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Archive for June, 2009|Monthly archive page

tayloring a discussion…

In Subjection, what is philosophy? on June 25, 2009 at 5:20 pm

i am reading ‘overcoming epistemology’ by charles taylor

primarily, because it was suggested, but also because there is something in his work, in his talks, that makes me want to squint my eyes and back up.  it may be his radiant clarity, his way of slicing through and focusing beams that makes me sweat and search for shade and shadows…  

in this 17 page piece (it may be a chapter of a larger work?  i just have a photocopy of this section…) taylor walks us through recent moves away from epistemology, highlighting the way that representational thinking has played a role in this same demise.  representation, epistemology and foundationalism seem to be a stake for taylor, to varying degrees of interest and rejection.  

while the discussion on representation is an interesting one (one attentively addressed by Gilles Deleuze for the french school in Difference and Repetition) i would like to more carefully read the last 3 pages of Taylor’s article, taking up his call for discussion or, in his words a ‘dispute to be fought…’  

this ‘dispute’ turns on two taylor-made paradigms.  one, the heideggerian lineage taylor sees himself as inheriting or ascribing to, the other, the ways in which foucault, derrida and others have taken this lineage in directions taylor disagrees with. (already i can hear derrida’s discussions on brotherhood, paternity and inheritance, as they were taken up with Searle and Carl Schmitt’s work, separately). since taylor poses what could be a call for discussion between these two  heideggerian progeny as something that needs military terminology, we can assume the stakes are very very high in his mind.  i would like to suggest that this is due to a misreading of heidegger, derrida and foucault together.  let’s see if i can trace this out in what follows:

earlier in the article, taylor looks to heidegger as an alternative to epistemology, articulating Dasein as being-in-the-world, or in other words, always situated, he writes:

what reflection in this direction would entail is already fairly well known.  it involves, first, conceiving reason differently, as including – alongside the familiar forms of the enlightenment – a new department, whose excellence consists in our being able to articulate the background of our lives perspicuously.  Taylor, p. 15

it is at this proposed binary pairing and opposing of ‘background’ and ‘lives’ that i would like to begin to outline a different reading of heidegger, foucault and derrida… one which might ease taylor’s call to battle, one which calls him to read the above again with less of simplifying eye.  beginning with heidegger, as taylor did, and taking into account taylor’s professedly moral concern for ‘situated freedom and the roots of our identity in community’, i would like to call up heidegger’s discussion of authenticity and inauthenticity in Being and Time.  all too quickly, authenticity and inauthenticity are modes of being-in-the world, for heidegger.  in Dasein’s average everydayness, he or she is enmeshed in the ‘they’, the chatter of the masses, the gossip of life lived inauthentically and fully among others: this is, for heidegger, inauthenticity.  authenticity, in contrast, comes from ‘the call of conscience’ it induces a move out of the ‘they’ into authentic historical Being-in-the-World, into quietude, into the stillness of the ‘clearing’.  what calls, what Dasein is called to is the ability to choose, and more pointedly to choose one’s destiny as someone who chooses.  while heidegger endlessly protests that inauthenticity and the ‘they’ are not derogatory states, or terms if you aren’t hearing community versus the ‘free’ individual in this description, i am not writing loud enough.   Being and Time ends with a quite terrifying and dramatic call to answer the call of conscience, to embrace one’s destiny as an historic people… we’ve seen how heidegger answered the call, picked up the phone… (Avital Ronell brilliantly wonders, in her seminal work The Telephone Book, what is it to answer a call, how to know who is calling, and how many who’s are on any given line, and most specifically – what if heidegger answered the wrong call when he took up the phone with the SS on the line?) and there is much more to pursue here, at another time.  but right now, back to this tayloring process, the point to be made among many is that for heidegger, mit-dasein, being-with, or even by extension, being-together in community is not the affair of one in ‘situated freedom…’ with ‘…roots of identity in community’.  it is only in those who have come after heidegger – jean-luc nancy in particular – who have taken heidegger’s being-with out of heidegger’s framework and into something taylor might recognize as community.  what is required to do this work, to find community out of mit-sein is to look again, and closely, at inauthenticity.  at the ‘they’… at those who do not speak in their own voice…, who are engulfed in the production of chatter…

and yet…  this is precisely where foucault comes in.  seemingly a lone wolf, foucault, in a late interview, plainly stated that heidegger was his strongest influence.  given this, given his work, i would like to invite taylor not to a duel, to a dispute, but to a reading group ‘rooted’ in foucault’s work and writing.  as is so easy to do, taylor writes foucault as a theorist of umbrella terms – where gigantic words like power subsume any and all as it it were a miraculous tornado, or glacier, clearing land and people and histories of its own accord, making victims of all the helpless in its wake. beginning with his doctoral thesis, foucault writes very different works and tells a very different story: power, for foucault is the force and effect of discourses enacted.  as enacting more than implies actors, we can here take up foucault’s understanding of subjectivation, as well as the works he wrote on madness at least, to dispel the oversimplifications which occur when taylor and others (including, most recently, bruno latour) read foucault.

subjectivation, first, can be described as a larger movement of louis althusser’s concept of interpellation, famously illustrated as follows:  a man is walking down a sidewalk when a police whistles and calls ‘hey you!’ as the walking man turns to look at the police, he, in effect, answers the call, and responds as the ‘you!’ in question.  now we can imagine circumstances where one turns simply in curiosity, but the broader point of this silly narrative is to illustrate that it is not simply ‘power’ or ‘authority’ that creates the subject of foucault’s descriptions, when the actor in this scenario turns, when he answers the call, he takes in and onto himself the authoritarian paradigm, stepping into a discourse that is formed and formulated in both the call and his own turning.  and he could have done otherwise… he could have kept walking.  the point is that the call was made, the police are in power, the whistles has social parlance and all of this is continued and enacted as the walking man turns in acknowledgement.  

if this sounds unlike the foucault you know, let me take us back into his writings for just a moment to further illustrate the same points.  in foucault’s doctoral thesis, madness and civilization, foucault starts in the middle ages, describing madness as it was defined, looking to social and historical factors that helped make this definition possible and plausible… and yet not for a moment does this description and genealogy step outside its own anthropocentrism.  we don’t see mental institutions building themselves: there are humans collaborating with discourse, formed by and  refining this discourse in their actions… in a very careful reading of descartes, foucault illustrates the way that descartes’ separation of madness and reason trickled down into the formation of madhouses, packing together those who could not live by reason – even when reason was refined and redefined as that which is not sloth… it is always human sloth which is operated on, human productivists who are keeping the doors to these madhouses shut… there could be no actionable discourse without actors taking up their cross and doing their part.

parts, roles, discourses… and of course texts.  if anyone has read anything by jacques derrida it is the oft requoted and misunderstood phrase : ‘there is nothing outside the text’.  taylor goes past this, thankfully, to a critique of Derrida through Nietzsche (as he did with Foucault).  i will pick this up tomorrow…


your mother and i

In Love on June 24, 2009 at 12:07 pm

by ariana reines, published in Mary Magazine


to be read aloud, three or more voices, as one: in unison



your mother and i

feel it is important

to share our view of the world with you

before we go.

the physical world which is to say

the planet as it is for us

will have dissolved or become translated

before you reach proper dying age

although now it seems merely covered over

things will get worse.

ask anyone whose intelligence

you respect. for the time being though

i want you to know

what information technology means

in our estimation, your mother’s and mine,

because it is, we think, what will continue to flow for a while

when all the rivers are dry and the oceans are fetid and rotting

and the sky is opaque both for real and in all minds

your mother and i have discussed this

at length throughout our marriage

though especially recently

and we feel as christians

that it will have been more important to have left you

with what we can tell here and now from our perspective

than having taught you how to ride a bike

so i am simply going to tell you what we think.

information technology has brought about

a proliferation of relations between the first

and the second person above all else.

if this seems hard to understand, son,

think of the words of jesus christ

sometimes so elliptical

just take them into yourself

and let your body meditate on them

your mind will mould itself toward the revelation

you won’t even have to try.

what this means

this constriction of minds

into relations between a first and second person

what this means is all ideas and events

are consigned, doomed, to exist as though they

were interpersonal, one-to-one

and this levels all enormity

into a billion billion versions

of something somebody thinks they think.

understand me son, this is not liberty.

