nikki moore

Posts Tagged ‘Jacques Derrida’

where: to begin…

In Love, what is philosophy? on August 22, 2009 at 8:29 pm

with ‘w’ it seems…

but the real story would take a full alphabet.

jet lagged but enthralled after a week working with Avital Ronell in the morning and Judith Butler in the afternoon, i will need some sleep and time reviewing my notes before i can get back to Ronell, Butler, Agamben and the rest of the lectures I heard in Saas Fee this year.

in the meantime, i’ll let  John Protevi sum it up as somehow finding him late is just the same as knowing him early (though i would protest that at least and today Butler and Ronell be part of what he is describing as Deleuze or Deleuzian, as surely one thinker cannot do all the work that is needed to be done…), so with that:

although the work of Jacques Derrida is a magnificent achievement and a lasting contribution to the tradition of post-phenomenological European philosophy, it is, while still necessary to any progressive philosophical and political practice, primarily of propaedeutic value in the reflection on and intervention into the convergent fields assuming the highest importance in the material structuring of the current global system of bodies politic: recombinant genetics, cognitive science, dynamical systems theory and others.  Derrida’s work, though destroying the self-evidence of the various identification machines at work today – the naturalized self-images of nations, racse, genders, subjects and so on – by inscribing the production of meaning in a world of ‘force and signification’, can only prepare the way for the radicality of Deleuzean historical-libidinal materialism: the principles guiding the empirical study of forceful bodies politic in their material production.

in other words, in moving the concept of the transcendental from that of the conditions of possibility of experience to that of the quasi-transcendental conditions of impossibility, the aporias of experience, Derrida performs the labour necessary to shake free of millennia of philosophical idealism, thus moving us from the pretensions of the cultural stratum to the point where a Deleuzean investigation of the material forces of all strata can begin.  thus a Derridean deconstructive reading will move us from the pretensions of metaphysics or phenomenology as the self-grounding of a rational, meaningful sign system – the book of nature – to the inscription of marks in a world of force and signification – the ‘general text’.  At that point the Deleuzean injunction takes hold: conduct a material analysis of forceful bodies politic.                           John Protevi, Political Physics, p. 2

all but the kitchen sink, maybe…

In Uncategorized on July 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm

today i am again reading derrida on husserl

and today


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…

moving from is/ought to is/want

In difference on July 10, 2009 at 12:44 pm

in a meeting of the curious yesterday morning, i ran up against an old… should we say… friend?

here is how we met, again:

in a lengthy and lovely discussion on gadamer, derrida, foucault and others, parsing and pausing to see where we all stood, i predictably took the the side of endless play.  of differance, of difference.  my two wise and generous interlocutors then whittled our discussion right down to that ever present stopgap, the relativity question.  you’ve heard it before, but once again: if there is no ground, no foundation… how can one act and essentially, from what point can we issue care?

it’s an old question.  or a newly old question, issuing from the enlightenment which ushered in the era of reason.  either way, the lines have been drawn so many times I won’t repeat them here.  what i would like to repeat is something like jean jacques rousseau’s question, tortured as he was in asking it…  yet before we get there

let’s slow things down a bit:

first, the relativity question is most usually a problem for ethicists, for political theorists, for those who are asking hard questions about what it is to be a we.  understandably the absence of ground often elicits anxiety in those who want to formulate an ethics.  many want things to be true in order to build out an ethics from that solid truth.  but is that the only option?  if derrida, foucault, deleuze and others propose what deleuze calls a groundless ground, is there no way to separate out what is (groundlessness) from what we’d like to have instead (modes of learning to live peacefully and healthily together)?  is there no way to move from the is/ought to the is/want?

or are we already about the business of this shift daily?

take 18th, 19th and 20th century democracy, marxism or socialism for example.  there was a time when the divine right of kings grounded present politics in an eternal truth claim.  enter the enlightenment, the french revolution, the american revolution, etc… somewhere down the line a group of (yes, mainly) men said we’re done with this.  we’d like to change the terms.  entering into a social contract, new lines were drawn, new truth claims laid down and voila… ground out of groundlessness, something from nothing.

of course i know the critiques to be made, the banners to be raised: what gave these men the right to lay things out as they did?  who is to say that what they found representative or socially responsible, or equitable is equitable for you, and representative of us…  essentially, who decides what is to be decided?

and of course, without a universal truth for ground, this questions evokes unanswerable torrents in its wake.  this very line of questioning can, and probably has been, applied to every divine right claim through the ages.  and yet, there is the constitution.  a document which might better serve us were it considered a living document, up for revision, as one jefferson proposed, but which stands, nonetheless, on ground no more firm than the water in your sink.  we’ve simply agreed and continue to agree that there is something like an unalienable right, amongst other agreements.  and while we would do well even to call rights into question, to say that because we are groundless means we cannot decide to pour a foundation seems not only false, but blind to life as we live it.

