in Theory, Emotion after the "Death of the Subject"
The death of Jacques Derrida hits the local news here today Sunday October 10, 2004 and makes the book of Rei Terada a must-read for any critic who wishes to put the theoretician and polemicist in a larger transatlantic philosophical context. Not only does Feeling in Theory account for the concept of emotion (auto-affection, passion, pathos, love, fear, emotionlessness, sentimentality) in phenomenology, the philosophy of mind and theories of subjectivity but it also tells us how an American reader situates Derrida in the on-going debate about deconstruction.
Rei Terada is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine. Her previous volume was Derek Walcott's Poetry: American Mimicry (Northeastern U P, 1992) and her new study demonstrates a thorough knowledge of “Theory” which refers specifically to the poststructuralist canon of thinkers, mainly Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man, their reading of European (Continental) philosophers (R. Descartes, J-J. Rousseau, E. Husserl) whom she contrasts with Anglo-American philosophers. It was awarded the 2002 René Wellek Prize sponsored by the American Comparative Literature Association.
Rei Terada charts the deconstructive territory of converging and dissenting theories pairing Jacques Derrida's and Paul De Man's perspectives against those of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari or contrasting them with those of Daniel Dennett and Ronald De Sousa. She masterfully addresses complex issues. The scholarly value of her study is beyond dispute, in-depth arguments seem balanced and aptly grounded. The lively style and its range of analysis have already been commended. What I value is that she does not fall into the trap of Derridean discipleship and she eschews sweeping syntheses by offering a close, demanding analysis of our theoretical tools. I also note that her exegetical rereading of deconstructive canonical works is loosely connected to what most French observers (François Cusset's French Theory in particular) present as the American predominantly activist and political readings of deconstruction. Her book encompasses the Cultural Studies scholarship (Feminist Studies, Colonial Studies, etc.) but addresses issues from a theoretical vantage point. Her choice of topic sets her apart from the mainstream of American deconstruction.
The introduction lays the groundwork for the analysis which unfolds in four chapters. Rei Terada starts with an oft-remarked inconsistency: from F. Jameson's notion of "the waning of affect" which is said to result "from the end of the autonomous bourgeois monad" to the poststructuralist writings about "the Death of the Subject," we have generally assumed that the elimination of the category of person, self or subject stands in contradiction with the persistence of emotions which can only be attributed to feeling subjects. Despite this horizon of assumptions, Rei Terada argues "we would have no emotions if we were subjects" [p.4] "for far from controverting the "death of the subject" emotion entails this death" [p.3]. In order to account for this paradox she goes back to poststructuralist theorists who have fractured the classical mode of subjectivity and have offered an alternative to the notion of unified, sovereign and centered subjectivity.
Poststructuralists have drawn the line between "a discourse of emotion" and "an ideology of emotion" [p.3]. They have made us aware of the "ideology of emotion," of "the convenience of casting emotion as a basis for naturalized social or moral consensus" or "of emotion as proof of the human subject" [p.4]. This differs from the philosophical "discourse of emotion":
The present study is premised on this poststructuralists' debunking of the assumed connection between emotion and subjectivity. They showed the circularity of the idea that only subjects express emotions and emotions—which are seen as "cognitive idealities"—require subjects. This "ideology of emotions" creates the illusion of subjectivity rather than shows evidence of it. This sleight of hand is felicitously termed "the expressive hypothesis" [p.11] and is shown to underwrite subjectivity because it activates metaphysical categories (substance, inside-outside, interiority-exteriority, analogy or correspondences). Emotions produce artifacts of interiority and subjectivity. Rei Terada's aim is to trace this expressive hypothesis in existing theories of emotion but a reader of literary works will also see how this analysis echoes familiar notions of authorship, auctorial intervention, characterization, catharsis, and fictional identification, since they metaphorize subjectivity and further contribute to this subjective fallacy [p.72].
The next point is that Rei Terada holds emotion to be nonsubjective or "subjectless" [p.6] because of a classical definition of the individual as "truly individual, un-divided" (De Man 79) and of the subject as coincidence of self with self. In contrast, emotion or affect arise because of a lack of fit between mind and world or between mind and self [p.86]. Emotion is defined as self-difference or self-distance since it occurs in a reflexive noncoincidence of self with self. The metaphor of selfhood as sovereign State (Rousseau 78 sq) will be used somewhat later in the book and it shows that reflexivity entails division, a fissure in self which brings about the demise of the classical model of selfhood:
Both state and subject are undivided. Whenever emotion appears, it appears in a reflexive space and this fissure implies "the death of the subject." This explains the sub-title Emotion after the "Death of the Subject" and Rei Terrada's contribution.
She breaks away from classical enquiries in expressive subjectivity and tries to conceive an alternative to subjectivity. She does not rehabilitate classical views of subjectivity since the suspension of subjectivity does not suspend emotion which needs to be accounted for with other theoretical tools. In a word, her question is Who-What Comes After the Subject?
