stalking horses and other specters
The experience in which we meet specters or let them come visit us remains indestructible and undeniable. The most cultivated, the most reasonable, the most nonbelieving people easily reconcile a certain spiritualism with reason.
—Jacques Derrida (Archive Fever, p. 88f., trans. E. Prenowitz)
It is a curious sensation, reading Derrida and Isaiah Berlin alongside each other: they have such very different ways (styles, methods, means – I’m not certain what the best word is here) of trying to cope with or work around the inexplicable. Berlin cuts straight through, wrapped up in common sense and clarity like a greatcoat to keep out the storms and stresses of muddled thinking, whereas it does not seem to me that Derrida met a muddle he didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t muddle further (because its being muddled is what’s interesting about it, usually). Or perhaps it’s like someone building a fire to keep out the cold (Berlin) and someone else performing rhythmic gymnastics for the same purpose (Derrida).1
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When I was reading about the Duke experiments in parapsychology, one of the things that struck me was the lack of thought given to limits. Certainly the investigators were interested in the physical constraints of subjects’ ability to state the order of cards correctly – how did distance or barriers affect the results – and they acknowledged that fatigue played (as I recall) a somewhat ambiguous role in accuracy. But what if their subjects’ ability was due to luck (not chance, but luck) and what if an individual’s luck is finite and cannot be replenished? The poor subjects doling out droplets of luck they will never have again, just as they will never have again those hours they spent completing the experiments.2
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I had wanted, when I started writing this, to make a serious comparison of the two and draw out a point that I thought interesting about how they each, in their very different ways, deal with the pursuit of truth or truthiness or authority or whatever it is they are pursuing. I find, though, that I am left without ideas, without any means or modes of thinking – or desire to think – about the matter. There is only an impression, a mood, which will probably fade and I will entirely forget what it was I meant to say. Probably for the best: ‘The truth is spectral, and this [the repressed] is its part of truth which is irreducible by explanation’ (Derrida, p. 87).
- PF would advise me not to push the analogy too far – and I will, for nonce, resist the temptation to do so. [↩]
- What does this have to do with anything? Haven’t the foggiest – but it seemed relevant somehow. [↩]