Miscellaneous Works:解説・評論・講義:A Note

CPA Special
Tribute to Jacques Derrida 1930-2004

A Note: 
Jacques Derrida, Signéponge/Signsponge

Jacques Derrida creates linguistic fantasy. This is our starting point. To be exact, he has been and is creating linguistic fantasy, which annuls the generic boundary between the scientific (linguistics) and the fictional (fantasy) by means of his strategic metaphorics. Therefore, as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak states, “If a metaphor seems to suppress its implications, we shall catch at that metaphor. We shall follow its adventures through the text and see the text coming undone as a structure of concealment, revealing its self-transgression, its undecidability” (“Translator's Preface” to Of Grammatology, lxxv).

Francis Ponge represents Imagistic obsession. This is also our starting point. Ponge scholars can be divided into a couple of trends —those who, like George Schlocker and Ian Higgins, emphasize his thing-centered phenomenology (Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol.3, 96-97 and Francis Ponge) on the one hand, and those who, like M. Girard and Gaetan Picon, investigate his human-centered existentialism (Cassel's Encyclopedia of World Literature, Vol.3, 343 and World Literature since 1945, 242-244) on the other. The former clarifies Ponge's Imagism, while the latter his obsession.

But might we not suspect that Ponge himself had beforehand obfuscated such an interpretative boundary between objectivism (Imagism) and subjectivism (obsession)?

Do not ask, however, why on earth Ponge is not introduced here ahead of Derrida. Of course Ponge might have been thus introduced, but, we are sure, it would have made no difference. For in the text of Signéponge/Signsponge we can recognize no idea or lapse of time in the diachronical senses. Time is being entrapped by the Derridean textuality which differentiates, though paradoxically, the Pongean textuality by making no difference between the precursor and the latecomer. No human time but only textual time. No fate, but only chance, because, according to William Kerrigan and Joseph H. Smith, Derrida has stolen writing from the old metaphor for fate and rethought it as a major new metaphor for chance. And the proper/generic name for the taking of this chance is ‘deconstruction.'”
(“Introduction” to Taking Chances: Derrida, Psychoanalysis, and Literature, xiv)

Then, how does the metaphor of chance function in the linguistic structure of the work? First of all, we are informed of the motif-sentence, “Francis Ponge will have been self-remarked,” which is to be repeated, varied quite musically, and be commentated rather parodically. This is the commentator's starting point. So we may regard this very motif-sentence as the primary text, into whose deceptive abyss descends Ponge' s work as well as his life.

Derrida begins with a deconstruction of the name “Francis Ponge,” displacing Francis Ponge as the proper name of a man with “Francis Ponge” as the thingness of the name. His is an adequate strategy, because, as Higgins points out, “the pleasurable awareness of the thing as a thing is a re-awakening to the relation between it and the word, and so, a questioning of the received notions. ... This questioning takes the form, in Ponge's poetry, of an investigation of the relation between words and things” (Francis Ponge, 52).

In Derrida's definition the thing has the law of singularity/difference, which demands the impossible. And to the extent that this law makes a text/the text“an event,” “The drama that activates and constructs every signature” can be considered as “this insistent, unwearying, potentially infinite repetition of something that remains, every time, irreplaceable” (20).

Next, Derrida, turning to the orthodox link between the text and the proper name of the person who retains the copyright, attempts to re-examine the significance of the signature. The thing proper becomes thick with the other meaning, just as a clean cloth becomes dirty with the soil. It is exactly here that the Derridean metaphorics boasts of its ability; based upon the analogy between tissue and text, he calls up “the washing machine,” Citing a sentence from Ponge,“... yes, we have to come back again to our object; once again we have to rinse our idea in clean water” (38). Thus, the process gets clearer —(property - dissemination - reappropriation) —showing Hegelian (dialectical) tint of the metaphor.

The Derridean deconstruction, however, is effectively deconstructive on condition that it decenters the Hegelian dialectics. In consequence, what this commentator has to debunk in language is not synthesis but“the double bind of a signature event” (64). This is the reason why Derrida usually sticks to rebus, metonymy, and anagram which all endorse the essence of his own system,“the playfulness of language/meaning.”Therefore, no wonder he succeeds in selecting“sponge” as the most appropriate metaphor, inspired by“Ponge” the name/the thing.“On the one hand, the sponge expunges the proper name, puts it outside of itself, effaces and loses it, soils it as well in order to make it into a common noun; ... But simultaneously, the sponge can also retain the name, absorb it, shelter it. and keep it within itself” (64). To sum up, the sponge functions as the metaphor of textual undecidability, “unreadability” in de Man's term, and Ponge is the sponge, vice versa. What is more, Derrida makes it doubly sure, not simply noticing the equivalence between the sponge and the“medusa” in Ponge's La Seine, but also laying bare what he meant by the motif-sentence,“Francis Ponge will have been self-remarked.” —The sponge remarks itself. And so it annuls itself, removes itself, carries itself away, concerns itself ...” (14).

Most of the Part II is devoted to prolonging the duration of“sign-sponge” discussed in the Part I. Newly invented metaphors are“breadcrumb” as the counterpart of the sponge and the“sponge- towel” whose story is“a story with the name of fiction, a simulacrum and effect of language (fabula)” (102). But we should not ignore above all, his mention of what may be called“metascience.” Making of the text in itself as“an applied science of interminability, of non-saturability,” he pays much attention to“the undecidable with respect to language, effects of naming (proper or common names), a science of chance (alea) putting its subject into play” (116). This kind of science questions the hierarchical boundary between the text and the signature, confronting the commentator with the fact that“The signature is the placement in abyss (of the proper) itself: exappropriation” (132).

Moreover, this“metascience,” which is to be named“the quantum mechanics of the book-writing/reading,” gives access even to a new“signature rerum” (50& 134) to be counterfeited with Christian theology as its model.

What seemed most attractive was, nonetheless,“Afterpiece (Proofs)” and Afterpiece (II).”; they provide us with a brilliant summary of the whole book. In the former, the commentator observes the paper bound around the New Collection of Ponge that reads“BOUND TO TAKE OFF / signed: Ponge.” It naturally gives him an occasion to enjoy the undecidability of the word ‘bound' itself which can be interpreted either as a noun or as a verb, leading him to a conclusion that“The signature spreads over everything, but ... makes itself take off by saying about it, ‘bound'!” (150). In the latter, Derrida recollects having xeroxed this band whose letters are white, whereas whose background is red, only to find that“The red turned into black. But by the same stroke the black of the signature sank into it, disappearing into the abyss” (152). Put simply, the abyss of the red has actually read (digested, literally/metaphorically) the black of the signature, thereby metamorphosing itself into the blackness of ink! As clearly seen above, the Derridean commentary has finally replaced the Pongean Imagistic obsession, while the Pongean rhetoric the Derridean linguistic fantasy. Hence, being readers of the Ponge reader/Derrida the reader, we might as well replace even the very title Signsponge with the aptest one, that is, Jacquesponge.
October 2, 1984

*This book review was completed as my first term paper for Literary Theory class Professor Jonathan Culler taught at Cornell University in the fall of 1984.