Prolegomena to the Study of Digital Ontology: Derrida and the Coming of the UnBeing

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This paper is animated by the pronounced supplementarity of the so-called ‘digital being’ in existential media studies. In the same way that writing has been thought of as supplementary to the presence of live voice, the dominant way in which the digital being is understood does not, more often than not, go beyond that of a supplement to what is thought of as ‘real’ (legally, politically and so on); that is to say, as ‘a profile’ of a human being with all its designatory appurtenances: representation, identity, behaviour, performance, well-being, race, ethnicity and so on. My contention is that if we are to more rigorously theorise this being we call ‘digital’, we must give it a name – we must consign it to the ordnance and structures of signification. I argue that the digital being is, first and foremost, writing and to the extent that this is the case Being becomes UnBeing – decomposable, re-placeable, re-traceabe, re-presentable, and unmournable – in a word, undead. Far from seeking to resurrect – if indeed that were ever possible – the discourse of an ontology that exists outside of history and politics, the ontology of the UnBeing underlines the urgency of the need to re-locate the digital being firmly in the realm of the historico-political, in the realm of that which seeks to transcend its time even when it is firmly and irrevocably signed by and within it: a transcendental signifier devoid of a time signature, a cipher that seeks to deny history even when it cannot exists outside it. Seeking to upend the injunction ‘to be is to inherit’ (Specters of Marx) – and condemned to forever exist within the somnambulist signification of that which does not exist but is in fact everywhere – the digital being qua UnBeing exists in its own right, within and as (part of) an endless procession of interpellated digital traces, supplements, and figurations. There cannot be, this paper argues, a discourse of digital ontology without recourse to writing, to that which is constituted in writing (where writing stands for representation, configuration, designation, coding and so on), and without writing of and about writing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 9 Nov 2021
EventThe 7th Derrida Today Conference - Watergate Hotel , Washington, United States
Duration: 12 Jun 202215 Jun 2022


ConferenceThe 7th Derrida Today Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


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