Paper presented at the 1st Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "A spanner in the works of the factory of truth"
20 October 1995, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa

I am a Spanner in the Works of the Factory of Truth
Vasi van Deventer
In this paper I confess that I see myself as a moment of Derridean diffèrance. This is a confession of I, because I do not develop a rational argument in defence of this position. I merely describe the meaning of an I that comes into being as the subject differed and deferred from itself. And I do so in order to provide the reader with some background for three other stories about confessions of I. These stories relate the reactions of scientific colleagues to a presentation dealing with this postmodern position of I. The irony is that by acting out their resistance to the presented I, they betrayed the very scientific principles they intended to defend. In doing so they affirmed the position of the postmodern I, namely that an entire psychology comes into being when the subject opposes itself to itself. Thus all of psychology becomes the confession of an I. Furthermore, in so far as psychology is the factory of the truth of the subject, the I is always already a spanner in the works of this factory.

The present paper is a story initiated by another paper, a paper I once presented at a symposium on the ontology of person. That paper dealt with post modernism and the subject, and more specifically with the I. Somehow the paper stirred some of my academic/scientific colleagues into action. And this is what makes the story: These actions, which were aimed at opposing the paper's message, in the end became reenactments of it's message, namely that a whole ontology, and thus an entire psychology, comes into being when the subject opposes itself to itself. Acts of resisting the post modern I (in the initial presentation) turned out to be confessions of that I. But this should not be seen as a quandary. Rather, a very positive message presents itself here: By opposing themselves to the I in the text of the presented paper, and thus differing and deferring themselves form themselves, these colleagues confirmed an active psychology, a psychology/a science/a social reality that is constantly created in and through our deeds. Such reactions are confessions of the I. In what follows I relate three confessions, which I call "Professing a psychology", "The murder of the messenger", and "The announcement of a post mortem". I must begin, however, with my own confession of the I.

My confession of the I begins with two quotes from the flyer of this qualitative methods conference. According to the flyer the conference is called: A spanner in the works of the factory of truth. And the flyer further invites us to: ..... let our data speak to us, data, which in this case, is ourselves. These ideas neatly capture the theme of my paper, namely that the subject's I is the spanner in the works of any factory of truth.

But who or what is this I? First a complication, before we turn to its theoretical foundation: In traditional psychology the subject is the object of study. Thus psychology is the factory where I am being subjected to truth. But psychology of course is a human enterprise. Thus, if I may be a spanner in the works of this factory of truth, of this psychology, I would suggest that far from being simply subjected to truth I am also always already the very subject of this truth. Thus psychology is the factory where my truth is fabricated. Can you see how quickly I complicate things here? Can you still determine with any certainty which I you are dealing with? Do you not find in evidence here an I who I lives on both the inside and the outside of the text? Think carefully and you will see that not only the text of psychology, but also this present text becomes the fabric (which is simultaneously a fabrication) of a subject differed and deferred from itself.

This is a complicated beginning of what will turn out to be three simple stories about I being a spanner in the works of the factory of truth. But this beginning enables me to put the I on the table. I am able to confess the I, to bear it's soul in all complexity. And this demonstrates more economically than any rational argument can, the nature of an I that is always present in whatever we do, yet without ever being in presence. But I must confess that this approach is inspired by another quote form the conference flyer. This quote goes as follows: ..... step forward and speak, .... make the difficult confession .... .

Therefore, thus is the I I confess (yes, it is always already doubled): It is the dark spot I see when I close my eyes and look into myself. It is simultaneously the surplus and the lack in any attempt to reflect upon myself - the space between the double layers of reflection. And in reflecting upon itself, it is both older and younger than any ontology. It is a relation between what is present and what is totally other to the present, between this life world and it's absolutely other, the relation between life and death. It is not a thing, it cannot be objectified. It is not the self psychology speaks of. It is not merely a position in language, but always already an opening (in the double sense of this word) in language. It is this I that is the spanner in the works of any factory of truth. It is this I that is both and simultaneously the subject and the victim of any fabricated truth.

