The Abocular Hypothesis, Or “Drawing the Blind”


. . . there is no self-portrait without confession. The author of the self-portrait does not show himself, . . . does not lead one to knowledge, he admits a fault and asks for forgiveness. . . . At the moment when the self-portraitist fends off the temptations of sight and calls for this conversion from the light to the light, from the outward realm to the realm within, it is a theory of the blind that unfolds.

                                 --Jacques Derrida, Memoires of the Blind (117)


Derridathemovie profoundly plays with the slippery issues of light, of enlightenment, of lightness, of cinematic spot-lighting. And it plays with the occlusion of en-lightenment, the dynamics of seeing and not seeing, saying and not saying, of the “telling” of and by Derrida. The layers and laminations of which the film is comprised slip across, under, and around one another in a textual and semiotic dance of light, at once coy and confrontive, uneasy and familiar, blinding us with insight and with lack of light. As a film, it is a remarkable achievement, the first of a new kind of cinematic pensum. Like deconstruction, Derridathemovie (as I will call it here, since though it is many things it is not, acknowledges that it is not, and refuses to be, Derrida) constructs, with great care that is simultaneously disguised as a kind of improvisation, the interrogation out of which Derrida’s own textual questions emanate. Derrida’s “own” question, who or what is writing?, transmutes in the film into the Nietzschean question, who is asking this question and of what might any adequate response consist? And, by extension, in what medium?


What would be new and enlightening about a deconstructed film? a film on deconstruction? or on Derrida? How would such a project orchestrate with a larger notion of textuality or texturality, image and text? How to explore across the Derridean pensum without the conceit of accounting for it? In a world of grammatology, how is one to locate a/the voice or, indeed, the eye?


How must an enlightenment au sujet de Derrida be structured? How much? How spontaneous must it—such a portrait—be to “capture” the “subject” adequately? Of what would this adequacy consist? Can such a portrait be captured only “on the run”? Or is the subject “himself” always on the run? Derrida’s work over the last four decades has so radically changed the nature, not merely the interpretation, of textuality, and thus of semiosis in general, precisely around the issue of what might be called “textual spontaneity” (différance, re-iteration, grammatological debt, etc.) that any such portraiture is ipso facto subject to a new sort of radical scrutiny. And Derrida is not only responsible for this, but energetically complicit in its implementation.


Fortunately, so is Derridathemovie. In the film’s “Echo and Narcissus” section, Amy Kofman’s serene and thoughtful voice-over—and it is a most enigmatic and unenlightening—disembodied—voice, as though attempting not to disturb the limpid surface of the [cinematic] pond into which we gaze, gently intones a passage from what a superimposed text tells us is an “unpublished interview”—already an enigma of insight—in which Derrida says that “it’s not easy to improvise; it’s all prescribed. So I believe in improvisation.” Derrida’s deceptively soothing, inner (woman’s) voice then goes on to say that “to speak is not to see; in speech one is blind.” I am repeatedly particularly struck by this segment of the film precisely because of its pointing to what I find to be the film’s suspended central tension, the dynamic incommensurability of both seeing and not seeing, saying and not saying, a play of text and image or, said in another way, of revelation and concealment, all within the context of other central issues of confession.


“In speech one is blind,” Derrida says. And since both words and images speak so elusively and so eloquently in the film that this assertion is persistently radically foregrounded. Within the context of this play of occlusion and confession, a provocative way to look at the impossible question of seeing and saying, saying and seeing, raised by the film is through another of Derrida’s works which is also about seeing and saying: Mémoires d’aveugle, though this is not one of the nine works directly cited in the film. Memoires too deals with autoportraiture, as does Derridathemovie. At the heart of Mémoires d’aveugle, whose subtitle is “The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins,” is an enigmatic proposition Derrida calls the abocular hypothesis,” which literally frames that work, as Derrida thinks it through in depth in both Mémoires’s introductory and concluding sections. My hypothesis here is that a thinking through of Derridathemovie in light of this “abocular hypothesis” can enhance an appreciation of the readily-apparent triumphs of the film.


The ab-ocular hypothesis, then, as applied to Derridathemovie.


