Richard Burt

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Richard Burt

Putting Your Papers in Order:

The Matter of Kierkegaard’s Writing Desk,

Goethe’s Files, and Derrida’s Paper Machine,

Or, the Philology and Philosophy of Publishing After Death
But this very understanding was gained through the suffering of wanting to publish but not being able to do it.

--Søren Kierkegaard, deleted from the posthumously published The Point of View on My Work as an Author, 214


When we write by hand we are not in the time before ‘technology; there is already instrumentality, regular reproduction, mechanical iterability. So it is not legitimate to contrast writing by hand and “mechanical” writing . . . . I began by writing with a pen. . . . For the texts that matters to me, the ones I had the slightly religious feeling of “writing,” I even banished the ordinary pen. I dipped into the ink a long pen holder whose point was gently curved with a special drawing quill, producing endless drafts and preliminary versions before putting a stop to them on my first little Olivetti, with its international keyboard, that I’d bought from abroad. . . . But I never concealed from myself the fact that, as in any ceremonial, there had to repetition going on, and already assort of mechanization. . . . Then, to go on with my story, I wrote more and more “straight onto” the machine: first the mechanical typewriter; then the electric typewriter in 1979; then finally the computer, around 1986 or 1987. I can’t do without it any more now, this little Mac. . . .

--Jacques Derrida, “The Word Processor,” in Paper Machine, 2005e, 20.

This really is about the project of a Book to come and not about the book’s being-past that we have just started speaking about.

--Jacques Derrida, “The Book to Come,” in Paper Machine, 2005a, 13.

Henrik Lund . . . noted where each pile, case, box, roll, folder, and notebook lay when Kierkegaard had died, for instance “in the desk,” “in the lower desk drawer,” in the left-hand case,” or “in the second chest of drawers, B, in the top drawer, to the left,” and he took careful note of which pages, scraps, and slips of paper were found together with others. . . . One can see from the order in which the papers were registered that Henrik Lund began with the writing desk, starting with the compartment at the top and continuing with the desk drawers . . . altogether there are 154 numbers for the items found in the desk.

-- Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, ed. Written Images: Søren Kierkegaard's Journals, Notebooks, Booklets, Sheets, Scraps, and Slips of Paper, 2003,11
“To edit” a book in the English sense of the term, means to prepare a manuscript, to establish a definitive version of its text, lay out its presentation—the intricate work of preparation, reading, copyediting, mockup—watch over the bringing into evidence of its identity, its propriety, its closing also, and just as much, in consequence, as its opening. More precisely still, it means opening, giving birth to, and handing over the closure of the book as such: its withdrawal, its secrecy, the illegibility in it that will never be divulged and that is destined for publication as such.

--Jean-Luc Nancy, On the Commerce of Thinking, (28)

“It is my wish that after my death Prof. Nielsen do whatever is necessary with respect to the publication of the entirety of my literary remains, manuscripts, journals, etc. . . . This could perhaps be written in a letter to Prof. Nielsen with the heading, ‘To Be Opened After My Death,’ and the letter might be placed in the desk.” The page was neither signed nor dated . . . . Was this nonetheless actually a testamentary disposition, a last ‘will,’ which in that case ought to be decently respected and which we ought to attempt to implement without hesitation?

Hans Peter Barfod, From Søren Kierkegaard’s Posthumous Papers, Volume Six (1869)1

As a matter of principle, the book is illegible, and it calls for or commands reading in the name of that illegibility. Illegibility is not a question of what is too badly formed, crossed out, scribbled: the illegible is what remains closed in the opening of the book. What slips from page to page but remains caught, glued, stitched into the binding, or else laboriously jotted as marginalia that attempt to trip over the secret, that begin to write another book. What is illegible is not reading at all, yet only by starting from it does something then offer itself to reading.

--Jean-Luc Nancy, “The Publication of the Unpublished” in On the Commerce of Thinking: Of Books and Bookstores (Fordham UP, 2005), 27.


How may readers Either / Or has had—and yet how few readers it has truly had, or how little it has come to be “read”!

--Søren Kierkegaard, supplemental materials to Either / Or, Part Two, 447)


P.S. Roger Laporte has reminded me of a stormy encounter which took place five years ago. During this encounter (although I am unable to recount the occasion for it here) we found ourselves, for other reasons, in disagreement with a certain hermeneut who in passing had resumed to ridicule the publication of Nietzsche's unpublished manuscripts. "They will end up," he said, "publishing his laundry notes and scraps like 'I have forgotten my umbrella'". We discussed the incident again; those who were present confirm this. Thus I am assured of the story's veracity, as well as the authenticity of the facts which otherwise I have no reason to doubt. Nevertheless I have no recollection of the incident. Not even today.2

--Jacques Derrida, Spurs (1979, 139; 141)

“The strange nature of posthumous publications is to be inexhaustible."

--Maurice Blanchot, "The Last Word," in Friendship (1997),3

At the moment I leave “my” book (to be published)—after all, no one forces me to do it—I become, appearing-disappearing, like that uneducable specter who will have never learned how to live. The trace I leave signifies

to me at once my death, either to come or already come upon me,

and the hope that this trace survives me. This is not striving for immortality; it’s something structural. I leave a piece of paper behind, I go away, I die: it is impossible to escape this structure, it is the unchanging form of my life. Each time I let something go, each time some trace “leaves” me, “proceeds” from me, unable to be reappropriated, I leave my death in writing. It’s the ultimate test: one expropriates oneself without knowing exactly who is being entrusted with what is left behind.

--Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview (2007), 32-33

As for written or inscribed language, it appears in Hegel’s text only in the most literal of ways: by means of the parabasis which suddenly confronts us with the actual piece of paper on Hegel, at that very moment and in this very place, has been writing about the impossibility of ever saying the only thing he wants to say, namely the certainty of sense perception . . . unlike the here and now of speech, the here and now of the inscription is neither false nor misleading: because he wrote it down, the existence of a here and now of Hegel’s text of the Phenomenology to the endlessly repeated stutter: this piece of paper, this piece of paper, and so on. We can easily enough learn to care for the other examples Hegel mentions: a house, a tree, night, day—but who cares for his darned piece of paper, the last thing in the world we want to hear about and precisely because it is no longer an example but a fact, the only thing we get. As we would say, in colloquial exasperation with an obscure bore: forget it! Which turns out to be precisely what Hegel sees as the function of writing. . . . Writing is what makes one forget speech . . . the definitive erasure of a forgetting that leaves no trace . . . the determined elimination of determination.

--Paul de Man, “Hypogram and Inscription” in The Resistance to Theory, 42; 43

In the case of the “What is?” question—“What is paper?”—is almost bound to go astray the minute it is raised.

--Jacques Derrida, “Paper or Me, You Know . . . (New Speculations on a Luxury of the Poor)” Paper Machine, 2005b, 52


There is always a closed and inviolable book in the middle of every book that is opened, held apart between the hands that turn its pages, and whose every revolution, each turn from recto to verso begins to fail to achieve its dechipering, to shed light on its sense. For that reason every book, inasmuch as it is a book, is unpublished, even though it repeats and relays individually, as each one does, the thousands of other books that are reflected in it like worlds in a monad. The book is unpublished [inedit], and it is that inedit that the publisher [editeur] publishes. The editor (Latin) is the one who brings to the light of day, exposes to the outside offers (edo) to view and to knowledge. That doesn’t , however, mean that once it is published the book is no longer unpublished; on the contrary, it remains that, and even becomes it more and more It offers in full light of day, in full legibility, the insistent tracing of its intelligibility.

--Jaen-Luc Nancy, The Commerce of Thinking,


This (therefore) will not have been a book.

--Jacques Derrida, “Hors Livre,” Dissemination, 3


Living / Will, Dead / On

This essay shall not be read. It is out of order, unpublishable, unreadable, a sack of papers of what appears to be a complete but unfinished manuscript dumped out on a desktop. What follows, then, is a series of items awaiting a proper inventory and cataloging and then a proper editing under the general title “Posthumography,” a neologism meaning the genre of posthumous publications, "posthumology" being the study of posthumous publication.

The “papers” are generally assumed to be posthumous, as, for example, in the case of the “Guide to the Papers of Paul de Man.” Søren Kierkegard’s title From the Papers of One Still Living spells out the aberrant relation between a living author and the publication of some of his papers. Papers may or may not include diaries, correspondence in the forms of letters, postcards, printed out email, and correspondence may or may not be described as private or public.4 Papers are typically incomplete: manuscripts and letters often get lost before eventually being archived; other manuscripts are destroyed. Decisions concern what should be published (all, or only public parts) and when, who should be the editor (or editors), and how the publication of papers are reception often concerns the ethics of publishing materials such as letters or scraps of paper that seem overly personal and embarrassing to the author, perhaps damaging his reputation; over time, access to the archive housing the papers often becomes increasing difficult as the archive itself becomes a storage vault, less of the papers are permitted by the estate to be published, and the papers treated like works of art in a museum, facsimiles of letters no longer being simply documents but ways of attaching the text, in its apparent materiality, to the person of the author. When an author’s papers (selections of them) are published, the editors tend to insert them into a story of the vagaries of publication (sometimes inventories are drawn up and the biography of the writer.

Posthumography raises a wide range of questions about the boundaries of publication and the emergence of knowledge. Some questions are pragmatic: In what order, if any, have the papers been left by the author, and what does it mean for the editor to put them in order? How are the papers to be edited arranged, and served to the reader as knowledge? Cooked with an extensive scholarly apparatus or left raw the bare minimum of one? Chronologically or by topic? What do we do with papers left behind in various stages and shapes (drafts, sheets, scraps and other remains) when they are published, sometimes with facsimiles of postcards, letters, and pages of manuscripts and notebooks, some of which may contain deletions of passages, marginalia, doodlings, and other drawings made by the author?5 Does editing change if the papers are left in different writing technologies when they are transferred from one kind of support (handwritten manuscript, typed manuscript or computer document) to another (print and / or pdf)?

Some questions are ethical: What happens if the author insistently tried to keep the works from publication? Are an author’s presumed to be an expression of what he wanted, or does publication necessarily mean positing what the author would have wanted? What constitutes evidence of a dead author’s intention? A last will and testament? Paratextual evidence left in footnotes? Are some papers so private they should remain unpublished? Or are papers of a dead man or woman public by definition? Some questions concern the reception of posthumous publications: do readers connect the meaning of a posthumously text to the intention of the editor? What is the relation between the rhythm and speed of reading and the rhythm and speed of posthumous publication? Is a “complete edition” of an author’s works ever complete? How do you know when to stop posthumous publication? Or is posthumous publication, as Maurice Blanchot implies, impossible to stop because it is inexhaustible? And what are we to make of the publication and / or exhibition of intentionally damaged works? Some of Antonin Artaud’s partially burned and pierced paradoxical “graphic works” (Derrida, 1996, 13) that constitute “une graphie des mots et des choses, voire a une graphie sans mot et sans chose [a writing about words and things in a writing in which neither word nor thing is seen] ” (17), were exhibited at the Modern Museum of Art (MOMA) in 1996 against Artaud’s expressly stated wish that no museum ever exhibit his works. In a lecture he gave at MOMA exhibition and subsequently published as Artaud le Moma, Jacques Derrida (1996, 18) maintains that the works had to be “exposed, cruelly exhibited” in order to liberate their force.6

Other questions about posthumous publication concern the manner in which papers have been stored and their subsequent discovery or recovery: What is the between the storage units and filing of papers during textual production or processing and their subsequent (non)publication in print or electronic form? Is there a maximum storage capacity requiring author’s to delete their files or throwaway their papers to make room for more? Still other questions concern the limits of the posthumous. Is there a clear boundary separating posthumous publication from the publications of a living author? How does posthumography differ from cryptography? How posthumous publication be related to mourning? Is it a kind of blocked mourning? If writing is always already linked to death, as Jacques Derrida has shown, to what extent is posthumous publication defined by the biological death of the author? Or are the kinds of problems that might seem to be specific to posthumous publishing (should all of the papers be published and how?) already more or less operative even while the biological author is publishing while still living?

