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Alcibiades as Hero: Derrida/Nietzsche?

Author(s): Roy Boyne

Source: SubStance, Vol. 9, No. 3, Issue 28 (1980), pp. 25-36
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3683903 .
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Alcibiadesas Hero: Derrida/Nietzsche?


"The obscurityof our utterances is constant. The riddle of

meaning should remain in the hands of children. To read a
book in order to know denotes a certain simplicity.The little
that the most reputed works teach us about theirauthor and
their reader ought very quickly to decide us against this ex-
periment.It is the thesisand not theexpressionthatdisappoints
us. I resentpassing throughthese ill-lightedsentences,receiv-
ing theseconfidenceswithoutobject,suffering at everymoment,
through the fault of a chatterbox,a sensationof 'I knew that
before'. The poets who have recognisedthislose hope and run
away fromthe intelligible;theyknow that theirwork can gain
nothingbyit.One can love a mad womanmore thananyother."
(Andre Breton)

It is not easy to escape fromthe social constraintswhichsmotherus. It is

hard to live a life whichdemands thatsuch escape be continuallyre-enacted.
Such a life would understand that the escape fromsocialitywould reside in
the movement and not in the destination.Alcibiades mighthave lived such a
He was an Athenian politicianwho mastermindedan alliance between
Athens and itsneighboursagainstSparta. The alliance did not defeatSparta.
It was broken finallyby Sparta'scomprehensivevictoryat Mantinea.Alcibiades
transferredhis attentionto Sicily,and was to becomejoint commanderof an
expedition there. On the eve of his departure he was accused of sacrilege.
Someone had disfiguredthe symbolicstatuesknownas Hermai.It was thought
Alcibiades was responsible. He fled. Escaping one social arena, he entered
another. He joined withthe Spartans.Athenssufferedon accountof the good
advice and tactical awareness he gave to Sparta. In time his relationswith
Sparta deteriorated. He moved to Persia. From the Persian court of Tissa-
phernes,he conspiredwiththeAthenianoligarchicparty.This partysuccessfully
brought about a revolutionin Athens.They did not,however,wantAlcibiades
back. Thus he attached himselfto the fleetat Samos, which had remained
loyal to the democracy.He went on to defeatthe Spartan fleetin two notable
battles; and he was in charge when Byzantiumwas recovered. His returnto
Athens was a triumph.But the Athenianssoon came to mistrusthim,and he
was dismissed fromhis command. His response was finallyto bringto a close
Sub-Stance N0 28, 1980 25

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26 Roy Boyne

the movement that had ruled his life. Reluctant to re-enact yet again his
escape fromsociality,he went into retirement.WithSophoclean inevitability,
the drama closes withhis murder,arranged by the Spartans.
The storyshows thatescape fromsocialityis possible,but thatit can never
be definitive.Freedom is flight.The storyalso showsthehorrorof movement.
Alcibiades could not sustain his escape attempt.For him the price of failure
was death. We shall see thatNietzschealso lived a lifeof movement.Nietzsche
remained free until the end. For him the price of success was madness.
We should do well not to contemplate the enormityof the task that
confrontsthe fugitivelife. Rather,if such a lifeis in anyway forus, it mustbe
lived in the present.To live in the presentin such a waywould be to livein the
presence of crisis.The outcomeof crisisis, in part,the subjectand provenance
of this paper.

