Numbers of Earth: The Labor of the Intellect in Nature

Numbers of Earth: The Labor of the Intellect in Nature – Critical Essay

Claudia Baracchi

The Other Earth

At first we embrace trees.

Lie with the swan, the bull, become stars.

Blackbirds form bridges across the sky:

we pass, lightly placing our feet.

The god enters our rooms in a shower of gold.

Into the intricate maze a white thread,

a woman, a fish come to guide our way out.

Docile as horses, we go.

When the plain world comes,

with its explanations

smooth and cool as a marble statue’s skin,

we go, rising out of the dark.

Being careless and proud, we look back

towards the other earth:

how it wavers and goes out,

like a girl with an errand to do in another room.

–Jane Hirshfield

Toward the Infinite

You might take it for a given:

how numbers climb

first quickly,

then more slowly toward the infinite,

the way an aging man climbs stairs

first with a hand to the banister,

then pausing between landings,

then not at all.

–Jane Hirshfield

GEOMETRIA literally means the measure (metron) of the earth (ge, the gaia of the poets). In its most basic sense, geometry designates an attempt at coming to terms with the earth, and with the dynamic elemental configuration that the earth is: the water filling its hollows, permeating it and adhering to its uneven surfaces; the air enveloping it; the fire secretly harbored within it or shining without in the sheltering sky.(1) Understood in this primordial sense, the practice of geometry emerges as a taking the measure of, a reckoning with the earth as the place of human abiding, as the human condition itself–indeed, as the undisclosed ground (both origin and sustenance) of the disclosure of life and the four dimensions.

Geometry can thus be understood as the calculative approach to what, for the archaic poet, remains the “black earth.” As Plato will have pointed out, such reckoning implies, albeit in an operative, un-self-conscious fashion, intellectual activation. However unthematically, the practice of geometry, while keeping itself focused on (i.e., while being bound to) the earth, sets off or makes manifest the work of the intellect and that work’s necessary axioms: the assumptions or hypotheses that generate, underlie, and inform intellectual articulation. Through geometry, under the claim of the earth and in reckoning confrontation with the earth’s incumbency, the intellect unravels itself, gives itself in its travail. Intelligence shows itself at work. Noetic labor sustains geometry, shining through geometry and thereby revealing itself in its strategies and axiomatics.(2) In the Republic, Plato has Socrates expose the question of what will have been called phenomenological ground or originary intuition, which cannot itself be folded into the demonstrative procedures it gives rise to and sustains:

I suppose you know that those who practice earth-measurements and

calculations and such matters posit the odd and the even, the schemata,

three kinds of angles and other things akin to these according to each

method; taking such things to be known, they make them hypotheses, and

hence they do not deem it worthwhile to provide any discourse on them

either to themselves or to others, treating them as evident to all;

beginning from these presuppositions, they immediately go through what

remains until in the end they come with perfect consonance to that toward

which the speculation tended.

I certainly know that, he said.

Then you also know that although they utilize visible kinds and make

discourses about these, they are not thinking about them but about those

things of which the visible kinds are a likeness; thus it is for the sake

of the square itself and the diameter itself that they make discourses, not

for the sake of what they draw; in like manner, when they mold or draw

things of which there may be images in shadows or in water, again they

utilize them as images, attempting to see those things that are not seen in

any other way than to thought (Republic VI.510c-e).

Geometry is here understood as the human endeavor most distinctively bringing to the fore the strange interpolation of intellect into earth, into elemental (that is, modally and qualitatively diverse) spatiotemporal dimensionality, into body. The “place” of intellect “in” nature already imposes itself as an issue requiring further reflection. For, first of all, how is one to think the “relation” or “crossing” of space and what is said to be spaceless? How is one to think the “place” or situatedness, the abiding or inhabiting of that which is said to “have” no place and not to be of the order of place? How does the placeless posit and position itself?. How does it thetically occur, in fact, “take place,” dwell? According to what translation?

Second, it should be noticed that geometry, the earthly unfolding of intellect, the undertaking through and as which the operation of the intellect becomes perspicuous (indeed, perspicuous as labor), has an origin, that is to say, already a history. The study or science of earth originates somewhere on earth. It is neither self-identical nor atemporally stable. In the work of geometry, paradigmatically and quite literally, the intellect is grounded, articulating itself in essential and unique conjunction with earth. It is spatially and temporally located. Intellect is shown as belonging to place, belonging in nature, one may say, and in the time of nature’s unfolding. Here, again, the figure of a “relation” or “crossing” imposes itself on thinking, namely, the crossing of time and that which is said to be timeless, infinitely discontinuous with respect to the order of time.

It is because of such difficulties that Husserl, particularly in his late discussions on the constitution of geometrico-mathematical objects or of ideality tout court, will find himself forced to think through the question of origin (arkhe) as principle, axiom, cause, but also, along genetic lines, as beginning and becoming. In a certain sense against himself, Husserl will acknowledge the problem of origin precisely as such: as a problem. With enormous consequences, this will lead him to oscillate between the transcendental vocation of the phenomenological program and the undeniable claim of spatiotemporal or material-historical structures impervious to transcendental reduction.(3)

The complex and ultimately irreducible bifurcation of empirical history and historicity understood in its structurally constitutive, transcendental, even teleological character is anticipated in Proclus’s commentary on Euclid. In his meditation on the origin of geometry, Proclus yokes together perception, calculation, and intellect, pointing to a practical-theoretical interpenetration and to the way in which practical concerns end up achieving their completion, perfection, and fulfillment in the scientific stance. Crucially, he shows geometry (both in its Egyptian inception and in Thales’ inheritance of such beginning) as required by the shifting morphology of earth, by the unstable configurations of water and land. It is the human concern with boundaries and delimitation that motivates the geometrical effort and (Proclus insists) repeatedly refers geometry back to a perceptual-experiential ground or measure. In fact, this is paradigmatically the case for all the sciences, including arithmetic:(4)

Since we must look into the origins of the arts as well as of the sciences

with regard to the present cycle,(5) we say that according to many

narratives geometry was first devised or discovered among the Egyptians,

taking its inception from the measurement of areas (khorion). Indeed, it

was necessary for them because of the surging of the Nile, which erased the

boundaries proper to each. And there is nothing wondrous in the fact that

the devising or discovering of this as well as the other sciences

originated out of need, for all that articulates itself in becoming

proceeds from the imperfect to the perfect. Thus the shift from perception

to calculation and from the latter to intellect occurs suitably. Just as

accurate knowledge of numbers received its origin among the Phoenicians

because of commerce and transactions, so geometry was devised or discovered

among the Egyptians for the cause mentioned.

Thales first went to Egypt and transferred to Greece this contemplation

(theorian); he himself devised many [inferences], and revealed the

principles of many to those coming after him, his attempt being now more

according to the whole, now more sensible (in Eucl. I, Friedlein, 64).

Geometry, then, will come into being out of the concern caused by the periodic swelling of the river, out of a need to re-trace antediluvian confines, the delimitations that were before, when the earth held. A place, district, estate, or region (khorion) would be measured, so that boundaries previously established as proper (limits determining propriety and property) may be re-marked and maintained. In the attempt at counteracting change, the khorion, place in its quality and motility, is reduced to quantity–turned into a homogeneous, invariably measurable extension. From the repetition of such measurements geometry arises, first as a practice, then as a science. Prior to it, two main assumptions are already operative: (1) the understanding of earth as fundamentally firm, reliable, unmoving; and (2) the understanding of land as that which can be marked off, subdivided, owned (it is on this account that the notion of property and the practices pertaining to it rest). Proclus is pointing out the derivative character of geometry, as protoscience, with respect to both a certain disclosure or awareness of earth and the presupposition of earth in practices that, while not silent, still may be largely unconscious or unreflective.

Proclus/Eudemus’s account of the inaugural circumstances of geometry finds confirmation in Herodotus, who also documents the resourcefulness and versatility demonstrated by Thales in his investigations of geometrical problems as well as astronomical and physical (let alone political) matters. Aetius also links Thales to Egypt. In turn, Diogenes Laertius recalls Hieronymus of Rhodes’ report linking the discovery of the theorem of proportionality to the measurement of pyramids. Apparently Thales “measured the pyramids from their shadow, having observed [the time] when our shadow is equal in magnitude [to our height]” (I, 27). What is remarkable about these reports (and others similar in tenor) is the emphasis on geometry as originally and ultimately embedded in the structures of human abiding on earth; that is, in the structures of being-human as being-earthly, being of the earth. Most explicitly, Diogenes/Hieronymus’s account makes it clear that, even and precisely in its theoretical-theorematic content, geometry develops out of human comportment toward the givenness of the world–out of a comportment that one would have to call either pretheoretical (according to the modern concept of theory) or fundamentally and rigorously theoretical (according to the early as well as classical understanding of theoria as thoroughly sensible, embodied, phenomenal contemplation, and of theorema as vision, that which is seen, insightfully intuited). Such pretheoretical or radically theoretical provenance and sustenance of intellectual labor in/as geometry hints, among other things, at the irreducibility of intellect (of thinking) to theoretical activity interpreted more moderno as science.

The formulation of something like the theorem of proportionality involves (requires and prescribes) an ongoing engagement in the four dimensions. It is, to be sure, a matter of engaging in the expanse of lengths, surfaces, and volumes in order to correlate shadows on the ground and the body of the pyramid in its depth and stature. But, at the same time and just as critically, it is also a matter of engaging in the movement of time, observing when it is that one’s own shadow equals in size one’s height so as to conclude that the same must be true for the pyramid. Through that which is available or less inaccessible with respect to measurement–that is, through that which exhibits a certain proximity to human measure–something is measured that would otherwise seem to withdraw from the reckoning stance, apparently exceeding the calculative thrust. It is in this way that what is far or excessive may, in a manner of speaking, be conquered, perhaps even assimilated to the human. And yet, to attain such a result, the intellect must dramatically exceed the human measure–it must lose itself in the earthly openness within which the funerary monument rises, resting, in its solemnity and gigantic solidity, on the sandy soil, under the sun, visible or shrouded in darkness, mist, or the haze of dust raised by the winds. It is only in spanning the space-time configuration according to circumstance that the intellect may bring back (forth) an insight concerning such configuration. Only in thus penetrating the spatiotemporal manifold may the intellect insightfully disclose (with mercurial swiftness, as though stealing) a crucial aspect of it. Endeavoring to capture the excessive, to hold it in contemplation and calculate it, intelligence moves and belongs in that which exceeds theoretical-calculative grasp; one almost wishes to say: in the life-world. Intelligence emerges as belonging in the life-world, as moving insightfully in it, as its insightful movement.

But if the intellectual labor that geometry makes manifest may never be said to be purely disengaged from sensibility, materiality, embodiment, then one will also be compelled to conclude that measurement (most notably the measurement of the earth) never was and will never have been a matter of applying number, quantitative standards, or any preconstituted ideality (ideal object or category) whatsoever to matter, body, sensible objects. Indeed, one is compelled to wonder how the traditional dichotomies opposing ideality/measure, on the one hand, and sensibility/ nature, on the other, could at all be sustained.

As geometry (the attempt at measuring and calculating the earth) thus shows, science is born in (a) place, develops in particular ways, belongs in particular contexts and practices (Egyptian or, as the case may be, Indian, Chinese, Babylonian, Mayan …). And yet, the very occurrence of measurement, the very possibility of measure bespeaks something like a placeless thinking, a thinking “according to the whole” (“universally”), a thinking that emancipates itself (or may always essentially be emancipated) from place and drifts, spreads, communicates itself, is common, shared–aside from, one may even want to say prior to, contextual differences, embodiment and its finitude. In the geometrical inquiries the penetration of intellect yields truths that are not reducible to any particular space or time, truths somewhat autonomous from locality and regional qualifications: the truths of geometrical comprehension are transferable across time and space (as if) unchanged, according to the whole–to a whole apparently retaining none of the imperviousness, distortions, and deflections distinctive of the regional, but rather characterized by the constancy, neutrality, and homogeneity that would grant unproblematic transmission. But, again, how to think the origin(s) and history (histories), the place(s) and time(s) of universality, of the very domain of the universal? Is its history, if it is one, a contingent detail, accidentally articulating the self-subsistent domain of the universal? Again, would the universal be separate, preexisting, indeed, always-being, or even eternal? Would the universal be an enduring necessity, however occasionally as yet undisclosed in history, abiding even when/if coming to no earthly abode? Would it have to be posited as always already there, only to be historically uncovered but not, strictly speaking, fulfilled–for it would always already be actual and in need of no fulfillment? The freedom and spatiotemporal circulation exhibited, at least in certain respects, by geometrico-mathematical knowing makes the hypothesis of a certain atemporality, even ahistoricity, let alone atopia of the intellectual operation, more resistant to simple gestures of erasure than one might at first surmise.(6)

To ask about the relation between universality and spatiohistorical locality means to ask about the status of the theoretical/scientific endeavor, within which the contrast of the universal and the local is first articulated and their separation or separability posited. But the question of the origin/history of the theoretical/scientific discourses is rooted in the more primordial question of the emergence, both otherwise discursive and otherwise than discursive, of earth. It is on this question that the present investigation must now focus.