Some questions are ontological. How are “papers” to be differentiated from wastepaper, on the one hand, and works of art, on the other?7 Are an author’s “papers” by definition leftovers, remainders that have an auratic value by virtue of their being a gift to an archive or to a friend from the now dead author? Does any such auratic value depend on whether the papers are stored on a floppy disc or handwritten on sheets of paper? What is the relation between the materiality of paper and the category of an author’s papers? And other questions bear on the relation between the storage of the unpublished papers and the storage of the published papers. We tend assume that that the archive is already given, that an author’s papers can be retrieved at a library the same way books may be. Yet how are papers given even as they are left behind? What does it mean to open an envelope or a desk with a letter or papers in it? Are the envelope or desk the same as bookshelves, allowing one to open or close a book, or are such storage units different from already open access bookshelves have? How do papers bear on Jacques Derrida’s “archivology” in general and on the “secret” of the archive, in particular, the “ash of the archive” that can never be archived? (see Derrida, 1996, 100).8 How might the repetitions and deferrals specific to posthumology be structured by a “going-postal-posthumologicalivity” that disrupts and interrupts publication as such in ways and that thereby deepens and extends “archivology” and the erasing repetitions of anarchivity by throwing light on the way no publication is never given, just waited to be discovered, dusted off, and read? Are “papers” exterior even to a notion of the archive’s remainder of the posthmous, a heterogeneous group resisting classification and that cannot be fully exteriorized or interiorized as public or private? What kinds of textual effects does this kind of remainder—posthumous publications constituting a kind of ash “to come”--produce? How might it, in contrast to Derrida’s never present trace, un/structure what we call reading (of published works), even if, paraphrasing Paul de Man, we take reading to be the resistance to reading?

What sorts of calculations factor into what papers are determined to be worthy of posthumous publication. Consider, for example, Susan Bernofsky’s introduction to Robert Walser Microscipts:

Robert Walser . . . wrote many of his manuscripts in a shrunken down form . . . These narrow strips of paper covered with tiny, antlike markings ranging in height from one to two millimeters, came to light only after their author’s death in 1956. . . . Unsure what to make of these tiny texts, [Carl] Seelig [Walser’s first literary executor] published a handful of them as enlarged facsimiles . . with a note describing them as “undecipherable,” and then put them away for sakekeeping. Now that Walser’s position in the modernist canon has been so firmly established, with his popularity continuing to rise, it is difficult to imagine how it might have been possible for the discovery of his posthumous papers to have attracted so little notice. (2010, 9)

In the name of assigning the Walser’s texts an intrinsic and transparent literary value, Bernofsky inadvertently discloses while bypasses any reflection the kinds of calculations that go in determining what can be recognized as being worthy of posthumous publication: the symbolic value counts, to be sure, but only when it is sufficient –“firmly established” and canonical--to guarantee a publisher’s return on the economic investment.

In the analysis of posthumography that follows, I pursue this large range of questions and others by focusing on the relation between papers, (posthumous) publication, and writing storage devices in three cases: Kierkegaard’s writing desk, Goethe’s files, and Derrida’s paper machine. Whether one decides to edit the papers with an extensive scholarly apparatus, or, as in the case of George’s Bataille’s posthumously published Unfinished System of Nonknowledge (2001), not to do, one assume that the papers have been put in an order to be read, usually according to the author’s presumed wishes. This ordering process focuses, that is, exclusively on filing retrieval, but on filing to put papers away, sorted or unsorted, sorted systematically or unsystematically. Posthumous publication is not reducible to the retrieval of papers.

Let me clear at the outset that I am not discussing storage devices such as writing desks in order to recover in the papers a supposedly original moment of production when pen hit paper but to show how the category of “papers” and the conditions of their publishability complicates while furthering a cultural graphology of (non)knowledge (incomplete, interminable, and unbounded).9 Unlike physical matter, materiality--such as the paper Hegel says he is writing on in the epigraph above taken from Paul de Man--figures a resistance, a forgetting of writing and a stumbling block in reading in the living present.10 To imagine one has access to the “materiality” in the sense of physical object, say of Kierkegaard’s writing desk or to the hard drive of Derrida’s computer or the typewriter ribbons of his typewriters is to imagine oneself as the curator of a museum or library exhibition writing wall texts about now unused objects, not as a philosopher.11 Derrida’s “Paper machine,” like Paul de Man’s “writing machine” is not a physical device like Sigmund Freud’s mystic writing pad but a figure of what Derrida calls the “mechanicity” of writing: Materiality for Derrida and de Man is linked to language, media, rhetoric and is not reducible to physical matter.12 There is no black box, then, when it comes to posthumous publication.

What if the papers are not reducible to the material topography of the device in which they have been stored whether a desk or a computer, what are the consequences of theorizing the different way papers are or are not posthumously published (some posthumously published, some not; some papers are posthumously relatively quickly while the papers of other authors dripping out over decades? Preserving the text in different ways from paper, does digital posthumous publication (via transcription or scanning) make a difference to our understanding of publication in general apart from the fact that digital media allow for faster publication and wider modes of distribution?13 Coming from beyond the grave, does posthumous publication constitute its own kind of textual spectrality vis-a-vis the broader spectral effects that arguably haunt all texts? Similarly, how does posthumous publication bear on what Derrida regards in “The Book to Come” (2005b, 12; 17) as the inevitable resacralization of the secularizing book (whether printed on paper or virtually on a computer screen)? How might posthumous publications constitute a kind of specific supplement calls for different ways deconstructing distinctions that structure the both the history of the book and the notion of the book to come: material and virtual, a non living present and yet not dead, between paper as immaculate, sacred, safe, and its underside exposed to deterioration and destruction as it becomes “bumf,” English sang for paper that is the equivalent of toilet paper (Derrida, 2005b, 43)?

Philologists and philosophers tend to assume that the process of filing and storing papers is relatively straightforward, a transmission from one reader (the author) to another (editor) process who will retrieve the files stored by the owner. As we will see when examining E. R. Curtius’s essay on Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s administrative practices, however, filing reverses the method of the philologist which is about pulling something out of the archive: Goethe reportedly filed everything he wrote or received, including materials such as news papers he no longer wanted to read. Similarly, the posthumous online publication of a letter Derrida wrote in 2004 to a Dean at UC-Irvine deals, as we shall see, both filing with (Derrida threatening not to file more items in their archive) and with pulling items from an unspecified archive (Peggy Kamuf and Geoff Bennington were given this letter written by Derrida by. . . someone, or, they found this letter written by Derrida by . . . somewhere).  Putting one’s own papers in order and putting another person’s papers in order (disordered or ordered) depends on not see filing and storage as modes of reading, or what I want to call “close/d reading.”14 Instead of examining the processes of textual processing involved in writing for publication (or not), philologists and philosophers focus instead either on the published papers or on paper as matter, materiality, or medium.15 In both cases, the author’s papers as such get boxed up and go the process of filing and boxing goes unread.

This essay offers a series of close/d readings of moments in which the publishable furtively comes into visibility at the limits of philology and philosophy. The essay’s larger aim, only announced rather than undertaken here, of this particular kind of microreading is to make possible an analysis of the biopolitics of the archive.16 To understand what it means to have one’s political papers in order, it is necessary to understand first what it means for an author’s papers to be in order, especially when published posthumously; otherwise, a residual Cartesian and instrumentalist account of papers may resurface in the reading of the archive in which the paper would be to the writer’s body as mind is to body, paper being affected from the outside, closed or sealed and then opened or unsealed, like a vault or crypt broken open.17

Awaiting the cataloguing yet to come of the following items, I should add that the items include transcriptions of various kinds of script on materials of various kinds of paper: some items are typewritten in different fonts; some are handwritten in various calligraphies; some are stored in folders and envelopes in files; some are print-outs; some are electronic files. The transcribed materials include papers of various quality and size: vellum, inlaid ivory, watermarked sheets, and Xerox paper. Facsimiles of some of these manuscripts are available in an appendix. While the authorship is clear in all cases, none of the original items is dated, and only the electronic files are datable.

What am I driving at I have tried to show that humanistic tradition is from time to time attacked by philosophy. It may suffer a serious setback from these aggressions. Many signs seem to point to the fact that we are faced once more with an incursion of philosophers, existentialists.

--E. R. Curtius, “Appendix: The Medieval Bases of Western Thought,” European Literature in the Latin Middle Ages, 1953, 592.

. . . this is why everything is now ready—until after my death.

--Søren Kierkegaard, supplemental materials to The Point of View on My Work as an Author, 189


Consequently it must be published. But if I publish nothing at present, I will again have the last card. “The Point of View” cannot be published.

--Søren Kierkegaard, supplemental materials to Either / Or, part two, 447.


Now add the thought of death to that little publication! If I were dead without that: indeed, anyone could publish my posthumous papers . . . .

--Søren Kierkegaard, supplemental materials to Either / Or, part two, 440


Item No. 1: Reading as Data-Processing (Written on a Scrap of Paper Found Enclosed in an Envelope)

In his essay “Romanticism-Psychoanalysis-Film,” Friedrich Kittler begins with a discussion of literature and the Double and proceeds to make a critique of Otto Rank’s essay in relation to the writing desk:

Goethe and Fichte, Jean Paul and Hoffman--Rank’s historical memory extends back exactly one century. The question he never asks, however, is why the figure of the Double populates the literary record and since then and only since then. Even if all psychoanalyses, which is to say dissections, of Romantic fantasies are correctly resolved, there is a remainder. Namely, the simple textual evidence that Doubles turn up at writing desks. . . . The question no one asks, however, is why the Double turns up at the writing desk, of all places. (87; 88)

Kittler quotes an anecdote about Guy de Maupassant sitting at his desk who sees himself enter the room and dictate a story to him:

It is as though Maupassant plays his own psychiatrist in order to gain insight into the genesis of Lui and Horla, his own stories that deal with the double. He reports of a hallucinated dictator at the desk, who subsequently passes into the archives of contemporary psychiatry and through them to Rank. (88) 18

The question that Kittler does not ask, however, is what happens to reading when literature becomes textual evidence. Instead, Kittler makes reading dispensable. “Proof” that doubles turn up around writing desks, Kittler writes, “can be furnished quickly because one no longer need to thumb through all the books. A re-reading of Rank’s Doppelganger suffices. All these ghosts of the writing desk are recorded.” Kittler reads “rereading” as an archival operation: Rank has inventoried and stored items—literary passages--he cut and pasted into his essay, and Kittler in turns Rank’s his essay into a card catalogue with all the passages searched and retrieved. In Kittler’s hands, Rank becomes a search engine that has turned up the relevant passages and recorded them. Reading is for Rank and for Kittler data-processing, of taking stock of an inventory that in turn passes into the archive.

