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derrida elsewhere Arrow vol 6 no 3 contents
About borderlands volume 6 number 3, 2007


Derrida Elsewhere: A Mnemocultural Dispersal

D. Venkat Rao
The English and Foreign Languages University (Hyderabad, India)


This paper offers homage to the work and thought of Derrida from elsewhere.   Focusing on the thematic of inheritance, the paper, while exploring Derrida's own 'inheritances', outlines the predicament of postcolonial inheritances.   While critiquing Europeanized passages to the postcolonial pasts, this paper insists on other possible openings to the past (in the Indian - especially, Sanskrit - context). While drawing on Derrida's work in dealing with the question of inheritance in the complicitous disciplinary-institutional context of the university, this paper indicates the limits of Derrida's work in responding to cultural singularities of memory.



1. Whenever I think of Derrida, two events keep coming back to me. As a graduate student at Kent in the mid eighties, I had a chance to attend the conference on 'Linguistics of Writing' held at Glasgow, where Derrida was in the audience. I seized an opportunity to meet him and wished to talk to him about the conference. But whenever I mentioned the word conference, he would say 'conscience?' I made several attempts to utter 'conference' as clearly as possible. But Derrida would promptly say 'conscience?' As a result I never got the chance to talk to him about the conference itself. As readers of Derrida know the word 'conscience' is not a particularly affirmative term in his work.

2. A few years ago Derrida came to India to inaugurate the world Book Fair. Three days after Derrida left India, the entire Book Fair burnt down. I thought, he came to India and left cinders behind! 'Conscience' and 'cinders' have remained with me, constantly reminding me of my relation to Derrida.

3. Reading Derrida in the most unlikely places, I always thought that he was elsewhere. Moving around in and with his work in small towns and villages devastated by social deaths and executions without trial, across landscape haunted by postcolonial mourning, I always thought that Derrida could be uncannily with us while radically being elsewhere. Obviously, it is not just the physical spacing of the person in relation to his readers that I am alluding to here. That is, the question of who his implied reader is (from which field and from which nation and language) cannot be decided easily in advance. Derrida could also be elsewhere, dispersing himself across languages (Greek, German, French, and Sanskrit etc), genos and textures of reflection, in and out of his own work. While intensely worm-holing into a singular sedimented SEC (Signature Event Context) - that is, the received readings of the thematics of intention, originality and time (period, location) - he could leap over to breach paths on another terrain elsewhere (the interminable intimations of trace and the millennial onto-theological structures). He would swim through the rhizomes of roots and tendrils, thickets of thorny grasses, 'dry' spirits and glide over complicitous bridges, disturbing abysses and gorges of Western thought. But he could also be elsewhere. Being elsewhere suggests a teleiopoetic impulse, a sort of reasoning imagination that touches the distant without presumption. He thought radially, parallelly and teleiopoetically without ever letting this sublimate into any thickening line. He mixed lines, confounded genealogies, and let the lines adrift by playing with the sentinels of the Name. He confounded the laws of genre - in reflection and in writing. He touched the reasoning and imagination of many, too many from a distance - even while appearing to be in proximity.

4. The word 'mix' in the above passage is probably inappropriate in Derrida's texts. What Derrida confronts is a kind of narcissism of Western traditions of inquiry. The glory of Western thought appeared to flourish in multiple lines of inquiry with its continuous lineage from antiquity, infused with a new vitality awakened in the Enlightenment. All these lines of inquiry are filiated to the revered father figure [God] (Nancy, 2006: 240). Emerging from within this heritage (while saying 'yes' 'yes' to it) and its plethora of lines, Derrida learned to be elsewhere while being in them. He frayed the path of differ-a-nce - spacing himself differently in relation to his inheritance. Differ-a-nce is thus both a deeply conservative and a radically transformative strategy. He forged strategies without finality for using the resources of the heritage to reconstellate them - and thus he demonstrated the ways to overturn the violent heritage and displace it. Suspending oppositionalism, he played with hospitable narcissism - thus opened the passage for the other to come even while affirming the heritage differentially.

5. Differ-a-nce is a forceful node in Derrida's radial reflections. He always insisted that the terms (nodes) he plays with are not to be consolidated into any conceptual lines. Differ-a-nce is neither a concept nor a metaphor, neither a descriptive nor a theoretical term; it is neither exclusively a part of culture nor of nature. Differ-a-nce partakes of all these and affects all these classified tools of the reflective tradition, he insisted.

6. The other lines of inquiry in the heritage by default maintained the divided tools of inquiry and from time to time only chose to privilege one over the other. Derrida patiently and without any kind of irreverence unraveled the way these diverse lines of inquiry repeated and reinforced the violent and oppositional structures of inquiry. Despite their immense differences - differences that Derrida never tried to belittle - these apparently diverse lines of inquiry, only reiterated the most sedimented protocols of inquiry installed in the Western metaphysical tradition.

7. Derrida's immense work persistently and with patience unraveled how the diverse lines of inquiry in the human sciences kept intact as guardrails a specific line of thought - the theologico-metaphysical inquiry that operates with a precomprehension of origin and significance. Derrida tracked and contested this line in its various manifestations throughout his life. He cautioned against the false exists and ruptures these lines promised. In his exploration of the genus he moved across the shapes and substances of the species it spawned and programmed. He prepared himself to down the shields of their auto-immunity and exposed their receptions from the genus. He worked and played without alibi.

8. But this pharmakos from elsewhere did not indulge in spewing poisonous polemos. He committed himself to the belief that no system can exhaust the possibilities of its effects and that no system can come into being without exclusions. Not too long ago, responding to the anxieties about the ascendancy of the techno, Derrida calmly reminded us that whenever there is calculation and repetition, the machine is already in place. The machine is inescapable, he warned. It is a part of the language that permeates and surrounds us; it is a part of the body that makes life itself possible. But there is something in the 'system' that eludes the machinic calculation, Derrida insisted. Thus even while he was unraveling the programmatic injunctions of the tradition on its species, Derrida tracked with care those energies and forces that could exceed the grasp of the system. He urged us to meditate on the incalculable - that which no machine can programme. Thus even when every text he engaged with carried the poisonous vials of violence, he tracked the medicinal traces that could nurture the living on of the heritage, otherwise. He breached open other paths of survival.

9. Derrida firmly acknowledged his debt and gratitude to all those who struggled and left traces of opening that exceed the machine - the system. But even here, even when he wandered alone radically empirically searching for epistemological liberation, even when he named all those psycho-biographical figures of the Western tradition - Derrida seemed to be elsewhere. For Derrida the heritage cannot be exhausted by these named figures. It is the gift of all those who are unnameable - a gift from the unknowable, an incalculable gift. The heritage is in a sense that powerful force of death that conditions the element of life. It is in this (im)possible circulation of life, death and gift that Derrida challenges us to think of justice and ethics.

10. Justice and ethics for Derrida are acts and events undertaken in the 'night' of non-knowledge, by means of a leap over knowledge - they are decisions risked in the absence of paths. In this regard justice, decision and ethics are decisively opposed to the machine and the calculable - but they are always exposed to the risk of calculation. Justice and ethics are unprogrammable. In Derrida's radial thought all these incalculables - justice, ethics and death - are interminably connected to the experience of the other. Derrida insisted that the primary condition of ethics is commitment to acts of hospitality to the non-transcendental but incalculable other - without alibi. On this matter Derrida even chose to differ from his mentor Emmanuel Levinas who insists on knowing the other before welcoming him.