this is a grave limit to all things. the lord,

what atheists might be willing to call something deep in us no matter what

a something that is also general, perhaps unprovable, but felt

like life itself

is an antique referent difficult to integrate

when things of the public sphere are received in private

and the most excruciating intimacies are easily uploaded

when all things exist to stand in reserve

for the first person

son, understand me, the first person is anyone,


for whom truth and real things get rearticulated into something odd

that is neither near nor far enough away. 
i think you will say that i make no sense

and am behind the times. 



we are people.

we do good things if they make us feel good.

we are limited.

naturally your mother and i have had our doubts

about earth and heaven and other things

but it seems to us that the righteous will not be separated

from evildoers in heaven or hell. the separation is and has always been mental

and must be. nevertheless, we feel, your mother and i, that

there must be something beyond

what makes us feel interpersonally good

or bad. one almost expects that god

might one day call one on the phone or cause

the electricity to shudder in a significant way

and yet

we, your mother and i, have in our lives

continued to search for signs almost against our will

in for example


or sex acts


signs of the all-knowing, the universe itself or creator

against our better judgment

we have also searched for this

or something resembling it—for what is the difference—

in our own feelings, in what we lack.

we cannot verify what is in our hearts

nor can we excise it. what people on earth have done

as they have moved across and covered it

is to disperse what is in them. this dispersal

is called culture.


information technology promises

that everything secret shall be disclosed

everything hidden shall be extracted

the promise of disclosure however

does not draw us nearer to grasping

death, or life for that matter. god remains

a nice thing to think.

in the spirit of disclosure

although your mother and i believe

that there is a good power in secrets

but let me not digress. in the spirit of disclosure

for this is the spirit of the times

i will tell you what there is to be told

what might otherwise recede into comfortable and

more elegant mystery

my manhunt screen name is juicytroll13

the password is now1964

i like to be fucked by big men

over 200 pounds is what i like

i like to feel a weight that can crush me

i like to wear a ball gag when they do it

because drooling makes me feel humiliated

and this is exciting because unfamiliar

i like to be fucked by pos men

(son,. if you don’t know, this means men who are HIV positive)

because it is more exciting

than smoking cigars or golfing and i like

to have them degrade me so i can pay

in my mind and through my body for

my impotence and mediocrity and failure

ever to have transcended contingency in the choices

i have made in this life.

all these feelings participate in my pleasure and magnify it,

believe it or not.

you may or may not grow old enough to know

what i mean.

in spite of all this or rather to be fair

in addition to this

i am a good and well-adjusted person

by our society’s standards

and perhaps even a little more thoughtful

and successful than most who come from my social class.

i do not mean to suggest that that your mother and i

do not love each other and one thing is for sure

i am not gay. let me tell you.

your mother likes to begin on top of me

she rides me very hard and comes, usually twice, three times.

then i flip her over and throw her legs

over my shoulders and i watch my cock go in and out. she loves it.

or rather, she loved it, but it has been several years since, well.

what i mean to say is, son,

your mother had a beautiful pussy, pink

and symmetrical, smooth and wet,

not wrinkled and rubbery like the pussies in pornography.

although she no longer stimulates me,

her body having become what you of course know well

despite her cruelty-free lifestyle.

i respect her for the pleasure i have taken with her

and for her other good qualities, in spite of all the bullshit

she has put me through.

we made you in the manner i described. i have burned a dvd of this

for you. now son, you know that we are not perverse individuals.

it is our hope, your mother’s and mine,

that in your life you will experience not only your own

sensations when you become a man,

if there is time enough for that, but also, too,

that by watching our recording, which was easier

to digitize than we had anticipated,

that you shall see

what we have felt and done and perhaps

feel some of it too, and be filled with a wonder

at the beauty of creation and the panoply

of human frailty that, finally out in the open

and in the relief of something so general it cannot disappear,

is to be your brief inheritance.

though sex is visible we reckon it is somehow

also not

and what can be seen and heard or known by proxy

which is to say transmitted technologically

of love boredom enthusiasm

or any other feeling

remains a question too, we feel. your mother and i

wish to illustrate

that the technology clearly works

while also warning you

that we, your mother and i and everybody else,

do not. not merely.

son, it happens that

we recede from one other

and from ourselves

does it not,

despite the presence of everything in us and around us.

and there is a blindness or deafness in this asymmetry

this dissonance

that we suspect is past all danger, that is simply mortal.

it is our conclusion

that the mind must cultivate a secret

on which to live. 


people have died

i know

of seeing one they love or merely have


in sex acts with another

on a recording. a recording that remains exclusive and total

in its partiality. believe me, son,

jealousy is a revulsion worse

than there being a war on

and all the injustices of human history that have ever existed

when it is bearing down on you

i have lived through it and i am telling you now

i would prefer to degrade myself than be dragged through the shit

by your mother or any other

but that is neither here or there

i digress again.

listen. i am speaking as clearly as i can.

mother brother sister father or baby

everything will become visible

audible and knowable

everything, more and more.

the details will mass on the horizon of what you can understand

and you will adopt various attitudes through which

to assimilate, absorb, and deflect

but the world will remain

a mystery. it will probably become even

more mysterious as it ends.

this is why it is lucky that we are little

and that our lives are small too.

son, i swear on my life

i am speaking as clearly as i can.

it is what flows between us that is dangerous

and that, though beautiful,

has bombed the world.

your mother and i are ready now

having exhausted our knowledge of one another

withstood it and survived our way into

a kind of dismay that’s also boredom.

all things seem equal to us now

arabs, meatballs, 401ks.

our task is complete.

we want you to know that it is mutually

that we have decided to have died of it

and that we hope this will confer a worth

onto our very painful and but we admit it futile struggle.

your mother and i want you to know

that love has taught us nothing

outside of its own terrific force

which though we have withstood it

has only

cracked us open

and made us spill




it is in the design of what i have called love

to not be able to be completed.

it is this incompleteness

that has brought about the spillage

and leftovers that for millions

of years perpetuated the world

and it is this selfsame


incontinence if you will

that will end it 
very shortly, son, 

shortly now



author image

ARIANA REINES is the author of the cow (alberta prize, fencebooks: 2006), coeur de lion (mal-o-mar: 2007), and the forthcoming translations my heart laid bare by charles baudelaire and little black book by grisélidis réal, published by mal-o-mar and semiotext(e), respectively. her first play, telephone, was commissioned by the foundry theatre and presented at the cherry lane theatre in new york in february 2009. “your mother and i” was performed by abram coetsee, norman windsor waters iv, denis yurichhkov, and kevin zeidler at small press traffic on january 30, 2009.

Americaine philo, interview with Avital Ronell

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

part 2 of Avital’s whirlwind tour through and across Parisian media this month – published in May, 2009 with


Il paraît que la philosophie connaît un regain d’intérêt. Perceptible est la nostalgie des grands maîtres et des «grands récits». On veut des réponses, TF1 appelle cela la «quête de sens». Mais que sait-on de ceux qui font profession de philosopher, de travailler les concepts, d’étudier les textes, de faire et défaire des hypothèses ? Derrière le vernis des hommages, il se pourrait que l’atavique suspicion perdure. «Même avec des collègues de l’université, raconte Avital Ronell,quand je me mets à parler d’Homère, on me dit : “Tu nous ennuies. Homère, c’est pas cool, pas queer !” C’est tellement décourageant.» Dieu que la philosophie serait jolie sans ces pinailleurs de philosophes.

Avital Ronell, 57 ans, figure majeure de la philosophie américaine, est jusqu’à la fin juin l’invitée d’un cycle de conférences au centre Pompidou. Traduite dans de nombreux pays, amie des plus grands – elle tiendra à la rentrée un séminaire commun avec le néo-marxiste Slavoj Zizek et la féministe Judith Butler lui consacre son prochain livre -, elle a été découverte en France avec Telephone Book, enquête fiévreuse sur la signification philosophique du téléphone, qui commence par le coup de fil que Heidegger reçut en 1933 d’un dignitaire SA, qui marqua le début de son engagement nazi. Le philosophe de «l’appel de la conscience» incapable de résister à un appel téléphonique, voilà le genre de vertige qui attire irrésistiblement Ronell. Inutile de dire que Telephone Bookn’apporte pas de réponse.

