Journal of Undergraduate Research


postmodern and early modern theology, painting theory, derridean parergon




Comparative Arts and Letters


Simone Heller-Andrist’s The Friction of the Frame ingeniously employs the Derridean parergon as a methodological approach to analyze the mechanisms involved in the reading process. In The Truth in Painting, Derrida uses the term parergon in the context of a frame in a painting. The parergon is the frame of a painting and a part of the work that is commonly disregarded but influences and manipulates the interpretation of the work. Hence the parergon presents an interaction between the canvas of a painting, and its surroundings. It is neither purely inside nor outside, but it performs and operation that acknowledges a painting’s historical, economic, or political inscription.1Derrida performs a thorough investigation of the nature of painting and drawing before entering in a discussion of the parergon. Although Heller-Andrist does not analogically examine the nature of literature, she transposes the concept of frames to literature and postulates that one can find in the parergon a “tool with which to investigate, understand, and interpret the workings of literary frames that hold the power to influence our reading.”2Her work presents model analyses in literary works by Walpole, Eliot, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Defoe, among others. These interpretative studies allow for novel readings that stem from the interaction of the text and its frame. The classifications of frames are vast in literary criticism and include narrative frames, paratexts, typology, intertextuality, and most certainly for this discussion of Calderón, theatrical frames.3 Heller-Andrist, however, chooses to focus on aspects of each work that protect the author or work, diminish or amplify the work’s political impact, or create a textual dialogue. Her validation, as well as my own, for using the parergon in this manner stems from Derrida’s commentary and adoption of the parergon from Kant. Derrida states the parergon “must, if it is to have the status of a philosophical quasi-concept, designate a formal and general predicative structure, which one can transport intact or deformed and reformed according to certain rules into other fields to submit new contents to it.”4 Although there may be multiple functions of the parergon in each Calderonian comedia that are open to further study, I will explore a particular type of parergonality in Calderón’s El pintor de su deshonra: the tension present between the comedia’s artistic theory framework, which finds its expression in the canvases that Juan Roca encounters and its metonymic relationship to the reader or spectator’s experience with the text or play and their inability to ascertain concreteness to the characters and apparent themes of the comedia.