I: Survival

Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman tells the story of an event. The event of death. But an event of death that fails, because a dead man survives his death, and lives on, resolutely refusing to acknowledge his demise. But what events can follow death, even death as a failed non-event? Events of infinite repetition. Events perpetually forgotten. Events eternally replayed. Events of the death drive.

Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman (1939, posthumously published 1967) tells the story of a man who devotes his life to the study of a crazed scientist philosopher, de Selby. He is persuaded by a friend, Divney, to help murder their neighbour, Mathers, for his money, hoping to use the money to publish his magnum opus. But the money, held in a black box, is hidden by his accomplice. After three years of enduring the narrator’s dogged determination to prevent Divney from spending the money, Divney rigs the black box into a bomb, conceals it in the house of the murder victim, and sends the narrator to get it. The narrator gladly walks off alone in pursuit of the much-coveted box, finds it, touches it, and instantly dies. Only to instantly survive to converse with his murder victim and befriend his vicious, murderous double, meet mechanical policemen and see postmen whose atoms are predominantly metal and rubber. He takes a lift down to eternity and comes back, confronts sounds, shapes and textures which defy label or comprehension, and has a sexual encounter with a charming bicycle. He relates his experiences to his readings of de Selby, and adds extensive footnotes on the thinker’s demented experiments. All the while he continues his search for the black box. When, after approximately three days of unrelenting confusion and bewilderment, he is told that the black box is at his house, he goes there, only to have the fact of his death forced upon him by a horrified Divney. Quietly, the narrator slips away, and approaches the policemen’s barracks, as if for the first time. The narrator’s three day cycle beings again, this time with his betraying accomplice, in a sequence, we realise, which will continue for all time. As the explanatory addition to the book informs us, we thus trace

the beginning of the unfinished, the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is nearly circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable (2006: 207).

The afterlife that the narrator inhabits is not a religious one – Hugh Kenner refers to it as ‘a comichell, devilless and Godless’ (1983: 258) – but is closer, as Taaffe puts it, to ‘a scholar’s hell’ (2008: 68) of epistemological confusion, where uncertainty indicates not the dissolution of truth in the inferno, but the failure of religion (Hunt, 1989). The narrator’s place beyond the grave is not one specifically designed for the narrator by an omniscient deity, but ‘an uncanny hell-world of [the narrator’s] own making’ (Hopper, 2009: 41) where ‘everything is being generated from himself, from dreams, fantasies, memories, fictions’ (Doherty, 1989: 58). As such, the narrator’s afterlife is, in O’Brien’s words, a ‘sort of hell’ (O’Nolan, 1940), a hellish space created by the narrator himself, as the narrator is not quite a ghost, nor yet a soul in torment, but someone who is not wholly or properly deceased. The Third Policeman is not a tale from the grave, but a tale of posthumous survival, as, rather like Christopher Martin of William Golding’s Pincher Martin(1956), the narrator has outlived his death. The event of death in The Third Policeman is thus a failed event of violent obliteration – the narrator is killed, but not destroyed. He does not cunningly elude death, but survives it, and lives on by resolutely denying the fact of his death. He crosses the threshold, and his world changes – a ‘change which came upon me or upon the room, indescribably subtle, yet momentous, ineffable’ (2006: 24) – and yet remains. His death becomes not a conclusion but a momentary interruption, registered and repressed, and so, interrupted, he goes on. His is a death without death, a death ignored. As Derrida writes, ‘Survival andrevenance, living on and returning from the dead: living on goes beyond both living and dying, supplementing each with a sudden surge and a certain reprieve, deciding [arrêtant] life and death’ (2004: 89). The narrator survives; he lives on in a place between life and death. Flann O’Brien’sThe Third Policeman thus tells the story of an event of deathless death, a tale which explodes into a work of infinite repetition.

In Pincher Martin Golding’s eponymous anti-hero drowns at sea at the opening pages, but, as he wholly rejects this death and instead struggles from the water to the isolated security of a rock created from the memory of a missing tooth, this death becomes only apparent with the closing lines: ‘You saw the body. He didn’t even have time to kick off his seaboots’ (1966: 208). Of his villainous protagonist Golding said:

To achieve salvation, individuality – the persona – must be destroyed. But suppose the man is nothing but greed? His original spirit, God-given, the Scintillans Dei, is hopelessly obscured by his thirst for separate individual life. What can he do at death but refuse to be destroyed? Inhabit a world he invents from half-remembered scraps of physical life, a rock which is nothing but the memory of an aching tooth-ache? To a man greedy for life, tooth-ache is preferable to extinction, and that is the terrible secret of purgatory, it is all the world that the God-resisting soul cannot give up. (Cited in Surette, 1994: 206-207)

