 Derrida comes ro speakon subiects hc had nor taken up beforc. But rnorc imporram is the intcnsivc wolurion rooted in Derrida’s dcconsrrucrion of the constintrive rhe- torical and literary dcvices nf philosophical argummtation. Indeed, if the making of arguments in a literary or poetic manner is itself


work,“’ Indeed 1 believe 6rmly thar all rhc motifs of





eminently philosophical, Derrida’s mimicry of these devices methe lcss outdoes philosophy’s manery ofthe aignifier. His earlier work is very much concerned with the inevitable problcms of concept for- ination and argumentation; the lam work adds to rhis the dimension of the problems that follow from philosophy’s involvement in the materiality, spatiajity, and mporality of its texts. In his so-called literary texts, Dcrrida pursues the same problems on yet another level, a level that adds both a quantitative and a qualitative aspect to his Iater mrrk. Yet this complication itself becomes intelligible only if we first eluadate the &rust ofDerrida’s philosophical debatcs. Neglecring to do 50 leads to the unfortunatt designation of the latcr prorcan texts as literary, regardless of whether “literary” is understood as

merely limry. Although in some degm 1 indicate an approach

thcse texts, for the most part 1have limited myself ro expounding the

more argumcnrativc side of Drrrida’s wrirings. This explication is necessary if one wish- to come to grips with what amounts to a deconsuuction af the phiImophinl rules for staging an argument in


To qosc rhc esmtial wits and the philosophical thrust of Der- ridean thought, I have chosen a triple approach. Fint, 1 ,situateand inmpm Derrida’s phiIosophy with respect to one particular philo- sophical problem and its history: namely, the criticism of the notion of reflexiviry. Second, while choosing that formof presentation, de- velopcd since Aristatle, that proceeds by logical dependency, I also link rogcrhcr a mulrirudt of motifs in Dcrrida’s oeuvre in ordcr to demonstrate the consistent nature of this philosophical enterprise, and to attempt to sysmnatizc some of its results. Third, I further devtlop these concerns, especially insofar .as they impinge on the problem of universality, by analyzing a scries of Drnidean concepts thar have beenabwrbed into deconstructionist criticism, and I clarity their phil- osophical status in Derrida’s work. This thrmfold intention broadly corresponds ro the three para of this book. Unlike orhen who have aitemprrd to situate Dcrrida’s thought in the history at the grand disputcs concerning the question of being (Girard Granel], or in the apocryphal histary of tht grammatological (Jean Grksch).not to mention main histories bordering on the phan-

tasmic which some philosophers and critics have devised, I discuss Dcrrida’s philosophy in terms of the criticism to which the phiIa

sophical concept of reffedon and reflexivity has been subjected.The reasons for this choice arc dearly drcumstantiial. Indeed the dominant rnimnception of Derrida is bad on the confusion by many literary




critics of dcconstmction with rcflcxivity. Refltcrjm and reflexivity, however, are precisely what will not fir in Derrida’s work-not be- cause he would wish ta refute or reject them in favor of a drcam of immcdiacy. but because hi5 work questions reflection’s unthought, and thus the Iimiis of its possibility. This book’s ride, Tbe Toin of the Mirror, alludes 10 that “beyond” of the orchestrated mirror play of reflection that Derrida’h philosophy sccks to conccpmalizc. Tak. 3 ward altered from the French it&, according to the OED. refers

to the tinfoil, the silver lining, the lusterless back of the mirror. Det- rida‘s philosophy, rather than being a philosophy of reflection, is engaged in the systematic exploration of that dull surface without which no reflection and no specular and spcculativc activity would be possible, but which at the same time has no place and no part in reflcction’s scintillating play- Yer my hislory of the critique of reflection, outhned in Part I, is nor a straightforward history. It does nor describe the full range of answers suggcstcd with respcm to this question. Nor dm it refer m Anglo-Saxon and American authors who have broachedthis problem, from Shadworth Hodgsonto Sydney Shoemaker. By contrast, Hegel’s speculative criticism of rhe philosophy of reflection is bven what mme may consider inordinate importance. But Part I is intended not as a total history of that problem, but merely as an oriented history that servesas a theoretical prelude to the systematicexposition ofDerrida’s thought, which I undertake in Part I[. in spite of my contention rhar Derrida’s philosophy must ‘be relatcd to rhe modern bistory of the

