Volume One, No. 4 January 2003

j_spot online edition ISSN 1481 8 5842



The Post of the Post14B

Karen Engle
University of Alberta



Postal Mythologies I: Eating Community

“...cultivate your inner housefly or cockroach...”

- Steven Shaviro, “Two Lessons from Burroughs,” 53.

Roy is delivering mail in an apartment building.  A man still wearing his bathrobe descends the stairs and inquires: “Anything for Karlsen?”  Without interrupting his movements, Roy responds “Don’t know yet.”  The man waits in silence for a few seconds.  Unable to master his impatience, he retorts “Could you speed it up?  I haven’t got all morning.”   Impassively, Roy acquiesces to the demand and begins sorting through the remaining mail.  As he does this, however, he shifts position, turning his back to the expectant man.  Finding a letter addressed to “Karlsen,” Roy stealthily removes it from the pile and slides it into his postal worker’s jacket.  “Nothing,” he responds as the robed man attempts to see over Roy’s back.  Anticipation turning to anxiety, the man rejoins: “Are you sure?  Are you sure?”  Coolly, casually, Roy answers: “You think I’m lying?”  The question stops “Karlsen” in his tracks.  Unable to address the implications enclosed in this unexpected and troubling challenge, the man ascends the stairs as Roy removes his keys from the mailbox and leaves the building.  The scene shifts.  The camera transports us inside the postal workers’ building and we find ourselves in a grimy mailroom cafeteria.  While the other workers are involved in absurd pecking order negotiations, Roy is sitting at a separate table, alone.  He starts to drink from a cup but stops as he notices something.  Reaching into the cup, he removes a roach-like bug from the liquid.

These are early scenes from Norwegian director Pal Sletaune’s 1996 film Budbringeren, offered to English-speaking audiences under the title Junk Mail.  Roy is the film’s protagonist and the mail carrier nobody wants.  Theft, non-delivery, home invasion and sexual voyeurism are his primary activities.  Significantly, Roy’s illicit behaviour is anything but aberrant in Sletaune’s grimy vision of Oslo’s social underbelly: robbery, betrayal, gambling and deceit are the order of the day.  Repeatedly representing events of invasion and theft, the film insistently depicts the breakdown of borders separating inside from outside, public from private.  It is Roy’s position as postal worker, however, which directs the film’s persistent representation of moral contamination as a pervasive ontological condition towards questions of language and community, communication and transmissibility. From his all but absent personal hygiene to his unrelenting and non-discriminatory illicit behaviour, Roy embodies the improper, an impropriety which exposes and interrupts the communitarian mythologies of the postal system.


Trust and reliability function as founding communitarian mythologies of postal organizations.  The myth that ‘a letter will always arrive’ reflects this deployment of a discourse aligning the postal system with trustworthiness.  We can already suspect how an allegiance of the terms ‘system’ and ‘trust’ will acquire powerful ideological force within modern institutional formations.  In The Problem of Trust, Adam Seligman emphasizes the importance of the concept of trust in modern social and political formations.  Writing that “[t]he existence of trust is an essential component of all enduring social relationships,” Seligman argues that the “problem of establishing trust —or more specifically generalized trust— defines . . . the specificity of modernity” (13, 16).

Trust operates as an invisible ideological bond linking individuals to each other and to institutional structures; it is intimately occupied with ensuring the smooth and stable functioning of social and political orders through community formation.  However, modernity’s need for and anxiety over trust points towards the inherent instability and unreliability of the concept.  Seligman’s definition of trust as “some sort of belief in the goodwill of the other, given the opaqueness of other’s intentions and calculations” gestures towards this instability (43).   At base, the issue of trust is bound up in the uncertain relations between self and other.  The necessity for ‘belief’ —a theological term attached to the troubled concepts of faith, hope and destiny— uncovers an anxious awareness of the other as unknown and unknowable.1   The concept of trust magnifies a crisis in self/other relations that its discursive dissemination attempts to rectify; that is, the discourse of trustworthiness seeks to create the unknown other as trustworthy in order to compensate for the (recognition of the) impossibility of knowing the other to be trustworthy.  It is in this sense that Jean-Luc Nancy writes: “the being that myth engenders implodes its own fiction” (Inoperative Community, 56).  The myth of trust reiterates and interrupts itself in the same breath.


In The Inoperative Community, Nancy stresses the inseparability of mythology from traditional formulations of community, arguing that

    mythic speech is communitarian in its essence . . . Myth arises only from a community and for it: they engender one another, infinitely and immediately . . . Myth is always the myth of community, that is to say, it is always the myth of a communion – the unique voice of the many – capable of inventing and sharing the myth (50-51).
Representing itself as “full, original speech,” myth gives the truth of a community to itself (48).  For Nancy, mythology is bound up with totalitarianism through its narratives of fusion and communion.  Citing the Nazi example and the inextricability of myth from power, Nancy argues that the “idea of myth alone perhaps presents the very Idea of the West, with its perpetual representation of the compulsion to return to its own sources in order to re-engender itself from them as the very destiny of humanity” (46).  At stake in the interruption of myth, then, is the corrosion of the language of origins, destiny, pure being, and the disruption of fascist dreams of order.

Mythologies of postal order also engender and interrupt themselves.  In its reliance on the existence of a generalized trust in circulation and delivery, the postal system operates as a synecdochic example of the (idealized) workings of modern individualist civil society.  Ideally, the post operates according to the social contract; it keys into honorific notions of trust, respect of privacy and a promise to deliver communications in a timely fashion.  Imagining a community of believers depositing their communications in full expectation of destined arrival, the postal dream narrates a mythology of uninterrupted delivery where ‘arrival’ completes a closed circuit, thereby accomplishing a communion of souls through language.  The postal dream, in other words, reiterates an ontotheological story of origin and arrival, a vision of movement as teleology, or what Derrida refers to in The Postcard as the myth of a letter arriving.  Junk Mail performs the interruption of this dream.  Going for the jugular, the film delivers a death knell to postal mythology by posing the problem of trust and social order in a dirty community.  Through the arche-unreliability of the postal representative, Junk Mail asks what is to be done in a world where everyone is always already contaminated.

The Postman’s Face

The reliability of the subject is crucial to the postal structure.  Operating as a hinge between individual and system, between “trust in persons” and “trust in abstract systems,” the letter carrier provides for the “security of day-to-day reliability” (Seligman, 17).2   In Levinas’ ethical terms, the postman gives face to the system by embodying the postal promise.3   Nietzsche’s discussion of the social contract in his Genealogy of Morality details the significance of the promise.  Dragging along its share of metaphysical baggage, the right to make a promise entails “first making man to a certain degree undeviating [notwendig], uniform, a peer amongst peers, orderly and consequently predictable” (39).  In its idealized form, the letter carrier is the postal system’s embodied materialization of its social contract.  For the system’s smooth operation, the mail carrier must be received as the promissory figure par excellence: a paragon of consistency, predictability and trustworthiness traversing the same route day in, day out.  Undeviating and reliable; come snow, sleet, rain and apocalypse, your carrier delivers.  This promise to deliver includes a promise to transmit meaning; to deliver communication in pure, unsullied form.   Unopened, unviolated, uncensored.  In this way, the successful arrival of a letter also implies the existence and communicability of pure meaning.  Holding fast to a metaphysics of presence, the postal system’s visible operative not only delivers mail; he delivers Transparency, Meaning and Truth.

Roy’s incalculably disruptive question, “Do you think I’m lying?,” makes explicit the postal system’s mythological reliance upon and propagation of the social contract.  The very possibility of a lying, thieving postal worker renders purity of meaning and intelligibility impossible; the letter carrier delivers corruption and uncertainty through the re-figuration of transmission as contamination.   After stealing “Karlsen’s” letter, he opens it with a butcher knife, staining it in the process with some unknown substance from his kitchen, and examines its contents.  The envelope contains two photographs.  The first pictures a couple eating dinner.  The second image, which captures the same couple decked out in full costume for a salacious sexual role-play, provides Roy with an opportunity to feed his voyeuristic appetite.  Delivering the letter days later, Roy makes no attempt to re-seal the envelope or remove the stain.

Bearing the trace of the carrier’s unhygienic body and apartment, these events of mail theft, violation and late delivery collapse the opposition between carrier and parasite.  While the postal worker/carrier is properly a host organism carrying and disseminating transmissions between others, Roy exhibits Steven Shaviro’s argument in “Two Lessons from Burroughs” that the distinction between host and virus “is only a matter of practical convenience.  It is impossible actually to isolate the organism in a state before it has been infiltrated by viruses, or altered by mutations” (41).

