R EAD I NG TH E OTH E R
main point is: I did not say that such-and-such a person was in pain, but ‘I am . . . ’ Now in saying this I don’t name any person. Just as I don’t name anyone when I groan with pain. Though someone else sees who is in pain from the groaning. (PI, §404) On this approach, the ‘who’ is not something which, in one’s own case, can be individuated without being ‘forced to defer itself by passing through the other’. Thus, one is not, to oneself, ‘constantly present-at hand’, rather, and crudely, ‘only our bodies are the principle of individuation’ (PR, §60).17 Or perhaps better, in each case, we are what we do. On this approach, the behaviour of a living thing is not a scene as of, say, ‘a subject experiencing pain’, except in its structural relation to a reading-response – even if the ‘subject’ is, in fact, isolated, and even if it is, in fact, ‘oneself’ who is in pain.
Another like myself In the opening chapters of this book I drew special attention to the way in which an objectifying conception of subjectivity sustains the threat of scepticism. This metaphysical framework is focused on a compelling interpretation of the purity – and unique dignity – of the self-relation: Reference in this case [namely the use of ‘I’ as subject], unlike any other type of reference, is immune to error through misidentification. This is not because it is an encounter with an unmistakeable thing, but because reference in such a case does not denote an encounter at all. It does not denote a self-encounter but self-presence. (Chapter 1, p. 13) On the approach I have been defending, however, the reason why this use is immune to error is not because it denotes self-presence but because it does not denote at all.18 That is, if the foregoing argument is sound, then the use of ‘I’ as subject begins not with a selfpresent subject, but in a scene of an ungrounded reading-response (a ‘Yes: same’-saying) which leaps to a ‘we’. According to this argument, there is no openness to a living thing as another which is not caught in such a reading-response. And, again, this must be seen as our primary relation to others. That is, in being open to others, we are not first given a type of behaviour which will then ground an attribution of psychological properties – rather, in advance of such evidence, through the spontaneous and originary apostrophe of a reading-response ‘the other appears as such’ (Derrida, 1988b, p. 634). The case of a ‘radical alien’ is, on this account, an entity with respect to which, while suspecting signs of life, we hold in suspense this reading-response. Unable to read-respond, unable to identify an iterable trait with which I am remotely at home, I may be said to see