Akira Mizuta Lippit's Talk

Thursday, October 1, 2009 - 5:00pm

Among the many legacies of Jacques Derrida, the many lines of thought that remain to be thought and re-thought, thought through, and extended in thought, are the reflections that Derrida left on the subject of life, spectrality, and autobiography.  Separately and together, the points of life, spectrality, and autobiography form a constellation of points, a virtual universe that opens in and across his oeuvre.  The force of spectral visuality that drives much of Derrida’s thought, the vital economies of visuality and visibility, avisuality and invisibility, specularity and spectrality are marked not as opposing dimensions of vision, as the conflict of visuality with its negations, obfuscations, interferences, but rather as variations on the aporetic possibility of seeing formed around a subject of visuality not always visible.

The Derrida oeuvre constitutes a virtual archive on the subjects of visibility and invisibility, but also on the possibility or impossibility of visuality as such.  He speaks of the specter and spectrality, of the visible in-visible and absolute invisibility, or the “radiant invisibility of the look,” and of the image, the photograph and cinema, among many traces of the invisible.  The trope of blindness--abundant in Derrida’s work to the point of a theme--and the figure of the blind emerge most often for Derrida in the form of a paradox: blindness is the mechanism or condition through which one sees oneself.  I am blind to myself, but this blindness is revelatory: it reveals me to myself, and it reveals my blindness as a condition and precondition of seeing myself.  “The blindness that opens the eye,” Derrida says, “is not one that darkens vision.”

The phenomenon of blindness remains bound to the subject of autobiography in much of Derrida’s thought.  Blindness appears for Derrida not as the absence of sight but as a particular relationship to oneself, to the image of oneself; it is an autobiographical condition; a configuration of the regard and a mode of self-regarding: which is to say, blindness is conditional.  For Derrida, blindness is also bound, as is autobiography, to death.

“The specter,” says Derrida, “is first and foremost something visible.  It is of the visible, but of the invisible visible, it is the visibility of a body which is not present in flesh and blood.  It resists the intuition to which it presents itself, it is not tangible.”  Something visible, the visibility of the specter is an invisible visibility, a form of visibility that remains invisible, without diminishing the force of visibility itself.  It suggests a tangibility where there is none, the idea or trace of tangibility, a tangibility that Derrida locates in the image.  The intuition to which the specter presents itself, an intuition brought to life in the image, is the life of the specter, the specter of life, the essential spectrality of life itself.  Derrida is, today and tomorrow, such a specter.

Cinema Studies Program
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