nikki moore

Posts Tagged ‘Martin Heidegger’

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.

do iphones work in the black forest?

In Uncategorized on April 28, 2009 at 11:33 pm

though it may sound like heresy,

(nod, wink and yes, think the intro to G.K. Chesterton’s book Heretics)

i’d like to think Heidegger’s work on the temporality of spatiality in Paragraph 70 of Being and Time via Google Maps.  on an iphone.  in nyc.  

no use arguing for life in the provinces, here… or then again, without further ado:

70. The Temporality of the Spatiality that is Characteristic of Dasein

We must now make an existential-analytical inquiry as to the temporal conditions, for the possibility of the spatiality that is characteristic of Dasein – the spatiality upon which in turn is founded the uncovering of space within-the-world.  We must first remember in what way Dasein is spatial.  Dasein can be spatial only as care, in the sense of existing as factically falling.  Negatively this means that Dasein is never present-at-hand in space, not even proximally.  Dasein does not fill up a bit of space as a Real Thing or item of equipment would, so that the boundaries dividing it from the surrounding space would themselves just define that space spatially.  Dasein takes space in; this is to be understood literally.  It is by no means just present-at-hand in a bit of space which its body fills up.  In existing, it has already made room for its own leeway.  (p. 419 of Being and Time translated by Macquarrie & Robinson)

it’s a quick easy leap, i admit.  but it goes like this:

imagine yourself coming up out of one of new york’s many subway stations.  you’re headed to see a show, or perhaps meeting a friend at a bar or bookstore you’ve not been to before… whatever your destination, the point is you are going somewhere and you need to figure out how to get there.  you, like all good soon-to-be-directionally-challenged city dwellers, turn to google maps, courtesy of the iphone in your pocket.  

if you’ve done this before, you’ll remember that when the phone is still down in the subway station, and even when you are clearly above ground, there is often a few second’s delay between the moment when you, the little blue glowing orb, appear onscreen and the time when the map fills in around you.  in those moments it is you as blue orb on a grey field.  you might say dasein is in the process of worlding, in fact.  yet, as the map fills in, the world worlds and you, Dasein, are temporalizing space in the simple act of reading the map in hand.  because you aren’t just thinking space.  you are looking at city blocks, blocks that break up the landscape, or rather, that compose the landscape… and with composition comes cadence, comes tempo, comes time: as you think ‘each block is how many minutes away from the bar?’ you are temporalizing spatiality as the blocks spatialize temporality.

so far… well,

not so good: there is a serious flaw in this google maps argument, but until we get to it, we can cheat and imagine that it is in the above way that, ‘literally’ as Heidegger inveighs, “Dasein takes space in… In existing, it has already made room for its own leeway.” 


As Simon Critchley pointed out during his lecture on this section of Being and Time, the word leeway above is translated from the german word for something like ‘play space’.  whether we think play space as Lacan’s chess board or simply as a child would think a sand box, the very problem with the google maps example above is that Heidegger directly resists representational modes and separations such as I have set up by linking you, the recent subway exitee and soon-to-be walker, with a blue dot on a handheld screen.  rather than opening into and becoming play space via Dasein’s world worlding, the iphone gives us a picture of that process which is necessarily and detrimentally stilting and reifying.  Picking up with Heidegger mid-thought:

To be able to say that Dasien is present-at-hand at a position in space, we must first take [auffassen] this entity in a way which is ontologically inappropriate. Nor does the distinction between  the ‘spatiality’ of an extended Thing and that of Dasein lie in the fact that Dasein knows about space; for taking space in [das Raum-einnehmen] is so far from identcal with a ‘representing’ of the spatial, that it is presupposed by it instead.

the problem with my google map analogy is thus clear: the knowing holder of the iphone, standing above an appearing map is precisely the errant present-at-hand and ‘knowing’ entity Heidegger is working to explain around and away.  in order for the google map analogy to work, you would in fact have to be the blue dot.

and that is, oddly, easy enough.  

if you had left your phone behind, if you had never taken it from your pocket to begin with, if you had simply mounted the subway stairs and come out street level, you would have the same experience.  the city opens up around you, the sidewalk sections, the blocks, the buildings all create spatial cadence and tempo and there you are, Dasein, ‘taking space in’ and ‘breaking into space’.

despite Heidegger’s thieving language here (what’s with all the breaking and taking…?) this doesn’t mean that technology is the enemy.  as i began with Chesterton, and as Critchley articulated in his lecture on the above paragraph in Heidegger when he said there are at least two ways to read Heidegger on technology, we might agree that heresy is the true domain of the hipster, or rather, now, post-luther, simply that which is a cool re-instating of the orthodox.  


