Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Economy in Derrida and Kierkegaard

Well I have looked into my accounts. I find this wrong and this wrong. But, with God’s grace, I will rectify this and this. I will set right my accounts –“Grace,” James Joyce

This is the final line from “Grace,” a story in Joyce’s Dubliners. I begin here not to embark on a long interpretation of the story, but to enter into the strange role economy plays in both Kierkegaard and Derrida.

The quotation from Grace comes from the priest, Father Purdon, who has mis-interpreted a bible verse in order to appease the wordly minds of the businessmen he is preaching addresses. The priest argues that our relationship with God can be settled and set right with God’s grace rather than our own agency. There is no sense here of Levinas and Derrida’s notion of infinite responsibility or Heidegger’s original being-guilty.

 The idea that we could ever settle our account with God remains in a circular economy and an economy of the universal—an economy based on money. Money is the universal equivalent—it is that by which everything can be measured and calculated. As Kierkeggard writes, in a money economy, everything can be “had at a bargain price” such that we are no longer sure if anyone “will make a bid” (5). In this society, everything is leveled to the universal.

What Kierkegaard calls the “religious” escapes the logic of the universal and the logic of exchange (which money makes possible). This is what happens when we pretend to “understand” and “account” for Abraham’s act with a moral that can be universally understood. Rather, Kierkeggard argues we need to keep the “anxiety” that comes with Abraham’s actions. If we do not keep this passion and anxiety, then we have tried to “mediate” Abraham’s actions through the universal. Kierkegaard contrasts Abraham’s “ordeal” (rather than ‘spiritual trial’) with a New Testament story: “What is omitted from Abraham’s story is the anxiety, because to money I have no ethical obligation [. . .] So we talk and in the process of talking interchange the two terms, Issac and the best, and everything goes fine” (28).

If for Kierkegaard, the religious is different from the ethical, Derrida will deconstruct this distinction. How does one distinguish between the ethical and the religious if we agree with Derrida that “we no longer know who is called Abraham” (Derrida 79) (also see pgs 83-84 for this in relation to Levinas)? Rather, the situation of Abraham is everyone’s situation at every moment: “As soon as I enter into a relation with the other [. . .] I know I can respond only by sacrificing ethics, that is by sacrificing whatever obliges me to also respond, in the same way, in the same instant, to all the others” (Derrida 69). At all times, we have given every other (who is wholly other) the kiss of death. We let many others die (we sacrifice them) so that we may live. Thus, even when I take responsibility for one other, I am irresponsible with respect to every other. In this way, Derrida de-mystifies Kierkegaard’s reading so that the absolute other we respond to (by not responding) does not necessarily have to be God as the one, true, transcendent being, but rather to everyone. This understanding shakes the distinction between the religious and the ethical.

In a similar way, Derrida uses Kierkegaard’s reading of the Abraham story to deconstruct the notion that Christian faith somehow escapes all economy. It may be a different economy, but it is still an economy. Derrida argues that Kierkegaard ‘christianizes’ the Abraham story through his subtle biblical reference to Matthew. Derrida quotes the infamous passage in Matthew about turning the other cheek to show that this Christian acting is still with an economy, but one deferred: “for instead of paying back the slap on the cheek [. . .] one is to offer the other cheek. It is a matter of suspending the strict economy of exchange, of payback, of giving and getting back” (102). Thus, the Christian hopes for a reward, but a reward in heaven.

 My question is whether this Christian attitude is different from Abraham’s. Derrida writes that, “Abraham had consented to suffer death or worse, and that without calculation, without investing, beyond any perspective of reappropriation, beyond economy, without any hope of remuneration” (95). But in a way, did he not hope somehow that God may “pay him back” somehow either in heaven or even on earth? Does not Derrida talk about how God could have perhaps provided him a new Isaac to replace this one (as if he were substitutable?) To put it another way, is Abraham’s action still within the Christian economy of hoping for infinite reward, but an infinite reward suspended? If so, what does that say about the possibility of faith, belief, credit, and the gift?

