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Touching Writing

(Homage to Jacques Derrida, October 8, 2004)


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For Barbara Johnson

On the day of Jacques Derrida's death I found on my bookshelf a fallen page from Of Grammatology with pencil marks and scribbled Russian words in the margins. The text spoke about "the end of the book and the beginning of writing" and about metaphorical transports. I remembered that one of the first courses I ever took in English was Barbara Johnson's Deconstruction in the Fall of 1983. Ironically the first theoretical text I studied in English happened to be Gayatri Spivak's translation of Of Grammatology. For a recent immigrant from Russia, this was a strange "beginning of writing" in a foreign language. My English and my entire way of thinking would never be the same.

In the absence of a mourning ritual, I found myself taking photographs of the fallen page, touching the words in the light, casting shadows, animating the lines. According to legend, the sixteenth-century Venetian painter Titian discovered the secret of depicting the warmth of the human body when he held his fingers up to the light and marveled at the reddish aura around them. He tried to capture this aura in his paintings, smudging the lines of the body with a touch of red. In my photographs I am projecting this light touch into the writing, conjuring up ghosts.

Note: These images appeared on the cover of PMLA journal in Spring 2005 (a special forum on Derrida)

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