Roy’s early association with the roach in the mailroom cafeteria heralds the film’s merger of carrier with virus, a disintegrating translation reiterated through his repeated invasions of Line’s apartment, his theft of her photograph and his purloining of Georg’s business card.4   Repeatedly and compulsively illicit, Roy’s violations reproduce the virus’s injunction to replicate itself: “A virus is nothing but DNA or RNA encased in a protective sheath; that is to say, it is a message —encoded in nucleic acid— whose only content is an order to repeat itself” (40).  As carrier, Roy disseminates the linguistic transmissions of others.  As virus, he is (the message of) contamination.  Eating away at the divisions between host and parasite, medium and message, Roy posts the impossibility of locating “pure interiority . . . even before language.  Whoever we are, and wherever and however we search, ‘we are all tainted with viral origins’” (Shaviro citing Burroughs, 40).  In Junk Mail, language is a virus, ‘communication’ signals viral transmission, and linguistic deliveries are simply forms of home invasion and infestation.  The postal system, in other words, houses and transmits the improper.

According to Derrida, the‘ improper’, like the ‘monstrous’ and the ‘parasitical’, gnaws away at the ‘proper’ and traditional Western logocentric categories of being and pure presence.5    The improperly parasitical performs the movements of deconstruction, eating organisms and structures from the inside.   Language’s viral iterability —the capacity for writing to repeat itself and so be understood  “in the radical absence of every empirically determined addressee— is its very condition of possibility” (Derrida, “Signature Event Context,” 91).  This iterability marks a break in context that ultimately ruptures all possibilities of reading communication as the transmission of pure presence:

    Every sign, linguistic or nonlinguistic, spoken or written (in the usual sense of this opposition), . . . can be cited, put between quotation marks; thereby it can break with every given context, and engender infinitely new contexts in an absolutely non-saturable fashion.  This does not suppose that a mark is valid outside its context, but on the contrary that there are only contexts without any centre of absolute anchoring.  This citationality, duplication, or duplicity, this iterability of the mark is not an accident or an anomaly, but is that . . . without which a mark could no longer even have a so-called normal functioning (97).

As the meanings of communication and transmission are doubled and dislodged from their platonic significance, the ‘contract’ in Rousseau’s social contract slides from noun to verb.  Language: to communicate: to contract.  And a viral figuration of language is replicated…

Postal Mythologies II: Constipation, History

“How then may we speak of futures?”6

Living under the sign of ‘the post’ presents a complex and risk-filled temporal situation.  To be post-something involves a tense negotiation between proximity and distance.  Reflecting a desire for departure from the past, post-al positioning attempts to distance itself from the what-has-been while nudging up against the what-will-be, to send the future back to the here-now.  Michel de Certeau describes this doubled desire for proximity and distance as a juggling of life and death in the impossible writing of history:

    Such is history.  A play of life and death is sought in the calm telling of a tale, in the resurgence and denial of the origin, the unfolding of a dead past and a result of present practice. . . Writing speaks of the past only in order to inter it . . . it liberates the present without having to name it . . . writing makes the dead so that the living can exist elsewhere (The Writing of History, 47; 101).
De Certeau formulates the simultaneous lures and dangers of writing history in terms of a naïve production of temporality —imagining time as constituted by identifiable units obediently and cleanly dividing themselves into past, present and future in response to polite stabbings from the historian’s pen.  He argues, however, that this method of writing history ultimately unravels its own logic:
    Thus founded on the rupture between a past that is its object, and a present that is the place of its practice, history endlessly finds the present in its object and the past in its practice.  Inhabited by the uncanniness that it seeks, history imposes its law upon the faraway places that it conquers when it fosters the illusion that it is bringing them back to life (36).
This is also the situation of the post.  The temptations for unqualified disavowal from troubled structures and damaging discursive formations via the post are massive.  In order to avoid delusions of putting to death old, worn-out systems of knowledge and socio-politico-economic structures, writers of the post can take their cue from Derrida’s insistent evocation of strategic and vigilant inhabitance: “The movements of deconstruction do not destroy structures from the outside.  They are not possible and effective, nor can they take accurate aim, except by inhabiting those structures.  Inhabiting them in a certain way, because one always inhabits, and all the more when one does not suspect it” (Of Grammatology , 24).  The post-al position is necessarily parasitical.  Recognition of this viral inhabitance is not gratuitous; it functions to highlight the critical dangers of disavowal: “it is not a matter of ‘going beyond’ the master’s teaching but of following and extending it.  To avoid ‘going beyond’, one risks returning to a point that falls short” (55).  Limited to an exerguic position of exterior interiority or interior exterority, how, then, can the post go beyond?