Chapter 1 reads as an impressive and tight synthesis of classical philosophical readings of emotion in poststructuralist theories of affect which are reviewed while examining Jacques Derrida's writings on Descartes' Discourse on Method ("Cogito and the History of Madness" in Writing and Difference), on J.-J. Rousseau's Essay on the Origin of Languages (in Of Grammatology) and on E. Husserl's Logical Investigations (in Speech and Phenomena). Clarification emerges through comparison of philosophical positions, for example Husserl's analysis of the expression of ideality within subjectivity is contrasted with Derrida's analysis of the self-differential mediation of representation ("Emotion demands virtual self-difference-an extra 'you' " [p.31]). Derrida's concept of self-distribution is implicitly used but not accounted for. Some issues will be clarified later in Chapter 2 which focuses on Paul de Man's Allegories of Reading which also analyses Rousseau's Essay on the Origin of Languages, Julie ou la Nouvelle Héloïse and Du bonheur public. Rei Terada, Derrida and De Man share the notion that emotion is neither a content nor an intentionality but an experience, an interpretive act and a representation. This goes against the ideology of emotion which encourages "a fiction of transparency and presence" [p.17], fosters the illusion of the immediacy of emotion and the insignificance of representation,
In contrast, Rei Terada consistently argues: "Experience is experience at all only because of the self-difference of self-representation. Thus experience and subjectivity are incompatible" [p.18]. She pits this scheme against that of the differentiality of representation which holds subjectivity to be a "fictive threshold" that is never crossed [p. 17]. Emotion is felt when it represents itself to itself, when it reads its self-representation. Emotion becomes a theatrical, fictional representation (Daniel Dennett's Cartesian Theater [p. 21]). Exploring emotion through the lens of Derrida's reading allows one to discard the expressive hypothesis and subjectivity, then to claim that theatricality is inherent in self-representation as an attribute of emotion ("Emotion demands virtual self-difference-an extra 'you'" [p.31]) and finally to offer the experience of textuality as "both a means of representing emotion and an explanatory scheme of the operation of emotion" [p.45].
Self-difference and reflexivity will be taken up later in the book and linked to the aporia of subjectivity in Derrida's Cogito. "In the phenomenology of the cogito, I feel divided, although the cogito states that I am not: my nondivision is inaccessible to me" [p.79]. The aporia stems from a simultaneous disjunction of virtual experience and conceptual belief. When later read in De Man's textual terms, this disjunction will be construed "as two distinct rhetorical models, the first self-reflexive or specular, the other estranged."
Chapter 3 daringly breaks away from these theoretical models of subjectivity and works from a rather different perspective since Rei Terada now chooses theoretical texts which do not try to disconnect emotions from subjectivity. They rather contend with the presumption of the death of the subject [p.91]. The cornerstone of all following approaches is that while emotion can be seen without a subject, it cannot escape the interpretive perspective.
First, Anglo-American aesthetical writings on musical emotion (Jerrold Levinson, Peter Kivy, Richard Wollheim, et al.) are presented because music is a test case: it seems to have no content to express, it is a transparent language which commonly drives one to tie up emotions to subject-object schemes. The well-known perceived danger is to reinstate a living subject of emotion either on the creator's side or on the receptor's side. So thinkers aim towards transcendental universals of experience rather than interpretational schemes: "in musical aesthetics, the expressive hypothesis has no objects to work with and no function except to sustain subjectivity. Hence, the philosophy of music offers a negative image of nonsubjective experience" [p.91]. This paradox is recapped in a lively conclusion: "The dilemma of musical emotion reflects the dilemma of emotion as such: if emotion presumes a "dead" subject, music figures its surprising ability to speak" [p. 99].
Second, Rationality of Emotion by Ronald de Sousa (1987) offers a particular definition of the human subject. He views life's activity as organized by the structures of our desires, emotions, or goals. They are not described by the metaphor of a hierarchy with its unified controlling center but by that of the "heterarchy of living systems" [p.105] which are partial and work in parallel. "In a heterarchic system there is no master program" [p.105]. An analysis of Ronald de Sousa's reading of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris [p. 103 sq] leads Rei Terada to conclude that his take is subjective—there is a subject to do the feeling—and interpretational.
Third, Daniel Dennett's approach is contrasted with that of Ronald De Sousa. Daniel Dennett does not directly address emotions but issues that underlie theories of emotion. He conceives experience without subjects in a theory he terms "heterophenomenology" [p. 107 sq]. Pages on Qualia, The Way Things Seem to Us I found particularly stimulating. Rei Terada relates her analysis to Daniel Dennett's critique of the rationale behind the "Central Witness" scheme and explains the struggle to provide a cognitive model of emotional qualia without a subjective witness:
Last, Rei Terada considers what she terms "the objectivist" i.e. antisubjective and anti-interpretational work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari on expression which contrasts with other poststructuralist positions on emotive experience (A Thousand Plateaus). They are wrongly assumed to deal with impersonal affects rather than personal emotions and Rei Terada makes it clear why Deleuze's proposition of an objectivist ontological speculation goes against the grain of deconstructive criticisms of subjectivity. Deleuze favors the ontological, nonsubjective conception of expression.
