+ All Categories
Home > Documents > Derrida Photography

Derrida Photography

Date post: 03-Jun-2018
Upload: ludmilarom
View: 234 times
Download: 0 times
Share this document with a friend

of 18

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    Spectral Bodies: Derrida and

    the Philosophy of the Photograph

    as Historical Document


    Marxs call for a materialism capable of engaging reality assensuous human activity opens a question about the role of

    representation in relation to data. Images have increasinglybeen seen as significant forms of data in the history ofeducation. Derridas theory of the spectrea variation on the

    positions established in his earlier works on the trace, thesupplement and differanceoffers a way of rethinking visualimages, their relations with existing discourses of knowledgeand with positioned subjects who makes sense. Two earlytwentieth-century photographs are explored here in relation toideas derived from Derrida as an exercise in the philosophy ofrepresentation.


    The chief defect of all previous materialism . . . is that the thing, reality,sensuousness, is conceived only in the form of an object of contemplation,but not as sensuous human activity (Marx, 1969, p. 13).

    What happens when we try to recover sensuous human activity from itsrepresentation? In what sense are we engaging with the material realitythat we must assume engenders the representation? What are the relationsbetween the material representation and the material, but not present,activity it represents? These questions present problems that the historianconfronts implicitly or explicitly in every aspect of addressing and makingsense of the past. The issue of representation and its relations with thehistorical quest for the truth of complex social practices, as in the historyof education, cannot be said to have been settled or resolved. It remainsone of the most live theoretical questions now confronting the historian.

    The photograph as a source of evidence or meaning provides an occasionhere for some consideration of the issue of representation in the field ofhistory of education.1

    Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2005

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005. Published by Blackwell Publishing,9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    Two photographs are brought together here for consideration. Both aretaken from a fairly well-known text on the history of childhood. In bothcases, their appearance in the book is supplemented by a contextualisingcaption, although the caption makes little reference to the apparent contentor status of the photographs. It is as if the photographs and their status as

    68 N. Peim

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    documents speak for themselves. They punctuate the text as self-evidentillustrations of its account of the child and schooling, an account thatfollows a familiar but not unimportant story of governmental interventionvia the social apparatus of the school into the domain of childhoodeven

    while that domain is being constituted. Another way of looking at thesephotographs is that they announce the arrival of the spectral into thehistory they inhabit.


    These two examples here serve as case studies for a consideration of thephotograph as trace within a logic of what Jacques Derrida has calledspectrality (Derrida, 2001a, pp. 4344; Negri, 1999). One of the selectedexamples here represents Girls saluting in a drill class in the playgroundof Ben Jonson School, Stepney, in 1911 (Horn, 1989, p. 39). The otherrepresents: Boys learning to knit at Walton Lane Council School,Liverpool, c. 1914 (Horn, 1989, p. 45). As photographic evidence withinthis text they stand alone. Questions of authorship or origin, for example,such as might be addressed within the literary field, are not posed. Wehave to put into brackets the conditions of their production, and suspendthe questions they might give rise to. By whom, under what conditions andwith what purposes were these photographs created? Questions ofsignificance are also averted. How exactly do they stand in relation tothe text, what specific information do they convey, how might weunderstand them in relation to a larger history? The information is notconveyed within the context of their appearance.

    They have perhaps a series of connecting threads that will not take toomuch time to establish. Both appear together in the same book (in achapter entitled Widening Horizons). The book makes some contextua-lising information available. The dates are given, whichalong with thequality of the photographs, their characteristic timbremean that we canlocate them within an era, within a certain knowledge about schooling andwithin a sense of the historical movement of urbanisation (Donald, 1992;Jones, 1977; Hunter, 1994; Wardle, 1974). At another level, these

    photographs may prompt us to recall a series of laws relating to childemployment, the prehistory, the invention and inauguration of theapparatuses of state schooling, the particular form of the elementaryschool, its characteristic structure, its ambience and its specific practices.They may call on us to consider the transition from sovereign to capillarypower and the attendant transformation of the state in relation to practicesgoverning the body and the soul (Foucault, 1997b; Rose, 1990). Thesephotographs seem to reverberate with this history. All this supplementaryknowledge will give us pointers to follow what we take to be significantfactors in the history of education, prompt us to make sense of each textual

    ensemble in particular ways. It might not be too fanciful to suggest thatthese photographs call to us as historians of education (and no doubt inother ways, too). They seem to make a demand upon us that we work

    Spectral Bodies 69

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    towards their understanding, to give them a true and proper reading.2 Ifthe photograph cannot guarantee its own fidelity to an originary reality, wemay have to seek to establish a kind of good faith in terms of renderingit meaningful in relation to an always unfinished series of modes of

    understanding and forms of knowledge.These photographs give rise to a number of speculative questions. Wemay wonder, for instance, about the position from which each imageis seen/taken. From what positionwhat physical, social, space-timeperspectivesis the scene before us viewed? In what sense is the gazingsubject of the photograph both implied and excluded from its structure?The image and the angle of the image project back to us a specific positionthrough imaginary lines of convergence. We always see from a pointoutside the bounded space of the photograph. We occupy, by implication,the viewing position of the photographer, but clearly not the same social,temporal, professional point of view. Our position is itself, as it were,haunted by this difference. We cannot reclaim this originary point of viewand can only speculate as to its character. The photograph to some extentdepends for its very existence on the figure and the position of thephotographer, as imaginary agent of its existence, but for us this mustremain forever an imaginary position that we cannot occupy in the sameway. Looking at the photograph effects a temporal dislocation. We arerequired to take up the impossible position of seeing through someoneelses eyes.