Though it depends for its force on the writing desk, Kittler’s troping of Rank’s discursive psychoanalysis as a collation and collection recording machine rather oddly passes over the relation between the writing desk and publication, the possibility that not only the author is split but that dictated / written manuscript is split as well. For Kittler, reading disappears at the moment the writing desk appears, but not as desktop publishing: the story of getting the literary manuscript into print goes missing.19

Item 2. To Be Opened in the Event . . . (handwritten on vellum in Gothic script)

On the wrapper that contained seven letters [by Kierkegaard] was written: “After my death this packet is to be burned unopened. This information is for the sake of posterity. It is not worth four shillings.”

-- Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Written Images: Soren Kierkegaard's Journals, Notebooks, Booklets, Sheets, Scraps, and Slips of Paper, 2003,109-10.20
Sometimes when Kierkegaard desired total illegibility, Kierkegaard covered the text with a myriad of connected loops, done in ink, or simply smeared it with a piece of pencil lead so that it looks as if the paper is covered with a gathering of enormous thunderclouds. Naturally, ever sine Kierkegaard’s death, everyone who has worked with the archive . . . has wanted to decipher what is under the deletions.

-- Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, Written Images: Soren Kierkegaard's Journals, Notebooks, Booklets, Sheets, Scraps, and Slips of Paper, 2003, 103

Why is the writing desk worth attending to, then? Because it is a container, a storage-device, that figures textual production and processing as a figure of containment, of (a fantasy of) archivalization as a containment of reading and, more interestingly, “close/d reading” I wish to link it to philological and philosophical questions concerning intelligibility and incomprehensibility (as opposed to “not reading”--not turning the pages, forgetting what you have(n’t) read, or skipping the paratext—the title page, copyright page, acknowledgements, and so on—or misreading). As far as I am aware, despite their interesting in writing devices such as the mystic writing pad, typewriter ribbons, computers, and various other writing machines, Derrida, de Man, Nancy and their students never thought to deconstruct the opposition between the publishable and unpublishable; nor did they theorizing the conditions of (un)readability in relation to the conditions of publishability. Despite a strong interest in deconstructing the book—the “book of the world” and the “book to come” in Of Grammatology (1974), his citation in a title of Blanchot’s The Book to Come in an essay (Derridaa, 2005a), the chapters on Mallarme’s posthumously published Le “Livre” de Mallarme (edited by Jacques Sherer) in “The Double Session” in Dissemination (1981), Derrida does not deconstruct the philology of the book, or, more broadly, he does not deconstruct the history of the book what Lefebvre calls “the coming of the book,” the book in the ordinary sense. Derrida does not read, for example, the history of Le “Livre” de Mallarme’’s publication history or the editor’s prefatory account of the book’s editing. Similarly, despite his “Return to Philology” in The Resistance to Theory (1986), de Man does not theorize the philology of his own publication or of any of the writings he discusses. Derrida’s “arche-writing” and de Man’s “inscription” and “formal materiality” are similarly indifferent to their ontological status as manuscript and book or “book.”

By mentioning these kinds of “not reading,” I am not calling attention to a simple oversight nor even to a blindspot in deconstruction, an error or omission that may be corrected or filled in or irreducible error that is constuitive of reading. The many citations from the editorial introduction and editorial note to Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign (2009) that follow as epigraphs below this item testify to just how prosaic and therefore inescapable; rather, put it in the most general terms, I am preparing a way to theorize “close/d reading” by calling attention to an irreducible antagonism between philology and philosophy when it comes to reading preparation and storing of papers in the process of textual production and publication.21 If philology demands that textual production be read as a linearization historical sequencing of a period of time that may be broken it into stages such as textual production first and publication second, editing first, then reading second, or biological life and death, deconstruction defines reading in part as the text’s disruption of linearization, historical sequencing, and literary historical periodization.22 What Derrida and de Man call an “event” or “occurrence”--not to be confused with something that can be dated or measured in relation to empty homogenous time--happens when something is published: like Derrida’s “arche-writing” and de Man’s “inscription,” the event and occurrence are indifferent to textual the specific material forms of phenomenalization: a philological distinction between manuscript and printed text and the pragmatics of editing that follow from it are immaterial to philosophy since neither bears on the deconstruction of the essence of writing, the mediality of language.23

I focus to a specific kind of non / publication, namely, of posthumous papers, because attention to it makes the boundary of publishable and hence close/d reading (re)cognizable as a phenomenonalizaiton of writng in the ordinary sense that is particularly resistant to analysis. For example, The “Guide to the Papers of Paul de Man (available online as a pdf; http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/tf6p30071t/) makes "papers" shorthand for "posthumous papers" and has “no online items.” In some cases, the "posthumous” tends to drop out from the title of later editions of an author’s unpublished papers.  Publishing an author’s “Papers” in both paper print or digital print creates a variety of problems arising from the author’s death, but the posthumous has to be understood not as a different stage of publication that follows a prior stage of publication when the author was still living For even the first stage, if one wants to call it that, of lived publication is already double, a self-reflexive letting go or being cutting off from one’s life in advance of one’s biological death. To paraphrase one Derrida comments in an epigraph above, as one writes, one is always putting one’s papers in order (whether tidily or slovenly). Whether or not the author has left a last will and testament for the disposition or sometimes destruction of his literary remains if someone else sees fit to publish your papers posthumously, he will perform the many of the same operations when preparing them for publication that the author did when writing them—sometimes cutting and pasting the papers on to new sheets of paper to order them chronologically; sorting and filing manuscripts; storing the manuscripts in containers such as cardboard boxes variously labeled, if not in the writing desk where they were found; eventually housing the already stored papers in a library or archive where new editors may come along and reorder the papers for a new edition. Moreover, who whoever acts as literary editor / executor makes decisions with the will of the author when living in mind (not that the editor necessarily knows what the wishes of the author were or respects them). These decisions tend to be explained and justified with recourse to philological norms in the paratexts of posthumously published papers that may also involve a criticism of the flaws of earlier editions of those same papers.

