Books: All that Freud jazz
ARCHIVE FEVER: A Freudian Impression by Jacques Derrida trs Eric Prenowitz, University of Chicago Press pounds 14.25
Sunday 20 April 1997
What is its occasion and its theme? It started out as a lecture given at an international colloquium on "Memory: The Question of Archives", held in London under the auspices of a number of institutions including the Freud Museum. It duly offers itself as a discussion of the notion of the archive, which it connects to a number of other notions: memory, forgetting, repression and the unconscious in the Freudian sense. It speculates heavily on the question whether psychoanalysis is "a fundamentally, essentially, radically, Jewish science". Freud thought not, on balance, and he was right.
What is its vehicle? It presents itself wittily in five parts: "Exergue," "Preamble," "Foreword" (these three take up 81 pages), "Theses" (13 pages) and "Postscript" (five pages) - and is principally devoted to a mildly oleaginous commentary on Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi's "handsome book", Freud's Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable, whose title echoes that of a paper by Freud called "Analysis Terminable and Interminable". In his book Yerushalmi presents a new translation of, and commentary on, the charming but banal Hebrew dedication that Sigmund Freud's father Jakob wrote in the copy of Sigmund's childhood Bible when he re-presented it to him, newly rebound, on his 35th birthday.
One is grateful to the quotations from Yerushalmi. They erupt with sudden substance into the Derridean vacuum (their level of content is ordinary, but blinding in context). There is a fine moment when Derrida mentions those French thinkers who claim descent from Freud, and from whom, he says: "Yerushalmi seems to want to shield himself - but why? - as from the plague." The question is poignant, but can be answered by Louis Armstrong's reply to the person who wanted to know what jazz was: "If you gotta ask, you ain't never going to know."
What is it like? It is like this:
"What happens to the status of the archive in this situation? Well, the day when in an absolutely exceptional unprecedented, unique, and inaugural fashion, indeed one that is incompatible with the tradition and the very idea of science, of episteme, of historia, or of theoria, indeed of philosophy in the West, the day, and from the moment when a science presenting itself as such and under this name binds itself intrinsically not only to the history of a proper name, of a filiation, and of a house, here Freud's house, but to the name and the law of a nation, of a people, or of a religion, here psychoanalysis as Jewish science, this would have the consequence, among others, of radically transforming the relationship of such a science to its own archive. "
Most of the excitement derives from the number of typographical errors.
What does it show? First of all, it shows that Derrida will have a lot to answer for on the Day of Judgement, when the charge of wasting people's time will be a heavy one. Second, it shows something that has been becoming increasingly obvious to a number of people for quite a long time: that although Derrida is a nice man, he is just not very bright. Third, it shows how terminological dementia can support incredible levels of insensitivity:
"Thus, as Freud might say (this would be his thesis), there is no future without the spectre of the oedipal violence that inscribes the superrepression into the archontic institution of the archive, in the position, the auto-position or the hetero-position of the one and of the Unique, in the nomelogical arkhe."
This, however, is not something that Freud might say. Freud, with his genius for clarity under pressure, would have been appalled.
After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violencefilm
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
- 2 Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
- 3 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 4 A third of employers never check job applicants' qualifications, survey finds
- 5 James Foley beheading: Fox news presenter Megyn Kelly annoyed by Ferguson update during broadcast about murdered journalist
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC
The Top Ten: Horrible buildings
JK Rowling writes new Harry Potter story on Pottermore: Introducing 'Singing Sorceress' Celestina Warbuck
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Celebrity Big Brother 2014 line-up: Meet the contestants from Lauren Goodger to Kellie Maloney and Audley Harrison
Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome: 'Abort it and try again – it would be immoral to bring it into the world'
Scottish independence: English people overwhelmingly want Scotland to stay in the UK
Isis threat: Cameron wants an alliance with Iran
Crisis? What crisis? A visiting US doctor gives the NHS a rave review
Michael Brown shooting: Chaos erupts on the streets of Ferguson after autopsy shows teenager was shot six times – twice in the head
Scottish Independence Referendum: Salmond described as 'arrogant, ambitious and dishonest' by Scottish women