Before geometry (and one will have to say more about the character of such antecedence), before even the contraction of earthly-measurement into one word–geometria–one will always already have come to terms, if not reckoned, with the ground of human sojourn. One will always already have found oneself here, somewhere on earth, abiding–and, thus abiding, singing, or listening to, the song of such an abode. Ge is first of all brought forth (neither calculated nor simply disclosed) in poetic utterance–brought to song, brought itself to sing. Poetic utterance radically illuminates the condition of humans.

Or otherwise, once again straining and turning words, one could say that the poetic utterance is geometry in its most basic meaning–geometry not (yet) as a technology of measurement alienated from its phenomenal/phenomenological ground, evidence, and experience. Primordially understood, geometry indicates the bond of humans to earth and sky, the relation of humans to their own ground, engendering source, and ultimate sheltering, even concealment. In this sense, geometry means: the attempt of humans to come to terms with themselves–their own condition(s), origin, nature–with their mystery, the mystery they themselves are, the mystery in which they belong. Geometry emerges, in this way, as the analysis of relatedness and of the web of connections in which humans are caught, as the study of interdependence, indeed, the study bringing to the fore such nexus.(7) In turning, in wonder, to earth and sky, human beings investigate themselves. In order to investigate themselves, humans must turn to that in which, as which, they always already find themselves, out of which they come, into which they go. Such a reflection, indeed, all reflection, entails both a certain immediacy of belonging and a space that, in opening up, distances, mediates: geometry as mediated belonging, belonging furnished with a mirror. As “radical geometry,” the poetic utterance points to geometria as a way of learning how to cope, live, understand–how to be and move on earth. One will never have “surveyed the land” as anything other than the very condition of one’s own pacing and breathing.

Thus, before the reduction of earth to geometrical object (if not before radical geometry or geometry itself)–before the attempt at mastering or calculating earth, before the technology that such an enterprise makes possible, one will already have walked on earth, unconsciously assuming earth as one’s (silent) ground. Or, struck by the bare yet utterly remarkable givenness of something like ground, one will have given it voice (received voice from it, one wishes to say), sung of it as wondrous and divine. Or one will have listened, and thus will have been shaken and reminded of the extraordinary “fact” of a supportive environment. It is out of such wondrous compulsion that singing is called forth.

In Homer’s Iliad the earth, the field of warfare and of men essentially understanding themselves as warriors, is often remembered as “groaning” and “resounding” under the strain of human deeds (II.95, 465, 782).(8) “Life-giving” (III.243), “bounteous” (III.265) gaia, “nourishing herbs” (XI.741), giving rise to and supporting life in its innumerable forms, is here also “flowing with blood” (IV. 451). Gaia is, furthermore, recalled in its infinity (VII.446), that is to say, incalculability–as that which resists and secludes itself, indeterminately receding from the reckoning thrust. From the point of view of the calculative undertaking, gaia has always already emerged as profoundly problematic–at once compelling such enterprise and challenging its possibility. As Xenophanes says, “we see this high limit of earth at our feet, at the margins of the air; the rest sinks into the infinite” (fr. 28). Giving itself while withholding itself, gaia names a concealing operation, that which remains inaccessible, invisible, hidden–that which, thus, holds within itself, in a protective embrace, everything that recedes from life: it is “heaped up” and covers one (VI.464), draws one back, away from light. While sustaining that which comes alive and shines, it is also the abode, dark and impenetrable, of that which is (those who are) no more, or not yet. It is, in this sense, the ineffable receptacle of absence–or, even, that within which no time endures.

In Hesiod the earth is sung as a deity, the wondrous gift of a firm ground “for all”–the origin, preceded only by chaos, of a procession at once divine and physical. One should notice what here remains an undeveloped hint at a disjunction or terminological proliferation in the designation of earth (Gaia, khthon). Although both Gaia and khthon are clearly related and analogously characterized by the attribute of breadth, the former repeatedly designates the fecund goddess, while the latter seems to carry barely physico-morphological connotations:

First of all Khaos came to be, and then

broad-bosomed Gaia, a firm seat of all things always,

and murky Tartaros in a recess of broad-wayed earth (khthonos),

and Eros, most beautiful among immortal gods,

looser of limbs, who of all gods and all humans

subdues in the breasts the mind and thoughtful counsel.

From Khaos, Erebos and black Night came to be;

and from Night came Aither and Day,

to whom she gave birth after joining Erebos in love.

And Gaia first brought forth, equal to herself,

starry Ouranos to conceal her all around,

to be a firm seat for the blessed gods always.

Then she brought forth the high Mountains, charming haunts

of the divine

Nymphs who dwell in the woody mountains.

And she gave birth to the barren sea, raging in its swell,

Pontos, without delightful love; and then

having lain with Ouranos she gave birth to deep-eddying


and Koios and Krios and Hyperion and Iapetos….

(Theog. 116-134)

It should be emphasized that Gaia “broad-bosomed,” the “firm seat of all things,” is said to bring into being, among others, “starry Ouranos,” the “tall Mountains,” and the “barren sea.” Analogously to the suggestive language in Empedocles’s fragments, which lets the earth appear both as one of the “roots” and as the primordial ground into which the “roots” sink, the poet here points to Gaia as that which gives rise to and sustains the elemental fourfold (earth rising into mountains, the turbulent waters of the sea, the fiery stars in the airy domain of Ouranos). This gesture, which redoubles the earth and shows it in its self-differing and nonsynchronous or asynchronous character, is again echoed in the Homeric hymn “To Gaia Mother of All” (Cassola XXX). The hymn also repeats the disjunction of Gaia and khthon. Gaia, “all-mother” and “mother of the gods” (1, 17), is addressed as “firmly grounded, / most ancient, nourishing all that is on earth (khthoni)” (1-2). The singer continues: “Whatever traverses the divine earth (khthona), or the sea, / or flies, is nourished by your abundance” (3-4). Again, earth appears both in its elemental singularity (as khthon) and as the “most ancient” condition (Gaia) of the elemental fourfold (“divine earth,” “the sea,” the air and fiery apex evoked by the figure of flight).