Finally, Chapter 4 returns to Derridean Emotion after De Man and unsparingly examines the pathetic, elegiac texts about Paul de Man that Derrida published in the late 1980s, his Yale memorial service speech for him (1984) followed by his Critical Inquiries articles, Memoires for Paul de Man (1986) and essays, "Psyche: Invention of the Other" (1987), "Like the Sound of the Sea Deep Within a Shell: Paul de Man's War" (1988), "Biodegradables: Seven Diary Fragments" (1989). The analysis of friendship, mourning and hospitality is very perceptive and explains the self-distributed thinking that generates suffering and grief.
I will end with a few modest points. None invalidate Rei Terada's findings. First, I wondered why the methodological choices made by Rei Terada left out literary œuvres outside those discussed at a double remove by theorists. There is little reference made to literary works except for a few pages [pp. 14, 53 sq, 88, 136 sq] which quote poems as illustrations of philosophical concepts and for the last pages of the conclusion which use the forceful example of Blade Runner to illustrate emotion as the absence of the illusion of subjectivity. I have in mind other studies such as Mark Edmundson's Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida. A Defense of Poetry (Cambridge U.P., 1995) or Charles Altieri's Subjective Agency: A Theory of First Person Expressivity and Its Social Implications (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1994) which take stock of the divide between philosophical enquiries and literary practice. I understand Terada deliberately limited the scope of Feeling in Theory and chose not to consider the extended connection of philosophy to specific works of art.
However, in my experience, Martin Heidegger's reading of Hölderlin, Paul De Man's reading of Rousseau, Gérard Genette's reading of Proust, Roland Barthes's reading of Balzac, Derrida's reading of Husserl or Lévinas have served as paradigms of reading because their reading praxis have impacted ours. They unhinge our interpretive assumptions because they situate their analysis in between theory and praxis. This is also one aspect of a comparatist agenda. The American Comparative Literature Association granted its institutional support to a book devoted to the contrasted readings of major thinkers on emotion and subjectivity. This is not a back cover claim. It means that the epistemological interaction of philosophy and literature is a central concern. So, I wondered why a comparatist approach which includes the aesthetics of music for example stops short of linking philosophical theories of the subject to an assessment of the implicit, unquestioned theories of subjectivity used to interpret specific literary works.
Therefore, I would have welcomed an attempt to show what Rei Terada's new reading of theories of Emotion After "the death of the subject" changed in our existing interpretations of works of art. They have already been extensively modified by years of "deconstructive" practice and have also changed our aesthetical expectations since we do read contemporary works of art which "routinely demand no subject and offer an infinite abysm of transpersonal perspective" [p. 46]. So, considered from this comparatist perspective Feeling in Theory will prove its scholarly value in the specific Altered Readings it will encourage.
A side point is that Feeling in Theory does not mention the concept of signature but the book's analysis can be extended to signature as self-differential "marque-démarque," the sign and oversign of a mediated and nonsubstitutable, unique subjective singularity which is also repeatable. Derrida elaborated on the identity of the subject who says I when signing and the performative instituting process it creates (Otobiographies). He played on his letters JD and DJ for example in the recent 2004 Cahiers de l'Herne devoted to him. He also made puns on "contre-signature" further confirming that differentiality emerges in signature, in the act of self-affirmation. Countersigning means signing as in approving of one's writing but at the same time also means refuting one's writing. Any writing thus runs the risk of betrayal in its own reception. This had institutional and ideological consequences since Paris’s College International de Philosophie was founded on such premises. It was meant to be an institution open to "unfaithful faithfulness." This also illustrates the political relation of auto-affection to democracy.
Many pages are devoted to detecting emotion and traces of intimacy in Derrida's writing about his public friendship with Paul De Man. This topic may seem well-trodden but I found the analysis most subtle and quite relevant to the way Derrida feigns to reveal emotions, pretends to liberate words while holding that the intimate is always hidden ("dérobé") or in eclipse. Other converging examples which fully confirm Rei Terada's analysis came to my mind:
mourning of his friendship with Hans-Georg Gadamer and the memorial
service speech he delivered on February 5, 2003 in Heidelberg. It
was recently published as Béliers. The title also
refers to his reading of Paul Celan's poem.
I draw from this that difficulty is then another name for self-differentiality inasmuch as it is that which is not easily appropriated in thought by thought. Difficulty is the unappropriated remainder, "le reste inappropriable" for future commentators to approach and challenge. Which reminded me of what Jacques Derrida said in a recent Le Monde interview he gave last summer to Jean Birnbaum:
D'un côté, pour le dire en souriant et immodestement, on n'a pas encore commencé à me lire. S'il y a certes beaucoup de très bons lecteurs, quelques dizaines au monde peut-être, au fond, c'est plus tard que tout cela a une chance d'apparaître. (A rough translation: "on the one hand, and to say it with an immodest smile, readers haven't yet begun to read my texts. Although there may be a number of very good readers indeed, possibly a few dozens in the world, the heart of the matter is that all this will have a chance to appear much later.")
Charles. Subjective Agency : A Theory of First Person Expressivity
and Its Social Implications. Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers,