today i am again reading derrida on husserl
it sounds like zizek.
it could have been the evening. i’ve been meeting weekly over dinner with a very interesting group of people who are thinking and talking and aiming toward sustainability and there is no easy way to ease into the way, tonight, it felt like church. small groups really. the kind that meet in houses, the kind that evangelicalism loves to foster…
either that or an AA meeting.
which is not to say i didn’t enjoy it. that i won’t go back or that somehow all those lose ends and addictions didn’t look just like mine.
at least part of what is at work in groups like these is a new way of filling the community forming gap that has long been bridged by churches, nuclear family models, arts organizations, schools. but today, pick your community-building institution of choice and you will find it either struggling, obsolete, oppressive or bankrupt.
enter sustainability. the movement steps into all the shoes we thought we’d lost… it is, as you’ve heard me rant before, what zizek calls the next utopian movement, the next opiate for the masses.
but if we stop there, we’re just recycling.
what struck me as new tonight was the arrival of derrida and husserl to this same bread-baking table. the convergence looks, loosely, like this:
in an early text on Husserl (1967), Derrida works out the ways in which presentation is always re-presentation. in other words, Husserl hung more than a robe on the separation of what we might (liberally) term church and state. but that is getting way ahead.
sticking slowly with Derrida, Speech and Phenomena outlines the way in which Husserl invokes two arguments related to inward speech, (think: the conversations you have with yourself in the shower, or on your way to work that occur entirely ‘in your head’ like: “today i’ll try to eat lunch before three” or “i really should have taken out the trash,”). The first is that inward speech is imaginary and representational, rather than communicative or indicating. The second states that self-communication is useless and redundant as the self is immediately present to itself and thus needs nothing spoken to it.
While Derrida uses page after page to do so with more skill and care than i can here apply, the work being done in unmasking logocentrism begins by outlining the implicit assumptions above inward speech to show that by the nature of the sign/signification itself, presentation is always representation. The same move is made with regard to the implicit speech/writing distinction Husserl rely’s on, defaulting while also pulling at the tradition. At issue in both moves is an understanding of presence that Derrida is about to derail. Looking back to Saussure for the switch, Derrida writes:
Phonic signs (“acoustical images” in Saussure’s sense, or the phenomenological voice) are heard [entendus = “heard” and also “understood”] by the subject who proffers them in the absolute proximity of their present. The subject does not have to pass forth beyond himself to be immediately affected by his expressive activity. My words are “alive” because they seem not to leave me: not to fall outside me, outside my breath, at a visable distance; not to cease to belong to me, to be at my disposition “without further props.” Derrida, speech and phenomena
Of course the false unity of self-presence is what Derrida goes into and after by showing, in the paragraphs to follow the quote above, that both writing and signification, presume and function via distance, repetition and even death. Derrida actually works this connection out first by explaining the way in which signification, language really operates via 1) repetition and 2) difference. in other words, as we’ve examined in past posts, in order for the sign ‘woman’ to be recognizable over time and when assigned/applied to different women, the word ‘woman’ must be repeatable – i.e., not tied to or used up when applied to an absolute singularity or particularity, and also, it must be able to sign over difference, over change – as one woman is short and 35 years old with brown hair, speaking chinese, another will be tall and 58 years old, bald from chemotherapy, speaking english and yet we can still call each a woman. as the sign ‘woman’ is transported and translated from one usage to the next, it is a repetition of itself that always carries difference within it. language itself is the function of this repetition of difference, spoken, written or other-wise, pure presence or as Husserl calls it, ideality, is a myth.
this is moving way too quickly, once again, but as i’m not the first to explicate Speech and Phenomena, or supplementarity/differance/iterability as this movement of difference and repetition is later termed in the Derridian corpus, i will ask you to forgive the rapidity and turn to the source material for greater depth and adequate slowness. save that,
we are back to zizek.
or zizek is still with derrida.
Derrida’s work on logocentrism is an unmasking of the fallible phallus of presence. zizek, by the same token, via kant, takes a similar course of action in his work on/against/up/through Christianity. claiming to be always more christian than the christians Zizek takes the death of jesus to be the death of god. the fallibility of the phallus/master signifier revealed. for Zizek, it is only at the full frontal stop this death should issue that christians can in fact be christian at all as it is this death that loses people to institute their own laws, states, etc that are not already pure extensions of the masterful godhead. it is only then that morality has any meaning as it is a series of self-made rules we agree to hold holy, rather than the actual dictate and ontological reality of life as we know it, to which there would be no choice, no following, only rote remote control robotics.
combining these two, or rather, recognizing where Derrida and Zizek are (oddly and yes, you will hear Zizek protest loudly over this!) on the same page: it is death, it is writing, it is presence that fails that allows difference to emerge. that allows for volition, that allows for political action, that allows for self-forming communities.
while we have been 40 years now with the philosophical/textual implications of this differance, we are only now beginning to see the movement of deconstruction or, if you prefer zizek’s terms, christianity in his radicalized sense, insitu, in operation in lives, objects, networks…
groups like the one i just came from are part of this work. sustainability is a part of this working through. inopperative communities without master signifiers, without hierarchy but not without imperatives, hopes, political possibilities and activated actors. it is a series of works in progress, experiments in ‘unworking’ that we are living in a post-institutional era of institution building.
at least that, amongst other things…