An Absentological Analysis of the Trace: Pre-Cambrian Arche-Writing, and Jacques Derrida’s Realism



The first trace-fossil in the history of terrestrial life dates to the pre-Cambrian era. Left by an unknown species around 542 million years ago, Treptichnus are fossilized mud burrows, remaining as a geological testament to the early stages of complex life on Earth. Because of the impossibility of any empirical knowledge relating to these unfossilizable creatures, which presumably lacked a skeletal structure, any philosophical treatment of this paleobiological matter of fact must necessarily engage in speculation. Absentology as a speculative epistemontological register allows us to conceptualize these strange burrows as a key event. Following Jacques Derrida’s concept of"arche-writing", our essay presents an absentological reading of the forever unknowable unfossilized animal species. Arche-writing for Derrida is an abstract mode of writing that precedes speech and actual written language, hence this constitutes a concept that can be used for prelinguistic modes of expression. The trace fossils left by these unknown creatures constitute a type of prewriting, as well as the dawn of work, representing a crucial step in the evolution of complex life on this planet. A fossil that is not the animal itself, but rather a trace referring to an unknown organic singularity, this is the absent scene of arche-writing. A more realist Derrida emerges from this encounter, for whom extra-textual elements are even more relevant than explicit language.