    At the same time, we are aware, at some level or other, of themetonymic filaments that lead out from the image. The figures and thespace they occupy imply a large school; the few houses viewed implymany; the built-up environment implies a city. This image cannot becomplete in itself, nor can it completely capture the field of vision of itsagent. It is always already cropped. It hovers in a space that implies itslarger physical context. We read the scene as being embedded in an urbansetting, just as we read its temporal and spatial context. As we begin tofigure out the relations between what is framed within and what isconnected outside the framing of the photograph, we become consciousof absent presences. These may be, as with the position of thephotographer, unrepresentable, but they may also arise more intimately

    within the very content of the photograph. Both scenes represent highlyordered configurations of bodies enacting intricate and co-ordinated,purposeful movements in collective activity. In both cases we witness ahighly disciplined activity and social milieu. But where or what is the sourceof this order, where is the agency of this palpable discipline? Thephotographs in both cases cannot represent what is a vital element of theircomposition. Both photographs seem to be metonymic of significantpractices enacted through mass schooling concerned with governing thebodyand doing so in a collective, normative mode.3

    Within a logic of presence and absence, nonetheless, both photographs

    present definite and readable content. The drill class photograph clearlydepicts an urban context. We can read this from the style of buildings, thelow rise tenement-type constructions that have an effect of compression

    70 N. Peim

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    about them. The brick-built buildings, their grimy exteriors closing off anyvistaall indicate an urban, proletarian environment. We see this echoedin the figures of the children, in their clothes, their aprons; their very bodystyles seem to speak of a particular socio-economic stratum. The schools

    location, its dramatic proximity to the tenement dwellings and the washingline are clues that in various ways confirm the sense of social context.Historically speaking, we know that the school arises in that context as aspecial, differentiated space within which particular kinds of regulatedevents may occur, shaping and transforming the social environment. Whatwe witness in the photograph is precisely one of those well-regulated,purposeful events that signal the realisation of a new era in the governanceof urban, proletarian populations. The girls appear to belong to thatportion of the urban population for whom elementary education wasdesigned as an array of practices in disciplined self-management, thecultivation of a limited range of literacy skills and domestic competences,and a regime of ordered management of the body (Donald, 1992, pp. 1746; Seaborne and Lowe, 1977). We can see too that age stratification isat work: the girls appear to be close enough in age for us to conclude thattheir training is heavily norm-oriented. The choreography of the activityindicates this clearly. The pose is held, with inevitable differences ofpersonal body style, but at the same time with an implied unity in thearrangement. A perfectly disciplined practice is in place here. What isenacted through a careful organisation of bodies in space is a collectivedisciplinary training of the person.4

    A mere three years separates the alleged date of this photograph fromthe other. Once again we are aware of the spatial arrangements of bodiesin trained activity within an institutional context. Boys learning to knittakes us into the interior of an institution that, we may imagine, shares asimilar structure and location to the implied institution of the drill class.(Qua institution, it is not, of course, there in that an institution in thissense cannot be represented photographically as such.) The organisationof arrangements of space and objects is interesting again. The walls aredecorated with images of nature that appear in two forms. The higher layerincludes fairly detailed, more or less naturalistic images of flowers. Below,both flora and fauna appear in ghostly silhouette form. It is as though

    sensuous reality (or one version of it) and ideal forms were beingdeliberately set off against one another, in a platonic relation of signs. Inthe lower half of the picture we discern the familiar gallery of the boardschool, the special arrangement that came with the still relatively recent,though by then (1914) pretty well-established, inventionthe classroom.The gallery is populated in this case by male subjects. Once again we mayspeculate on where we are positioned, though in this instance it is easy, atone level at least, to imagine ourselves positioned at the point where theteacher figure would habitually stand, or perhaps at a point above thatprecise position. Of course, our point of view cannot in any full sense be

    the same as that imaginary figure. Spatially, it is possible to locateourselves more or less and in a purely abstracted sense. Socially, in termsof an identity more fully fleshed out in terms of culture, values,