Let me try to justify my confession, without wasting too much space and time. The I has its roots (if it has roots) in Lacan's mirror stage theory (Lacan, 1977, pp 1-7). Lacan says the I comes into being in the constant projection and retrojection when the subject sees itself reflected in the mirror (meant in the abstract sense). We have a subject projected as an image, and a subject that exists as the retrojection from that image. The complication is clear: The source of the image becomes the source of the image after the image. The true foundation, the definite beginning, disappears in the undecidable interplay of source and image. Let's now take another step further and explore this I. I want to take this I, this complicated beginning, which is also a complication of beginning, as an example of Derridean diffèrance. Diffèrance is the play of differing and deferring (See Derrida, 1973, pp 129-160). The I is the subject differed from itself (opposed to itself) in the sense that it recognises itself as other in the (abstract) mirror. But it is also the subject deferred from itself (i.e. postponed from itself), because Lacan says that in the mirror the subject sees what it will have become. The language of the mirror is spoken in the future perfect. The I is the simultaneity of differing and deferring. But this is no simple origin or beginning. The depth of this I is not to be fathomed. According to Derrida (1976, pp 62-65) we cannot grasp diffèrance in one go. The simultaneity of differing and deferring, which is the simultaneity of space becoming time and time becoming space, this "origin" of space-time, this playful I, lies outside our comprehension.

Now it takes only a simple calculation to show how this I is always already a spanner in the works of any factory of truth. At the present occasion we cannot deal fully with an argument which situates the I as the differential between fact and fiction, because this argument would require more time and space than we have to our disposal. Therefore, I advance this position as mere hypothesis, and not as rational(ised) fact.

Let's start with an objective position, meaning a position of objectivity. If we find ourselves at a distance from the object it is easy to work with oppositional structures. If there is an inside, we can objectively consider the outside; if it is valued positive, we can comprehend it's negative side; if it is present we can imagine it's absence; if it is fact we know the fictive. A whole reality spreads out before our (mind's) eye(s). A seamless fabric(ation) of reality unfolds itself in front of us. But what happens when the objective position fails us, as it inevitably always does? What happens when we find ourselves in a certain present (as we inevitably always do)? Can we then recognise the absent for what it is? Certainly not. When we find ourselves on the side of the present (inside the present) our comprehension of the absent (of the outside of this present inside) is always already founded in the present where we find ourselves. Yet we must acknowledge that there is a non-present (that which is absolutely other to the present) that captures, yet exceeds, our understanding of the absent. In other words there is a difference between non-present and absent that we cannot take into account on the grounds of the present. This interval between what refers to itself as non-present and what we, on the grounds of what is present, understand to be absent, splits the present from the absent. And this split between presence and absence relates our life world to what is absolutely other to this world. We cannot fathom the content of this split. This fold or crease, in what we normally experience as a seamless reality, is the intrusion of the unexpected into our life-worlds.

Such is the (hypothesised) position of I. It is the locus where any comprehension of the difference between the non-present and the absent fails, and thus it forms a certain lack in the life-world that unfolds in front of our (mind's) eye(s). This I is an eye, perhaps the pupil of the eye. But the I is also always present in any understanding of the world, and thus it forms a surplus that cannot be accounted for by whatever present themselves to be the presences and absences that constitute this world. This I relates our life-world to what is absolutely other to this world. It is the differential between inside and outside, positive and negative, presence and absence, fact and fiction, perhaps even between life and death.

Let's now follow the workings of this hypothesised I as it becomes a spanner in the works of the factory of truth.

The paper I gave at a symposium on the ontology of person centred on the undecidibility of the being of person. I analysed a portion of Derrida's text on diffèrence to show that the undecidable moment in Derridean diffèrance could be identified as I. My major proposal was that this I is both a lack and a surplus in any ontology, in the sense that it is always already both the subject of and subjected to its ontology. The paper was written in a post modern idiom, and it relied a lot on word play, such as that suggested in its title: The ontology of I, the eye of ontology. In a brief introduction I explained the gist of the paper's content as well as it's presentation methodology. Yet, despite this precaution the paper was still perceived as controversial, and in the week that followed the symposium it stirred some of my colleagues into action. I relate three stories from that week.