But Hesiod also recalls the radical violation of Gaia and the ensuing rift between earth and sky:

For all who came to be from Gaia and Ouranos,

most terrible of children, were hated by their own begetter

from the beginning; and as any of them first came to be

he hid them all and did not let them into the light,

in the secret hollows of Gaia; and Ouranos was pleased at the

evil deed.

And prodigious Gaia groaned inside,

being full; and she contrived a treacherous, evil device …

Great Ouranos came leading Night with him, and around Gaia,

longing for love, he extended and spread all over;

and [Kronos] his son stretched out from his place of ambush

with his left hand,

and with his right he grasped the prodigious sickle,

long, with saw-like jagged teeth, and the genitals of his beloved


eagerly sheared off and flung back to be carried


(Theog. 154-182)

As these lines show, poetry does not simply illuminate earth as that which holds and endures, as the “firm seat of all things always.” It also brings to awareness the dangers of imbalance, the infirmity and natural disasters that occur when the earth’s fecundity is repressed, not admitted into the light. The possibility of such traumatic upheavals is an integral dimension of the condition that earth is.

Other sources refer to the originary unity of earth and sky (the elemental fourfold) and to their subsequent separation–to that differing-in-intimacy that, although undergone as painful dismemberment, brings about all beings. Differentiation and communion across separation are suggestively sung as the condition for procreation. It is in virtue of the severance of earth and sky that the generation, or even a certain “construction” of the cosmos, can take place. One finds, among Euripides’ fragmentary sayings, the following:

The myth is not mine but from my mother,

how sky and earth were one form;

and when they had been separated apart from each other

in bringing forth all things they released them up into the light,

trees, birds, beasts, those nourished by the salt water of the sea

and the race of mortals

(Melenippe Sepieus, 484).

In turn, Diodorus speaks of the “cosmic syntax” ensuing from the separation of earth and sky:

For, according to the gathering of the whole since the

beginning, sky and earth had one form, their natures being

mingled; after this their bodies parted from each other, and

the cosmos acquired the whole visible arrangement …

(Diodorus 1.7.1).

And, according to Apollonius Rhodius, Orpheus

sang how earth and sky and sea,

being before connected with each other in one form,

from destructive strife separated apart from each other;

and how stars, moon, and the sun’s courses

have always in the aither a confirmed boundary….

(I, 496).

Earth, sensually celebrated by Sappho as “embroidered with many-colors” and “with many wreaths” (Voigt, 168c), is recalled by Xenophanes in its procreative aspect: “all things that come to be and grow are earth and water” (fr. 29), he says, “for all came to be from out of earth and water” (fr. 33). Finally, “from earth everything, and into earth everything ends” (fr. 27).

Before the calculation of earth, earth is already there. An understanding of it is harbored in the poetic tradition (s) and is absorbed into subsequent discourses (consider, for instance, the Hesiodic-Homeric as well as Orphic traces discernible in the lineage leading from Parmenides to Empedocles, Plato, and well beyond). Indeed, such liminal understanding critically frames and predetermines further discourses in their character and possibility.

What is crucial to point out in this regard is that the “being already there” attributed to earth should not be merely understood in terms of “aisthetic” priority, in terms of the purely sensible/phenomenal antecedence of earth as perceptual manifold. It is of the utmost importance to notice that the priority of earth over geometrical/theoretical discourses is (as announced above) both prediscursive or otherwise than discursive, that is, belonging in the order of phenomenality, and otherwise discursive, discursive in an other way or register–which implies a certain irreducibility of discourse (logos) to theoretical discourse and, indeed, to one single mode/register. In light of such manifoldness of language, it becomes arduous simply to maintain the contrast between the perceptual/phenomenal and the linguistic. The complication of such an all too schematic distinction may help illuminate, if not explicate, the complex intertwinement, if not the equiprimordiality, of language and the structures of (human) sensibility/experience. Husserl’s late reflections seem especially relevant in this connection–in particular the thought of Lebenswelt addressing the interpenetration of perceptual and linguistic/cultural motifs, and the concomitant suggestion that a certain precedence over theoretical discourse may still be a matter of language, a matter linguistically articulated. The derivative, secondary character of theory may not be simply brought back to the priority of sensation without any further qualification. This strand of Husserl’s thought finds further elaboration in Merleau-Ponty’s meditation on what he calls “perceptual faith.” In this connection, one recalls what the Greeks called pistis, the structures of belief, trust, or opinion accompanying and informing sense perception. By contrast, one thinks of Levinas’s characterization of the infinite, ineffable priority of sensibility–a priority that is prelogical and preontological (prior to the ontologico-metaphysical opposition of sensibility and intelligibility) and furthermore, by the same token, prelinguistic. Levinas, indeed, consistently effects a certain conflation of logical/metaphysical discourse and myth in its phenomenal brilliance. Accordingly, the occurrence of language is taken to be coextensive with the theoretical/ontological discourses, to coincide with them and be exhausted by/in them, without any further residue.

But Husserl does not limit himself to pointing to the inexhaustible, excessive character of language with respect to the domain of scientific elocution and, more broadly, to formality or formalism. Quite decisively, and in contrast with certain strands of his own earlier understanding of language (most notably in the Logical Investigations), Husserl’s exquisite contribution to this line of inquiry lies in the assertion that the scientific, or even phenomenological, investigation is as much a matter of language as poetic articulation is–a matter of language (however much in a unique mode), and hence of tradition(s), of spatiotemporal transmission and sharing, with all the pertinent complications.(9) Language, writing in particular, infinitizes the finitude of humans, thrusting humans beyond themselves, beyond the individual limits of each. This means that scientific/theoretical/philosophical knowledge is not a matter of individual, solitary exertion, but rather of a communal choral effort to which every participant contributes and responds. This is what Husserl calls the community of responsibility, constituted in and across space and time.(10) It is in this sense that language/writing and, hence, historicity, are constitutive of the geometrical/mathematical object(s), of ideality tout court. The ideality of spatiotemporality is itself essentially spatiotemporal. Husserl does not fully draw the consequences of such a genetic account of ideality. Derrida, in his early engagement with Husserl (an engagement that, one may argue, Derrida never left behind), points out precisely what Husserl intimates but does not say. He focuses on a certain strand of Husserl’s thought, rigorously brings it to its furthest consequences, magnifies its unspoken implications. Thus writing, essential to the stabilization, communication, and institution of ideality as such, and hence the cipher of historicity, is emphasized in its materiality, sensibility, utter embodiment. Ideality essentially harbors this in itself, is marked by the operation of writing and of communication in general. In its transmission, in its wandering and becoming common, that is, in order to be what it is, ideality necessarily faces the enormous perils, the ineluctability of deflection, pluralization, a dissipation entailed by this operation. Indeterminately and inevitably, the conditions for the/possibility of transmission, preservation, and reactivation at once entail the possibility of loss.(11)

