S O L L I C I T A T I O N

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Sollicitation—sollus + citare

The critical term will have been that of sollicitation. A neograph by Derrida, it originates in his “Force et signification,” first published July 1963 in Critique,[1] later included in his first major publication L’écriture et la difference from 1967. Generally, “Force et signification” is a review article based on Jean Rousset’s Forme et Signification: Essais sur l structures littéraires de Corneille à Claudel, and discusses weaknesses of structuralism and phenomenology due to their inability to comprehend force, intensity, imagination and esthetic qualities. It criticizes preformism, finalism, and geometrism, using Rousset as spur and example. How Derrida makes use of the concept of sollicitation in “Force et signification” will later be enriched, differentiated, and altered in later texts such as the 1967 La voix et la phenomenon and 1967 De la grammatologie, and still further on in virtually all his texts irrespective of whether explicit mentioning of the term sollicitation is made or not—such as his 1972 Marges de la philosophie. Sollicitation is arguably a conspicuous concept in Derrida’s oeuvre. A sollicitation of science—in its double genitive meaning—thus requires a firm understanding of this concept. To see its first operation let me recount its context. Outlining the “structuralist invasion,” in “Force et signification” Derrida recounts how in 1824 the panoramagram [panorographe] was invented, what was to become the very image of the structuralist instrument, as Littré states in order “to obtain immediately, on a flat surface, the development of depth vision of objects on the horizon” (WD 5). Through operations of schematization and spatialization the structuralist is enabled to cast a glance over a field “divested of its forces,” diagrammatically: meaning reinvented as form, hence “structure as the formal unity of form and meaning.” Derrida then continues:

Un peu comme l’architecture d’une ville inhabitée ou soufflée, réduite à son squelette par quelque catastrophe de la nature ou de l’art. Ville non plus habitée ni simplement délaissée mais hantée plutôt par le sens et la culture. Cette hantise qui l’empêche ici de revenir nature est peut-être en général le mode de présence ou d’absence de la chose même au langage pur. … Il n’y a donc rien de paradoxal à ce que la conscience structuraliste soit conscience catastrophique, détruite à la fois et destructrice, destructurante, comme l’est toute conscience ou au moins le moment décadent, période propre à tout mouvement de la conscience. On perçoit la structure dans l’instance de la menace, au moment où l’imminence du péril concentre nos regards sur la clef de voûte d’une institution, sur la pierre où se résument sa possibilité et sa fragilité.

Structuralism thus finds itself haunted, and Derrida ventures that such a state of being haunted, what prevents the city from returning to nature, constitutes the general mode of the presence or the absence of the thing itself in pure language. Haunted, the structuralist consciousness is one of catastrophe. This is no paradox, Derrida contends, since all consciousness is one of decadence, and since all structure is perceived by the imminent danger of menace. The structuralist vision concentrates its diagrammatical gaze upon that very stone that simultaneously implies the possibility as well as the fragility of the edifice in its totality. Precisely there, one can methodically threaten [menacer méthodiquement] structuralism, or structure in general, or also structure as the formal unity of meaning and form, and its operation Derrida names soliciting: “Cette opération s’appelle (en latin) soucier ou solliciter.” Sollicitation is thus an operation that enables one to reveal [percevoir] fundaments [nervures] as well as a certain “secret place” that tells of neither construction [érection] nor ruin but “lability.” It is shaking [ébranler], in a way related to the whole, that reveals this lability, this secret place: sollus, in archaic Latin, means ‘the whole, the totality’ [le tout] and citare means ‘to put in motion’ [pousser] (WD 6). Now comes, for my purpose, a vital proposition from Derrida:

Le souci et la sollicitation structuralistes, quand ils deviennent méthodiques, ne se donnent que l’illusion de la liberté technique. Ils reproduisent en vérité, dans le registre de la méthode, un souci et une sollicitation de l’être, une menace historico-métaphysique des fondements. C’est dans les époques de dislocation historique, quand nous sommes chassés du lieu, que se développe pour elle-même cette passion structuraliste qui est à la fois une sorte de rage expérimentale et un schématisme proliférant.

It could seem that here, in “Force et signification,” sollicitation was an operation of structuralism itself: “le souci et la sollicitation structuralistes.” He goes on to say that the technical freedom that spring from such a method is only apparent, and that really this sollicitation [le souci et la sollicitation] reproduces, in that very register of method, a solicitude and sollicitation of Being, a historico-metaphysical threatening, or rather menacing [menace], of foundations. What could a “historico-metaphysical” menacing of foundations come to signify? And what is here signaled by a reference to a “solicitude and sollicitation of Being”? What is Derrida really saying of “le souci et la sollicitation structuralistes”? It is even a “passion structuraliste,” which moreover “se développe pour elle-même.” And a passion that springs forth in moments of historical dislocations, when epochs find themselves expelled from a definitive and proper situs and site, a passion that tales the form of a simultaneous frenzy of experimentations and proliferation of schematizations. But we must leave these questions for an instant. After having made a detour of explanatory purpose, where he gives historical examples from Descartes, Corneille, Kant, Leibniz, and Rousset, Derrida comes back to further reveal, now provided for by a much richer historico-discursive context, what his own understanding of sollicitation is. Derrida has just maintained that Rousset is not only Cartesian, but that he also is Leibnezian; Rousset seems to think that no matter how complex a literary work is, one should be able to find a line that accounts for a natural unity and a totality of its movement, including all points that work traverses. The second division of “Force et signification” has an epigraph of Delacroix: “There are lines which are monsters. … A line by itself has no meaning; a second one is necessary to give expression to meaning. Important law”; now Derrida cites, just before further elucidating his own conception of sollicitation, Leibniz’ Discourse on Metaphysics, to align Rousset all the better to the former:

Because, let us suppose for example that someone jots down a quantity of points upon a sheet of paper helter skelter, as do those who exercise the ridiculous art of Geomancy; now I say that it is possible to find a geometrical line whose concept shall be uniform and constant, that is, in accordance with a certain formula, and which line at the same time shall pass through all of those points; and in the same order in which the hand jotted them down; also if a continuous line be traced, which is now straight, now circular, and now of any other description, it is possible to find a mental equivalent, a formula or an equation common to all the points of this line by virtue of which formula the changes in the direction of the line must occur. There is no instance of a fact whose contour does not form part of a geometric line and which can not be traced entire by a certain mathematical motion” (WD 19)

All is formula and traced entirely by mathematical motion, then. A full trust in mathematical-spatial representation. Then, in order to violently dislocate structuralism’s epoch and site, and to mark off his own departure, Derrida inaugurates his conception of sollicitation. We shall have opportunity to further our understanding of the Derridaean conception of sollicitation by reference to other and later texts, but let us first explicate Derrida’s very first elaboration of his conception of sollicitation as is in “Force et signification.” And, as we shall see, the definition given of sollicitation will in few years provide systematically resources in explaining deconstruction itself, thus making the next pages vital for our own undertaking. I must cite at length:

Nous n’opposons pas ici, par un simple mouvement de balancier, d’équilibration ou de renversement, la durée à l’espace, la qualité à la quantité, la force à la forme, la profondeur du sens ou de la valeur à la surface des figures. Bien au contraire. Contre cette simple alternative, contre le simple choix de l‘un des séries, nous pensons qu’il faut chercher de nouveaux concepts et de nouveaux modèles, une économie échappant à ce système d’oppositions métaphysiques. Cette économie ne serait pas une énergétique de la force pure et informe. Les différences considérées seraient à la fois différences de lieux et différences de force. Si nous paraissons ici opposer une série à l’autre, c’est qu’à l’intérieur du système classique, nous voulons faire apparaître le privilège non critique simplement accordé, par un certain structuralisme, à l’autre. Notre discours appartient irréduciblement au système des oppositions métaphysiques. On ne peut annoncer la rupture de cette appartenance que par une certaine organisation, un certain aménagement stratégique qui, à l’intérieur du champ et de ses ouvroirs propres, retournant contre lui ses propres stratagèmes, produise une force de dislocation se propageant à travers tout le système, le fissurant dans tous les sens et le dé-limitant de part en part.

It is clearly not a matter, through simple motions of balancing, equilibration or overturning, to oppose the Roussetian structuralism’s geometrism, preformism, finalism and its mathematical-spatial representations with simple, dialectical counter-notions. The choice is not as simple as to pick one terms or series as opposed the other. One must counter that simple alternative; one must seek new concepts and new models, a new economy “escaping” the classical metaphysical game of oppositions. Thus we see that the title of Derrida’s review article is never about opposing and positioning against Rousset’s Forme et signification. The appearance of simple opposition is one of strategy: to let be seen the non-critical and therefore untenable naivety with which structuralism grants privilege to the one term or series. In any case, Derrida states that his discourse irreducibly belongs to the system of metaphysical oppositions. What is thus strategic about Derrida’s sollicitationally intervention is a certain organization, a certain strategic arrangement that turns the strengths and the stratagems of the metaphysical field against itself, and that produces a force of dislocation that spreads throughout the entire system, “le fissurant dans tous les sens et le dé-limitant de part en part.” The significance of Derrida’s sollicitation is therefore to have the metaphysical system fissure in all its senses, all its directions, and have it delimited bit-by-bit. Only to immediately indicate that now we should glimpse the possibility of seeing the union of form and meaning, the union that authorizes any metaphor of elevation, as “difference itself.” And not long after Derrida shall stress repetition. The sollicitation of structuralism­, and Derrida contends that all metaphysics is essentially structuralist, thus aims at its thorough fissuring, by way of a certain adventurous and strategic arrangement [aménagement] exploiting the very stratagems of the system itself, which makes the union of meaning and form, thus per definition structure, difference itself. So why this swift stress on repetition? Derrida soon ridicules preformationism according to which no less than the very totality of hereditary trait is already encapsulated in the germ, the adult in miniature and the theory of encasement. He smiles at the tiny adult, but all the more to the attributing of something more than finality to natural life: “providence in nature and art conscious of its work” (WD 23). What he no longer smiles at is logos spermatikos and its anthropomorphic concept, and duration and force reduced to the difference between acorn and oak. All this translates a metaphysics, as Proust’s “atemporal” and “eternal” time, analogous to the structuralist’s contempt for time as irreversible succession. Such an irreversible temporality, such a duration and force, is written off as bare phenomenon and epidermis: the truth of time is absolute simultaneity. And so the book is theological simultaneity. Jean-Pierre Richard: “The difficulty of every structural account resides in that it must describe sequentially, successively, that which in fact exists all at once, simultaneously” (L’univers imaginaire de Mallarmé, p. 28). (WD 24) Thus is explained the fascination for the spatial image; one attempts to “concentrate time instead of forgetting it.” Derrida asks:

But is it by chance that the book is, first and foremost, volume? And that the meaning of meaning (in the general sense of meaning and not in the sense of signalization) is infinite implication, the indefinite referral of signifier to signifier [m.e.]? And that its force is a certain pure and infinite equivocality which gives signified meaning no respite, no rest, but engages it in its own economy so that it always signifies again and differs? (WD 25)