now, if i could find an iphone app to quickly orient us all through heidegger’s relationship to orthodoxy, well then, that might truly be time and space worth mapping.



un.content.ed forms

In Love, resurrection, Subjection on April 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm


it may be an antiquated binary, form vs content.  and while it isn’t quite fair to collude it with the mind/body distinction, it is fair to say that martin heidegger went after both in Being and Time.  dasein, being-in-the-world, the read-to-hand: you know where this is going.  as did nancy after him.  for both of these theorists form is content is form.  in nancy there is skin, there is surface and this is the very content in question as well.  ronell complicates this in crack wars posing bodies of addiction: to literature, to mind, to love… where psychoanalysis meets heidegger meets reagan era politics (not so far behind our new obsession with the mexican border) things get more complicated.

as they should be…?


form vs. content: as zizek often says, ‘i have not lost my thread.’

so zizek’s thread.  we could call it badiou’s, we could call it st. paul’s.  but what we cannot call it is revolutionary.  that’s any easy put down, but a put down is not what i have in mind.  i’m all for derrida, and now recently zizek’s call toward the impossible possibility.  what i can’t stand behind (yet..?) is the move zizek, badiou and others are making toward a formal christianity, a mode of belief in the form, not the content, of a particular religious belief.  again, this is not because i’m for the content.  it is in fact that i am for change, i am for a way of shifting out of where we are and i’m just not sure that formalism is going to be enough to drive the needed change.


the puppet and the dwarf, published in 2003.  slavoj zizek.

st. paul: the foundations of universalism, published in 2003.  alain badiou. 

the political theology of paul, published in 2003.  from lectures given in 1987.  jacob taubes.

a jewish theologian, a lacanian psychoanalyst and a post-marxist mathematician all walk into a bar…


as fast as zizek thinks, it is still probably fair to say that the puppet and the dwarf was conceived at least a year before its publication.  that puts this response (hear: responsibility in all the best ways) somewhere in 2001 and 2002. while many other significant things happened in the world in 2001, 2 actions continue to eclipse the rest of life: the 9/11 attacks and america’s invasion of iraq. in 2002 Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie Le Pen ran for president of France.  the US created the iraq WMD threat, declared war on iraq, and, finally, froze Bin Laden’s assets.   and this is just what bubbled up to the surface.  suicide bombers went to work.  the US military complex continued to go to work.  and billboards all over the rural south continued to call people to prayer – not for peace, but for justice against the ‘evil doers’ of the world.  

nothing like the death of innocents, particularly the death of foreign muslims, to get us thinking about Christianity.


form vs. content

was it capitalism or otherwise that reared its head before and after 9-11?  what did Zizek and Badiou, among others, see in the world in 2001 and 2002 that brought them to st. paul?  ideology, certainly.  a form that was unaware of its content.  clearly.  but also a content fully in control of manipulating forms: Cheney, Rumsfeld… but then again, maybe not.  as Badiou continues to charge, capitalism is worldless, and you should hear all the echoes of Heidegger here as it is not that capitalism is otherworldly, or that it destroys cultures, but that it destroys the worlding of worlds, the environment of Dasein and mit-Dasein.  it is form without content. force without content.ment.


this is where things get strange.  within the inescapable confines of the worldless world of capitalism, Zizek and Badiou, post-marxists at least, continued to look for a way not out, but on-the-outs with capitalism.  did they need a leader?  did they need a lamp post?  what was the appeal of a jewish pharisee turned christian apostle?  

paul’s own path opens up some possibilites for thinking zizek’s appropriations: saul was  pharisee, a man of the law and the letter, a leader in stonings and persecutions of those who crossed the line.  he has a vision, a transformation ensues and saul becomes saul becomes the leader of the church of the excluded, the mouthpiece of universality  ‘there is neither  jew nor greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female…’

perfect.  in the shadow of a ‘you are for us or you are against us…’ wrapped up in market ideology and religious belief, the post-marxists find one from the inside, paul of tarsus, who is ready to wield both the sword and the pen for the cause.  the only problem is, well, of course… the cause.

i said this would get strange: during a time when religious rhetoric and christian collusions are at their peak, Zizek gets on board.  but he gets on board with a hollowed out version of christianity, one that is purely formal, one that sees a revolutionary dedicated to a cause, living and dying for that very cause… not that he agrees with that cause.  no, he just agrees with the move.  the man overturning the money changer’s tables – yes, ok, in the temple, but it could be, for zizek, anywhere.  the man who says you must hate your mother, ‘if anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-yes, even his own life-he cannot be my disciple…’ – yes, ok, for the love of God, but what is god but a universal, universality = equality… and there you  have it socialism revived as soon as we thrown out the content of both the forms that are paul and jesus.

