Reading Counterfeit Money: 3. The Dedication

Post #16 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

A topological analysis (GT, pp. 87-88)
Baudelaire’s Counterfeit Money was published as part of Le Spleen de Paris in 1855. Derrida uses the book’s spatiality, its topos to analyse the book’s dedication, one of the borders that, along with the title, one must cross before arriving at the short story, Counterfeit Money.

The written dedication, in which Baudelaire offers Le Spleen de Paris to Arsène Houssaye, is inserted in the book between the name of the author and the book’s title; as such it is a feature that appears to situate the destination of the book. [i.e. this is the place where Baudelaire “gives” the book to Houssaye] But the name of the dedicatee is not proof of the book’s effective dedication: “the destination of this dative [what is given] is not reducible to the explicit dedication…there is nothing in a text that is not dedicated.”

Putting the question of the destination of the text to one side, Derrida returns to his topological analysis of the dedication, attempting to situate it within Le Spleen de Paris. It appears not to be part of the fiction, in the same way as Counterfeit Money, yet can we be so sure? Derrida asks: “how is one to take the dedication? Is it still fiction…by what title must one receive it?” What is its place within Le Spleen de Paris, as fiction or as real?

The question of the dedication is the same as the question of its title [whether it is to be taken as true or counterfeit money], and of the whole and the part. [This echoes Levi-Strauss’s claim that one cannot construct the whole from parts. (76) For Derrida, in contradiction, the part exceeds the whole:

It is as if the title were the very text whose narrative would finally be but the gloss or a long note on the counterfeit money of the title, at the bottom of the page.” (86)

This question of the whole and the part is seen within the figure of the snake that Derrida draws our attention to; Baudelaire’s image of Le Spleen de Paris as a segmented whole, a serpent which can be cut into parts, which is given by Baudelaire to Houssaye in the dedication. Derrida leaves further questioning of this gift of a serpent, whether whole or segmented, up in the air.

More on the border

Derek Hampson

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