Reading Counterfeit Money: 4. Crossing the Border

Post #17 of the Art as Gift project’s reading of Jacques Derrida’s Given Time

Part and Whole (GT, 94-95)
In Derrida’s analysis of Counterfeit Money, as a short story within the collection Le Spleen de Paris, the larger is constantly overrun by the smaller. The borders that frame the story, the title and the dedication, exceed the borders, which, by convention, they create. The dedication encompasses the whole of Le Spleen de Paris, in the image of a segmented serpent, which can be sliced at will. The title of Counterfeit Money is characterised as if it were the text, and the narrated story but a long note on the title. (86)

[Derrida describes this process of the part encompassing the whole as metonymic – the smaller is “metonymically” larger than the larger. A metonym is a figure of speech which Nietzsche defines as “the substitution of cause and effect” in which the part stands for the whole, for example “tongue” for “language.” The study of figures of speech was central to rhetoric, in works such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric, and Nietzsche’s 1872 Lectures on Rhetoric and Language.]

These framing devices within a book, the title and the dedication, are by convention irremovable, and as such they are thought to provide a stable structure for what is within. [This reference to “structure” draws attention to structuralism]. Rather than a “structure” this relationship between whole and part is described by Derrida as a “movement.” A movement that also “overruns and de-borders the coded language of rhetoric,” in this case that of metonymy as a figure of speech.

Rhetorical figures rely on a stable relationship between the part and the whole. Yet in Derrida’s analysis there is never stability, only stabilization in process. Pointing to “older” more complicated and unstable structures. In what could be called a post-structuralist move, Derrida says they can be called structures as they are “not necessarily chaotic, their relative “anteriority” or their “greater complexity does not signify pure disorder.”

Derek Hampson

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