Dissemination by Jacques Derrida

Wednesday, April 13, 2011 § 0

A Philosophical Trilogy: Plato's Pharmacy, The Double Session, and Dissemination 

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

In the essay Dissemination (1983) by Jacques Derrida—which first appeared in the Tel Quel collection by Éditions du Seuil, and was later translated by Barbara Johnson for the University of Chicago Press—three writers are interpreted from the perspective of philosophy: Plato's Pharmacy discusses the works of Plato, The Double Session considers the poetic works of Stéphane Mallarmé, and Dissemination interprets the innovative novel Nombres (1968) by Philippe Sollers. This novel should interest readers of innovative fiction because it represents a trend towards visual abstraction in a poetic style that uses multiple verbs to envision the narrative action, sentences which end with three dots... as a form of abstraction expressionism, a novel which puts phrases into parentheses to create a sentence structure based on the esthetic theory of bricolage. The avant garde novels: Drame, Nombres, Lois, and H deserve more critical attention for their subtle complexity because they represent a trend of theoretical fiction that has evolved towards literary / philosophical abstraction.

“The text is remarkable in that the reader (here in exemplary fashion) can never choose his own place in it, nor can the spectator.
                                                            Jacques Derrida

The reader may be invited to interact within the context of the novel, or to become an active participant in the plot, yet the choice must be made by the potential novelist to refer to another author as an allusion, or to describe an intertextuality modeled on relationships. The novelist may choose to follow an esthetic theory from the 20th Century: Abstract Expressionism, Surrealism, Pop Art, or to create a new genre to develop a philosophical / visual trend in fiction parallel to the writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein or Jacques Derrida, or to write theoretical fiction in which the theories of the novel become the subject matter as a form of self-reflexive metafiction, and in literary criticism these thoughts are "given."

What is given in the text reminds us of Étant donnés (1966) by Marcel Duchamp, a work which portrays the inner drama of the spectator, where the viewer of the artwork plays the role of voyeur by looking through a peep hole in the wooden door. The development of the theme of erotic abstraction by Philippe Sollers, and the anonymous person named D., who is referred to in the dedication, has led to an exploration of erotic fantasy within the inter(text)uality of the novel, and Jacques Derrida describes this theme in Dissemination (1972) with the metaphor of a "theatre."

A fictive beginning, a false entrance, a false exit, a kind of writing of innumerable numbers—these will still have to be reread by you.
                                                           Jacques Derrida

The innovative novel Nombres (1968) by Philippe Sollers is the "fictive beginning" of Dissemination, where the entrance into the novel takes the form of a philosophical numerical system, as the propositions are enumerated in a logical system: with increasing complexity and descriptive detail in a collage of novelistic sentence structures. The "transparent column" is a foreshadowing of the innovative novel / philosophical text, which will evolve through the book design of Glas (1974) by Jacques Derrrida, and through other innovative designs which use the column of text for the visual esthetic of page design, as we approach the future perfect tense at the time of reading.

...a transparent column where what takes place remains suspended at a greater or lesser height, and when you wake up you say to yourself: 'hey, I was there,' but nothing comes to explain that sentence, and that is what regards you... That column does not leave you any distance; it keeps watch while you are asleep; it is slipped in between you and you... Less and less suspected, less and less remembered where you are walking without seeing me... It is only for us, however, that night is turning and forming itself above the cities—where the mute machines are henceforth capable of reading, deciphering, counting, writing, and remembering and one sees a conversation break off, its gestures stand still, here, among the fabrics, the objects assembled, 'something has not been said.' They are talking, now, but something of their silence subsists; they are represented here by a mist, a reflection.
                                                           Philippe Sollers

The events of Nombres (1968) are described as an abstraction, and the "mist, a reflection," reminds the reader of the futuristic art installation Janssens Purple Mist (2006) by Ann Veronica Janssens. The idea of the mist, and the illusion of multidimensionality intrigues the narrator of Nombres (1968) with the description of events becoming a subtle perception of the illusion of representation: meta(fiction).