Structuralismis a formof sociality.Whilstthose associatedwiththisform

mightdeny community,the spectatorat the structuralist games willfrequently
see certain kinds of play. As an exemplification,Serres wrote:
An analysisis structuralif,and onlyifitshowsthecontents
as a model,i.e. ifitis
able to isolatea formalsetofelementsand relationsthroughwhichitis possible
to reasonwithoutimplying of thegivencontent.'
The founding distinctionexemplifiedhere is betweenthe descriptionof the
empirical world and the elucidation of its structures.To decide to elucidate
the structuresof the world is not to abandon empiricalreality.The structures
are generative: analysis of their logic indicates the potentialspread of the
appropriate empirical phenomena. When Levi-Straussformulatedthe struc-
ture of generalised exchange, it not only accounted forthe kinshiprelations
withina seeminglyaberrantAustraliantribe,it also mapped out otherpoten-
tial systemsof kinshiporganisationwhichcould be searched forthroughout
the world. When Mendeleev put forwardthe periodic table of elements in
1869, it made possible the predictionof chemicalelementsnot yetdiscovered
in nature.
The socialityof structuralism restsupon the twinprinciplesof structureas
non-empirical and structureas generative. Both principlespoint to the con-
nection between structureand reality. In the firstcase it is necessary to
privilege an empiricalobject in order to theoriseitsunderlyingstructure.In
the second case the empirical world provides the instantiationof the theo-
reticalpossibilitiesexpressed by the structure.We are seeing opposite sides of
the same coin, on the one side movingfromrealityto structure,on the other
side moving from structureto reality.So, in both its abstractingand gen-
erative moments,structuralism is an objectivism.It makes necessaryreference
to ontic reality,to the being-thereof things.

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Alcibiades as Hero 27

This objectivismis onlyone face of the Moebius stripalong whichstructur-

alism travels.Underneath and furtheralong is the assumptionof subjectivity.
The French anthropologist,Maurice Godelier, puts it as simplyas can be:
"The structureonlyexistsin and throughthe human mind."2Whyshould this
be so? It is a consequence of the division between structureand reality.
Structureis not available at the level of empiricalreality;itis produced by the
theoretical labours of the thinkingsubject. There is movement between
structureand reality;this can only be the movementof the thinkingsubject.
Structuralismprivilegesthe subjectwhose gaze determinestheonticaland the
structural.The subject is the masterof the oscillationbetween the empirical
world and generative structures.This masterycannot be questioned within
structuralism.The structuralistcommunityorients around the privileged
fixed point of the absolute subject.
It is temptingto seek to escape the theoreticalconstraintsof structuralism
by exploding the idea of the inviolable subject. We can see where such an
escape attemptmightlead in a recentbook entitledLanguageand Materialism.3
Structuralism is here traced back to the seminal work of Ferdinand de
Saussure whose analysis of the sign as the unityof signifierand signified
formsthe background against whichprominentmembersof the structuralist
communityare seen to be working.There is a double critiqueof Saussure's
work. On the one side, "the question of the constitutionof the subject,who
speaks, is never asked."4 On the other side of the Moebius strip,the strict
separation of signifierfrom signified is wrong because "it is the play of
difference of the signifyingchain that produces signifieds."5To put this
twofold critique of Saussure another way, the subject is not an absolutely
privileged centre,nor is the onticalworld simplypresentto thatsubject.How
mightwe react to thiswork? We could perhaps see it as a valiantattemptto
escape a certain form of sociality.Were we to see it this way, it mightbe
thought pertinent to ask why the idea of structurewas retained.6 If it is
considered that the group of intellectualconstructsclassifiableas 'structures'
would certainlyinclude Marx's economic models and Freud's topologyof the
unconscious, then that question is answered for us: the escape attemptwas
subject to certainconditions,such thattheirlast sentencecould be read aloud
outside the prison walls:
UntilMarxismcan producea moreadequateaccountof theroleof ideology,
and theroleof thefamily,
subjectivecontradiction, itwillneverprovidea real
alternativeto suchoperationsof bourgeoisideology.7

Language and Materialismmay have been, as the authors say, an attempt"to

introduce the conceptual and theoreticalwork which supports and informs
the revolution undergone by structuralistthought,"but, despite the trans-
gressive insightof some of the book's principlecharacters,it is ultimatelya
celebration of structure.
The structuralistsodalityis representedby the triadof subject,world and
structure.It may be that one angle of thatthree-sidedfigureis more critical