A première vue, Avital Ronell a tout de l’universitaire de gauche tel que le roman anglo-saxon a pris l’habitude de le ridiculiser. Elle pratique le yoga, ce qui l’apaise. Ecrit le matin, enseigne à la prestigieuse New York University (NYU), habite sur Washington Square, au cœur du Village. S’habille «post-punk», vit seule «avec ses fantômes». Déplore le machisme français et défend la manière américaine de prendre la sexualité comme un moyen de se rendre heureux. Cuisine bénévolement pour les malades du sida. Quelques indices, pourtant, ne cadrent pas avec le stéréotype. Ainsi, l’espièglerie, quand, à propos des dates qui résument sa vie (ci-dessus), elle propose d’ajouter «l’année où je serai impératrice du monde». Ou le besoin de se mettre en danger, comme si, à chaque instant, il fallait qu’elle détricote et retricote ce qu’elle est : avant d’être recrutée à la NYU, elle avait été virée de deux universités, à cause de son look et de sa façon d’enseigner. Et encore sa manie, à contre-époque, d’exprimer sa gratitude, en commençant par Derrida, dont elle coanima le séminaire américain.

Pour le dire autrement : chez Avital Ronell, la philosophie n’est ni une science ni une sagesse, mais une affaire de survie psychique. «Idéalement, un philosophe doit savoir se détacher : un scepticisme sain, distant, qui n’a pas besoin de sa dose. Moi, j’ai un besoin archaïque de la philosophie, dont j’ai un peu honte. J’ai l’impression que cela m’expose trop. Vivre comme Socrate ou Nietzsche de nos jours serait tabou. Un temps, j’ai eu envie faire mes cours au milieu de la foule, à la gare routière de New York par exemple. Mais on m’enfermerait comme folle. A la fac, je suis protégée.» De cette tradition, elle a gardé le corps à corps : empoigner le monde, se saisir des objets «les plus méprisés» (la télé, la bêtise, les tests), les convertir en concepts, bien agiter.

Ce qui donne, à propos du sida : «Ce n’est pas une punition tombée du ciel ; c’est quelque chose qui est créé, un effet de la technologie, qui s’adresse à l’homme, à nos villes…» Sur l’addiction : «Les drogues sont le nom de l’exposition de notre modernité à l’incomplétion de la jouissance» (in Addict).Sur la télévision : «[Elle] s’installe après un traumatisme historique précis, une catastrophe néanmoins irreprésentable, la Shoah […]. Dans presque chaque histoire à la télé, il s’agit d’un meurtre, mais d’un meurtre résolu. Les choses reprennent leur place, le scandale s’efface […]. La télévision pose la question de la violence et de la force» (in American Philo). Partout, Ronell cherche cette imbrication de la vie et de la mort qu’en philosophie, on appelle «l’être».

Pas besoin d’être phénoménologue pour y voir l’effet d’une histoire hors du commun. Allemands, juifs, issus de la grande bourgeoisie berlinoise, ses parents sont partis en Palestine avant la guerre. Max Brod, l’écrivain et ami de Kafka, transporte leurs lettres d’amour lorsque la mère d’Avital retourne en Suisse. Auparavant, celle-ci a été la secrétaire de Ben Gourion, licenciée parce qu’au cours d’une réunion où était évoqué la nécessité de bouter les Arabes hors de territoires qui reviendraient à Israël, elle s’est exclamée: «Mais c’est immoral !»Quand Avital naît, ses parents sont diplomates, en poste à Prague. En 1956, ils n’en peuvent plus, quittent Israël et reprennent leur vie à zéro, en Amérique, au prix d’une chute sociale tragique et d’un rapport survolté à la judéïté.

Berlin, Tel Aviv et New York forment un triangle dont elle dit : «Il n’y avait pas de place pour moi.» Les Etats-Unis ? «Je ne m’y suis jamais sentie bien accueillie, ni par les institutions, ni par les gens, ni par la culture. C’est en lisant Derrida que j’ai pu comprendre les opérations d’exclusion, pourquoi elles sont nécessaires, qui les commande, qui en bénéficie. Ça m’a donné l’espoir de trouver une place.» Israël ? «Le premier mot en hébreu que j’ai appris, c’est “nazi”.» Aujourd’hui, son nom figure sur la liste noire des juifs antisionistes (ce qu’elle n’est pas). Mais son cauchemar préféré reste l’Allemagne, à laquelle, quel que soit le sujet, ses pensées ne cessent de la ramener : «Je ne peux pas me retenir, il faut que je frappe. Pour ne pas cacher le traumatisme.»Spécialiste de philosophie allemande, elle est souvent, dans les colloques sur Heidegger, «la seule femme juive», ce qui en agace plus d’un.«La culture allemande reste responsable de la grammaire guerrière de l’Amérique : voyez Wagner dans Apocalypse Now ou Schwarzenegger. La question est : quels sont les trajets souterrains, les transmissions fantômes, les cellules dormantes ?»

Lorsqu’elle rencontre Derrida, celui-ci vient d’écrire que la métaphysique n’existe pas. Il lui demande son nom, elle répond : «Comment, tu ne me reconnais pas ? Pourtant, tu m’as offensée.» Etonné, Derrida insiste et Avital Ronell s’emporte : «Je suis la Métaphysique ! Et tu as dit que je n’existe pas !»«La Métaphysique», ça lui est resté comme nickname (surnom) pendant une dizaine d’années et ça lui va bien. Car, de fait, qu’est-ce que philosopher, sinon chercher ce qui n’existe pas : la vérité ? Ou, autre définition possible,«espionner, se promener sur les lieux ennemis, où l’on n’est pas bienvenu. C’est ma spécialité, comme une responsabilité qui m’incomberait.» Mission impossible, bien sûr (le feuilleton lui a inspiré quelques pages), mais qui clôt le débat sur la quête de sens : chez cette Américaine, la pensée est une frénésie insensée. «Heidegger dit que nous courons après quelque chose qui se retire de nous.»

Avital Ronell se présente aussi en DJ qui mixerait les concepts et l’argot new-yorkais. Ou encore en standardiste des grands philosophes : «Je les mets en contact avec leur propre avenir. Je suis sûre qu’Aristote aurait écrit Telephone Book.» Son directeur de thèse l’avait prévenue : les Allemands ne comprendront jamais sa façon d’écrire ; les Américains resteront hermétiques à son contenu ; seul espoir, disait-il, les Français. On verra ce mois-ci.

deux amazones a Paris

In what is philosophy? on June 18, 2009 at 3:09 pm

an interview by the Nouvelle Observateur with Judith Butler and my phd advisor, Avital Ronell from bibliobs in Paris, June 11th, 2009.

Judith Butler et Avital Ronell, les deux plus grandes représentantes américaines de la «French Theory», cette pensée inspirée de Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, évoquent ici leur relation à la France, à l’amour, et le scandale que leur oeuvre n’a cessé de provoquer.  

Si l’on ne présente plus Judith Butler, grande théoricienne des genres sexuels, professeur à Berkeley, égérie gay mondialement connue, le public français commence à découvrirAvital Ronell. Lectrice raffinée de Derrida, Blanchot, Flaubert et de tant d’autres, la «Dark Lady» de la déconstruction, comme on la surnomme, élue par «Village Voice» comme un des trois meilleurs écrivains au monde, en impose par sa sophistication subtile, son humour et la prodigieuse intelligence de ses textes. Rencontre au café Le Rostand, à deux pas du jardin du Luxembourg.

Le Nouvel Observateur. – La France a mis quinze ans à vous publier, Judith Butler, et l’on commence à découvrir Avital Ronell. Toutes deux, vous êtes pourtant de prestigieuses hybridations de la pensée française… Comment expliquez-vous cette latence?

Judith Butler. – Ce n’est pas trop tard, c’est ainsi. Plus tôt, cela aurait sans doute été compris autrement. C’est aussi l’expérience que je vis en Espagne ou en Argentine, où les gens m’interrogent sur ce que j’écrivais il y a vingt ans comme si je venais à peine de l’élaborer. Ainsi mon travail revient-il me hanter comme une sorte de fantôme. Quand les Chinois se mettront auxgender studies [NDLR : théorie apparue dans les années 1970 aux Etats-Unis, posant que la différence des sexes est une construction sociale], ça risque d’être une expérience déroutante pour moi.

