The Frame of Reference



Excerpts from Barbara Johnson's THE FRAME OF REFERENCE

p. 213
The three texts in question are Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Purloined Letter", Jaques Lacan's "Seminar on 'The Purloined Letter,'" and Jaques Derrida's reading of Lacan's reading of Poe, "The Purveyor of Truth". In all three texts, it is the act of analyses which seems to occupy the center of the discursive stage, and the act of analyses of the act of analyses which in some way disrupts that centrality.
 
p. 214
But the problem of how to present these three texts is all the more redoubtable since each of them both presents itself and the others and clearly shows the fallacies inherent in any type of "presentation" of a text. It is small comfort that such fallacies are not only inevitable but also constitutive of any act of reading – also demonstrated by each of the texts – since the resulting injustices, however unavoidable in general, always appear corrigible in detail. Which is why the sequence continues.
 
p.215
ROUND ROBBIN'
Round robin: 1) A tournament in which each contestant is matched against every other contestant. 2) A petition or protest on which the signatures are arranged in the form of a circle in order to conceal the order of signing. 3) A letter sent among members of a group, often with comments added by each person in turn 4.) An extended sequence. (American Heritage Dictionary)
(footnote: 3. We will speak about this bracketed signature later; for the time being, it stands as a sign that Derrida's signature has indeed been added to our round robin).
 
p.217
Thus, it is neither the character of the individual subjects, nor the contents of the letter, but the position of the letter within the group which decides what each person will do next.

"the letter was able to produce its effects within the story: on the actors in the tale, including the narrator, as well as outside the story: on us, the readers, and also on its author, without anyone's ever bothering to worry about what it meant"
Derrida quoted by Johnson
 
pp.218
We have just seen how Derrida, in his effort to right (write) Lacan's wrongs, can, on a certain level, only repeat them, and how the rectification of a previous injustice somehow irresistibly dictates the filling in of a blank which then becomes the new injustice. In fact, the act of clinching one's triumph by filling in a blank is already prescribed in all its details within Poe's story, in Dupin's unwillingness to "leave the interior blank".
 
p.220
The rivalry over something neither man will credit the other with possessing, the retrospective revisions of the origins of both their resemblances and their differences, thus spirals backward and forward in an indeterminable pattern of cancellation and duplication. If it thus becomes impossible to determine "who started it" (or even whether "it" was started by either one of them), it is also impossible to know who is ahead or even whose "turn" it is – which is what makes the business of getting even so odd.

For if the very possibility of meeting the opponent on a common ground, without which no contact is possible, implies a certain symmetry, a sameness, a repitition of the error that the encounter is designed to correct, any true avoidance of that error entails a nonmeeting or incompatibility between the two forces. If to hit the target is in a way to become the target, then to miss the target is perhaps to miss it elsewhere.
 
