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The derivative of Traveling with Derrida within the colonization of our own language

Dear Internet,

In the last post we reminded ourselves that the etymological origins of the word primitive are «of a thing from which something is derived, not secondary...». In this post we want to continue exploring/deconstructing this notion of derivatives .. of de-arriving. And how this relates to our own work-in-progress .. The Becoming .. & whether it is possible to 'create' anything original anymore (or whether everything has become derivative) .... all in the context of 'settling' into our new home & not leaving the island of Manhattan for the past month & a half (except a dinner in Brooklyn & another day we walked across the GWB to New Jersey before turning back (technically not setting foot in NJ, only hovering over it, unclicked).


where we're writing from (on the horizontal island, 223 pixels from the left) as seen from the Palisades

In the last post we revealed the cover for The Becoming & said what it 'was about' .. that it stemmed from feral hybrid beings raising themselves by their bootstraps somewhere on the Oregon coast. We'll go a bit further now & say that where they/we are writing from is actually an island at the headwaters of a river .. the Columbia River .. near Astoria .... the last stop for Lewis & Clark before their expedition turned back. These mongrel beings never leave this island (not in book 1 (technically book '0' in their counting system)). To be precise, they never arrive .. or they already had arrived.

But, again, The Becoming is not about anything except the language that it is written in (which you could say about any book). The language of the book is derived in part from Chinook Jargon (a pidgin trade language of the Pacific Northwest (derived from a hodgepodge of French, English, Chinook & other native languages) that the natives of the northwest used to communicate/barter with fur traders & the likes of Lewis & Clark) & also from the (invented) journals of a rogue member of the Lewis & Clark expedition. This is all these feral mutts have to reference to derive their own tongue (in the absence of a 'mother' tongue). There's a few constraints though on the language .. for starters, the verb 'to be' is never used in the book. A thing can become, but never is. Everything is ever in a state of becoming .. we/they live in days of future passing now.

So far The Becoming has 36,249 words. Of these, the word 'become' is used 210 times. The word 'come' is used 390 times. The variation 'com' (as in dot com) is used 132 times. 'Cum' is used 603 times, but when we use the word 'cum' we mean it in its Latin sense (not the sexual sense, you perve): «combined with; also used as (used to describe things with a dual nature or function)». Everything exists in a transcendental state .. future-cum-past .. to only be actualized (& simultaneously killed) when it comes in contact with language. The secret is, how close can you come to the source without be(com)ing burnt.

red lighthouse

red lighthouse beneath the GWB
(George Washington being the original American president from which all others are derived)

How many times is the word 'came' used in The Becoming? Zero. This is because there is no past & there is no future (obviously, if the book is about becoming) .. only days of future passing now .. at least in regards to verb tense. As in Chinook Jargon & other 'primitive' languages, to express a past or future action you need to directly specify the time .. as if everything happens (now) in days to come or days gone .. though the word 'day' is never used (they invent their own time-keeping system .. & also numbering systems (which is base-4, though the number '4' is never used in The Becoming, because they start with 0 & can only count up to 3 before they repeat the cycle)). And to complicate matters further, they/we keep no notion of 'time' per se .. at least not as defined by this web-based manifestation of language we are using now.

And as you can probably derive by this post & a few others before it (in which we method act .. wherein the language used to describe the language we use starts to become, or mimic that language .. or alternatively, we inhabit the language), the word 'I' is not used. Nor is the word 'you'. The only pronouns used are us & them (though occasionally a few hes & shes slip in .. usually in regard to father & mother figures once or twice removed).

OK, perhaps we've said enough about The Becoming. We suppose, if we are properly method-acting here in this post, that we should not be using the verb to be here. But you try it & you'll realize how hard it is. & perhaps we shouldn't use the pronoun 'you' but in this context we are conscious of you being The Internet.


Apparently we've been obsessing a lot over the words 'coming' & 'arriving,' but we hadn't put much thought into the word derive until we started reading Derrida a few weeks ago, in particular Counterpath: Traveling with Jacques Derrida. Leave it the original (non-derivative) deconstructionist to focus on the binary opposite of arrive.

Like us, Derrida gets so hung up on words that he sometimes seems to not be getting anywhere .. like he's running in place. Speaking of which, our latest addition to our furniture is this fancy stationary bike, where we finished reading Traveling With Derrida .. pedaling in place, watching the river below.

spin bike

the Sole Fitness SB700—which we highly recommend if you are looking for a smooth-riding spinner

The truth is though, Derrida gets around .. he's been around the block & then some. Little did we know he was such the obsessive world traveler.

Counterpath is a collaboration between between Catherine Malabou (not to be confused with Marabou .. as in these vile storks which we co-habited with in our Kenya days) & Jacques Derrida .. a transcript of their correspondence in a sense .. Derrida piping in with postcards from the road, inter-stitched throughout the book in different fonts, side by side with Malabou's analysis of Derrida as traveler (effectively equating all his writing to travel writing). The text is somewhat non-linear as such & the reader is invited to peregrinate, much as a pilgrim, forming their own itinerary (in our circumstance (where circumstance means to stand in a circle), our itinerary was influenced by our own Becoming).