Story 1: Professing a psychology
The event:
The day after the symposium a professor of psychology paid me a visit. The professor thought I meant my paper as a joke. Even after reading the text s/he still maintained that only the proper use of grammar saved the text from being a word salad, i.e. from being absolutely nonsensical. According to the professor, the presentation could not be counted as a psychological paper. No wonder then that the professor later on attempted to obstruct the publication of the text.
The moral of the story:
The discipline of psychology did not fall from the sky. A number of pioneers had to work long and hard to establish the field and to bestow it with credibility. Today psychology still needs its professors, those who are prepared to actively maintain the discipline of this subject matter. This is (and I must state it empathically) a legitimate project, for hopefully a beneficial capital is worked in the mutual professing of the discipline and its professors. The related event demonstrates clearly how the professor goes about the business of professing his/her discipline. S/he sees the discipline as (a) serious business (it's not a joke), and (b) adhering to some form of logos (a certain grammar), which (c) implies standards that need to be maintained by keeping a watchful eye over what is allowed as the discipline's text.
The confession of an I:
But let's look closely at the professor's actions. In judging the initial paper the professor finds him/herself on the inside of a certain psychology. It is from inside the discipline, and based on its logos, that s/he is able to label the presentation nonsensical. The issue is not the legitimacy of the distinction between the inside and the outside of the discipline. What is at stake is the act of drawing this distinction. In drawing the distinction the professor subjects everything, and this includes the outside of the discipline, to the logos of the discipline. The outside is calculated as the negative of a certain positive. It is the irrational of the rational, the nonsensical of the sensible. It is on the basis of what the discipline already is that the professor is able to reject the presented text, and to label it as something outside the discipline. But in doing so the professor denies a self responsibility. Thus the professor is not seen to play a role. But this should not surprise us. Traditionally the professor's discipline requires him/her to be objective. The logos of the discipline commands the withdrawal of any subjectivity (also the professor's subjectivity). All folds or creases should be ironed out. The end of the discipline is to unfold a seamless reality. And this is exactly what the professor is up to. S/he objects to a text that suggests that a certain fold cannot be ironed out, that a certain subjectivity can never be fully withdrawn from the reality that is unfolded by the discipline. S/he claims that a particular text cannot be accommodated by the discipline's logos. But what is claimed here, if not a certain discipline? Declaring a text to be unsuitable, draws the boarders of the discipline. The claim of unsuitability, the disclaiming of the text, is always already a deed of circumvention. But what a loaded word we have in circumvention! At the very moment the professor draws borders around (circumvents) the discipline (his/her subject) s/he does so by rejecting/avoiding (circumventing) a certain subjectivity. At the very moment s/he circumvents the subject s/he circumvents the subject. The closure of the borders is the loss of the subject. This moment(um) of the doubled circumvention is always already inherent in the very discipline/disciplining of psychology. And the essence of this moment(um) is precisely what the professor cannot circumvent - neither avoid, nor surround. The interval marked off by this doubling, is his/her I. The professor's professing is the confession of this I (a confession that never allows, not even in this sentence, the subject to be distinguished from the object).

Story 2: The murder of the messenger
The event:
In the week that followed the symposium on the ontology of person a number of tea-time discussions took place. In the absence of the presenters these discussions quickly turned into gossip, a carousal where truth was shunted onto a lesser track; the discrediting the messengers.
The moral of the story:
The symposium on the ontology of person was held under the auspices of a departmental discussion forum, simply known as Forum. Thus the invitation to the symposium read as follows: Forum: You are invited to a symposium on ..... . Perhaps we should keep in mind here the historical meanings of these terms: Forum is the place of rational debate and justification, and symposium indicates a drinking party. These are the contexts for both the professor's actions as well as those of the murderous one. However, unlike the professor the murderous one shows no interest in rational discussion. The professor works hard at curbing the symposium in the forum. But the murderous one pours wine at the tea-time table, and toasts the death of his/her colleague. Why this fierce reaction? One should perhaps not be astonished at this behaviour, because the colleague is an angel of death, a messenger who spreads the news that psychology can exist only in the face of a certain intelligibility. The post modern intellectual life of psychology depends on the death of a purely rational-scientific enterprise. The original presentation refers to the slight lunacy at work at the origins of knowledge: ..... not madness as the negative of saneness, the irrational of the rational, but a slight infestation of the rational with the non-rational. Derrida shows us the gap in our understanding ..... he traces out the hole in knowledge, a writing about the eye of ontology, which is simultaneously the spring (in more than one sense) of this knowledge. And in James Hillman's The myth of analysis (1972, pp 137-138) we read: Perhaps the Age of reason has reached its last borders, the borders of reason itself, the mind and its own darkness. The light now turning towards itself created a new science of the mind, psychology, and of the mind's shadow, psychopathology. And the original presentation examines these claims with reference to issues in modern day physics, mathematics, psychology and philosophy (van Deventer, 1994). In the face of (so much) death a frightening anxiety must close in, an anxiety that dulls the mind into pre-reasoned and intuitive actions of defence. Anxiety, says Lacan, introduces us to the function of the lack (Weber, 1991, p 151). And it is in coming face to face with ourselves, in facing our unveiled selves, that we experience this lack, an thus an uncontrollable anxiety: If we will imagine it, as an extreme case, lived in the mode of strangeness proper to apprehensions of the 'double', this situation would set off an uncontrollable anxiety (Lacan 1977, pp 15-16; see also Gallop, 1985, p 63).
The confession of an I:
With the murderous one the problem is not so much the action of murder (there may be legitimate reasons for wishing one's colleague dead!), as it is the meaningfulness of this act, because here the one murdered is the angel of death. Is there any stronger way to convey the message? Is the killing of the angel of death not the absolute affirmation of his message? It takes a certain death to keep psychology alive. A certain unreasoned act underscores the reasoned fact. Has not the murderous one already dulled his/her senses with the symposium wine when this senseless act is committed? How much gossip (unconstrained talk about persons or social incidents - Oxford Wordfinder) does it take to save the scientific enterprise? How much slip of reason is necessary to maintain the rational, how much subjectivity is required to preserve the objective? Somewhere a cock crows thrice, and behind the bloodied posts 30 pieces of silver change hands, before the murderous one hangs him/herself.