A madness of decision cuts across philology and philosophy in the no man's land of textual production, processing, and printing, a land raided and temporarily occupied to determine the boundaries of the (un)publishable. As a kind of “unreading,” close/d reading, as I define it, is not a synonym or equivalent of Martin Heidegger’s the “unsaid” or “unthought,” but a specific non-chronological event that nevertheless “shows” that the conditions of reading are inseparable from the conditions of publication, posthumous or not. More broadly, theorizing close/d reading necessarily means theorizing unpublishability, which, as I will show later in the essay, are not reducible to a linearized account of textual production as has been maintained by Lucien Lefebvre and Henri-Jean Martin, for example, in The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing 1450-1800 (1976).24 Kierkegaard’s close/d reading is worth pursing, moreover, because of the way it turns relating aesthetic and ethical, or literature and philosophy, into a question of repetition: the unpublishable, even when set to publish, as would a manuscript in fair copy ready to be handed over to the printer, is “unreadable” because it falls short of both typological, figural reading of the sort analyzed by Erich Auerbach in his essay “Figura” and what Jean Luc-Nancy calls “typic” form:

The modes of stitching and binding, paper quality—tint, thickness, grain—also belong to that substantiality, as does the cover design, its colors, motifs. Sometimes its images, the external as well as internal typography, the design and size of its fonts, in format, composition, running heads, its recto pages, correction of every sort of typo, so many discrete (and discreet) traits, whose totality derives from nothing other than an idea or Character, a Typic Form that subsumes all typographies, and characterologies implied in the publication of this volume. (2009, 32-33)

Item no. 3 Not Detecting Close/d reading (print out on Xerox paper).

The two duelists must remain within the realm of the verbal or the poetic simply because in 1828, passport photos, fingerprint files, anthropometric figures and data banks do not yet exist. Because proof of identity is impossible, each agrees to a definition of himself and then wait for the effect. . . . alcoholic episodes from the era of romanticism become the indispensable scientific data of the present century.

--Friedrich A. Kittler, Literature, Media, Information systems: Essays, 86

Now, having seen through the contriving heart of that corrupt man, when I recall the situation now, with my eyes opened to all the cunning, so to speak, when I approach that drawer, I feel the same way a policeman must feel when he enters a forger’s room, goes trough his things, and finds a mass of loose papers in a drawer, specimens of handwriting; on one there is a little decorative design, on another monogram, on a third a line of reversed writing. It readily shows him that he is on the right track, and his delight over this is mixed with a certain admiration for the effort and diligence obvious here. Since I am less accustomed to detecting crimes and, not armed with a policeman’s badge, I would have reacted differently. I would have felt the double weight of the truth that I was on an unlawful path. At that time I lacked ideas as much as I lacked words, which is usually the case. One is awestruck by an impression until reflection once again breaks loose with multifarious deft movements talks and insinuates its way to terms with the unknown stranger. The more developed reflection is, the more quickly it can collect itself; like a passport officer checking foreign travelers, it comes to be so familiar with the sight of the most fabulous characteristics that it is not easily taken aback.

-- Søren Kierkegaard, Either / Or Vol. 1 The Seducer’s Diary, 303-04

In the same sense it could be said that his journey through life was undetectable (for his feet were formed in such a way that he retained the footprint under them—that is how I best picture to myself his infinite reflectedness into himself), in the same sense no victim fell before him. He lived too intellectually to be a seducer in the ordinary sense.

-- Søren Kierkegaard, Either / Or Vol. 1 “The Seducer’s Diary,” 307

In a justly celebrated essay, Carlo Ginzburg (1980) compares the detective methods of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to those of Sigmund Freud and an art critic named Morelli. All three men looked for clues, read closely, followed an investigative method that involving reconstruction a crime scene or a primal scene. Some critics might find it tempting to add philology to Ginzburg’s list of detective methods on the grounds that editing involves a series of decisions made through inferences based on close reading and reconstruction in the form of emendation or of opening up the text by putting, as is the case with Kierkegaard, the manuscripts online, praising the variants, even novelizing the author’s (postulated) development or organizing his papers according to a developmental and chronological schema (see Cerquiglini 1999).25

When it comes to the publication of literature and philosophy, however, the detection as reading analogy for philology confronts texts that have already “read” philologically, rendering papers as missing or destroyed, thereby produce literature such as Henry James’ The Aspern Papers, or rendering papers as found manuscripts as in Nathaniel Hawthrone’s The Scarlet Letter, or letters found in a library and then stolen as in A. S. Byatt’s Possession, paper rendered as a letter hidden in plain sight read in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Purloined Letter.” In the preface to Either / Or, the pseudonymous editor Victor Ermita hacks open his writing desk is hacked open and its remnants go missing from the rest of his narrative. Similarly, editorial accounts of the publication of Kierkegaard’s papers found in his writing desk do not mention what happened to the writing desk. It goes missing.

Item 4: Tabling the Writing Desk26
"After my death no one will find even the least bit of information in my papers (this is my consolation) about what has really filled my life; no one will find that which is written in the core of my being that explains everything, and which often makes what the world would call trifles into exceedingly important events to me, and which I, too, view as insignificance, if I remove the secret note that explains this."

--Søren Kierkegaard’s diary, written soon after the publication of Either - Or (1843)


This new edition [of Kierkegaard’s papers] is governed by modern philological principles regarding the establishment of a scholarly text from handwritten materials. This new editions thus attempts to preserve the archival integrity of the original materials, organizing them in a manner that respects the order in which Kierkegaard himself kept the documents. . . Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks imposes no artificial timeline or categorical compartmentalization upon the materials.

