Hinge Theory: Originary Difference and Divisive Beginning

  Author: Allan Parsons
Date: November 2011-
Keywords: Hinge; Trace;
Opening; Beginning;
Narrative; Threshold; Unfolding; Performative;
Beginning again; Returning; Non-originary origin
Related terms: Fold

The hinge (la brisure): a join that breaks
open; difference and articulation; opening
and fragmenting; a fold that holds while dividing

The hinge enacts a recognition that the
trace, or rather tracing, differing and
articulating, is performative: to begin is
to open; to open is to inaugurate; and to
inaugurate is to create (again, anew).

The hinge is an act of un-folding, a

"The logic of Derrida’s ‘quasi-transcendentality’ could be cited here: any term that aspires to rise from an empirical field to a transcendental ordering or conditioning position will leave behind it a mark of its absence from the field."

Protevi, J. ed., 2005. The Edinburgh Dictionary of Continental Philosophy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, p. ix.


"You have, I suppose, dreamt of finding a single word for designating difference and articulation. I have perhaps located it by chance in Robert['s Dictionary] if I play on the word, or rather indicate its double meaning. This word is brisure [joint, break] “ — broken, cracked part. Cf. breach, crack, fracture, fault, split, fragment, [bréche, cassure, fracture, faille, fente, fragment.] — Hinged articulation of two parts of wood- or metal-work. The hinge, the brisure [folding-joint] of a shutter. Cf. joint.”" — Roger Laporte (letter) (Derrida, 1976: 65)

In his discussion of "Linguistics and Grammatology", chapter 2 of Of Grammatology, Derrida (1976: 65) defines the trace as the absolute origin of sense in general, which is to say that there is no absolute origin of sense in general. The trace is the differance (with an a) which opens appearance and signification; trace (tracing, fabrication) is that which does not let itself be summed up in the simplicity of a present (Derrida, 1976: 66) nor, it should be added in the (apparent, obvious) simplicity of a conclusion (end, destination).

The fabric (fabrication) of this tracing permits the difference between space and time to be articulated in the unity of an experience, i.e. of a same lived out of a same body proper. This articulation, Derrida argues, permits a graphic chain to be adapted to a spoken chain. The graphic chain may be visual, tactile or spatial. The spoken chain may be phonic or temporal.

It is from the possibility of this originary non-origin, this tracing, that one must begin: "Difference is articulation",
insists Derrida (1976: 66), the break that joins, the opening that divides. Differance defers-differs: defers temporally, in the assumed passivity of the passage of time, time passing; differs spatially, in the assumed divisibility of taking place, space dividing. Differance punctually (temporally) punctuates (spatially).

We stand on this point, this threshold, this punctuation mark,
repeatedly (punctually) beginning (again), always already there, passing from opening to (dividing) opening:

This is no simple narrative structure because, as Derrida states,

"The concepts of present, past, and future, everything in the concepts of time and history which implies evidence of them - the metaphysical concept of time in general - cannot adequately describe the structure of the trace." (Derrida, 1976: 67)

Yet it may still be narrative, but not as a simple chronological, historiographic or futurological fictional fabrication. Does trace, in any case, have a structure? Is it not, rather, systemic, a making-it-up (fabrication) in the passing moment? Improvisatory, performative: "Contact/Improv", as April Flakne (2007) has it.


Derrida, J. (1976) Of Grammatology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Flakne, A. (2007) Contact/improv: a synaesthetic rejoinder to Derrida's reading of Merleau-Ponty. Philosophy Today, 51, pp.42-49.

Joyce, J. (1975) Finnegans wake. London: Faber and Faber. Available as audio book at http://ubu.com/sound/joyce_fw.html

Alternatively, view:
Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake
Directed by Mary Ellen Bute
Screenplay by Mary Manning
Cinematography by Ted Nemeth
Music by Elliot Kaplan

Addendum: Saying one thing and thinking of your mother

According to Miles Richardson (1982, 1984), we transform experience into symbol, and then make the symbol into an object, whether as an artefact, a gesture or a word. These objects then act as intercorporeal hinges, linking bodies-as-subjects in symbolic-material exchange.

Psychodynamically, such objects-symbols also serve as transitional objects as well as elements in intersubjective exchange. Through that symbolic-material exchange, we engage in a re-articulation or a re-memoration of experience, forming a feedback loop or a disarticulated cycle: experience is formed into symbol, symbol into object, object into hinge in exchange or interaction, and back into experience.

In this way, the ego is integrated intersubjectively; and the the ego is integrated psychodynamically. This is not to assume that this occurs successfully, seamlessly or without remainder. "I" is never 'settled', as in a loan or a debt, an investment or a return, entirely.


Richardson, M. (1982). Being-in-the-market versus being-in-the-plaza: material culture and the construction of social reality in Spanish America. American Ethnologist, 9 (2), pp.421-436.

Richardson, M. (1984). Material culture and being-in-Christ in Spanish America and the American South. Built Form and Culture Conference Proceedings, October 18-20, Lawrence: University of Kansas.

Addendum originally published on 4 January 2011 at http://prolepsis-ap.blogspot.com/2011/01/saying-one-thing-and-thinking-of-your.html