as quickly as i write this, with rousseau’s social contract shadowing my every key stroke, i am aware of the decisionism also looming in my above argument.  the echos of liberalism, the horrible lurkings of adam smith.  so let me be as clear as i can in saying that the proposed move from is/ought to is/want does not have to take the current shapes we know, love, hate or ignore. the actor networks in play during the formation of the united states of america did not have to produce american hegemony, capitalist globalization, etc… given a groundless ground things can and still could be otherwise.  this is where relativity and its persisting question is at its most productively freeing: perhaps ethics no longer needs a universal truth to build from and what ethicists choose to build are structures as free as the birds.  perhaps this is the beauty of this possibility.  while the is/ought is pre-stocked (the ramifications of a given ‘is’ (although ‘given’ is quite the oxymoron here) necessitate a set of particular oughts) the outcome of the is/want is wide open to the free play of hope.  echoing judith butler’s work on performativity, my (albeit tentatively) proposed is/want means that the new social contracts – be they between two, between ten or between ten million, are actors on an infinite stage of possibility.  or they could be.  this is of course, more in theory than in practice, but it is theory we are dealing with in the relativity question.  daily life sorts this out without flinching as we think and act toward how best to show love to those we care for, as we think and act toward both the upholding and the questioning of laws, of social justice.

moving from is/ought (from formulating ontologies) to is/want – (formulating modes of praxis)… sidelining the relativity question and enabling community formation.  it seems all to easy.

surely i am missing something…

more than a play on words…

In what is philosophy? on July 8, 2009 at 11:41 pm

after a break, moving boxes, moving books…

books and boxes.

returning to charles taylor, where i left off more than a week ago.  taylor, in overcoming epistemology, issues a challenge, a call to arms… tracing epistemology through the sciences to post-modernism (which i propose is more accurately structuralism and it’s posts-) where it gets lost in solipsism, only to be found again in and by the hermeneutic tradition.  what is at stake for taylor is a knowing that allows us to engage the world and others in it.  he is looking a ‘serious argument’ from the other side (foucault, derrida and nietzsche).  from ronell (see stupidity), derrida (limited. inc) and even rousseau (the confessions) i am learning to be leery of the serious.  and yet,

or perhaps because…

i would like to respond.  before this can happen, if it can happen at all, a critical clarification seems to be in order.  i am not the first to make it: as levi bryant at larval subjects writes it, there is epistemology and there is ontology.  this seemingly straightforward discussion gets repeatedly muddied by conversants who pit themselves against derrida, foucault and nietzsche, as well as by those who rise to the latter’s defense.  the confusion is, ironically, understandable.  in nietzsche’s work, epistemology and ontology are notable bedfellows.  if, reductively, might makes right… then the way we know and see and read the world is what that world becomes.  in foucault, discursive modes carve out and create the world we see, live in and reciprocally determine even while being determined in the exchange.  and in derrida, language strong-arms ways of knowing to such a degree that nature/culture, method/truth (and we could add here epistemology/ontology) cannot be distinguished.  clearly the move to muddy epistemology and ontology in these thinkers has it’s ground.

yet as ground is precisely in question…

i’d like to spend some time with one of derrida’s better known texts: “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” (1966).  working through levi strauss’ research into the incest prohibition, derrida finds, with strauss, that the distinction between nature and culture is suspended in this universal no-no:

This scandal is the incest prohibition.  The incest prohibition is universal; in this sense one could call it natural.  But it is also a prohibition, a system of norms and interdicts; in this sense one could call it cultural…  Derrida, Structure Sign and Play.

and yet how did we get to incest from epistemology and ontology?  allow me a long quote from levi strauss to help make the connection:

let us suppose then that everything universal in man relates to the natural order, and is characterized by spontaneity, and that everything subject to a norm is cultural and is both relative and particular.  we are then confronted with a fact, or rather, a group of facts, which, in the light of previous definitions, are not far removed from a scandal; we refer to that complex group of beliefs, customs, conditions and institutions described succinctly as the prohibition of incest, which presents, without the slightest ambiguity, and inseparably combines, the two characteristics in which we recognize the conflicting features of two mutually exclusive orders.  it constitutes a rule, but a rule which, alone among all social rules, possesses at the same time a universal character.      from the elementary structures of kinship, strauss.

in the slippage, what derrida will call the play of nature and culture, the red thread is revealed in its unraveling: what we had posited as natural, as out there, as ontological is at one with what we had posited as cultural, as historically situated, as epistemological.  the impact of this find is dramatic: revealing for both strauss and derrida that the ways we know, our abilities to think a thing, an institution, a prohibition shape what we see and encounter in the world.  this is not too far afield from heidegger, either.  and on first read, perhaps this is the derrida everyone seems to know..? the derrida taylor all too quickly (and bizarrely) associates with ‘the spiritual stance of self-making… (p. 16)’ the derrida who claims the center is de-centered, oddly unaware that he is re-positing a center in the statement of decentering.  ahhh… if all our theoretical enemies were only so easy…

permit me another long quote, this time from derrida, to re-complicate this story:

This example [incest prohibition], too cursorily examined, is only one among many others, but nevertheless it already shows that language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique.  Now this critique may be undertaken along two paths, in two “manners.” Once the limit of the nature/culture opposition makes itself felt, one might want to question systematically and rigorously the history of these concepts.  This is a first action.  Such a systematic and historic questioning would be neither a philological nor a philosophical action in the classic sense of these words.  To concern oneself with the founding concepts of the entire history of philosophy, to deconstitute them, is not to undertake the work of the philologist or of the classic historian of philosophy.  Despite appearances, it is probably the most daring way of making the beginnings of a step outside of philosophy.         Structure, Sign and Play (p. 285 in Writing and Difference), [brackets] mine.

so here, finally and surely, this is the derrida we all know..?  moving through the history of philosophy, systematically pulling up concepts that complicate binaries and deconstitute foundations?  surely this is the derrida who initiates the return to solipsism, to what did taylor call it… “self-making” as he peels back all other founding possibilities to reveal the worms below.

still again, this derrida, this antagonist is yet all too simple:

the other choice (which I believe corresponds more closely to Levi-Strauss’s manner), in order to avoid the possibly sterilizing effects of the first one, consists in conserving all these old concepts within th domain of empirical discovery while here and there denouncing their limits, treating them as tools which can still be used.  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 expolited, and they are employed to destroy the old machinery to which they belong and of which they themselves are pieces.  this is how the language of the social sciences criticizes itself.  levi-strauss thinks that in this way he can separate method from truth, the instruments of the method and the objective significations envisaged by it.  one could almost say that this is the primary affirmation of levi-strauss; in any event, the first words of the Elementary Structures are: “Above all, it is beginning to emerge that this distinction between nature and society (‘nature’ and ‘culture’ seem preferable to us today) while of no acceptable historical significance, does contain a logic, fully justifying its use by modern sociology as a methodological tool.”

given his way of surprise, and the very move to rethink essence and appearance, it would be premature to say this is in fact Derrida as he’d prefer to be read.  but in the three derrida’s we’ve now seen and read, the pop image (if there is anything popular about these sorts of people, discussions, etc..) begins to shift and dissolve.  stepping just back or aside from a rigorous upheaval of history,  in this derrida, in this paragraph, we read derrida reading strauss and there is a (shocking?) pragmatism in the idea that even broken tools (metaphysics) must/can/will still be used, must still be taken up, until something better comes along.  does this give pause to the idea that derrida was unaware of the metaphysical loop that his digs at metaphysics inevitably succumb to..?  to say that derrida, even heidegger were aware that there is no escape – there is no outside of the text – is not to say there is nothing beyond what we make up, what we construct.  it is to say, amongst other things, that in our very attempts to get ‘beyond’ epistemology, metaphysics, etc… we are repeatedly and undeniably caught in the webs we are examining and that derrida was clearly aware of this.

yet moving back into this last quoted paragraph, derrida writes: “the other choice… in order to avoid the sterilizing effects of the first one…” after positing two paths derrida recommends not the one less traveled by, but the one less sterile.  less sterilizing.  in the last two years, derrida has either come under harsh attack or dismissed with the argument that you can’t do anything with deconstruction except deconstruct.  perhaps this call for something other than sterility, (would its opposite be passion? (re)production? even a little dirt?) could also give pause to this critique.

and where does this leave us in regard to the epistemology/ontology distinction we began with?  while i am accusing taylor of such a mix-up, am i not inevitably engaged in the same cycle?

my response to taylor’s call is to offer something other than what he has been served thus far and to ask of him and his readers what precisely they are after in calling nietzsche, derrida and foucault to account.  in the process i hope i have debunked a few of the most sterilizing myths surrounding what derrida was writing, where deconstruction found its own fathers (heidegger, strauss) and clarified the stakes for what could eventually begin to formulate a response to Taylor.  to read derrida as thinker of nihilism, via nietzsche, is not to read him close enough.  concluding with derrida, this point is made with voice and vigor:

turned towards the lost or impossible presence of the absent origin, this structuralist thematic of broken immediacy is therefore the saddened, negative, nostaligic, guilty, Rousseauistic side of the thinking of play whose other side would be 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 his offered to an active interpretation.  This affirmation then determines the noncenter otherwise than as loss of center…

there are thus two interpretations of interpretation, of structure, of sign, of play.  the one seeks to decipher, dreams of deciphering a truth or an origin which escapes play and the order of the sign, and which lives the necessity of interpretation as an exile.  the other, which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who, throughout the history of metaphysics or of ontotheology – in other words, throughout his entire history – has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play…

for my part, although these two interpretations must acknowledge and accentuate their difference and define their irreducibility, 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 triviall; and in the second, because we must first try to conceive of the common ground, and the differance of this irreducible difference…                  derrida, structure sign and play [extractions from the concluding paragraphs].

if taylor was asking for a way to engage the world and others, the move to ‘conceive of the common ground…’


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…

*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.

hell is other people

In Friendship, Love, Subjection, what is philosophy? on May 23, 2009 at 10:24 pm

(This is, at present, the first chapter of my PhD dissertation for the European Graduate School, 2009)


Hell is other people.[1]   – Jean Paul Sartre

Before the island – and Capri will never be Patmos – there will have been a Promised Land.  How to improvise and allow oneself to be surprised in speaking of it?[2] Jacques Derrida

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”[3]Friedrich Nietzsche

You know the story – “God is Dead” and, tritely put: Without him, life is meaningless, absurd.  Everything is permissible, nothing is permitted.  In this wasteland, it’s just a short trip to the concept of hell, but I’d like to contend in what follows, that it’s a trip we rarely take.

