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Temporary Note

the paradox of the supplementary double:
in which a box man (who is not a real box man at all) writes himself into (non) being

By Michaela Grey

From the human chrysalis that is the box man,
Even I know not
What kind of living being will issue forth.
--Kobo Abé, The Box Man

A mime stands near a tree in the park, dressed in the tight black turtleneck and slim black pants demanded of his role. He appears careworn, fragile, solitary, yet somehow menacing -- rather like a discarded doll. His face, painted an impenetrable white, bears what seems to a casual glance a blank expression; yet his aura effectively conveys dejection and deep self-absorption. Unless noticed, he remains there by the tree, nearly motionless, but if you are the sort of person who makes eye contact with mimes, he may suddenly animate and begin to describe for you, with his white-gloved hands, the contours of an invisible box: a wall forms before him, then another to his left, and one above him, as well. Soon his stylized panic makes you realize that the box has him completely contained, as effectively as any solid structure might.
As he silently performs his expressive ritual, manifesting this box of air, does the spectacle perhaps question the delimitations imposed by your own box -- a box which you, as surely as he, must carry with you? Which is the original box, the "real" box? The one the mime imagined, or your own, which you must surely be inhabiting if you are to properly recognize the mimetic box for what it is? If neither your box nor the mime's can claim originality, then how can you yourself claim to be anything other than a mime?
Currents of identity, duplication, and culpability flow through Derrida's originally title-less "Double Session," an essay partially concerning the fictive crime of Pierrot, the mime who murders his adulterous wife Columbine with a bout of tickling and then produces his own death by reenacting the scene before his wife's animated portrait. A single mime, alone on the stage, plays Pierrot, his doomed wife, and both of their ghosts; the actual crime cascades across the stage in scattered fragments. We witness the death scene as Pierrot anticipates his delicious revenge, as he actually commits the act upon Columbine/himself, as he replays the scenario after her death, as he himself expires from a fit of self-tickling, and finally as a ghostly suicide. Such a bewilderingly proliferating mimetic play, Derrida suggests, displaces time itself, replacing the memory of an act with a duplicate act, trading one person's identity for another, blurring the idea of death with what is only a dream of death; these displacements in turn ricochet off the seemingly placid surface of truth -- and its reservoir, literature -- like a well-aimed skipping stone:

What announces itself here is an internal division within mimesis, a self-duplication of repetition itself; ad infinitum, since this movement feeds its own proliferation. Perhaps, then, there is always more than one kind of mimesis; and perhaps it is in this strange mirror that reflects but also displaces and distorts one mimesis into the other, as though it were itself destined to mime or mask itself, that history -- the history of literature -- is lodged, along with the whole of its interpretation. Everything would then be played out in the supplementary double: the paradoxes of something that, added to the simple and the single, replaces and mimes them, both like and unlike, unlike because it is -- in that it is -- like, the same as and different from what it duplicates.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (191)

Mimetic repetitions like Pierrot's thus expose the fold in what appears seamless, a fold the astute reader can enter like a dark, vulvic cave (antre), or more baldly, like a shattering wound; dreams, memory, time, truth all fragment in the concentric ripples of these multiple, violent breaks in the surface, and with them the comforting virginal blankness of the uninscribed "real." Thus, for Derrida, the fold is wedded to the blank, the seam to the seamless, the dream to the present, waking moment. Blank paper must be written upon, is in fact always already inscribed with the possibility of a text. The Derridean hymen is destined to be sundered by its own circular (non)momentum: "To pierce the hymen or to pierce one's eyelid (which in some birds is called a hymen), to lose sight or one's life, no longer to see the light of day, is the fate of all Pierrots...It is the fate of the simulacrum." (214)
The box man, Kobo Abé's nameless yet eponymous protagonist, faces this same fate. Like Pierrot, who in some of his adventures must attempt multiple suicides in spite of being already quite dead (204), the box man is condemned to a displacing, mimetic dream that precludes death, and it is his written record of this dream that constitutes the body of the novel. Our narrator constantly asks himself, as he fills the interior walls of his box with "reverse tattooing:" what is the real? What is the original?

you already know very well that I'm identical to a box man

The trait common to these classes of classes is precisely the identifiable recurrence of a common trait by which one recognizes, or should recognize, a membership in a class. There should be a trait upon which one could rely in order to decide that a given textual event, a given "work," corresponds to a given class... And there should be a code enabling one to decide questions of class membership on the basis of this.
--Derrida, "The Law of Genre" (228)