Another way to ask this question might be to explore whether Derrida thinks this Christianity to come, this “proto-Christian” ethics is something desirable—the idea that we should give without calculation. But is this even possible? Furthermore, his ending on Nietzsche, who seems to argue that Christianity participates in a kind of Hegelian sublimation where “Christian justice denies itself and so conserves itself in what seems to exceed it; it remains what it cases to be, a cruel economy, a commerce, a contract involving debt and credit, sacrifice and vengeance” (115). Is the Christianity Nietzsche critiques different than this other Christianity of the gift?

 Perhaps Derrida’s attention to Christ’s teachings rather than the Pauline interpretation of Christ’s sacrifice for man is significant. The Christianity that would acknowledge that God is not a transcendent being would be an ethics without one particular messiah. We would not owe infinitely to God or to Christ. There would be no ‘salvation,’ no coming to terms with our debt to the other who is every other.

This ethics of the other then would be haunted by Judeo-Christian thought, but it would be without salvation. This ethics would be an ethics not based on calculation, where that be an earthly calculation of goods or ‘treasures’ stored in the heart or heaven. What is the use of referring to this ethics in the name of Christianity with all of its metaphysical connotations? It does seem that God is not only the other in the sense of the other person, but that we are also other to ourself and I think Derrida is close to Levinas and even Heidegger in this passage: “As soon as such a structure of conscience exists, of being-with-onself, of speaking [. . .] as soon as there is secrecy and secret witnessing within me, and for me, then there is what I call God [. . .] God is in me, he is the absolute ‘me’ or ‘self’, he is that structure of invisible interiority that is called, in Kierkegaard’s sense, subjectivity” (108). Would this be Christianity? Does it matter if we argue for it in its name? And should we?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unmaking the Public University

I just finished reading Christopher Newfield's Unmaking the Public University. The blurb on the back of the book scared me a bit: "Unmaking the Public University is the story of how conservatives have maligned and restructured public universities in a campaign to end public education's democratizing influence on American society." While this accurately describes the major thrust of the book, it makes it sound like the entire book is a polemic against conservatives. While there are moments where Newfield's alignment is clear, in my moderate-liberal opinion, the book achieves its goals with academic rigor and fair argument. Rarely is there a place in the text where I felt like Newfield did not support his claims with contextualized evidence.

One of the most impressive is his chapter "Blame Academic Crowd" and the appendix "Flaws of the Liberal Bias Campaign" where Newfield takes up typical conservative reactions to academia's supposed reactions to 9/11. In the former, he criticizes the document ACTA, a brainchild of David Horowitz where "public voices" are contrasted with "campus voices." However, Newfield points out that many categories of statements are jumbled together in the "campus voices" and are furthermore decontextualized. To remedy this misrepresentation, Newfield skillfully organizes the statements into different types, which allowed us to see that only a fraction of the statements were blatantly anti-American in their essence.Newfield explains these comments as overly-emotional, comments caught up in the moment of reacting against our government's actions. However, there are several informed critiques that call for further study of contextual knowledge rather than an "attack on America." For instance (notably #75 in the list of 100):
"We need to think about what could have produced the frustrations that caused these crimes. To have that kind of hatred is a phenomenon we have to try to understand" --Director of the project on international intelligence at the Woodrow Wilson School's Center of International studies, Princeton University
ACTA tried to make it seem as though the consensus on campus was like "Anyone who can blow up the Pentagon gets my vote." Of course there will be reactional, emotional, and upon further reflection, inappropriate comments made in the heat of the moment, but Newfield points out that this is not the "majority" of even ACTA's own evidence! And we need to keep in mind that ACTA was a rhetorical document by conservatives meant to convince the public that Academia is anti-America or "biased."

 In his appendix, Newfield delves deeper into the "evidence" presented that Academe is merely a conduit for leftist professors to indoctrinate students. Newfield does not take this claim lightly and I would expect that he would be disturbed if one could actually show this. But by careful scholarship, he contextualizes ACTA's "evidence," showing the evidence to be "biased" itself and then moving on to interrogating the survey's questions itself. Horowitz and co. claim to be doing this in the name of freedom-of-thought and academic freedom, but they engage in biased and de-contextualized scholarship and use evidence that has not been peer reviewed. Thus, the undermine the very principles of academia.

