This essay seeks to answer a deceptively simple question: what takes place when someone claims to be remarking on something “in passing”? The first part focuses on Heinrich von Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas, where the politico-economic order is shaken by challenges to the discourse of passes, passports, and licenses. The protagonist struggles in his quest for justice, because he cannot win the right to pass from one place to the next until he has first won the right to pass from one verbal element to the next. The second part of the essay considers how Jacques Derrida’s attempt to break with the methodological paths of metaphysics leads him to articulate a conception of passing language. Discussing utterances made en passant, Derrida puts pressure on the distinction between essential and incidental remarks. Ultimately, he suggests that some of his own most memorable slogans, in particular “democracy to come,” gain their power from their conflicted status as both constant and mercurial, grave and frivolous, passing and impassing.

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