What does Derrida mean, in Memoires, by this curious word and phrase, “the abocular hypothesis,” which seems at once so specific and so inaccessible, so clear and yet so vague? A quick pre-mémoire or introduction:

abocular = (Latin) ab (out of, from) + oculis (the eye)

Thus, and immediately, the “abocular” is constructed on an in-built incommensurability, in that “out of or from the eye can mean either

a)    emanating from within the eye, or

b)    away or separate, distant or discrete from, the eye, created from within or received from without by the eye—a perfect (im)balance of the conundrum of autoportraiture . . .

In either case, Derrida is at play with blindness; indeed he points out at the beginning of Mémoires that “ab-oculis” is in fact the root, in French, of aveugle, blind. The work’s title, Mémoires d’aveugle, is itself a blind: not quite accurately translated into its published form in English as “memoires of the blind,” but also not quite by the more literal and odder “memoires of blind” nor by the equally accurate but equally ungrammatical “memoires of blind man.” The enigmatic blindness of the title itself reflects upon all of those memoires of the blind not mentioned by Derrida here—is the blind man Narcissus, with his particular version of reflective blindness? or so many others, from the blind Homer to Tiresias/Oedipus to Gloucester/Lear to Beckett’s Hamm/Clov to . . . But in fact Memoires is in fact at least at first glance a book not only about blindness but no less about drawing, and therefore about portraits or visual mémoires. In Derrida’s text, which is the accompanying text or memoire for an exhibition of images or portraits of blindness and the blind, selected by Derrida and mounted in the Napoléon Hall of the Louvre in 1990-91, the abocular hypothesis is a provisional interpretation of drawing-as-such, and of the blind-as-such. In Mémoires, “to draw” begins with its most literal meaning, to drawing as dessiner, the drawing of images; “drawing the blind” is a question of producing images of the sightless. But of course (this is Derrida!) one would be neglectful at best in forgetting that other “to draw,” tirer, to draw or pull; in this sense, “drawing the blind” takes on imolications even more appropriate to Derridathemovie, revealing itself as a doubly re-doubled slippage of drawing the blind that is at once, and simultaneously, both an act of privacy, drawing the blind over someone or something as in covering or concealing oneself and protecting one’s privacy, and also drawing the blind as dis-covering oneself as in a revelation or confession, drawing the blind aside.


The doubled concealment/revelation nature of this drawing, as Derrida implements it, is the double to the doubling of concealment/revelation produced by the artist’s hand in drawn images of the blind. The theme of concealment/revelation echoes throughout the history of philosophy and literature, from the perspicuous Homer’s blind epic tales and Plato’s drawing of the blind over them in his interdictions against Homeric excess in The Republic’s Book X, to Genesis’s recounting of Ham’s transgression against his blind-drunk father Noah’s privacy in drawing open the blind of Noah’s tent and gazing upon his nakedness, an act rewarded by Ham’s blinding, to Samuel I’s story of Eli, the blind teacher of Samuel and the great first judge of Israel—and the fore-bearer of “Derrida’s secret name,” as Derridathemovie informs us, or Nietzsche’s well-known near-blindness. . . . Indeed, the theme of drawing the blind is manifestly canonical.


In all of these recountings, as in countless others, however, the abocular hypothesis is not merely a matter of a concealment/revelation dyad, concealment or revelation, but rather of the elision of concealment and revelation, a parabolic telling that does not tell, a showing forth that does not show. This other supplement, the excess of this “and,” is at the heart of deconstruction and of Derridathemovie. In the film as in Mémoires, “dessiner and “tirer are in perpetual slippage, interrogations of autoportraiture. Indeed, Derridathemovie goes further, reminding the viewer repeatedly that all portraiture, drawn in images or texts, however apparently constructive or deconstructive, is autoportraiture that shows, as auto-biography, and does not show, as parody; deconstruction steps onto the Nietzschean/Zarathustran tightrope: suspended between autobiography and parody, the revelation of some posited internality and transgressive divergence.


