Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Matter of Life and Death

A phantom walks into the room, sees a movie on the TV screen, perhaps initially wonders who these images of dancing people are for: characters, surely, but not just them.

A person walks into the room, sees the same movie, imagines the phantom (who appears, but was already there).

The phantom watches the person. Specters haunt a mechanized, rationalized, secularized world and we sometimes establish coordinates for ourselves by triangulating ghosts that correspond to on-screen triangles. Off-screen space, spatial and narratological pauses, are mirrors to some of the creepy, wonderful, deep and terrifying things that help us orient ourselves in a profoundly disorienting set of phenomenological stimuli.

"The specter is not simply someone we see coming back, it is someone by whom we feel ourselves watched, observed, surveyed, as if by the law: we are "before the law," without any possible symmetry, without reciprocity, insofar as the other is watching only us, concerns only us, we who are observing it (in the same way that one observes and respects the law) without even being able to meet its gaze. Hence the dissymetry and, consequently, the heteronomic figure of the law. The wholly other—and the dead person is the wholly other—watches me, concerns me, and concerns or watches me while addressing to me, without however answering me, a prayer or an injunction, an infinite demand, which becomes the law for me: it concerns me, it regards me, it addresses itself only to me at the same time that it exceeds me infinitely and universally, without my being able to exchange a glance with him or with her." (Derrida, in conversation with Bernard Stiegler, Echographies of Television)