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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
[Kronikah shel peredah. English]
Chronicle of separation : on deconstruction’s disillusioned love / Michal Ben-Naftali ; translated by Mirjam Hadar.
pages cm. — (Idiom: inventing writing theory)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-8232-6579-4 (hardback) — ISBN 978-0-8232-6580-0 (paper)
1. Deconstruction. 2. Interpersonal relations. 3. Gender identity.
4. Anorexia nervosa. I. Title.
Printed in the United States of America
17 16 15 5 4 3 2 1
FRIENDSHIP, UNAUTHORIZEDAVITAL RONELL
I have wanted to get a close-up, to confirm an incomparable alliance. Maybe show up for her, if only as a measure of the postal logic to which her writing bears witness. I could enact the stalls of arrival, tracking the uncharted convergence of a destiny and its destination. Show up without properly manifesting, develop an itinerary that stays depropriative—at once steady in its nearness and prudently off range. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe has taught us to think in terms of depropriation, which entails a form of rigorous hesitation when assuming responsibility for the work or thought of another, an ally or ancestor, or unknown straggler of writing. I would be capable, I tell myself, of refraining from putting stakes down as one does when claiming a territory. To the extent that I am at all “capable”—willed-to-power on any level of existence, able to accompany and say and squeak, like my cousin Josefine, Queen of the Mausvolk. But that’s another story of certifiable kinship, another depropriating route; I shall desist from exploring my literary roots to follow a different cut of destination. Postal logic indicates that we might not make it, that some other form of address, inadvertent and remote, might overtake the travel plan that I had in mind. Nonetheless, I wanted to show up for her, take the call by accompanying her writing, at least part of the way. Not sure what in fact propelled me, I would do my best, “faire mon impossible,” as I sometimes tell myself. But why, in this instance and to this address?
Maybe we were meant to be friends. Yet, so much militated against such an extravagance: the hypothesis that we were meant to be friends. Language, philosophical habits and markers, existentially pitched checkpoints were stacked against us. On what basis could I possibly befriend Michal B.—according to what ledger of determinations, approved contingencies, contractual loopholes, or transferential coordinates? The blocked passage to friendship remains a dilemma for those constituted, if only in passing, as women. The restrictive covenant is a rigorous part of the order of things. When you’re a girl, friendship doesn’t just happen; you have to be willing to go against all sorts of grains and traditionally set restrictions, the blowback of cynical postulations. Still, no flex of muscled lucidity will help you make the grade as friend, for the situation is not a matter of some accidental lockout. Our metaphysical heritage has rigorously demanded the embargo on the female clasp of friendship.
Despite revolutionary breakthrough stances or carefully attended displacements, one still remains tethered to a grating heritage that defines, oppresses, structures, feeds, regulates, or plumps any attempt at reconfigured personhood, setting up the rules and regs, metaphysically speaking, that make politically-tinged aspects of relatedness an affair of men. Metaphysics, our homeroom language and shared existential springboard, puts a ban on friendship among women. The stakes are undoubtedly high, for the motif of friendship ensures the modeling of all sorts of vital ethical and political dispositions, grounding our sense of justice. As Derrida has argued, friendship serves as the blueprint for political and amorous cleaves. Women, for the most part, have been assigned to the historical sidelines, even though they prove adept at traumatically intrusive break-ins and manage to achieve a modicum of social rewrites. One thinks of Antigone, of Kleist’s feminine figurines that shoot out counter-memory to block historical narratives of entitlement; one continues to be struck by the howls of one-woman–lone-warrior types like Valerie Solanas; one continues to stress over the seething deflations of Ingeborg Bachmann and the ongoing peel-down of Sylvia Plath. (I have more names in mind; I love enumeration and memorializing remembrance—I can go overboard with my lists, but this is not the place.)