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28 Roy Boyne

than the other two. To consider this possibilitylet us take an example of a

directattackon the idea of structure.In a workentitledRhizome,8 Deleuze and
Guattari examine the idea of the tree. Withits corollariesof branches,roots,
fruits,seeds, and main stem, the tree has played a fundamentalrole in the
organisation of Western thought.They believe that:
Arborescence the
is reallythepowerofthestate.Attheheartofitslonghistory,
statehasbeenthemodelforthebookandforthought: thelogos,thephilosopher-
Theirs is a politicalattackon 'structure.'In the case of the tree-structures
Chomsky's generative grammar, there are privileged connections between
points. These connections are petrified.This is as much a mark of social
power as it is a markof syntax.It is the masteryof 'structure'in generalwhich
is put into question. There mustbe relationships,but theirpatternsneed not
be fixed. Comparing Chomsky's notion of structurewith the concept of
rhizome, Deleuze and Guattariwrite:
In a rhizomeon thecontrary, eachtraitdoes notnecessarily
refertoa linguistic
trait:semioticchainsof everykindare linkedto verydiversecoded forms,
differentsigns,butalso rulesrelatingto thestatesof things.10
The keyto the idea of rhizomeis thatanythingcan be relatedto anythingelse,
and that the connections are both makable and unmakable. The text itself
proceeds by a bizarre series of rhizomaticleaps fromlinguisticsto politicsto
geography to photographyto popular music to architecture.
Seen as an attemptto escape the socialityof structuralism,could we regard
Rhizomeas anythingother than an interestingfailure?This question arises
because, as in the case of Languageand Materialism, one of the threeaspectsof
structuralismseems to be untouched. This time it is not 'structure'which
escapes but the subject. It seems to me thatRhizomedoes not fail.The reason
for this is that while the idea of structurefinallyre-inscribesthe figuresof
subject and world,the subjectneed not re-inscribethe figuresof determinate
structureand available world. Rhizomemay be an affirmationof the subject,
but it is simultaneouslyan affirmationof the infinitelyremakableworldand a
denial of structure.Alcibiades has two allies.
In the work of Jacques Derrida we also findan affirmation of the subject.
He tells us that:
The subjectis absolutely indispensible.I don'tdestroythesubject,I situateit.
That is to say,I believethatat a certainlevelofbothexperienceand philosoph-
ical and scientificdiscourse,one cannotget along withoutthe notionof the
The demolition of the unitaryego by psychoanalysis,the uncertaintyprinci-
ple in modern physics,the discreditingof Hegel's absolute spirit,the un-
acceptabilityof monisticdeterminismin Marxistphilosophy,the critiqueof
the unattainable signifiedin recentsemiology,all of theseinstancesexemplify

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Alcibiadesas Hero 29
not thedestruction of thesubject,butthedislodgement of pretenders to the
throneof absolutesubjectivity. The subject,as a function, remains.
Derrida's plan to escape the socialityof structuralism is to relentlessly
attackthe conceptionof the onticalworldthatthiscommunity posits.The
organisingprinciple ofthisattack is the notion of freeplay.Freeplayexpresses
theidea ofa worldwithout truth, without origin,offeredtoan activeinterpre-
tation.The structuralist desirefortruthmustremainfrustrated in such a
world.In such a worldwe can no longeranticipatetheend of thegame.In
such a worldit is no longerthestructure thatis generative, it is thesubject.
Certainly it would stillbe possible for that to
subject privilegetheempirical
worldin a structuralistway. But in a world characterized byfreeplay itwould
be incumbenton thatsubjectto saywhythiswasbeingdone,toexplainwhat
end he had in mind.So, Derrida'sescape fromthestructuralist community,
and thisapplies to Rhizome too, is achievedby movingto a positionwhich
enableshimto ask themwhytheydo whattheydo. In a rhizomatic worldthe
motivesfor behavinglike a structuralist would becomethe onlypointof
accessibilityfor understanding whatwas beingdone. Those motivescould
include a denial of the freeplayof the worldin the name of a desirefor
certitude,a denialofthefreedomofthesubjectinthenameofa desireforthe
Law, a denial of the infinity of interpretations in the nameof Truth.Such
motivesmightbe seen as the seeds of community. Community of thiskind
maybe seen as theshootfromwhichthetreeof repressive societymaygrow.
Derrida'sworkdoes nottellthetruth.This is morethana matterof him
havinga "penchantforfalsity."'12 It is a matterof hisbeingunableto giveus
anytruthotherthanhisown.So itis thatthetruthofDerrida'sworkcannot
be presentedhere. But thatis not a problem.The real issueconcernsthe
rhizomebetweenDerridaand Alcibiades.It concernsDerrida'slineof flight
fromcertainformsofsociality. It concernshissuccessinfleeingstructuralism,
and hislassitudein preparinghisflight fromphilosophy. It concernshisgood
intentions.From the philosophicalplateau one is well able to observethe
escape attempts ofothers.The priceofthatprivileged positionis precisely the
privilegeof the position. We can see this unfold in his essay, entitled,"La
questiondu style."'3