Avital Ronell. – C’est vrai qu’il y a pas mal de bruit en ce moment autour de nous, et que nos livres sont désormais disponibles. En même temps, il ne faut pas être dupe. Cela ne signifie pas nécessairement un vrai welcoming. Les institutions sont heureuses de montrer qu’elles savent accueillir la radicalité et sont capables de nous supporter pour quelque temps. 

N. O. – Ce décalage dans la réception de vos oeuvres n’est-il pas lié au long refoulement de ce qu’on a appelé «la pensée-68» durant une vingtaine d’années en France?


A. Ronell. – Sans doute, mais il y a toutes sortes de façons de refouler. Aux Etats-Unis, ça passe par une espèce d’hyper-exposition qui n’a rien à voir avec la véritable étude. Il y a un temps pour tout. La plupart de nos maîtres sont morts, à commencer par Derrida, dont la perte m’a tant affectée. Comme dans une course de relais olympique, le moment est peut-être venu de courir. Le temps de la pensée n’est pas celui de l’actualité. Il est rare qu’un penseur existe simultanément avec lui-même. Nous ne saurions pas vraiment qui est Hegel si Marx ne l’avait tardivement découvert.


N. O. – Aujourd’hui encore, les gender studies n’ont pas «pris» ici comme outre-Atlantique. Elles suscitent même souvent un vrai rejet. Faut-il y voir un effet de l’universalisme républicain à la française?


J. Butler. – Il y a dix-huit ans de ça, quand on avait proposé à Fayard mon livre «Gender Trouble» («Trouble dans le genre»), l’éditeur avait répondu que c’était «inassimilable». C’est un mot parfait, ça, hein? Trop étranger, trop étrange, non tolérable par les anticorps français. Le livre a alors connu une sorte de vie underground, les gens se repassaient des photocopies. Aujourd’hui, c’est l’inverse. J’entends dire çà et là que les gender studies sont devenues incritiquables, omniprésentes. Certains disent même qu’elles représentent une vraie menace pour la recherche française, qui sous leur emprise risquerait de perdre sa spécificité. Bref, je suis passée sans transition d’inassimilable à mainstream, normalisée. Heureusement que c’est de la mauvaise foi… ça m’ennuierait de contribuer à détruire une université française déjà en triste état ! [Rires].

N. O. – Vous avez un jour déclaré, Avital Ronell, que la pensée française avait été pour vous une sorte de «refuge pour femmes battues» à une époque où votre excentricité intellectuelle vous marginalisait aux Etats-Unis... 

A. Ronell. – La France, ou du moins le fantasme qu’on appelle France, a toujours été pour moi un refuge, un sanctuaire. Il y a ici une intelligence spéciale, un rapport responsable à la pensée. Il est vrai que mes débuts universitaires ont été rudes… Pas de poste, pas de job. Moi aussi, j’ai eu mon affaire «Gender Trouble». Mais ce qui choquait chez moi, c’est que je me mêlais de la grande tradition phallique, que je suis entrée sur le terrain de Hegel ou Goethe, que j’ai investi un territoire réservé aux vieux messieurs sérieux. C’était compliqué parce qu’en moi il y avait une bonne fille qui voulait que la longue chaîne des papas et des maîtres la reconnaisse. Au lieu de quoi j’entendais : c’est vraiment de la merde ce que tu fais ; qui t’a invitée dans la maison de l’Etre? montre-nous ton carton ! Mais en moi il y avait aussi une autre personnalité, plus dominante, qui disait : fuck that ! tant mieux si c’est inacceptable, tant mieux s’ils vomissent.

J. Butler. – Avital est depuis devenue quelqu’un d’indispensable pour la réflexion aux Etats-Unis. Ses livres, depuis«Telephone Book», ont inauguré une ère nouvelle. Tous ceux qui travaillent sur la technologie, Heidegger ou la communication, se réfèrent à la pensée ronellienne. Elle a une façon virtuose d’entremêler registre populaire et haute culture qui pour le coup est très peu française.

A. Ronell. – Je suis très touchée.[Rires] Ce qui est certain, c’est que les grands morts sont pour moi des amis, et que je prends pas mal de libertés avec eux. Cela s’est produit quand j’ai ressorti la correspondance longtemps occultée de Goethe avec sa mère. Celui-ci rompt avec elle à l’âge de 24 ans, mais à distance elle encourage son fils à devenir le grand pervers qu’il était par ailleurs. «Tu devrais tous les enculer», etc., elle lui écrit des choses incroyables. Ce faisant, je portais atteinte au grand Phallus de la nation allemande. Mais c’est moins les aspects sexuels qui ont choqué, je crois, que le regard contemporain que je portais sur tout ça. Goethe est le premier à avoir osé peindre le portrait d’un suicide sans alibi transcendantal.

N. O.– Autre exemple de déplacement subversif dans la relecture des «monuments», vous abordez dans «Test Drive» la question de la rupture amoureuse à travers la relation entre Nietzsche et Wagner…

A. Ronell. – Nietzsche a réellement été amoureux de Wagner. D’ailleurs, depuis mon ami et interlocuteur Socrate, transmission et amour sont liés. Socrate se laisse instruire par Diotime, mais pour philosopher il faut qu’il couche mentalement avec un garçon. C’est tout à fait récent d’oublier ça. L’amour ne renvoie pas toujours à la sexualité, sauf en France je crois !

N. O. – Vous aussi, Judith Butler, vous pensez que le pays des French lovers est en réalité particulièrement étriqué sur la question de l’amour?

J. Butler. – Nous vivons actuellement une revalorisation publique du couple, qui dépasse largement la France. Même le mouvement pro-mariage chez les homos participe de ça. Il y a pourtant d’autres formes de reconnaissance érotique, plus excitantes. Au fond, si je suis pour la possibilité du mariage gay c’est pour qu’on puisse commencer à attaquer le mariage en tant qu’institution. Ma girl-friend m’a dit qu’elle divorcerait immédiatement de moi si jamais je tentais de l’épouser. C’est très charmant, n’est-ce pas ! Mais au fond, même dans le mariage le plus conventionnel et bourgeois, on ne sait en réalité jamais ce que les gens vivent. On n’en connaît que ce qui transparaît dans le discours public. Le sociologue Eric Fassin a montré que 60% des Français vivaient dans une situation maritale non normative : séparations, recompositions, parentalité diffuse. Si la réalité est celle-ci, pourquoi sommes-nous si attachés à maintenir l’idée que c’est le couple qui est bon pour l’enfant et que les autres situations créent des psychotiques?

A. Ronell. – Oui, ce qu’on considère comme «inassimilable» est en réalité déjà un fait sociologique. Le couple est un mensonge, érigé sur sa propre défaite. Ce discours nous met des menottes et nous fait croire qu’il y a une réalité référentielle derrière ça. Et cependant, si on arrivait à détruire le couple, est-ce qu’il n’y aurait pas quelque chose d’encore pire à venir derrière? Quelque chose d’encore plus monstrueux et régressif? [Rires.]

J. Butler. – Le fait est que la sexualité humaine n’est pas aisément adaptable à quelque forme sociale que ce soit. C’est là un des grands acquis deLacan. Il n’y a aucune façon de résoudre ce problème qui soit en soi meilleure qu’une autre. A chacun de choisir son propre dysfonctionnement, et la part de sacrifice qu’il comporte. Rien ne serait pire que d’être un stalinien de la politique sexuelle et de décréter que le modèle du couple est à dépasser. Et cela même si certains doivent se droguer pour arriver à rester en couple…

A. Ronell. – Ou se mettre à boire ! [Rires.] En réalité, qu’est-ce qu’un couple? C’est difficile à dire. Il y a toujours un troisième terme là-dedans. Même au lit. Un fantôme. Qui me télécommande dans mes désirs? Qui approche l’autre en moi? Parfois on le fait pour quelqu’un d’autre. Un jour où il se sentait mal et fragile, Jean-Luc Nancy m’a dit à propos de quelqu’un : «Je l’aime bien, tu sais.» D’un seul coup je me suis mise à éprouver un grand désir pour cette personne. Deux mois après, très en colère, j’appelle Jean-Luc : «Mais enfin, pourquoi m’as-tu obligée à coucher avec cet incroyable connard !» Il était stupéfait. On ne sait pas d’où vient le désir. C’est parfois l’odeur de sa mère qu’on aime en quelqu’un. C’est comme ça qu’on choisissait les saints au Moyen Age… à l’odeur délicieuse qu’ils dégageaient. On ne sait jamais pourquoi on sanctifie l’autre.

