“Archie De-Bunker and the Bowling Team”[i]

A script modified[ii] by Adam Fales 

Thumbnail image Copyright CBS Television 1975 via Wikimedia


            Edith Bunker

            Archie Bunker/De-Bunker


            Studio Audience

            Stagehand with sign that says “LAUGH” on one side and “CLAP” on the other


Scene: Interior, the Bunker household.



Archie, how do you want me to lace these?


Through the holes, Edith, through the holes.

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


No, I mean, do you want me to lace them over or under?


What’s the différance?


Well, you see if you lace them over they show more and—


I do not believe that today there is any question of choosing—in the first place because here we are in a region (let us say, provisionally, a region of historicity) where the category of choice seems particularly trivial; and in the second, because we must first try to conceive of the common ground, and the différance of this irreducible difference.[iii]

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


Oh, I’m sorry, Archie, I misunderstood you. You see when you say what’s—


To a considerable degree, we have already said all we meant to say. Our lexicon at any rate is not far from being exhausted.[iv]

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


With the exception of this or that supplement, our questions will have nothing more to name but the texture of the text, reading and writing, mastery and play, the paradoxes of supplementarity, and the graphic relations between the living and the dead; within the textual, the textile, and the histological.[v]


What is the status of those conventions of language?[vi]

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


No longer is any truth value attributed to them; there is a readiness to abandon them, if necessary, should other instruments appear more useful. In the meantime, their relative efficacy is exploited, and they are employed to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are pieces.[vii]


No regular way leads from these intuitions into the land of the ghostly schemata and abstraction; words are not made for them; man is struck dumb when he sees them, or he will speak only in forbidden metaphors and unheard-of combinations of concepts so that, by at least demolishing and deriding the old conceptual barriers, he may do creative justice to the impression made on him by the mighty, present intuition.[viii]


Turned towards the lost or impossible presence of the absent origin, this structuralist thematic of broken immediacy is therefore the saddened, negative, nostalgic, guilty, Rousseauistic side of the thinking of play whose other side would be the Nietzschean affirmation, that is the joyous affirmation of the play of the world and of the innocence of becoming, the affirmation of a world of signs without fault, without truth, and without origin which is offered to an active interpretation. This affirmation then determines the noncenter otherwise than as loss of the center.[ix] 

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


Where the man of intuition, as was once the case in ancient Greece, wields his weapons more mightily and victoriously than his contrary, a culture can take shape, given favorable conditions, and the rule of art over life can become established.[x]

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


Here there is a kind of question, let us still call it historical, whose conception, formation, gestation, and labor we are only catching a glimpse of today.[xi]


What matters is that it betrays a spirit who will one day fight at any risk whatever the moral interpretation and significance of existence.[xii]

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


I employ these words, I admit, with a glance toward the operations of childbearing—but also with a glance toward those who, in a society from which I do not exclude myself, turn their eyes away when faced by the as yet unnamable which is proclaiming itself and which can do so, as is necessary whenever a birth is in the offing, only under the species of the nonspecies, in the formless, mute, infant, and terrifying form of monstrosity.[xiii]

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”


What to call it?[xiv]


If one calls bricolage the necessity of borrowing one’s concepts from the text of a heritage which is more or less coherent or ruined, it must be said that every discourse is bricoleur.[xv]


Like form, a concept is produced by overlooking what is individual and real, whereas nature knows neither forms nor concepts and hence no species, but only an ‘X’ which is inaccessible to us and indefinable by us.[xvi]

STAGEHAND, holding sign: “LAUGH”

ARCHIE DE-BUNKER, Standing up, angrily storming out:

One need not be a Marxist or a communist in order to accept this obvious fact. We all live in a world, some would say a culture, that still bears, at an incalculable depth, the mark of this inheritance, whether in a directly visible fashion or not.[xvii] 

STAGEHAND, turning sign: “CLAP”

Artist's Statement

            There is something to be gained when some of Western Philosophy’s greatest thinkers are thrust into the hell of an American sitcom alongside a live studio audience. Paul de Man does this almost as a joke in “Semiology and Rhetoric,” but—perhaps as an extended part of this performance—I decided to take his joke seriously. De Man refers to a specific scene in All in the Family, in which the show’s protagonist joins a bowling team. I present a new scene in which Archie Bunker has been transformed into the Archie De-Bunker that Paul de Man imagines. This Archie De-Bunker is haunted by the spirit of Jacques Derrida, and only speaks in direct quotes from the great French theorist’s work. So that Archie does not get lonely, I replaced the lines of his co-star Michael Stivic, with quotes from de Man’s other suggestion for a De-Bunker: Friedrich Nietzsche. In order to have some semblance to the original scene, I kept Edith’s lines the same.