"La questiondu style"mightseem like an examinationof Nietzsche's

writingon women,ofHeidegger'sworkon Nietzsche, and ofthepossibility
in At
interpretation general. anyrate, it is a recordof certainphilosophical
We could see itas an ornithologist's
observations. notebook.Derrida,likethe
ornithologist,is interestedin flight.The ornithologistuses binoculars.Derrida
uses language, but in a special kind of way. In using language as he does,
Derrida has achieved one escape at least. He is no longerchained down bythe
syllogisticmethodof generatingtruestatements. That methodis supplemented

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30 RoyBoyne
and transgressedby using the language itselfas resource,ratherthan relying
on thelogicof inferential
relations.An examplefromFreudmightmakethis
One of mywomenpatientstoldme a shortdreamwhichendedina meaningless
verbalcompound.She dreamtshe was withherhusbandat a peasantfestivity
and said: 'Thiswillendin a general"Maistollmutz".'In thedreamshehada vague
feelingthatitwassomekindofpuddingmadeofmaize... Analysis dividedthe
wordinto'mais'('maize'),'toll'('mad'),'mannstoll' 'mad
formen'),and 'Olmutz' (a town in All
Moravia). thesefragments werefound tobe
remnants ofa conversation shehad had at tablewithherrelatives.
The following
wordslaybehind'mais'... 'Meissen' (a Dresdenporcelainfigurerepresentinga
bird);'miss'(herrelative'sEnglishgoverness hadjustgonetoOlmutz); and 'mies'
Jewishslangterm,usedjokinglyto meandisgusting). A longchainof thoughts
and associations led offfromeach syllableof thisverbalhotch-potch.'4

What, then,is the question of style?It is a questionof writing,of a stylus.It

is a question of cutting,of a stiletto.It is a question of thoughtfulreflection
from on high, of a stylite.It is the temporaland physicaldistancemarkedby
Derrida's existence as stylitethatenables him to watchthe lines of flightthat
others take. But it is also his immobilityatop the column that marks his
movement from truth to language as a retreat.The refusal to escape the
socialityof philosophy runs the risk of re-inscribingtrutheven as one runs
away from it.
Style cuts. It is incisive,intrusive.It is an echo. of masculinity.Styleis a
question of writing,of the flowof language. It is sensitive,elusive,pregnant
withmeaning, an echo of femininity. The playof styletakesplace in the name
of the father,but in sightof the mother.The workof stylemirrorstheworkof
the fetish.It is the simultaneousavowal and disavowal of difference.In the
psychoanalytictheoryof fetishism,the sightof the mother'sgenitalsreveals
the possibilityof castration.Sometimesthe revealed possibilityof castrationis
so powerfullyshockingthat it must be disavowed. Fetishismis a formof this
disavowal. It is the settingup of a substitutefor the missingphallus. Para-
doxically, the fetish both affirmsand denies the possibilityof castration,
representingboth the presence and the absence of the phallus. So it is with
style,it is the simultaneousaffirmationand denial of textualtruth.Styleis the
means by which textualitycan escape the socialityof the normativeorder of
interpretation.It is, ifyou will,the opportunityforspeech to escape language.
But the blueprintforspeech's escape fromsocialitycannotbe employedin
the cause of woman's escape fromthe laws of the social order. In thislatter
case it is not enough to live the paradoxical co-existenceof truthand non-
truth. Nietzsche said about woman that:

