Chiara Alfano – Caesura: The Rhythmed Event

Event date: 29 October 2011 
King’s Anatomy Theatre & Museum, 
6th Floor, King’s Building
King’s College London, 
Strand Campus, 
London, WC2R 2LS



Rhythm and Event


Chiara Alfano (University of Sussex):
Caesura: The Rhythmed Event 

Can a literature bring forth a political event? There is no doubt to how Jacques Derrida would have answered this question. There is, however, still lingering uncertainty on just how. I believe that in order to understand how Derrida reads Marx with Hamlet, but also how he deems such a reading to rearticulate, reinstate and even redefine political engagement, we must look into his conceptualisation and practice of rhythm in Spectres of Marx. In this paper I propose to readdress Derrida’s understanding of rhythm through Werner Hamacher’s ‘Lingua Amissa: The Messianism of Commodity-Language and Derrida’s Specters of Marx’ and the earlier ‘Afformative, Strike’ a text written about Benjamin’s Zur Kritik der Gewalt. Hamacher’s extraordinary achievement in the latter lies in his formulation of the afformative out of Benjamin’s historical and political act of deposing and his notion of the pure mediacy of language. Hamacher’s afformative is not only what makes every performative possible, but also that it is with this notion also locates the possibility of an (political) event in language and, indeed, literature. By defining the afformative as ‘the ellipsis which silently accompanies any act and which may silently interrupt any speech act’, Hamacher as Derrida, also understands what in language opens itself to an event in terms of rhythm. This idea is also shared by Benjamin who understands the pure mediacy as a caesura in turn defined as ‘pure word, counter-rhythmical interruption’. Hamacher’s two pieces suggest that all who wish to elaborate a philosophy of rhythm as an appropriate mode of analysis of the event may also profit from turning their attention to the parallels between the way rhythm is conceptualised addressed in Benjamin and the way rhythm is understood to be at work in Spectres.

Chiara Alfano studied English and Italian Literature at Queen’s College, Oxford and is currently concluding her PhD in Critical Theory at the University of Sussex. Her research interests revolve around two themes: the relationship between literature and philosophy, and philosophical or literary uses of the ear. She is currently finishing a thesis on  how Shakespeare features in the philosophical writings of Stanley Cavell and Jacques Derrida.


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