In light of the preceding, it should now be clear that the previous suggestion that scientific-geometrical discourses rest on and stem from poetic elocution is not to be understood in simple chronological terms. The precedence here at stake is, above all, structural, if not logical (or even logical, if one again heeds the buried etymological sense of the term). Contrary to most customary, precipitously ventured assertions, the subject matter of geometrical inquiry is not “the earth” without any further qualification (in fact, one wonders what such a phrase as “the earth without any further qualification” may mean). Rather, the subject matter is the “not knowing,” practical and pretheoretical discourse, of which the primordial poetic utterance is exemplary, through which the earth emerges in its profiles and definition.(12) What is at stake is already discourse, already discursive–though, granted, here yet another word is being strained and turned around, and by “discourse” one may no longer mean an exclusively verbal articulation but venture beyond the confines of language as speech, discern discourses (occurrences of signification and sense formation) in all sorts of codes of behavior among living beings, in motions periodically repeated as though to initiate a fight or to salute a welcome appearance, or a season, in the intersection of the motions of animate beings with the motions of bodies said to be inanimate, in the bare return of the same shapes and configurations, in the apparent abiding of certain forms in nature, forms that in a sense always are (that is, preserve regularity and recognizability), even though the bodies that make them visible perish without seemingly leaving anything behind but a trace, perhaps, or an offspring….

The problem concerning the primordial ground that the earth is presents itself in its disquieting profundity. For, in the very moment in which the earth is made manifest and experienced as “the given primordial ground,” structures of understanding and interpretation are already in play. And while one may want to acknowledge the priority of a silent experience, of an experience so radical to be not (yet) informed by these structures, in a way one is always late with respect to such an inception, has always said too much of silence. Here lies the perplexity concerning the synchronization or asynchronicity of experience and understanding (if, and this is far from granted, their relation may at all be a matter of chronology-temporality). One wonders what delay or other posteriority may mark the entrance of intellectual measures into the scene, or whether the appearance onstage of said measures may somehow be constitutive of the stage as such. The problem can ultimately be cast in terms of the crossing of the instituting “first time” (Erstmaligkeit) and the repetition that alone grants signification. (Among other things, it may be worth noting that the terms in which the issue was posed in the beginning of the present discussion are now reversed. There, on the ground of what is commonly said, the relation between earth and intellectual labor was characterized in terms of the intersection of space-time and the space-less or time-less. At this juncture, one may instead speak of the intersection between

earth giving itself in an experience so radically singular as to be inassimilable to space-time and the intellectual operation which, qua essentially iterative, precisely depends on, or even is coextensive with space-time.)

Or, again, the problem may be seen in terms of the crossing (if one can still speak thus) of the path drawn for the first time (hodos) and what becomes possible, what takes place after the path has been drawn (methodos). On the one hand, one would want to acknowledge walking, moving on earth, drawing a course across the expanse that earth makes available in its non- and pretheoretical character. One would want to say that only afterward, in light of a certain homogenizing repetition, could something like methodos, with its objectifying, deductive, and demonstrative procedures, be delineated and formalized. The hodos, especially its first opening, the unique movement that singularly traces it, would not be science; in fact, it would be no discourse at all. In brief, one would want to separate hodos from methodos sharply, once and for all. Yet, already in drawing the path for the first time, repetition is at stake. In the taking place of the first time one discerns something like the return of the same already: step after step, following the rhythm of legs alternating, feet flexing, arms swinging, heart beating, blood pulsing, eyes blinking, air flowing in and out, one walks. With a movement returning and repeating itself after the other, one draws a path for the first time, which may then be gone through again. A way is opened, made available for repetition–but repetition, and not just repeatability, is at the same time constitutive of the singularity of the way. One paces on earth and, through the rhythm of steps, takes the measure. The motion of feet lifting and ever reestablishing their contact with the ground, reaffirming the claim of the earth on the living, becomes cadence, beat, even dance–the embodied manifestation and accompaniment of the rhythmic articulation of syllables in song. (It should be noted that this adumbration of the condition of ground in terms of walking and feet touching the earth diverges significantly from Heidegger’s analytic of existential structures, which hinges on the figure of the hands, and hence on what is at hand, available to manipulation and instrumental handling, on equipmentality.)

It is only in the context of these considerations (admittedly strange and still tentative) that one points to a certain priority of the poetic utterance, of its scansion in metric feet, over against scientific discourses. Poetry is here turned to as that which makes the earth manifest and lets it glow in an originary way. It should be tirelessly emphasized that the turn proposed here does not rest on a romanticized view of poetry as nonidealizing language, as a speaking free from the objectifying traits of scientific language, that is, from the production of objectivity or ideality or ideal objects. Even less, conversely, does this turn entail the surreptitious assimilation of all that is, of experience even in its most radical taking place, to language without any further specification–an assimilation that would amount to positing language in its ultimate priority, grounding character, and creativity. Rather, it should be underlined that the movement of idealization/objectification is common to poetic discourse and others alike. Poetry can here signify no movement away from objectification. No privileged access to the other-than-ideal (other than conceptual, measurable, self-identical, etc.) can be claimed on its behalf. Poetry (radical geometry, phenomenological self-reflection) may name, instead, the bare encounter with the radically other, the unprivileged attempt to face, confront, or merely affirm whatever may give itself at the interface (1) of the verbal and the nonverbal, (2) of verbal languages and nonverbal languages, and (3) of language as exceeding verbalization and what may still, in turn, exceed even extraverbal language and impose itself as irretrievably nonlinguistic.(13) Poetry may be glimpsed as the surfacing of words in their rhythm, sound, and sensible qualities–the surfacing of words from the recesses and strata of experience that may be nonverbal yet not merely mute or silent, barely conscious yet not thereby dimly lit or blind, marked by a certain automatism yet not simply devoid of sense. In their transit, transition, and translation, the words of poetry would be unspeakably, intelligently directed by the bodily provenance.