Or it’s a trip we always take.  Or, more accurately, a trip we always takes.

If I could only back up and explain.  It’s a bit of a long story, but if you’ll ride with me (as you already are, as you already have, as we already do the moment we commit to read) perhaps we’ll find the ticket to, well… I’d like to say to hell and back but there aren’t any round trips to this sort of work.  We can’t even say its a one-way, because the very point is that one, One, has long since been dead.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’m getting ahead of us. 

So where were we…

Hell is other people.  – Jacques Derrida

I’m not sure if he ever said it, or wrote it, just like that.  But I would like to propose, that in many ways ‘hell is other people’ is much of what Derrida was ever writing.  I’m not talking about his style (and then I am) and I’m definitely not talking about the way he’s been read in much of analytic American annals, (if we can call that reading at all).  What I’m proposing is not even my own (as we’ll see through Kant and common sense, nothing ever is): but… what if Derrida took us all straight to hell and we still haven’t read the memo?  Or again, rather, we still hasn’t read the memo?  And now here, at this second profanation of [we] I’ll have to start explaining or you’re left to wonder whether I’m trying to make we into something more than it is.  Something more than it is.  It is.  I am.  You are.  Isn’t it interesting how being makes its way into any conversation? 

Which brings us to:

Hell is other people.  – Martin Heidegger

Well he didn’t actually say that either.  Not in that way.  Heidegger called it mit-sein.  Being-with.  We’ll get to Heidegger and his being-with in more detail in a later chapter.  For now it might be enough to say that Heidegger, Derrida’s advisor and mentor, was part of we’s undoing and far be it from me not to give Heidegger his due.  Do. Due. Debt is what we’re getting at.  Debt is what we are getting at precisely because this hell isn’t about repayment at all.  It isn’t punishment, torture or purification.  What it is, what we are, as Heidegger spells out in Being and Time, is an originary being-with, without moral judgment, though judgment itself (specifically Kant’s critique thereof) does, awkwardly, hold everything to the stake.

So once again, but never the same:

Hell is other people.  – Kevin Hart

From Heidegger’s being-with to Derrida’s being without.  In a lovely little article entitled ‘Without Derrida’ Hart, in ten short pages, takes us straight to hell in a hand basket[4].  No, not really a hand basket, and it would be a shame to call it straight, but by imposing, importing and imparting a few clever frames, Derrida takes Immanuel Kant, and all of us along with him, to hell in a hand basket.   At least that is the story I’m trying to tell. 

Onto and into that story.  It’s a story involving many characters, no author and no less than one critical slip in judgment.  It is my hope that together, we’ll find hell at the end.  For us, quite frankly, the point is that there is no other way.

So off we go:

We’ll begin at the end, with Kevin Hart & Derrida’s first visit to Yale.  Which of course brings others in its (his, their?) wake.  In other words, Derrida brings friends (more on friendship after more on mit-sein), with Kant being the first fellow in question to inaugurate the ‘we’, if you will.  And, I suppose, even if you won’t.

According to Hart: Derrida arrives at Yale in 1975 with a word: sans.  He brings it in a frame.  Or he brings it from a frame.  The truth is (to be found in painting) this frame comes in through Derrida’s recently published “Parergon” from late 1974[5].  For Hart, this frame is the frame of a portrait, the portrait of Immanuel Kant reflecting back into Derrida’s own peinture.  And of that portraiture…

Immanuel Kant.  A man of many talons and talents, we are here interested in him for the way that he and Derrida introduce an impossibly important and imported ‘we’. [6]  For Kant, the we slips in through a dis.cussion on dis.interest.  Kant calls it the ‘Analytic of the Beautiful’…  “But it is readily apparent that this is merely a mistaken confusion of words…”[7]

Kant did his best to help clarify the confusion: beauty, pleasure, desire, interest, disinterest – who but Immanuel could keep them all straight?  And straight was quite the goal.  No overlapping, no confusion and no crossings of any kind.  With everything at stake, “…the solution of this problem is key to the critique of taste, and so is worthy of all attention.”[8]  ‘Worthy of all attention?’  Has taste ever had so much (dis)interest directed its way? 


