Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Derrida to the End

"I shall always have been eschatological," Jacques Derrida writes in Circumfessions, "if one can say so, in the extreme . . ."; if my walks in the natural world show me beginnings and ends, if they point out the connectedness of life and the end, death, Derrida shows me how language itself constitutes its own death, its own end. And it's not as bad as one might think, not as bad as Duerer and the other Christians thought the End might be because, after all, we all are gonna get there someday anyway: we all die, and have friends, lovers, loved ones, and cultural icons who pass away. He saw it as a condition of living, as a state of being, and notes, like me, that "I have to this day above all lived, enjoyed, wept, prayed, suffered as though the last second, in the imminence of the flashback end . . ." in a wonderfully realistic stance that has taken me many decades to master, if I have mastered it at all. Derrida's biographer Bennington approaches this stance by looking at the way language works in our heads, trying to figure out the exact moment when a sentence, for example, is real: at the beginning, when it is spoken or thought; after the author dies, when it is memorialized on paper, or in a flash, an augenlid, or eyeblink, when meaning and world are one, which is forever memorialized in a word.

The master Derrida knows, however, that this instant is already gone, effaced, before we realize what happened. What he confesses is that the end time is the final meaning of our metaphysic, the only time we can be at one with our language, and who wants to rush that? So we content ourselves with a field of negotiated mystery we call writing, and hope that once in a while we get a glimpse of eternity: a white butterfly flitting in memory of a loved one who has passed; the phantom white Oldsmobile our father used to drive, stopped at a light; the dried skin of a rattlesnake floating across the sand; the chipped, crakced reproduction of our Lady of Guadelupe left on the trail as a token of good luck.
The geologic traces of ancient lakes, the evolved landscapes of the south California deserts, leave their memories of the effaced suffering, ecstasy, god and human, in my soul as I walk in the stones. Most of the time the wind blows clean and clear, buffeting the dried flowers of last year's bloomings, swirling the sand in rounded patterns among the stones, which have sat for centuries remembering their submersion, exposed for the first time to sun for thousands of years. The stones sit, immovably speaking to me as I walk, of distance, direction, patience, stillness, the final resting place that has been here all along.


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