For Newfield, all of this, is the "culture wars" at work. He writes, "[The culture wars] condemned both the content of academic cultural study and the process by which it creates knowledge of complex systems" (Newfield 262).

But one of the things I found interesting is that Newfield does not let academia/LCS totally off the hook for its demise. The 'cultural wars' were basically "internalized" into the humanities such that it gave us the illusion that we were without any sort of agency. He refers to the Americanized Foucault as part of the problem: "LCS theory of the Foucauldian period offered only weak, indirect, highly mediated agency and thus little in the way of institutional or market management" (157).

The "theory" of this period seemed to reinforce that the market was there to stay. Instead, Newfield seems to advocate an engagement with market forces so LCS could help to shape market forces. Now, I understand Newfield as not going as far as say, Mark C. Taylor, who at times in Moment of Complexity wants to give up the university's 'academic freedom' and force it to operate on a market model. But Newfield does seem to suggest that the university (in particular the LCS disciplines) would have benefited from an acquaintence with business theory:
Wherever English departments might have looked, organizations had problems with markets and were trying to refashion them. English might have noted this refashioning and learned some new moves. (152)

LCS scholars were finally more comfortable with losing to market forces than with everyday efforts to manage them. (155)

Again, I must emphasize, that I am not saying that Newfield thinks that the University should not resist market forces--indeed, his argument is precisely that the mission of the university defies market optimization logic! But, it is clear that Newfield has engaged with some key texts in business and marketing rather than merely assuming that the market is a unified entity--an incontestable entity that imposes itself on us; rather than thinking, along with Jameson, that a change would need to refute global capitalism in its entirety. Maybe this is Newfield's position too, but his readings of texts does not support such radical (post)Marxist critiques.

Indeed, one of the most impressive things about the book is how attentive Newfield is to quantitative as well as qualitative data.  In his chapter "Hiding Culture's Contribution," Newfield shows how the myth that science's research subsidizes Humanities research/existence is absolutely false. Instead, he shows that not only does scientific research cost a lot of money that does not translate directly into market profit but also that the revenue of the humanities and the "soft sciences" is actually allocated to other disciplines' research. It should be emphasized that in no way is Newfield trying to contribute to a battle between the science and the humanities, but rather that he is trying to show how the humanities (and 'cultural' disciplines) contribute to scientific research--something the public seems to have forgotten.

So: Newfield's analyses are scholarly, informed, leveled, reasoned, and supported. He makes a great argument. Now the question is: so what?

Well, luckily for us, Newfield lays out in a few guidelines:

1.) racial equality needs to be to reaffirmed as a value and as a goal. By this I do not simply mean equal opportunity--though that too is rarer than we think--but general equality of outcome among racial groups.

2.) the public university must be defined all over again as the place where maximum access is synthesized with the highest quality (see Newfield's discussion of "Meritocracy II")

3.) The university needs to be understood as engaged in forms of individual and collective development that cannot be captured in economic terms

4.) Access can coexist with quality only by restoring and increasing public funding for the public university.

5.) Public universities need to insist on the value of understanding societies beyond their status as commercial market

(Newfield, 272-274)

While these goals are easier said than done, I think that Newfield makes a great argument for them, qualitatively as well as quantitatively. I think that a major goal should be to restore the public's view of the university. This is becoming more and more difficult as a bachelor's degree seems at once "required" and completely useless in getting a job these days.

I think that the R1 institution and the liberal arts institution (universities) are important and I do think that we need to move toward a more "majoritarian" democracy. But I think that there are some things the university cannot teach that are essential for our society to function. While I do think that these jobs are generally given to a particular class and demographic of citizens, I am skeptical as to whether we can eliminate such positions and the training need for them.

I'm of the opinion we need to stop convincing every white person that their kids need to go to college or "deserve" to go to college somehow more than the underprivileged. This is a hard goal that would involve a complete change in mentality. Why must we always think about our own upward mobility rather than an entire class's or people? Can we not just stop somewhere and say "I am content." Is this not what the middle class somewhat represents to the American consciousness?