    “The body and physiology the starting point . . .”7
Forget about the soul.  Leave the metaphysicians to swat flies and squabble in the marketplace.8   Think the body.  When Nietzsche writes of a “telephone to the beyond” in the Genealogy of Morality, I imagine him placing a long-distance call to his intestines.9   Fascinating that Nietzsche, a writer so concerned with ‘The Beyond’, expends such detailed attention to the physiological minutiae of digestion, vomit and the bovine intestinal tract.  A line to the beyond must be firmly plugged in to the body.

Derrida suggests that the move to think (the) beyond intersects with something he calls ‘the limit’.  In the introduction to Margins of Philosophy, Derrida locates his project as “examining the relevance of the limit.  And therefore relaunching in every sense the reading of the Hegelian Aufhebung, eventually beyond what Hegel, inscribing it, understood himself to say or intended to mean, beyond that which is inscribed on the internal vestibule of his ear” (“Tympan” 150).  Echoing Nietzsche’s thinking, Derrida’s limit links ‘thinking beyond’ with the body and engenders a faltering and disturbing desire that Hegel was diligent with Q-tips.

The lessons we are to draw from the ways in which Derrida and Nietzsche correlate the beyond and the limit with the body are at least threefold: 1) The invention of Q-tips derives from fascist impulses to erase the trace; 2) The fascist who makes use of them reiterates and disrupts the dream of originary being as a being-pure in the same cleansing brush; 3) Even if we do we use them today, we will just have to repeat the swabbing tomorrow.  Earwax is an arche and interminable condition.

In other words, thinking the beyond runs the perpetual risk of falling into mythic fantasies of exteriority, dreams of detoxified political and individual bodies, and imaginary conceptions of life without disease.  The limit is not a distant horizon; the beyond is not a condition cleansed of impurities —such mythological stories slide rapidly into fascist fantasies.  Nancy’s injunction that “we no longer have anything to do with mythology” resonates in this context (46).

Enter the Post.  Derrida’s articulation of the ‘postal principle’ in The Postcard – as the possibility for non-arrival and the re-configuration of communication and circulation into non-teleological movements – offers an ethics of post-ality that links up with these ruminations on the beyond and the limit.  Our fallible systems of mail delivery require us to think discourses of ‘the post’ otherwise.  They ask us to resist locating those bodies of writing currently operating under the names of postfeminism, postcolonialism, postmodernism etc. at a mythic horizon or the distant point of a visible skyline, a position which tumbles rapidly into Western traditions of linear desire and evolutionary progress.  Rather, to think the post ‘otherwise’ —a position Levinas describes in Time and the Other in terms of insomniac vigilance— we must place it alongside Zarathustra’s beyond and Derrida’s articulations of the limit.10   Refusing the soporific effects of bedtime stories of progress and their accompanying dreams of intellectual evolution lodged in the will to power, an ethical thinking of the post demands the beyond of intestines and the limits of ear wax.11   Combining Levinas’ vigilant insomniac with Nietzsche’s braying ass, a hybrid model for thinking physiologies of the post emerges: namely, an ass-ethics.

Calling the Beyond

What better switchboard for thinking through postal physiologies than tapping into the ghost of Nietzsche?   Heeding the spectral message of his telephone to the beyond, a call placed in the context of Wagner and aesthetics, Nietzsche’s ass-ethics begs the question of technology.  Plugging in to this voice from the beyond, we can consider telephonic logic in relation to parasites and postal bodies.  Avital Ronell argues for the telephone as a “synecdoche of technology,” showing how “technology has broken into the body (every body: this includes the body politic and its internal organs, i.e., the security organs of state” (The Telephone Book, 13; 109).  Highlighting the “invasive force of the call” (106), Ronell hooks up notions of toxic invasion with the transmission of language:

    The telephone connection houses the improper.  Hitting the streets, it welcomes linguistic pollutants and reminds you to ask: ‘Have I been understood?’  Lodged somewhere among politics, poetry, and science, between memory and hallucination, the telephone necessarily touches the state, terrorism, psychoanalysis, language theory, and a number of death support systems (“The Worst Neighborhoods of the Real,” 225).

