On This Side of Life: Monstrosity and Mechanicity in Canguilhem and Derrida

McAuliffe, Sam. 2016. 'On This Side of Life: Monstrosity and Mechanicity in Canguilhem and Derrida'. In: Derrida Today. Goldsmiths, United Kingdom. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

What distinguishes machine and organism, writes Georges Canguilhem in an article that seeks to determine the various historical schemas informing their relation, is a capacity for errancy, an ability to deviate from the apparently regulative rule that constitutes the field in question and subsist in this deviation. Whereas at each stage in its process the machine “verifies the norms of calculation”, “life, by contrast, is experience, that is to say, improvisation, the utilization of occurrences; it is an attempt in all directions. From this follows a massive and often neglected fact: life tolerates monstrosities. There is no machine monster.” In this sense, for Canguilhem monstrosity is not the violation of a given norm, but that which testifies to the fundamental precarity of the norm itself. And yet if “the distinction between the normal and the pathological holds for living beings alone,” it is as if this became legible and determinable only on account of the machine as that which is excluded from yet supplements this exchange.

This paper sets out to examine the implications of Canguilhem’s thesis in relation to a question posed by Derrida in ‘Typewriter Ribbon’: “Will we one day be able, and in a single gesture, to join the thinking of the event to the thinking of the machine? […] to think both the event and the machine as two compatible or even indissociable concepts”?

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Jacques Derrida, Georges Canguilhem, Machine, Monstrosity, Event, Life

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


9 June 2016Accepted

Event Location:

Goldsmiths, United Kingdom

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

09 Nov 2018 13:12

Last Modified:

12 Nov 2018 12:37



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