“The Lick of the Mother Tongue: Derrida, Augustine and Marx on the Touch of Language.”

In Mirt Komel (ed.), The Language of Touch: Philosophical Examinations in Linguistics and Haptic Studies. New York, NY, USA: pp. 107-120 (2019)
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Abstract

From Augustine’s (death) drive towards an imaginary time before speech to Marx’s drive toward an imaginary time after speech as we know it, we learn that we are always already within the bonds of the mother tongue. In the late twentieth-century, Derrida turns to both Augustine and Marx to repeat the fantasy of escaping the mother (tongue). Derrida responds to Marx’s analysis of our repeated failure to forget the mother tongue by turning to Augustine’s analysis of the mother’s touch: we cannot forget the mother tongue because it is licked upon our skin. Drawing on Derrida’s relationship to Augustine and Marx on the topic of touch and language, I argue that although the bond of the mother tongue is inescapable, its very real grip upon our skin is founded upon a number of fantasies: the fantasy of the Mother, of a cut with the Mother by the Mother, which separates us from an original shared skin and binds us to the Mother tongue, the fantasy of self-articulation in the death of the Mother. I suggest that the symptoms of the fantasmatic foundation of our entrapment by the mother tongue-touch is expressed in barely perceptible glitches—a shiver passing over one’s skin, a stutter in one’s speech.

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Rachel Aumiller
Columbia University

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