This concerted and orchestrated multiplicity, difference at the origin, is a kind of watermark in Derridathemovie, elusively embedded in the very fabric of the medium and a significant aspect of the palimpsestic nature of any image/text. The opening of difference and of différance (yes, mother, the one with an “a”—you can look it up in Robert) accounts for the critical wariness endemic to deconstruction, film and text. Derrida addresses this wariness in a specific way in Memoires: “skepticism,” he says at the very opening of the book, though it might be or have been said about the experience both of making and seeing/hearing the film:

skepticism is precisely what I’ve been talking to you about: the difference between believing and seeing, between believing one sees [croire voir] and seeing between, catching a glimpse [entrevoir]—or not. Before doubt ever becomes a system, skepsis has to do with the eyes. The word refers to visual perception, to the observation, vigilance, and attention of the gaze [regard] during an examination. One is on the lookout, one reflects upon what one sees, reflects what one sees by delaying the moment of conclusion. Keeping the thing in sight, one keeps on looking at it. The judgement depends on the hypothesis. (1)

This passage in itself might stand as an excellent interpretation of deconstruction and of Derridathemovie. And it is in the immediate aftermath of this skepsis that Derrida proceeds to lay out the abocular hypothesis. Skepsis is its frame, but in that most familiar of Derridean gestures, it is a frame that will not hold, does not frame. The abocular hypothesis, as presented in Memoires is not, of course, presented as a Cyclopean eye of monocular vision, a single or singular hypothesis, but rather as a double vision, ab-ocular, a hypothesis and a hypothesis, or a hypothesis and the parodic double of a hypothesis; the abocular hypothesis is for Derrida minimally two hypotheses (think how many Derrida’s are in Derridathemovie . . . ); this hypothesis out of the eye or out of enlightenment consists of two parts:

First hypothesis: the drawing is blind. (2)

Drawing portraits, Derrida asserts, is a blind groping—and therefore an autoreflection. Drawing (with words or pencils) is a self-search and, as such, is always a blind monologue. This for Derrida is the particular blindness or myopia of narcissism, but also of all writing, all saying, all inscribing. This folding back or “retreat [re-trait]” (3) upon the object of scrutiny, another way of saying “narcissism,” is the parodic and paradoxical mark of interrogation of any identity in any work in any genre, be it book, film, poem or confession, an interrogative mark raised perpetually as an issue in Derridathemovie in precisely these terms.


But the blindness of (the) drawing is, it might be said, semi)abocular. For Derrida this first proposition is inexorably linked with a second, its echo with a difference:

Second hypothesis: a drawing of the blind is a drawing of the blind. (2)

This proposition in more angular, less accessible, but fundamental to Derrida’s notion of drawing and equally appropriate to Derridathemovie. In drawing the blind, the artist/portraitist draws (the) blind; to draw is to interrogate blindness and drawing. In Mémoires, Derrida is concerned with the conversation between the visuality of the visual image, on the one hand, and the matrix of its theoretical parergon or frame, on the other. To engage as a participant in (a) drawing, seeing or doing it, Derrida asserts, as in a portrait or mémoire of Jacques Derrida in a film, is to address “the origin of drawing” (3)—which is always blind, producing itself without reflection. A writer, poet, or film-maker re-engages the origin of the medium in exploring it and bringing it to light, blindly/originally, just as the philosopher may fall into a well, blindly, while contemplating a “star” . . .


The echo-chamber of the abocular hypothesis, a double figure of auto-portraiture, ineluctably challenges the issue of the dispersed nature of art-making and of image/text production. Portraiture in the Derrida film (since the film is at least in significant part a documentary portrait, as we are told a vital “record” of “Derrida”) is thus a pensum (in the sense in which Roland Barthes discusses it with regard to photography in his Camera Lucida) on the blind-as-veil and as condition, and on the nature of a/the blind and blindness-as-such. The film’s abocular hypothesis: to draw Derrida . . . out, in a multi-layered portrait of Derrida “himself,” and in the process to draw out the nature of deconstruction, of cinematics itself as a possible strategy of deconstruction of Derrida in and through a double drawing of the blind—that remains blind in its accomplishment. In being “about” deconstruction, with all the resonances and harmonics in that “about”—around and about—the film is also “about” the “drawing” (out and back) of Derrida-as-such, a portrait of the actions and processes of deconstruction, all within a portrait of Derrida. Dessiner/tirer: to draw and to draw, a multi-valent, laminar strategy that takes (and gives) account of portraiture, the multiplicity of drawing, drawing in another genre (cinema, that most evanescent, hybrid genre) and drawing as metaphor (drawing of, drawing out, drawing from). Like all portraits this one also exploits its subject for other, multiple, cross-purposes.


