Wednesday, April 04, 2012
Arne De Boever on Derrida's last seminar, on Robinson Crusoe.
In Derrida's reading, Defoe's novel thus emerges as a literary kind of “thing” (a Ding, to recall Heidegger's text that is also under discussion in the session) that somehow contains “life,” in which “life” is somehow “buried alive” (while also “not” being “buried alive”). Defoe‟s novel emerges as a literary kind of technique (a technè, to recall Heidegger once again) that enables one to capture “life.” Defoe‟s novel is, in Derrida's reading, a form of “life-writing,” of “bio-” or “zoe-graphy.” Noting the novel's concern with Crusoe's self-destruction and -reconstruction, with the ways in which the castaway Crusoe becomes the sovereign master of his own life, Derrida refers to Defoe's fiction as a form of auto-bio-graphy, of self- and life-writing. In this particular sense, all fiction is arguably auto-bio-graphical, Derrida suggests, while all autobiography is also--and this is just as important for Derrida--fictional. In other words: there ultimately is no real technique of life- and self-writing; rather, any attempt to capture life and the self is always interrupted by the technical object facilitating the capture.

I am not forcing the language of the technical object, of technè and of the Ding, onto Derrida‟s seminar. Heidegger is, next to the Defoe, the second author around which the second seminar on The Beast and the Sovereign revolves. The seminar's fifth session begins, indeed, with the Heideggerian question “What is a thing?” Grafting together Derrida‟s concern with the “thing” in this seminar on the novel, with the biopolitical problematic that is continued from seminar one, it seems that Derrida is thinking about the novel as a kind of biopolitical thing, a technique of bringing life within the literary object of the novel. The novel emerges in Derrida‟s reading as a biopolitical dispositif or apparatus.
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