Like O’Brien’s narrator, Golding’s Martin is a murderer and a man marked by self-involvement and greed. After death he lives on, a ‘centre’ affirming its ‘determination to survive,’ a body screaming ‘I am! I am! I am!’ (1966: 77 & 145), remaining when there is nothing to pursue, nothing to attain, nowhere to go, just a dogged refusal to end. Alone on his rock, Martin remembers a parable told to him: a fish is buried in a box, and is gradually consumed by maggots. When the fish is fully eaten the maggots turn on each other and

The little ones eat the tiny ones. The middle-sized ones eat the little ones. The big ones eat the middle-sized ones. Then the big ones eat each other. Then there are two and then one and where there was a fish there is now one huge, successful maggot’ (1966: 136).

Resolute not to give into death, Martin fights to be the last maggot, living his death as he lived his life; consuming all those around him with a determined greed. Appetite while alive, he remains directionless appetite after his death: ‘I’ll live if I have to eat everything else on this bloody box’ (1966: 159). As summarised by Garrett (2002), Spinoza used the term conatus to mark a striving to persist, to continue to be. In Martin we see an excessive, hyperbolic embodiment of the appetite and resolute will-to-be of conatus, a drive for self-preservation so strong it refuses to acknowledge death.

Like Martin, desire fuels the narrator’s afterlife, a desire to attain the black box and return home to publish his book. But Martin’s rapacious desire is based on an abstract principle – ‘exist!’ – and he expends himself in supporting himself: turned in on himself he is reduced to ‘nothing but the centre and the claws’ which will finally be broken down by death ‘in a compassion that was timeless and without mercy’ (1966: 201). The narrator, by contrast, desires outside himself, and as such it is this desire, internal and external to him, which will infinitely propel him. Against the excessive conatus sustaining Martin’s survival on his isolated rock is the narrator’s thanatic drive; a repetitive, amnesiac force that locks him in a cycle of perpetuation 1 The ‘compulsion to repeat’ or ‘perpetual recurrence of the same thing’ (Freud, 2001a: 19 & 22) to which the psychic apparatus is subordinated is the death drive, usually understood as a regressive or conservative movement towards the reinstatement of an earlier state, that is, death. But the quietude towards which the drive indefatigably strains is, perhaps, too often given precedent over the unrelenting tendency of the drive itself. Freud repeatedly associates the death drive with an uncanny, daemonic restlessness, as if the drive was a form of possession, which – he quotes from Goethe’sFaust – ‘ungebändigt immer vorwärts dringt’ (unrestrained still presses on forever) (2001a: 42). The drive’s insistence on repetition, regardless of the individual’s wellbeing, means that the drive has, as its aim, not a particular object of desire, but the infinite repetition and thereby perpetuation of the drive itself. The drive thus names not death but an infinite recurrence. It is, Žižiek writes, an ‘uncanny excess of life, …an undead urge which persists beyond the (biological) cycle of life and death’, as ‘humans are not simply alive’ but driven towards a surplus or ‘beyond’ of life (2006: 62). The death drive is not a movement towards death, but a fixation that causes a repetitive circling around something: ‘This rotary movement, in which the linear progress of time is suspended in a repetitive loop, is drive at its most elementary’ (Žižek, 2006: 63). It is the ‘eternal-undead’ (Žižek, 2008: 41), an animation beyond death, represented by an undead living on. Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman doesn’t simply recount a Sisyphean hell, but tells the impossible story of a man who survives the event of death as he becomes caught in the infinite cycle of the death drive, endlessly mapping the repetitive, looping path of the objet petit a 2

