Reading Counterfeit Money: 2. The Title

A view of part of Jacques Derrida’s library in his home in Ris Orangis. © Andrew Bush, 2001

(This post is part of the Art as Gift Project)

Derrida’s analysis of the title of Baudelaire’s Counterfeit Money (pp. 84-87)

The title says: “since I say so many things at once, since I appear to title this even as I title that at the same time, since I feign reference and since, insofar as it is fictive, my reference is not an authentic, legitimate reference, well then I, as title…am counterfeit money.” (86-87)

Derrida considers the short story’s title in terms of money, true and counterfeit. The title Counterfeit Money is that which guarantees that which it titles, the narrative, is entitled to be taken as what it gives itself to be, a story of counterfeit money.

Within this terminology there is always uncertainty, expressed as endless bifurcations. Derrida first makes the point that the title of Counterfeit Money does not belong to its narrative discourse. The fictive narrator of Counterfeit Money is not the author of its title, that author is Baudelaire. who is taken as real, yet the title is not foreign to the fiction. Chosen by the author, it is as fictive as the tale told in Counterfeit Money.

The title Counterfeit Money can be understood naively as a story about counterfeit money. Yet at the moment of this reading, the title is divided. It has two referents: counterfeit money itself and the text as a story about counterfeit money. Both of these referents title or titrate the title, they guarantee it. This first division of the title, “engenders many other dehiscences, virtually to infinity.” (85) The division of the title is a “dehiscence” a splitting apart. If we look at the two referents, namely, the story of counterfeit money and counterfeit money itself, we can see this division at work.

The narrative is immediately two things, it is a fiction and a fiction of fiction. It is a fiction written by Baudelaire, but it is a fiction that puts the narrative not in Baudelaire’s hand, as the writer, but in the mouth of a fictive narrator, who is not Baudelaire. This structure then folds back on itself, the fictive narrative is put forward as non-fictive by a fictive narrator, that is one who claims not to be fictive, in the fiction signed by Baudelaire.

This narrative recounts the story of a further twofold fiction, of counterfeit money, which is not a thing like any other, it is divided, it is both a sign and an incorrectly titled sign, a sign without value. The title Counterfeit Money again folds back, it is the title of the fictive text, which no longer only says: here is a story of counterfeit money, but the story as literature is itself counterfeit money. Everything that will be said, in the story, of counterfeit money can be said of the story, of the fictive text bearing this title. This text is also the coin, a piece of counterfeit money provoking an event and lending itself to this whole scene of deception, gift, forgiveness, or non-forgiveness. It is as if the title were the very text whose narrative would finally be but the gloss or a long note on the counterfeit money of the title, at the bottom of the page.

Counterfeit money is never, as such, counterfeit money. As soon as it is what it is, recognised as such, it ceases to act as and to be worth counterfeit money. (87) Derrida calls this an irreducible modality, which obligates you to “wonder what money is: true money, false money, the falsely true and the truly false and non-money which is neither true or false.” (87)

Reading Counterfeit Money: 3. The Dedication

More on the border

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