of course, it isn’t that simple.  and zizek is well aware of the complexity: this is why we love him.

but what do we do with a form without content?  holding this up to revolutions past it is hard to see the french revolution as a move toward formal equality, and not the content thereof.  it is hard to see the american revolution as a driven by a form, but not belief.  even as i write this i am disturbed and displaced the distinction between form and content – so archaic in fact, but even if we withdraw from this divide, if we take up Nancy and Heidegger’s positions, we are even further away from the formal embraces of Zizek and Badiou’s work.


so what next?  as Susan Buck-Morss, Zizek and Badiou move toward the form of religious belief, even a specifically christian religious belief, consider this a sounding from somewhere close by, if not within.  in support, not detraction, but in earnest support – perhaps a tough love toward the above group’s dis.content.ment.  

yes, perhaps.

to cry or to mop over spilled milk…

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Hegel’s man is the type who starts off by crying over split milk (the Unhappy Consciousness confronted by the objective world).  Then he beings to ‘philosophise’ about it, and dries his eye, because he has come to know the situation as it really is.  Marx’s man will immediately point out that this is all very well, but the milk is still on the floor.  He will reach for the mop and do something about it.  Hegel’s man, however, still retains one potent defence.  he will regard the antics of his friend with an amused contempt, and point out to him how silly it is to get one’s knew dirty trying to clean the floor, when all the situation demands is a little high-level reflection.

From Marx’s Paris Writings – John MaGuire

though the floor would get muddled, we could read this with Heidegger’s ‘Letter on Humanism’ introducing not only Martin, but Jean Paul Sartre as well.  And then with Sartre, Beauvoir and already with Heidegger, Arendt.  

Sartre and Marx would mop.  Heidegger and Hegel would stand by and smirk, though hidden cameras might show the mops’ earlier arrivals via Heidegger’s hand.  Oddly, Arendt might call Zizek in, as inevitably he’d be waiting outside, pacing and wondering what Hitchcock would do with all these scenes and actors.

I’m being silly.  and then again, I’m not.  

What can be said about philosophy, about action, about thinking… now.  In a recent talk in NYC, Zizek said he was reading Lacan in order to bring the German Idealists back, knowing full well and admitting that such an action is really far more provocative, risque and risky then any of the art movements who claim to be pushing boarders and buttons in their skin bare works.  But is it really risky?  John Maguire reading Marx might say that until Zizek picks up the mop, he is all thought and no action.  Yet Marx himself, a prolific writer and theorist troubled those milky waters long before Maguire began to write about him.  

I’d like to side with Heidegger in the way he nullified the mind/body thought/action distinction.  Yet isn’t this where Heidegger’s own political alliances (with National Socialism) call us all to question? 

And isn’t the question precisely that of the nature of the call?

In a brilliant analysis of Heidegger’s understanding of the call of conscience, Avital Ronell pulls no punches: her debut text, the Telephone Book  proposes a multiplicity of splits, not of mind and body, or thought and action, but of mind and mind, and mind again.  We know this splitting as schizophrenia and her point is that the one called is never one.  The caller is never singular and someone is always on the line, be it an operator on the switch or a censor on the prowl… the caller and the called are never alone, are never only two, are never less than multiple.

what does this do to Praxis?  are we left either to smirk or to mop?  to we smirk first, and mop later?  do we smirk and find someone else to mop?  

i am asking.  i am acting.  i am asking.

void transaction

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2009 at 10:45 pm

there is something i am trying to say.

i could start it around amy hollywood: hysterical, heretical women… speaking, over-speaking and hyper-signifying.

i could start it with marx as well, the gaping empty proletariat upon which history was to be made, to be written.

i could work it from badiou’s void, from heidegger’s nothing, lacan’s lack…

kierkegaard’s don juan.

yes, now i’ve hit it.

or they  have.

or they’d like to…

irigaray, though i don’t agree with her bases, begins these rounds.  the open, the clearing, the forgotten void is that from which all thinking comes and fills and endlessly forgets.  she could have gone further.  but she didn’t have to as marx, badiou, heidegger, lacan… they had already gone the distance.  

what distance?  what’s the point?

what we’ve looked at as an obsession with death, with violent clearings, with absence, lack and emptiness is, well… we’ve been here before

and again i’m just circling.  

coming up empty handed…

what about sublimation?  kristeva’s creativity?  

yes, this sounds right for the moment: filling the void, it is, like christianity in nietzsche in zupancic 

hyperspeak.  not the panacea, the numbing, but its opposite.  the influx of joy, passion, meaning and making.

we don’t call it hyperdrive any more, so what… networking?

is this social networking? making links to fill time and space?  

yes, maybe.  and what is specific about the way that is male, or at least not female is the insemination.  the dispersal into what appears to be nothing.  and certainly isn’t (if it is woman) and is (if it is lacan’s real, heidegger’s nothing)

now, now we are getting no.where.