N. O. – Lors d’une conférence récente à Beaubourg, vous vous disiez stupéfaite, Judith Butler, de voir que certains intellectuels avaient ramené les émeutes de 2005 dans les banlieues à une crise de l’autorité paternelle. Trop maternant, l’Etat manquerait de testostérone, en somme…

J. Butler. – Il y aurait beaucoup à dire à ce sujet. L’idée que l’ordre social entier repose sur la figure du père fort est un genre de croyance en réalité très localisée, singulière, provinciale, pourrait-on dire. Quand on sait le sort qui est fait aux immigrés dans votre pays, ramener la crise politique à une question de discipline familiale est hallucinant. Cela vaut autant pour Sarkozy que pour Ségolène Royal, d’ailleurs. Comme par hasard, c’est survenu au même moment que le combat contre l’homoparentalité. Il s’agit en réalité de purs fantasmes fabriqués pour conforter un certain type d’exercice du pouvoir.

A. Ronell. – Pourquoi le père est le centre de tout, à commencer par le Père éternel bien sûr? Je suis justement en train d’écrire un texte qui s’appellera «Losers Sons». Notre destin actuel est en effet très lié à des fils perdants comme Bush ou Ben Laden, lui aussi méprisé par son père. La destruction du monde a partie liée avec ces fils-là qui n’assument pas leur castration. Les travaux de Judith et de Hannah Arendt me sont très utiles en ce moment pour analyser l’emprise qu’ont sur nous ces représentations de l’autorité. Voyez, c’est ce genre de choses que j’explore. Des choses qui n’ont pas vraiment le statut d’honnêtes citoyens du concept.

Propos recueillis par Aude Lancelin





“Censorship Today: Violence, Or ecology as a new opium for the masses”

In what is philosophy? on June 17, 2009 at 11:28 pm

moving back to the sources for yesterday’s post… the following is by Slavoj Zizek, from, posted in 2007:

Marco Cicala, a Leftist Italian journalist, told me about his recent weird experience: when, in an article, he once used the word “capitalism,” the editor asked him if the use of this term is really necessary – could he not replace it by a synonymous one, like “economy”? What better proof of the total triumph of capitalism than the virtual disappearance of the very term in the last 2 or 3 decades? No one, with the exception of a few allegedly archaic Marxists, refers to capitalism any longer. The term was simply struck from the vocabulary of politicians, trade unionists, writers and journalists – even of social scientists… But what about the upsurge of the anti-globalization movement in the last years? Does it not clearly contradict this diagnostic? No: a close look quickly shows how this movement also succumbs to “the temptation to transform a critique of capitalism itself (centered on economic mechanisms, forms of work organization, and profit extraction) into a critique of ‘imperialism’.” In this way, when one talks about “globalization and its agents,” the enemy is externalized (usually in the form of vulgar anti-Americanism). From this perspective, where the main task today is to fight “the American empire,” any ally is good if it is anti-American, and so the unbridled Chinese “Communist” capitalism, violent Islamic anti-modernists, as well as the obscene Lukashenko regime in Belarus may appear as progressive anti-globalist comrades-in-arms… What we have here is thus another version of the ill-famed notion of “alternate modernity”: instead of the critique of capitalism as such, of confronting its basic mechanism, we get the critique of the imperialist “excess,” with the (silent) notion of mobilizing capitalist mechanisms within another, more “progressive,” frame.

So what is the problem here? It is easy to make fun of Fukuyama’s notion of the End of History, but the majority today is “Fukuyamaian”: liberal-democratic capitalism is accepted as the finally-found formula of the best possible society, all one can do is to render it more just, tolerant, etc. The only true question today is: do we endorse this “naturalization” of capitalism, or does today’s global capitalism contain strong enough antagonisms which will prevent its indefinite reproduction? There are three (or, rather, four) such antagonisms:

1. Ecology:
In spite of the infinite adaptability of capitalism which, in the case of an acute ecological catastrophe or crisis, can easily turn ecology into a new field of capitalist investment and competition, the very nature of the risk involved fundamentally precludes a market solution – why? Capitalism only works in precise social conditions: it implies the trust into the objectivized/”reified” mechanism of the market’s “invisible hand” which, as a kind of Cunning of Reason, guarantees that the competition of individual egotisms works for the common good. However, we are in the midst of a radical change. Till now, historical Substance played its role as the medium and foundation of all subjective interventions: whatever social and political subjects did, it was mediated and ultimately dominated, overdetermined, by the historical Substance. What looms on the horizon today is the unheard-of possibility that a subjective intervention will intervene directly into the historical Substance, catastrophically disturbing its run by way of triggering an ecological catastrophe, a fateful biogenetic mutation, a nuclear or similar military-social catastrophe, etc. No longer can we rely on the safeguarding role of the limited scope of our acts: it no longer holds that, whatever we do, history will go on. For the first time in human history, the act of a single socio-political agent effectively can alter and even interrupt the global historical process, so that, ironically, it is only today that we can say that the historical process should effectively be conceived “not only as Substance, but also as Subject.” This is why, when confronted with singular catastrophic prospects (say, a political group which intends to attack its enemy with nuclear or biological weapons), we no longer can rely on the standard logic of the “Cunning of Reason” which, precisely, presupposes the primacy of the historical Substance over acting subjects: we no longer can adopt the stance of “let the enemy who threatens us deploy its potentials and thereby self-destruct himself” – the price for letting the historical Reason do its work is too high since, in the meantime, we may all perish together with the enemy. Recall a frightening detail from the Cuban missile crisis: only later did we learn how close to nuclear war we were during a naval skirmish between an American destroyer and a Soviet B-59 submarine off Cuba on October 27 1962. The destroyer dropped depth charges near the submarine to try to force it to surface, not knowing it had a nuclear-tipped torpedo. Vadim Orlov, a member of the submarine crew, told the conference in Havana that the submarine was authorized to fire it if three officers agreed. The officers began a fierce, shouting debate over whether to sink the ship. Two of them said yes and the other said no. “A guy named Arkhipov saved the world,” was a bitter comment of a historian on this accident.

2. Private Property:
The inappropriateness of private property for the so-called “intellectual property.” The key antagonism of the so-called new (digital) industries is thus: how to maintain the form of (private) property, within which only the logic of profit can be maintained (see also the Napster problem, the free circulation of music)? And do the legal complications in biogenetics not point in the same direction? Phenomena are emerging here which bring the notion of property to weird paradoxes: in India, local communities can suddenly discover that medical practices and materials they are using for centuries are now owned by American companies, so they should be bought from them; with the biogenetic companies patentizing genes, we are all discovering that parts of ourselves, our genetic components, are already copyrighted, owned by others…

The crucial date in the history of cyberspace is February 3 1976, the day when Bill Gates published his (in)famous “Open Letter to Hobbysts,” the assertion of private property in the software domain: “As the majority of hobbysts must be aware, most of you steal your software. /…/ Most directly, the thing you do is theft.” Bill Gates has built his entire empire and reputation on his extreme views about knowledge being treated as if it were tangible property. This was a decisive signal which triggered the battle for the “enclosure” of the common domain of software.

3. New Techno-Scientific Developments:
The socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in bio-genetics) – Fukuyama himself was compelled to admit that the biogenetic interventions into human nature are the most serious threat to his vision of the End of History.

With the latest biogenetic developments, we are entering a new phase in which it is simply nature itself which melts into air: the main consequence of the scientific breakthroughs in biogenetics is the end of nature. Once we know the rules of its construction, natural organisms are transformed into objects amenable to manipulation. Nature, human and inhuman, is thus “desubstantialized,” deprived of its impenetrable density, of what Heidegger called “earth.” This compels us to give a new twist to Freud’s title Unbehagen in der Kultur – discontent, uneasiness, in culture. With the latest developments, the discontent shifts from culture to nature itself: nature is no longer “natural,” the reliable “dense” background of our lives; it now appears as a fragile mechanism which, at any point, can explode in a catastrophic direction.