Who or what is a box man? The narrator himself is not entirely certain, although he feels compelled to produce a precise definition of the term in his text. Our box man claims to prefer invisibility; however, he knows full well that a dirty, naked man in a large cardboard box with a vinyl viewing window is unnerving, not invisible; he uses this fact to his advantage when foraging for food. (83, 171) Although his vagrant lifestyle resembles that of a beggar, a box man is quite definitely not the same as a beggar: "I have, in fact, never heard of a beggar turning into a box man. Since I have no intention of being a beggar, he has none of being a box man." (18) A beggar, after all, has a clearly defined role in society, while the box man's stated desire is to withdraw from society altogether, to become blindingly invisible. A beggar is thrust into the streets by circumstance, but essentially wishes remains a social creature; a box man -- or at least our box man -- needs to believe that he has chosen his own path, or rather, that he has defiantly chosen not to walk on a predetermined path at all.

The re-mark of belonging does not belong. It belongs without belonging, and the "without" (or the suffix-"less") which relates belonging to non-belonging appears only in the timeless time of the blink of an eye. The eyelid closes, but barely, an instant among instants, and what closes is verily the eye, the view, the light of day. But without the respite or interval of a blink, nothing would come to marking itself generically, a text unmarks itself.
--Derrida, "The Law of Genre" (230)

The mime looks out at the world through white greasepaint and an instantly recognizable yet thoroughly uniform costume of anonymous black and white. The box man looks out at the world through the narrow slit in a frosted vinyl curtain, and a particular sort of weatherized cardboard box. (4) Both achieve a measure of belonging by emphatically and conspicuously ceasing to belong. We will for the moment neglect to ask what might induce someone to become a mime, and attempt instead a profile of the typical box man.
To even consider the possibility of becoming a box man, one must brave the uncanny experience of looking at and being observed by one who is already living as a box man. To look at a box man, one must already possess a strong existential bent: "Paralysis of the heart's sense of direction is the box man's chronic complaint." (18) A sense that one exists out of time with the rest of the world will also serve a box man well. (23) All evidence in the text would show that box men tend to be well-educated, professional men in their late twenties or early thirties who have tired of the elaborate formalities, responsibilities, and cruelties of civilized life. By doing nothing, by being no one, and by painstakingly chronicling this non-existence, our box man hopes to cease to exist, without actually dying. [1]

If A made any error it was only that he was a little more overly aware of box men than others were. You cannot laugh at A. If you are one of those who have dreamed of, described in their thoughts even once, the anonymous city that exists for its nameless inhabitants, you should not be indifferent, because you are always exposed to the same dangers as A --  that city where doors are opened for anyone; where even among strangers you need not be on the defensive; where you can walk on your head or sleep by the roadside without being blamed; where you are free to sing if you're proud of your ability; and where, having done all that, you can mix with the nameless crowds whenever you wish. Thus it will seldom do to point a gun at a box man.
--Kobo Abé, The Box Man (14)

      Certainly there are other traits by which to define the genre of a box man; in seeking to describe the ideal box and its contents, in tirelessly relating his daily experiences in the box (a "real" box man does not sweat, for example), in fiercely imagining that there is a small army of box men living throughout the land, [2] the narrator seeks to reassure himself of his own self-determined (non)category and of the validity of the (non)role he has chosen to play. And what is this role if not the role of a mime?     

There is no imitation. The Mime imitates nothing. And to begin with, he doesn't imitate. There is nothing prior to the writing of his gestures. Nothing is prescribed for him. No present has preceded or supervised the tracing of his writing. His movements form a figure that no speech anticipates or accompanies. They are not linked with logos in any order of consequence.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (194)     

But the box man is, of course, confounded in his efforts to evade categorization, all the more so because he has chosen to live in the confines of a box. Because he describes and presents himself as a box man, because he has produced this new genre in which to exist, the narrator soon finds himself surrounded by hazards which threaten to tear him bodily from the box. The Wappen beggars, disturbed by the blank cardboard of his box, attempt to violently mark him with a familiar signifier -- a beggar's flag. He is offered a large sum of money by a mysterious woman with beautiful calves, if he will only tear up the box and throw it into the river. He is shot, drugged and toyed with by a would-be box man. This last threat is by far the most severe. The desperate fear of being something other than a singularity, masked as a concern for more mundane issues of territory, leads him to fret over the idea that he might be displaced by his own double:     