11. Resisting all temptation to evaluate the other, Derrida yearned for infinite justice in such hospitality. But as he was aware of the risks, he calmly cautioned about the possibility of the best bringing along with it the worst - the lesson of the pharmakon. He committed himself to a planetary justice, which alone, he said, 'allows the hope [...] of a universalizable culture of singularities' - a culture, which would promise 'the abstract possibility of impossible translation' (Derrida, 1998: 18, original emphasis). Tracking such idioms and exploring their transformations, Derrida moved elsewhere.

12. Having failed to communicate with him, learning to listen to him, with the intimations of 'conscience' and 'cinders' that he gave me without giving, continuing to read Derrida elsewhere, I thought it should be possible to take him elsewhere. Learning from him that the contexts, events and signatures that weave our textures of reflection must be set to work in contexts of our own singular performative enactments, I thought it should be possible to move Derrida elsewhere from his own Europe-centred claims of heritage. While recording my debt to him for my own half-heard, barely understood intimations from his work on the question of memory - I thought it should be possible to take him elsewhere to an-other heterogeneous trace structure of memory, to another barely understood a-normative palimpsest of memory traces. Even if it meant betraying him in a certain way, I thought of taking Derrida across to the inexhaustible mnemocultures of heterogeneous India. I wish to affirm my fidelity or gratitude to the memory of Derrida in what might be seen as this un-grateful departure. Yet, this is to affirm him.

In Gratitude

13. Although Derrida's persistent preoccupation was with the heritage of the West (Greek-Judaic-Roman-Christian), he was attentive to the resources and resonances of some of his thematics in other idioms of thought. Indeed Derrida invited every one to be open (without domestic appropriations) to thinking outside the monotheistic philosophies (Derrida, 1994: 11) [1]. Thus, for instance, at least three of his crucial themes - gift, debt, and above all, iteration - have turned him toward the Sanskrit language. Each of these 'themes', repeated with variation, in a way weaves the entire trace structure of Derrida's work. Gift with its double significance (in European languages - as poison and present), is also the aporetic intimation of the measureless measure of the incalculable ('promise') and the ever recurring machinic calculation of economy. The contrary pulls of gift - giving - 'direct' him toward the Sanskrit sources and sounds of dana and vanati. The Sanskrit terms, however, mostly serve etymo-philological tracking of sources in Derrida's footnotes. But the possible 'direction' of inquiry, one can notice in yet another footnote, that these resources might suggest, remains deferred perennially: 'the directions which I ought to pursue here, but cannot' (Derrida, 1992: 27, fn. 4). Thus the ethical thematic of debt, responsibility and duty once again turn him toward the Sanskrit category of rna, but the latter's atheological and non-ontological (neither sin/fall nor 'contract' as determining weights) drift does not evoke any sustained response in the work. Etymologically resourced, this epistemic category of the Sanskrit tradition remains cited in a footnote in small print.

14. There is one - and probably only one - place in his early work where Derrida's meditation actively invokes a colloquial Sanskrit locution and accords it a strategically essential place in his interrogation of the Western heritage. Although the etymologically tracked source of 'iteration', the word itera is acknowledged to have served the pro-grammatologically critical task of receiving and responding to the other. While elaborating the general structure of writing as infinitely repeatable inscription even in the absolute absence of the addressee and author, Derrida states, although in a parenthetic, bracketed sentence: '(iter, once again, comes from itara, other in Sanskrit, and everything that follows may be read as the exploitation of the logic which links repetition to alterity)'. Iterability marks the structure of writing itself, announces Derrida (1982: 315). Although the rhythms of this absolutely critical figure-concept of writing in Derrida's work are acknowledged to be touched by an alien (itara) impulse, once again Derrida does not respond to the 'direction' in which this 'logic' (of linking 'repetition to alterity') unfolds and shapes the rhythms and currents of the Sanskrit 'Indo-European' legacies. The Sanskrit other serves as an originary source for his extraordinary unraveling of the Western heritage. Such a deferred 'direction' concerning responsibility (rna), giving/gift (dana/vana), and iteration (itara) could have suggested other possible departures from the 'Indo-European' heritage - departures other than the mono-logotheological responses of the European-Western (including Greek) heritage which pre-occupied Derrida. Yet, it must be affirmed, any effort to trace such departures will remain indebted to the teleiopoetic resonsances of his work. For the measureless measure of his signatures in traversing (im)palpable 'events' and 'contexts' will haunt all those who are touched by the interminable mourning that his work comports with.

15. Yet there is no easy return to any heritage, no transparent capital intact out there to be appropriated. This is more so in the contexts of societies and cultures that faced colonialism. Although Derrida never reduces the force of thought to the context of culture, he repeatedly confirmed that European conceptual apparatus is everywhere in place. Every master concept one works with (whatever might be one's 'location of culture') - concepts such as culture, theory, democracy, art, the discipline, and indeed the university - is declared to be of European provenance. The European conceptual grid will continue to mark every effort to engage with pre-colonial pasts. There is a further complication in the contexts of cultures that faced colonialism. Unlike in the context of a European-Western intellectual's return to the past (Greek, Judaic or Christian), a non-European postcolonial will have, first of all, to confront the European conceptual formations, disciplinary protocols of interpretation, languages and indeed the (onto-theological) cultural dynamic that regulates these approaches to the past. Once such a dynamic and its apparatus of interpretation and interrogation are accorded universal modular status, then any other form and mode of reflection and response, any other 'style' and texture of living on will be obliged to function as an anthropological or historical object. The non-European is impelled to confront not just the objectified status of his/her culture, but also face the deeper epistemic grids that classify and designate cultures and cultural differences. Such complicity with European protocols of interpretation and reflection cannot be reduced. Thus, if one wishes to turn to reflective practices of the Sanskrit tradition in the university context, one is drawn to confront the two centuries of European Indological cultural translations and interpretations. European Indology, it can be argued, succeeded in appropriating Indic (Sanskrit and other) reflective traditions into European human sciences. But neither Indology nor any other approach to Indian pasts has undertaken a critical unraveling of the grounding presuppositions of European human sciences; nor have they shown any possibility of reflective epistemic openings in general from the idiomatic singularity of cultural articulations that they set out to regionalize and represent. (This indeed is the predicament of all cultures that have been covered by the human sciences.)

16. It is in this complicitous and asymmetric (generalizing-European and regionalized non-European) context of thinking that this paper offers its homage to the work and thought of Jacques Derrida. Working from within the philosophical-political institution called the university, faced with the regionalized field of Indology, this paper explores the possibilities and limits of Derrida's work in rethinking Sanskrit reflective practices. This offering, I must confess, is a risky effort to float a 'jetty' that neither has an object (of its own), nor an agency to proclaim, nor a project to flaunt or negate one. It is a preliminary attempt to reflect on the received status of these categories even as it hopes to be attentive to the very modes of its own exploration and formulation. This can be offered only as an uncertain jetty (Derrida, 1990: 65-66).

Sign Forces

17. Sign forces divide the sense(s); they bind and unbind the senses. They create an abyss between the two senses of the word/concept of the sense. The force could be of the limb and of the face - it is of the senses. Force can be sensed - it is palpable. The work of culture is forged by the sign forces and is spread across through the sense relays.

