Home > Uncategorized > Matthew Calarco “On the Borders of Language and Death”

Matthew Calarco “On the Borders of Language and Death”

Calarco, Matthew 2002. On the Borders of Language and Death: Derrida and the Question of the Animal. Angelaki 7(2): 17-25.

Heidegger „The Essence of Language“: „Mortals are they who can experience death as death. The animal cannot do so. But the animal cannot speak either. The essential relation between language and death flashes up before us, but remains still unthought.“ (17)

On  the one  hand,  Heidegger  definitively  denies  the animal  the  capacity  for  language  and an  experi ence of death as  such, but, on the other hand, he does  not  further  authorize  himself to  say  explicitly  what the  essential  relation  between  language and  death  is  that  would  separate  mortal  from animal in  this  experience (A  36; PF 322). (18)

Derrida gives three aspects of this logic [of aporia] in his writings: 1) as a non-passage in the sense of an impermeability, an uncrossable border; 2) as a non-passage stemming from the fact that there is no limit, or a limit that is so permeable as to not limit crossing; and 3) as a non-passage in the sense of an antinomy or contradiction without solution, wihtout a method or path that would allow us to find our way through. (19)

„Is my death possible?“ What makes this question aporetic is that the syntagm „my death“ is infinitely substitutable insofar as it can circulate from speaker to speaker, but at the same time „my death“ marks something that is absolutely irreplaceable ajd singular: my death. (19)

[…] Dasein is unique among all entities in being capable of properly dying (eigentlich sterben), of having a proper death or a death proper. Dasein does indeed have a biological death like other living beings (for Dasein this intermediate phenomenon of death is called „ableben“ [demise], the death of living beings other than Dasein is called „verenden“ [perishing]) but insofar as one is Dasein, one never simply perishes in the way that living beings do. (21)

Things that are merely living (nur Lebenden) – such as animals – are unable, according to Heidegger, to attest to their proper finitude and that is why they merely perish. Without ear or language, living things are unable to hear the call of conscience or the voice of the friend who calls them toward properly dying and the possibility of experiencing death as such. (21)

[…] the difference between properly dying and perishing hinges on the possibility of the „as such“, which is linked to the possibility of language in the form of speech. (21)

What would happen to the distinction between mortal and animal if mortals were unable to experience death as such? Or, conversely, if the inability to speak did not preclude an experience of death as such? (21)

For Derrida, then, it is ultimately a matter of contesting Heidegger’s transformation of the impossible, aporetic character of death into a possibility proper to Dasein, as well as questioning the various disciplinary and conceptual delimitations that follow from this transformation. (22)

Derrida’s use of s’attendre, „awaits itself“, here can be understood in three different senses: 1) I, myself, await myself – simple self-presence in the face of death; 2) awaiting oneself in the expectation of death as awaiting something wholly other, some arrivant; and 3) waiting for death as awaiting each other, waiting for each other. Derrida suggests that this third construction, which in a sense can be related to the second, is perhaps what is most originary with respect to death. (22)

Derrida’s contretemps of mourning – where the other’s death is always first and constitutive of my most proper Jemeingkeit, and where my „own“ death is never actually my own but instead the site of radical ex-appropriation of the self – would perhaps have struck Heidegger as simply another instance of such inauthenticity and untruth. (22-23)

Derrida’s possible-impossible question runs as follows: „What difference is there between the possibility of appearing as such of the possibility of an impossibility and the impossibility of appearing as such of the same possibility?“. The possibility that Derrida is referring to is, of course, the possibility of the impossibility of existence, the possibility of the end of Dasein’s existence. On Heidegger’s account, the end of Dasein’s existence marks the disappearance or the annihilation of the as such. Dasein’s death means that there can no longer be any relation to the phenomenon as such; in death, phenomenology reaches its limit. But, and this is Derrida’s point, if death marks the end and the impossibility of the relation to the phenomenon as such, then it is precisely this impossibility that cannot appear as such. By definition, the disappearance of the as such is what refuses to appear as such. (23)

If Dasein’s only relation to death is a relation to the disappearing of the disappearance of the as such, then this is, as Derrida notes, „also the characteristic common both to the inauthentic and to the authentic forms of the existence of Dasein, common to all experiences of death (properly dying, perishing, and demising), and also, outside of Dasein, common to all living things in general“ (A 75; PF 336). In other words, if death as such cannot appear as such for Dasein, then Dasein’s proper death cannot be neatly and cleanly distinguished from its improper death (ableben), or even from the „mere“ perishing (verenden) of the animal and other living beings. Dasein would lose its distinguishing characteristic if it could not experience death as death. (23)

There is not one difference that separates „The Human“ from „The Animal“ with respect to death any more than there is a single experience of death common to all animals as such o all humans as such. (24)

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