Suddenly I was uneasy. It may be all right in one of the busier quarters of Tokyo, but in this commercial section of T City, there isn't room for two box men. If he insists on becoming a box man, it necessarily follows that a territorial dispute will be unavoidable. When he realizes that he can't drive me out with an air rifle, it doesn't mean that he won't come after me next time with a shotgun.
-- Kobo Abé, The Box Man (25)     

Clearly, the box man feels intense pressure to leave the box, to discard his promiscuously anonymous identity and resume a life in the public eye. The box man describes most of these pressures as external, and imagines that they are driven by the jealousy, fear, or desire or others; the text is far more circumspect as to the ultimate source of these oppositions. Derrida suggests that the box man himself may be the generator of his own nemeses -- " soon as genre announces itself, one must respect a norm, one must not cross a line of demarcation, one must not risk impurity, anomaly, or monstrosity. And so it goes in all cases..." (224) Inside the box, written in the margins of other notes, the dreaded, hoped for, inevitable duplicates and shams continue to proliferate, until they can no longer be contained in ink and spill out into physicality. [3]

which one of us was not a box man? who failed to become a box man?

But in both cases, mimesis is lined up alongside truth: either it hinders the unveiling of the thing itself by substituting a copy or double for what is; or else it works in the service of truth through the double's resemblance (homoiosis).
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (187)

Early in the text, the box man is shot with an air rifle by a man who "is infected by" and deeply shaken by the very possibility of the existence of box men. As our narrator wonders how to address this development, a young woman rides by on a bicycle and directs him to a nearby hospital, even tossing him the money needed for his fee. (26) Upon arriving at the hospital, he immediately discovers that the doctor is in fact the man who shot him, and the helpful girl his nurse [4] . What exactly, then, are the box man's motives for returning to the hospital a second time, after his first appointment ends with a bribe to discard his box and the knowledge that he has been drugged? (28) Being a box man, he needed only to disappear back into the streets or find another town to drift through. Certainly his interest in the nurse and his desire to unmask the doctor as the sniper may play a part, but he claims that he "had better put off disposing of the box until [he checks] her motives once more." (39) His return to the hospital marks the text's entry into a dizzying hall of mirrors in which all the hospital's inhabitants duplicate, transform, trade places, inhabit each other's thoughts and experiences; when the box is penetrated by the air-rifle bullet, the membranes dividing our text's characters are pierced. Leakage and corresponding condensation inevitably ensue.
The doctor, the "fake box man," is perhaps also a fake doctor (and not coincidentally, an amateur photographer),(28) who has assumed the identity of the original surgeon (who now lives in the hospital's morgue, a drug addict and box man in his own right). He is assisted at the hospital by the mysterious woman with beautiful calves --  a sham nurse who has herself replaced the hospital's original nurse; that original nurse was in turn the original wife of the original doctor, and then the sham wife of the sham doctor. But if we are to brand the fake doctor a fake box man, we must assume that our narrator is the originary box man, a conceit which is gradually discredited as the tale unfolds.
Our box man, it seems, was initially a photographer; his adoption of the box was an effective means of getting closer to his subjects without attracting attention.(24) While many of his writings are performed on the inner walls of his box, he also carries with him a plastic bag containing the journal of a box man. The text is seductively, critically vague as to the author of that journal -- supplementary comments, implying that we are reading the novel itself over someone's shoulder, punctuate the narrative. Seemingly irrelevant notes and photographs incorporated into the novel add to the suspicion that there are multiple authors, perhaps also multiple readers through whom we are reading. The novel in our hands may be the notes of our narrating box man, displaced from himself by time, madness, dreams, or death. The box man whose notes we are reading may already be dead, or our box man may be reading us the whole story from the notes of his predecessor as he adds his own insertions [5] to the original notes in red ink. At some level, such distinctions are irrelevant -- a box man is a box man, and the singular anonymity afforded by that titleless title tellingly renders all box men a single entity. [6]

it being impossible to punch holes throughout the world

Yet neither (is it) a fold in the veil or in the pure text but rather in the lining which the hymen, of itself, was. But by the same token is not: the fold in a lining by which it is, out of itself, in itself, at once its own outside and its own inside; between the outside and the inside, making the outside enter the inside and turning back the antre or the other upon its surface, the hymen is never pure or proper has no life of its own, no proper name. Opened up by its anagram, it always seems torn, already, in the fold through which it affects itself and murders itself.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (229)