“Taste is the faculty of judging an object or a mode of representation by means of a delight or aversion apart from any interest.  The object of such a delight is called beautiful.”[9]

 You know the drill.  For Kant, for a thing to be called beautiful it must be of no interest to the one calling it such.  The dis.interested party must not be in want, in desire, in need of the thing called beautiful in anyway.[10]

“This definition of the beautiful is derivable from the foregoing definition of it as an object of delight apart from any interest.  So where anyone is conscious that his delight in an object is with him independent of interest, it is inevitable that he should judge the object as one containing a ground of delight for all human beings.  For, since the delight is not based on any inclination of the subject (or on any other deliberate interest), but the judging subject feels himself completely free in respect of the liking which he accords to the object, he can find as reason for his delight no personal conditions to which his own subjective self might alone be party.  Hence he must regard it as resting on what he may also presuppose in every other person; and therefore he must believe that he has reason for expecting a similar delight from everyone.  Accordingly he will speak of the beautiful as if beauty were a feature of the object  and the judgement were logical (forming a cognition of the object by concepts of it); although it is only aesthetic, and contains merely a reference of representation of the object to the subject; – because it still bears this resemblance to the logical judgement, that it may be presupposed to be valid for everyone. “[11]

In this long paragraph we have the onset of the Derridian/Kantian ‘we’ sneaking in with the analytic of the beautiful.  In the first place, Kant again reiterates that taste is exhibited by those who can name the beautiful, without personal interest therein.  Yet this move, were it simply a subjective preference would equate beauty with pleasure as something individual, pleasing and clearing interested.  To distinguish beauty from pleasure Kant introduces the universally subjective – that which each individual recognizes as beautiful and in recognizing it as such assumes it to be beautiful for all subjects who are without interest in the thing in question. The turn here is that the subject will “…speak of the beautiful as if beauty were a feature of the object  and the judgement were logical (forming a cognition of the object by concepts of it); although it is only aesthetic, and contains merely a reference of representation of the object to the subject;..” What evolves in this mode of thinking is common sense – the community of tasteful subjects who agree to talk about the object as if beauty was a feature of that object.  “The judgement of taste expects agreement from everyone; and a person who describes something as beautiful insists that everyone ought to give the object in question his approval and follow suit in describing it as beautiful.”[12]

 Here, at ‘ought’ we are now ready to make the leap, to Derrida, to religion and morality, to the ‘we’ we’ve been tracking all along.

Much has been made of ‘ought’ and battles over is vs ought rage in countless domains.  Yet for us, for we, Kant’s ought is the source of a critical slip both for and from Kant, from a presumed disinterest to a very clear and mounting interest.  What I mean is, ought is an imperative.  It is the force of weight, of duty, even moral obligation, applied to a given thing or idea.  But in the universe Kant has been describing to us, one of disinterested taste proclamations, there is no object, no quality of an object which could induce a moral ‘ought’ of any kind.  The reason being that the beautiful, as we noted above is simply agreed to be such by a community of agreeable taste definers.  Essentially the ought arises from this agreeable ‘we’ precisely because it cannot and must not arise from the object called beautiful in order for it to be called such.

While the beginnings of Derrida’s introduction of this impossible ‘we’ first appear in the “Parergon” (1974), Derrida again introduces this we in “Faith and Knowledge” (2002).  Clearing up what we called above a ‘“… merely a mistaken confusion of words…”[13] Derrida takes the brunt of Kant’s aesthetic critique and applies it to the realm where it has always been best suited: that of morality and religion.  Derrida begins this shift from framing to the frame with a question:

Are we ready to measure without flinching the implications and consequences of the Kantian thesis?  The latter seems strong, simple and dizzying: the Christian religion would be the only truly ‘moral religion…[14]

In the 28-year lapse between the introduction of the Kantian we in the “Parergon” and its most forceful iteration in Acts of Religion, Derrida’s readers indeed answered his question of readiness in the negative.  “Are we ready to measure…”  Perhaps we didn’t hear.  Perhaps we still can’t hear: accustomed to listening for one clear Voice in the wilderness, perhaps voices, a chorus, the chora, split even amongst themselves are something for which our ears still need tuning.   So perhaps if we hear it again:  In the lengthy quote below, Derrida applies the form of Kant’s analytic of the Beautiful to the questions of morality.  No longer are we looking at a community who must, in common sense, uphold the beauty of what is beautiful in agreement, we are now looking at how community itself again must assume the non-identity of not only the beautiful, but the good as well. As Hart writes it:

If the Kantian principle of purposiveness without purpose denies the convertibility of the transcendentals, detaching beauty from truth and the good, the Kantian philosophy of religion fastens onto the good and, severing it from divine love, refigures it as duty.  Derrida adjusts this enlightenment model by a swift and simple move, one learned by combining lessons from Hyppolite and Blanchot: the absolutely singular is no longer God but the other person, leaving both ethics and religion to function in terms of faith alone, without a vision of the good.[15]

Derrida fleshes this out this ‘swift and simple’ move in the following quote, taken from Acts of Religion:

1. In the definition of “reflecting faith” and of what binds the idea of pure morality indissolubly to Christian revelation, Kant recurs to the logic of a simple principle, that which we cited a moment ago verbatim: in order to conduct oneself in a moral manner, one must act as though God did not exist or no longer concerned himself with our salvation.  This shows who is moral and who is therefore Christian, assuming that a Christian owes it to himself to be moral: no longer turn towards God at the moment of acting in good faith; act as though God had abandoned us.  In enabling us to think (but also to suspend in theory) the existence of God, the freedom or the immortality of the soul, the union of virtue and of happiness, the concept of “postulate” of practical reason guarantees this radical dissociation and assumes ultimately rational and philosophical responsibility, the consequence here in this world, in experience, of this abandonment.  Is this not another way of saying that Christianity can only answer to its moral calling and morality, to its Christian calling if it endures in this world, in phenomenal history, the death of God, well beyond the figures of the Passion?  That Christianity is the death of God thus announced and recalled by Kant to the modernity of the Enlightenment?…