Reiterating postal anxieties over trust and trustworthiness, the telephonic body, as receptacle for the improper, dials up all the static on the line extending between self and other: “telephonic logic means here, as everywhere, that contact with the Other has been disrupted, but it also means that the break is never absolute.  Being on the telephone will come to mean, therefore, that contact is never constant nor is the break clean” (230).

In this sense, being-on–the-telephone is also an expression of being-postal.  The postal position is in relation with the future anterior; it marks an attempt to think beyond from within the circuitboard.  Citing Derrida’s discussion in Writing and Difference, Judith Halberstam and Ira Livingston argue that

    the proliferation of academic ‘post-isms’ marks simultaneously the necessary or regrettable failure to imagine what’s next and the recognition that it must always appear as the “as yet unnamable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of the non-species, in the formless, mute, infant and terrifying form of monstrosity” (Posthuman Bodies, 2-3).
To dial up and disconnect in the same moment is the impossible dream of the postal movement.  This is the lesson of Roy the postman’s predilection for home invasion and theft.  Exhibiting what Spivak calls intimate habitation and Derrida terms the movement of deconstruction, Roy is at once host and virus in a perpetual and unfinished erosion of the proper.

As a postal parasite, however, Roy is also the subject of an injunction to replicate; he poses the problem of creation through the virus of language.  Shaviro argues that as a virus, “[l]anguage is one of these mechanisms of reproduction.  Its purpose is not to indicate or communicate any particular content, but merely to perpetuate and replicate itself” (41).  Reproduction as viral replication presents creation as a sterile process.  Given this formulation, how are the inventive capacities of the post to be understood?  Stated otherwise: When the only equipment available is a series of stolen ‘death support systems,’ how can we be sure we’re not simply accumulating waste and blocking the system?

Anal Economies, Post-Al Reproductions

Walking towards the edge of town, Roy enters a railway yard, dragging the mail cart behind him.  The camera follows him into a train tunnel.  As he disappears into the dark canal, we see a hole in the interior wall opening into a secret cavern within.  Reaching into his mailbag, Roy gathers a pile of flyers and assorted (junk) mail and tosses it all into the hole.  The camera rests briefly on this opening, allowing our gaze to penetrate its interior.  We see that the cavern is full of similar papers; Roy has been making deposits for some time.

Roy will return twice more to this cavern.  Once to place the money he has stolen from Georg, money Georg and Line steal at the film’s beginning and which circulates from Line’s apartment into Georg’s possession, only to be accidentally dropped by Georg from behind a bathroom stall as he and Roy struggle in a grimy subway washroom.  Roy grabs the released bag from the bathroom floor, a theft making explicit Freud’s linkage of money with excrement, and runs straight for his secret receptacle.12   His second and final return to the train tunnel occurs at the movie’s end when he dumps Georg’s body, uncertainly alive or dead, into the hole.

Doubling as womb and rectum, this hidden cavern is the postman’s uterus and improper gestation-chamber.  Roy’s theft of shit/money gives face to the hole’s doubled identity by calling up Freud’s discussion of feces as offspring.  Telling us that the child makes excrement into a baby, Freud’s analysis exposes Roy’s bathroom-theft and subsequent act of dumping/dissemination as a frustrated attempt to procreate:

    the concepts faeces (money, gift), baby and penis are ill-distinguished from one another and easily interchangeable… Linguistic evidence of this identity of baby and faeces is contained in the expression ‘to give someone a baby’. . .[Later,] the interest in faeces is continued partly as interest in money, partly as a wish for a baby, in which latter an anal-erotic and a genital impulse . . .converge (“Transformations of Instinct,” 296; 299).
Stealing (non-)generative materials and depositing them into a sterile receptacle, Roy illicitly performs the roles of both male and female and attempts to create from waste.  In this mise-en-scène, post-al creation is a constipated process: its offspring limited to monstrous accumulation and replication.  Junk Mail produces an interminable gestation period birthing nothing absolutely new and reiterating Shaviro’s argument that “[a]ll our mechanisms for reproduction follow the viral logic according to which life produces death, and death in turn lives off life” (41).  The postal womb reproduces necessarily from within the train tunnel – the symbolic phallic structure par excellence —and its genetic re-combinations emerge from the interminglings of money-shit, language and thief-parasite.  This is creation from the post.