The abocular: whatever else Derridathemovie may be, and it is indeed many hybrid things, from a Derridean perspective, i.e. as a drawing of the blind, it is finally and ineluctably eccentric—ex-centric—autoportraiture, as Jacques himself points out to the camera crew as they stand behind the camera/eye like blind ghosts of the act of drawing in film, out of sight of the viewer, who is generally no more nor less than a double eaves-dropper, watching the action and listening to the often un-related parergonal voice-over (which is not quite a voice-over: the interlocutor is invisibly in the location of, but not in, the scene); Derrida is the focus, the interlocutor is the focuser: it is his and their autoportrait, just as it then becomes ours; an autoportrait drawing in and on that liminal space of difference between believing and seeing, between genres, inter-generic precisely in that original sense of Hypothesis 2’s emphasis on the law of genre: the film is a geste suspended between or stretched between philosophy and biography, tribute and documentary, quotidian journal and archive, tightly-structured formality and the informe. In this interstice one might remember the abocular Derrida in The Truth in Painting, claiming that there is never and can never be what he calls there the “pure cut” that can successfully negotiate the multi-layered lamination of image and text of which, in the case of this iteration of “his” film, cinema consists. The pure cut is re-opened and re-sutured each time one turns a blind eye to it.


Drawing blind, Derridathemovie persists frame by frame in its subtextual interrogation asking, again and again, What then might a “true portrait” consist of? What might a “record” of Derrida and of deconstruction actually be? Or, as Derrida asks in Mémoires, Should one believe what one sees in a portrait? And if so, then how? In what context, what register? That skepsis Derrida has laid down in Mémoires echoes behind these questions again,

the difference between believing and seeing, between believing one sees [croire voir] and seeing between, catching a glimpse [entrevoir]—or not. . . . Skepsis has to do with the eyes. The word refers to visual perception, to the observation, vigilance, and attention of the gaze [regard] during an examination. One is on the lookout, one reflects upon what one sees, reflects what one sees by delaying the moment of conclusion.

Portraiture, then, in this case documentary and archival portraiture, as a pensum on blindness, on the nature of the blind that is, hypothetically, to be drawn, and on the ocular and conceptual skepticism that frames any portrait.


The abocular hypothesis tells us that drawing the blind away from himself before, in advance of and in front of, the filmmakers, and thus before any and all, Derrida is drawing a blind over himself, sur lui-même (as he persistently does throughout the film). His strategy is also one of calling attention to “the origin of drawing,” dessiner and tirer, as he says in Mémoires “a certain pensive pose, a memory of the trait that speculates, as in a dream, about its own possibility” (3). Its potency always develops on the brink of blindness. This is precisely the resistant and acquiescent pose Derrida takes so pervasively and subtly in the film, and which in response it takes toward him. Derrida’s and the film’s drawing of the blind across himself, a concealment-in-revelation, and its drawing of the blind from him, a revelation-in-concealment, form dynamic and subtle cross-currents that struggle with and resist one another productively from beginning (the reflective, multi-layered drive into Paris in the film) to end (the full-screen close-up—a true and traditional portrait—of Derrida’s face), and which have been prepared for from early on in the film:

SCENE: The camera/eye peers over Derrida’s shoulder, the snowy back of his head as parergon camera-right, his face and eyes invisible, facing with the camera toward a video monitor on which appears the image—of a video screen, on which is the image (from the archive of this very film) of Jacques and Marguerite sitting on a sofa . . . It is as though Jacques were seeing his own reflection in the curious mirror of videation. In the taped footage the camera watches with Derrida (assuming that he is actually watching it), Jacques complains that he has been interrupted, that his “reflection” on a question posed by the interlocutor cannot be “reflected” (his word, in English) upon because a piece of lighting equipment, the “reflector,” which he wrongly and appropriately calls a “protector,” is being adjusted by the ghostly crew, of whom only a shadow fleetingly appears. Derrida in the video pauses; Derrida watching Derrida does not move; we all reflect.

