AT THIS VERY MOMENT IN THIS THEATRE HERE I AM
I gave a paper at a Jacques Derrida study day on 11 January 2014, organised by Rachel Clements and Marilena Zaroulia. The format of the day is that speakers were invited to choose one essay or book by Derrida to form the centrepiece of their paper. I was very keen to contribute to this but, unfortunately, I had a long-standing appointment to see Richard II at the Barbican, Starring David Tennant (pictured).
However, it struck me that it would be possibly an opportunity to do something interesting with the form of the academic paper. I took Derrida's essay on Emmanuel Levinas entitled 'At This Very Moment In This Work Here I Am'. In this essay Derrida is musing on what level Levinasian philosophy entails for the practice of reading; for Levinas, ethics proceeds ontology, or, put another way, we do not have identities that are brought to encounters with other people - we are brought into being by our encounters with the Other. Applied to reading, this would seem to suggest that the book and the reader are brought into being by their contact with each other. Derrida follows the logic of this and shows how it might transform and bring into aporetic crisis some features of Levinas's work. He draws particular attention to Levinas's repeated use of the phrase 'at this very moment', which Derrida point out introduces a bifurcation of time between the reader and writer. In other words, the essay is interested in the relationship between presence and absence that never quite coincide in the relation between writers and readers. That seemed to be an appropriate text to discuss in a paper which I would write but not be present when it is read at another time,
just as you are here (here) right now at another time
The piece plays on the tripartite division between writer, performer and audience (so, for me, it connects with 'In Praise of Luvvies' and Theatremorphosis among other things) and I try to present Derrida's argument, suggesting ways it might connect with theatre practice, particular writing practice. It is shot through with references to the play that at this very moment I was watching and ends by trying to demonstrate the strangeness of playwriting by looking at a textual crux in Richard II, a character brought into being by the moment of their textual absenting.
I asked Ruth Everett, who was wonderful in Chekhov in Hell, to turn up and deliver the paper and then leave afterwards. I also gave her some additional instructions:
I'd like you to 'intervene' in the paper. It would be very much in the spirit of the paper if you commented on it as you went along. I don't mean critiquing the argument, but if you wanted to say 'this is my least favourite bit coming up' or 'I didn't understand that' at any point, that would be fun. For example:
1. Choose a paragraph that you think makes not much sense, stop, and repeat it slowly as if you're trying to work out what the fuck it means.
2. Choose one paragraph, say the first sentence and skip the rest of it saying 'they don't need that'
3. Rip up each page as you finish it. Or screw it up and throw it over your shoulder.
4. Choose a sentence that you think might sound clever: when you get to it, say it, then repeat it, then mutter it to yourself, then repeat it again, then go 'okay, I get that', and pass on.
5. I think it would be quite cool if, at the very end, after saying 'Exit an actor', you just get up and leave the building and don't come back.
And when I say 'here'
as I do at this very moment
at that very moment
at another time
I mean 'there'