Leavings I: Prosthesis as the Missing Piece of Community

Earlier I wrote about Hegel’s earwax and suggested the existence of a linkage between ear-cleaning and fascism.  Excessive swabbing reads as an attempt to get back to pure presence by hearing the phoné untainted.   However, I also suggested that the recognition of a need to swab avows the always already mediated system of hearing and so disrupts the dream of language as a transparent medium for communicating pure presence.  All of this attention to a little auricular cereolus is not to advocate the end of ear hygiene.  Excessive earwax is, after all, unhealthy.  But does it have to be disgusting?  William Miller writes in The Anatomy of Disgust that aural productions are always experienced as repellent: “The ear suffers the indignity of producing earwax, a substance which though generally less threatening than other bodily wastes is disgusting nonetheless.  Consider that earwax disgusts no matter how and where we think of it, whereas urine, feces, snot, are relatively innocuous when safely inside” (91).  What would happen if earwax were no longer regarded as improper, if we could re-configure our thinking about earwax from improper substance to ethical rem(a)inder of the being of language as a being-contaminated?

Read in this sense, earwax offers a means of physiologically troubling phonocentrism and of refusing the pure aural conception modeled by the Madonna;13 it provides a way of thinking-hearing after Zarathustra’s shattering hammer and Derrida’s articulations of writing.  Perhaps in this light, it makes perfect sense that Roy the postal carrier’s fetishized object of desire is Line, a deaf woman with a hearing aid.  Line serves as a continuation of Derrida’s question in “Tympan”: “can one puncture the tympanum of a philosopher and still be heard and understood by him?” (151).  Her hearing aid operates according to the logic of earwax: it emphasizes transmission and mediation in the act of listening.  Working as hinge between the deaf-ear and the speaking-mouth, the hearing aid’s equipmentality —its nature as technological product susceptible to breakdown— highlights Ronell’s notion of the unclean break between self and other.  Just as language as such is pure virus, the phoné never reaches its destination without filtration, without some static on the line.

The hearing aid is also prosthetic equipment. Challenging classical productions of the body as seamless, fixed and closed, prosthetic bodies exist at a limit of the conventionally human.  Properly speaking, they are posthuman bodies.  Far from suggesting a departure or freedom from all things corporeal, posthuman bodies converge at the interstice: “[they] emerge at nodes where bodies, bodies of discourse, and discourses of bodies intersect to foreclose any easy distinction between actor and stage, between sender/receiver, channel, code, message, context” (Halberstam and Livingston, 2).  As hybrid structures, moreover, posthuman and prosthetic bodies exhibit a temporally-specific form of monstrosity explicitly linking them with post-al time: “posthuman monstrosity and its bodily forms are recognizable because they occupy the overlap between the now and then, the here and the always: the annunciation of posthumanity is always both premature and old news” (3).

The prosthetic body occupies the same zone as the limit, the beyond and the post; it is dependent on the bodily structure to which it attaches and its time is the future anterior.  Exhibiting the inter-dependence of bodies and technology, prosthetic/posthuman bodies suggest that the post has something to do with interstitial links and (dis)connecting wires.  In this sense, the prosthesis is the missing piece of community.  Making present the absences and breakdowns in communication, the impossibilities of fusion and communion, materializing the disconnections and hinged relations between self and other, the posthuman prosthetic body gives voice to what Nancy terms the articulated or literary community: the community beyond mythology.14

Leavings II: Vomiting History

The postman inserts his fingers into the deaf woman’s mouth.  We cannot tell if she is alive or dead; she has taken pills (medicine) but has taken too many of them (poison) and is lying submerged in the bathtub when he discovers her.  The postal worker revives a half-dead body, deaf to his operations, through digital penetration.  We know his invasion of her body succeeds in prolonging life because she vomits.