The narrator is immortalised within his own thanatographic phantasmagoria, and perpetuates within the fantastical district of the policemen, in which he chases his avatar of desire, the black box. The black box is twice so desired as to result in murder – the narrator and Divney kill Mathers, and Divney then kills the narrator. But it, of course, is not desired in and of itself – it is not a fetishized, cathected object – but is desired at a step removed, as it is desired for what it contains, and for what those contents can do. As a perfect heuristic of the mutability of desire within the infinity of the drive, the black box – this object of desire – morphs and changes, always eluding the narrator’s grasp, never quite the same thing: always desired as the lost object never possessed. Before his death, the black box contains money. After the narrator’s death, it contains money, and then more money, and then bonds of even greater value. For a while it becomes an American gold watch. But, towards the final straight of the drive’s cycle track, it contains omnium. Omnium, we are told, is another name for energy, and is ‘the essential inherent interior essence which is hidden inside the roots of the kernel of everything and it is always the same’ (O’Brien, 2006: 113 [emphasis added]). Omnium means everything, the whole of an investment, and also, vitally, a cycling race. It is an ‘inutterable substance’ which could ‘mak[e] ribbons of the natural order, invent intricate and unheard of machinery … interfere[s] drastically with time’ (O’Brien, 2006: 195). It is everything ever desired and can give everything ever desired. While some ‘might call it God’ (O’Brien, 2006: 114) the shifting chimerical focus of libidinal investment is the power of the libido itself. Omnium, we are told, powers everything within the place the narrator finds himself. That is, the contents of the black box fuel the narrator’s existence. That which eludes the narrator is the very libidinal force of desire, and thus his survival is powered by the pleasure/displeasure – the jouissance – experienced by the drive in failing to attain the object of its desire. The narrator is eternally animated by the pleasure/displeasure of perpetual failure, a failure which includes his failure to die.

The narrator’s desire/drive is an arrêt de mort, that is, a death sentence and a reprieve from death, as it is the cause of his death, but also that which enables him to survive afterwards. And while his undead living on is powered by the drive, the drive is fuelled by dissatisfaction and prohibition: by a ‘no’ which continually animates desire. After his non-death, the first person who confronts the narrator is the man he killed, still visibly wounded from the blow, but reanimated as a robotic figure of negation whose answers are as automatic as his movements. Murder negates, and so Mathers speaks as one who is ‘rejected, reneged, disagreed, refused and denied’ (2006: 31) – he will only say ‘no’. The constant negation of the murder victim is both a vehement condemnation of the narrator’s act and a foreshadowing of the punishing and proscribing ‘no’ of the policemen. But inasmuch as the law of the policemen is a twisted, corrupt law, so the negation of the victim is inconsistent in its consistency – Mathers matches a negation in the question with a negation in his answer, and thus negation is wheeled around into an affirmative. The ‘no’ even of the murder victim is a contaminated and compromising negative.

When the narrator asks Mathers for the black box, Mathers sharply asks him ‘What is your name?’ (2006: 32). Shocked, the narrator realises that he has no name. The narrator does not simply articulate his namelessness in terms of a forgetting, but emphasises its absence. The narrator is undead – he exists, but only in the space of the drive. And while he traces the tracks of desire, he does not sign it; he has lost the ability to sign. He can write, but he has no signature. Mathers tells him that this namelessness means that he can never possess the black box: ‘how could I tell you where the box was if you could not sign a receipt? That would be most irregular. I might as well give it to the west wind or to the smoke from a pipe. How could you execute an important Bank document?’ (2006: 33). From the beginning of his (non)death the narrator is told by the man he killed of his death and of the impossibility of possessing the object of his desire, but caught in the repetitions of drive and prohibition he persists and endures.

II: Witnessing

Death is that which defines me as mortal, and, as no-one can die my death for me, the event of my death is a wholly singular and utterly individual experience. It is also that which cannot be experienced, as I die before I have witnessed the event of my death. ‘I am the only one who can testify to my death’, writes Derrida, ‘– on the condition I survive it’ (2000a: 45). The only way one could witness the event of one’s death – witness it in its entirety – is to survive it, to remain conscious during and after it, and thereby experience the complete event. If death is the cessation of experience, but I cannot experience this cessation, then my death, that which is singularly mine, does not happen to me, as I do not exist throughout its event. As Maurice Blanchot writes, we want to be ‘conscious of disappearing and not consciousness disappearing, …[to] have entirely annexed to … consciousness its own disappearance; … [and] be, thus, a realised totality, the realisation of the whole, the absolute’ (1989: 99). That is,

we want to be certain of death as completed, as a real and true totality, and that is why after interests us, because ‘after death’ would be the proof that death is, if not gone beyond, at least really and truly past, finished. … we desire to be able to see ourselves dead, to assure ourselves of our death by directing a veritable gaze from beyond the grave out towards nothingness, from a point situated beyond death. (Blanchot, 1995: 253)

In order for my death to be mine, therefore, I must survive it. Only then can I testify to it.