To be sure, poetry, which marks this passage into the word, at the same time emerges in the midst of speaking–in the midst of practices always already taking place, structures of participation, shared discourses. Indeed, that poetry primordially illuminates the earth, thus preceding geometry as proto- and technoscience, does not at all require the priority of poetry over common practices and basic needs. Poetry brings to awareness and casts light. But, knowingly or not, one will always already have walked, immersed in worldly affairs; one will have done so prior to the lighting up of consciousness; one will have done so before finding oneself surprised, breathless, astonished at the remarkable donation of earth, quiet and firm. In fact, the moment of illuminating wonder may never come to pass, and one will have walked, spoken, lived nevertheless. The relation between poetry and communal practices would in and of itself deserve extensive scrutiny. Let it be said here all too quickly that, whether heard in its emerging primarily out of bodily recesses (whether silent or teeming with buried words) or out of the noise of the city and its doxa, poetry marks a certain movement from the unconscious to the conscious. Poetry may not be “the first word,” but rather word or speaking becoming conscious.

If one says that poetry/radical geometry is “more fundamental” than geometry as technoscience, then one intends to suggest that poetry makes more perspicuous the literal dependence of all practices, of all verbalization, of all linguistic occurrences (occurrences that “make” sense, whether verbally or not) on the earth: for this cluster, which can be called “linguistic” in the broadest sense attributed to this term, is not simply grounded on earth, but appears to be so deeply rooted in it, to pervade or inform it so thoroughly as to be originated by earth, or minimally sustained by it. Thus understood, and precisely in its idealizing-objectifying traits, in its producing ideality, language belongs in nature, does not apply to nature but stems from it, from its (however informed, if, indeed, at all informed) receptacles.

To the extent that science is oblivious to this and alienates itself from such grounding “self-evidence,” it floats in its precision and abstraction. It applies itself (its measures and numbers) to earth as to a corpse or a body on the marble table, using, exploiting, constructing (on) it.(14) But, as to the status of discourses other than the technoscientific ones, as to poetry, radical geometry, the phenomenological attempt to remember and retrieve, the silently material incidences of meaning and sense, the teeming of life in its repetitive (if vastly unconscious) patterns … whether and how these inform/belong to the life-world, this is precisely the question that one has tried to confront in the foregoing discussion. It is, ultimately, a question concerning the place of intelligence (of the movement of ideality) in nature, and the surfacing of sense from flesh and bark, gestures and colors, symbols and abiding or even fleeting configurations.

In a characteristically evident fashion, poetry lets transpire that earthly/organic provenance which is by no means its exclusive prerogative. It marks and re-marks its being dictated, inspired, possessed by earth.

In closing, it may be opportune to outline briefly a few hypotheses in order to illuminate further what is meant here by poetry and its way. Poetry, as the voice of earth, does not simply disclose it as its “object,” but belongs in/to earth as to a source. It lays bare the impossibility of understanding earth as an object, let alone a mathematico-geometrical object. In this way, earth is revealed as source of the poetic utterance, as source of inspiration. But this means that the origin of poetic utterance is a literally physical and physiological matter. In turn, a physics and physiology of inspiration would respond to the unreflectively romantic understanding of inspiration as a “divine” matter. Again, the significance of such a term would have to be reconfigured so as to align the semantic domains of deities and earth–so as to bring to the fore the convergence and coincidence of the divine and the earthly. The provenance of words is, thus, disclosed as a matter of intelligence-and-earth, of intelligence on and in earth, finally, in fact, of earth. The source of words may be understood in its threefold character: (1) environmental, physical (air, its resounding vibrations carrying and propagating what is uttered); (2) physiological (ears hearing, throat articulating sound); and (3) intellectual, ideal (capacity for mnemonic retention and repetition). The earthly (physical-physiological) source of primordial utterance may be discerned in the unity of the Greek word pneuma, at once designating breath, breathed air, respiration, breeze, wind, and only derivatively divine inspiration as well as spirit. Pneuma names the field of interconnection, energetic exchange, transmission of forces.(15)

Such an understanding of breath gesturing beyond the physiological and, thus, encompassing the physical in the most comprehensive sense is magnificently envisaged in Empedocles, whose description of the pulsating becoming of the cosmos (fr. 35) echoes the movement of systole and diastole, the alternation of contraction and expansion regulating the relation between blood and air in respiration (fr. 100). A similar gesture can be discerned even in the Platonic texts, for example in the Phaedrus, where Socrates delights in the “breath of the place” in the countryside (230c), and in the Phaedo, where one finds an analogy as remarkable as it is unmistakably Empedoclean in tenor. Here Socrates speaks of the rivers and air flowing in and out of Tartarus and outlines a kind of respiration of the earth: “just as the breath of the breathing ones always breathes forth and draws breath in,” he says, “so the breath in that place oscillates together with the liquid and brings about certain fearful and uncontrollable winds as it moves in and out” (112b). In the Phaedrus, finally, Socrates’ osmotic relation to place would, alone, warrant an extended study. Pervasively in this dialogue, place breathes and speaks through Socrates, inspiring him in a quite literal sense, bringing him to utter “aerial words,” as Sappho said (Edmonds, fr. 1a). Thus, in its pointing to and occurring as the recurrence of inspiration and expiration, of breathing in and breathing out, poetry (“radical geometry”) discloses another sense of metron: measure as meter, beat–the time or rhythm of the earth.

A few concluding observations on the intertwined themes of inspiration, meter (measure, beat), and life may be in order. These closing remarks are, all too quickly, laid out by reference to Homer, specifically by reference to three moments in the Iliad.

The first of these passages associates soul, breath, and wind in a strikingly synthetic gesture. Sarpedon, sitting beneath a beautiful oak dear to Zeus, has a spear extracted from his thigh: “His soul left him, and down over his eyes a mist was cast. / He caught his breath again, and the breath of the North wind as it breathed around him / restored him to life after he had painfully breathed forth his animation” (V. 696-98).

Two more passages further clarify the connection between soul and aliveness: “that a man’s soul should come back,” says Achilles, “neither plundering / nor conquest may grant, once it has passed the fence of the teeth” (IX.408-9). And, once more calling attention to the cluster of aliveness and breath: “Hector revived,” breathed, received breath again (XI. 359).

Third, a final fragment recalls the association of breath with a certain openness and vulnerability. One will always have been open to attuning affections, exposed to unknown transmissions (sendings from the unknown), receptive to suggestions and guidance inspiring a course of action, equally subject to being paralyzed or filled with unaccountable strength–an experience so remarkable as to be related in terms of divine intervention: “into him gray-eyed Athena breathed force” (X.482).