    Spectral Bodies 71

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    knowledge, language and the viewpoint that comes with a specificDasein, it is not quite so easy.5 Perhaps it would also be presump-tuous to pretend to know. We are historically removed and can at bestperhaps identify ourselves as different from the life-world of the

    photograph.We may also speculate on the activity enacted in the photograph, itsmeaning and its place within a scheme of things that today we would referto as a curriculum and that might in that time also be called by the samename but with a different set of resonances. There will be parallels, ofcourse, with our own contemporary experiences of classrooms andcurricula: we are likely to be familiar at least with the carefully orderedarrangement of bodies indicated here. Eighteen boys, each with a ball ofwool and knitting needles, sit in three well-ordered rows. They all focuswith apparently total absorption on the knitting task in hand. This is notexactly a drill exercise as in the previous example, but it is an extremelyregulated activity performed with an apparent competence and focus thatsuggests long-term training. We note, too, that these boys, like the girls inthe previous picture, appear to be urban, working-class children from theirdemeanour, though perhaps more well-groomed than the girls of Stepney.Again, it is evident that their grouping is the product of age stratification.The scene speaks of order, of the careful spacing and management ofbodies, of the specific technique of the particular productive technologythat is in the process of being mastered. The image conveys a sense ofengagement, of the body at work in the performance of a technical skill.We might be tempted to say that it represents selves in the work of self-production, for there is clearly another human technology at work in thisprocess. The absent authority figure may be imagined to be positioned atthe point from which we see the event. Again, we do not see but mustsuppose the imaginary figure of authority on whom the scene ispredicated. Present elements depend on non-present elements for thisinterpretation. The construction of the photograph thus corresponds to thepanopticon with its self-regulatory content and the absent presence of thedisciplinary mechanism that sustains this mode of being (Foucault, 1997b,p. 185; 1980, p. 158).


    Both photographs appear without any direct reference in the main body ofthe chapter. They speak across the written text and punctuate it withtheir presence. They cannot appear without framing, though, and theirseparateness is bridged by, in each case, a fairly extensive caption. Thedrill image refers to its taking place in a large school reminding usperhaps of what the photograph itself clearly suggests by implicationthat this is modern mass education. We are also given an indication about

    the nature of the area, Stepney, which is described as a very deprived areaof London. So that we might get our proper historical bearings we arealso given a date, 1911, locating the photograph, and our potential reading

    72 N. Peim

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    of it, within a period. Learning to knit is also accompanied by somesupplementary information in the form of a caption. The school is acouncil school, in Liverpool, informing us or reminding us that thephotograph depicts a scene from mass, urban education. There is a

    comment also on the apparent level of engagement of the pupils in thiscaption. Learning to knit is described as an absorbing occupation asthough it is simply the knitting as an activity itself that creates theseemingly intense concentration of the boys in this photograph. As to thepurpose or function or rationale of the activity, it is expressed in terms ofthe Edwardian vogue for manual and domestic instruction, as though noother explanation were needed, nor further account required (Horn, 1989,p. 45).

    It is clear that making sense of the photographs in question depends on anumber of supplementary factors. In order to makesense, to read how theymight signify within both the immediate (this book on this topic) and themore layered context they appear in (the book, the discourse of history, theidea of childhood, the school, education and so on) we must already haveaccess to various discourses of knowledge before we can even see whatthere is to see in the photograph. What is more, we also evidently needto know how to account for certain structural features of the photograph.We will need to understand at some automatic level the photographsmetonymic properties and the assumptions we can legitimately make inrelation to this. We will need to be automatically familiar with the logic ofposition and with the issue of cropping. Managing these structural featuresof the photograph requires a familiarity with the medium to free us fromthe awkward problems they may give rise to. The whole process ofrecognition involved in the reading of the photographs is rich and complexand cannot be described simply in terms of seeing what is there.Seeing, then, is not an act or process that can escape the logic ofrepresentation: the visual field is organised for us and by us according tocodes and conventions that give us an orientation and that allow forrecognition as well as for active intervention in terms of meaning.6 A flatsurface, for example, differentiated by the shaped arrangement of agreyscale continuum must be seen as a place, within a time, enfolding anevent, revealing a social practice, a social milieu, a world.7

    Nevertheless, because of its iconic mode of representation, photographycan give the impression of making some more direct connection thanwriting or speech with the activity it represents. It can appear as a naturalmode of representationlight-writing, as though light itself weremaking a statement (Grosvenor, 1999). The operation of the apertureenables the reception and inscription onto a light-sensitive surface of whatis in some way quite simply and unproblematically there.8 This modelof photography can be sustained only up to a point: a point that mustsuppress framing, selection, perspective, the translation of a threedimensional reality to a two-dimensional surface (a number of mediating

    factors) as well as the active process of sense-making. Representationitself is necessarily an act or process of mediation. The domain ofsymbolism is structured by this fact.

    Spectral Bodies 73

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    For the historian, the question of representation and interpretation canonly be properly understood when the activity of the historian interpret-ing the photographic image is itself understood as a sensuous humanactivity. The activity of interpretation is necessarily caught up in a series

    of positional relations to do with perspective, aspects, subjects and objectsthat have been the business of phenomenology in philosophy (Moran,2000, pp. 192221). But the productive activity of the historian is alsoitself an historical sensuous human activity contingent upon specificitiesof time and place and enfolded in academic social relations, prevailingideas and familiar positions. These determinations insist that addressingthe question of data, its documentary and archival status, relates closelyto the epistemological and ontological status of history and the historian.The logic of the supplement provides one way of thinking about theserelations.