Could one imagine a more powerful contemporary reflective re-drawing of Plato’s cave?: Derrida’s multiply-framed and multiply-receding image (a multiple electronic shadow among other shadows) in charged, reflective stillness, as in Plato an effect of light, seeing his reflection on the pixilated wall of his study, as other(ed) shadows flit across our peripheral vision. In Mémoires Derrida says that “the Platonic speliology develops . . . an ‘image’ of all possible blindnesses, an ‘icon’” (13); increasingly through the course of the film, Derrida indeed transmutes into an icon, Derrida as Derrida, and as abocular blindness itself, a with-draw, reflective, eyeless or fathomless visage.


In the terms laid down by the abocular hypothesis this is precisely what Derrida is and must continuously be and become in the film, though and because Kirby and Amy have drawn masterfully, iconizing and undermining or interrogating the iconicity of Jacques’s image (it’s next to impossible to “de-biblify” that hair, as we see clearly at the beginning of the film as we follow him to the hair-dresser . . . but we now know that he likes aubergines, and that he langorously spreads honey on his English muffin . . . quelle audace! ). And after all, does not Derrida himself self-critiquingly point out at the film’s start that the film-portraitist and the deconstructive philosopher share a similar fate: to fall in that well while looking at a “star”; at this “telling” moment Derrida quite literally draws his own portrait, his index fingers rising to his neck to point up, like little styluses, at his face, Donatello-like—as the most impish of Derridean smiles emerges.


To their credit and as further evidence of the veracity of Derridathemovie as a deconstructive pensum, the film and the film-makers never let this iconicity stand unquestioned. Every reverent moment contains its counter-signature. This is one of the film’s most satisfying gifts, since it is significantly a film about gifts out of the eye. As it holds out a gift of confession and of insight to the viewer; in the gift of manipulation in drawing (what Derrida calls “the gift of drawing”), there is, in his words in Mémoires, “a sort of ‘re-drawing,’ a ‘with-drawing’ or retreat [re-trait] . . . sometimes lost en abyme, a specular folding or falling back [re-pli] in memory of itself as far as the eye can see” (3). The fact that through the course of the film it becomes increasingly difficult to count on, or to account for, the folding and enfolding, the holding and with-holding, of image and text in the film’s confessedly im-pure cut, is one of the most provocative aspects of its gift. This secondary strategy of holding and with-holding, as manipulation, necessarily reminds us (again as Derrida does in the film, echoed by the camera/eye many times thereafter as if in some sort of fugal visual anamnesis), of the intimate connection of eye and hand. The film is indeed a portrait of main-ipulation, of the function of the blind hand in the procedure of drawing the blind. Given that the portraitist, with pencil or camera in hand, can never capture more than an out-line [tracé] of any subject, itself a form of blindness to and before the subject, and that the hand that draws the blind is itself blind, the manipulation of portraiture—even as it is being drawn—simultaneously confesses, as Amy Kofman does in her voice-overs, its own blindness to the life, and even to the figure or outline, of the subject. Since the subject of Derridathemovie is far more complex than merely being “Jacques Derrida,” this blind manipulation that even as it draws confesses its blindness adds to the subtlety and complexity of the portrait. In the film, of course, Derrida makes much of the hand as, along with the eye, the part of the body to which we are most blind. Indeed, he says, we cannot “see” these markers of our participation in the portraiture of being seen: we are, he says, blind to our most telling traits. If this is indeed true, then the very nature of the film as a record of a/the man and his thought becomes infinitely more problematic. Are there such things as innocent gestures? Invisible markers of the self which remain un-manipulated? Can they be seen? How and by whom? And does the manifestly self-conscious camera/eye of Derridathemovie also remain blind to its most telling traits? What would that mean for the nature of the project at hand: the “record” of Derrida? Insofar as the Cyclops-eye of the camera distils as it symbolizes the gaze of the world, it says that it sees what we cannot see, what is not available to us, and tells us of this blind manipulation, as in Mémoires d’aveugle from precisely that point of view—


—and isn’t that, still from his (Narcissus’s, the star’s) point of view, what Derridathemovie is about? Isn’t it a completely appropriate appropriation and manipulation of images and constructions of identity and/as tracé, and of its subject(s), Derrida and deconstruction? The spectral shadow-language of film, incorporating here the spectrality of the doubly-disembodied voice, is a language always speaking to us, in the light, from blindness, in which Derrida’s present-ation is a phantasm of a phantasm.