2. With regard to this logic, to its formal rigour and to its possibilities, does not Heidegger move in a different direction?…[16]

While we will deal with Heidegger in a bit, centuries past the enlightenment we are still not ready to hear about morality[17], we are still blocking the repercussions of ‘common sense.’[18] 

Yet it is this very common sense we are asked by Derrida’s Kant to hear as ‘we’.  A very different way of being together, being in common, as Hannah Arendt clearly states it:

Common sense for Kant did not mean a sense common to all of us, but strictly that sense which fits us into a community with others, makes us members of it and enables us to communicate things given by our five private senses… Common sense, by virtue of its imaginative capacity, can have present in itself all those who actually are absent.  It can think, as Kant says, in the place of everybody else, so that when somebody makes the judgment, this is beautiful, he does not mean merely to say this pleases me… but he claims assent from others because in judging he has already taken them into account and hence hopes that his judgments will carry a certain general, though perhaps not universal, validity.[19]

Hannah Arendt, positioned herself to both receive and question the repercussions of this common sense.  It is in her work that we can most clearly re-cycle to our beginning thread… And at the risk of overstating, to continue the iterations we’ve been making:

Hell is other people. – Hannah Arendt.

While Sartre depicted this condition, in “No Exit”, as group torture, I am trying to evoke something slightly more banal (though utterly outside or yes, ‘beyond good and evil’) in repeating his famous phrase.  Hell is other people: or, outside of and without God, a domain traditionally known as hell precisely for its Divine Lack, for Kant and Derrida, (as for Sartre, Heidegger and Arendt albeit differently) there is nothing more and nothing less than other people.  We.  Us.  A socially constructed group to be sure, we have invented our.selves in common sense.  As post-structuralism has amply and avidly pointed out, this constructed un.founding opens the possibility of resistance and freedom (think Judith Butler) but also reveals ‘the unbearable lightness of being’ when, as Arendt’s work points out we are all that is responsible for our own most heinous histories. 

“How strange and how frightening it suddenly appeared that the very terms we use to designate these things  “morality,” with its Latin origin, and “ethics,” with its Greek origin – should never have meant more than usages and habits.  And also that two thousand five hundred years of thought, in literature, philosophy and religion, should not have brought forth another word, notwithstanding all the highflown phrases, all assertions and preachings about the existence of a conscience which speaks with an identical voice to all men.  What had happened?  Did we finally awake from a dream?”[20]

Indeed, what has happened?  From the dream of heaven, of redemption and even now from common sense, are  ‘we’ yet awake to… simply, us?   Nothing more, nothing less?  The Kantian community of common sense, where both terms (common and sense) must be put to the question is again, as we will see in the chapters to follow, under needful redefinition on many fronts.  Yet what of this ‘we’ who might finally be ready to wake?  Are we ready yet, to hear? 

Are we?

Are we ready?

Are we yet?


[1] Sartre, Jean-Paul.  No Exit and three other plays.  Random House, New York.  1943.

[2] Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  trans Gil Anidjar, Routledge: New York, 2002.  p 48.

[3] Nietzsche, Friedrich.  Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  Penguin Press, New York.  1978.

[4] Hart, Kevin.  “Without Derrida”…

[5] The full text can now be found in:  Derrida, Jacques.  The Truth in Painting.  University of Chicago Press, 1987.

[6] While others (Marx) might have marked the mass filled ‘we’ as political capital, subordinating community to class, and yet others (Hegel) visualized ‘we’ as the embodiment of history moving through space and time, subordinating relationality to idea, still others (Freud, Lacan) saw we as all that stands outside the individual and signifies its death/castration.  Both pre- and pro- ceding this lineage, poignantly, albeit problematically, the Derridian-Kantian ‘we’ is subordinate only to the already given death of god.  In other words, whereas ‘we’ is a hollow function or means for Marx, Hegel and psychoanalysis, we, us, relationality is the sole end of and for Derrida’s Kant. 

[7] Kant, Immanuel.  The Critique of Judgement, Oxford University Press, 2007, p.39. 

[8] Kant, Immanuel.  P.48

[9] Kant, Immanuel, p. 42

[10] Kant, Immanuel: “Only when people’s needs have been satisfied can we tell who among the crowd has taste or not.”  …p. 42

[11] Ibid, page

[12] Kant, p. 69

[13] Kant, Immanuel.  The Critique of Judgement, …p.39. 

[14] 1 Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  trans Gil Anidjar, Routledge: New York, 2002.  p 50.

[15] Hart, Kevin.  “Without Derrida” The European Legacy.  Routledge.  Vol 12, no. 4, pp. 419-429.  2007.

[16] 2 Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  trans Gil Anidjar, Routledge: New York, 2002. p 50-51 [brackets] mine.

[17] Think Zizek as ‘more Christian than the Christians”.  Lacanian Ink #33 talk, at Tilton Gallery, May 23rd.

[18] Think Deleuze on common sense and good sense (in “The Image of Thought” from Difference and Repetition) as stultifying blocks to the possibility of thinking. 

[19] Arendt, Hannah.  Responsibility and Judgement… p 139, 140.

[20] Arendt, Hannah.  Responsibility and Judgement,  Random House: New York, 2003.  p 50.

the capital subject is redundant

In Love, philosophy as biography, Subjection on May 10, 2009 at 12:15 pm

there was an argument of sorts yesterday.  yet i think we can agree, at least, that I was not there.

i will not be here either.  but perhaps we can say i will have been here?

honestly, now, i don’t remember the question.  i said something about a chicken.  jill stauffer says (to the chicken or the egg) …the chicken comes from the future.  in that case i was and may be again, that chicken.  we do agree, i think, that even so i’ll never know it.

repetition repetition

so today i propose to reinsert myself in and through repetition.  perhaps that was the fault?  perhaps as jean-luc marion and alain badiou contend i cannot show up if i only show up once.  maybe i(t) should be said twice: repetition. repetition.  (already preceeded by “once more, once more”..?) perhaps, however, as peter eisenmann realized when he began to sign his names and projects twice, it is an underwriting of what refuses to be underwritten… or as Derrida points out in the copyright has no insurer.

no in.surance.

so .i. re-

petition: trans. to make a request or supplication to; spec. to address a written petition to an authority in respect of a particular cause; to make a formal application to a court.  

(oxford english dictionary)

which court, which authority?  are we not already speaking of a certain sort of religion?

…however little may be known of religion in the singular, we do know that it is always a response and responsibility that it is always a response and responsibility that is prescribed, not chosen freely in an act of pure and abstractly autonomous will.  there is no doubt that it implies freedom, will and responsibility but let us try to think this; will and freedom without autonomy.  Whether it is a question of sacredness, sacrificiality or of faith, the other makes the law, the law is other: to give ourselves back, and up, to the other.  To every other and to the utterly other.

(Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion.  p 71)

will and freedom without autonomy.  we know where this goes.  kant at least.  calvin most definitely.  can we escape this?  is it the ‘you’ that promises escape and what of promising?  

it hurts, but stay here with me.  i am(is) always a false promise.  i am always an outside.  a temporary convergence, you could say a binding, or even a gathering… 

Assuring oneself of a provenance of etymologies.  the best illustration would be given by the divergence concerning the two possible etymological sources of the word religio: (a) relegere, from leger (“harvest, gather”): Ciceronian tradition continued by W. Otto, J.-B Hofmann, Benveniste; (b) religare, from ligare (“to tie, bind”).  this tradition would go from lactantius and tertullian to kobbert, ernout-meillet, pauly wissowa.  in addition to the fact that etymology never provides a law and only provides material for thinking on the condition that it allows itself to be thought as well, we shall attempt later to define the implication or tendency <charge> common to the two sources of meaning thus distinguished.  beyond a case of simple synonyms, the two semantic sources perhaps overlap.  they would even repeat one another not far from what in truth would be the origin of repetition, which is to say, the division of the same.            

(Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion, p. 71 bold: mine)

and of course the bold is never mine.  it isn’t derrida’s either.  and it is.  he shares it with another.  (and if i had a footnote in this format perhaps we could think jean-luc nancy’s sharing: at once a division amongst and a common between.  like sharing grapes.  but without a footnote..?  here in the body, is that possible?)

religare, relegere.  to bind and to gather.  

in the definition of “reflecting faith” and of what binds the idea of pure morality indissolubly to Christian revealation, Kant recurs to the logic of a simple principle, that which we cited a moment ago verbatim: in order to conduct oneself in a moral manner, one must act as though God did not exist or no longer concerned himself with our salvation.  

(Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion, p. 51)

here i have stumbled into something perhaps i should not have seen.  an intimacy between Derrida and Zizek so profound, an intimacy that moves from profundity to surface, all surface.  

My desperate problem is how to draw, how to extract the Christian notion of redemption from this financial transaction logic.  This is what I’m desperately looking for.    (Zizek, Slavoj.  On Divine Self-Limitation and Revolutionary Love, an Interview at Syracuse University)


When Marx holds the critique of religion to be the premise of all ideology-critique, when he holds religion to be the ideology par excellence, even for the matrix of all ideology and of the very movement of fetishization, does his position not fall, whether he  would have wanted it or not, within the parergonal framework of this kind of rational criticism?  Or rather, more plausible but also more difficult to demonstrate, does he not already deconstruct the fundamentally Christian axiomatics of Kant? This could be one of our questions, the most obscure one no doubt, because it is not at all certain that the very principles of the Marxist critique do not still appeal to a hererogeneity between faith and knowledge, between practical justice and cognition.  This heterogeneity, by the way, may ultimately not be irreducible to the inspiration or to the spirit of Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.  All the more since these figures of evil discredit, as much as the accredit, the “credit” which is the act of faith.  The exclude as much as they explain, they demand perhpas more than ever this recourse to religion, to the principle of faith, even if it is only that of a radically fiduciary form of the “reflecting faith” already mentioned. 