She does notwanttruth:whatis truthto a woman?Fromtheveryfirst

has been morealien,repugnant,inimicalto womanthantruth-hergreatartis
thelie,her supremeconcernis appearanceand beauty.15
On the other hand, let us imagine that truthreallydoes reside withwoman;

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Alcibiades as Hero 31

just as Nietzsche did, in the opening linesof BeyondGoodand Evil. What might
the paradoxical apposition of these qualites resultin? Derrida does not doubt
but that this would result in a double condemnation. On one side woman
would be seen as castrated.The dogmaticmetaphysiciansof the male order
would put forwardthe truthand the phallus as theirspecial attributes.On the
other side woman would be seen as castrating,wieldingthe heavy knivesof
truth,cuttingout the bad fruitof disbelieffromthe healthysocial whole.
Woman's escape from socialitywill not be achieved in termsof the male
vision of truth,non-truthand extirpation.Man's escape frommasculinityand
woman's escape fromfemininity involvesbreakingout of the circleinscribed
by the twin figuresof art and science. The lifeof humanityshould reside in
the affirmationof difference,and in the continuous re-enactmentof that
affirmation.We cannot expect to findin eitherNietzscheor Derrida a set of
instructionsfor that affirmation.When Derrida writes:
Womanis affirmed as a positivepower,a dissimulator,an artist,
a dionysiac.
is notaffirmed byman, but affirmsherself,in herself and withinhumanity. In
has no place.Anti-feminism is in itsturnreversed,woman
wascondemnedonlytotheextentthatshewasresponding toman'stworeaction-
He is not speaking the truth;he is speakingwithan aim in mind. It is, as has
been said, a question of his good intentions.We mightsay thathis wish is to
address the feministmovement, with the warning that "Feminism is the
operation by which woman wishes to resemble man,"'7 and withthe advice
that the task is to escape the sharp edges of the masculine/feminine dialectic.
Realise, then, that Alcibiades was a woman. That for a time she escaped
femininity, at the same timeturningher back on the masculineimperativesof
the Athenian warlords,was only possible throughan act of renunciation.She
renounced the motherland,and in turningaway fromAthensshe commenced
a movement toward herself.
But "La questiondu style"is not onlyan exhortationthatwe should livethe
fugitivelife as a means to self-affirmation. It is also the presentationof a
puzzle. This puzzle is as follows: if someone knows that he can't reach the
truth,how can he write?It is possible that this puzzle is similarto a puzzle
which one meets in sociology:ifthe critiqueof positivismhas been successful,
why is there still sociology? There is writing.There is sociology. How can
these two puzzles be addressed? Take a thirdpuzzle: if the world is in flux,
how can we understand thebeingof anythingat all? We mighttake this last
question, since it is the most general of the three,and attemptto answer it.
One stratagemwould be to examine the workof MartinHeidegger. He wrote
extensivelyabout being.Surely if there is an answerwe can findit in what he
said. But Heidegger does not tell the truth.In thiscontextHeidegger is only
an occasion forthoughtabout the problemof being in a worldin flux.To say
any more about Heidegger; for example, thatwe mightfinda fullerunder-
standing of being-in-the-world from a study of his work; would not be to

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32 Roy Boyne
describe Heidegger, but would be to describe the thought in relation to
which Heidegger was onlyan occasion.Whatbecomesan issue is the possibility
of thinking'sescape fromsocialityor, to put thisanotherway: the questionof
Alcibiades as the life of thought.
One way to read Heidegger's interpretationof Nietzscheis to understand
that Heidegger was Alcibiades. One could say thatit was a question of ghost-
writing.Such a view would re-affirmthe necessityof looking for thatwhich
Heidegger was tryingto escape. It would reproduce the temptationto antici-
pate his destination.To read Heidegger in thiswaywould be to initiatea series
of doubling movements. Every analysis,whetherof Nietzsche, Heidegger,
Derrida or thispaper, can be seen as the interrogationof a refugee.Consider
Heidegger's analysisof Nietzsche:

The pronouncement "God is dead" means:thesupersensory worldis without

effectivepower. It bestowsno life.Metaphysics, i.e., for NietzscheWestern
philosophyunderstoodas Platonism, is atan end.Nietzsche understands hisown
philosophyas thecountermovement to metaphysics, and thatmeansforhima
movementin oppositionto Platonism.
Nevertheless, as a mere countermovement it necessarily remains,as does
everything'anti',held fastin the essence of thatoveragainstwhichit moves.
countermovement againstmetaphysics is,as themereturning upside
downof metaphysics, an inextricableentanglement in metaphysics ... 8

For Heidegger, Nietzsche tried to escape the socialityof metaphysicsand

failed. Nietzsche becomes, then, an occasion for Heidegger to affirmthe
difficultyof the path taken by the fugitivelife. It is not sufficientto turnthe
social codes over onto theirheads. They mustbe transgressed.We mayread
Heidegger as attemptinga particularlyarduous escape. He thought that
Nietzsche had failed; it was up to him to succeed. But we can also read
Heidegger as a pessimist.Of course Nietzsche failed to escape metaphysics.
Metaphysicsis ineluctable.Nietzschewould then become, for Heidegger, an
occasion for pessimism: a pessimismwhich would only be repressed,which
would in other words still be there, in Heidegger's attemptto transgress
reason in the name of thought.
Derrida reads Heidegger as a pessimist.For him Heidegger's speech is
effectively,"Nietzsche could not do it; neithercan I." In order to secure this
interpretation,Derrida places Heidegger in the main traditionsof hermen-
eutic philosophy which espouse the search for true meaning as the truthof
what is done. Derrida reads Heidegger's viewof Nietzscheas the statementof
a truth: Nietzsche's truthis the failed attemptto overcome Platonism.What
needs to be asked is why Heidegger becomes, for Derrida, an occasion to
speak the Truth. Why does it become an occasion forpessimismin regard to
the possibilityof the escape fromthe socialityof metaphysics?These questions
can be answered, to some extent,by harkingback to Derrida's lassitude in
escaping fromthe philosophicalcommunity.We mightdescribeDerrida as a
pessimistregardingthe possibility of escapingthe socialityof Truth. If Derrida