--Kierkegaard’s Journals and Notebooks, xi.27

In a letter to me dated 11 August 1983, de Man projected a volume to be entitled Aesthetics, Rhetoric, Ideology that would have included the following chapters: . . . Critique of Religion and Political Ideology and Marx . . . .”

--Lindsay Waters, “Paul de Man: A Sketch of Two Generations,” in Responses: On Paul de Man’s Wartime Publication, ed. Werner Hermacher (Nebraska UP, 1989), n2.28

Perhaps, now, you could tell us something about he book you are writing and about the “mysterious” chapters on Kierkegaard and Marx you mentioned in the lectures, and the frequent recurrence of the terms “ideology” and “politics” we have noticed recently . . .

--Stephano Rosso, “An Interview with Paul de Man,” in Paul de Man, Resistance to Theory, 1986, 121

“You will never understand—so we can stop now and all go home.”

--Paul de Man, “The Concept of Irony,” in Aesthetic Ideology (164)

Not to worry. Not that you necessarily were, of course. In any case, Kierkegaard’s writing desk still exists. (See Figure One)

Figure One

The desk is housed in Denmark’s Royal Library and was included in an exhibition of Kierkegaard’s manuscripts held in 1996 entitled "Kierkegaard. The Secret Note."29 A photo of the desk is now available on a Royal Library webpage that is based on that exhibition.

The writing desk appears in the exhibition as an exception (it is the only one of Kierkegaard’s personal items to be included). (See Figure Two) But it exhibited not as storage device but framed by a text which enshrines it as a “blessed” origin of the manuscripts, a point of contact between pen and paper, close ups of facsimiles manuscripts that render fragments of them legible. As the writing desk reappears (in a black and white photo), the story of the storage of the manuscripts goes missing.

One publishes for the public. “Publishing” doesn’t mean divulging, nor is it a case of vulgarizing. It means blowing open the seals of an imaginary intimacy, of a privacy or exclusivity of the book. In the end, it means veritably to give to reading. Typography and page layout, printing, stitching or binding, packaging, window-, shelf-, or table-display are what make up entry into the commerce of thinking. Nancy, On the Commerce of Thinking, (29)

Item 5: Close/d Reading (sheets in an envelope)

Jean-Luc Nancy productively refuses to reduce the open book to the moment it is literally opened by its reader. No, he insists, the opening of he book happens well before that moment:

The opening doesn’t take place, as one might think, only when whoever has acquired it has returned home, into a reading room or study, or only once the purchaser sets about cutting the folded pages of the book (to recall a scene that has today become very rare). The opening of the book begins once the publisher sends the book to the bookseller, whether that takes place by an automatic distribution process by various kinds of information, publicity material form the publisher, reviews in newspapers, specialized bulletins, or by rumor and contagion. Curiosity, desire, expectations are being awakened. Promises, invitations, exhortations are being noted. (36)

While welcome, Nancy’s account of what it means to open a book is nevertheless quite limited in scope: he merely pushes back the opening to a process that begins with book’s distribution and what Gérard Genette (1997) would call its accompanying “epitexts” that follow a work’s publication paratexts that are not part of the published book (the “peritext,” which includes the book cover, the copyright page, title page, notes, index, and so on). Nancy’s metaphysics of the open and closed book follows from a dividing reading from the intelligible: “the illegible is what remains closed in the opening of the book. What slips from page to page but remains caught, glued, stitched into the binding, or else laboriously jotted as marginalia that attempt to trip over the secret, that begin to write another book” (27). Reading is thus cordoned off from publication, becoming the boundary from which reading departs: “What is illegible is not reading at all, yet only by starting from it does something then offer itself to reading” (28). Nancy’s notion of the open and closed book thus remains a minor modification of the usually philological account of the relation between editing and reading, the former making the later possible. The book to come folds back into the history of the book that has arrived, that has been published.

Item No 6: The Letter Enclosing / Enfolding the Letter in the Envelope
It is not a matter of pulling meaning out of its envelope—for then it would immediately become good only for discarding—but rather of developing the enveloping as such; spreading it out, but by ceaselessly refolding whatever is deployed.

--Jean-Luc Nancy, On the Commerce of Thinking, 21


In the preface to Either / Or Kierkegaard stages—through a “literary device”-- the problem of close/d reading in relation to the publication of found papers.30 I will return to this preface later in the present essay. By attending to Kierkegaard’s concerns with publication pseudonymously and not, including who should publish his works after his death, we can better appreciate how close/d reading follows from the impossibility of putting one’s papers in order: as a (no always my)self-storage unit, Kierkegaard’s writing desk does not contain or confine reading to allegories of reading that read reading as the resistance to reading published texts, on the one hand, nor reduce it to a mechanical operation of data-processing, on the other.
Item No. 6A: Taking Inventory of the Archive as the Condition of Its Close/d reading

On my computer I even have a “Notebook,” imitating the one you carry around with you, on which I can jot down notes; on the screen it looks like a box and I can turn its pages; they are both numbered and dog-eared.

--Jacques Derrida, “Paper or Me, You Know . . . (New Speculations on a Luxury of the Poor)” Paper Machine, (2005b, 46)

In their account of “the contents of the archive” in Written Images (2003), Niels Jørgen Cappelørn and his co-authors divide Kierkegaard’s literary remains into six groups, the first of which is works that Kierkegaard published and the fifth and “major portion” consisting “of an almost unmanageable mass of loose papers that cannot be assigned to the categories of published writings, biographical documents, or journals. . . . These papers include torn-off notes, scraps and strips of paper, often only a word or two. . . . There are also lists of books to be read or books that have been read” (Cappelørn, 2003, 94). The last category “contains the remains of Kierkegaard’s personal library.” The organization of the archive into six groups has a divided logic: the first five categories are grouped according to teleology of publication—we move backwards chronologically from published works to heterogeneous fragments of “papers.” This teleology requires that Kierkegaard’s library be given its own category, defined as books that Kierkegaard read (as if he did not copies of his own writings in his library). Perhaps unsurprisingly, “these books now constitute a separate subdivision of the Kierkegaard Archive” (Cappelørn, 2003, 94).