No mere happenstance or temporal accident connects the box man with his former profession: "I became nearsighted of my own accord, frequented strip houses, became an apprentice photographer...and from there it was but a step, and a most natural one, to being a box man."(86) The box acts as a kind of full-body recording device, not unlike a wearable camera obscura. The inner surface of the box holds not only notes, but also photographic negatives, snapshots, magazine clippings and other mnemonic detritus. Shuttered from his subjects by the vinyl curtain, the box man feels temporary relief from his past experiences of being seen, of being in the violently exposing eye of another --  "I just wanted to run away from seeing and being seen."(85)
Memories and dreams throughout the novel focus on a particular sort of shame: the shame of having inflicted exposure upon another. A schoolboy, whose sudden stage fright causes him to fail miserably in his role as a horse named Dunce in the school play, kicks another child into unconsciousness and the shame makes him nearly blind. (85) A young dream-Chopin mistakenly urinates in the road in view of his would-be bride, and his father takes to wearing a red leather box with decorative buckles to symbolize his shame. (163) Another schoolboy caught peeping at a female pianist is made physically and psychically to understand the shame of being seen, of being vulnerable:

As he tottered along he began to pass water. It was not urine, but a seminal emission. He could not stop himself once he had started. He fell on his knees, and covering his face with his hands, he pretended to cry. There were, of course, no tears. In an instant his viscera dried up like a beach at dawn.
"Do you understand now?" Her voice on the other side of the door was dry too. He nodded. Indeed, he understood very well. He understood profoundly, more than his nod to her indicated, more than he himself realized.
"You had better go home now."
      The inner door opened a crack, and the key to the front door that came flying in fell soundlessly to the floor. It was a door he could have opened without a key from the inside.
--Kobo Abé, The Box Man (158)

Whether or not these young boys are autobiographical reflections of our narrating box man or more dream-manifestations, the same drive to watch but not be seen compels him no less powerfully, since "Anybody would rather look than be looked at." (86) But some other, equally powerful force propels his gaze inward; perhaps the force of shame, since he feels that his human (and presumably masculine) ugliness is only observable by the nurse, whose own impersonal beauty prevents her from judging him. [7]
The box man rarely looks directly at anyone; the box's construction requires him to tilt his whole body sideways to look someone in the eye, and because he's usually looking downwards out of the bottom of the box, his awareness of other people is often limited to an analysis of their legs and footwear. (26, 107) When he peers through the examination room window to watch the curiously familiar scenario of the fake box man's voyeuristic use of the nurse, he can only do so with the aid of his car's rearview mirror. (44) His elements are darkness and blindness, because being seen and even seeing others is so painfully raw, "like shaving something off with a knife, like tearing off the clothes you're wearing." (29) These are most certainly the symptoms of shame, a shame which requires the gaze of another to have full effect.
Derrida describes how Pierrot, too, is beholden to the portrait of his murdered wife. Having been observed by Columbine's ghost reenacting the bout of vicious tickling that led to her demise, he dies in a duplicate tickling fit beneath the painting.(202) This can of course be interpreted as a highly stylized description of shame, but why in both cases does this shame manifest before or because of the gaze of a woman, a gaze which is desperately desired and, in the case of the box man, also deeply feared?

being naked suits her too well

Now the feminine, the almost always affirmative gender/genre ("usually women"), is also the gender of this figure of law, not of its representatives, but of the law herself who, throughout a recit, forms a couple with me, the "I" of the narrative voice. The law is in the feminine.
--Derrida,"The Law of Genre" (247)

Hidden in the bushes outside the examination room, subsumed by conflicting emotions, the box man watches what he believes to be an elaborately exact replica of himself, who is in turn watching the girl expose herself. If we are to follow this scene's strongly suggestive inversion of type and subsequent unreliable denial, [8] the box man is in fact watching himself during his first visit to the hospital. The shame of vulnerability, the knowledge that she has drugged him, the overwhelming experience of human contact, all conspire to send the box man's consciousness flying out of the box. He can only see her, or himself, obliquely. [9]
Later in the text, both box men find themselves in the room together with the girl. The presence of two nearly identical box men virtually requires that she (any girl, really) should be present, as a prophylactic insertion (or a split vinyl curtain) to prevent any remaining differences between them from dissolving into unreadability "like a soaked biscuit," (68) like the wet notebook of a departed box man. As a prophylactic membrane, and as this text's representative of the Derridean law of the nameless feminine, she (like the box man himself) does not require more to identify her than a feminine pronoun and a collection of fragmented body parts which can be compared against his own:

I was confused. Over and above the fact that she had suddenly been ordered to strip, I felt perplexed that she should be called by her own name. I hesitate even writing her name here and now. I am made to realize anew just how irreplaceable she is to me. Since she was the only person of the opposite sex that I had happened to meet, although that was pure chance, and since I had no one else to compare her with, one pronoun by which to distinguish the sexes would be plenty for me.
--Kobo Abé, The Box Man (88-89)

It is not exclusively, or in any case, not specifically her gender that makes the girl so crucial to the box man's ability to contextualize himself. As a former artist's model, she lacks the self-consciousness that might remind the box man so acutely of his own shame. [10] Her gaze is "extremely light,"(89) giving him the impression of not being looked at all. As a sham nurse to a sham doctor, she knows something of the nature of duplications. She appears to understand or accept him, although she demands that he remove himself from the box. But above all, her nudity makes his own mortality and vulnerability bearable, and reassures him of a control he desperately needs to believe he possesses. [11] The idea of the girl, what she represents to him, [12] succeeds in temporarily staunching the fatal flow of duplication where his writings often fail.

some marginal notes again in red ink

In this dialogue that has run out of voice, the need for the book or for writing in the soul is only felt through lack of the presence of the other, through lack of any employment of the voice: the object is to reconstitute the presence of the other by substitution, and by the same token to repair the vocal apparatus. The metaphorical book thus has all the characteristics that, until Mallarmé, have always been assigned to the book, however these might have been belied by literary practice. The book, then, stands as a substitute for dialogue, as it calls itself, as it calls itself alive.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (184)     

The box man dutifully records everything that befalls him, up to and including his own/the original doctor's death. He is even willing to entertain the idea that he, or the fake box man, or everyone in the text, are in fact imaginary, written figures (an idea which we as their readers should certainly consider): [13]

"Yes, perhaps I'm the one writing. Perhaps it is I who am going on writing as I imagine you who are writing as you imagine me."
"What for?"
"For indicting the box man. Maybe I'm trying to impress on people that he really exists."
"That's an unexpected turnabout. If we suppose that you are the author, then the box man becomes simply a figment of the imagination."
"Well, then, suppose I am trying to impress on you the fact that he doesn't actually exist in order to prove his irreality."
--Kobo Abé, The Box Man (106)

The box man recognizes that writing is equivalent to being read; being read is little different than being seen. Seeing and being seen, in this text, is ultimately a matter of life and death. [14] As long as one is seeing/writing, one is not dead, or at least one is not aware of one's death. Hence his excessive concern for the safety (and authenticity) [15] of the mysterious plastic-wrapped journal, and his dismay at finding the discarded box whose occupant's writings in felt-tipped pen had been washed away. (68)
The fake box man, too, understands the use of the written word. He painstakingly composes an affidavit explaining the death of the original doctor, an act of euthanasia he has yet to commit. In writing the act out, in planning which details to release to the police and which to omit, the act is called into being and performed while the doctor, who may in fact be the original box man and who is perfectly willing to die, approvingly observes.(129)

the executioner bears no crime

A folding back, once more: the hymen, "a medium, a pure medium, of fiction," is located between present acts that don't take place. What takes place is only the entre, the place, the spacing, which is nothing, the ideality (as nothingness) of the idea. No act, then, is perpetrated ("Hymen...between perpetration and remembrance"); no act is committed as a crime. There is only the memory of a crime that has never been committed, not only because on the stage we have never seen it in the present (the Mime is recalling it), but also because no violence has been exerted (someone has been made to die of laughter, and then the "criminal" -- bursting with hilarity -- is absolved by his own death), and because this crime is its opposite: an act of love. To perpetrate, as its calculated consonance with "penetrate" suggests, is to pierce, but fictively, the hymen, the threshold never crossed.
--Derrida, "The Double Session"  (214)

