Cryptomimesis: The Gothic and Jacques Derrida's Ghost Writing

Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    She develops the theory of cryptomimesis, a term devised to accommodate the convergence of philosophy, psychoanalysis, and certain "Gothic" stylistic, formal, and thematic patterns and motifs in Derrida's work that give rise to questions regarding writing, reading, and interpretation. Using Edgar Allan Poe's Madeline and Roderick Usher, Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Stephen King's Louis Creed, she illuminates Derrida's concerns with inheritance, revenance, and haunting and reflects on deconstruction as ghost writing. Castricano demonstrates that Derrida's Specters of Marx owes much to the Gothic insistence on the power of haunting and explores how deconstruction can be thought of as the ghost or deferred promise of Marxism. She traces the movement of the "phantom" throughout Derrida's other texts, arguing that such writing provides us with an uneasy model of subjectivity because it suggests that "to be" is to be haunted. Castricano claims that cryptomimesis is the model, method, and theory behind Derrida's insistence that to learn to live we must learn how to talk "with" ghosts.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6966-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Convocation
    (pp. 3-4)

    “To begin (writing, living) we must have death,” writes Hélène Cixous in “The School of the Dead” (Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing 5). If I say that we have begun, will you understand? Drawn to Cixous’s text I find that the page, which opens like a door upon these words, is marked with a ticket stub for a performance of Mozart’sRequiem. But I did not know then what I know now: what we must have to begin. Otherwise, I might have continued to gaze at Frida Kahlo’sPensando en la Muerte, and, not seeing her death, or...

  5. The First Partition: Without the Door
    (pp. 5-30)

    “‘Wehave put her living in the tomb!… I … tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them – many, many days ago …!I tell you that she now stands without the door!’” (Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher” 547 ). Nearly two hundred years ago, Edgar Allan Poe’s obsessive and overwrought Roderick Usher uttered the words that still resonate in the genre that has since come to be known as the American Gothic. Like many Gothic narratives, “The Fall of the House of Usher” concerns itself with haunting...

  6. Cryptomimesis or, the Return of the Living-Dead
    (pp. 31-53)

    Much has already been written about Derrida’s “non-linear” writing and his attempts to balance the ideographic with the phonetic elements of writing. Gregory Ulmer’s comments best elucidate the range and magnitude of Derrida’s efforts:

    Grammatology confronts nothing less than the sediment of four thousand years of the history of language, during which time everything that resisted linearization was suppressed. Briefly stated, this suppression amounts to the denial of the pluridimensional character of symbolic thought originally evident in the “mythogram” (Leroi-Gourhan’s term), or nonlinear writing (pictographic and rebus writing). In the mythogram, meaning is not subjected to successivity, to the order...

  7. “‘Darling,’ it said”: Making a Contract with the Dead
    (pp. 54-82)

    While the workings of cryptomimesis can be thought through Derrida’s theory of coffins, the crypt’s tripartite economy of desire, indebtedness, and haunting can also be approached through Gothic texts which, through their evocation of the “disgusting,” give one the sense of what, in cryptomimesis, works to abolish representative distance. Since they explore the contractual aspects implicit in the return of the dead from the grave, Gothic texts also trace the uncanny relationship that Derrida evokes between writing and the living-dead and demonstrate that what is disgusting actually prevents mourning because it is “unassimilable” (“Economimesis” 22 ). In Stephen King’sPet...

  8. The Question of the Tomb
    (pp. 83-108)

    As allegory, Poe’s work plays upon the divisions which make thetext, like the House of Usher – the name and the structure – a “very specific and peculiar place, highly circumscribed” (to recall Derrida’s remarks). In a certain sense, “The Fall of the House of Usher” – including the house, the crypt, the patronym, and the story – acts as synecdoche for Derrida’s writing practice, anticipating his concern with the implicit violence of architecture. This notion is voiced by Mark Wigley who points out that, for Derrida, the house is

    the very principle of violence. To dominate is always to house, to place...

  9. An Art of Chicanery
    (pp. 109-130)

    InArt of Darkness: A Poetics of the Gothic, Anne Williams explores the problem of language and multiple meaning in the Gothic. She contends that in the Gothic, “language is multifarious, duplicitous, and paradoxical” (67 ).¹ In terms of cryptomimesis, Williams’s remarks suggest one of the convergences between the Gothic and Derrida’s writing practice. They draw attention to a certain (poetic) encounter with language which is labyrinthine in that it admits the multiple and the ambiguous. Williams has something to say on this sort of labyrinthine writing that characterizes the Gothic:

    Gothic conventions … imply a fascination with the problem...

  10. Inscribing the Wholly Other: No Fixed Address
    (pp. 131-134)

    While the analysis of the crypt has consequences for classical psychoanalysis, especially for the process of transference, the concept has equally far-reaching implications in terms of textual production. Recall what Derrida has said regarding the theory of the crypt and the ghost:

    When it’s a text that one is trying to decipher or decrypt using these concepts and these motifs, or when one is looking for a ghost or a crypt in a text, then things get still more difficult, or let us say more novel. I say a ghostanda crypt: actually the theory of the “ghost” is...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 135-152)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 153-162)
  13. Index
    (pp. 163-165)