    The photograph offers a particularly dramatic case for the exploration ofthe relations between sensuous human activity and its representation forthe historian, touching on questions of the nature of the document and thearchive. One interesting way of approaching the issue of the past and itsrepresentation is through the concept of the spectre (Bennet and Royle,1999, pp. 132140). InSpectres of Marx, taking a cue from the first line ofThe Manifesto of the Communist Party, Derrida (1994) plays with the ideaof the spectre in order to contest the proposition of the death of Marxism.Derrida finds in this particular trope a double relevance. The domain of thespectral belongs to what haunts and returns, something from the past as yetunfulfilled or unfinished. At the same time, the returning spectre orrevenant points towards a future. The resolution of the past disturbancethat the appearance of the spectre signifies, is a mattera call, perhapstowards the future, proposing a question and an orientation. In addition,of course, the very business of representationwhere one, present, ele-ment stands in for another, absent, elementis necessarily ghostly orspectral: that is, its sense necessarily depends on something that is not

    there (Derrida, 2001a, p. 44).In addressing the issue of the spectral, Derrida coins the term

    hauntology (Derrida, 1994). The point of the joke is twofold: to make acomment on the classic language of ontology; and to conjure at the sametime an alternative set of principles that reminds us of Derridas earlierwork of deconstruction in relation to the metaphysics of being as presence(Derrida, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1987). The spectral metaphor is apposite forboth purposes. The spectre occupies a particular and peculiar position inrelation to the business of ontology, the question of being. The spectremakes its presence felt, but its presence does not occupy ontological space

    in the way imagined in what by what Derrida calls the metaphysicsof presence (Buse and Scott, 1999, pp. 1011). The spectre conjuresa present absence. Its presence, as Elizabeth Rottenberg puts this, is

    74 N. Peim

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    predicated on the very fact of the absence of what it presents: To bespectral is neither to be present nor absent; it is neither to be nor not to be.Indeed, the spectral, says Derrida, is what exceeds all ontologicaloppositions between absence and presence, visible and invisible, living

    and dead (Rottenberg, 2002, p. 5). In an interview, Derrida himself puts itthus:

    the concept of the spectral has a deconstructive dimension because it hasmuch in common with the concepts of trace, of writing and differance,and a number of other undecidable motifs. The spectral is neither alivenor dead, neither present nor absent, so in a certain way every trace isspectral. We always have to do with spectrality, not simply when weexperience ghosts coming back or when we have to deal with virtualimages. Even here, there is some spectrality, when I touch something(Derrida, 2001a, p. 44).

    The spectre is incomplete and to be distinguished from the livingpresent. The idea of spectrality is continuous with the position thatDerrida explores in relation to questions of meaning and being in anearlier phase of his work. In this earlier phase, Derrida proposes a newconcept of writingwhere writing comes to signify the operation of sym-bolisation. This concept of writing emphasises the play of differences thatdisrupts any simple notion of presence:

    The concept can be called gram or differance. The play of differences

    supposes, in effect, syntheses and referrals which forbid at any moment,or in any sense, that a simple elements be presentin and of itself, referringonly to itself. Whether in the order of spoken or written discourse, noelement can function as a sign without referring to another element whichitself is not simply present. This interweaving results in each elementphoneme or graphemebeing constituted on the bases of the trace withinit of the other elements of the chain or system. This interweaving, thistextile, is the text produced only in the transformation of another text.Nothing, neither among the elements nor within the system, is anywhereever simply present or absent. There are only, everywhere, differencesand traces of traces (Derrida, 1987, p. 26).

    Derrida reminds us here that the tendency in Western thought to make aclear distinction between presence and absence, between being andrepresentation, between ideal and material can be interpreted according toan alternative logic. In agreement with this work, the spectreas thepresent absenceprovides a metaphor for the logic of signification; whilealso providing in turn a dramatic image of the critique of the metaphysicsof presence. The spectre signifies the problematisation of the livingpresent as singular, complete, self-present entity. In representationsomething stands in for something it is not. The present signifier marks

    the absence whilst also conjuring the presencenever of course a real orfull presenceof what it points to. The sign is haunted by this interplay ofpresence and absence. The sign can only stand in for what it signifies

    Spectral Bodies 75

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    depending for its own logic on the absence of the referent or object. Therecan be no one-to-one relation between signifier and signified. All signs aresubject to this logic of presence and absence.

    The spectre signifies a restless presence, both haunting and haunted, but

    also an absence or gap. There is something unanswered, somethingincomplete in the very nature of the spectre (Abraham, 1994, p. 171). In itsfamiliar guises, the spectre is the past returning, sometimes to inform,sometimes to indicate unfinished business: an incomplete life, an un-resolved issue. The spectre is revenant, a past figure that keeps comingback, disrupting the smooth logic of time. At one point, Derrida remindsus of Caesars ghost in Shakespeares play. On its first appearance, Brutussenses the spectre will return and asks it: Well; then I shall see theeagain? The Ghost replies: Ay, at Philippi (4.3). Derrida emphasises theimportance of the significances attached to the word again and associatesthem with a view of temporality in which repetition plays a key role.Repetition (the return of the spectre) disrupts the view of a lineartemporality that presupposes a smooth passage from the past to the presentand further on to the future. The past is repeated in the present to the pointof dislocating it. What is more, as Derrida argues, the repetition of the pastis projected onto the future, so that it appears to be coming at the sametime from the future. There is an expectation that the appearance of theghost will repeat, that only a future resolution can prevent the past fromreturning to perturb the present. It is this threat of intrusion of the past intothe future that comes to haunt and to demand attention, and often action,to reveal the untold or unconscionable truth. Hence the spectre is restless,unquiet anddemanding.