So. How to get around this embarrassment and still make some sort of legitimate outreach program primed on the protocols of friendship stick? My share of Penis-neid is wrapped up in withheld friendship, an attachment or disposition, an inclination of being-in-the-world declared off-limits to women. Of course male designees yammer staggeringly, from Aristotle to our day, about the nearly impossible attainment of friendship, but that plaint operates on an entirely other level and register of constraint and taboo.
Maybe I was called up by a different politics of friendship, a different grid or writing practice that pulls one close to another’s distress. I search out the skies daily for smoke signals, often discreet and sophisticated or technologically upgraded. I am always on the lookout for signaling systems, no matter how remote or deferred, no matter how misdirected or suddenly they appear on my desk. I am not the only one waiting anxiously at the ready to sign for a designated—or stray—envoi. I for my part may be the warp of a defective GPS, for I cannot imagine that my function as address has been taken all that seriously. Still, things, no matter how deflected or dead letter boxed, do have a way of showing up at my door or on my desk (the door is law for Celan, the desk for Kafka: these are not contingent architectural motifs). I have little to offer, and less that I can do. At most, I can provide a reading. But is that so derisory? For so many of the luminous writers that command my moves and immobility, reading sets the stage for friendship’s sweep, for the amicable rejoinder, establishing the levers that pull in another Dasein.
I first heard of Michal Ben-Naftali from Marguerite Derrida one afternoon in Ris-Orangis, when we were hanging out and Jacques was taking lunch in Paris with his Hebrew translator. Since that initiatory encounter—a rumor, a discreet shadow enfolded in the Aufgabe from which Walter Benjamin whipped us (well, me) into a hysterical frenzy—I have been following Ben-Naftali’s trajectory, wondering, among other things and destinations, about the vectors defining our intellectual kinship and the conditions of an a priori fellowship, quietly staging the “sight unseen” kind of embrace that I was prepared to offer. Or, digging out of a paleonymic rut, let us say that I probed the premises for establishing a relationality, whether gendered or not, maybe even scouring our shared traditions in search of solid amity, a kind of grrlship, since “fellowship” sounds peculiar, if not altogether void. In any case, I have felt, from day one, responsible to and for Michal Ben-Naftali. Lately, though, the gentle disposition has turned into a streak of fearfulness, for I have become anxious about initializing her important text, upsetting its carefully laid tracks and ecosystems with my inescapable trip-ups prompted by the historical panic attacks that make language hard to come by, self-undermining and capable of upturning the most serene trajectories of thought. Already in the early paragraphs I flail about for a bolstering idiom, a way to designate “fellowship” among, let us say, women—or more crunched still, among women authors, philosophers in the feminine, and the stock of conceptual incompatibilities bequeathed to Michal and me. The inevitable slip-up, the stammer and stall, is not entirely my fault when I try to give expression to an inclination on my part to befriend Michal Ben-Naftali.
You already know that, on the whole, philosophy squeezes out friendship among women, even merely so-called and difficultly coded women. I am on repetition compulsion; but this bears repeating, calling out, obsessing with, lamenting. There’s simply no call for friendship among women in the metaphysical dialup—at most, grrls were accorded some provisional and retaliatory alliances, identificatory contrivances, or other busts in the consolidation of Mitsein. For Hegel, woman not only famously stood as the irony of the community, but she figured also as its enemy. Still, friendship can host adversity; friendship among enemies was not accommodated, however, as a particular style or option in philosophical rosters—at least not before the alliance of Montaigne and Nietzsche was closed, or before Werner Herzog’s boundary-breaking film, Mein bester Feind (My Best Enemy) or the notion of “frenemy” was coined relatively recently.
We know from other well-documented philosophical tendencies that friendship can spin easily enough into enmity, or even that enmity is the intensification of friendship, as when Blake writes, “Be my enemy for friendship’s sake.” I don’t think that Hegel, who was in it to win it, was dialectically angling for the capture of powerful affect, for raising the stakes of friendship by turning women into standout enemies, though. When you scroll down the philosophical corridor of determinations, becoming ...