concept of reflection and to the criticism it has

to bring into view Derrida’s debate with the traditional paradigms of philosophy in general. The speculative form in which Hegel cast the unvarying philosophical topoi, and even their I-lusserlian or Heideg- gerisn phenomenological farm, are, undoubtedty, because of their ~trategicimportancc for Derrida’s wrEtings as D whole, privileged means of acces to this thinker’s discourse. But neither Hegel nor Husserl is truly at stake, nor is any other regional or historically limited form of philosophy. Ar stake rather is what in these aurhors touches on the enterprise of philosophy as such. indecd to interpret Dtrrida is to confronr the whole tradition of Western thought, not so much as a cumulative series ofphilosophical figures,however. but as a rradition roored in and yielding to a set of unsurpassable rherr rctica1and cthical themes and dcrnands. These arc, as I have tricd to show, the reat terms of rcfcrence and the adequate horizon of thought of Derrida’s philosophical enterprise, and they alone explain the rad-

drawn, 1seek primarily



icaIityand contemporary attractivenes of his writing, however mi5 construed they may have bcen. In short, whcther discussing Hegel, Husserl, or Heid-, Demda is primarily engaged in a dcbatc with the main philosophical question regarding &c ultimate foundarion of whrr is. Conrnry to those phi-

losophers who naively negate and thus remain closcly and uncon- trollably bound up with this issue, Derrida confrontsthe philosophical qumt for the ultimate foundation a5 a necessity. Yet his faithfulness to intrinsic philosophical demands is paired with an inquiry into the

inn- limits of thee demands themselves, as well as of their unque-

tionable necessity. My goal is to demonstrate that hida’s philosophical writings display a subtle economy that recognizes the essential requirements

ofphilosophical thought while quesrioning the limirs of rhc possibiliry

thcre requirements. Deconstruction, as 1 show in Pam 11, is engaged

in the construction of the “quasi-synthetic concepts” which account for the economy of the conditions of possibility and impossibility of the basic philosophemcs. Itrfrartrlrctures, a word used by Derrida on


sevcrat -ions

in refacnoe m thesc quaskynthm’c constructs, mmcd

to represent the mast economical way to conceptualizeall of Derrida’s proposed quasi-synthetic concepts in a general manner. “Undecida- bla” would have been an alternative, ycr ‘‘infrastmmre’’ bas the suppiemenrary advantage of allowing for a problematization of Der- rida’s debate with structuralism and with the Platonism thar it ha$ inherited from conseruativc strata in Husscrlian phenomenology. The notion of infrastructures has not yet been picked up by any of those who have written on Dcrrida. From the perspective of my analysis of deconstruction, however-its necessity, how it is carried out, and of what irs conclusions consist-the occurrence of the word infrostrrrc- flrre in Derrida’s writings is mare than a coincidence. In Pan 111 I inquire into the problems of philosophical gcnerality and universality from a daanstruaive point of view by way of a discussion of Dcrrida’s use of the terms writing, textuality, and met-

aphor. In each case I try to reconstruct the precise context in which

rhm conceprs bwmc operational in Dcrrida’s work, and thus to

determine what philosophical task they are meant to paform. Here

roo I supt some of the criteria that a possible dewnsrructionisr literary criticism would have to observe. As an investigation into the irreducibly plural eonditiom of pos- sibility of all major philosophical, theoretical, and ethical dcsidcrata, dcconstmction is eminently plural. Derrida’s philosaphy, as I shal1



show, is plural. ycr not pluralistic in the li'beral senst-that is, as HegeI knew, secretly monological. This plural nature, or openness, of Derrida's philosophy makes it thoroughly impossible m conceivc of his work in terms of orthodoxy, nor simply because, since he is P living author, his work is not yet completed, but primarily because it resists any possibleclosure, and thus doctrinal r&$dity, for essential reasons. Still, such openncss and pluralism do not give license to a free inrerpreration of Derrida's thoughr. or for its adaptarion to any particular need or interest. Nor are all the inrerpretations of Derrida's thought that seek legitimacy in such openness equally valid. In this bwk I hope that I have found a middleground heen the srmctural pluraliry of Derrida's philosophy-a plurality rhar makes it impossible ro elcvarc any 6nal essence of his work into irs iruc meaning-and thc srricr criteria to which any inrerpretation of his work must yield, if it is to be about that work and not merely a private fantasy. These criteria, at ccnrer stage in this book, are, as I shall show. philosophica[ and not literary in nature. Some might want ro call my efforts a rctranslation of Derrida's writings back inro the technical language of philosophy and its ac- cepted set of questions. Indeed, in order to show at what precise point rhe questions and demands of philosophy are transgressed in Derrida's thought, I have had to emphasize their tcthnical aspects. Yct such a proccdurc cart hardly hc called a literal rctranslation, since "philos- ophy" is spellcd out in capital letters throughout Derrida's work, his seemingly more playful texts includcd. If this is a retranslation at all, it is one that focus= on what Dupin describes, refcrring in The Pur- bind Letter to a certain gamc, as rhat which escapes "obscrvation by dint of being excessively obvious."' Yet this excasively obvious aspcct of Derrida's work, which SO many readers have overlooked, is precisely what givcs special significance to Derrida's so-called aban- donment of philosophy and its rechnical language. Bur in addirionro rhe danger of being ma obvious in dernonsrraring the philosophical thrust at Dcrrida's work, a more serious risk is involved in attempting a retranslation. Apart from rhe always looming danger of opacity and crudity owing to insufficient philosophical ren- ritivity on thc part nf thc inarpretcr, the major danger is thar this opention may be understood as an end in irseIf. Obviously this is the risk I encounrcr with the professional philosopher. Indeed, in referring Derrida's philosophy back to the ctassical and technical vocabulary

in order ro determine prccisely the level, Incus, and dfcct of a dc-

mnsrructivc inrervcntion in the traditional fieldof philosophical prob-




lematics, one may well confound the assignment of that locus with the debatcitsclf. In spite of all the precautions I have taken-regard-

ing, for instance,my reference tosuch Derridean concepts asariginary

synthesis and transcendentality to indicate the lml on which his debate with philosophy mrs-my determination of the level and the scope of the debatc may be mistaken by some for that which is at stake in the debate inelf. In this sense, rather than clarifying ex- tremely intricate problems, my “mansIation” may even create a series of new abstacls to undemanding Derrida’s thought. Yet this is the risk any interpretation must take, a risk that, as Dcrrida’s philosophy maintains, is always possible and thus a nccasary pos- sibility that has to be accounted for. And it is a risk that I happily assume, if I have been succcssfuI in providing some insights into a number of ditficult matters not prcviously addwed, and Especially if this book helps set forth more rigorous uiteria for any future discussion of Derrida’s thought.

PART ONE Toward the Limits of Reflection
Toward the Limits
of Reflection


Defining Reflection


ReOcction is undoubtedly ar old as the discourseof phiIosophy itself. A statement suchas this, howmer, borderson the trivial, if one de6nes

reflection in its most common senst, as meditation or carcful consid- eration of some subject by turning or fixing one's thoughts on it.

Without such action, no philosophical discourse could gcr off the

ground. 1 am concerned here instead with the philosophical concept of reflection, which from the outset has turned away from the im- mediacy and contingency of the reflective gatwe by which philoso-

phiaing bcgim in order to reflect on the beginningof philosophy itself.

The mnccpt of philosophical reflection is, as we shall see,a name for

philosophy's eternal aspiradontoward wlf-foundation. Yet only with

thought since Descamraid re-

flection expliatly acquire this statusof a principle par excellence.

Why, then, did reflection become an outstanding, perhaps an un-

surpassed, principle of philDsophica1 &inking, and in what way are we M undersrand It? First of all, from the momcnt it became the chief methodological conctpt for Cartesian thought, it has signified the

modern philosophy-philosophid

turning away from any straightforwardconsideration of objects and from thc immediacy of such an experience toward a considcrarion of

the very experience in which objew are given. Second, with such a

bending back upon the modalitits of obiect perception, reflection

show itself to mean primarity =If-reflection, self-relation, self-mir- roring, By lifting the ego out of its immediate entanglement in the world and by thematizing the subject ot thought irrelf, DRczrtcs

establishes the apodictic certainty of self as a result of the clarity and disrinctncss with which it perceiver itself. Through self-reflection, the

self-the ego, the subject-is

put on its own feer, set free from all






unmcdiated relation to being. In giving priority to the human

determinarion as a thinking being, self-reflection marks the human

beings risc m the rank of a subject. tr makcs the human being a

subjectivity that has its center in itself, a self-consciousnesscertain of itself. This is the Crst epoch-making achievement of the concept of refleaion, and it chancrerim modern rneraphysia as a rnaaphysia of subjectivity. By severing the self from the immediacy of the obiccr world, re- flcction helps give the subiea freedom as a thinking being. From Descants to Huvjerl, not to mention German Idealism, reflection as the self-thinking of though5 as sclf-conKiousncss, has had an mi- nently emancipatory function. lt constitutes the autonomy of the cog- do, of the subiecr, of thought. Liberum est quod cuusa sui &. Only rhe subjea rhar knows itself, and rhus finds the center of all cemrudc in itself, is free. But self-reflection in modern philosophy not only grounds the autonomy of the individual as a rational being; it also appears to be the very motor of history as progress toward a frec sodety. Self-reflection has informed all philosophy af spirit since Des- cams; indctd, ir also constirums the modem mnccpr al hisrory and is the alpha and omega of political philosophy. Yet Descartcs’s attempt to doubt anything, and Husrcrl’s eidetic bracketing of all thetical positioning of the world, am of freedom by which thc rhinking subject reflects irself inro irself, do nor abandon the world ofobiects. Although rhe principle of self-reflemion risksthe danger of solipsism, it is the very condition by which the world can