What emerges from these sayings is the intimation of a certain belonging together of inspiration and aliveness. The source of inspiration, and ultimately of song, appears to be the same as the source of life. Poetic meter could thus be heard as one manifestation of the alternation of breathing in (inspiration) and breathing out (expiration), an alternation that constitutes the rhythm of life, indeed, the rhythms of lives in their multiplicity. In its measure, the verse would be guided and sustained by breath in its particular quality: the poetic metron would be a measure of breath and measured by breath. Following inspiration (in-breath), exhalation would occur as a singing out, giving back what was given and received, giving back in the mode of inspired vocalization, singing restitution. According to such a measure breath would be harmonized.

And yet, admittedly, “natural” breath, the breath of bodies, even of earth, does not occur by art. Indeed, one would want to affirm that it occurs “by nature.” One should not exploit the multivocal, even equivocal character of the term “breath” beyond a certain point: despite the undeniable homonymy, inspiration as the source of poetic utterance (of what is called “inspired singing”) should not be confused with inspiration as in-breath, the source of out-breath. To this one may reply, however, that inspired singing, this artful breathing out in response to what was breathed in, still presents itself as both a repetition and a transposition of the physiological phenomenon. It occurs on the rippled surface of air drawn into and sent out of the body, and in this sense it somehow repeats, redoubles the organic process of respiration. It also diverges from physiological rhythm, indeed brings it into more or less formalized patterns, and in this sense it transposes the organic process of respiration. Furthermore, it should be specified that, however “artful” and “by art,” inspired singing may be no mere matter of technique. No simple contrast of nature/artful production (phusis/tekhne) is entailed here. Rather, the making (poiesis) of poetic elocution may be understood as meditation and elaboration on the interface between phusis and tekhne.

Thus, the breath that occurs as inspired singing bespeaks no ideal, no technical perfection or calculation. It involves no attempt at perfecting/regulating the occurrence of physiological breath according to a technical precept. Rather, it may now be heard as physiological breath doubling itself, awakening to itself, becoming (as it were) conscious of itself. Here, however, “becoming self-conscious” is not understood as requiring self-enclosure and self-possession, but rather in terms of self-dispossession, of divine/earthly possession, of possession by an other, that is, in terms of the experience of an other breathing through one, carrying one away–with concomitant amazement, wonder, awe. In this manner “self-consciousness” would, to be sure, indicate an awakening to oneself–but an awakening to oneself that, far from culminating in self-mastery, would occur through a stirring that is not one’s own and does not originate, let alone belong, in oneself. Self-consciousness would come to indicate primarily this fundamental and

traumatic experience or undergoing–a reminder of an inappropriable, irreducible remainder–the unconscious, perhaps. Once again, geometry would emerge (if barely recognizable, radicalized, transfigured) as the attempt of humans at coming to terms with themselves.


(1) These inceptive remarks already intimate that, strictly speaking, in this context the word “earth” signifies neither merely one of the radical components (“roots”) of the elemental fourfold of Empedoclean physics nor simply the “globe-shaped” body of post-Copernican astronomy. Rather, this word is taken to point to what grounds and exceeds both the pre-Socratic intuition of earth as an element in the becoming of nature and the view of modern astrophysics, which lets the earth appear as a celestial body among celestial bodies. Empedocles’s language itself points to something like an “earlier earth,” earth “before” earth understood as one of the four radical constituents. Indeed, the very language of fire, air, water, and earth as “roots” suggests earth as a more primordial ground in which the roots are rooted–earth as the elemental itself in its manifoldness, complexity, and unity, in(de)finitely prior to earth as a mere component of the manifold. In this more originary sense, the word “earth” indicates that which gives rise to and supports all that is: the indeterminately elusive, literally most archaic datum, the condition of experience as well as becoming, of that “mixing and separating” to which, Empedocles says, humans give the name phusis, nature (fr. 8). (Unless otherwise indicated, the pre-Socratic fragments here and for the rest of the essay are taken from the Diels-Krauz edition [1959-1960]. All translations from the Greek are my own.) Analogously to phusis, which names both what comes to pass (the beings of nature) and the hidden source of such upsurge (see also the Heraclitean dictum in fr. 123), earth signifies both a body among bodies, a singular elemental-material mode and the condition for bodies, embodiment, the modes of matter–for the cosmos, in short. This cluster of issues is taken up by Husserl in “Ground-laying Investigations toward the Phenomenological Origin of the Spatiality of Nature” (1940). See also Sallis (1994).

(2) The association of the intellectual operation with the notion of labor is here deliberate. At stake, as will later become evident, is the indication of noetic work in its organic, literally physical-physiological (phusis-related) character and, thus, of its trials and tribulations, procreative dimension, etc. In this connection one particularly thinks of (and responds to) Hannah Arendt’s elaboration of labor in, for example, The Human Condition (1958), which explicates labor in terms of basic metabolic functions while resolutely distinguishing it from the activity of thinking. In the present essay it will be a matter, then–let this be said in an anticipatory fashion–of reflecting on the relation between what, being attributed to nature, is often indicated as mechanical or automatic and the repeatability, in fact the necessarily iterative propagation constitutive of ideality.

(3) See Husserl, The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1962), esp. Beilage III, “The Origin of Geometry.” On the issue of the production, and hence transcendental historicity of idealities (whether geometrical objects or numbers), see also Husserl’s early meditation, Concerning the Concept of Number, taken up again in Philosophy of Arithmetic (1970).

(4) Concerning the knowledge of number as emerging in strict relation to the practices of counting and number as belonging to the things counted, see Jacob Klein’s analysis of the Greek experience (1968: 46-60).

(5) This association of historical discourse, in its possibility and formulation, with an understanding of becoming-temporality as cyclical, should be underlined. The insight of cyclical recurrence is developed in cosmological terms by Empedocles (paradigmatically in fragments 17, 26, 38). Plato’s Timaeus offers a remarkable meditation on the fragmentary and discontinuous character of history in light of natural cycles of disruption.