In order make Kierkegaard’s papers readable, Kierkegaard must first be implicitly subdivided into writer and reader, his own writings separated off from the writings of other authors. Through this discursive operation, what some critics would call the materiality of Kierkegaard’s writing and reading practices becomes readable. The archivist turns Kierkegaard’s papers and books into things: “among the more unusual artifacts are the sheets of blotting paper on which Kierkegaard wrote nothing at all but simply left the inarticulate remains of his writing process” (Cappelørn, 2003, 94). The sheets of blotting paper become a device analogous to Freud’s mystic writing pad, a storage device for the remains of the remains as it were. But if the “thinging” of papers makes possible a coherent topography of the archive, it also marks the limit of the readable (the articulated).

The more concretely the papers become things, more unreadable they become as texts. Pointing out that it may be interesting to learn which books Kierkegaard had on his shelves and which editions, Cappelørn says that “it is especially those volumes in which he underlined or wrote notes that invite closer inspection” (2003, 97). Study of such marginalia has taken a central place in the history of the book. Cappelørn et al go a step further, however, and take a rather comic turn by getting hypermaterial, as it were: “the books in which he simply bent down a few corners, as was his wont, may be an alluring topic for particularly energetic researchers who have a penchant for daring hypotheses. Kierkegaard’s dog-ears have not found their interpreter” (2003, 97). The humor here is rather complex: Cappelørn implies that no serious scholar would seek to interpret the practice of dog-earing as significant evidence of how Kierkegaard read; yet, unwilling or unable to explain why underlining should be any more significant of to a researcher than dogged-eared pages, Cappelørn includes the implicitly excluded dog-eared pages (in the implied off-limits of the “should not be read” / “will not be read”) as remainders of the folds left by Kierkegaard’s hands, much like the inarticulate sheets of blotting paper. The dog-eared pages remain in the realm of the potentially readable, and the “to be found” reader would also fall in the implied category of “to be found” writings, Kierkegaard’s “drafts and manuscript materials that have been lost” (2003, 78). In making the entire archive readable by turning papers into material things, the authors actually expose, advertently or not, the limits of the readable. Folding gets folded up, left in the lost and found department of the archive.31

But it was especially after the autumn of 1924 and during the final winter of his life that I really came to know him. . . . He had the ‘weakness,’ as he called it . . . to save packets of letters, some of them extremely intimate . . . , as well as bundles of notes, notebooks, and books begun and then abandoned (he had published very little). He wanted, before destroying them, to take one last trip among these ultimate expressions . . . .

--George Dumezil, The Riddle of Nostradamus: A Critical Dialogue. Trans. Betsy Wing (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1999), 4


Yet to be Numbered Item: The Coming and Going of the Book to Come: Writing Off the Desk (in pencil on blank pages inside the back and front covers of several books)
We have forgotten to talk about the color of paper, the color of ink, and their comparative chromatics: a vast subject. That will be for another time.

--Jacques Derrida, “Paper or Me, You Know . . . (New Speculations on a Luxury of the Poor)” Paper Machine, 2005b, 53


Let’s not talk about the verbs cut and paste or delete that my software also includes. They all have lost all concrete reference and descriptive reference to the technical operations performed, but these infinitives or imperatives also retain the memory of what has disappeared: the paper, the page of the codex.

--Jacques Derrida, “Paper or Me, You Know . . . (New Speculations on a Luxury of the Poor)” Paper Machine, 2005b, 46


We won’t tell the story of the subjectile, rather some record of its coming-to-be.

--Jacques Derrida, "Unsensing the Subjectile," in The Secret Art of Antonin Artaud, 1998, 61

Although Derrida often talked about telephone conversations, writing machines like the mystic writing pad, his computer, paper, pens, typewriters, pencils, and other writing materials, he did not discuss the desk. Derrida’s neglect of the writing desk is not to be regarded as a fault, in my view. (The reader may have noticed that I have not talked about either my writing desk or my computer.) The disappearance of the writing desk from Derrida’s “graphosphere” registers Derrida’s own orientation to a future, a future that forecloses the future anterior of “the book that (never) did not (yet) arrive.” In “The Book to Come,” for example, Derrida discusses the book that came and went as an “era” that is coming to an end as publishing goes paperless: “texts, documents, and archives . . . are further and further away both from the support that is paper and the book form” such that finite texts giving way perhaps to “open textual processes,” Paper Machine, 7; 8). Derrida poses the reading “to come” in relation to the archive, of a possible reading “to come” (l’avenir [the future] / a venir [to come]) and the secret as the ash of the archive, a remainder that cannot be archived, the figure for an “impression,” a contact between foot and ash leaving behind a footprint that can only be retraced, never recovered, only hallucinated as such through fiction since it never existed. Because he opposes arche-writing (the trace) and writing in the ordinary sense, Derrida tends only to talk about the impression, not the impressed (which gets radically compressed); he looks back from the present at “the now longer is) but from a future anterior perspective at something that never was,” at the no longer was not,” the “has not yet been,” or the “not yet having been.”32 The boundaries of publication, including posthumous publication, never become an issue for Derrrid since the metaphysical essence of the book to come has nothing to do with the writing that was in an empirical, material sense. By examining the Derrida textual rush to the future and packing up the past in an “era,” the Foucauldian inflected “history” of “paper” that “will have been a brief one” (Paper Machine, 42) of more concretely, we may reread grammatology in relation to what have become the expanded field of posthumography in which ash is one remainder among others of what goes unpublished or displayed to death.



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