Derrida hand-writing

Derrida's hand-writing (in letter to Malabou from the road)

The first words of the book are:

«Arriving and deriving [dériver] have separated.»

And from there Malabou digs into the etymology of derive. As she (ever under the influence of Derrida .. whose name serendipitously conjures deriving, or deriding) points out, derive derives form the latin rivus (stream) or ripa (bank)(as we've also pointed out elsewhere on 5cense, in particular in our ruminations on the origins of river (as relates to the she-wolf, a Chinook version of which is mother to the mongrels in The Becoming) .. in which we realized a river is not so much defined by the water running in it, but by the banks that shore the flux of water in place.) The difference between arrive & derive is that in a-rive we go to the shore & in de-rive we leave from the shored banks.

And from there, Malabou (still ever under the spell of Derrida) digs further into the variations, the derivatives .. ever filtered & deconstructed through post-modern bi-focals that get purged/consumed in self-reference, digesting the meaning of meaning, the derivative of derivative .. as if digesting your own digestive tract, which in turn becomes (inside-out) Ouroboros .. a snake eating its own tail (or see also, the ant death spiral).

Ouroboros snake eating own tail

Owing to our mathematics background, when we see the word derivative, we think of it in the calculus sense .. as the binary opposite of an integral .. wherein when you talk about the derivative of something, you are talking about the rate of change over time. For example, the derivative of position, is velocity. And the derivative of velocity is acceleration. Similarly (with mathemtaics-weened mind) when we see the word primitive or 'primal,' we think of prime numbers .. which perhaps epitomize the proper sense in which to think of anything primal .. numbers that can be deconstructed no further .. that can be divided by only itself & 1 .. the original base number from which all its subsequent composites are derived. Or we also think of the bootstrapping (whilst headbanging) notion of priming a pump. Whereas when Basquiat heard this word primal (in regards to expressionism & his sensibiities), his first association was «primate, as in ape». When in fact, even primates are derived from the primal (humans being the ethnocentric & anthropomorphic keepers of language that we are are, of course think of ourselves as the original species, the highest order from which all other animals are derived (when really it's the other way around .. although through deconstruction bi-focals it matters not). And speaking of primates & the verb to be, what's up with human beings being called «human beings»? As if other animals aren't?

When we think of books with titles such as «Traveling with ...» our first association is Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck, a book we'd all but forgotten about until reading Traveling With Derrida. Toward the end of Steinbeck's career (perhaps this book was his last (though according to you, The Internet, it was his second-to-last .. his last being America & Americans)), Steinbeck bought a camper, named it Roccinante (after Quixote's horse) & drove across America with his dog Charley. In fact, the camper was not unlike the one we lived in at the time we read Travels with Charley.

expressionistic trailer trash

self-portrait with our camper with expressionist paint job (de-shelled & parked/retired to our mother's land in California (which she has since sold so who knows what sort of feral beings inhabit it now))

As Steinbeck travels with his dog, he muses on America & the characters he meets. And (starting in NY) he follows a path through the northern states, similar to Lewis & Clark (we seem to remember him musing on them at the headwaters of the Columbia) .. ending where they did, before returning by way of his original 'home' in  the Salinas valley (nearby to where we read pretty much the entirety of Steinbeck's body of work, when we lived in Monterrey (in high school) & Santa Cruz (college), when we lived in the above camper.

steinbeck travel itinerary

Steinbeck's circuit of America

While Steinbeck focuses on America (not just in Travels with Charley, but pretty much his entire corpus .. minus The Log from the Sea of Cortez .. which was more memorable (in our opinion) than Travels With Charley), Derrida's domain spreads over the entire planet. And like his geographical locales (from which Derrida sends postcards), the book is all over the map & hard to read in one sitting without your attention drifting .. which is the point (as noted in the preface, it is «designed to enable several different reading trajectories.»)

The derive-derived notion of drift is also emphasized (literally .. throughout the book these words, derive, derivative & drift are circled). As well as catastrophe .. as a failure to derive or arrive.

«This failing is in fact another name for a promise, promise of a voyage that, because it does not derive, is always in the process of arriving. Deconstruction gets going from the vantage of this failing; it is from that perspective that it invents its viability, the chance of a voyage that reverts, in an unheard of manner, to a sense that, if one still believed in literality, one could literally call the cutting [frayage] of path(way) [voie]. Writing must indeed "open itself to a thinking of the earth as of the cutting of a path."»