Self-reflection, then (and this is another

of its maior modem characteristics). makcs masrery of the world dependent on the status of the world as a world of obicas for a free and self-conscious subject who bears thc promise of a free world. As I have mentioned, sin= the bcginning of modem metaphysics reflection has represented the sole means by which an ego can en- gender itself as a subject. Because such a subject is seen as providing the foundation, thesolid and unshakable ground ofallpossible knowl- cdgc, the thcory of reflexivity also inaugurates the particular kind of philosophical investigation thar with Kanr came to be known as rran- sccndental philosophy, “rranscendtntal” referring to that son of philosophical reOection that brings to conxiousncss the inner con-

dirions that consuture the objects in kenera1 thar present themselves 10 our experience. Indeed for Kant, tranwendcntal philosophy not

only hematites the forms and categories that make objective knowl-

edge possible but aIso makcs the transcendental subject “not merely


turn into a world of objects.



a logicalcondition of possible xlf-consdoumss, but that which rea1

consciousnsr knows to bc the subject of all possible reat conscious-

ness.”’ From Dcscartes to Kant, self-consciousness as the ground of deduction of the systems of knowledge represents a still unanalyd presupposition; the analysis of its structure bemmcs a maal preoc- cupation of modem philosophy only wirh Fiche. Nonetheless, in the sort of invstigation latent since Descartes and beginning with Kant-

namely, tranffendntta philowphy-sclf-reflexiviig

remains an a priori

structural precondition of what we undcrstand by knowledge ioelf. As chis implies, the impfications ofself-decrios go beyond subjec-. tivity, frdom, and rtanscendenralicy. To the extent that transcendental philosophy laysdaim to reflecting the a priori conditions of all knowledge, it must also reflect on the ground proper of philosophy, and thus become rhe mtdium of the self-retlection of philosophy. In the thinking of thinking-what Ar-

istotle called noesis norseos-rdlexivity

serves at once as a medium,

the method, and the foundation by which philosophy gmunds itself within itself. Through such a rdlecrion upon irself, in the philosaphy of philosophy, the philosophical discourse xckr to achieve complete clarity concerning its m csscnap and complete freedom from any

assumprions, thereby conlrrming its

the philosophy of philosophy, the philosophy capable of furnishing the foundation of all other sdcnccs. In othcr words. %If-reflection

grounds the autonomy of philosophy as the knowledge that is most

free. Here, one can best grasp that self-Amion is not only method

or medium but foundation as well. All modern philosophy has an essential relation to itself such that all rdexive analyses are analyses of the essential nature of things themselves, as Huswrl claimed with respect to phenomenological reflection; furthermore, all reflmion by

philosophy upon itself represents an essential act of freedomin which,

as Fichte maintains, philwphy becomesits own content and returns into itself.1 In short, self-reflection is not merely L key concept denoting

a method specific to modern philosophy, nor is it simply one of phi- losophy’s major concerns. The scope of reflexivity is not cxhaustcd by in role in constituting subjsdviry, freedom, tranmdmtality, and philwophy us philosophy. At the very heart of modern metaphysics as a metaphysics of subjcctivity, reflexivity is the very medium of its unfolding; it is the methodand substance, thcvery originof philosophy itself as a discourseof radicaI autonomy. Yet, despite in capital im- portance, the task of determining rigorously what reflection is is not an easy one.

claim to bc the “first” philosophy,



Since reffection is a5 old as philosophy iself, and gained systematic significance as early as Descanes, it is surprising that it has not been fully conceptualized. One can, of course, try to explain this incon- gruiry by pointing at rhe in fact very diffcrent meanings of reflection throughout the history of philosophy, but one would still confront rhc necmsicy of eoncepmatizing rhcsc dilfcmces. Any ammpt to circumscribe 3 definite meaning of these different uses of the term by

zracing it back to its etymological roots in the Latin verb re-/here

is certain to be of little help. Still, such a procedure is not without merit as a beginning, since it will suggest some of the mom formal characteristics of the movements that compose reflection, as well as some of rhc fundarncnral imagery associated with this concept. Re- flecterp means “to bend” or “to turn back” or backward, as well as “to bring back.” Yet this turning back is significant for understanding reflection only if one recalls that in both Creek and Latin philosophy thc term has optic connotations, in that it refers to the action by ITIirrOringsUrfacKnfthrowing back Fight, and in particular a mirror’s exhibition or reproduction nf obiccts in the form ,of images. In this sense, reflection signifies the process that takes place between a figure or object and its image on a polished surface. As a consequence