    The spectre is both the product and the occasion of unease. The spectrereturns from the unfinished past. As indicated, however, there is a doublelogic to the spectre in relation to time: the thinking of the spectre, contraryto what common sense would lead us to believe, signals towards the future(Derrida, 1994). The future orientation of the thinking of the spectre isparadoxical but relates vitallyone might say absolutely criticallyto thework of the historian and to the very idea of history. The spectre returnsto remind us that the past is incomplete and therefore to come. In a num-ber of ways, we are haunted by the past, but specifically haunted by

    its incompletion, its unresolved aura. Accordingly, the past and itsappearance in the present are subject to the logic ofdeferral. Deferral isthe suspension of completeness.9 This is precisely what calls to thehistorian and makes a demand, in the manner of the spectre. The pastexists in this restless, unsettled and incomplete modality. The spectralpresenceor return of the pastalso has a mission to inform. It is notsimply the marker of unfinished business. The spectre may appear toinform us of atruththat is also yet to come, yet to enter into the domain ofdiscourse. Derridas Spectres of Marx is interwoven with a reading of theghost scenes from Hamlet. The ghost in that play appears to tell the truth

    of the past (the manner of its death) and the truth of the living present (theconcealment of murder). But, at the same time, the spectre belongs to theorder of the simulacrum: is not one with what it represents, and has to

    76 N. Peim

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    be tested for its truth. The authenticity of the spectre is alwaysquestionablea function of the gap between its partial nature and thefull version it claims to represent.

    The spectre, therefore, constitutes a disturbing presence that haunts our

    epistemological assumptions and certitudes. There are perhaps severalways in which the analogy with Hamlet can be expanded. One is toconsider the reverberations of the relations between past and present in thephrase: the time is out of joint that Derrida considers at some length inSpectres of Marx. Another, as Rottenburg explains, is that the spectremakes a demand and calls us to action: it haunts every moment ofapparent presence. It not only makes the future possible . . . it also makespossible the ghostly return of the past. This ghostly return or revenanceconveys what Derrida calls a legacy (Rottenberg, 2002, pp. 45). Thespectre forces us to rethink our assumptions about present realities.Drawing on Kant, this logic of inheritance requires a decision and aresponsibility; no legacy can both express and deliver its own demandsit requires the responsible answer of a question that is not given (Kant,1991, pp. 110111; Rottenberg, 2002, p. 6). According to this logic,no legacy can be a simple, inert gift: truth is always an incompleteproject, always situated within a discourse, a particular kind of work thatcannot achieve final completion. The legacy implies a burden of res-ponsibility.


    It has already been indicated how the photograph has been taken as aspecial kind of evidence. There is also the emotive value of thephotograph to consider as an aspect of its signifying structure. Theemotive, often poignant, aspect of the photograph is related to its vividcapture of the moment, but also to the difference between present and pastthat it enacts. The particular allure of the photograph has been writtenabout extensively, at times with a powerful sense of its special place in thetextual domain and its affective potential (Barthes, 1993; Peim, 2005).Hence also the special relation of the photograph with death. In the

    photograph the living present is both represented and confirmed in itsabsence at the same time. In this, the photograph followsindeedaccentuatesthe necessary logic of the sign. It is spectral and representswhat is not there: a present mark coincides with the absent presence.This untimeliness is hauntological rather than ontological. Its genera-tive quality is the productive effect of the gap or absence that generatesdifferences in meaning, that ensures an unfinished, interminable flow intothe process of sense-makingand that according to Derridas critiquedisrupts the logocentric idea of being-as-presence.10 The present signi-fier signifies the absent presence. The material mark or signifier is

    palpably there. What it signifiesthe living momentis not there. Thereis a gap between the signifier and the living moment that interfereswith their congruity. In this gap of non-identicality the play of difference

    Spectral Bodies 77

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    is activated. This play also has a temporal dynamic: time is alwaysalready disjointed, itself subject to the logic of differance.

    The photograph has an historical relation to the concept of truth inrepresentation:

    The photographic image from the mid-1850s was held to be inherentlyobjective. Photography offered a way of observing the world without bias.The photographic image had truth-value, it was self-evident and evidenceof the real; it was a witness and had documentary status (Grosvenor,1999, p. 85).

    Some people felt that the representational uses of painting, drawing andother print based media had been made obsolete and expectedphotography to take over these functions immediately (Warren, 2000,p. 273).

    From its inception, there has been an assumption that photographyproduces images by autogenesis as a kind of natural writing (light-writing) that by virtue of the technology of shutter and chemical reactionguarantees objectivity (Grosvenor, 1999, pp. 8586). On this account, thephotograph allows for direct access to reality, and enables the historianto become a retrospective eyewitness to past phenomena: it faithfullyrecords the phenomenon it represents as it captures a moment in the fluxof history without the intervention of an actively shaping subject(Grosvenor, 1999, p. 88).