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’…?

light as a…

In Subjection on November 10, 2008 at 9:03 pm

feather.  stiff as a board.

it’s a game you play in junior high, maybe earlier.  willing yourself to be lighter than air and hard as a rock.  

i could never make it work.

so today i’m reading zizek’s ticklish subject.  trying to read, trying to find to read…

and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Penelopiad’.


First, on ‘The Deadlock of Transcendental Imagination, or, Martin Heidegger as a Reader of Kant’:

in a fascinating discussion of heidegger reading kant, zizek points to (creates?) a mis-step in heidegger’s reading of kant’s theory of the imagination.  to do so, zizek first proposes that Heidegger’s project is, contrary to popular belief, political.  It is a decisionism, Dasein’s decisionism given throwness and all the rest.  All the rest for Heidegger of course being an engagement with the nazi’s that zizek considers a wrong step in the right direction: i.e. rather than revamping the project of Being and Time to pull out the subjectivist transcendental centers that still remained (ex: starting with dasein to get to the existential analytic) (which are said to be the flaws that lead to his nazi affiliations) heidegger should have instead, stuck to those subjectivist approaches.  “nazism,” zizek writes, “was not a political expression of the ‘nihilist, demoniac potential of modern subjectivity’, but, rather its exact opposite: a desperate attempt to avoid this potential” (p.21).

(purportedly zizek means this for heidegger… because clearly…) but moving on…

along these lines, (those above) heidegger’s unfinished project of Being and Time is unfinished for the same reasons that heidegger saddled up with the nazi’s.  it is a problem of imagination.  really.  “what heidegger actually encountered in his pursuit of Being and Time was the abyss of radical subjectivity announced in Kantian transcendental imagination, and he recoiled from this abyss into his thought of the historicity of Being” (p.23).

the problem lies in designation.  with imagination being the site of spontenaity in Kant the question is: phenomenal or noumenal?  “on the one hand, [kant] conceives of transcendental freedom (‘spontenaity’) as noumenal: as phenomenal entities, we are caught in a the web of causal connections, while our freedom (the fact that, as moral subjects, we are free, self-originating agents) indicates the noumenal dimension.”  yet kant’s own reasoning shows that given access to the noumenal we would in fact be puppets, bound to the law and utterly dictated by it.  So whither transcendental freedom?

zizek points out that heidegger reads kant faithfully through this problematic and levels a fair critique at his regression to traditional metaphysics.  yet when kant (unknowingly?) splits the noumenal into two parts (that which cannot be known and that which appears to the subject as the unknowable) something radical takes place that opens a path for Hegel’s later reading of “imagination qua the ‘activity of dissolution” and ultimately gives zizek grounds to stake out an invasion/inversion of the subject.

Drawing from an amazing passage in Hegel’s phenomenology on this dissolution: “To break an idea up into its original elements is to return to its moments, which at least do not have the form of the given idea, but rather constitute the immediate property of the self.  …The activity of dissolution is the power and work of the undestanding, the most astonishing and mightiest of powers, or rather the absolute power. …But that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, what is bound and is actual only in its contects with others, should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom – this is the tremendous power of the negative, it is the energy of thought, of the pure ‘I'” (p.30).

the power of imagination, as cited in this passage from hegel is the power to tear apart.  It is not, then, reason which dissects and does violence to thought, but imagination which is a more originary violence, and always already ‘dismembering’ of thought.  zizek reiterates this in an investigation of kant’s work on the sublime, again inverting the traditional reading of the sublime as violent to thought, to reason, instead to the sublime which is the ‘real’ of imagination, barely veiled by reason as what it already is.  

“Our (Hegelian) point, however, is that this mythical/impossible starting point, the presupposition of imagination, is already the product, the result, of the imagination’s disruptive activity.  In short, the mythic, inaccessible zero-level of pure multitude not yet affected/fashioned by imagination is nothing but pure imagination itself, imagination at its most violent, as the activity of disrupting the continuity of the inertia of the pre-symbolic ‘natural’ Real” (p.33).

Ok, so then moving quickly as this recap is surely dragging…

‘The Passage through Madness’.  zizek resituates normality as a paranoiac psychosis (via lacan) and doesn’t stop before citing sexual difference (again via lacan) in kant’s work on the sublime.

where he goes next will have to wait until i’ve had some sleep…