4. New Forms of Apartheid:
Last but not least, new forms of apartheid, new Walls and slums. On September 11th, 2001, the Twin Towers were hit; twelve years earlier, on November 9th, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. November 9th announced the “happy ’90s,” the Francis Fukuyama dream of the “end of history,” the belief that liberal democracy had, in principle, won, that the search is over, that the advent of a global, liberal world community lurks just around the corner, that the obstacles to this ultra-Hollywood happy ending are merely empirical and contingent (local pockets of resistance where the leaders did not yet grasp that their time is over). In contrast to it, 9/11 is the main symbol of the forthcoming era in which new walls are emerging everywhere, between Israel and the West Bank, around the European Union, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

So what if the new proletarian position is that of the inhabitants of slums in the new megalopolises? The explosive growth of slums in the last decades, especially in the Third World megalopolises from Mexico City and other Latin American capitals through Africa (Lagos, Chad) to India, China, Philippines and Indonesia, is perhaps the crucial geopolitical event of our times. It is effectively surprising how many features of slum dwellers fit the good old Marxist determination of the proletarian revolutionary subject: they are “free” in the double meaning of the word even more than the classic proletariat (“freed” from all substantial ties; dwelling in a free space, outside the police regulations of the state); they are a large collective, forcibly thrown together, “thrown” into a situation where they have to invent some mode of being-together, and simultaneously deprived of any support in traditional ways of life, in inherited religious or ethnic life-forms.

While today’s society is often characterized as the society of total control, slums are the territories within a state boundaries from which the state (partially, at least) withdrew its control, territories which function as white spots, blanks, in the official map of a state territory. Although they are de facto included into a state by the links of black economy, organized crime, religious groups, etc., the state control is nonetheless suspended there, they are domains outside the rule of law. In the map of Berlin from the times of the now defunct GDR, the are of West Berlin was left blank, a weird hole in the detailed structure of the big city; when Christa Wolf, the well-known East German half-dissident writer, took her small daughter to the East Berlin’s high TV tower, from which one had a nice view over the prohibited West Berlin, the small girl shouted gladly: “Look, mother, it is not white over there, there are houses with people like here!” – as if discovering a prohibited slum Zone…

This is why the “de-structured” masses, poor and deprived of everything, situated in a non-proletarized urban environment, constitute one of the principal horizons of the politics to come. If the principal task of the emancipatory politics of the XIXth century was to break the monopoly of the bourgeois liberals by way of politicizing the working class, and if the task of the XXth century was to politically awaken the immense rural population of Asia and Africa, the principal task of the XXIth century is to politicize – organize and discipline – the “de-structured masses” of slum-dwellers. Hugo Chavez’s biggest achievement is the politicization (inclusion into the political life, social mobilization) of slum dwellers; in other countries, they mostly persist in apolitical inertia. It was this political mobilization of the slum dwellers which saved him against the US-sponsored coup: to the surprise of everyone, Chavez included, slum dwellers massively descended to the affluent city center, tipping the balance of power to his advantage.

How do these four antagonisms relate to each other? There is a qualitative difference between the gap that separates the Excluded from the Included and the other three antagonisms, which designate three domains of what Hardt and Negri call “commons,” the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act which should also be resisted with violent means, if necessary: the commons of culture, the immediately socialized forms of “cognitive” capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education (if Bill Gates were to be allowed monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have literally owned the software texture our basic network of communication), but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc.; the commons of external nature threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity). What all these struggles share is the awareness of the destructive potentials, up to the self-annihilation of humanity itself, if the capitalist logic of enclosing these commons is allowed a free run. It is this reference to “commons” which justifies the resuscitation of the notion of Communism – or, to quote Alain Badiou:

The communist hypothesis remains the good one, I do not see any other. If we have to abandon this hypothesis, then it is no longer worth doing anything at all in the field of collective action. Without the horizon of communism, without this Idea, there is nothing in the historical and political becoming of any interest to a philosopher. Let everyone bother about his own affairs, and let us stop talking about it. In this case, the rat-man is right, as is, by the way, the case with some ex-communists who are either avid of their rents or who lost courage. However, to hold on to the Idea, to the existence of this hypothesis, does not mean that we should retain its first form of presentation which was centered on property and State. In fact, what is imposed on us as a task, even as a philosophical obligation, is to help a new mode of existence of the hypothesis to deploy itself.

So where do we stand today with regard to communism? The first step is to admit that the solution is not to limit the market and private property by direct interventions of the State and state ownership. The domain of State itself is also in its own way “private”: private in the precise Kantian sense of the “private use of Reason” in State administrative and ideological apparatuses:

The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men. The private use of one’s reason, on the other hand, may often be very narrowly restricted without particularly hindering the progress of enlightenment. By public use of one’s reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public. Private use I call that which one may make of it in a particular civil post or office which is entrusted to him.

What one should add here, moving beyond Kant, is that there is a privileged social group which, on account of its lacking a determinate place in the “private” order of social hierarchy, directly stands for universality: it is only the reference to those Excluded, to those who dwell in the blanks of the State space, that enables true universality. There is nothing more “private” than a State community which perceives the Excluded as a threat and worries how to keep the Excluded at a proper distance. In other words, in the series of the four antagonisms, the one between the Included and the Excluded is the crucial one, the point of reference for the others; without it, all others lose their subversive edge: ecology turns into a “problem of sustainable development,” intellectual property into a “complex legal challenge,” biogenetics into an “ethical” issue. One can sincerely fight for ecology, defend a broader notion of intellectual property, oppose the copyrighting of genes, while not questioning the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded – even more, one can even formulate some of these struggles in the terms of the Included threatened by the polluting Excluded. In this way, we get no true universality, only “private” concerns in the Kantian sense of the term. Corporations like Whole Foods and Starbucks continue to enjoy favor among liberals even though they both engage in anti-union activities; the trick is that they sell products that contain the claim of being politically progressive acts in and of themselves. One buys coffee made with beans bought at above fair-market value, one drives a hybrid vehicle, one buys from companies that provide good benefits for their customers (according to the corporation’s own standards), etc. Political action and consumption become fully merged. In short, without the antagonism between the Included and the Excluded, we may well find ourselves in a world in which Bill Gates is the greatest humanitarian fighting against poverty and diseases, and Rupert Murdoch the greatest environmentalist mobilizing hundreds of millions through his media empire.

When politics is reduced to the “private” domain, it takes the form of the politics of FEAR – fear of losing one’s particular identity, of being overwhelmed. Today’s predominant mode of politics is post-political bio-politics – an awesome example of theoretical jargon which, however, can easily be unpacked: “post-political” is a politics which claims to leave behind old ideological struggles and, instead, focus on expert management and administration, while “bio-politics” designates the regulation of the security and welfare of human lives as its primal goal. It is clear how these two dimensions overlap: once one renounces big ideological causes, what remains is only the efficient administration of life… almost only that. That is to say, with the depoliticized, socially objective, expert administration and coordination of interests as the zero-level of politics, the only way to introduce passion into this field, to actively mobilize people, is through fear, a basic constituent of today’s subjectivity.

No wonder, then, that the by far predominant version of ecology is the ecology of fear, fear of a catastrophe – human-made or natural – that may deeply perturb, destroy even, the human civilization, fear that pushes us to plan measures that would protect our safety. This ecology of fear has all the chances of developing into the predominant form of ideology of global capitalism, a new opium for the masses replacing the declining religion: it takes over the old religion’s fundamental function, that of putting on an unquestionable authority which can impose limits. The lesson this ecology is constantly hammering is our finitude: we are not Cartesian subjects extracted from reality, we are finite beings embedded in a bio-sphere which vastly transgresses our horizon. In our exploitation of natural resources, we are borrowing from the future, so one should treat our Earth with respect, as something ultimately Sacred, something that should not be unveiled totally, that should and will forever remain a Mystery, a power we should trust, not dominate. While we cannot gain full mastery over our bio-sphere, it is unfortunately in our power to derail it, to disturb its balance so that it will run amok, swiping us away in the process. This is why, although ecologists are all the time demanding that we change radically our way of life, underlying this demand is its opposite, a deep distrust of change, of development, of progress: every radical change can have the unintended consequence of triggering a catastrophe.

It is this distrust which makes ecology the ideal candidate for hegemonic ideology, since it echoes the anti-totalitarian post-political distrust of large collective acts. This distrust unites religious leaders and environmentalists – for both, there is something of a transgression, of entering a prohibited domain, in this idea of creating a new form of life from scratch, from the zero-point. And this brings us back to the notion of ecology as the new opium for the masses; the underlying message is again a deeply conservative one – any change can only be the change for the worst – here is a nice quote from the TIME magazine on this topic:

Behind much of the resistance to the notion of synthetic life is the intuition that nature (or God) created the best of possible worlds. Charles Darwin believed that the myriad designs of nature’s creations are perfectly honed to do whatever they are meant to do – be it animals that see, hear, sing, swim or fly, or plants that feed on the sun’s rays, exuding bright floral colours to attract pollinators.