p.221-222
Clearly, what is at stake here has something to do with the status of the number 2. If the face-off between two opponents or polar opposites always simultaneously backfires and misfires, it can only be because 2 is an extremely "odd" number. On the one hand, as a specular Illusion of symmetry or metaphor, it can be either narcissistically reassuring (the image of the other as a reinforcement of my identity) or absolutely devastating (the other whose existence can totally cancel me out). This Is what Lacan calls the "imaginary duality." It is characterized by its absoluteness, its independence from any accident or contingency that might subvert the unity of the terms in question, whether in their opposition or in their fusion. To this, Lacan opposes the symbolic, which is the entrance of difference or otherness or temporality into the idea of identity – it is not something that befalls the imaginary duality, but something that has always already inhabited it, something that subverts not the symmetry of the imaginary couple, but the possibility of the independent unity of any one term whatsoever. It is the impossibility not of the number 2 but of the number 1– which, paradoxically enough, turns out to lead to the number 3.
If 3 is what makes 2 into the impossibility of 1, is there any inherent increase in lucidity in passing from a couple to a triangle? Is a triangle in any way more "true" than a couple?
It is Derrida's contention that, for psychoanalysis, the answer to that question is yes. The triangle becomes the magical, Oedipal figure that explains the functioning of human desire. The child's original imaginary dual unity with the mother is subverted by the law of the father as that which prohibits incest under threat of castration. The child has "simply" to "assume castration" as the necessity of substitution in the object of his desire (the object of desire becoming the locus of substitution and the focus of repetition), after which the child's desire becomes "normalized." Derrida's criticism of the "triangles" or "triads" in Lacan's reading of Poe is based on the assumption that Lacan's use of triangularity stems from this psychoanalytical myth.
Derrida's criticism takes two routes, both of them numerical:
1. The structure of "The Purloined Letter" cannot be reduced to a triangle unless the narrator is eliminated. The elimination of the narrator is a blatant and highly revealing result of the way "psychoanalysis" does violence to literature in order to find its own schemes. What psychoanalysis sees as a triangle is therefore really a quadrangle, and that fourth side is the point from which literature problematizes the very possibility of a triangle. Therefore: 3 = 4.
2. Duality as such cannot be dismissed or simply absorbed into a triangular structure. "The Purloined Letter" is traversed by an uncanny capacity for doubling and subdividing. The narrator and Dupin are doubles of each other, and Dupin himself is first introduced as a "Bi-Part Soul" (Mabbott 1978, 2:533), a sort of Dupin Duplex, "the creative and the resolvent." The Minister, D–, has a brother for whom it is possible to mistake him, and from whom he is to be distinguished because of his doubleness (poet and mathematician). Thus the Minister and Dupin become doubles of each other through the fact of their both being already double, in addition to their other points of resemblance, including their names. "The 'Seminar,'" writes Derrida.
 
p.222
In the game odd versus even, then, it would seem that Derrida is playing evens (4 or 2) against Lacan's odds (3). But somehow the umbers 2 and 4 have become uncannily odd, while the number 3 has been evened off into a reassuring symmetry.
 
p.223
If the doubles are forever redividing or multiplying, does the number 2 really apply? If 1 = 2, how can 2 = 1 + 1? If what is uncanny about the doubles is that they never stop doubling up, would the number 2 still be uncanny if it did stopa at a truly dual symmetry? Is it not the very limitlessness of the process of the dissemination of unity, rather than he existence of any one duality, which Derrida is talking about here?
 
p. 235
First of all, the name Dupin itself, according to Poe scholars, comes out of Poe's interioer library: from the pages of a volume called Sketches of Conspicious Living Characters of France (Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1841), which Poe reviewed for Graham's Magazine during the same month his first Dupin story appeared. Andrι-Marie-Jean-Jaques Dupin, a minor French statesmen, is there described as himself a walking library: "To judge from his writings, Dupin must be a perfect living encyclopedia. From Homer to Rousseau, from the Bible to the civil code, from the laws of the twelve tables to the Koran, he has read every thing, retained everything (224)." Detective Dupin's "origin" is thus multiply bookish. He is a reader whose writer read his name in a book describing a writer as reader – a reader whose nature can only be described in writing, in fact, as irreducibly double: (...)
 
p.236
A queen betraying a king, a letter represneting that betrayal being purloined for purposes of power, an eventual return of that letter to its addressee, accompanied by an act of revenge which duplicates the original crime – "The Purloined Letter"" as a story of repetition is itself a repetition of the storiy from which it purloins its last words. The Freudian "truth" of the repetition compulsion is not simply illustrated in the story; it is illustrated by the story. The story obeys the very law it conveys; it is framed by its own content. And thus "The Purloined Letter" no longer simply repeats its own "primal scene": What it repeats is nothing less than a previous story of repetition. The "last word" names the place where the "nonfirstness" of the "first word" repeats itself.
 
p. 240
The reader is framed by his own frame, but he is not even in possession of his own guilt, since it is that which prevents his vision from coinciding with itself. Just as the author of a criminal frame transfers guilt from himself to another by leaving signs that he hopes will be read as insufficiently erased traces of referents left by the other, the author of any critique is himself framed by his own frame of the other, no matter how guilty or innocent the other may be.
 
p.247
To be fooled by a text implies that the text is not constative but performative, and that the reader is in fact one of its effects. The text's "truth" puts the status of the reader in question, "performs" him as its "address".