We see how Derrida slowly incorporates the notion of difference to that of difference, which sollicitation is all about: indefinite chains of referrals, infinite implication and equivocality, economy of equivocality that makes signified meaning always signify, thus appurtenance of the signifier, again and differ. A signified is always signifier, time and again, and always different and differing, infinitely repeating itself to differ. Repetition is difference; difference repetition. Only more and more it amazes me with what ease Derrida already in 1963 lays out several key operators that will continue to enable him pulverizing stones. Let us now, however, see how he so profound ends the article, before we goes on to a slightly different conception of sollicitation as developed in an essay written that same year, but somewhat later than “Force et signification,” on Emmanuel Levinas, “Violence et métaphysique: Essai sur la pensée d’Emmanuel Levinas.”[2] Derrida contends that those that he has just named  ‘ultrastructuralists’ contradict the perhaps most precious and original intention of structuralism, as demonstrable in the biological and linguistic fields where it first appeared. That intention insisted upon preserving “the coherence and completion of each totality at its own level.” It first prohibits the orthogeneticist telos according to which whatever appears out of line is considered blind anticipation or mysterious deviation. The original structuralism welcomes autonomy and idiosyncratic balance, the completion of each moment, of each plane; what appears as aberrational and abhorrent accident to the orthogeneticism is thus given attentive hospitality by the original structuralist. “Le pathologique lui-même n’est pas simple absence de structure. Il est organisé. Il ne se comprend pas comme déficience, défection ou décomposition d’une belle totalité idéale. Il n’est pas une simple défaite du telos” (ca 46). The pathological has its own rights; it is just as normal as what normally is considered to constitute solely and exclusively the normal. That the pathological as normality will come forth, Derrida will show, in various ways, is the condition of everything we think we know. Still, the rejection of finalism, considered as rule and methodological norm, is a vow [vœu] that structuralism can apply only with difficulty; concrete practice, however, can never adhere to infidelity to telos. Structuralism thus lives on in and of the difference between vow and fact.

Qu’il s’agisse de biologie, de linguistique ou de littérature, comment percevoir une totalité organisée sans procéder à partir de sa fin ? de la présomption, au moins, de sa fin ? Et si le sens n’est le sens que dans une totalité, comment surgirait-il si la totalité n’était pas animée par l’anticipation d’une fin, par une intentionalité qui n’est d’ailleurs pas nécessairement et d’abord celle d’une conscience ? S’il y a des structures, elles sont possibles à partir de cette structure fondamentale par laquelle la totalité s’ouvre et se déborde pour prendre sens dans plus indéterminée. Cette ouverture est certes ce qui libère le temps et la genèse (se confond même avec eux), mais c’est aussi ce qui risque, en l’informant, d’enfermer le devenir. De faire taire la force sous la forme.

Criticizing the structuralist urge to stifle force under form, “d’enfermer le devenir,” thus imploding the possibility of a becoming of the future and the future of a becoming, then, is Derrida’s errand here, criticizing structuralist formalism enabling comprehension only as effecting a menacing from within, as if auto-affected. Derrida sees structuralism as a kind of philosophical totalitarianism, that is, as an attempt to account for the totality of a phenomenon by reducing it to a formula, to “la paix d’un spectacle, horizon ou visage” (ED ca26).

Quand elle est dite, la force est déjà phénomène. Hegel avait bien montré que l’explication d’un phénomène par une force est une tautologie. Mais en disant cela, il faut viser une certaine impuissance du langage à sortir de soi pour dire son origine, et non la pensée de la force. La force est l’autre du langage sans lequel celui-ci ne serait pas ce qu’il est.

Never yielding to the oppositional game of metaphysics itself, and reminding us that effects of sollicitation also happens automatically and as if auto-affected, Derrida rather tries to make us aware of the necessity of fissuring the entire edifice of totalitarian and reductionist oppositional and hierarchical terms and series. Derrida’s sollicitation is a necessary counter-violence. Every totality can be shown to be founded upon that which it excludes, that is, that which would become excessive for the reductive analysis of becomings into formulas. As for instance is the case with the old philosopheme arkhē that cartels the senses of founding, origin, principle, commencement [phusis] and that of commandment, government, sovereignty [thesis, tekhnē, nomos], principle and prince,[3] hence the etymological link between archeology and monarchy. Sollicitation would demonstrate the differential excess secretly constituting the very conditions of possibility of arkhē. Thus, also implying its conditions of impossibility. Arkhē commenced as meaning in the nomological sense: to the arkhē as commandment, coming from the Greek arkheion, “initially a house, a domicile, and address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded.”[4] Before seeing sollicitation in its second coming, in “Violence et métaphysique,” let us see how Derrida the finale of “Force et signification.” He enters the character of Apollo, of course, and resuscitates “la métaphore de l’ombre et de la lumière (du se-montrer et du se-cacher), métaphore fondatrice de la philosophie occidentale comme métaphysique.” Founding metaphor not only because it is photological (the entire history of philosophy is but a photology), but precisely because it is a metaphor:

[l]a métaphore en général, passage d’un étant à un autre, ou d’un signifié à un autre, autorisé par l’initiale soumission et le déplacement analogique de l’être sous l’étant, est la pesanteur essentielle qui retient et réprime irrémédiablement le discours dans la métaphysique. Destinée qu’il y aurait quelque niaiserie à considérer comme le regrettable et provisoire accident d’une « histoire » ; comme un lapsus, une faute de la pensée dans l’histoire (in historia).

Derrida will be as persistent as insistent demonstrating that what for metaphysics here, as in so many other cases, appears as a regrettable and provisional accident, is not arbitrary and external, secondary and derivative, but, on the contrary, essentially inhabiting the structure in question, making it possible—and impossible. Derrida’s sollicitation is a delicate and complex endeavor. Force cedes its place to forms visible to the human eye, to eidos, and acoustics, i.e. the phonological discourse of truth present to itself in daylight, is thus also assigned diaphanousness. “Car la force n’est pas l’obscurité, elle n’est pas cachée sous une forme dont elle serait la substance, la matière ou la crypte. La force ne se pense pas à partir du couple d’opposition, c’est-à-dire de la complicité entre la phénoménologie et l’occultisme. Ni, à l’intérieur de la phénoménologie, comme le fait opposé au sens.” Force is thus something else, something wholly other. Force is repressed, and its repression lets the essential hierarchical oppositions of metaphysics appear at all. Thus metaphysics presupposes a structural violence of force. The debasement of the differentiating forces of writing thus propels philosophy as nothing but photology, the pure history of the truth of diaphanousness and the diaphanousness of truth: “D’où les difficultés à penser la genèse et la temporalité pure de l’ego transcendantal, à rendre compte de l’incarnation réussie ou manquée du telos, et de ces mystérieuses faiblesses qu’on appelle crises.”[5] As we shall see, “mysterious failures called crises” comprise precisely the effective-historical raison d’être for our sollicitation of science and science of sollicitation: the crises of science are essential and structural, and I will make use of Derrida’s sollicitation of philosophy to provide a possibly better understanding of why those crises are essential and even “natural”—no less for science than for philosophy.

Si cette « dialectique » de la force et de la faiblesse est la finitude de la pensée elle-même dans son rapport à l’être, elle ne peut se dire sans le langage de la forme, par ombre et lumière. Car la force n’est pas l’obscurité, elle n’est pas cachée sous une forme dont elle serait la substance, la matière ou la crypte. La force ne se pense pas à partir du couple d’opposition, c’est-à-dire de la complicité entre la phénoménologie et l’occultisme. Ni, à l’intérieur de la phénoménologie, comme le fait opposé au sens.[6]

Daylight, Apollo, eidos, episteme, philosophy, structuralism, phenomenology, ontotheology, metaphysics: they are all about a horizontality that stretches out flat, inviting the most light: truth is flat. But force and writing will forever haunt truth, signification, and meaning. Should one not venture to say that science, too, falls prey to a certain diaphanous panoramagram? Even if scientific presence is different from that of philosophy, does it not aim at the totality of a phenomenon reduced to its supposed governing formulas? Science, too, aims at the arkhē, articulating what commences and commands phenomena, what constitutes the very principle and prince, archaeology and monarchy, of the phenomena. In fact, the presentism of science could be an inflated form of the presentism of philosophy that Derrida exposes to sollicitation. In any case, what Derrida wants to do in “Force et signification” is an emancipation from the language he is proposing to sollicitate. Not as an articulated attempt, however, since that requires us to forget our history, and would deprive us of the light of meaning, but as “the dream of emancipation,” as “resistance.”

Creusement dans l’autre vers l’autre où même cherche sa veine et l’or vrai de son phénomène. Submission où il peut toujours (se) perdre. Niedergang, Untergang. Mais il n’est rien, il n’est pas (lui-) même avant le risque de (se) perdre. Car l’autre fraternel n’est pas d’abord certain dans la paix de ce qu’on appelle l’inter-subjectivité, mais dans le travail et le péril de l’inter-rogation ; il n’est pas d’abord certain dans la paix de la réponse où deux affirmations s’épousent mais il est appelé dans la nuit par le travail en creux de l’interrogation. L’écriture est le moment de cette Vallée originaire de l’autre dans l’être. Moment de la profondeur aussi comme déchéance. Instance et insistance du grave.[7]

Derrida’s sollicitation brings forth a well that is long repressed by meaning and truth. A well he describes such:

Si l’angoisse de l’écriture n’est pas, ne doit pas être un pathos déterminé, c’est qu’elle n’est pas essentiellement une modification ou un affect empiriques de l’écrivain, mais la responsabilité de cette angustia, de ce passage nécessairement resserré de la parole contre lequel se poussent et s’entr’empêchent les significations possibles. S’entr’empêchent mais s’appellent, se provoquent aussi, imprévisiblement et comme malgré moi, en une sorte de sur-compossibilité autonome des significations, puissance d’équivocité pure au regard de laquelle la créativité du Dieu classique paraît encore trop pauvre.[8]

Now, so as to deepen our understanding of the term sollicitation, let us see read Derrida’s grafting of it in “Violence et métaphysique: Essai sur la pensée d’Emmanuel Levinas.” Even if the term sollicitation surfaces only once, at the last page, this entire essay is but coming in its wake, where is traced the rudimentary beginnings of sollicitation in Husserl and Heidegger, upon which Levinas, having passed through Husserlian and Heideggerian moments of his own thought, will exercise it to a degree hitherto unheard of. Immediately let us reiterate its literary coming in the text:

Mais l’empirisme a toujours été déterminé par la philosophie, de Platon à Husserl, comme non-philosophie : prétention philosophique de la non-philosophie, incapacité de se justifier, de se porter secours comme parole. Mais cette incapacité, lorsqu’elle est assumée avec résolution, conteste la résolution et la cohérence du logos (la philosophie) en sa racine au lieu de se laisser questionner par lui. Rien ne peut donc solliciter aussi profondément le logos grec—la philosophie ⎯que cette irruption du tout-autre, rien ne peut autant le réveiller à son origine comme à sa mortalité, à son autre.[9]

What is its specificity? How does this particular instance of sollicitation relate to the conception of sollicitation as originating on the pages of “Force et signification”? First, its conception seems already presupposed; there is no explanation, not even contextual, of the term, thus implying that the reader should already be familiar with it. Second, Derrida contends that sollicitation is what Levinas’ entire oeuvre is all about, de jure and de facto. The irruption of the totally other is what sollicitates the Greek logos the most, and Levinas’ thought is all about the totally other, what could displace the Greek origin, or arkhē, of philosophy, and make it totally tremble—sollicitate—with another and a wholly other Hebraic origin. Still, here we need to be careful, since what Derrida does in this essay is a sollicitation of Levinas’ text as well; Derrida contends that the Levinasean other is not other enough, is still unnecessarily implicated in said Greek logos. In fact, Levinas’ dream of the purity of an experience of the wholly other, thus the experience prior to and that at all opens up the Greek adventure of the autistic [autistique] one and the same, leaves him more naïvely lured by the Greek logos than Husserl ever was; after all, Husserl’s analysis of the constitution of temporality and the analogical appresentation of the alter ego, clearly shows an acute metaphysical wariness. Long before his deathbed, but there too, Husserl realized he had not been able to realize his philosophical project for a rigorous transcendental phenomenology. The other is never there, never simply there, as in simplicity, originarity, univocity, and purity. Purity is never pure; irreducible differential play, Derrida will demonstrate, will always already have sollicitated any purity imaginable—included the imaginability of such a supposed imaginable purity. Already here, thus, Derrida signals a further elaboration of sollicitation through a radicalizing, even “Hebrewization,” of Levinas’ oeuvre; Derrida sollicitates Levinas’ sollicitation of (Greek) philosophy.

Mais si (ce n’est pour nous qu’une hypothèse) on appelle

judaïsme cette expérience de l’infiniment autre, il faut réfléchir

à cette nécessité où il se trouve, à cette injonction qui lui est faite

de se produire comme logos et de réveiller le Grec dans la syntaxe

autistique de son propre rêve. Nécessité d’éviter la pire violence

qui menace quand on se livre silencieusement à l’autre dans la

nuit. Nécessité d’emprunter les voies de l’unique logos philosophique

qui ne peut que renverser la « courbure de l’espace »

au profit du même. D’un même qui n’est pas l’identique et qui

ne renferme pas l’autre.

L’Écriture et la difference holds seven out of eleven essays that operates with conceptions of sollicitation or some derivation of the term, and the ones not yet dealt with, all of whom are written between 1963 and 1966, are: “Cogito et histoire de la folie”[10], “Edmund Jabès et la question du livre”[11], “Le théâtre de la cruauté et la clôture de la représentation”[12], “La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines”[13], and “Ellipse.”[14] I will only make some passing remarks on these conceptions as they surface in these five latter essays, and according to chronology. In the introduction to the English translation Alan Bass explains some of the most important terms of Derrida, and ‘sollicitation’ is rightfully one of them. Why he render this vital term, however, in his translations of “Edmund Jabès et la question du livre” and “Ellipse” but omit the term in those of  “Cogito et histoire de la folie” and “La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines,” and why he omits it at one particular place in his translation of “Violence et métaphysique: Essai sur la pensée d’Emmanuel Levinas” is never explained, and it is hardly justified. But let us proceed to mark their intervening operation in mentioned five essays. In the 1963 lecture “Cogito et histoire de la folie,” ‘sollicitation’ appears thus:

Ce qu’il fait [Foucault] est une histoire et le recours, à l’événement y est en dernière instance indispensable et déterminant, au moins eh droit. Or ce concept de folie, qui n’est jamais soumis à une sollicitation thématique [m.e.] de la part de Foucault, n’est-il pas aujourd’hui, hors du langage courant et populaire qui traîne toujours plus longtemps qu’il ne devrait après sa mise en question par la science et la philosophie, ce concept n’est-il pas un faux concept, un concept désintégré, de telle sorte que Foucault, en refusant le matériel psychiatrique ou celui de la philosophie qui n’a pas cessé d’emprisonner le fou, se sert finalement — et il n’a pas le choix — d’une notion courante, équivoque, empruntée à un fonds incontrôlable.

This is the only place where Derrida makes use of the term. And again its meaning is presupposed. Derrida interprets Foucault as setting out to write a history of madness itself—madness itself, such as it is: an archaeology of a silence that would, according to Derrida, end up as a repetition, in the most irreducibly meaning of the word, of the act perpetrated against madness. Foucault is at pain contending that the “Greek Logos had no contrary.” Which would entail being in the greatest proximity to the elementary, primordial, and undivided Logos, devoid of war, contradictions, and polemics. And Foucault would thus base his entire project upon an all too “popular and equivocal” notion of madness, upon an “unverifiable source” altogether. It is here that Derrida interrogates a certain critical lack of a “sollicitation thématique” (rendered as “thematic scrutiny” in Alan Bass’ translation). It should be noted that this particular occurrence of the term sollicitation was not originally in the March 1963 text, but added subsequently for the publishing of the 1967 L’Écriture et la difference. So if the neograph was coined originally in June-July 1963 in “Force et signification,” and if it was not part of the original lecture text of 1963 but all the same added for publishing four years later, we should be enabled to acknowledge the importance with which Derrida obviously endowed this term. We should nor wonder why Derrida simply takes the connotative working of the term sollicitation for granted. In view of the fact, moreover, that seven out of the eleven essays comprising L’Écriture et la différence operates with variously intervening conceptions of sollicitation, irrespective of they being original or secondarily added, we should also be justified drawing the conclusion that the neograph played an important role—for Derrida—in Derrida’s first major publication. Next occurrence: the January 1964 “Edmund Jabès et la question du livre,” an extremely important essay. The term ‘sollicitation’ is delivered without explication in this text as well, and this time its single, abrupt occurrence is not to be explained in light of its re-publication in L’Écriture et la difference, since it is there originally. It actually appears as a quotation from Jabès’ Le livre des questions. Derrida meets up with Jabès in their shared conception that writing, however comprehensively masked by logical, narrative, or other continuity, is essentially aphoristic. Derrida will find even Jabès’ Le livre des questions shakily embedded in an unquestioned assumption of a basic legibility of the world and of being, and it is here, in a confusion of “l’ontologie et la grammaire,” that Derrida as much challenges as makes visible the very possibility of literature.

“’Lorsqu’il retrouva son quartier et sa demeure — un nomade l’avait conduit à dos de chameau jusqu’au poste de contrôle le plus proche où il prit place dans un camion militaire qui se dirigeait vers la ville —, tant de vocables le sollicitaient. Il s’obstina, cependant, à les éviter.”

Here obviously we are far from Derrida’s usage; and sure enough “sollicitaient” is rendered as “solicited” in the English translation. With only one ‘l.’ But in its vicinity we do find a passage from Derrida that elliptically articulates sollicitation, without mentioning the very term, as language qua rupture with totality itself. I cite the passage in its entirety:

Si l’absence ne se laisse pas réduire par la lettre, c’est qu’elle en est l’éther et la respiration. La lettre est séparation et borne où le sens se libère, d’être emprisonné dans la solitude aphoristique. Car toute écriture est aphoristique. Aucune « logique », aucun foisonnement de lianes conjonctives ne peut venir à bout de sa discontinuité et de son inactualité essentielles, de la génialité de ses silences sous-entendus. L’autre collabore originairement au sens. Il y a un lapsus essentiel entre les significations, qui n’est pas la simple et positive imposture d’un mot, ni même la mémoire nocturne de tout langage. Prétendre le réduire par le récit, le discours philosophique, l’ordre des raisons ou la déduction, c’est méconnaître le langage, et qu’il est la rupture même de la totalité. Le fragment n’est pas un style ou un échec déterminés, c’est la forme de l’écrit. A moins que Dieu n’écrive lui-même; et encore faut-il qu’il soit alors le Dieu des philosophes classiques, qui ne s’est pas interrogé et interrompu lui-même, qui ne s’est pas coupé le souffle comme celui de Jabès. (Mais précisément le Dieu des classiques, dont l’infinité actuelle était intolérante à la question, n’avait pas le besoin vital de l’écriture.) Contrairement à l’Être et au Livre leibniziens, la rationalité du Logos dont notre écriture est responsable obéit au principe de discontinuité. Non seulement la césure finit et fixe le sens : « l’aphorisme, dit Nietzsche, la sentence où je suis passé maître parmi les Allemands, sont des formes de l’éternité. » Mais d’abord la césure fait surgir le sens. Non pas à elle seule, bien sûr; mais sans l’interruption — entre les lettres, les mots, les phrases, les livres — aucune signification ne saurait s’éveiller. A supposer que la Nature refuse le saut, on comprend pourquoi l’Écriture ne sera jamais la Nature. Elle ne procède que par sauts. Ce qui la rend périlleuse. La mort se promène entre les lettres. Écrire, ce qui s’appelle écrire, suppose l’accès à l’esprit par le courage de perdre la vie, de mourir à la nature. (ED, 107-8)

« Le langage […] est la rupture même de la totalité, » writes Derrida. Absence is irreducible: the ether and respiration of writing and letter. Writing is unable to “help itself” (Phaedrus): an essential lapsus never to be redeemed. No “proliferation of conjuntive undergrowth” will ever be able to end its “essential discontinuity and noncontemporaneousness,” its “silences sous-entendus.” Because the Other collaborates with meaning. And here comes, for us, a vital point: No narration, no philosophical discourse, no scientific order of reasons and deductions, can fill that lapsus which writing is. To allege otherwise, is to misconstrue the fact that “Le langage […] est la rupture même de la totalité.” Writing is the rapture itself of the totality: fragment and aphorism, it is the rapture in the totality, totality in rapture, and the totality qua rapture. The double genitive is ontological before being grammatical, is the embedding of ontology and grammatics within the graphein. The Other, and God, of the classical philosophers had no need of writing. But caesura makes meaning, makes it emerge, come forth. This is so because without interruption, rapture, and lapsus—betwixt letters, words, sentences, books, discourses, epochs—no signification could ever be awakened. That Derrida assumes that Nature refuses the leap, the abyss, and the void, need not be taken for granted. That Scripture phenomenalizes by leaps alone, by white blanks, by clinamens of nothings, does not require that Nature do not; Derrida writes “a supposer.” But he really does not need that assumption. Miniscule leaps of nothings memetically abounds—wherever there is appearance and phenomenon. And thus it is that death strolls between letters making them perilous. To write: “suppose l’accès à l’esprit par le courage de perdre la vie, de mourir à la nature.” Writing is a dying away from nature. Every exit from the book is made “delectatiously” within the book; for Jabés, thus, the world itself is in the book. Coming to conceptualize his later La dissémination Derrida asks if not rather the book articulates an “epoch of Being,” whose end would “multiply, like a final illness, like the garrulous and tenacious hypermnesia of certain moribunds, books about the dead book”? Being would reveal itself as original illegibility, and its irreducible indecipherability would not be due to some lapsus calami or some God’s cacography. It is a lapsus blanco, and it is structurally irredeemable, thus not irrationality, nor despair provoking non-sense, not anything within the domains of the incomprehensible and the illogical that is anguishing. Life writes itself as différance. Let us proceed, now, to the next occurrence: the April 1966 “Le théâtre de la cruauté et la clôture de la représentation.”

A quelles conditions un authentique « théâtre de la cruauté » pourrait-il « commencer à exister »? Ces questions, à la fois techniques et « métaphysiques » (au sens où Artaud entend ce mot), se posent d’elles-mêmes à la lecture de tous les textes du Théâtre et son Double qui sont des sollicitations plus qu’une somme de préceptes, un système de critiques ébranlant le tout de l’histoire de l’Occident plus qu’un traité de la pratique théâtrale.

