“Passions of Literature”?

I very rarely read Derrida as I assume I will not understand anything. Many times when I read such complex modern theories I feel a bit like I’m in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, where I just want to say “It doesn’t make any sense!”  However, the other day I was reading Derrida as one of his essays is called “Fiction and Testimony” – an irresistible combination for me. I came across this quote which I absolutely loved. I think it fits in with the theme of this blog pretty well. Not sure I have made any sense of it yet, but there is something poetic and crazy about it. I like the way it seems to pick up pace towards the end. Derrida is speaking here about the title of the lecture series for which he delivered this paper: “Passions of Literature”.

“No exposition, no discursive form is intrinsically or essentially literary before and outside of the function it is assigned or recognized by a right, that is, a specific intentionality inscribed directly on the social body. The same exposition may be taken to be literary here, in one situation or according to given conventions, and non-literary there. This is the sign that literarity is not an intrinsic property of this or that discursive event. Even where it seems to reside [demeurer], literature remains an unstable function, and it depends on a precarious juridical status. Its passion consists in this – that it receives its determination from something other than itself. Even when it harbors the unconditional right to say anything, including the most savage antinomies, disobedience itself, its status is never assured or guaranteed permanently [à demeure], at home, in the inside of an ‘at home’. This contradiction is its very existence, its ecstatic process. Before coming to writing, literature depends on reading and the right conferred on it by an experience of reading. One can read the same text – which thus never exists ‘in itself’ – as a testimony that is said to be serious and authentic, or as an archive, or as a document, or as a symptom – or as a work of literary fiction, indeed the work of a literary  fiction that simulates all of the positions that we have just enumerated. For literature can say anything, accept anything, receive anything, suffer anything, and simulate everything; it can even feign a trap, the way modern armies know how to set false traps; these traps pass themselves off as real traps and trick the machines designed to detect simulations under even the most sophisticated camouflage.” ( Jacques Derrida “Testimony and Fiction” in Maurice Blanchot The Instant of My Death  and Jacques Derrida Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), pp. 28-29)

Yes, I’m not sure where he is going with the army metaphor (or any of it), but I like it nonetheless. I sense a complete love of literature in this passage and that is something I can relate to!

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One thought on ““Passions of Literature”?

  1. Thank you for posting this! 🙂 In that passage, Derrida is saying a lot of what Roland Barthes says in S/Z. I agree wholeheartedly with it, too. Just as viruses don’t do anything until they’re operated by other organisms, a text or any type of signifier isn’t going to do or be anything until someone’s using it.

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