This reference to Darwin is deeply misleading: the ultimate lesson of Darwinism is the exact opposite, namely that nature tinkers and improvises, with great losses and catastrophes accompanying every limited success – is the fact that 90 percent of the human genome is ‘junk DNA’ with no clear function not the ultimate proof of it? Consequently, the first lesson to be drawn is the one repeatedly made by Stephen Jay Gould: the utter contingency of our existence. There is no Evolution: catastrophes, broken equilibriums, are part of natural history; at numerous points in the past, life could have turned into an entirely different direction. The main source of our energy (oil) is the result of a past catastrophe of unimaginable dimensions. One should thus learn to accept the utter groundlessness of our existence: there is no firm foundation, a place of retreat, on which one can safely count. “Nature doesn’t exist”: “nature” qua the domain of balanced reproduction, of organic deployment into which humanity intervenes with its hubris, brutally throwing off the rails its circular motion, is man’s fantasy; nature is already in itself “second nature,” its balance is always secondary, an attempt to negotiate a “habit” that would restore some order after catastrophic interruptions.

With regard to this inherent instability of nature, the most consequent was the proposal of a German ecological scientist back in 1970s: since nature is changing constantly and the conditions on Earth will render the survival of humanity impossible in a couple of centuries, the collective goal of humanity should be not to adapt itself to nature, but to intervene into the Earth ecology even more forcefully with the aim to freeze the Earth’s change, so that its ecology will remain basically the same, thus enabling humanity’s survival. This extreme proposal renders visible the truth of ecology. 


In what is philosophy? on June 17, 2009 at 12:37 am

def. – capable of being sustained.

i just spent the evening in a fascinating series of conversations at Texas French Bread about slow food and sustainable cooking.

the ideas here are nothing new.  in fact, as Ben Willcot (co-owner and chef at TFB) pointed out, local cooking has been the historic trend, interrupted only recently by a 50 year experiment in agri-business.  

yet the questions and problems are age old.   take these two for example:

how not only to think sustainable lifestyles as something other than upper class entertainments, but also, how to act to make healthy local food affordable and feasible for people on all rungs of the economic ladder?

and beyond that, how to make food available to the seriously production and poverty stricken without mass suppliers like monsanto, and all the other food demons who drive prices low enough and build seeds which have been modified enough to survive in harsh climates?  (not ignoring, of course, the way these same companies heinously modify the same seeds for one season reproduction limits, etc…)

the latter question may seem too big and daunting for sustainability to take on.  yet when we start using words like moral, ethical, good and healthy to describe slow food practices, are we not inviting these bigger questions to take center stage?  

in his 2007 talk at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland, Slavoj Zizek described sustainability as the next great -ism, following just after theism and communism (though not necessarily divorced from either one).  this ‘opiate of the masses’ is, for Zizek, the next utopian ideal.  broadening that, along with Zizek, I am wondering if sustainability is not simply the next step in late capitalism.  a way to consume still more, but now with a purpose, with a cause… with a warm conscience.  certainly, more than any other social issue i can remember in my short 32 years, if we combine sustainability with global climate change under the title of green living, nothing has had more impact.

yet, it isn’t as if we have had a lack of worthy causes; why, for example, hasn’t global hunger been enough to motivate us to change our eating and spending habits?  surely pictures of starving children on tv have made it clear that there is both a serious need and a way to help.  so, what about sustainability makes this cause so compelling that we are willing to restructure lives, routines, social structures to ‘get on board’ with its suggestions and mandates?  

cynically we could say that sustainability still allows us to spend and buy and consume for ourselves, whereas helping world hunger is the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good without the instant gratification of a new object or  a fresh local zucchini to prove it.

but is that critique just too easy?  doesn’t it miss the positive role that something purportedly negative, like raw consumer capitalism, can play in a world constantly up for re-vision?

but then, in our newfound generosity, could we say the same of monsanto?  do we want to?

on the productive side, there is so much to be said for sustainability.  slow food, buying, growing and greening locally has health benefits as well as economic benefits for local communities across all sectors of wealth and poverty.  it can be part of local (and national) healthcare solutions.  it can be part of local job generation.  it can be part of a life that thinks the means to its ends and lives accordingly.

as to the age old questions of food production costs, it is clear that locally and sustainably farmed food does and will cost more.  so how can we think modes of cost reduction that do not penalize the growers?  could organic food be subsidized just as corporate farming has been subsidized?  could charities be established to help fund partial costs for organic farming, making its produce available to a broader audience?  are these silly questions?  are there more fundamental food issues to be solved?  are there more important food related issues and items to the communities in question?  

in my rush to solve, i know tonight at TFB i got lost in the mire of impossible solutions, instead of importing one of slow foods’ strongest assets: slowness.  perhaps the subject and practice of sustainability allows these conversations and ideas to formulate in ways that we can manage, we can deal with, and, yes, we can even purchase and feel good about…

if that sustains something, if that sustains slowness, perhaps we aren’t too far afield after all?

revolutionary road.rash

In Love, ritual, Subjection on June 15, 2009 at 2:57 pm

revolutionary road, 2008

taken from Robert Yates first book, directed by sam mendes.

uncannily, in the last 5 minutes of the movie i did think to myself… this could have been great.

but the point is: it wasn’t.  or it was.  

or they weren’t.

but were they?


first and foremost the acting was, until the last 5 minutes, horrible.

that aside, the story line was strong.  yet this dangerous distinction between actor and script is precisely what comes up and out in revolutionary road (and if i thought mendes would go so far as to ask for intentionally bad, removed and unconvincing acting my admiration for the film would surely mount, barring that…)  here’s the recap:

frank and april.  we see them young and in love and then we see them married and miserable.  the inbetween comes later, albeit still inbetween: through flashbacks we learn that in the mid-50’s this couple moves from the city to a lovely home in the suburbs.  he commutes, she raises the (oddly mainly absent) kids.  things sour by the minute (or by the 10 minutes as this tedium is plainly tedious) as both frank and april realize they aren’t two stars on the rise who are just play acting suburban life in the meantime… they struggle with each other, their lifestyle, their positions and their hopes from within the unhappy hopelessness of hyper-domesticated, consumerist suburbia.  

the film then reads like zizek reading lacan.  franks’ manhood (the primary point of the entire screenplay) is temporarily revived by his wife’s proposal that he quit his job and, yes, ‘find himself’ while they all move to paris and she works for the state department or whatnot.  but of course, when the firm he’s been working for offers him a raise to make his father proud, frank falters, sleeps with his secretary again and uses his own wife april’s new pregnancy as a way out of the move to paris.  with bizarre and telling scenes centering on a mad truth sayer, mendes moves the film along as the not-so-latent conflicts of frank and april wheeler’s lives rise to the surface.  when frank is revealed to be less than a man and april all but accused of castration, you can almost hear lacan singing in the background.  yes, it was the 50’s, yes april was forced to live her dreams of self-actualization through her husband, and yes, she broke his balls in an attempt to find her own through him.

as the movie and another suburban husband begin to tune out, what the viewers are left to tune into is an abortion ending in death.  a marriage gone awry.  a suburban neighborhood functioning through studied exclusion.  and the question is: does mendes really want to attribute all of this to a lack in the master signifier?  

while questions about frank’s manhood litter the script, the title and the correspondingly named street setting for most of the film could allude to a larger failed struggle: that of the revolutionary against the status quo.  against property (family, house, legacy and children), april’s idealism is soon read as naïve and even crazy.  Without a model, an understandable shared name for what she was proposing, no one could make sense of her ‘resistance’ to suburbia except, temporarily, her husband.  sharing a vision, an idealogy, a politics, brought them together.  made them productive (thus the 3rd child).  brought them back to being in love.

but in the end we are left to think april was the puppet inside the dwarf.  her belief (her role as phallus) stiffened her husband’s resolve and made everything possible.  when that same husband lost his courage, or simply decided his wife’s desire was not really his own… everything fell apart.  all the love was gone, and in the end, throwing (pumping, actually) the 3rd baby out with the bath water, april tried to erase all signs of the naive revolution she had lived for and killed herself in the process.

