J acques Derrida’s concept of deconstruction grapples with the incidental term ‘tracing’—a distinction or mark that something is missing. Trace is also a condition of thinking.
Whether one has studied Derridian philosophy with enough depth to wrestle with each interpretation of the word, they have nonetheless completed an act of tracing by considering the meaning of the word itself.
As I think of the word trace, I think of the past. Recounting memories becomes tricky. Details become traces and it is in our nature—the same way it is inevitable to pick up every crumb that flees your kitchen counter - to lose track of something.
Below, I have approached tracing by reflecting on my simple habits over a few days: eating, traveling to and from work, and the act of writing itself. I reach no resolution in this meditation on trace, but a more personal understanding that the act of reflection will never yield a replica of what was once true. As we reflect, trace, or remember, facts are obstructed by an inclination to select what it is we want to remember and how we go about remembering it.
I. Trace as a noun is evidence
Evidence is a puzzle, especially for those with a proclivity toward fable-telling. Any seasoned liar will always assess whether his lie could be falsified by evidence. If it can, then the lie should not be executed, yet. If it cannot, then the lie may exist as a reasonable truth.
If my vacuum sucks away every flake of the onion peel I let fall to the floor of my kitchen while preparing dinner this evening, then my home shows no evidence of an incorporated onion. My breath might give it away to my roommate when she returns home for a chat, but I may also be asleep by then, locked away in my room having already emptied the vessel of the vacuum and taken the trash out. The onion will live inside of me and its skin at the bottom of the garbage bin.
Let the disposed remnants of this onion represent the concept of evidence at large. If we throw away all of our onions so that nobody can witness their whereabouts, and we consequently remain silent on the topic of onions forever, the onion is withheld from reality. It is still a truth in that it existed, but it has no stake in the visible present.
II. Trace as a verb is to seek
Tracing, or searching for evidence, requires recollection. Tracing is inherently nostalgic, no matter how inconsequential the subject. I think of calculus class in high school, haunting me nearly a decade later though it seldom weighs in on my present life. I would be perched on the only left-handed desk in the center of the front row, vigorously jotting down every number in the presentation, yet incapable of understanding slopes and tangent lines. My mind was preoccupied with maintaining legible and alluring notes for home review. The ultimate strife of a left-handed person writing in a left-to-right direction is smudging pen ink on a live note.
What remains true to this day from that anecdote is my preoccupation with aesthetics. I sat on the train this morning with a notebook on my lap and pen in hand. My wrist was curved at a most bizarre angle, once more progressing faster than my mind was able to keep up with. In an effort to convince each person on the train that I was writing with intent, I carefully confessed to my page:
“I would rather sign my name a hundred times, filling you with a meaningless signature, than look at an empty book and sit with an inactive hand.”
Though searching for value, I surrendered to a sensation. I am picky with my pens and prefer to buy a rollerball line by PILOT called ‘precise v5.’ The ink dries quickly, which is optimal for a lefty. Enraptured by the cadence of my flow, my fingertips created an outpouring of nonsense. First, it was my signature written 27 times followed by a grocery list. Then, I escaped convention and darted my eyes toward a sneezing man across the car. Keeping my hand against the page and only lifting it once my head fell back into a bow:
Finally, I missed my stop, got off at the following exit and stood on the platform waiting for the next train to take me back to my destination. My mother always told me that it is easy to get lost in New York, but just as easy to reorient oneself after the matter.
“Tracing is a means to an end.”
III. Tracing is derivative
Years back, I printed a great white shark onto a white Hanes v-neck during a silk screening workshop at sleep away camp. Everyone around me thought I had drawn the shark myself, which I did, but it had been traced from the logo of a surf shop in my hometown. It was safe for me to assume that the plagiarized great white might live sincerely on my chest as an original design. Nobody at camp knew of my hometown, let alone the local spot where I bought my sunscreen.
The shark on the shirt was celebrated by my camp friends. I thought it looked cool, too. From that two week long camp session, I created my own onion remnant. At first, I thought it was the logo itself. So long as nobody at camp saw the original shark logo, the sketch on my shirt would be my own and I could frolic among the camp grounds with the wardrobe of a true pioneer. It wasn’t until I returned back home to South Florida searching for a beach cover up in my suitcase that I realized the v-neck itself, my egregious knockoff of a unique local design, was the onion I needed to hide. Brimming with shame, I folded the shirt and placed it at the back corner of my dresser underneath a stack of shirts. I haven’t looked for it since.