Aporias: Jacques Derrida's Deconstruction of Heidegger's Being-towards-Death

Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction of Heidegger’s Being and Time

This small word, ‘as’, might well be the name of the true problem, not to say the target, of deconstruction –Jacques Derrida, “University without Condition”


I believe (I am testifying) that this would have been a good one to read backwards, as I believed I knew where Derrida was going from the beginning and my own conclusions were confirmed when I reached the end (which remains in aporia). Here (because I must start from here, on this side of the border) I will merely try to summarize (say “in other words”—c.f. “Living On: Borderlines”) what I believe Derrida is (partially) trying to say.
I’d like to get at Derrida’s text in two, interrelated ways.

1.) Heidegger’s existential analysis as a fundamental ontology

2.) The question of Dasein and language with respect to” the human” and the animal

I. Fundamental Ontology

Heidegger is trying to elucidate universal structures of existence without slipping into metaphysical speculation. Heidegger’s project is to inquire into the meaning of being (as such), a question he believes we have forgotten. For instance, we use the word “is” but do we really know what it is to ‘exist’. For Heidegger, philosophy has been a history of being as presence; thus, being is a ‘thing’ rather than a mode of existence. Heidegger attempts to describe how even ‘being’ in a present-at-hand is actually derivative from a more originary ‘understanding’ that is constitutive of Dasein’s being (Being-there, usually understood to be what we would call “human existence”—although this is something he also puts into question).

However, Heidegger’s Being and Time is actually part of an incomplete project that Heidegger never ‘finished’, although the project was continued in later essays to figure the meaning of being “as such” and not just the being of Dasein (see pgs 63-64 for Heidegger’s outline of his entire project). In Sein und Zeit, Dasein was taken as an exemplarily instance of being. Heidegger writes, “This entity which each of us is himself and which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its Being, we shall denote by the term “Dasein” (Heidegger 27).

One of Derrida’ points is that Heidegger’s “existential analysis” claims a universality for Dasein, but because it is a historical text, conditioned by its time, it is already invaded by discourses of a particular culture. At the same time, however, it puts into question (and checks) the sort of naïve understanding of ‘death’ that is already assumed in anthropological and cultural discourses on death. In the most positive light possible, Thus, to a certain extent, Heidegger’s text serves as a “corrective” discourse to naïve statements of comparative religion taken up by Aries and Thomas, which argue that the West has displaced death, ignored death, and thus falls into a nostalgia for more ‘primitive’ cultures that seem to put death “in its right place” (Derrida 58). So, in this sense, “the existential analysis maintains itself well this side of all this foolish comparative predication” (58). But, again, at the same time, we must recognize Heidegger’s discourse as conditioned by cultural-historical events. In the case of Being and Time, this is the discourse of Christianity (even as Heidegger tries to separate himself from it). Derrida writes, “I’ll just say, without being able to go into it in any depth, that neither the language nor the process of this analysis of death is possible without the Christian experience, indeed, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic experience of death to which the analysis testifies” (80).

Derrida elaborates on this statement in “Faith and Knowledge” in Acts of Religion, noting that Heidegger’s concepts are inextricably tied up in Christian discourse: “conscience (Gewissen), originary responsibility or guilt (Schuldigsein) and Entschlossenheit (resolute determination)” and of course, we cannot forget “Verfallen” or “falling” (the ‘fallingness’ of the everyday)[1] (Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge,” 96). In this essay, Derrida takes up the question of Heidegger’s retaining of a notion of “sacredness” without the corresponding notion of ‘faith’ which falls short of true thinking (Der Glaube hat im Denken keinen Platz), but of course, the very concept of ‘authenticity’ and Bezeugung, ‘attestation’, involves a kind of belief and testimony.

Anyway, I am getting off track. Regardless, we see that Heidegger (and really, philosophy is general) seeks to escape the ‘accidental’ or ‘cultural’ contextual determination in order to get at the essential structures of human existence (or being in general). The kind of universal discourse is also sought in the anthropological studies, particularly Aries, when he speaks of the “more secret, more hidden motors, at the limit of the biological and the cultural, that is, at the limit of the collective unconscious” (47). But this concept of the collective unconscious is also a concept that came into being at a certain moment in history and thus will not be able to reveal the underlying structures of human existence, will it?