Before visiting the hospital to have his wound treated, the box man attempts to wash away three years of accumulated dirt. Ultimately unsuccessful in his effort, although he uses an entire bar of soap, (103) he wonders if it was a mistake to try to uncover his naked skin. Having hoped to find a glossy, smooth surface, he finds only more dirt, and his bar of soap has added an additional layer. Similarly, he is reluctant to clarify for us or for himself the nature of the overlapping identities and intertwined fates of all these box men, photographers and doctors, victims and perpetrators.
      Is this the story of an old army surgeon's identity theft and suicide by proxy? Are we reading the fevered notes scribbled by a box man as he died under a bridge of an infected air-rifle wound? When the fake doctor disappears at the end of the text, where has he gone -- has he been incorporated into the narrator? Was he in fact the narrator all along? Is he now a substitute for the real doctor, trapped in the morgue? In an insertion [16] to his journal which he assures us is the last, the narrator writes:

Well, now, the time seems to have come to clarify the real situation. I intend to take off the box, reveal my face, and let you and only you know just who the real author of these notes is and just what his real objective has been.
Kobo Abé, The Box Man (141)

This is followed by a brief treatise on euthanasia as it relates to the murders of box men, and a reversal of the box man's promise to reveal himself to his readers. For, he says, "...rather than asking who is a real box man, it would be better to ascertain who is not a real one; that is an easier approach to reality, I think. A box man has experiences that only a box man can talk about, adventures that apply to him alone, that a fake box man can never tell." (143)
      Like the (non)crime of Pierrot, which multiplies, mutates, and reverses back upon its origin, the crimes which may or may not have been committed in this text -- specifically air-rifle shootings and lethal injections -- continue to peel away, in infinite layers of ambivalence and paradox; neither a bar of soap nor a "simple" explication will get us any closer to a smooth surface. Literature does not profit by a permanently smooth surface, thriving as it does on constant shatterings and regroupings.

At the edge of being, the medium of the hymen never becomes a mere meditation or work of the negative; it outwits and undoes all ontologies, all philosophemes, all manner of dialectics. It outwits them and -- as a cloth, a tissue, a medium again -- it envelopes them, turns them over, and inscribes them.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (215)

Both the shooting and the fatal injection ultimately represent attempts to contain a disturbing multiplication of identity. The fake doctor, the perpetrator in both cases (which may, in fact, represent retellings of the same event), rather violently punctures the skin of someone with whom he identifies, someone with a greater claim to authenticity than he. But has any crime been committed? The surgeon's approval, even to the authorship of his own murder, is written into the text: "The principle offender in killing me will always be me; you are no more than an accomplice." (130) And our fake doctor seems to require the advice of his victim even on such matters as where to dispose of the corpse. (140) What about the box man -- the narrating box man, the one who is shot? Although he does not, of course, explicitly request to be shot, his reaction to the fake box man's act is literally sympathetic:     

First conjecture concerning the true character of the sniper. I should like you to refer to the "Case of A." When someone is infected by the idea of a box man and tries himself to become one, there is a general tendency to overreact by shooting him with an air rifle. Thus I did not cry out for help or make any attempt at pursuit. Rather I thought that the candidates for box man had increased by one, and I experienced a feeling of closeness to him. Thereupon the pain in my shoulder receded and changed into a feeling of incandescence.
--Kobo Abé, The Box Man (24)     

Can an act perpetrated upon one's own origins be considered a crime? Can an act that occurs in a dream, or after death, or in the margin of a cardboard journal, or between imaginary figments of literature, be criminal?
The box man does not cry out, run away, or react with anger to the shot that was intended to chase him away. The doctor is only killed with his tacit assistance. It seems that in the final analysis, our fake box man/fake doctor cannot surprise or confound his originals. Even as a copy, he fails because he too scrupulously adheres to the prescription set before him; he is obedient to the law. It is his originals -- the real box man, the surgeon -- who inhabit the mime's space of solitude, of self-authorship, of existing in the blank spaces [17] . If the real box man, the real doctor, represent mimesis, then our simulacrum, our copy box man/doctor is, in the final analysis, the original, although and because he is preceded by those more real. So, with this final reversal, [18] the text carries us back through the hymen, erases the lines of text [19] and returns to blankness, open possibility, oblivion.


All quotations from Kobo Abé's The Box Man unless otherwise specified.