Even if Derrida readily affirms Artaud’s Théâtre de la cruauté as sollicitating—“ébranlant le toute”—Occidental history, he will yet again find reason to expose its naïve metaphysical remains. As Derrida already had established in “Force et signification,” sollicitation and repetition are reciprocally inextricable. But Artaud’s intent was to erase repetition in general. Artaud declared repetition the prime evil, a fall away from the “real,” because it separates force, presence, and life from themselves; he never understood that the separation that repetition disseminates is the economical gesture by which that which defers and differs from itself maintains itself. The conception of auto-conception as developed already in Derrida’s earliest texts, will Repetition governed everything that Artaud wished to destroy, and it had several names, such as God, Being, and Dialectics. Artaud misguidedly saw repetition as theological. The unique “real” never “is”; because repetition and representation have always already begun they have no end: no finality, no eschatology, no demise, but the fatality of the continuation of representation in closure. The closure that Artaud sought is only too classic a dream.

La clôture est la limite circulaire à l’intérieur de laquelle la répétition de la différence se répète indéfiniment. C’est-à-dire son espace de jeu. Ce mouvement est le mouvement du monde comme jeu. […] Penser la clôture de la représentation, c’est donc penser la puissance cruelle de mort et de jeu qui permet à la présence de naître à soi, de jouir de soi par la représentation où elle se dérobe dans sa différance. Penser la clôture de la représentation, c’est penser le tragique : non pas comme représentation du destin mais comme destin de la représentation. Sa nécessité gratuite et sans fond. Et pourquoi dans sa clôture il est fatal que la représentation continue.

Derrida writes that the closure is a circular, indefinite and infinite because finite, limit within which the repetition of difference only can indefinitely repeat itself. Let us proceed to the next instance of the term sollicitation. Derrida’s “La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines” also mentions sollicitation, but this time it is a quote from Lévi-Strauss’ 1964 Le cru et le cuit. The English translators render ‘sollicitations’ with ‘operation’, however, just as Alan Bass will take no notice of the term and simply repeat the decision of the translators of Le cru et le cuit. In the quote, Lévi-Strauss has first dismissed a Cartesian methodology in the study of myths, since there is no real end, no hidden unity. According to Derrida, this passage is remarkable, and it is easy to understand why:

Quand on croit les avoir démêlés les uns des autres et les tenir séparés, c’est seulement pour constater qu’ils se ressoudent, en réponse aux sollicitations [m.e.] d’affinités imprévues. Par conséquent, l’unité du mythe n’est que tendancielle et projective, elle ne reflète jamais un état ou un moment du mythe. Phénomène imaginaire impliqué par l’effort d’interprétation, son rôle est de donner une forme synthétique au mythe, et d’empêcher qu’il ne se dissolve dans la confusion des contraires. On pourrait donc dire que la science des mythes est une anaclastique, en prenant ce vieux terme au sens large autorisé par l’étymologie, et qui admet dans sa définition l’étude des rayons réfléchis avec celle des rayons rompus. Mais, à la différence de la réflexion philosophique, qui prétend remonter jusqu’à sa source, les réflexions dont il s’agit ici intéressent des rayons privés de tout autre foyer que virtuel…[15]

Levi-Strauss is neighboring Derrida’s own essay as Le cru et le cuit, too, abandons all reference to a center, to a subject, to a privileged reference, to an origin, and to an absolute archia. But Levi-Strauss also employs the term sollicitation—in 1964, thus anticipating Derrida’s neograph. (It is unclear whether Derrida had read this passage from Lévi-Strauss prior to his own elaboration of the term; in general there is, however, general agreement that it is indeed a neograph on Derrida’s part.) Also, the connotations that swirl around in the quoted passage fit well in with Derrida’s own articulations of the term. Moreover, the entire “La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines” can in fact be read as yet another perspectivized articulation of sollicitation. Before demonstrating the validity of the latter claim, I will already here signal another perspectivized interpretation of that essay, namely under the paraphrasing title of “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Natural Sciences.” There can be no doubt that structurality, sign, and play, no less sollicitates the discourses of the natural sciences than the human and social sciences; nor will sollicitations be limited to discursive planes of existence. In “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” Derrida will ask if not structure has been subject to an event. An event inside structure, that is, an event that is precisely the function of structuralist thought to “reduce” or to suspect. Structuralist thought functions as a “reduction” and “neutralization” of anything event-like, even the very “structurality of structure.” This event would have taken the form of a “rupture” and a “redoubling.” Derrida wants to mark out and define this event. This violent reduction of the event and the structurality, of what makes its appearance one of rupture and redoubling, proceeds by way of giving structure a center, or by referring it to a point of presence, giving structure a fixed origin, thus limiting any “play” of the structure. If play is allowed, it is only a play of elements inside a fixed totality. There, in 1966, Derrida claims that the notion of a structure lacking any center still represents the “unthinkable itself.” Thus it is commonly thought that the always unique and impermeable center of a structure that constitutes and governs the structural workings of the structure, itself is beyond structurality—permutation always remains “interdicted.” Thus the paradoxical situation of a center that, on the one hand, from inside a structure’s innermost midst and pro-grammed kernel commences and commands—qua the archē—every detail of a structure’s structuralizationings, while, at the other hand, simultaneously and precisely for the same reason, remains totally outside the structure. The center of a totality, yet, since the center is not part of the totality, this totality will have its center elsewhere: the center is not the center. This concept of a centered structure is nonetheless the condition of epistēmē in general, be it is philosophy or as science. And a contradictorily coherent one. But it functions as reassuring for structuralist thought, and anxiety can be mastered: one simulates an existence in which monarchy and archaeology reciprocally affirms one another. The history of metaphysics and the West is the metaphors and metonymies of a linked chain of determinations of the center: eidos, archē, telos, energeia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject), alētheia, transcendentality, consciousness, God, man, and so forth. It is here that sollicitation intervenes in counter-violent style. The abrupt event of the rupture and disruption phenomenalized as soon as the structurality of the structure first got problematized, when it got repeated. As Derrida contends, this disruption is repetition in every sense of the word. Soon it became necessary to think both the law that governed the desire for the structure’s centered presence, and the process of significations that orders the displacements and substitutions for such a law. This central presence was and is never itself, but rather