    In spite of its apparent philosophical navety, the idea of light-writingindicates a positive direction for thinking about the nature of thephotograph as historical document. It is in the graph or writingsense thatthe logic of the photograph and its uses can be reconsidered. Derridasdeconstruction of the metaphysics of presence through the concept ofwriting enacts, by implication, a critique of the premises of this accountof the historical value of the photograph (Derrida, 1999). This critiquerevisits fundamental metaphysical premises through radical ideas aboutlanguage.

    Derridas grammatology or theory of language calls into question the

    received idea that language can be a vehicle for conveying meanings thatcome before it. Derrida is, as we saw, concerned to rethink metaphysicsthrough language. The very operation of language is dependent, accordingto Derrida, on something other than present elements that may or may notcorrespond to absent presences. A fundamental element of representationis spacingthe condition of what Derrida comes to call arche-writing,which is the condition of language. A present mark or sound is sup-plemented by this spacing, this movement that consists of a gap, or anothing: no phoneme corresponds to the spacing between written words(Derrida, 1976, pp. 6869). Present elementsphoneme or grapheme

    are dependent for their operation on what cannot be present: that is, anabsence. Language is predicated on the interplay between signs and spacesor signs and silence. Within language the blank space between the letters

    78 N. Peim

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    of a word is the condition of the possibility of difference, like the gapbetween two utterances. This phenomenon of the internal spacing (thearticulation of space and time) of signs identifies a rather strange aspectof the material condition of the sign and the text.

    The word spacing designates both a completed arrangement and an actof distribution or arranging. The idea corresponds closely to difference,designating for Derrida both a passive difference already in existence asthe condition of signification and an act of differing or deferring thatproduces differences. Signifying events depend on differences, but thesedifferences are themselves the products of events. There is an irresolvabledialectic in this alternation. One can shift back and forth between thesetwo perspectives, which never give rise to a synthesis. According to thislogic it is not possible to claim that writing can produce a correspondence;it can only produce another kind of difference. This applies equally to theconcept of light-writing. What is received on the surface of a two-dimensional photo-sensitive plane is inscribed as a mark: all spacing is adisruption of presence in a mark, what I here call writing (Derrida, 1982,pp. 307330).

    The concept of spacing highlights the gap between representation andwhat is represented. Spacing signifies, among other things, the gapbetween signifying elements that are brought together in more or lessformal relations of difference and framed, separated from an exterior thatit is at the same time called to represent. The recognition of this primarydifference reminds us of the structure of the text (any text) as conditionedby spacing. This is the only foundation (a foundation that is not afoundation) for the possibility of the text. At the same time, this spacing,this absence, this fundamental and determining gap is what activates theelement of playthe play of difference.

    The upshot of the critique of the sign that Derridas account of writinginvolves is encapsulated in the concept of the trace. The sign leaves a traceof what is signified. In the process of signification, there can be no purepresence, no capture and no direct access to objective reality becauseof the necessary temporal and spatial movement between the elements of asignifying event. The trace is the present mark of an absent presencetextual representations being founded only in difference, incompletion and

    mobility (play). Within a signifying event there can be no centre that willnecessarily organise that event into a complete and self-sufficient totality.The framing of any text cannot hold to a strictly determinable limit. Thereis no centre, no key to the text (Derrida, 1978, pp. 280293). Thepossibility of the text is the play of differences. The sign points beyonditself to something else, something other. The present trace, an elementin a chain, issupplementedby what is beyond itself. But even this presentpresence is always subject to the movement of time and to the differencebetween its constituent elements. The point of focus is always shifting.Nor can the elements of the textwhat is within it, what makes it what it

    isbe strictly delimited. The limits of the text cannot be finally containedor framed. Since the text reaches constantly beyond itself there cannot be adeterminate boundary between what lies within and what is beyond. The

    Spectral Bodies 79

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    text depends for its existence, for the possibility of its representation ofsomething, on this movement, this alternation between inside and outside.The play of this movement similarly determines that the text cannot bebrought to a final conclusion. The signifier requires something else for the

    realisation of the sign. The evidencetext, statement, document,archivedoes not speak for itself. The text is not pointing, teleologically,to the realisation of its internally driven goal.


    It is this logic of the trace, of the supplement, of difference and spacingthis series of linked concepts in Derridas return to the relations betweensignifier and signifiedthat guarantees the generative possibilities oflanguage, meaning and interpretation. The trace in its movement meansthe deferral of meaning. Meaning is not present in itselfembedded or

    embodied in text: it is put off, deferred, subject to the logic of thesupplement. The text points beyond itself to what is not there, to whatcannot be fully present but is conjured by the present trace (or signifier).This means that the production of meaning is a supplementary activity.One name for this supplementary element in relation to signs, to texts andto the production of meaning is discourse: discourse in the sense ofregimes of truth that produce the objects of which they speak and whichregulate, in institutions and in practices, the borders of meaning (Foucault,1977a, pp. 4849). It is an irreducible paradox, according to Derridasgrammatology, that the logic of the trace that is founded in an absence,

    or more properly the interplay of a presence and absence, gives rise to anexcess of meaning whereby the generative working of any sign alwaysexceeds a one-to-one relation of correspondence. In this sense meaningis both multiple and unstable. It is discourse, however, that gives a degreeof determination to signs and to texts. Discourse, as indicated, is meanthere in the generative Foucauldian sense, as being productive of theobjects it designates. But discourse in this sense does not refer to a closedsystem where relations between inside and outside are strictly delimited.Discourse, which gives life to meaning and text, is also necessarily subjectto the same play of difference.