Although Derrida rigorously deconstructs Heidegger, he preserves the uniqueness of Being and Time by calling it an ‘event’: “The event of this interrupted book would be irreducible to these categories, indeed to the categories that Heidegger himself never stopped articulating [. . .] Being and Time would belong neither to science, nor to philosophy, nor to poetics” (Derrida 32). This is perhaps why many would consider Heidegger (and those in the continental tradition) non-philosophy—this work “surpasses the limits of the concept of itself” (Derrida 32).

So this is why I want to call Being and Time and Heidegger’s project a kind of “corrective” discourse to comparative religious/death discourses in other disciplines that seem to be less “fundamental.” Derrida ends in an aporetic fashion, “each of these two discourses on death is much more comprehensive than the other, bigger and smaller than what it tends to include or exclude, more and less originary, more and less ancient, young or old” (81). This is the kind of “anachrony” that we also saw in “Living On: Borderlines,” where Derrida affirms that these two texts “love each other” even though they may have no noticeable “influence” on one another, with one difference: I am not sure that Being and Time and the anthropological/historical discourses “love” each other in the same way. Derrida notes that Thomas’s work incorrectly attributes a quotation to Heidegger (26).

II. Heidegger, Language;  the Human, the Animal

When I explain to others what Heidegger means by “Dasein,” I translate it (There-Being, Being-There), try to explain how this is tied up in Heidegger notion of language (which is the possibility of a “world” in Heidegger’s sense) and then simply come down to it and say Dasein is the kind of being that “we” (me and you, mon frère) *are*. We are the beings that question the meaning of being and we do this in language and this sets us apart from animals. Heidegger’s discourse, then, has been considered incredibly “humanist” and “anthropocentric.” Heidegger seems (at times, at least when we paraphrase him) to want to maintain a clear line, a border-line, between human and animal and this borderline is exemplarized in the concept of “death.”

On an ‘ontical’ level, we tend to assume that animals are not “conscious of” their deaths in the same way that we are: we are aware that we are going to die and this seems to affect the way we are in the world. Furthermore, there does seem to be something about “language” that sets us apart from animals, although further scientific evidence is calling this into question. Heidegger makes a lot of “language” because language is in a way the condition for truth and also untruth; Derrida writes “according to Heidegger, there is no nontruth for the animal, just as there is no death and no language. Truth is the truth of nontruth and vice versa” (73). As Derrida also notes, Heidegger will elaborate on this in his later work, particularly in an essay called “On the Essence of Truth” (here, Heidegger presents the concept in this way: “Errancy and the concealing of what is concealed belong to the primordial essence of truth” (134)).

All this is to say that we generally consider Heidegger as making a clear distinction between mortal Dasein (as human being) and animal as that without language and therefore without a world. But Derrida is going to press this very distinction, and he’s going to press it hard and he’s going to press it and permeate it and penetrate it through Heidegger’s own text in true deconstructive form. Derrida makes a distinction between Dasein and ‘man’:

Dasein or the mortal is not man, the human subject, but it is that in terms of which the humanity of man must be rethought [. . .]  Heidegger never stopped modulating this affirmation according to which the mortal is whoever experiences death as such, as death. Since he links this possibility of the “as such” to the possibility of speech, he thereby concludes that the animal, the living thing as such, is not properly a mortal: the animal does not relate to death as such. The animal can come to an end, that is, perish (verenden) [. . .] But it can never properly die. (35)

But then, Derrida notes in another text that this connection/distinction is not always finalized: “It does not say that the experience granted to the mortal, of which the animal is incapable, depends on language” (36).

Rather than taking the usual route to the question of the animal—that is, don’t animal’s ‘have’ language too? Derrida instead asks if Heidegger’s distinction between perishing, dying, and dying “properly,” can hold and ultimately if human being (or Dasein) can even relate to death “as such.” The ‘death proper’ is the authentic death, the way of “dying well,” so to speak.

