Tuesday, 8 January 2008

The Erotics of Filiation

I have to write a chapter for a book on Derrida and Antiquity by the first of March, which means I'm gearing up to start writing quite soon: so this week's Wednesday update is going to consist of me jotting down some initial thoughts about the chapter.

This is the abstract I wrote for it:

Eros in the age of technical reproductibility: Socrates, plato and the erotics of filiation

This essay will explore Derrida's queer deconstruction of the father/son 'couple' Socrates and plato in The Post Card. The idea that Western culture can trace its descent through a series of metaphorical filiations, descending ultimately from Plato, is commonplace; in The Post Card Derrida quietly, laboriously, and scandalously draws out the queer and intergenerational eroticism of a relationship with antiquity figured in this way. The genealogical metaphor is one of the most stubborn ways through which time is figured as progressing unidirectionally from past to future; Derrida's insistence on the simultaneity of generations and on the eroticism of intergenerational relationships works to invert and displace this chronology of reception. Furthermore, although Derrida’s work on antiquity demonstrates a persistent interest in the material, technical and spatial specificity of archival structures – that is, in the techne via which the 'present' and the past communicate – it is perhaps in this book that Derrida is most insistent about the implication of the body in the deconstructive rethinking of materiality, and brings together most urgently the Freudian-Lacanian concept of desire (as bound up with 'lack') with the deconstructive concept of writing (as bound up with 'absence').

In this essay, therefore, I will take up Derrida's insistence that the scene of writing, and the relationship between Socrates and Plato, is at work/at play/at stake in our most intimate relations. I will examine the eroticization of the scene of Socratic-Platonic filiation and writing in Derrida’s fragmented reading(s) of the Matthew Paris image which forms the 'support' for his writing in 'Envois', in order to trace the impact of this scene on the temporality and the erotics of our relation to antiquity.

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So part of what I want to do is to displace the way that reception, or the relationship to the past, is often thought Oedipally or murderously; each generation has to 'kill its father' to be able to progress. In fact, one of the things that started me thinking along these lines was Harold Bloom's The Anxiety of Influence, which is all about the young poet as 'ephebe', ie in the correct age-class to be the object of Greek pederastic love (which is traditionally conceptualized, post-Kenneth-Dover, as being both erotic and, um, pedagogical or something; it's through a relationship with the older man that the younger man learns how to be a good citizen, how to take up an adult place in his society), and which has a slightly overheated overvaluation of the masculinity of writing (for example, Bloom writes that poetic influence involves a battle between strong equals, father and son as mighty opposites, Lauis and Oedipus at the crossroads). And throughout 'Envois', the long opening section of The Post Card, Derrida is writing about (and messing with) the relationship between Socrates and Plato in terms which mix father/son imagery with erotic imagery, so I want to link that up to, say, Jacob Hale's 'Leatherdyke Daddies and their Boys: How To Have Sex Without Women Or Men', on the way that certain queer erotic practices deconstruct (very much in Derrida's sense, I think) both binary gender and the sex/gender binary. (I hope all this is going to be interesting, and not just a sort of 'heh heh, look, Derrida's talking about daddy/boy sex!' kind of essay...) I think Derrida is underrated as a queer thinker, even though he has been quietly undoing gender (to coin a phrase) since at least Of Grammatology in 1967, and I'd like to talk about the way that queerness is perhaps another name for differance, for the movement or play which subverts the structure of filiation that seeks to stably differentiate Socrates from Plato, the father from the son, speech from writing. (And what does it mean if queerness is another name for differance? What does the specificity of that name do to my thinking?)

But the other thing I'm starting to think about as I reread The Post Card is the way that Derrida talks about reproduction and the child as a metaphor for futurity and time. And reproduction - or reiteration/repetition - has been a key theme for queer theory since Leo Bersani's A Future for Astyanax and Judith Butler's Gender Trouble, and I'm very intrigued by the scene of reproduction between Socrates and Plato and the way that Derrida talks about male-male conception and filiation. I'm also thinking, though, that I'd like to relate this to Lee Edelman's recent book No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, which specifically argues (as far as I can tell - I've only just started it) that the queer is that which is opposed to thinking about the future in the form of the child. For Edelman, this always means thinking about the future in terms of sameness (and continuity?), the relationship of the future to the present, whereas I think for Derrida the child is a figure of the a-venir, the future-to-come, the future which can only be apprehended as absolute monstrosity (as he says in Of Grammatology) - the unknowability and alterity of the future.

Like I say, I haven't finished reading Edelman yet, but I'm looking forward to doing so - I'm interested to see how his thesis relates to the 'optimistic project' of deconstruction, the deconstruction which always opens out of an unknowable future to which we always-already have a responsibility which goes beyond our conscious knowledge or will. I suspect I will end up using Derrida to critique Edelman, but who can tell?

1 comment:

Una said...

All fascinating stuff. One has to wonder what Harold Bloom's classroom is like: does he actually see himself as involved in some kind of mighty struggle with the bright young things that appear before him year after year? Perhaps he does. Or perhaps he doesn't teach.

I am writing a short story at the moment in which an old woman from the past communicates with a young woman from the future via the rock paintings which she has painted and which the archeologist from the future is trying to interpret. I haven't worked it all out yet, but it seems somehow connected with all these things. (Of course it might only seem that way because I'm deeply embedded in it at the moment and so everything relates to it...)

Have you seen Children of Men? The main character in that protects a child which is, literally, the only hope for the future of our species, and which is not his own. I like the "Joseph" story.