[d']une présence centrale qui n’a jamais été elle-même, qui a toujours déjà été déportée hors de soi dans son substitut. Le substitut ne se substitue à rien qui lui ait en quelque sorte pré-existé. Dès lors on a dû sans doute commencer à penser qu’il n’y avait pas de centre, que le centre ne pouvait être pensé dans la forme d’un étant-présent, que le centre n’avait pas de lieu naturel, qu’il n’était pas un lieu fixe mais une fonction, une sorte de nonlieu dans lequel se jouaient à l’infini des substitutions de signes. C’est alors le moment où le langage envahit le champ problématique universel; c’est alors le moment où, en l’absence de centre ou d’origine, tout devient discours — à condition de s’entendre sur ce mot — c’est-à-dire système dans lequel le signifié central, originaire ou transcendantal, n’est jamais absolument présent hors d’un système de différences. L’absence de signifié transcendantale étend à l’infini le champ et le jeu de la signification.

So there can be no doubt that this text provides a detailed annotation to his conception of sollicitation. The first indications of such decentering, to name but a few solid names, occurs with the Nietzschean critique of metaphysics, that is to say, a critique of Being and truth with which he substituted play, interpretation, and sign; the Freudian critique of self-presence (implicating consciousness, subject, self-identity, and self-proximity or self-possession; and more radically still, the Heideggerian destruction of metaphysics, onto-theology, and of the determination of Being as presence. Let us proceed to the last text of L’Écriture et la différence, the 1967 “Ellipse,” which also contains mention of sollicitation. “Ellipse,” relating to Edmund Jabès’ Le retour au livre, deals with the non-identity of repetition—of which three is its first figure—as being an inherent characteristic of signs, and thus implicates the problematic of closure and opening in writing. Let us proceed directly to the passage:

Ainsi entendu, le retour au livre est d’essence elliptique. Quelque chose d’invisible manque dans la grammaire de cette répétition. Comme ce manque est invisible et indéterminable, comme il redouble et consacre parfaitement le livre, repasse par. Tous les points de son circuit, rien n’a bougé. Et pourtant tout le sens est altéré par ce manque. Répétée, la même ligne n’est plus tout à fait la même, la boucle n’a plus tout à fait le même centre, l’origine a joué. Quelque chose manque pour que le cercle soit parfait. Mais dans l’elleipsis, par le simple redoublement du chemin, la sollicitation de la clôture, la brisure de la ligne, le livre s’est laissé penser comme tel.

The sollicitation that Derrida propels is not only intervening at the discursive level as such. The stakes are much higher. More than anything else, Derrida’s texts sollicitate the sign in general, the graphein. And thus its joyous wandering will always have been one without return; its opening into the text was adventure, an expenditure without reserve. Pure repetition, irrelative changing whether thing or sign, exerts infinite powers of perversion and subversion. Graphein is pure repetition for its very being, since as soon as a sign emerges it starts by repeating itself. The same of the sign signals a non-self-identity: thus—elliptically—playing the origin. The grapheme, which is to say any appearance that owes its very being to incision and mark, has therefore neither natural site nor natural center. Derrida will maintain that this is certainly not due to some lack or failure, as if the sign somehow on its way lost the center. And ask: why would one mourn for the center? Is not the center—the absence of play and difference—just another name for death? The center is failure. Nothing has ever preceded repetition, and never has any presence kept watch over the trace, thus such that the time of writing will no longer be that of modified present tenses. Now that Derrida’s earliest articulations of sollicitation in his 1967 L’Écriture et la différence has been accounted for, two other paramount works from 1967 should also be consulted, namely De la grammatologie and Le voix et le phénomène.

A quasi-analogy with the Husserlian apparatus of apprehending the alter ego, viz. apperception, we could speak of a totalitarian structuralism, a structuralism at least as old as any epistēmē, be it philosophy or science, that acknowledges perturbances and disturbances and ruptures only through a process of “applay.” Death looms large in the episteme of structuralism and the structuralism of the episteme.

TO BE CONTINUED.

[1] J. Derrida, ”Force et signification,” in Critique, nos. 193-94, June_July 1963.

[2] J. Derrida, “Violence et métaphysique: Essai sur la pensée d’Emmanuel Levinas,” in Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 1964, nos. 3 and 4.

[3] J. Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign Vol. 1, transl. Geoffrey Bennington (University of Chicago Press, 2009), p. 312.

[4] J. Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, transl. Eric Prenowitz (University of Chicago Press, 1998), p. 2.

[5] L’Écriture, p. 46.

[6] L’Écriture, p. 48.

[7] L’Écriture et la différence, p. 49.

[8] L’Écriture et la différence, p. 9.

[9] L’Écriture et la différence, p. 226.

[10] J. Derrida, “Cogito et histoire de la folie,” lecture delivered 4 March 1963 at the Collège philosophique, subsequently published in Revue de métaphysique et de morale, 1966, nos. 3 and 4.

[11] J. Derrida, “Edmund Jabès et la question du livre,” in Critique, no. 201, January 1964.

[12] J. Derrida, “Le théâtre de la cruauté et la clôture de la représentation,” lecture delivered at the Artaud colloquium, International Festival of University theater, Parma, April 1966, and published in Critique, no. 230, July 1966.

[13] J. Derrida, “La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines,” originally delivered as lecture 21 October 1966 at the International Colloquium on Critical Languages and the Sciences of Man, The John Hopkins University, Baltimore.

[14] J. Derrida, ”Ellipse,” first published in L’Écriture et la différence, 1967.

[15] J. Derrida, “La structure, le signe et le jeu dans le discours des sciences humaines,” p.

Comments
One Response to “S O L L I C I T A T I O N”
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