[1] Since I am a born victim -- indeed, as I am a box man, which is the same as not existing, no matter how they try they'll never kill me -- the role of killer automatically goes to my enemy. (19)

[2] For example, in your case, I'm sure you've not yet actually heard of a box man. Though there can't be any statistics, there is evidence that a rather large number of them are living in concealment throughout the country. But I've never heard that box men are talked about anywhere. Evidently the world intends to keep its mouth tightly shut about them. Have you ever actually seen one? (8)

[3] ...the surface of the water-repellent photographic paper that gleams like an oily membrane...the faint outline that gradually outline from which another outline superimposed on an length the contours of your naked body, like the footprints of some criminal imprinted in my heart -- I want that box. (29)

[4] But no matter how I chain-smoke, the executioner will not wait. Indeed the time for execution is drawing closer. By dawn the wound in my shoulder had begun to fester and the pain had constricted me like a narrow rubber tunnel. When I slipped out of the box, I found myself at the hospital at the top of the slope. The bicycle girl holding a hypodermic needle and the air-rifle man grasping a scalpel were waiting for me. Rather than being surprised by this turn of events, it seemed that I had been expecting it from the very beginning.

[5] To write the word insertion -- a word that here operates with all its energy according to all its possibilities ("To place within. To insert a graft just under the extension, to introduce into a text or register" Littré) -- so as to mark the breaking through of theater into the book, of spacing into interiority, while a certain mimic inscribes a graft in one corner, holding the antre open, "at the cleft," in the intimate recesses of a volume coiled around itself and henceforth disemboweled by "the introduction of a weapon or paper-cutter" just as it is parted from itself; to write the word insertion is, literally, to quote... Here, supplementarity is not, as it apparently or consciously is in Rousseau, a unilateral movement which, falling from inside to out, loses in space both the life and the warmth of the spoken word; it is the excess of a signifier which, in its own inside, makes up (for) space and repeats the fact of opening. The book, then, no longer repairs, but rather repeats, the process of spacing, along with what plays loses, and wins itself in it.
Derrida, "The Double Session" (235)

[6] (It's not only the paper that's dissimilar. For the first time a fountain pen is being used, and the writing is clearly different. If in time someone makes a clear copy in a new notebook with other notes, they should simply standardize the paper and the writing. There's no need to worry about the difference in writing and paper now.) (57)

[7] If she really tries to understand me completely, if she intends to catch me with the posture she showed to the fake box man last night, then surely I need nothing like a box. Other's unsightliness should be invisible to those who have no unsightliness of their own to hide. If a box man is a specialized voyeur, then she is a born victim of that voyeur.

[8] (Suddenly it occurred to me. Somewhere I remembered having seen exactly the same scene as this.) Alone in the room with the naked was as if I could vividly feel her nakedness with my hands. But when...where? No, I must not be deceived, this was not a memory but a hallucination stemming from my desire...Somewhere in my heart I must have secretly wished for this scene really to materialize. Yes, seeing her naked...stripping her naked body even more bare until I could see a nakedness beyond mere nudity. (45)

[9] I was indeed watching the naked her. But it was a conditional nakedness. It was a nakedness already looked upon by someone else, and that was the fake me. Far from being satisfied by seeing her naked, my jealousy increased because someone else had seen her. When one's throat becomes dry, it serves no purpose to be shown a picture of oneself drinking. At the same time as I was looking at her, another I was looking at me looking at her. I recalled a dream in which I had writhed desperately as I floated near the ceiling and looked down on my own dead body. I was ashamed and laughed scornfully at myself. (47)

[10] Furthermore,  I unexpectedly met the fake box man. My replica was fixedly staring at the girl on all fours with her rump high in the air (defenselessly waiting to be seen). So far I had not felt that the box was all that unsightly. What was disagreeable was the recurrent dream where I became a ghost, and hovering at the ceiling, looked down on my own dead body. Could I still have a lingering attachment for the box at this point? Far from that, I was already thoroughly bored with it. A tunnel is functional only because it has an exit. It makes absolutely no difference if I tear these notes up and throw them away as soon as I finish this last line here... (64)

[11] I cannot stand being seen by her when she is wearing clothes. In the darkness it's the same as being with a blind man... I am completely liberated from the need to wrack my brains for some uninviting plan to gouge out her eyes or anything like that. (175)