Derrida, Jacques.  “Faith and Knowledge,” Acts of Religion, p. 53)

996 words into this essay, this repetition, I am racking up quite a debt. but the point is that “I” is only ever a racking up, a ratcheting up of a debt that cannot be paid.  faith, credit, fiduciary terms: we are talking about promise.  unfulfillable promise.  a promise to respond, to respond.ability. this is the bottom line to any subject.  these are the terms of any subjectivity.  and this is a bank filled with empty accounts.  blank ledgers, even if not blank slates.  

given such poverty – why talk in these terms?  why speak in terms of debt or guilt, … in any of these broke.n discourses?  

perhaps that is why i can rarely speak.  i work in words to, what… nudge? invade from the inside? (didn’t deleuze call it buggery?) perhaps. i am . viral.  parasitical?  penicillin? 

insertions, injections, implosions… subjectivity, like capitalism, promises the impossible and untenable (undesirable) universal. it/they promise and project, hedging bets on markets that fall through working hands like grains of sand.silicon.sand.  the ‘as if’, the creation of smooth space proposes a life that is. elsewhere.  ‘this can’t be all that there is’.  yet if we can let capitalism run its full course, could we not let the subject do (when it already is never and exactly) the same?

the history of what…

In what is philosophy? on April 5, 2009 at 10:16 pm

it might be a question of form.  

of what is in-form,


the question is: what is philosophy?  

i read it daily.  i have books of it lined up on my shelf.  but when pressed to think of how to present it to new readers, how to teach it to undergraduate students, how could i be so shocked to find out that it is only what it is and cannot be what it is not?

the problem, for me, began as follows: in thinking through a potential undergraduate syllabus, i started looking for women.  i found the token essays in the more recent anthologies (usually simone de beauvoir and helene cixous) but started wondering about the women who wrote during the suffragist movement, and then the men who wrote during the american civil war, and the people who have long written about class struggle.  the more i looked for these people the more deeply they disappeared and the further they disappeared the more disheartened i became.

in frustration, as usual, i intellectualized the problem and leaned on my mentors:  i thought about ronell and derrida, about the margins of philosophy, about discourses on inclusion and exclusion.

and then, in doing so, i realized my mistake.

in 1954 Heidegger wrote an essay titled ‘what is called thinking’… where he left philosophy, the history of metaphysical thought, behind for a different pursuit.  perhaps part of what heidegger recognized is that philosophy is a narrow history of a very particular sort of questioning.  it is not the ‘love of wisdom’ it’s name purports: it is the history of posing and answering a very narrow set of questions, beginning in a very particular time and place. and while this specificity doesn’t excuse philosophy for all that it ignored and silenced, it is clearly part of what has lead to all the late modernist and post-modernist’s disciplinary death cries.  as the field of philosophers expanded, philosophy as it was known necessarily burst at the seams with new, needful infusions.  it brought ‘theory’ in its wake, it opened to include not only race, class and gender theory, but also literature, psychoanalysis, music, art, science and media discourses…

today, standing in the middle of this outpouring, i, unthinkingly, looked around in search of texts to teach, open and explain the worlds of theory that are whirling past me.  struck by the fecundity of my time i was shocked to look back and see the dearth philosophy had traversed.  and at this funny juncture, the question again stands: 

what is philosophy?  

is it a history of a particular questioning?  is it a narrow misrepresentation of a broader history of thought?  is it a dominating dialogue, a power play that established what could and could not be known, thought, understood?  is it a tradition, a trust, even a belief that is now fading?  

or is even this an outmoded way of thinking about philosophy, when people like Badiou and Zizek, reacting to the breadth we’re all witnessing, are tightening down in both new and old ways, calling for philosophy’s return and revival?

what is philosophy?

what is philosophy?


In Subjection on March 1, 2009 at 2:50 pm


something about death is at issue in this shift.

the history of subjectivity, or the compilation of works on subjectivity lay bare the hegelian fantasy that I becomes an I only in the encounter with death.  pealing back from this encounter, I, or the slave, becomes aware of the value of life and enters into voluntary subjection as the price to be paid for continuing to live.  of course there has been work before and after hegel, on this ‘subject’ but even religious texts posit the true I as a consequence of death and/or sacrifice.

yet what about we?

for heidegger, das man is precisely the step before the encounter with death.  literally, ‘we’ are not dead yet.

for blanchot, I is spoken in death, as death, and community finds itself only in death.  

for derrida, we is impossible.  even the kantian we without god is still a we without we.

for nancy, we is all there is, yet he stands with blanchot in the community toward death as well.


is heidegger the only way out of this?  if the I can only be spoken after the tango with death, am I philosophically drawn to we, to ‘the they’ because that morbid romanticism isn’t necessary in the originary ‘being-with’…?