In The Third Policeman and Pincher Martin we encounter survivors of death, men who can attest to the event of their death, as both have outlived it. But, in a unique position to experience and own their deaths, to make their deaths proper to them by having outlived them, neither will testify. Martin because he refuses to be beaten by death, the narrator because he refuses to accept it occurred. This is not to deny that the narrator registers the occurrence of something, of a shift or a difference, but to assert that he will not bear witness to it as an event of any real import, and he will most certainly not bear witness to it as the event of his death. For Derrida, what ‘distinguishes an act of bearing witness from the simple transmission of knowledge, from simple information … is that in it someone engages himself with regard to someone else, by an oath that is at least implicit’ (2005b: 82): in the case of bearing witness there is a promise made to manifest a truth, a singular event. The narrator describes a change – ‘It was as if the daylight had changed with unnatural suddenness, as if the temperature of the evening had altered greatly in an instant, or as if the air had become twice as rare or twice as dense has it had been in the winking of an eye’ (O’Brien, 2006: 24) – but ignores and rejects its implication, moving immediately to bemoan the disappearance of the black box, and fear the presence of a ‘ghost’ beside him. The narrator thus insists that the instant of his death is simply an instant like any other, and in dismissing it he dismisses death. He describes, he recounts, but, as he refuses to accept the truth of what he relates, he does not testify. Nor does he give what is technically a false testimony – he does not deliberately perjure himself, as a perjury would still relate him to the truth of his death. Instead he ignores it, passes it by. In surviving death his death has effectively not occurred – he avoided the event, escaped it, overstepped it, and cannot testify to it. Death remains a limit, but now he views it from the other side.

Because the narrator rejects his death, he remains in a space of interminable, endless dying, constantly in fear of a death that has already come. As Blanchot writes, ‘Dying is, speaking absolutely, the incessant imminence whereby life lasts, desiring. The imminence of what has always already come to pass’ (1995: 41). That is, death is an event of finality that has, effectively, already occurred, and so what one is left with is the dying, with a non-event that stretches out infinitely. Ignoring his death, the narrator endlessly lives out this state of dying, though he is haunted by a fear of already being dead. He dreams of his own funeral – ‘Lying in my dark blanket-padded coffin I could hear the sharp blows of a hammer nailing down the lid’ (2006: 124) – is sentenced to death and nearly hanged. When forced by Fox to directly confront the possibility of his death he suffers a near physical collapse, yet quickly represses the terror:

‘I do not understand your unexpected corporality after the morning on the scaffold.’
‘I escaped’, I stammered.
He gave me long searching glances.
‘Are you sure?’ he asked.
Was I sure? Suddenly I felt horribly ill … My limbs weakened and hung about me helplessly. Each eye fluttered … and my head throbbed. … I knew that I would be dead if I lost consciousness for one second. I knew that I could never awaken again or hope to understand afresh the terrible way in which I was if I lost the chain of the bitter day I had had. (2006: 189-190)

The fact of the narrator’s death is forced upon him, and it nearly brings about the collapse of his animation. But again, this fact is repressed and the cycles continue. As Freud writes in ‘Thoughts for the Times on War and Death,’

What we call our ‘unconscious’ – the deepest strata of our minds, made up of instinctual impulses – knows nothing that is negative, and no negation; in it contradictories coincide. For that reason it does not know its own death, for to that we can give only a negative content. Thus there is nothing instinctual in us which responds to a belief in death. (2001b: 296)

The psychoanalytic subject of desire cannot envision its own death, and sees itself as living on in immortal survival. Animated by the unconsciousness’s refusal to recognise its mortality, and by the immortality of the drive, the narrator continues to tread the circular path of desire, suspecting but repressing the fact of his death, impossibly living beyond it and yet incapable of bearing witness to it.

In determinedly treating the instant of his death as no more than a moment among other others, the narrator rewrites his death into non-death. The event which should be the end of all events, the event that should make all further possibility impossible, fails. The event of destruction becomes an event of poiesis or generation, as the narrator lives on to write of and through his failed death, from this point of undeath. He writes a cryptography, an encrypted writing from the tomb. Or, perhaps better, since the narrator has refused to go to his grave, a thanatography, a writing of Thanatos. A writing of death. A writing of the death drive. A writing of the repetitive event/non-event of the immortal, daemonic Todestrieb. If we understand the cycles of his death as the repetitions of the death drive, then the narrator’s amnesia becomes inevitable; the narrator will forget as the death drive is an anarchival force. The death drive, as a coping mechanism for traumatic events, transcribes or archives a distressing event as a more palatable occurrence, and attempts to return to the quietude of a pre-traumatic equilibrium through the unreasonable and unreasoning repetition of a potentially harmful short-term coping strategy of denial and reinterpretation. Thus the narrator is trapped in endless repetitions which he endlessly forgets, as the death drive’s repetition, reproduction and reimpression means that

right on that which permits and conditions archivisation, we will never find anything other than that which exposes to destruction, and in truth menaces with destruction, introducing, a priori, forgetfulness and the archivolithic into the heart of the monument. Into the ‘by heart’ itself. The archive always works, and a priori, against itself (Derrida, 1998: 12).

Hence, that which enables the narrator to survive his death is not only the mechanical propulsions of the death drive, but the death drive’s amnestic repetitions. Impossibly, in order to continue, the death drive rejects the ultimate state of quietude; it abnegates negation in order to survive it.

While the narrator refuses to testify, The Third Policeman indirectly, but undeniably, bears witness. The narrator gives his testimony without giving it; he will not sign the event of his death but he will write of an instant which, like all instants, was followed by another. His first person account rejects his death and fails to comprehend the cyclical path he traces, but the import of that instant, and the nature of his unacknowledged repetitions are not lost on the reader: he might not bear witness, but his narrative does – the text testifies to the death the narrator survived and yet did not experience. His refusal to sign the event of his death can be understood through the loss of his name. While his namelessness signifies the fact of his death, it also reveals the interruption that death caused. Before the instant of his death he had a name, after it he had none – he is not the same individual and therefore it was not his death. He has prevented himself from signing his death warrant, and as such he has not died. Testimony, the archive, truth and lies become problematically contaminated – only by lying to himself can the narrator survive enough to allow the reader to arrive at the truth. Furthermore, while The Third Policeman asserts itself as a first person written account, replete with scholarly footnotes, it produces an archive which, for the narrator, remains invisible and inaccessible. At the close of each tridiurnal cycle the narrator, sticking resolutely to the past tense, tracing his deathless death from some unspecified point in the future, forgets himself, loses his notes, cannot turn back the pages, and begins again as if for the first time. The written narrative, like an oral account, loses itself in the writing/telling, and yet, arguably, it is the creation of the narrative that enables the narrator’s survival. Not simply because, now, without a name, he exists only as a narrator, and would cease to be once the narration stops, but because the narrative account of his endless pursuit of the black box effectively enables him to produce what the contents of the box would have paid for: a book on de Selby.

While the conclusion of The Third Policeman ends with a repetition of the narrator’s entrance to the police barracks, and while the scene is presented almost identically, there are differences – this time the narrator is accompanied by Divney. This time he does not meet his murderous double. This time he makes no plan about concealing his interest in the black box behind the loss of an American gold watch. As such, we must conclude that the repetitions of the narrator’s afterlife will not be identical. Given that the text presents an account of de Selby’s works based on chance allusions that the narrator makes, the differences within the repetitions will allow him to respond with new footnotes on de Selby’s life and texts. His is a work which he, in his undeath, endlessly lives, as he writes his book through the infinite cycles of his death. In both The Third Policemanand Pincher Martin we see the resolve to continue, but for all Martin’s dogged determination to survive, his survival will not last – supporting it is nothing but a sense of self and intellectual arrogance. Exposed on a rock, eventually Martin is eaten away by the knowledge of his death – no Prometheus, he cannot regenerate fast enough. For the Sisyphean narrator, however, repeatedly pursuing his black box and endlessly writing his account of de Selby turns his afterlife into an infinite task, a work in endless progress. Where Martin lives on through a cry, the narrator’s survival is a text, a writing through and against death, an infinite deferral of death through a witness’s revealing refusal to testify.

III: Event

Given the paradoxes and confusions of the event of death in The Third Policeman, one must ask if the death we encounter is the event par excellence, or of an event unworthy of the name? The event, Derrida tells us, is a structure of aporia and singularity, but also of archivisation and repetition. An event is a rupture of expectation, that which comes to ‘surprise and suspend comprehension’ (Derrida, 2003: 90). ‘The event, if there is one,’ Derrida writes, ‘consists in doing the impossible’ (2007: 451). Its ‘eventfulness depends on this experience of the impossible. What comes to pass, as an event, can only come to pass if it’s impossible. If it’s possible, if it’s foreseeable, then it doesn’t come to pass’ (Derrida, 2007: 451). The limit of the event is understanding; although the event cannot be wholly other to interpretation, knowledge, naming, ‘there is no event worthy of its name except insofar as this appropriation falters at some border or frontier’ (Derrida, 2003: 90). For could, Derrida asks, an

event that still conforms to an essence, to a law or to a truth, indeed to a concept of the event, ever be a major event? A major event should be so unforeseeable and irruptive that it disturbs even the horizon of the concept or essence on the basis of which we believe we recognise an event as such. (2003: 90)

A real event, an event worthy of its name, cannot be thought in terms of a horizon of expectation, but through the aporetic and impossible, as an event we expect, that which we fully anticipate, is no event. As such, the event operates according to a logic of necessary (im)possibility, whereby that which threatens its occurrence is the grounds of its taking place. An attempt to master the event being produced neutralises and annuls it and we must, as such, effect a certain passivity to the event without, however, actually waiting for it (Derrida, 2002: xxxiii; 2005a: 152 & 2007: 443). An event, in fact, ‘cannot be reduced to the fact of something happening … it is what may always fail to come to pass’ (Derrida, 2000b: 536) – the event includes those cataclysmic events which never took place.

A real event would be nameless, recognisable only as an event when we have caught up with it, repeated it until we understand it and can identify it as an event (Bennington, 2010: 42). Thus, for all its singularity, the singular event is inextricably linked to repetition. In ‘Structure, Sign and Play’ Derrida writes that the event’s ‘exterior form would be that of a rupture and a redoubling’ (2001: 351). The event is iterable, repeatable, archivable – it does not extinguish itself in the occurrence but lives on, and is thereby marked by a repeatability. Every event partakes of a certain citationality, and the very act of archiving an event can be productive of an event. To engage with the event as Derrida understands it is thus to engage with the idea of the other, of openness, of the ‘to come’. This coming, is of course, also a ‘come again,’ a haunting echo: ‘It must be possible to summon a spectre, to appeal to it, for example, and I don’t think this is an arbitrary example: there may be something of the revenant, of the “come again” [‘reviens’], at the origin or conclusion of every “come”’ (Derrida, 2000b: 535).

Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman tells the story of a happening the narrator cannot bring himself to understand. An aporia occurs, but an aporia that becomes not a dead end, but a new path taken with a new step. The impossible occurs, as a man dies and lives to tell the tale. A tale he infinitely repeats, as he forgets his carefully archived event at the end of each repetition. The narrator is – somewhere, deep down – aware of his death, but he will never name it, never sign it, never testify to it. He repeats, but he repeats not his death but its aftermath – he repeats the events after the event he refuses to have experienced. He stepped from life to a deathless death, an eternity of dying, by ignoring the instant of his death, by denying that the moment when the light, the temperature and the air changed was an event.

What, Derrida asks, ‘is it to cross the ultimate border? What is it to pass the terms of one’s life (terma tou biou)? Is it possible? Who has ever done it and who can testify to it?’ (1993: 8). While death ‘names the very irreplaceability of absolute singularity (no one can die in my place or in the place of the other)’ ((Derrida, 1993: 22), how can I speak, in the first person, of my crossing the threshold without stepping into aporia – only I can testify to my death, and yet I cannot remain to make my testament. But perhaps, Derrida argues, thinking of death as a simple and irrevocable crossing of the limit is a vulgar concept of death (1993: 14), as

the impossible passage, the refused, denied or prohibited passage … can in fact be something else, the event of a coming or of a future advent which no longer has the form of the movement that consists in passing, traversing, or transiting. It would be the ‘coming to pass’ of an event that would no longer have the form or the appearance of a pas: in sum, a coming without pas. (1993: 8)

Death becomes the event that comes without annihilation and without a step, it becomes the perfect arrivant, ‘whatever, whoever, in arriving, does not cross a threshold separating two identifiable places, the proper and the foreign’ (Derrida, 1993: 33-34). The event of death for the narrator was a crossing that did not change his relation to his demise – it remains as a limit, a threat, a fear. The event of the narrator’s death is an event which, having passed, is always to come, yet to be understood, accepted, witnessed. In a death that allows for survival, a death not recognised as a death, a death which enables the deceased to step between life and death, in the death of the narrator in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman we see – perhaps – the event of death par excellence.


(1.) Comparisons between Spinoza’s conatus and Freud’s life drive or libido have been made, but while they echo a similar, basic urge for life, Freud’s libido is a more complex system of conflicting desires, pleasures and pains. See Jerome Neu (1977).

(2.) For a further explication of this, see Maebh Long (2014).


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