[12] To repeat: the hymen, the confusion between the present and the nonpresent, along with all the indifferences it entails within the whole series of opposites (perception/nonperception, memory/image, memory/desire, etc.), produces the effect of a medium (a medium as element enveloping both terms at once; a medium located between the two terms). It is an operation that both sows confusion between opposites and stands between the opposites "at once." What counts here is the between, the in-between-ness of the hymen. The hymen"takes place" in the "inter-," in the spacing between desire and fulfillment, between perpetration and its recollection. But this medium of the entre has nothing to do with a center.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (212)

[13] "Anyway the only thing that's clear is that you don't want to get out of the box."
"I've told you, I disposed of the box before I came here."
"Well then, let me just ask, at this very moment what are you doing and where are you doing it?"
"As you yourself can see, I'm chatting with"
"I see. If that is true, who is writing these notes and where are they writing them? Then it wasn't someone writing in a box by the light of a naked bulb in a dressing room by the sea?"
"Hm...I wonder."
"It's indisputable."
"Of course, only one of the three of us really exists. The one who is in fact continuing to write these notes. Everything  that has happened is merely the monologue of that someone. At the rate things are going, this someone intends to go on writing forever and ever in order to cling desperately to the box." (100)

[14] Among diverse possibilities, let us take this: the Mime does not read his role; he is also read by it. Or at least he is both read and reading, written and writing, between the two, in the suspense of the hymen, at once screen and mirror. As soon as a mirror is interposed in some way, the simple opposition between activity and passivity, between production and the product, or between all concepts in -er and –ed (signifier/signified, imitator/imitated, structure/structured, etc.), becomes impracticable and too formally weak to encompass the graphics of the hymen, its spider web, and the play of its eyelids.
--Derrida, "The Double Session," 224

[15] "I confess...I was a fake."
"Ssh...don't say any more..."
"But these notes are the real thing. They're the will the real box man gave me to keep."
"You're all sweaty..." (161)

[16] To write the word insertion -- a word that here operates with all its energy according to all its possibilities ("To place within. To insert a graft just under the extension, to introduce into a text or register" Littré) -- so as to mark the breaking through of theater into the book, of spacing into interiority, while a certain mimic inscribes a graft in one corner, holding the antre open, "at the cleft," in the intimate recesses of a volume coiled around itself and henceforth disemboweled by "the introduction of a weapon or paper-cutter" just as it is parted from itself; to write the word insertion is, literally, to quote... Here, supplementarity is not, as it apparently or consciously is in Rousseau, a unilateral movement which, falling from inside to out, loses in space both the life and the warmth of the spoken word; it is the excess of a signifier which, in its own inside, makes up (for) space and repeats the fact of opening. The book, then, no longer repairs, but rather repeats, the process of spacing, along with what plays loses, and wins itself in it.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (235)

[17] "Composed and set down by himself..." We here enter a textual labyrinth panelled with mirrors. The Mime follows no preestablished script, no program obtained elsewhere. Not that he improvises or lets himself go spontaneously: he simply does not obey any verbal order. His gestures, his gestural writing...are not dictated by any verbal discourse or imposed by any diction. The Mime inaugurates; he breaks into a white page...
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (195)

[18] The fold is not an accident that happens to the blank. From the moment the blank (is) white or bleaches (itself) out, as soon as there is something (there) to see (or not to see) having to do with a mark (which is the same word as margin or march), whether the white is marked (snow, swan, virginity, paper, etc.) or unmarked, it re-marks itself, marks itself twice. It folds itself around this strange limit. The fold does not come up upon it from outside; it is the blank's outside as well as its inside, the complication according to which the supplementary mark of the blank (the asemic spacing) applies itself to the set of white things (the full semic entries), plus to itself, the fold of the veil, tissue, or text upon itself. By reason of this application that nothing has preceded, there will never be any Blank with a capital B or any theology of the Text.
--Derrida, "The Double Session" (258)

[19]   Oh, yes, before I forget, one more important addition. In processing the box the most important thing in all events is to ensure leaving plenty of blank space for scribbling. No, there'll always be plenty of blank space. No matter how assiduous one is in scribbling, one can never cover all the blank space. (177)

Works Cited

Abé, Kobo (E. Dale Saunders, trans.). The Box Man. New York: North Point Press, 1974.

Derrida, Jacques (Derek Attridge, ed.). Acts of Literature. New York, London: Routledge, 1992.

Derrida, Jacques (Barbara Johnson, trans.) Dissemination. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981.