    In this sense, it is not possible to speak of a direct capture of sensuoushuman activity through the mediation of the signifier:

    this trace is the opening of the first exteriority in general, the enigmaticrelationship of the living to its other and of an inside to an outside:spacing. The outside, spatial and objective exteriority which we be-lieve we know as the most familiar thing in the world, as familiarity itself,would not appear without the gramme, without difference as temporalisa-tion, without the nonpresense of the other inscribed within the sense of thepresent, without the relationship with death as the concrete structure ofthe living present (Derrida, 1976, pp. 7071).

    A photograph as an historic document, as a component in an archiveor a text among textscannot escape this logic of the trace and the

    80 N. Peim

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    supplement. This logic gives rise both to the incompletion of significationand to the excess of signification. Hence it is appropriate to approachthe photograph within the compelling logic of Derridas hauntology(Derrida, 1994, p. 10).

    None of this of course is to say that the photograph is not informative,but it is to remind us that the photograph cannot bring us into a directcontact with a slice of social reality. The point is to understand in whatsense the photograph, the photographic archive, the discourse ofphotography has meaning for the historian. To begin to comprehendthese photographs historically we must first perhaps be haunted by theirstrange resonance: as with all photographs they have a commemorativeeffectnot simply in the fact that they represent a past that is gone, butalso in the fact that they represent the fracturing of the living moment bythe opening of a differencea spacing. But we must also necessarilyengage with various forms of knowledge that enable us to make sense ofthe specificity of the moment that is commemoratedand perhaps withthe lives that are caught up in the act of representation. In the photograph,the living present has already been transformed by this commemora-tive dimension so that its value acquires a testamentary significance.Responding to the demand of this testament implies a legacy conferringobligations. We also are required to have some understanding of the modeof signification of the photographinvolving questions of position, ofediting, cropping, of all the nuances of composition that displace thenotion of seeing or being confronted with what is there, the notion thatthe photograph is simply light-writing.

    In addition, we bring with us specific historical knowledge. Werecognise that these photographs belong to an era of elementary education.We might construct for them a general context in the following terms, forexample. They record the bringing of the urban working-class within theregime of state education in England instituted by the 1870 ForsterEducation Act and its subsequent amplifications. The photographsexamined here give us an expression of that process, a representation ofits practices. In these specific cases we can bear witness to the disciplinarypractices that involve the training of the body and the active engagementin a sophisticated technology of the self. We note features of systematic

    organisation to provide a context for the disciplinary practices in question,features that speak of social and age stratification and at the same time of asocial machinery of normativity. In these photographs, we can see theschool as the carefully crafted milieu for the production of an ultimatelyself-managing populace. We bring this act of vision to the photographwhich may in turn enhance, qualify or even disturb our sense of the orderof things.

    Informing the activities in these photographs there is a juridical history,from the early nineteenth-century factory acts to the later educationacts. There are accounts of practices in schools and forms of curri-

    culum that also contribute to providing a socio-juridical context for theperiod 19111914. All of this will help to explain, to contextualise, toenrich, but it cannot exhaust the possible meanings of these photographs.

    Spectral Bodies 81

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    essentially perspective, and so is all knowing. The emotions we allow tospeak in a given matter, the more different eyes we can put on in order toview a given spectacle, the more complete will be our conception of it, thegreater our objectivity (Nietzsche, 1956, p. 255).

    Nietzsches provocative account of seeing serves as a counter to theprivileging of the autonomous subject, but the logic of the spectre mayalso provide a trope for taking into account the positioned, engaged,animated subject of discourse that actively and endlessly supplements thephotographic text.

    Correspondence: Nick Peim, School of Education, University ofBirmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK.Email: [email protected]


    1. Up to now, educational histories have only made marginal use of the visual in the reconstruction

    (or rather construction) of the past (Depaepe and Henkins, 2000; see also Novoa, 2001).

    2. Perhaps no small part of this injunction depends on a sense of mourning (in a special,

    generalised sense) in relation to these photographs, and an unconscious responsibility to the

    claims of the dead. Whatever else they may be, these photographs are commemorative and

    activate a logic of mourning. See Derrida (2001b), pp. 9495 for a pithy account of this theme.

    3. Metonymy is always, by definition, incomplete, pointing beyond itself to a potentially endless

    series of contexts.

    4. Discipline here is used in the expanded Foucauldian sense as famously established in Foucault

    (1977b) Discipline and Punish (Harmondsworth, Allen Lane).