And yet, equally importantly, the abocular hypothesis in Derridathemovie is a multi-layered strategy of résistance to present-ation in which both “imploring and deploring” the subject are, as Derrida points out explicitly in Mémoires, “also experiences of the eye” (5): abocular. No motif in the film is more consistent (and entertaining) than Derrida’s manifold resistance, clearly persisting scene after scene in his manipulations of his own text and the stage-management of any potentially unguarded moment. The film-makers have the perspicacity, in fact, to transmute this resistance into an essential element of the very focus of the film. But from an alternative angle, as a drawing of the blind, rather than a drawing of the blind (that is, as portrait rather than document about portraiture, as an imploring) the film plays with the fact that this resistance is in fact an integral part of seeing as such, just as it is endemic to drawing as such.


Drawing and seeing resist.


In this light, Derrida is aware—and draws constant attention to the fact in the film as in his writing—that he not only cannot fully control what is, so to speak, concealed and/or revealed in the film (in the sense of the pure cut), but that in the end he cannot control the double vector of his own interaction with this lack of control: that is, he clearly if indirectly confesses that he cannot stop desiring and attempting to have that control, even as he persists in his complex manipulations to occlude “himself” and his lack of control. A quintessential moment of this in the film occurs in Derrida’s response to Amy’s question as to whether he will share/narrate a “traumatic break” he has experienced; “no,” he says thoughtfully as the camera zooms almost imperceptibly toward his implacable face, and then, each separated by a thoughtful silence, three more barriers: “no . . . no . . . no . . . .” Four monosyllables of resistance that, in their blindness, speak volumes. In moments like these, and there are many of them in the film, Derridathemovie captures a quintessential element of deconstruction and is thus “true” to Derrida’s work: as a pensum on blindness it too acknowledges, desires, and relinquishes control over its resistances: the film (generally in the shadow-form/voice of Amy Kofmanas interlocutor but also in its cross-cutting, layering, and visual complexity) persists in interrogating Jacques’s resistance, in this cut of the film actually bringing that resistance to the center of the image: resistance as parergon.


One of the central reasons for this imploring and deploring of the deconstructive subject has to do with the questions posed within the frame of the abocular hypothesis, repeated in many forms throughout the film, of the stressed relationship between quotidian or daily life, on the one hand, and the archive, on the other. One of the film’s declared raisons d’être, and this parallels one of Derrida’s own declared concerns, is just that problematic dialogue with the archive. This is an ultimate question of the drawing of the blind: what to preserve, what to reveal, what to conceal, what to save? The long section near the end of the film in which Derrida addresses this question in the UC-Irvine library at the dedication of his archival gift to UC-Irvine, then is seen wandering ghost-like through the stacks of gray boxes of his materials archived there, bears an uncanny resemblance to those remarkable installations in which Christian Boltanski parodies (while revering) the physical and aesthetic nature of the archive with row upon row of catalogued boxes—containing nothing. The gray (brain-like?) boxes of Derrida’s materials belie and confess their contents in an eerie cold storage atmosphere that makes the camera’s following of Derrida’s reading the labels on each box yet another echo of the film’s scrutiny of Derrida scrutinizing “himself.” Here in the stacks fo the archive is the author whose authority has been transferred to anonymous colorless reliquaries for posterity. Looking at himself as the camera looks at him? And is the camera also aware that it is another gray box, a part of that very archive, the “record” of “Derrida.” Yes and no. These double gestures regarding the status and nature of the archive are dotted throughout the film (e.g. Jacques’s’s son Pierre’s boyhood bedroom has vanished behind the floor-to-ceiling bookcase shelves that have spilled out of Jacques’s study next door, a pervasive creeping archive of books Derrida confesses he “has not read”—which share the expanded archive and the occlusion of Pierre’s room with the Pampers of Derrida’s grand-daughter, an archive of a different kind).