Story 3: Announcing a post mortem
The event:
A week after the symposium I received an anonymous note entitled: A post mortem of postmodernism.
The moral of the story:
The ideal of every objective science certainly is the anonymity of its scientist. The nameless one, the one who slips from the forum without a trace. But can we say that s/he leaves behind an objective science, an objective psychology? And can we conclude that this psychology belongs to him/her, or that s/he belongs to this psychology? Who is s/he? A professor? A murderer? Perhaps a murderous professor? One cannot know. After all, s/he is the anonymous one! With an anonymous note s/he leaves a trace that informs you without naming the name, a note that obscures even the fact of his/her existence, because the note is the announcement of a post mortem. In the forum s/he marks his/her existence with the absence of existence. An even here a particular strategy is followed. The note is left strategically. It is left for a specific messenger. It is the postmodern messenger who receives this note. And of course the note nullifies the messenger' message. If post modernism is dead the messenger's message is worthless. Therefore, when the messenger points out the place where the anonymous one died in the forum, when he indicates that the psychologist leaves an interval of undecidibility in psychology, when he describes the unintelligible moment of the I, his message is always already nullified by this note of a post mortem.
The confession of an I:
The announcement of a post mortem is a note that veils existence, yet it is still a trace. The note is a trace of the nameless one. But this note is much more. In declaring a post mortem it becomes the trace of the erasure of the trace of the nameless one's existence. It erases the trace of that place where the nameless one slips from the forum. Thus the note is the trace of the erasure of a trace. However, does the anonymous one succeed? Does the objective scientist obtain the goal of pure objectivity? No, precisely because the note, that which is present, the objective, is never present in and of itself. It is always already a trace of the erasure of a trace. It is the trace of the disappearing subject, of the one who withdraws to be him/herself outside the forum, outside the logos, or the scientific, and thus outside psychology. But that which is left in the forum, the note that defaults into a modern scientific enterprise by declaring the post modern dead, this entire psychology is always already the trace of the disappearing subject. An entire psychology is the confession of I.

PS: A final confession of I
We have listened to three confessions of I, three confessions that are presented in support of the notion that I am a spanner in the factory of truth, in support of the idea that I am the differential between fact and fiction. But is this the truth of I, and is this the true I? Are these the same? We do not have sufficient time for a full analysis. I can simply alert you to the issue.
Therefore, is this the truth of I? The issue has not been argued. The rational argument has been avoided: Here I advance this position as mere hypothesis, and not as rational(ised) fact. We only have in evidence the repetition of the demonstration. The story relating the confessions of I, is in itself a confession of I. Why? Remember this story is about the I as the differential between fact and fiction. In avoiding the rational argument, I (the one who tells this story) situate myself as the differential in which the truth of this presentation, and thus the truth of the I, is founded (if we can still use this word). But if truth is founded in I, can we still ask the question of the truth of I? Is truth, and thus the truth of I, then not always already a confession? I have confessed an I.


  1. Derrida, J. (1973). Speech and phenomena and other essays on Husserl's theory of signs. (Translation: D. Allison). Evanston: Northwestern University Press.
  2. Derrida, J. (1976). Of Grammatology (Translation: G.C. Spivak). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
  3. Gallop, J. (1985). Reading Lacan. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  4. Hillman, J. (1972). The myth of analysis: Three essays in archetypical psychology. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
  5. Lacan, J. (1977). Ecrits: A selection. (Translation: A. Sheridan). London: Tavistock Publications.
  6. van Deventer, V. (1994). The ontology of I, the eye of ontology: About the postmodern subject. In C. Plug (Ed.), Reports from the Psychology Department. No 30.
  7. Weber, S. (1991). Return to Freud (Translation: M. Levine). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Department of Psychology
University of South Africa
PO Box 392

Paper presented at the 1st Annual Qualitative Methods Conference: "A spanner in the works of the factory of truth"
20 October 1995, University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa
critical methods society - -