what to make of all of this beyond the pat failings of suburban life in the 1950’s?  and what does this do to any notions of a functioning ‘as if’..?  while frank and april lived ‘as if’ change and hope were possible, change and hope did indeed occur.  they laughed, they loved, they shared a secret that said they were special, their marriage revived, franks work was inspired…  yet while i’ve toyed with the ‘as if’ via ritual as a way out of the presumptions of sincerity culture (see Adam Seligman and my previous posts here...) clearly frank’s decision to live ‘as if’ his job, his marriage and his life were enough didn’t match up to the couple’s first subjunctive vision of finding themselves in paris.

in the sublime object of ideology, zizek works through lacan, pascal and kierkegaard to think the ‘as if’ in the function of ideology.  

what we call ‘social reality’ is in the last resort an ethical construction; it is supported by a certain as if (we act as if we believe in the almightiness of bureaucracy, as if the president incarnates the will of the People, as if the Party expresses the objective interest of the working class…). as soon as belief (which, let us remind ourselves again, is definitely not to be conceived at a psychological level: it is embodied materialized, in the effective functioning of the social field) is lost, the very texture of the social field disintegrates.  zizek, the sublime object, p. 36

this is where zizek’s claim that ‘appearances matter’ takes root: as kierkegaard’s wager makes clear, the appearance of belief is belief already in operation.  there is no essential kernel of faith (hope or revolution) that can persist apart from appearances, practices, rituals… 

the only real obedience, then, is an ‘external’ one: obedience out of conviction is not real obedience…

zizek, the sublime object, p. 37

yet up against the superficiality we read back into and through the 1950’s, statements about externality and appearances (let alone obedience!) really grate against our sincere sensibilities.  aware of this, zizek writes:

what distinguishes this Pascalian ‘custom’ from insipid behaviorist wisdom (‘the content of your belief is conditioned by your factual behavior’) is the paradoxial status of a belief before belief: by following a custom, the subject believes without knowing it, so that the final conversion is merely a formal act by means of which we recognize what we have already believed.  in other words, what the behaviorist reading of Pascalian ‘custom’ misses is the crucial fact that the external custom is always a material support for the subject’s unconscious.

after taking an incredibly long way around, i would like to contend that the point zizek makes is one highly pertinent to deleuzian realist/non-realist debates: the site of the subject is external.  as jean-luc nancy states, it is exstasis, it is on the surface because there is only surface.  by this reading, by judith butler’s reading and by the work of late foucault as seen through judith butler, with the subject as surface, the wheeler’s of revolutionary road were special. they were also just like everyone else.  they are great, they were miserable.  there is no hidden sincere inner kernel to their relationship:  when it was shit it was shit, when it was loving, it was loving.  

refreshing isn’t it, to think we are what we do, rather than we are the sum of our internal sincere convictions…

*everything he said was right…

In difference on June 12, 2009 at 9:36 pm

i am enthralled by a conversation taking place over the last 24 hours on Levi Bryant’s blog, Larval Subjects.  while Levi elegantly outlines his object oriented philosophy in response to a bit of an academic debate, what emerges is the following seductive position on post-humanism, post-language:

Everything said of the signifier is right, but it must also be said of every other kind of object. From the standpoint of Onticology, we can vary this thesis in a variety of ways, all of which are endorsed by Onticology:

* Everything Kant says of the nature of minds, concepts, and intuitions as they relate to the world is right, but it must also be said of every relation among objects.

* Everything Heidegger says of the relationship between Dasein and objects is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

* Everything Husserl says of intentionality is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

* Everything Foucault says of power and epistemes is right, but it must also be said of every other relation among objects.

And so on.

what I would like to add to this list (which was never really excluded, just not yet added…) is this:

* Everything Derrida says about differance and iterability is right, but must also be said of every other relation among objects.

at first read, this addition may seem unnecessary, as Derrida was never working with the subject, with the human, but always up and through these notions and toward their impossibility.  yet, it is precisely on the point of iterability that Derrida’s work can enter into conversation with object oriented philosophy.  difference in deleuze, the miraculous relation that is repetition, is so closely atuned to the work Derrida was doing with differance as to be mistaken as the also (and thankfully) impossible same.  

working with saussure’s split between the signified and signifier derrida’s work exemplifies the always differential deferral of meaning in signification.  to dangerously oversimplify, for derrida there is no essence, no origin, only links and chains of signifiers.  in the vocabulary of iterability, as written in his debate with john searle, as context is never constant, never given and never fully comprehensible (always exceeding definition, explanation and ‘meaning’) meaning is only ever deferred.  this leads to his work on writing as necessitating death, etc… and while this is all quite fascinating, the point i want to emphasize here is that between derrida and deleuze, between derrida and object oriented philosophy, there is a shared recognition that being is difference: and this applies in/as being for ‘man’ (though this is a tenuous term for both derrida and deleuze) as well as being for objects…

i need to do more work here, but appreciate levi’s post today in reaching into this project and digging out points i need to further question.

repetition and difference

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Difference and Repetition[1]

I am reading this, these, books again and to aid memory, (short circuit thinking?) I am throwing a few notes out here, below.

“repetition is not generality”  Introduction, page 1, line 1

an interesting negative start.  an inverted heideggerian beginning?  rather than following a path only to say ‘ah, but we know better…’ deleuze gives it all away up front.  this is work of/on specificity.  Singularity. 

“to repeat is to behave in a certain manner, but in relation to something unique or singular which has no equal or equivalent.”  Introduction, page 1

whether this book is about the business of undoing umbrella terminology in its most insipid appearances or otherwise, whatever was at stake for deleuze, the text makes at least one thing clear: repetition is not generality.  what it is, what it might be is a behavior.  a certain behavior.  and not inconsequentially, repetition is a relation.  we can think this relation in human terms, mathematical terms or via language… this is only a start to suggestions, certainly not a sufficient list.  difference and repetition moves straight away to poetry:

“the repetition of a work of art is like a singularity without concept, and it is not by chance that a poem must be learned by heart.  the head is the organ of exchange, but the heart is the amorous organ of repetition” Introduction, pages 1-2

singularity without concept.   behavior with-out habit.  recognition without resemblance.  as jouissance for no one, each movement, each repetition is the appearing of something different.  point being: there is no big Other, no entitler of meaning here.  repetition is the appearing of the impossible in that no two things, outside of representation (or rather beneath it’s heavy burden) are ever truly repeated. 

how (or rather when) to say that we are treading shared and un-common turf?  clearly we are in the domain of derrida’s work on iterability, on differance, yet as difference makes clear we are never in a recurrence of the same.  Something shifts.  More on this to come…

for now, then, on to law.  if generality ‘belongs to the order of the law’ and “Law unites the change of the water with the permanence of the river”… law, meaning, signification are always blanket terms.  false in their generalizing blindness, but true in their adopted effects.  law, whatever definition you give to it, requires the illusion of constancy.  it requires times and places of equivalence wherein dictums can be applied and reapplied across circumstances, spectrums and specificities. 

“if repetition is possible it is due to miracle, not to law”  introduction, page 2

how to think the miracle and why to think miracle when thinking repetition?

if miracles are ever the question or the problem, they are so in their understood nomination as law breakers.  outlaws.  that or those that do not abide by the laws of the land.  is repetition then, on the side of the outlaws, as that which broaches and breaks the boundaries instilled by law?  yet the quote above does not draw an equivalence between repetition and miracle, it implies, instead something like debt:  “if repetition is possible it is due to miracle”.  what evolves in thinking repetition as indebted, (due to), miracle when thinking miracle as rigorously out-law? 

or rather, what devolves?  from lacan’s master signifier to althusser and judith butler on the interpellated subject (see past post), what the miracle undresses and will not underwrite is the subject derived by law – paternal, moral or natural.

“if repetition is possible, it is as much opposed to moral law as it is to natural law.” page 5

law as stabilizer, law as guarantor on the debt imbued subject, none of these make their appearance in the court(ing) of repetition.  because equality loses its terms, its definition, when no two things are equal.  when difference is and is all there is.  which is not to say that deleuze’s worlds are entirely groundless.  he is a structuralist, after (and in it) all.


[1] Given by Sagi Cohen, read with John Cochran: the title belongs to all and none.