This inquiry hinges on a few very subtle, very complicated (read: we probably should read these passages closely in class) distinctions in Heidegger’s text concerning Heidegger’s claim that “Death is the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein” (Heidegger 294). Now, we have to notice that this possibility of impossibility is different from the impossibility of possibility. This confusion has led me to mis-read Heidegger for several years. I must quote Derrida’s close reading in which he makes a crucial distinction verbatim:

Heidegger does not say “the possibility of no longer being able to be Dasein” but the “possibility of being able no longer to be there” or “of no longer being able to be there.” This is indeed the possibility of a being-able-not-to or of a no-longer-being-able-to, but by no means the impossibility of a being-able-to. (68)

The way I understand this distinction is that I used to think Heidegger’s notion of death in the naïve way: If Dasein’s ‘essence’ is its being-able-to (its possibility) then of course “death” is the impossibility of being-able-to because we are ‘dead’, no longer being-able-to do any particular thing—we cannot “be” our possibility any longer because we are dead—we no longer have the capacity to exist in this or that fashion because, for instance, we can no longer comport ourselves in such a way that we can use a hammer. But, according to Derrida’s distinction, this is not what Heidegger means at all. Derrida makes this clear later when he says that death “concerns the impossibility of existence itself and not merely the impossibility of this or that” (72).

I suspect that it is this distinction that is crucial to the rest of the Derrida’s deconstruction. However, at other points, it does seem like Heidegger understands death in the way I framed it above: “It [death] is the possibility of the impossibility of every way of comporting oneself toward anything, of every way of existing” (307). I’m not sure exactly how we could (and if we can) resolve these readings. Perhaps I am not getting Derrida’s “point” because I ignore the aporetic logic that constitutes a possible impossible. Maybe this is what Derrida is pointing out when he writes, “If death, the most proper possibility of Dasein, is the possibility of its impossibility, death becomes the most improper possibility and the most ex-propriating, the most inauthenticating one” (Derrida 77).

In a series of moves that I am not able to take up explicitly (hopefully this can be our task, our problem, our project that we take up in class) he comes to an important conclusion:

Although the innumerable structural differences that separate one ‘species’ from another should make us vigilant about any discourse on animality or bestiality in general, one can say that animals have a very significant relation to death, to murder, and to war even if they have neither a relation to death nor to the ‘name’ of death as such,, nor by the same token, to the other as such. But neither does man, that is precisely the point. (76)

I would like to explore how Derrida arrives at this remarkable conclusion, which also has implications for Heidegger’s claim that death is “my ownmost possibility”—that it is the most “proper” possibility. This claim of Heidegger is important because his claim is that it is death that individualizes me as me: “The non-relational character of death, as understood in anticipation, individualizes Dasein down to itself. This individualizing is a way in which the ‘there’ is disclosed for existence” (308). The key is that for Heidegger death individualizes non-relationally and Derrida is exposing that indeed, death cannot individualize “non-relationally.”

Derrida concludes, rather, echoing statements in his “Deaths of Roland Barthes,” that “the death of the other, this death of the other in ‘me’, is fundamentally the only death that is named in the syntagm ‘my death,’ with all the consequences that one can draw from this” (Derrida 76). If we agree with Derrida here, we can answer at least to a certain extent Derrida’s earlier question: “What if there was no other concept of time than the one that Heidegger calls “vulgar” [. . .] What if it was the same for death, for a vulgar concept of death?” (Derrida 14). The ‘vulgar’ concept of death is the death of the other, the “one dies,” which Heidegger says is inauthentic. Heidegger wants to maintain that there is a certainty of death from one’s own death (which individualizes) rather than merely certain of death because of the other’s dying. And can we even be certain of that?


A question we might explore is why Derrida invokes the name “Marrano” toward the ‘end’ of Derrida’s text: “Let us figuratively call Marrano anyone who remains faithful to a secret that he has not chosen” (81). Historically, as Derrida writes, “it is said that the history of the Marranos has just come to an end with the declaration by the Spanish court [in 1992]. You can believe that if you want to.” (77). The Marranos, according to the ever-useful Wikipedia refers to a Jewish people who publicly convert to Catholicism while secretly practicing their own rites—what are we to make of this odd reference? This intrusion of the question of religion, “the Jewish question,” in a discourse on Heidegger and the history of death, the religious culture that existential analysis tries to distinguish itself from [on “this side” rather than metaphysical speculation]: “What is analysis witness to? Well, precisely to that from which it demarcates itself, here mainly from the culture characterized by the so-called religions of the Book” (80).

