The Impossibility of Saying the Event

Jacqui Knight

I would like to use this seminar as an opportunity to help me better understand what constitutes an ‘event’. An event seems to be a necessary ‘affect’ for a frisson, this is how I’m beginning to think about it. I’m interested in the significance of such an affection in the naming (and recognising) of an event. The word event refers to a fact or phenomenon in so far as it corresponds to a change or makes a mark. To give a more concrete example, Derrida suggests that there is always a certain ‘impossible possibility’ of ‘saying’ the event:

[I]f there is an event, it must never be something that is predicted or planned, or even really decided upon. What we are doing here is simply a pretext for talking to one another, maybe for talking without having anything special to say, simply for the sake of talking, addressing the other in a context where what we say matters less that the fact that we’re talking to the other. The sentence that constitutes the question and that serves as a title ‘Is saying the event possible’? is a question (Derrida, J. 2003, p. 442-443).

There’s some notion that there are not events, there are simply descriptions:

Saying the event is saying what is, saying things as they present themselves, historical events as they take place, and this is a question of information. As you’ve suggested, even demonstrated, this saying of the event as a statement of knowledge or information, a sort of cognitive saying of description, this saying of the event is always somewhat problematical because the structure of saying is such that it always comes after the event. Secondly, because as saying and hence as structure of language, it is bound to a measure of generality, iterability, and repeatability, it always misses the singularity of the event (Derrida, J. 2003, p. 446).

To think about the notion of an event I want to use Halley’s Comet as an example, and to begin to think about the context- ‘the fact that we’re talking to the other’ rather than ‘the sake of talking’ itself. Every 76 years, or roughly there about, this ‘event’ occurs that results in recordings, depictions, drawings, and accounts. Halley’s comet has been depicted within images, tapestries, tablets and text for centuries, and is an event that is seemingly reliable and predictable. When we study the artefacts of this ‘event’ we can see that each depiction reveals a slightly different character of ‘talking to the other’ every time the returning comet is documented.

Download seminar reading:
Derrida (2003) A Certain Impossible Possibility of Saying the Event