The film’s double valences of drawing and blindness clash and coalesce in the tight head-shot with which the film concludes, Derrida’s-face-as-pensum, acting as the haunting, ultimate drawing of the blind, his gaze averted as if in thought (who knows?), the camera-eye unwavering, approaching, probing, reflecting itself—a portrait of the drawing of the enigma of the philosopher’s face. The voice-over relentless in its gentleness, in this final scene once again for the nth time in the film:

--Is it finally “the voice of the text”?

--Is it the critical Cyclops-eye of the viewer’s own pensum?

--Is it Derrida’s “inner female” voice?

--Or is it the manifestation for which Derrida has given us another parergon: in that final voice-over we must remember that a part of the archive as we now know it posits the true deconstructist philosopher.

What philosopher could or would be your mother, Amy Kofman has asked. I could never have a philosopher for a mother, Derrida responds, since the philosopher is a patriarch, a father. Who could then be the heir to deconstruction, the impossible mother?

Derrida thinks.

--First response: it’s “me,” Derrida himself, but no . . .

--It must be “my son,” the inheritor of deconstruction who continues to interrogate texts and textuality,

--Then in the final slippage the philosopher-mother “will be,” when she arrives, Derrida’s “grand-daughter,” “a woman who thinks.”

. . . the voice-over of this woman, the pseudo-grand-daughter-as-philosopher, citing Archive Fever, the only Derrida text cited more than once in the film, for the third time, reflecting on what has occurred in this drawing, since infinite numbers of others were possible: “what remains concealed?” (if indeed anything has been revealed)? “how has the “right to secrecy” been observed, violated, betrayed, tested and stressed, ignored?” And finally, as a question not to Derrida but to the archive and the viewer-as-archive: To what are we now, at last, absolutely blind?: what is utterly gone, vanished—“without even an ash?” This lament for what is always already absent is itself also a re-opening of the eye for Derrida.


With regard to the archive, in which so much is preserved and simultaneously thus lost, the eye is an eye of lament, a crying eye. This lamentful eye, incorporated in the narrative voice of Derridathemovie, has found its voice at the conclusion of Mémoires d’aveugle, where Derrida affirms that loss and blindness are necessary conditions for the abocular hypothesis: in losing sight, in drawing the blind in all the senses explored in the film

one is perhaps seeking to unveil the eyes. To say them without showing them seeing. To recall. To pronounce that which, in the eyes . . . in no way regards sight, has nothing to do with it. Nothing to do with the light of clairvoyance. (127)

Losing sight does not mean losing eyes: indeed “only then does [one] begin to think the eyes” (128), to “see between and catch a glimpse of the difference,” to “look after it in memory—and this is the veil of tears—until finally, and from or with the ‘same eyes,’ the tears see” (128; my emphasis). In the same way that the hand draws blindly, the eye sees blindly, the fate of the archive and the archival. That is, to see anew requires a transmuted relationship to the archive and to textuality itself. Derrida has worked toward and through this transmutation in all his cross-genre work. The insights of deconstruction are indeed abocular, out of the eye. In approaching Derrida—and in reflecting on itself as a filmic archive, an enigma, a conundrum, an appropriately insoluble puzzle of seeing and saying and of drawing the blind rather than as a portrait for which one might sit and which one might capture, Derridathemovie’s great success is that it has the in-sight to understand that to draw Derrida, to draw the blind on and of Derrida, to catch a glimpse of the différance, one must always begin to re-think the eyes.

. . .

Stephen Barker

Claire Trevor School of the Arts

University of California at Irvine May 2003


[A preliminary version of this paper was delivered in a session devoted to Derridathemovie at the International Association for Philosophy and Literature’s annual conference at the University of Leeds in late May, 2003, following a showing of the film and a question-and-answer session with Amy Zierling Kofman.]