    5. Dasein is here used in the Heidegerian sense of an irreducible specificity of being.6. Kant famously problematises the idea of seeing things as they are. See, for example,Critique of

    Pure Reason. Another famous version of this phenomenological view is in Gadamers reworking

    of Heidegger in Truth and Method (1960).

    7. Wittgensteins discussion of seeing as is also useful here: Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical

    Investigations Part II, pp. 193e198e.

    8. The photographic process from the mid 1850s was held to be inherently objective. Photography

    offered a way of observing the world without bias. The photographic image had truth-value, it

    was self-evident and evidence of the real; it was a witness and had documentary status

    (Grosvenor, 1999, p. 85).

    9. Deferral in Derrida applies to the rethinking of the sign via the concept of the trace (Derrida,


    10. With Nietzsche the pretensions of the representational model of the sign are irrevocably undone.

    The sign is conceived of no longer as a transparent or direct representation of a real object that

    is subverted by the space of absence between the sign and object that makes of this relation one

    of mediation, but mediation as the impossibility of immediacy in representation. The sign is

    always already an interpretation. For Nietzsche, the interpreter is the authentic one as he reveals

    the origin as an absence, and meaning thus to be bound to the primacy of interpretation

    (Nietzsche, 1968; Foucault, 2000, p. 276).


    Abraham, N. (1994) The Shell and the Kernel: Renewals of Psychoanalysis (Chicago, Chicago

    University Press).

    Barthes, R. (1993) Camera Lucida (London, Vintage).

    Bennet, A. and Royle, N. (1999) Introduction to Literature, Criticism and Theory (London,

    Prentice Hall).

    Spectral Bodies 83

    r The Journal of the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain 2005.

  • 8/12/2019 Derrida Photography


    Buse, P. and Scott, A. (eds) (1999) Ghosts: Deconstruction, Psychoanalysis, History (London,


    Depaepe, M. and Henkens, B. (2000) The History of Education and the Challenge of the Visual,

    Paedagogica Historica, XXXVI, 1, pp. 1117.

    Derrida, J. (1976) Of Grammatology (London, Johns Hopkins University Press).

    Derrida, J. (1978) Writing and Difference (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).Derrida, J. (1982) Margins of Philosophy (Brighton, Harvester).

    Derrida, J. (1987) Positions (London, Athlone).

    Derrida, J. (1994) Spectres of Marx (London, Routledge).

    Derrida, J. (1999) Right of Inspection (New York, Monacelli Press).

    Derrida, J. (2001a) Deconstruction Engaged: the Sydney Seminars (Sydney, PowerPublication).

    Derrida, J. (2001b) The Work of Mourning (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).

    Donald, J. (1992) Beacons of the Future: The State as Educator, in: J. Donald, Sentimental

    Education (London, Verso), pp. 1748.

    Foucault, M. (1977a) The Archaeology of Knowledge (London, Routledge).

    Foucault, M. (1977b) Discipline and Punish (London, Allen Lane).

    Foucault, M. (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 19721977

    (London, Harvester Wheatsheaf ).Foucault, M. (2000) Nietzsche, Freud, Marx, in: Aesthetics (London, Penguin).

    Grosvenor, I. (1999) On Visualizing Past Classrooms, in: I. Grosvenor, M. Lawn and K.

    Rousmaniere (eds)Silences and Images: The Social History of the Classroom (New York, Peter

    Lang Publishers), pp. 83104.

    Horn, P. (1989) The Victorian and Edwardian Schoolchild (Gloucester, Alan Sutton).

    Hunter, I. (1994) Rethinking the School (Sydney, Allen & Unwin).

    Jones, D. K. (1977) The Making of the Education System (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).

    Kant, I. (1991) Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

    Marx, K. (1969) Theses on Feuerbach, in: K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow,

    Progress Publishers).

    Moran, D. (2000) Introduction to Phenomenology (London, Routledge).

    Negri, A. (1999) The Spectres Smile, in: M. Spinker (ed.) Ghostly Demarcations (London,

    Verso), pp. 516.

    Nietzsche, F. (1956)The Birth of Tragedyand The Genealogy of Morals (New York, Doubleday).

    Nietzsche, F. (1968) The Will to Power (New York, Vintage Books).

    Novoa, A. (2001) Texts, Images, and Memories: Writing New Histories of Education, in: B.

    Franklin, M. Peyreyra and T. Popkewitz (eds) Cultural History and Education (London,

    Routledge Falmer), pp. 4556.

    Peim, N. (2005) The Life of Signs in Visual History, in: Visualizing History (Bern, Peter Lang),

    pp. 729.

    Rose, N. (1990) Governing the Soul: Technologies of Human Subjectivity (London, Routledge).

    Rottenberg, E. (2002) Introduction: Inheriting the Future, in: J. Derrida, Negotiations (Stanford

    University Press, Stanford), pp. 17.

    Seaborne, M. and Lowe, R. (1997)The English School Its Architecture and Organisation. Volume

    II 18701970 (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).Wardle, D. (1974) Rise of the Schooled Society (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).

    Warren, B. (2001) Photography (London, Thomson Delmar Learning).

    84 N. Peim

    r Th J l f th Phil h f Ed ti S i t f G t B it i 2005