I have always been interested in this theme of survival, the meaning of which is not to be added on to living and dying. It is originary: life is living on, life is survival [la vie est survie]. To survive in the usual sense of the term means to continue to live, but also to live after death. When it comes to translating such a notion, Benjamin emphasizes the distinction between uberleben on the one hand, surviving death, like a book that survives the death of its author, or a child the death of his or her parents, and, on the other hand, fortleben, living on, continuing to live. All the concepts that have helped me in my work, and notably that of the trace or of the spectral, were related to this "surviving" as a structural and rigorously originary dimension. - Learning to Live Finally, 26.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Derrida in his last interview before his death explicitly equates the logic of two of his greatest concepts, the trace and the specter, the first used in his early writings, the second in his robust later work. Reading the latter into the former, one can understand it as a continuation of the thought of Heidegger on Hegel and the latter's concept of Geist. That is, if Geist is composed of the certain, deliberate death (negation) of un-Conceptual existence to be certainly, deliberately reborn in the Concept, understanding the trace as the spectral means understanding it as a different relationship of existence to death, to negativity. The spectral is the un-dead, the concrete anticipation of a death that is never certain to come precisely because it may have already passed the point at which it could be present. But as trace, it is clear from Derrida's early writings that it is also what Heidegger termed the sheltering in the withdrawing of being, the operation of Ereignis or enowning. That is, the relationship of existence to death is reconceived because what relates itself to death for Derrida (and Heidegger) is not existence, but this enowning movement of being, the movement of truth. In short, by combining these two concepts we are able to see that what Derrida was able to do was to exploit the French reworking of Hegelian negativity that was popular in the fifties (and earlier, in the work of Kojeve, Bataille, and Blanchot) with a concept that was not concerned with existence, and thus more concerned with being in the Heideggerian sense (the sense in which it was what was given by a movement of truth). In other words, he was able to bring French philosophy back to the sense of being that Heidegger was pursuing, out of its reified Sartreian form as existence. He was able to bring philosophy out of its concern with death and the present (existence) and towards a concern with death and the movement of presencing (which is chracteristic of enowning). The specter, then, is the figure that was concealed under the figure of the trace in Derrida's early writings.
As far as a critique of Hegel goes, and Heidegger's relationship to it as developed and exploited by Derrida, I can only outline that it would be a returning of Geist to its original signification in German, i.e. ghost. Derrida would show that the work of Heidegger is an exposure of the Hegelian tendency to suppress the spectral in its narration of the death that is constitutive of negativity as determinate--in other words, of the suppression of indeterminate negativity or abstract negativity. I'll outline all this in a clearer fashion sometime in the future--I just write now what is occuring to me. Here's the quote from Derrida that should show the links I've made here: