Derrida, Jacques. 1987. The Truth in Painting. Trans. Geoffrey Bennington, and Ian McLeod. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
A Note on Parerga
Parerga are not simply notes; they should be thought of as the extremities of a body, without which the text is truncated. They are notations to the text that make the text show its complexities, as they bring into the main narrative the realities of multiple positions, make interventions that show that there is no stability in this history, that the story itself constantly shifts ground, that any attempt to produce a cohesive narration, an Ur-text of the history of the Left in Greece, will always draw voices from the margins that will demand to be heard and will demand that the nuances they offer be taken into account. Parerga are not commentaries. They do not interrogate a stable main text or invite further commentary. Rather, they are, in a sense, what Derrida has called a “lean on,” a space where I, the author, offer you, the readers, the chance to hold onto something: an idea, an explanation, a question, an interrogation, a dissent. They are a metatext that seeks to unseat any certainties that might exist in the main text, any convictions that might have developed in the narrative about the Left. Parerga offer a means of engaging with the main text's “imponderabilia of actual life”; they are the hand I offer you to proceed with the reading of this book.
Parerga are intimately connected with the development of the Western critical tradition, encompassing the historical and discursive development of social and philosophical thought that is the backdrop for the entire discipline of anthropology, indeed, that has engendered anthropology as an inquiry and a discipline, from its methodology to its epistemology and content. The term initially appeared in Greek in Philotheou Parerga, a text conceived between 1716 and 1718 by the Voivode of Wallachia, Nikolaos Mavrokordatos, as a guide to conduct for his son. (Voivode was an Ottoman rank bestowed upon high-ranking individuals in the occupied lands.) It next appeared in Ayliff's Parergon Juris Canonici Anglicani; or, A Commentary by Way of Supplement to the Canons and Constitutions of the Church of England in 1726. Both texts make clear that parerga denote a supplemental and instructional gesture that accompanies a main text or narrative but does so in a resolutely critical manner. In Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and later in a very long note in his second edition of Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone (1794), the parergon is developed as adornment, embellishment, ornamentation (Zierathen) of the main ergon, the work. In his Religion Kant thinks further about the parergon. His very long note is appended to a “General Remark” at the end of the second part. Each part constitutes a parergon that concerns a parergon. Kant describes these four “General Remarks” as “in some measure parerga… they are not integral parts of [the work] but they verge on it [aber strossen doch an sie an: they touch it, they push it, press it, press against it],” as explained by Jacques Derrida (1987: 53). Thus, the parergon participates in the act of reflective thought, in the act of reflective faith, through the seemingly endless segmentation of the commentary on religion by Kant.
Half a century later, in 1851, Arthur Schopenhauer published his Parerga and Parelipomena, a work that, Schopenhauer explained, was subsidiary to his other, more systematic works, could not find a place in those other works, and dealt primarily with philosophical issues that positioned the subject with regard to the legal system, death, and existence.