18. Thought is the effect of modes of communication; thought is also an articulation of inheritances. Communicational modes carve or inflect the course of thinking. Yet thinking itself is irreducible to the determined modes and materials of thought. The modes of articulation could be broadly identified as lithic and alithic. Although both modes are filiated to the body, and both constitute the externalized memory, they can be differentiated as the gestural-graphic work of the hand and verbal-gestural work of the face. Reflective practices and traditions depend on the articulation of the lithic and alithic modes. Literacy and discursive philosophy, for instance, believed to be the boon of lithic technique of writing, are the celebrated tools of European civilizational demarcation from its others. The alphabetic writing is said to be the mark of European distinction ('alphabetic writing supporting the history of the development of geometric thought' [Stiegler, 2001: 257]). Archives are the granaries of alphabetic writing.

19. The lithic work of graphics and the alithic expression of speech are, however, deeply related to gesture. If the force of limbs finds externalized articulation in graphics (as in parietal or Paleo art) or performance (as in dance), the gestural modulations of internal body parts result in the emergence of speech forms. The rhythms of gestural force are at the root of both lithic and alithic memories and articulations. But a hierarchic relation between the alithic specch form and lithic orthography is said to have regulated our reflections on communication systems in their relation to thought across history. A linearized relation between speech and the reductive graphical system called writing got established. In this reckoning, writing would only carry on and extend what otherwise would be lost in speech. As a mnemotechnology, writing is the preserver of speech and the quintessential emblem of the archives. Four thousand years of linear writing, Andre-Le-roi Gourhan argued, has accustomed us to this bifurcation of graphical art from writing (Gourhan, 1993: 192-202).

20. In his strategic project to displace this hierarchy, Jacques Derrida privileges the subordinated lithic figure - writing - and unravels the alithic speech form as a dominant metaphysical dogma underlying the entire (Western) episteme itself. The phonic substance, writes Derrida, 'presents itself as the nonexterior, nonmundane, therefore non-empirical or noncontingent signifier - has necessarily dominated the history of the world [...] and has even produced the idea of the world [...]' (Derrida, 1976: 7-8). In questioning the alleged primordialism of speech, its assured filiation with consciousness, its unexamined access to origin - Derrida's strategic project has been extraordinarily productive. Although it is of tactical and not of empirical significance or significant as a 'historically' specific mode of articulation, the lithic figure of writing does not seem to escape an ethnocentric ruse here. For, it is precisely this 'historical' and empirically specific system of communication that was used to demarcate Europe from its others in an entire epoch called colonialism.

21. The oddity of this rather loaded figure (writing) in a radically subversive project (of Derrida's) does not, however, undermine the critical force of the project. For in deploying this empirically and historically singular figure in his project, Derrida is only concerned with forging a filament, weaving a thread, configuring a versatile template of the most general significance. Thus writing in the narrow sense is a weave of differential system, a chain of variable filaments, spacing among a finite set of elements (letters).

22. The lithic system of writing is constituted by the rhythms of the weave, the forge and the template. These are rhythms without substance; but they bring forth or lend themselves to substance and system - 'regulating the behavior of the amoeba or the annelid up to the passage beyond alphabetic writing to the orders of the logos of a certain homo sapiens, the possibility of the grammé structures the movement of its history according to rigorously original levels, types and rhythms'. They are forces without essences; but they appear or lend themselves to engendering essences: 'But one cannot think them without the most general concept of the grammé' (Ibid. 84).

23. It is precisely in order to put to work this general force of difference or programme that Derrida draws on the figure of writing. The radical import of this strategy is to redress the historically repeated structures of violence - a violence that subordinates the work of hand to the work of face - of the graphic to the phonic. The most prominent casualty of this subordination is the graphical system of alphabetic writing itself. The alphabet is the most illustrious instance of the violence of linearization. The graphic figure of the alphabet, in this linear dispensation is subordinated to the pre-supposed phonic essence. Hence the divergence between graphical art and writing, observed Le-roi Gourhan. Similarly alphabetic writing is reduced to little more than writing following speech, simply extending the regime of speech as it is.

24. Yet the power of this schema has remained extremely productive. In subordinating the work of hand and the lithic mode of articulation of memory, to the work of face and the alithic forms of expression, the linear schema has given birth to the archive and the practice of archivation of memories. The alphabetic writing is said to be the mark of European distinction.

25. The deconstructive strategy - of conserving the empirical figure of writing but at the same time annulling it as derivative of speech, precisely in order to allude to the more originary programme of spacing - has initiated a radical questioning of inheritances, modes of communication and sedimented inquiries in the human sciences. But the illustrative significance of the figure of writing has remained undisturbed in the project. Although Derrida was explicit on occasions in declaring the empirical division of speech and writing as irrelevant in his work [2], although he would certainly regard speech very much like writing as a system of differences [3], constituted by the force of spacing - nowhere in Derrida's work is the differential system of speech considered as a usable figure ('concept') for articulating the force of difference. From the very beginning of his work, Derrida has committed himself to recapture, within the history of life as the history of grammé, 'the unity of gesture and speech, of body and language, of tool and thought, before the originality of the one and the other is articulated and without letting this profound unity give rise to confusionism [...] To recover the access to this unity, to this other structure of unity, we must de-sediment "four thousand years of linear writing"' (Derrida, 1976: 85-86). Yet, nowhere do these 'original' communications of speech and gesture offer themselves for unraveling the Western episteme in Derrida's work.

26. The privileged figure of literacy, the trope of scribal communication system - writing - remains the conserved (and annulled) element of Derrida's schema. Writing on drawings and art about the blind, sketching a scene of sibling rivalry, Derrida's confession about his investment in the figure of writing (against his brother's ability for painting) is unequivocal: 'as for me, I will write, I will devote myself to the words that are calling me' (Derrida, 1993: 37). These are of course, the words on the page - the traits of alphabetic writing. Quite often in his work, the general force of grammé (mark, trait, trace, etc.,) lends itself to the alphabetic figure of writing. This can be seen in his emphasis on Plato's account of hypomnesic over mnesic or mnemic, the virtual mark (inscription on the soul) over intangible force of memory: 'The archive is hypomnesic' (Derrida, 1996: 11). At a crucial level Derrida invests in the archive as the material 'monumental apparatus' and opposes it to memory as a metaphysical figure. Derrida advances the archive as the material exterior, which is destructive of either 'memory or anamnesis as spontaneous, alive and internal experience'. He goes on to argue further that the archive irrupts the 'originary and structural breakdown of the said memory'. Derrida thus 'consignates' only the hypomnesic apparatus (essentially writing in the narrow sense) as the proper material signifier. Speech and gesture - material forces of the exterior - are not reckoned as worthy sign forces that can weave immemorial alternatives to the hypomnesic archive (Ibid. 11).