            This modified script complicates “intention,” as defined by The Dictionary of Untranslatables in its section “Intention, representation, and aim.” This conception of intention posits, “every cognitive act (sensible or intelligible) requires an aspectus…’ending in actuality on an object’” (Libera, 510). “A representation, an image, a species, or a ‘presential object’” substitutionally presents itself instead of the end result of the cognitive act (510). This representation of the cognitive act’s intent resembles de Man’s end result of a reading that is held in a “state of suspended ignorance” that requires someone to decipher it, someone to perceive the representation (de Man 1378). This representation is the same function that de Man identifies in the way the “object engenders the sign” (1370). 

            The quotes form Nietzsche or Derrida (sometimes quite lengthy) are divorced from their intended use, placed into a context that forces a different interpretation of the quotation and speaker’s intent. The “original” intent lingers within the script, held in place by the endnotes that give the source for the quote. These two De-Bunkers seem to converse grammatically, but rhetorically, they may or may not be talking to each other. The performance requires its spectator, existing in the form of the live studio audience, to construct meaning in the misplaced quotes.

            The script maintains its original order of speaker and laughter. The content of the speakers’ lines is the only thing that has changed. In light of the new content, the laughter seems out of place, commanding the live studio audience to laugh at something, which is almost definitely not a joke. Typically an indicator of something funny, the laughter plays a similar role to the question mark in de Man’s discussion of the rhetorical question. Instead of being able to decipher the true meaning of the rhetoric, the spectator is forced through the commanding sign “LAUGH” to interpret the non-joke as a joke. They must laugh when the sitcom demands laughter, and as the performance ends, they are not even allowed to disapprove, forced to “CLAP” by the sign made out of the same sheet that forced them to laugh. The studio audience is then forced into the same Hell of Edith Butler, who is forced by her lines to idiotically interpret the rhetorical question literally. This is what I mean by a Hell, that world in which we are devoid of choice, forced into a single intention that may or may not make sense. This is the Hell of the sitcom, in which we are forced to join into the laughter, whether or not we hear a joke.



“Archie and the Bowling Team.” All in the Family. Writ. Norman Lear et al. Dir. Bob LaHendro and John Rich. CBS. Online.

De Man, Paul. “Semiology and Rhetoric.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2010. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. “Dissemination.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2010. Print.

---. “Specters of Marx.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2010. Print.

---. “Structure, Sign, and Play.” Writing and Difference. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. Print.

Libera, Alain de. “Intention.” Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon. Ed. Barbara Cassin, Steven Rendall, and Emily S. Apter. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Attempt at Self-Criticism.” Art and Its Significance: An Anthology of Aesthetic Theory. Ed. Stephen David Ross. 3rd ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. Print.

---. “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 2010. Print.


Notes to Script





[i] A bibliography is included at the end of the artist’s statement.

[ii] “Archie and the Bowling Team”

[iii] “Structure, Sign, and Play”; p. 293

[iv] “Dissemination” p. 1698

[v] ibid.

[vi] “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”; p. 766

[vii] “Structure, Sign, and Play”; p. 284

[viii] “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”; p. 773

[ix] “Structure, Sign, and Play”; p. 292

[x] “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”; p. 773

[xi] “Structure, Sign, and Play”; p. 293

[xii] “Attempt at Self-Criticism”; p. 172

[xiii] “Structure, Sign, and Play”; p. 293

[xiv] “Attempt at Self-Criticism”; p. 173

[xv] “Structure, Sign, and Play”; p. 285

[xvi] “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense”; p. 767

[xvii] “Specters of Marx”; p. 1736