(6) It is ultimately on this problem that Michel Serres focuses in Les Origines de la geometrie (1993). This is also what lies at the heart of the divergence internal to transcendental philosophy, namely, between the Kant of the first Critique (for whom the concept is neither grounded in the subject’s intuition nor, subsequently, historically constituted) and Husserl (who, in his attempt at overcoming both ahistorical rationalism and empirical historicism, understands ideal objects as intuitively constituted and hence grounded in a history which, however transcendental, is neither merely formal nor simply extraneous to materiality and contingency). It is here that one witnesses the contrast between the language of discovery (of what autonomously subsists) and that of production, founding, or even invention. For a different interpretation of Kant vis-a-vis the question of the “production” of ideality, see David Rapport Lachterman (1989).

(7) A recent article in the New York Times expounded current debates among physicists concerning the possibility of objective cosmological knowledge. In the wake of relativity and quantum mechanics, the “new” physics articulates its vision of the cosmos in terms of interaction, mutuality, relation: “According to relativity, each place in the universe is unique and thus yields a unique viewpoint. As a result, [Dr. Smolin] suggests, we have to abandon the idea that any single observer can compile a complete description of the universe. It may be that cosmological knowledge is a community effort, with each individual only able to attain a piece of the truth…. The stories we tell about nature seem to be connected to the stories we tell about ourselves…. “See Overbye (2001). It is important to underscore that these considerations in contemporary physics are hardly novel. Aristotle himself, in the Metaphysics, draws a connection between the love of stories (muthoi) and the love of wisdom (982611-16). And, concerning the pursuit of knowledge as a choral enterprise, Aristotle adds: “The investigation (theoria) of the truth is in one sense difficult, in another easy. A sign of this is the fact that neither can one attain it adequately, nor do all fail, but each says something about nature; and while each of us contributes nothing or little to the truth, a considerable amount of it results from all our contributions” (993a30-b2).

(8) On the earth turned into the “theater” of human deeds, more precisely of warfare (the bloody river swelling as a consequence of Achilles’ fury), and on the physio-political disasters thereby announced, see Serres (1995), esp. the chapters “War, Peace,” and “Natural Contract.”

(9) In this connection, Beilage XXVIII to the Krisis (“Contestation of Scientific Philosophy–Necessity of Reflection–the Reflection [Must Be] Historical–How is History Required?” [“Bestreitung der wissenschaftlichen Philosophie–Notwendigkeit der Besinnung–die Besinnung historisch–wie bedarf es der Geschichte?”]) is of particular interest. It opens with the striking statement: “Philosophy as science, as earnest, rigorous, indeed, apodeictically rigorous science–the dream is past dreaming (der Traum ist ausgetraumt)” (1962: 508; my translation). Here Husserl acknowledges the hermeneutical problems inherent in history, in the structures of communication and transmission constitutive of it. History is made to emerge in its thickness and opacity, in its discontinuity and nonlinear developments. Not surprisingly, in this context “historical interpretation” ends up being associated with Dichtung, with the lack of transparency and the nonsystematic modes of signification characteristic (though perhaps not exclusively) of poetry.

(10) In order to continue to suggest, as has been done since the beginning of the present discussion, a certain convergence of ancient Greek (classical as well as preclassical) and contemporary phenomenological motifs, a further reference to Aristotle may be opportune here. In the Metaphysics, after the remarks quoted earlier on the pursuit of the truth as based on community, Aristotle states: “It is just to be grateful not only to those with whose opinion we may agree, but also to those who have formulated rather superficial opinions; for they, too, have contributed something, that is, they have handed down to us the habit [of thinking]” (993611-13).

(11) Among Derrida’s early works on Husserl, however varied in focus and perspective, one should recall Le Probleme de la genese dans la philosophie de Husserl (1990), Introduction a “L’Origine de la geometrie” de Husserl (1962), and La Voix et le phenomene: introduction au probleme du signe dans la phenomenologie de Husserl (1967). It should be said that Derrida’s work has continued, far beyond the time of his explicit engagement with Husserl, to be haunted by the problems encountered in the discourse of classical phenomenology.

(12) In Beilage III to the Krisis (on “The Origin of Geometry”), Husserl associates the knowing (always already operative in and for us) of the “present world,” a knowing that grounds us in certainty and guides us as we live in this world, with the scientific “will to know” that cannot but assume not-knowing and the unknown character of the world. In a certain sense, what the scientific stance calls “not-knowing” is the same as the knowing that yields the prescientific horizon of certainty. Whether designated as not-knowing or as an other knowing (certain and indubitable, however latent), again it is clear that the living ground out of which stem both the sciences and the phenomenological self-reflection is in no way merely prediscursive or nondiscursive, a matter of mute sensory immediacy. Says Husserl: “Always already do we know (wissen) of our present world and that we live in it, always surrounded by an openly endless horizon of unknown actualities (von unbekannten Wirklichkeiten). This knowing (Wissen) as horizon-certainty is not anything learned, not a knowing that was ever actual (aktuell) and has only sunk back to be assimilated to the background; the horizon-certainty had already to be in order to be capable of being laid out thematically, it is already assumed beforehand in order for us to will to know (um wissen zu wollen) what we do not yet know. All not-knowing (Nichtwissen) concerns the unknown world (unbekannte Welt), which still is in advance for us as world, as the horizon of all questions pertaining to the present (Gegenwartsfragen), and thus, too, all [questions] that are specifically historical (historischen)” (1962: 382; my translation).

(13) The question of khora and of the possibility of a khorology–that is, the question of an alterity that strains language and tests its limits–belongs here as a concern of what is here called “radical geometry.” On this issue and on the deformation/delimitation of discourse entailed by it, see Derrida (1993) and Sallis (1999).

(14) The question of technology haunts phenomenological thinking, most notably in Husserl and Heidegger. It is remarkable that, as is increasingly manifest today, the techno-sciences should serve as the normative paradigm by reference to which all other modes of research and inquiry should be defined, measured, and evaluated in their outcome and relevance. In light of their uprootedness, the positive, positing, or applied sciences appear to be least likely to acknowledge basic questions as such, least capable of providing a comprehensive context for their formulation. It is, in this sense, a less than felicitous paradox that one should turn precisely to the sciences to find answers, most notably about questions such as: What is to be done?

(15) Derrida opens “Signature, Event, Context” precisely by calling into question the traditional concept of truth and communication as an unproblematic “transportation” of meaning. In contrast, Derrida points toward communication (as well as truth) as effect, as reconfiguring movement, interplay, and propagation of forces (1982: 309).


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CLAUDIA BARACCHI, I wish to thank Dr. Daniela Vallega-Neu for her generous as well as insightful comments on this project in its nascent stage. I am also grateful to Dr. Gregg Horowitz for his punctual and exacting response to an earlier draft of the present essay.

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