27. Conversely, his devotion to Freud's 'postcard' over the colossal investment of psychoanalysis in the figure of talk ('talking cure'), once again reiterates the status of exemplarity accorded to the empirical figure of writing. The 'hand-written correspondence' has 'played', states Derrida in exploring the relation between the archive and psychoanalysis, a 'major and exceptional role [...] at the center of the psychoanalytic archive' (Ibid. 17) [4]. The figure of alphabetic writing has served throughout Derrida's work as the most exemplary trope for illustrating the general force of grammé. Indeed it is the letter, the written alphabetic letter that alone captures his 'discreet graphic intervention', his strategic 'neographic' substitute for writing: Differ- a -nce. Although differ-a-nce, like writing, is the prior condition for the vulgar division between speech and writing, despite its constitutive play with time and space (difference and distance), and above all its potential for unraveling of sedimented master names and categories, differ-a-nce 'remains purely graphic' - only the vulgar sense of writing can provide us access to this 'non-concept' in Derrida's work: 'it [differ-a-nce] is read, or it is written, but it cannot be heard [...] It cannot be apprehended in speech'. Only the 'written text' (Derrida's emphasis) will 'keep watch over my discourse' (Derrida, 1982: 4). Derrida too seemed to believe that the critical protocols of reading - rigor, differentiation and refinement 'which our heritage continues to associate with the classical forms of discourse, and especially with written discourse, without images and on a paper support'- are possible only with writing (Derrida & Stiegler, 2002: 243).

28. Although the materiality of speech forms, in Derrida's own account, are unthinkable without the work of grammé, neither the immemorial song cultures nor the intractable speech genres 'before' writing (in the narrow sense), nor the vibrant performative forms of dance ('the unity of gesture and speech' referred to above), have the chance of the exemplary status that writing is accorded in Derrida's work. Could this be a symptomatic problem of inheritance (the 'written Torah') - Derrida's heritage of patriarchal-monotheological culture whose origin is deeply chiseled in lithic orthography?

29. Although Derrida's strategic reading of heritage is of profound importance even beyond the confines of his inheritance (his attempts to universalize the singular Judaic-Islamic figure of circumcision as 'cut', 'election' as the call [Derrida & Rudinesco, 2004: 92-95]), in his strategies of putting to work the inheritances, these resources do not have a place for mnemocultures - indeed of speech and gesture and their (ambivalent) articulations of the body [5]. They disregard the signatures of memory. If every communication (system) is the effect of spacing, repetition and difference and if it emerges only as a system of differences, why does writing alone become the effective figure for grasping this non-transcendental force? Why can't differential systems of speech and gesture with their discreet 'marks' offer effective resources for unraveling the transcendental? Speech and gesture remain unexplored as differential systems and as figures of/for thought in the work of deconstruction [6].

30. Despite the privilege and power it is accorded, the figure of literacy - alphabetic writing - has had a very limited duration and reach in the human history. Whereas the origins of gesture and speech remain immemorial and their spread continues to be planetary. If the non-West is demarcated as devoid of alphabetic writing, the European West could be reckoned as bereft of gesture and speech - though such oppositionalism cannot escape deconstructive critique. The lithic text of the 'alphabetic body' displaced, if not silenced, the alithic rhythms of mnemocultures in the West.

31. God is said to have spoken to Moses before he bequeathed him the lithic tablets. But there was no clue to the passion of god's tongue, the rhythm of his speech, the pitch, the grain of his voice, the accent of his breath and the emphasis of what is announced; it's no more a part of cultural memory. In other words, the syntax of the lithic displaced the prosody of utterance and the prosody that enacts the rhythms of sound and movement. But to the author(s) of the alphabetic culture the question of god's passion and affect, the accents of his speech, have no sense 'at least in so far as these traditions [of monotheism] have no resources for establishing differences that could be humanly registered between the ways God spoke and wrote words' (Rotman, 2002: 8). Hence the necessity of engaging with the lithic and alithic memories, the singularity of their mnemotechniques, or technics in general, and indeed the necessity of responding to the call or conflict of these demarcated heterogeneity of heritages. If the lithic writing brought forth monotheism, discursive philosophy, calculative reason, and codified law - the cherished resources of European colonialism and difference - the destinies of alithic mnemocultural traditions of the world must be reconstellated beyond their enframing in the imperial traditions and their lithic codes. The call of mnemocultural inheritances (of the fourth world) invites other responses, intimates other responsibilities and offers other figures of/for reflection.


32. Mnemocultures are cultures of memory. Memory in Indic or Sanskrit mnemocultures, unlike in Plato, is neither figured as a malleable inscriptional substrate nor personified by any archon (Mnemon). Nor does memory here have a presiding deity like Mnemosyne - the mother of all Muses. In effect, memory does not seem to sublimate in any narrative line here. There is no mythology of memory to be valorized as in Plato's Phaedrus or Theatetus in the Sanskrit tradition. One could argue that myths, Puranas, itihasa etc., are the irrepressible mnemocultural detours of the non-narrative textual traditions of Sanskrit (Vedic) episteme.

33. The Vedic episteme embodies a textual practice which neither has an antecedent nor is it regulated by any originary myth. It comes forth as a mnemocultural event and proliferates with infinite referrals or citations, weavings that are impossible to exhaust. Indeed (to recall Derrida's idiom) there is nothing outside this intricate weave of Vedic textlooms in Sanskrit episteme. And precisely it is for this lack or utter disregard for the outside - the index to an alleged referential reality - this episteme has attracted or repulsed two centuries of European knowledge toward India. This European response of exposing the lack, purveying the absent, foregrounding the real referent - above all, in defining the context - this response not only consolidated a European difference, it also instituted a paradigm of reading, of identifying and relating the text to context. In a word, this European response defined European responsibility toward cultures that 'cannot' represent themselves.

34. The fact that despite the challenge and upheaval that this paradigm of reading suffered in recent times from within the European tradition, the discourses of Indology and South Asian studies continue to guard the received protocols of reading goes to prove the tenacity of sedimented European conventions of reading the other. In other words, the modernity of the philologico-archaelogical and referential reading modes have only reconfirmed a classical ideological concept of context and raided the mnemotextual traditions of Sanskrit episteme to determine their contexts (or lack of them). Here one can point to the wind and fury of the ongoing debates on the Indo-Eurasia website in the last one year [7]. These debates have remained ignorant of or impervious to Derrida's critique of phonocentric concept of writing and continue to deploy this concept in declaring societies as illiterate. Secondly, any one who has followed the flurry of email exchanges (mainly among Euro-American scholars) that flashed across the Indology website three years ago after the attack on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI), India, would not have missed the reaffirmations of European responsibility for Indological archives [8].

35. Instead of repeating the usual critique of Indological and orientalist constructions, I try to explore in my larger work (on mnemocultures) two related issues. First, to reconfigure European representations of India as a colossal paradigmatic extension of a classical reading - a reading that seeks a genetic relation between the text and context. The second risky thematic I wish to figure here can be tentatively called a mnemocultural response to textual inheritances. How do mnemotexts receive and respond to the classical concepts/practices of text and context? What is their responsibility toward the textlooms of heritage?

36. Whatever may be their alleged proximity to the metaphysical and the transcendental, mnemocultures of gesture and speech have spread as extraordinarily worked out differential systems. In the Indian context, the internally divergent traditions of recitation of Vedic utterance distinctly circulated under the name of specific teachers as Pratisakhyas were said to have taken root by 800 B.C.E. Further, based on the traditions of the Pratisakhyas one can notice the emergence of rigorous sciences for the study of Vedic utterance, known once again in the names of distinguished teachers, as Sikshas - such as Yagnavalkya siksha, Naradiya siksha, Paniniya siksha etc. As in the case of classical musical traditions, these systems and traditions of recitation and utterance are intimately and constitutively filiated to gestural resources.