The numerical scheme of 100 chapters divided into numbered sections creates the arbitrary structure of Nombres (1968), and shows a logical development in style from the earlier novels of Philippe Sollers, especially the more innovative Drame (1965). Dissemination (1972) discusses the structure of Nombres (1968) with an awareness of the present moment of reading, and foreshadows an intricate plot development with the introduction of relevant themes as a pre-caution in a world of increasing population and occasional unrest.

Jacques Derrida introduces the concept of The Trigger in the first section of Dissemination (1972) which acts as a declenchment of meaning in the text, when the sense one has of the present moment of reading takes on a more precise signification: school shootings, militant rebels disrupting foreign countries, the research into the network of interconnections which show the problem, and the nuances of polysemanticism which begin to heal the text. Philosophy reveals an advanced knowledge that guides the young novelists with an expansive style that encompasses the complexities of thought: as esthetic (ex)position, or in a novelistic sense an (ex)hibition.

The mirror in which these Numbers are read, in its capacity for seeing you, will of course be broken, but it will reflect that breaking in a fiction that remains intact and uninterrupted. 
                                                           Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida refers to the clarity of image in a mirror reflection, an identity which should be managed properly, protected from aggressors, and the "fiction" that remains uninterrupted in the sense of Uninterrupted Poetry (1946) by Paul Eluard, written when times were difficult, and yet a poem which affirms the freedom of expression and the human rights of mankind.

The next chapter The Apparatus or Frame suggests the concept of a frame, as in a painting where the subject matter is contained within a frame: a metaphor that has continued from Drame (1965) to Nombres (1968), where the frame limits what is represented in the context of the novel. The frame is something which extends in time to what Jacques Derrida calls the plupresent, or the perfect present in a sense that is similar to the future perfect tense, implying a frame that extends towards a more perfect future, what Philippe Sollers calls "the big calm," the deep relaxed confidence of future society.

The translation of Drame (1964) by Phillipe Sollers as Event (1986) by Ursala Molinaro and Bruce Benderson for Red Dust Books has inspired my own novel The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending with the style of Abstract Expressionism that verges on Surrealist imagery. The narrator is named after Drame (1965) by Philippe Sollers,  and his influence has continued through the reading of Drame (1965) to Nombres (1968), a step towards increasing awareness of the scene of writing which has become problematic: a theatric space of interactive multidimensionality. 

In the frame of the text, one side of the square, one surface of the cube will represent this non-empirical error, this transcendental illusion. More simply put, it will represent: it will be the opening to the classical representative scene. In representing representation it will reflect and explain it in a very singular mirror.
                                                            Jacques Derrida

The representation of representation is the concept which defines meta(fict)ion itself, the self awareness of fiction as fiction, and the cubic space at the scene of writing is what the philosopher and innovative novelist will consider as the linear lines of perspective within an imaginary four sided space of writing.

So the theatre could be said to provide an abstractly geometric framework, which in a sense takes the novel outside its own parameters as if towards a different genre, or territory, and through the implicit references to artifice, makes it less concerned with representation than with what has already in Drame been called 'la véritable histoire...
                                                 The novels of Philippe Sollers:
                                                 narrative and the visual
                                                 Malcolm Charles Pollard

The metaphor of the theatre is what makes the drama of the novelistic abstraction interesting to the reader, a novel which has extended the genre of fiction towards philosophical abstraction. The action approaches a Scission in the next section of Dissemination (1972) where the two political parties have difficulty accepting an invasive scheme which is felt at the scene of writing which is disrupted by a dominant perspective. Asking consent to participate could solve this problem, and the rights of the novelist defended. A social network based on friendship should be established for those writing in the genre of innovative fiction, as an expression of the true spirit of love for humanity.

Dissemination (1972) by Jacques Derrida is an intellectual adventure for the reader with a philosophical discussion of "the breath of the soul" found in Plato's Pharmacy, the poetics of Stéphane Mallarmé in The Double Session, and in Dissemination where the literary critic/philosopher reveals insight into the theoretical novel Nombres (1968) by Philippe Sollers, a classic of innovative fiction which deserves ongoing critical attention in the evolution of the avant garde novel, a novel which has inspired the innovative writing of the 21st Century novel.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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