Tympan Alley: Posthumanist Performatives in Dancer in the Dark

Turner, Lynn. 2013. Tympan Alley: Posthumanist Performatives in Dancer in the Dark. Derrida Today, 6(2), pp. 222-239. ISSN 1754-8500 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

‘Tympaniser’, Alan Bass tells us, is an ‘archaic verb meaning to ridicule publicly’ or to decry. In the essay fronting Margins of Philosophy called ‘Tympan’ (translated by Bass) Derrida decries the philosophy that would own its limits, absorbing ‘the margin of its own volume’. While it is Derrida’s late work on the ‘animal question’ that has brought his insistence on the nourishment of the limits between species as limitrophy to wider attention, it is also named as the general condition of the interface of the limits in the much earlier text, ‘Tympan.’ There, in dislocating the tympanum, the margins of philosophy are eaten. Equally, given the rhythmic address of the tympanum, we might say that the margins of philosophy are beaten.

Struggling within the strictures of a small town amateur dramatic rehearsal, Selma, the lead protagonist in Dancer in the Dark (dir. Lars von Trier, 2000), makes a plea for more rhythm. But there is no license for tap-dancing in The Sound of Music. This chapter considers Dancer’s persistent play on rhythmic sounds as that which trip Selma’s fantasy song and dance numbers as a ‘tympanising’ of the limits, notably of the limits of the law in both juridical and symbolic senses, as they also work the edges of the film’s two styles (broadly, realism and musical). In a provocative analysis of this film, Cary Wolfe suggests that we might understand Selma’s vocal style (given singular expression by Bjork) as a refusal of the phallic imposition of language, and that her virtually suicidal submission to the death sentence construed as a Lacanian ‘feminine’ act, allow for a notion of a ‘posthuman feminine’ (What is Posthumanism?). ‘Tympan Alley’ redirects Wolfe’s tantalising term ‘posthuman feminine’ through a more consistently Derridean line of thought. It draws on Derrida’s late work on the animal, in which it is polemically clear that deconstruction has never been confined to the signifier nor to the human, and sounds out the implications of his early work on b/eating the limits through Selma’s percussive ear.

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Visual Cultures
Research Office > REF2014


November 2013Published

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Date Deposited:

06 Sep 2013 07:23

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07 Jul 2017 15:20

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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