37. The lithic mnemotechnology of writing does have a place in the Sanskrit textual heritage, but it is the mnemocultures of speech and gesture that form and disseminate the cultural inheritances. Alphabetic writing does not regulate cultural memory here. No wonder neither the concept nor the institution of the archive finds a place in these mnemocultural inheritances. The archive as a repository of externalized memory is composed by scribal output - it is the product of the handy-work of scribal cultures - whereas mnemocultures proliferate through reiterative processes of speech and gestural learning. What is heard and learnt appears to be a part of the body - an 'acquired character' [9], communicated across generations by the face and hand through the rhythm of the body - intimated to the mnemo-scape. The Sanskrit textual tradition remains indifferent to the scribal craft even to this day. No wonder the tradition celebrates neither an archive nor an archon. There appears to be no Indic counterpart of the Alexandrian Library.

38. The Sanskrit tradition appears to have by-passed or de-toured the manuscriptural archivation with an in-difference. It must however, be pointed out that the indifference is only toward the scribal craft in the literal sense. The tradition is acutely aware of the metonymic relations within language and deems language just one instance of a profounder principle of relation, connection, knot or bond across diverse elements of the universe. The archive, in the form of embodied and externalized memories ( smritis ) of speech and gesture, existed essentially with(in) the body - and that is the way they remain scattered across the length and breadth of the subcontinent as singularly demarcated bodies.

39. The most significant concept-metaphor that exemplifies and constitutes this structural principle of the tradition is bandha or sambandha (connection or bind). This principle is at the basis of all linguistic-phonetic explorations and ritual practices for millennia. It is therefore difficult to come across in the tradition either anxiety for or nostalgia about the externalized scribal material. The Sanskrit text is allusive and elliptical. The tradition is built on the reception and augmented reiteration of these elliptical and allusive traces and fragmentary threads, in unforeseen contexts.

40. The Sanskrit phonetic tradition analyses language in its various aspects in the minutest detail and filiates each element to a part of the body (for example, consonants with the body, fricatives with breath, vowels with soul etc [10]). These are the drifting non-centred enactments and iterations of the received verbal compositions. The sign forces and the sense forms are persistently articulated in the tradition.

41. If the internal movement of the body organs is essential for the emergence of the significance of sound, the external gesticulation of limbs and face function as irreducible supplements of utterance. Imagine a Bhimsen Joshi or a Dagar [11] brother's body torsions or Nusrat's facial contortions and convulsions that supplement their magnificently modulated voices. It looks as if the writhing of the organs constitutes the rhythm of the sound, as if the 'pleasure' of the sound is forged in the pain of the body. As in the case of the body so in the case of sound: they both emerge through a dis-tortion. Needless to point out that these heterogeneous sound forms (of the Vedic and musical) are all a-graphical (in the empirical sense) and alithic in their circulation over millennia. They continued to remain, by choice as it were, indifferent to the alphabetic form and notational script.

42. Similarly the dance forms of India are the most intricate articulation of a gestural force. Dance indeed demonstrates a differential structure of discreet moves enacted through distinct body parts. The significatory status of these performative gestural forces is enumerated at a micrological level in the dance traditions, and this code opened itself to (as a classical text notes) articulating very diverse domains:

Na sa vidyaa na sa kala

Na sau yogo na tatkarma natyesmin yanna muchyate [12].

(No knowledge, form, wisdom, art, yoga, ritual-act exists which cannot be shown in the dance-drama/theatre.)

43. It is in these intricately layered and correlated sign-forces and sense forms of the heritage that the alithic traditions/codes of speech and gesture have formed the cultural prosthesis and mnemocultural inheritances of the collective but heterogeneous parts and creative practices of the sub-continent. They have sustained the heterogeneity of speech, visual and performative idioms across the entire cultural fabric of India.

Praxial Responses

44. But how are these alithic sign forces organized into a system or a code? What kinds of textualities emerge from such compositions? How do they affect the sense in its two senses? How are the sense and sign articulated in these textualities? Above all, what are their condition of possibility and their singularity of articulation?

45. Memories are residual marks or remainders of interminable events. They are the interminable traces of the unavailable. Although memories are non-phenomenal in their force, they emerge cocooned from the pores of the material biological body. As marks and traces, memories affect the body they inhabit. When memories are articulated the bodies that give them form are in turn affected by them. A mnemotext is composed of (a) allusion, (b) citation, (c) ellipsis and (d) enumeration. With these specific compositional features the mnemotext circulates as an interminably proliferative and non-totalizable force. Its manifestation is not directly linked to any specific empirical temporal/spatial coordinates. Mnemotexts are organized on the epistemic figure of memory - memory as singular and incalculable occurrence or emergence.

46. Memories do not abide by the logic of the line. They recur radially and parallelly. Their recurrence - like the re-citation of a mnemotext - does not point to an event or an agent or a determined location in the past, but the repetition, recurrence even as it alludes to an anterior moment of existence, has a performative status. Indeed the mnemotext is performed at its every single emergence through speech and gesture, in the alithic mode. In every instance, therefore, the singularities of performance constitute the life and drift of a mnemotext. The effectiveness and significance of the mnemotext is contingent upon each of its performative receptions. Similarly, singularities of each existence/each life depend on its reception of and response to the ineffable impressions of memory that forms such an existence/life.

47. Memories can be said to emerge from a force-field of traces - traces that haunt the finite body interminably but discontinually and trans-generationally. Memory is not any masterable experience of a determined past or a recoverable event or identity of a past present. Indological and South Asianist scholars like Barbara Stoler Miller, Charles Malamoud and A.K. Ramanujan have repeatedly interpreted memory as a recoverable past present in a future present: 'the past being experienced as if it were present' resulting in a sort of 'happy ending' where the past present is recovered in the current present intact (Malamoud, 1996: 251).

48. Contrary to this reception of memory, one could figure memory as a struggle to gather the unavailable thought or experience, the intangible forces of reflection, from the remains of traces. Memory could only be the interminable groping through the finite, fragile but subtle, ineluctable and calculable resources for discerning the unknown and the insatiable. No wonder, memory and desire are inseparable and often are expressed by the same term smara (memory and erotic desire) in Sanskrit tradition. Malamoud who discusses this double take of smara and effectively relates it to Indian textual traditions arrives at somewhat contrary conclusions whose implications he reduces to the paradigmatic European response.

49. As suggested above, in one reading of memory, in the context of literary texts, Malamoud reduces it to a recovery or regaining of a past present. Here both desire and memory sublimate or culminate in a presence of happy ending. This theme gains a curious ethnocentric turn when Malamoud extends his analysis of memory in the context of Indian (Sanskrit) textual traditions. Although Malamoud gives a detailed account of Indian interpretations of memory, memorized productions of knowledge, centrality of internalized knowledge - his ultimate judgment on this mnemocultural practice is ethnocentric. The 'preeminence of knowledge by heart', writes Malamoud, 'bars tradition from being transformed into history'. Mnemocultural traditions, however intricately and complexly woven they are ('weaving them together, in a thousand different ways, a thousand different weaves') or whatever the longevity of their pasts ('timeless') (Malamoud, 1996: 256-257), are forever condemned to be anterior to history.

50. Therefore it is in vain, argues Charles Malamoud, 'that one seeks to find any notion of recollections linking up with one another, or of their being distributed chronologically so as to form constellations which, while shifting remain coherent and integral [...]' (Ibid. 255). There isn't any notion of the existence of a 'world of memory', in the Indic traditions, argues Malamoud. Since there is no unity or totality to impressions/manifestations of memory, there can be no idea here of a sustained, maturing growth of memory. In short, the epistemic figure here does not lend itself to a narrative line.

51. Curiously, even a sophisticated theorist who immersed himself in Sanskrit textual tradition like Malamoud functions here with an orthodox conception of text. Before texts emerge, Malamoud states, there are data; the data are extra-textual. The function of the text is to record the process in which the extra-textual is related to the text. But can the concept of text be relegated to such a derivative status? Can one ever really have access to such 'extra-textual data' without the mediation of the material-textual? Isn't a conception of text as material formation or constitution of intelligibility always already at work in the very act of recognizing the so-called data which are supposed to have given birth to texts? Isn't it positivistic (which shares metaphysical, theological presumptions) naiveté to assume that data are free of textuality (as the material condition of intelligibility)?

52. Instead of attending to the singularity of Indic textual formations - which he sets out to examine - Malamoud evaluates and subjects them to a sort of ethnocentric teleology: 'Knowledge incorporated in this [mnemotextual] way, moreover, erases the perception of that which connects the text to the world of extra-textual data out of which it originally arose' (Malamoud, 1996: 257). Curiously the insights he gained in the Indic interpretations of memory (autonomy of each instance of memory, non-consecutiveness memories, absence of a world of memory) are abandoned in his interpretation of the textual tradition. The epistemic signature of memory here is not seen as the possible organizing force of mnemotexts. Instead an orthodox reading of mnemocultures as devoid of history and as lacking in referential value gets repeated in Malamoud's work here: 'Such is, at least, the situation in India where the very contents of texts are generally devoid of any reference to the actual conditions of their production' (Ibid. 257).

53. The orthodoxy of Malamoud's reading here results in a confusion of epistemic and empirical issues of the argument. Setting out to explain how texts are formed and how knowledge is organized, instead of pursuing the more general implications and possibilities of Indic (Sanskrit) textual formation, its signing on memories, Malamoud, by default as it were, subjects it to the ethnocentric scrutiny. Consequently, he fails to respond to the most general lesson of the mnemotext: its ability to bracket or reduce any empirical context and content. In declaring India's failure to move tradition into history, Malamoud forecloses the possibility of such a textual formation to offer an account of the text in general.

54. Woven in the textures of the body mnemotexts move on memories. They drift across all kinds of contextual determinations - even as they manifest in specific contexts. Mnemotexts move with the force of inventiveness. Therefore, every iteration of a mnemotext is a singular invention, a living anew of an inventive principle. No wonder no mnemotext can be absolutely reduced to a specific determined context. The inventive principle brings forth divergent contexts in its formations of mnemotexts. (In a very related context, Bhartrhari affirms: ' Bhedaanam bahumaargatvam ' [differences manifest in multiple paths] (Bhartrhari, 1974: 5).) Although mnemotexts in their indexical relation to memory drift across immemorial pasts carrying ineffable impressions and although they are forever open to inventive futures, mnemotexts are not anchored in any narrative lineages. Mnemotexts are not governed by any cumulative, sequential or aggregative logic. The force of proliferation guides them, and they disperse across all sorts of temporal and spatial determinations. The efficacy of a mnemotext is neither in its authenticity nor in the gravity of its content. The life of a mnemotext is contingent upon the singularity of its performance, in its interminable articulations of memory and desire from the pores of the body.


55. Unlike in Plato's dream for a 'pure' and live memory, memory without prosthetic surrogates, memory in the Sanskrit traditions receives attention mainly in the performative and proliferative movement of mnemotexts. Memory here is set to work in the acts of listening to, silent, interior recall and situational recitation (shravana-manana-dhaarana) of mnemotexts. In other words, memory is configured mainly in infinite reiterations of intricately composed codes of speech and gesture. These surrogate prosthetic codes of memory and body have an 'epistemic' status in the Sanskrit traditions. Yet the performative rendering of these codes is not oriented toward any valorized truth or meaning of these codes. No wonder Sanskrit mnemocultures do not sublate these codes into 'philosophy' or 'dialectics'. No wonder they have not erected any universalistic law codes. Nor have they lent themselves for over a thousand years before the 'common era' (from 1500 to 300 B.C.E.) to any iconic or plastic and painted images. Memory in the Sanskrit tradition does not terminate into memorials. Memory here comports with an anarchitectural impulse. Neither tombs nor un-aging monuments of eidos or eidolon seem to tempt the memory to sublimate itself in some concretely externalized object. Another crucial word for memory (which continues to circulate in many everyday Indian languages) is jnapaka. The root source for this word and the most valued epistemic term for 'awareness', 'knowing' (jnana) is the same: jna.

56. The Sanskrit tradition figures the body as the irreducible locus, effect and medium of memory, desire and awareness. As desire and memory abide by the law of repetition - incalculable repetition - the body circulates as the most resilient index of repetition. The emergence or coming forth of the body is itself an absolute and discreet instantiation of the repetitive work of memory and desire. Every birth, therefore, every body, is also a discontinuous and varied repetition of transgenerational memories and desires texturing the biological and 'acquired' rhythms of these reiterated emergences. This absolutely enigmatic reiterative structure of the body has remained the centre of reflective concerns and practices of Indic (Sanskrit) traditions for millennia. In other words, it is this strange and abyssal force of repetition - whose effect the body is - that figures prominently in these reflective concerns. The epistemic code and word for this relentless repetitive beat in the Sanskrit tradition is karma (and also samsara).

57. Karma is at once the act or activity and the effects of acts in an instantiation of the body complex - that is, birth. There are no originary and terminal instances of karma - there cannot be any such as long as the instantiation of the body - or the body effect - occurs. Karma is also a persistent - if only tacit or silent - invitation or call for changing or modifying the acts or activity of the body. In other words, karma is not just some iron law of determinism (fatalism) but it is also at once the open-ended (indeterminable) possibility of a future or promise, the yet to come. The only way to negotiate with this uncanny force of repetition appears to be to (at)tend (to) the most irreducible material instantiation of this force: the body. Tending the body would involve patient and non-aggressive ways of tending the most forceful impulses of desire and memory without application of any force - non-coercively. The body must be set to work to negotiate with the acts of repetition.

58. It is precisely in the context of this ineluctable 'law' of repetition that the Sanskrit tradition addresses the question of freedom. Freedom does not imply an abdication or renunciation of the body as such. It requires setting the body to work. It involves above all learning to live the constitutively dual structure of the body complex. It requires the temperance of tending the an-originary forces of desire and memory. It requires the cultivation and turning of these forces from forgetting or disregarding the differential structure of the body. In the Sanskrit tradition the body is never reduced to a unified totalized physical substance. On the contrary it is a complexly layered (with twenty five different 'senses') perishable material entity that comes forth with an other 'entity' that is irreducible to the layered material complex. This absolute other inhabits the body (as a part larger than the discreet unit called the body) as a witness and guest. The body is inconceivable without this an-agentive, non-substantial other coming forth with/in the body [13]. Every body bears and lives on with this structure. The epistemic code word jnana requires that one must learn to live with this radical difference within the house of the 'same' (body). Jnana is essentially an-other way of living on with the relentless logic of repetition - other than the machinic repetition of memory and desire that instantiate the body without end. Jnana requires the tending of these forces otherwise.

59. The thematics of repetition, freedom, memory, desire, the body and alterity in Indic mnemocultures suggest the possibility of a different articulation of the body and symbol than the ones unraveled in/as the monologotheism of the West by Derrida. Given that the body (with its differential structure) is the event and horizon that bears the rhythms and pulses mentioned above, it is the body that one (every body, including the gods) is required to negotiate with. In the interminable process of negotiation, the immemorial sign forces of speech and gesture remain the preferred modes for symbolization. These mnemocultural modes, even as they are deeply involved in the process of exteriorization, bring forth the 'interior' as marked by the 'exterior' code, at the most material level they set the body to work. These modes of speech and gesture come forth as embodied, enacted performative acts of the body. Although the constitutively supplemental and prosthetic role of these modes cannot be reduced, their discontinuity with the body cannot be ignored, mnemocultural modes of symbolization are indifferent in sublimating these modes and codes into autonomous (from the body) systems per se.

60. Mnemocultures offer no metalanguages. Given that the body's transformation is the only concern here, mnemocultures suspend discursive referentialist consolidation of the sign forces (speech and gesture). Performative modes of living on, perennially engaged in transforming the repetitive structure of the body, condition mnemocultural survival in Indic traditions. Neither 'knowledge' production nor 'theory' is valorized in these mnemopraxial reflections. Indeed Sanskrit reflective practices go to the extent of suspending even the preferred modes of speech and gesture - they recommend the reduction of recitation and ritual in the mnemopraxial engagement with the body. No wonder, unlike in the Greek antiquity, Sanskrit cultural formations have no preferred epistemic space for the positive sciences and objectified knowledge production.

Other Heading

61. Emerging from within the traditions of onto-theology and positive sciences, Derrida's work persistently and performatively overturned and displaced this heritage. He repeatedly denied any thetic, theoretical, methodological status to deconstruction. Time and again he demonstrated the non-conceptual nature of each of his singular terms that he forged in the languages of his inheritance. Indeed he declared that grammatology couldn't be advanced as a positive science. If his meditations on and his unraveling of his conceptual heritage have left no space for any theoretical metalanguage or an all-encompassing system, his radical work on the philosophical-political formation called the 'university' challenge us to think about a 'performative' university (in contrast to the 'constative', 'truth' consolidating structure) - the university to come without alibi.

62. Overturning and displacing the received heritage, Derrida acknowledged the chance of deconstruction only within the enframings of the Western metaphysics (Derrida, 1976: 74). He saw the received theoretical critiques of and acclaimed 'epistemological breaks' with the heritage, as offering only false exits. Working with patience and persistence from within the walls of this heritage, Derrida unraveled all kinds of epistemological urges - their promised offerings of truth. Walled in by the heritage, he reached out with extraordinary choreographic acts that set to work the onto-theological heritage. He carved out radical performatives. No wonder his performative play with the knowledge systems of the West (philosophy, science, art) - his modes of setting them to work - resonates distantly with mnemocultural working of the body. His reasoning imagination, his teleiopoetic acts seem to comport with other forebodings. His mediations on repetition - indeed iteration - as the other inhabiting the same seemed to be in distanced and differing communication with the Sanskrit sources he tapped.

63. As pointed out earlier, however, Derrida forged his in(ter)ventions by drawing on a colloquial Sanskrit locution - itara. The more radial and more disseminated 'name' (nama) for the guest-witness that inhabits the layered body complex in Indic traditions is para (the other). From the most cherished compositions of the Sanskrit tradition to the most heterogeneously spread out speech genres, visual and performative traditions, this alterity within the body circulates in countless number of ways and idioms. Although the colloquial Sanskrit term for alterity - itara - that Derrida chose serves his purpose appropriately, this locution has no epistemic status in Sanskrit reflective practices. But the more radial reflections on the repetition impulse that the body complex (shareera) shares with the alterity (para) inhabiting it, open up from the Sanskrit tradition another pathless path for living on.

64. The complex of the body, memory, and desire brings forth or embodies the mnemotext. The mnemotext is a radical performative reflective enactment of the most essential and constitutive features of this complex: repetition. Heritage or inheritance is unthinkable without this principle of repetition being at work. The most singular feature of the Indic (Sanskrit) mnemotextual tradition is also the relentless reflection on the question of repetition: repetition of the body, desire and memory. What appears to be a sort of deliriously reiterated and enacted reflection on the question of repetition in the Indic textual heritage is also deeply intimated by the question of liberation or emancipation.

65. Derrida's meditations on repetition from within the heritage of the West are in palpable resonance with these other intimations. Yet the difference between these two renditions of repetition (relating to the other - para) invites more reflection. One can tentatively propose that the difference here can be tracked as the different departures or breachings that the 'Indo-European' genus lent itself to: the mnemopraxial 'path' of jnana (Sanskrit) and the epistemophilic direction of knowledge production (Greek-Judaic-Christian). If the former lived on with an anarchival, anarchitectural impulse, the latter consolidated and flourished archival, architectural, and archonal determinations. The latter is haunted by the 'archontic injunction to guard and gather the archive' (Derrida, 1996: 77).

66. Working deeply from within the heritage of the archive, Derrida's lifelong performances seemed to sense these other intimations and other rhythms. Yet it was necessary for him to set to work the heritage of the archive from within. Writing (in the colloquial sense) remains the most inalienable indexical relation to the archive. No wonder the figure of writing remains the emblem of Derrida's colossal work. His signatures remain inscribed in writing. Mnemocultural modes of speech and gesture have neither an archon nor an archive to record or memorialize an event or signature or context. The immemorial modes of speech and gesture remain on the margins of the monumental work of Jacques Derrida. Yet it is his incalculable gift of thought that has taught us to respond and affirm responsibility to margins and countersign anarchontic inheritances elsewhere. Working from within the enabling violence of the university (of the) humanities, with all the ironies and complicities irreducibly at work, this paper can only yearn to learn ways of countersigning an other inheritance without presuming to advance as a native informant.

67. The body complex, as argued earlier, with its forces of memory and/as desire persistently weaves the question of repetition and emancipation in the proliferating mnemocultures of Indic textual inheritance. How to re-activate and reconstellate such alithic heritages, the 'original' inheritances of the (ambivalent) unity of the body and symbol (of gesture and speech) within the context of lithic heritages of epistemic violence remains the challenging task of the critical humanities in India.

68. Reading Derrida in the most unlikely places, hoping to move (with) him elsewhere, I can't help thinking that he was really a folk philosopher, a sage from the culture of wisdom unraveling the claims of European philosophical machine. With 'his' Egypt, and 'his' Islam, but above all in his bonding with the pluridimensional or radial reflections of mnemocultures before the alphabet, Derrida seemed to communicate with the Nambikwaras of the fourth world. He challenged European responsibility to respond to the ghosts, spectres, and apparitions that haunt us from within. Without such haunting there is no culture, there is no heritage, he declared. Yet, why is it that this radical sense of praxial responsibility does not appear to respond to the call of mnemocultures of speech and gesture? I keep asking him this question as I drift in the labyrinth of his inscriptions elsewhere. But this praxial responsibility that Derrida lived with can no longer be territorially filiated to a geopolitical Europe. Globalization has unleashed a more potent climate of Europeanizaton today than what all the previous imperialisms had done. Derrida insisted that in this globalized teletechnologized world, response and responsibility must yearn/struggle for a planetary justice even as one mourns the unavailable; this yearning must manifest in performative engagements, he reiterated.

69. In all such meditations and responses, while being elsewhere, dispersing, Jacques Derrida is with us in the singularity of his performances, cautioning us to be vigilant ...for what tomorrow will bring ... one never knows [14].


D. Venkat Rao teaches in the School of Critical Humanities at the English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India. His areas of interest include Sanskrit reflective systems, mnemocultures, and digital humanities.  


[1] Derrida recommends that without succumbing to the twin pressures of 'appropriation' (assimilation and incorporation) and 'expropriation' (to lose one's memory by internalizing other's), one must practice philosophy in languages that are not filiated to the roots of Greek, Latin, German, and Arabic languages (Derrida, 1994: 12).

[2] 'I will disregard [...]', declared Derrida in a related context, 'everything that consists in reducing the concept of text to that of written discourse, in forgetting that deconstruction is all the less confined to the prisonhouse of language because it starts by tackling logocentrism' (Derrida, 1990: 91, original emphasis).

[3] Derrida wrote elsewhere, emphasizing the singular traits of writing (in the empirical sense): the 'structural possibility of being severed from its referent or signified (and therefore from communication and its context) seems to me to make of every mark, even if oral, a grapheme in general [...] the nonpresent remaining of a differential mark cut off from its alleged 'production' or origin' (Derrida, 1982: 318, first emphasis mine).

[4] The figures of 'inscription', 'cut', 'substrate', 'impression', the 'press', 'house', and a whole lot of substitutes of writing (in the narrow sense) pervade this text.

[5] Although Derrida wrote that he was always drawn to both the 'general and universal figure of circumcision, of excision and in all the ethno-religious marking of the body', it is abundantly clear in his work that his reflective concerns (like those of most notable European thinkers) were circumscribed by monotheisms of Judeo-Christian-Islamic relays. Curiously, Derrida wrote, 'if circumcision is abandoned (literal or figural circumcision, but everything played out around the letter, in Judaism as well as in Islam), one is on the road to an abandonment of phallocentricism. This would apply a fortiori to excision. This abandonment applies also to Christianity. Since these three religions are powerfully, although differently, phallocentric. In any case, phallocentricism, and circumcision link Islam and Judaism' (Derrida & Roudinesco, 2004: 194-95). If this is Derrida's way of exemplifying the universalizability of the singular (a conviction which he radically affirmed in his essay, 'Faith and Knowledge'), then one wonders how this monotheistic inheritance can become a synecdoche for a cultural/conceptual universal. For circumcision and excision are not necessarily the universal 'ethno-religious markings of the body'. One wonders why Derrida, who wove his texts with such extraordinary figural traces of the feminine (track, sign, furrow, hymen, invagination etc), who taught us so much about the originary violence of the irruption of life itself, should not consider the deepest mark, that deepest 'wound', that brings forth every hominid body. This 'wound' - linked to a bare fibrous thread, floating in the non-space of, non ground of the bodily fluid, yet absolutely essential for any being's coming forth - leaves the most literally indelible mark on every body. This thread ought to remind every body of the source, indeed 'history', and the untraceable origin of the body's emergence. Yet the thread is the absolutely significant mark, a mark that no one excepting a woman (female) can inscribe. It is rather a mystery as to why this deepest mark of woman does not find a hospitable shelter in Derrida's figural weave.

Reflecting from the specific monotheistic heritage, Derrida sees the possibility of abandoning phallocentrism in the abandonment of circumcision. Reflecting from the other possibilities that the figure of the thread suggests, one begins to see the necessity of rethinking the cultural universal status that phallocentrism has been given in psychoanalytic and deconstructive work. It is here, once again learning from Derrida, that one must begin to explore the most singular, idiomatic articulations of the body and symbol in the heterogeneous inheritances of the past that still weave our existence and being.

[6] This appears to be the case even in critiques, which insist that deconstruction should attend to the specificity of different communication systems. For instance, in Bernard Stiegler's attempt to differentiate the digital conjuncture from the alphabetic context - it is once again the figure of literacy - writing - that by default enters the horizon as a frame of reference. In an interesting dialogue, in contrast to Stiegler's insistence on the alphabetic writing as the inaugural event of testimony ('Isn't this [alphabetic] writing what makes historical work possible?'), Derrida makes an unusual comment: 'Yes, language, but I prefer to say speech or the voice here. Language in the singular event of a phrase, that is to say, the voice [...] the voice makes language an event. It takes us from the linguistic treasure-house to the event of the phrase'. If speech or voice has this enunciative, event-making force or effectivity, one is impelled to ask, why is it this figure of speech/voice doesn't lend itself to unravel the heritage of the West in Derrida's work? (Derrida & Stiegler, 2002: 100-101).

[7] Here I am referring to the web-group developed by Steven Farmer, Michael Witzel, and George Thompson (moderated by Farmer). Cf.

[8] Although the frenetic responses to it from the West (forty email exchanges in three days between 5 th and 8 th of January, 2004) treat it more as a problem of 'fundamentalism', the episode brings to the fore the anxieties of the archons - the founders and custodians of 'cultural material (documents)'. BORI, founded in the name of a new Pundit, a creation of European Indological adventure, represents and exemplifies centralized lithic heritage - a heritage that is to be governed and managed by the new inheritor in the figure of Indologist. Email communication on the BORI episode can be found in the archives of:

[9] The phrase 'acquired character' is from Freud as discussed by Derrida in Archive Fever. The phrase refers to the 'Lamarkian' theme of transgenerational (cultural) memories (Derrida, 1996: 34-36).

[10] The Sanskrit textual tradition emphasizes correspondences between various elements across 'animate' and 'inanimate' entities of the universe. Thus the 'senses' are not delimited to animate, biological, bodies; they are extended to the five elements that compose the planet. Similarly the differential structure of language is related to the specifically demarcated body-parts of human being. For a valuable account of such correspondences (in the context of language) see Varma (1961: 2-4).

[11] Exponents and performers of classical Indian music traditions. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was an exponent of Sufi music tradition from Pakistan.

[12] This quotation from the Natyasastra of Bharata is taken from Sanskrita Vyakhyana Vimarsa Sampradayamu (Critical and Commentatorial Tradition in Sanskrit), (Pullela Sriramachandrudu, nd.: 22-23).

[13] What is curious about this 'other' is that this non-aggressive and non-agentive entity 'enters' the body (in its formation) in the womb through the most violent act, renting the head in the middle (from the path where the 'hemispheres' join). The Upanishads (like Prashnopanishad) deal with this theme.

[14] An earlier, shorter version of this paper was presented at the National Conference on 'The Philosophical Challenges of Postmodernism', organized by the Department of Philosophy, University of Hyderabad, India on 28-30 March 2006. A much shorter version of this, titled 'Derrida Elsewhere', was first presented at a Memorial Ceremony of Jacques Derrida, organized at Oxford University in October 2004. I am grateful to Rajeswari Sunder Rajan for inviting me to speak at this Ceremony. I wish to thank the two anonymous referees of Borderlands for their valuable comments and suggestions.


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