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Alcibiades as Hero 33

were Alcibiades, it would be Alcibiades toward the end of his life; all move-
ment stopped, awaitingdeath.
It is not so simple. We can set Derrida back in motion:a movementwithin
philosophy,but a movementnevertheless.This movementwould stilltakethe
form of an escape frommetaphysics.But it would not be an escape fromall
philosophy; it would be an escape fromonto-theology,fromthe question of
whatis-a matterof the escape fromthe socialityof beings.
The metaphysicaltradition,fromthe Greeks throughChristianityup to
the timeof Heidegger, grounded Being in termsof a supremebeing.Although
Being and beings were the object of much philosophicalreflection,the mean-
ing of Being remained unthought.This thoughtlessnesswas concealed by the
nature of metaphysicalthought as thought about the supreme being. This
thoughtwas ruled by a meaning of Being whichwas not itselfthoughtabout.
The firstmove, then, in the escape fromthe socialityof metaphysics,is the
indication of a lack. Ontologybecomes a fetishism:thoughtabout itsdefining
characteristicis repressed and displaced onto the idea of God, or one of its
modalities. The deconstructionof the fetishis achieved by Heidegger in two
ways. In the firstplace, it is importantthat the recoveryof the ground of
metaphysicsin Being is not simplya re-inscriptionof the previouslyruling
idea of the supreme being. In Heidegger's essay,"The question of Being,"19
this re-inscriptionis preventedby puttingthe conceptof Being under erasure,
by using two thickblack lines to cross out the word in the text.Not onlyis this
an assertionthat"Being is not,"not onlyis thisa signof thoughtabout Being
and oblivion, it is also an enabling gesture: placing the word under erasure
does not result in its abandonment; Being is stillvisibleeven though it now
bears the weightof Heidegger's cross. In the second place, Heidegger affirms
the possibilityof going in some sense beyond Being. In his essay, "On time
and Being,"20Heidegger tells us that:
as we thinkBeingitselfand followwhatis itsown,Beingprovesto be destiny's
giftofpresence,thegiftgrantedbythegivingoftime.The giftofpresenceisthe
propertyof Appropriating...we can neverplace Appropriation in frontof
us ... True,as welookthrough Beingitself,
destinyof Being and the extendingof time-space, we have glimpsedwhat
Appropriation means.Butdo webythisroadarriveatanything elsethana mere
In the context of this paper, I want only to point out that Heidegger's
achievementin going beyond Being, no matterwhatthe nature of thatgoing
beyond is, enshrines a denial of theology.Speech about Being is not speech
about God.
If we read Derrida's interpretationof Heidegger in thisway,we can see
Derrida as affirmingthe possibilityof escape fromtyranny.The tyrannyof
the onto-theologicalorder is no mere inventionof the philosophicalimagina-
tion. It is a brutal fact of history.The obvious example is the Spanish In-
quisition,but recenteventsin Guyana remindus thatonto-theological tyranny
is stillwith us today.

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34 Roy Boyne
We can, then,see Derrida's essay as, on the one hand, an attemptto escape
certainconstraints,and on the otherhand, as an exemplificationof reluctance
to evade other formsof sociality.Whilsthe is not prepared to removehimself
fromthe philosophical communityas a whole,he is verydeterminedto avoid
some of the more vicious traps to be found on theirterritory. We have seen
that one of these trapsis constitutedby the onto-theologicalunderpinningsof
metaphysicsas it was taughtand thoughtfromthe timeof Plato up untilthe
time of Heidegger. Anothertrap,whichDerrida is carefulto avoid, takes the
formof a particularkind of hermeneuticreflection.This kindof hermeneutic,
which looks forthe truthof whatis written,is easilyvisiblein the workof,say,
Emilio Betti:
to say to us, whichwe do notalreadyknowfrom
... the texthas something
ourselvesand whichexistsindependently of our actof understanding.21

But Betti's plea forobjectivityin interpretationis onlythe mostobvious form

of the trap. A less obvious formis representedby the philosophicaltemptation
of exegesis. This snare is perhaps one which no philosopher can entirely
avoid. We can see what the difficultiesare in Derrida's discussion of an
obscure sentence fromNietzsche.
What, Derrida asks, are we to make of an isolatedsentencefromNietzsche
that reads, "I have forgottenmy umbrella"? Its meaning is not clear. The
sentence may be incomplete. It may be mislocated.It mightnot be genuine
(Kaufmann has shown how much trustcan be put in Nietzsche'ssister,for
example). But the difficulty of determiningthe historicalcontextof the phrase
does not affectour abilityto deal with the fragmentin abstractionfromall
contextual considerations,especiallywhen we realise thatNietzsche'sspecific
intentionsare, in principle,inaccessibleto us. Such inaccessibility
need not,of
course, sheltera profound secret.The point is thatthe simple readabilityof
the phrase is sufficientto cut any necessarylinkwiththe author. To put this
another way: speech has always already broken withintentionality. If thisis
the case, what mightthe natureof exegesisbe? One answeris thatexegesisis a
dialogue with-inthe self masquerading under the formof a monologue about
the other. The irony of Derrida as philosopher is that while he can nicely
describe the trap,he repeatedlystepsintoit. Not onlydoes he tellus the truth
of Heidegger's reading of Nietzsche (did he escape Platonism?),he also asks
his reader to suppose thathis workis cryptic22-a useless request,one might
think,unless there were a chance of crackingthe code.
Derrida's work may be seen as an occasion for thinkingabout thatwhich
cannot be escaped. The movement from truth to language-the play of
language, the play withinlanguage, Nietzsche's language as playground-
might merely be just another expression of the truth.In other words, can
Derrida avoid invoking the very notions which he attacks in his polemics
against the ideas of essence, centre, origin, unique meaning, and so on.
Perhaps the best he can do is to share the perverse delight evidenced by
Dubois in de Sade's Justine,when he says:

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Alcibiades as Hero 35

If thatexistence-ifGod'sexistence-shouldprovetobe true,themerepleasure
of baitingand annoyingthe personso designatedwould becomethe most
preciouscompensation forthenecessityI wouldthenfindmyself in to acknow-
ledge somebeliefin him.


I would not wish to conclude on a note of pessimism,but ratheron a note

of concern-if not warning.Derrida as philosophermighthave to agree with
Dubois, and finallyyield to the inescapable. But Derrida as a lifehas no need
to remain immobileon top of the column. There is no compulsionforhim to
remain a purveyorof truth.The cost of his immobilityis the failureof his
attemptto escape the socialityof truth.The costof movementwould be much,
much higher.
How then should we see movement?Where can we findan exemplification
of the fugitivelife? What kind of thingswill fillthe notebook in which we
record our observationson the lifeof flight?Alcibiadeswillbe there,certainly.
But he finallycame to a standstill,invitingthe presence of death. Nietzsche,
however, did not stop. His projectwas movementincarnate-the revaluation
of all values. The price of his success may finallyhave been madness.
The options appear to be appalling. In theirsightthe fugitivelifecan only
be seen as heroic. And, as Nietzsche said, "Around the hero everything
becomes a tragedy."23


1. M. Serres, HermesI: La communication, CollectionCritique,Editionsde Minuit,Paris, 1968,

p. 31.
2. M. Godelier, "Structure and contradictionin Capital" in Ideologyand Social Science,R.
Blackburn (ed.), Fontana, 1972, p. 341.
3. R. Coward and J. Ellis, Language and Materialism, Routledge, 1977.
4. Ibid., p. 23.
5. Ibid., p. 23.
6. It might be said that the authors do not do this. Their critiquesof 'structure'do not,
however, excise the idea from their work. Indeed, the idea is necessaryto theirproject: "The
encounter of psychoanalysisand Marxismon the terrainof language... " (p. 156).
7. Ibid., p. 156.
8. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari,Rhizome,Editions de Minuit,Paris, 1976.
9. Ibid., p. 71.
10. Ibid., p. 19.
11. J. Derrida, "Structure,sign and play in the discourseof the human sciences,"in R. Macksey
and E. Donato (Eds), The Structuralist Controversy,Johns Hopkins U.P., 1972, pp. 247-272.
12. See J. Derrida, "Limited inc.," in Glyph2, Johns Hopkins U.P., 1977, p. 162.
13. To be found in Nietzsche Aujourd'hui?Vol. I, Collection 10/18,Paris, 1973, pp. 235-299.
14. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation ofDreams,Penguin, 1976, p. 404.
15. F. Nietzsche,BeyondGoodand Evil, Penguin, 1973, p. 145.

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36 Roy Boyne
16. J. Derrida, "La question du style,"Loc. cit.,pp. 265-266.
17. Ibid, p. 249.
18. M. Heidegger, 'The word of Nietzsche: "God is dead,"' in M. Heidegger, The Question
ConcerningTechnology and OtherEssays,Harper and Row, 1977, p. 61.
19. M. Heidegger, The QuestionofBeing,Twayne, New York, 1958. See pp. 81-94.
20. M. Heidegger, On Timeand Being,Harper, 1972, Especiallypp. 21-24.
21. Quoted in R. Palmer, Hermeneutics, NorthwesternUP, 1969, p. 58.

22. J. Derrida, "La question du style,"loc. cit.,p. 285.
23. BeyondGood and Evil, p. 84.

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