Whether we were conscious of this or not before, this pretty much sums up the thinking behind The Becoming .. whose origins lie in failure .. bastard beings born from a rogue member of an expedition that while most (Americans) saw it as a success, could also be perceived as a catastrophe, the cathartic point at which the original America (the native, pre-Columbus & pre-Amerigo Vespucci America) died, leaving in it's wake the flagged & documented ideologue of manifest destiny .. of which the journals of Lewis & Clark were a derivative manifestation). This is where we're coming from, in our Becoming. This is what we were born from (especially as we were born in Portland, Oregon).

burnt out car & synagogue

somewhere in the vicinity of where we're writing from

This idea of derivation extends even (or of course) to language itself, to which Derrida (& Malabou) think there exists no given language, only the idea of language .. a primal idea of language you could say. You can't possess language, not as an object (though you can possess book objects). But there can be specific languages (for the sake of clarification, let's say English) derived from this idealized notion of language. And each individual manifestation of English is derived from English which is derived from the original ideal language (which doesn't exist). Per Derrida (whose language once-removed is French):

«There is my language, but in order, precisely, that it be mine, I must invent it my whole life through, enter it in my own way, delineate my style within it (my "prior-to-the-first language"); conquer a space in it that is no longer just language, but my language within the language without which I wouldn't be able to speak. In a sense I am therefore required to colonize my own language. At the same time, this idiom that I invent is not absolutely peculiar to me, for it bears the scars of another colonization: every integral style takes on, interiorizes rules that don't belong to it but which issue from the law of the mother tongue, its history, the political genealogy of its institutions.»

And of course, all this is through the lens of we, the reader. We can't help but to read into these word by Derrida (or about Derrida), as applies to our own situation, which currently is in a sedentary state (though being that we live 18 floors off the ground, our existence is not technically sedentary nor grounded, but somewhat flighty or ethereal) .. in the aftermath of a few years of traveling & nomadic living. Derrida's words become ours, we inhabit his language .. we inhabit his space.

«The splitting of the ego, in me at least, is not transcendental claptrap ..., I am, like he who, returning, from a long voyage, out of everything, the earth, the world, men and their languages, tries to keep after the event of a logbook, with the forgotten fragmentary rudimentary instruments of a prehistoric language and writing, tries to understand what happened, to explain it with pebbles bits of wood deaf and dumb gestures from before the institution of the deaf and dumb, a blind man groping before Braille and they are going to try to reconstitute all that, but if they knew they would be scared and wouldn't even try.» [SIC]

.. in our applied situation, the logbook being this very blog which we've kept over the past decade of travel (& the hand-written journals before that), mapping books we've read to geographical places (see the PLACES category in the recent index we made for a full list) .. with the most recent book, Counterpath: Traveling with Derrida, being mapped to the air-space of 560 Riverside Drive Apt 18F.

view du jour

view du jour (the snow since melted)

In the language we are deriving for The Becoming, besides not using first & second person pronouns, we are also avoiding proper nouns & names altogether (we method-acted this constraint in a few posts in the spring of 2012, starting with this one). Names are used in the language of the book only in the sense that Native Americans used them .. not so much as names, but necessary signifiers to reference (usually the first thing that originally came to mind when they thought of this person), i.e. Suckled by Wolves, or One Who Derives From Rivers.

This choice to not use proper names is reinforced by a chapter about Derrida & Lévi-Strauss (originally documented in Of Grammatology), wherein Malabou revisits Derrida revisiting the textual voyage of Lévi-Strauss .. in particular Tristes Tropiques (& here we are, in turn, revisiting Malabou, thrice removed from the original) .... wherein Lévi-Strauss was studying the Nambikwara people in the Amazon, who did not have written language (or so Lévi-Strauss thought .. or failed to recognize). And within the spoken language of the Nambikwara, the use of proper names was taboo (which Lévi-Strauss circumvented by assigning arbitrary Portuguese names to use at least in reference). What Lévi-Strauss discovered though was at times someone would reveal a person's name in revenge, as a spiteful act in retaliation for something this person did. Revealing someone else's name was in essence an act of violence, it effectively classifies (or de-classifies them) .. in a lingual sense it kills them .. in a spiritual sense it diminishes them. Ditto with photography.

«In this way the name becomes a label and loses its vocative value. Every society is therefore violent to the extent that it proceeds on the basis of the death of the proper, or what is one's "own". This obliteration is precisely what Derrida calls "writing in the broad sense," "arche-writing," or else "difference."»

And in regards to our thoughts already on being & The Becoming, here we are channeling Malabou, channeling Derrida, channeling Heidegger:

«In The Principal of Reason he declares: "Being proffers itself to us, but in such a way that at the same time it, in its essence, already withdraws." It withdraws to the very extent that it is not (a) present. In fact, in its essence Being [Sein, être] is not a being ["entity," Seiendes, étant]. It is the means by which a being comes to be being, it indicates the provenance and sense of "beingness" without ever being confused with it. The Being by which a being comes to be being is not itself a being.»

And serendipitously as we write this, Bob Marley comes up on shuffle on our iTunes, singing:

Remember that—
when the rain falls,
it don't fall on one man's housetop.

they got so much things to say right now
so much things to say

Which is to say, we have more to say about Derrida & all that is primal & derivative, but it will have to wait for another post ....

>> NEXT: From the Big Apple to the Big Easy reading Michael Zell & writing our own Errata

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