This is also the scene of Benjamin’s Angel of History.15  The Angel is bulimic; this is the only explanation for the horror. Feeling the accumulation of all the shit it will have ingested, the Angel attempts to expel it.  But, of course, absolute expulsion proves impossible.  The taste of bile remains behind; sour residue left in the mouth mirroring the growing pile of dejecta and rejecta gathering at the feet. This is the scene of Derrida’s exterior interiority, the rim of finitude when uncanny dissolutions between self and other, life and death, past and future materialize.  How does the bulimic move beyond when the vomitorium of history is the only material left for post-al building?



1.  See Nancy’s argument in The Inoperative Community that the concepts of  faith and demythologization ultimately “[leave] untouched the essence of myth itself” (47).  Derrida gestures towards hope as a teleological and utopian concept at the end of his essay “Différance” when he writes about “Heideggerian hope . . . . without excluding any of its implications” (76).   Finally, the idea of destiny is buttressed by nostalgic belief in origins and endings.  As Nancy suggests in The Inoperative Community, one need only look to Aryan myth in order to surmise the importance of abandoning all faith in the concept of destiny (46).  back to text

2.  Derrida refers to the hinge —a structure which both joins and separates— in order to describe the articulated movement of différance; the protentions and retentions of writing which ‘make present’ the absences constituting language and the subject.  See especially pp. 65-69 in Of Grammatologyback to text

3.  For Levinas’ treatments of the face as an ethical structure calling the subject to a recognition of originary responsibility for the Other, see both Time and the Other and Totality and Infinityback to text

4.  Line, a deaf woman and Roy's fantasy-object, is the film’s main female character.  Georg is another unsavoury thief.  He appears in the film’s first scene, violently beating and robbing a security guard.  We later learn that Line was his partner-in-crime for this event.  back to text

5.  See Derrida’s discussion of phonocentrism, logocentrism and ethnocentrism in Of Grammatology, especially “Writing Before the Letter,” pp. 3-93.  Additionally, his essay “Signature Event Context” takes up the parasitical in relation to J.L. Austin’s theory of speech acts.  back to text

6.  From “Eclogue Ten: Utopia,” in Lisa Robertson’s XEclogue. (no page numbers in text)  back to text

7.  Friedrich Nietzsche.  The Will to Power, Book 3. p. 271.  back to text

8.  Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, pp. 64-68.  back to text

9.  “With this extraordinary increase in the value placed on music, which seemed to stem from Schopenhauer’s philosophy, the musician himself suddenly had an unprecedented rise in price: from now on he became an oracle, a priest, in fact, more than a priest, a sort of mouthpiece of the ‘in itself’ of things, a telephone to the beyond [ein Telephon des Jenseits} —from now on, he did not just talk music, this ventriloquist of God, he talked metaphysics: hardly suprizing that one day he ended up talking ascetic ideals, is it?...”  Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality, pp. 77-78.  back to text

10.  The term ‘thinking Otherwise’ traces itself at least as far back to Levinas’s early writings on ethics, especially the title of his Otherwise than Being: Or Beyond Essence.  For his discussions of insomnia as “[v]igilance without end,” see Time and the Other, esp. p. 48.  back to text

11.  Foucault vividly and succinctly characterizes this intellectual will to power: “knowledge is not made for understanding; it is made for cutting.”  See Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History,” 154.  back to text

12.  See Sigmund Freud, “Character and Anal Erotism,” Standard Ed., Vol. 9.  pp. 167-175.  back to text

13.  ‘Aural conception’ refers to the biblical account of Mary's impregnation: an angel appears and whispers the news into her ear.  The next thing we know, words have become life and she is carrying the Christ child.  back to text

14.  A) Refusal of the myth of communion becomes explicit when Roy and Line sit down to share coffee, bread and conversation.  Breaking off a piece of stale bread, Line takes it into her mouth only to spit it out immediately.  Transubstantiation is arrested and the communion or fusion of self and other is interrupted.  What follows next translates this symbolic interruption of the communion of souls into an explicit meditation on the problem of community, communication and the apprehension of language.   Line’s hearing aid (equipment proving itself unreliable several times throughout the film) stops working momentarily, highlighting language as mediated and in need of translating equipment.  Face-to-face with the language-carrier, hearing breaks down and disconnection ensues.  The vision we are left with is not one of fusion but with what Nancy terms compearance:

    Singular beings compear: their compearance constitutes their being, puts them in communication with one another.  But the interruption of community, the interruption of the totality that would fulfill it, is the very law of compearance.  The singular being appears to other singular beings; it is communicated to them in the singular.  It is a contact, it is a contagion: a touching, the transmission of a trembling at the edge of being, the communication of a passion that makes us fellows, or the communication of the passion to be fellows, to be in common (60-61).
Junk Mail repeatedly interrupts the dream of fusion with the law of compearance: the experience of ‘being in common’ is visualized through the contagions of post-al articulation.  back to text

B) To large degree, this paper on the ‘post’ —an abyssal term and structure sliding from one signification to the next, perpetually doubled and re-doubling itself and usually transmitting more than one ‘meaning’ in the same moment— will also have been intimately concerned with producing a prosthetic and dis/connected structure.   Which is also why I am subjecting this seemingly seminal remark to live burial in a footnote — in  order to make present via the text’s own deep structures the paper’s inability to achieve fusion with itself.   As Nancy suggests, literary communities are constituted by these dis/joinings, interruptions and textual surpluses.  back to text

15.  Benjamin’s Angel of History refers, of course, to his reading of Paul Klee’s famous painting Angelus Novus in “Theses on the Philosophy of History.”  back to text

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter.  “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations.  Ed. Hannah Arendt.  Trans. Harry Zohn.  New York: Shocken, 1968. 253-264.

De Certeau, Michel.  The Writing of History.  Trans. Tom Conley.  New York: Columbia UP, 1988.  back to text

Derrida, Jacques.  “Différance.”  Kamuf.  Trans.  Alan Bass.  61-79.

---,  Margins of Philosophy. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982.  back to text

---.  Of Grammatology.  Corr. Ed.  Trans.  Gayatri Spivak. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.   back to text

---.  The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond.  Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987.  back to text

---.  “Signature Event Context.”  Kamuf.  Trans. Alan Bass.  82-111.  back to text

---.  “Tympan.”  Kamuf.  Trans. Alan Bass.  148-168.  back to text

---. Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1982. back to text

Foucault, Michel.  “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.”  Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews.  Ed. Donald F. Bouchard. Trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon.  Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977. 139-164.

Freud, Sigmund.  “Character and Anal Erotism.”  The Standard Edition of The Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.  Vol. 9.  Ed. James Strachey.  Trans.  James Strachey.  London: Hogarth P, 1959.  167-175.

---.  “On Transformations of Instinct as Exemplified in Anal Erotism.”  On  Sexuality: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality and Other Works. London: Penguin, 1977.  295-302.  back to text

Halberstam, Judith and Ira Livingston, ed.  Posthuman Bodies.  Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.  back to text

Kamuf, Peggy, ed.  A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds.  New York: Columbia UP, 1991.

Levinas, Emmanuel.  Otherwise Than Being: Or Beyond Essence.  Trans. Alphonso Lingis.  The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1981.

---.  Time and the Other [and Additional Essays].  Trans.  Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1987.  39-94.  back to text

Miller, William Ian.  The Anatomy of Disgust.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1997.  back to text

Nancy, Jean-Luc.  The Inoperative Community.  Ed. Peter Connor.  Trans. Peter Connor, Lisa Garbus, Michael Holland, and Simona Sawhney. Minneapolis and Oxford: U of Minnesota P, 1991.  back to text

Nietzsche, Friedrich.  On the Genealogy of Morality.  Ed. Keith Ansell-Pearson. Trans. Carol Diethe.  Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.  back to text

---.  Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book For All and None.  Trans.  Alexander Tille.
London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1908.

---.  The Will to Power: An Attempted Transvaluation of All Values.  Trans.
Anthony Ludovici.  Edinburgh: T.N. Foulis, 1910.

Robertson, Lisa.  XEclogue.  Vancouver: New Star Books, 1999.

Ronell, Avital.  “The Worst Neighborhoods of the Real: Philosophy – Telephone –  Contamination.”  Finitude’s Score: Essays for the End of the Millennium. Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1994.  219-235.  back to text

---.  The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech.  Lincoln and London: U of Nebraska P, 1989.  back to text

Seligman, Adam.  The Problem of Trust.  Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997.  back to text

Shaviro, Steven.  “Two Lessons from Burroughs.”  Halberstam and Livingston. 38-54.  back to text

Sletaune, Pal, dir.  Junk Mail [Budbringeren].  1996.  Videocassette.  Lions Gate Releasing, 1998.  back to text