[1] I personally love how the most recent translation of Sein Und Zeit tries to escape these Christian connotations of Maquerrie and Robinson’s translation (who, we should add, are theologians)  and of Heidegger’s discourse by translating “Verfallen” as “falling prey” to rather than simply “falling.” 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Living On: Borderlines

According to a note in the text, the first version of "Living On" was published in a book that exemplified the "Yale School's" deconstructive method. Apparently, the authors, Derrida included, decided they would give themselves the arbitrary rule that they must "treat of Shelly's long poem The Triumph of Life" (103).

The question I hope to answer is how does Derrida interpret this responsibility. "In other words," how is the essay "Living On" both about and not about Shelly's Triumph of Life. In order to investigate this question, I looked at the recommended reading in Paul De Man's Rhetoric of Romanticism. While I was reading, I was often perplexed at how this related whatsoever to Derrida's essay. But then I realized that in order to get De Man's points, I really needed to read Shelly's poem (at least the finished version). Of course, according to Derrida in "Borderlines," I would also have had  to read all of Blanchot's stories, and his essays including The Step Not Beyond and The Infinite Conversation, and Rousseau, and his own Glas, and parts of Dissemination, and "Ousia and Gramme" (in Margins of Philosophy), and probably more Shelly, and Spenser, and Dante, and and and and and. . . . .perhaps the entire Western Canon?

Of course, this is an impossible task, relating to the "impossible wager" of merely treating Shelly's Triumph of Life (see note on pg 102).

So I contented myself with Shelly, de Man, and Derrida (as well as the Blanchot stories). The best way I found into this question is through de Man. de Man points to the infinite regressive structure (and the re-citative structure) of Shelly's poem as characteristic of all its tropes. The poem is a series of questions that are never answered. When Rousseau asks what is his origin, de Man writes,
[Rousseau] is granted a vision of the same spectacle that prompted the poet narrator's questioning in the first place; we have to imagine the same sequence of events repeating themselves for Shelly, for Rousseau, and for whomever Rousseau chose to question in his turn as Shelly questioned him. The structure of the text is not one of question and answer, but of a  question whose meaning, as question, is effaced from the moment it is asked. (98)

 It is this effacing and "infinite regress" structure that I think "legitimizes" (if such a thing can be said) Derrida's forays into Blanchot's texts, such that they become the focus of the essay. Derrida puts into question the very possibility of remaining within the text of Shelly, affirming that there may be a way in which the two texts "read" each other. This sort of comparative literary analysis, which I am very familiar with, seems to legitimated by many things, but Derrida suggests that it is by the fact of mere language. For instance, in the discussion in "Borderlines" of Blanchot's use of "perfect rose," Derrida muses on the many "roses" in Shelly's Poem (see pg 167 of the essay). Or the connection between Shelly's use of "Brain turning to sand" and the imagery of the "pulse scattering like sand" in Blanchot. Although this would not be "serious" it still seems like there is a connection--an affection at a "distance." This is precisely the wager.

The structural connection I see between Blanchot and Shelly stems from the de Man quote above. This idea of infinite regress, of a repetitive structure that repeats the event within the story. In this sense, perhaps we can ask if Shelly's poem is a recit [?] in Blanchot's sense (Derrida writes: "the Triumph of Life [. . .] belongs in many ways to the category of the recit" pg 112). Rousseau repeats the *same* questions that the narrator of the poem asks and no one is given an answer.

This recitative structure is present also in Blanchot's story, the Madness of the Day, which was initially titled "un recit?" (with a question mark). The narrator begins the story demanded by some forceful men,  "I am not learned. I am not ignorant," which is how the story we as readers read begins as well. It is impossible to tell which came "first." Derrida writes, "it is impossible to say which one cites the other and above all which one forms the border of the other. each includes the other comprehends the other, which is to say that neither comprehends the other" (126).

In the same way, Derrida opens his essay with the question of citing: "In other words on living? This time it sounds to you more surely like a citation" (103). On level, yes, we have already seen this "in other words," but was it in the same context? Can we say that this is a citation of the "first" "in other words on living"? Thus his essay tries to perform the conflict and weird space of "invagination" that he describes. The recit of Madness of the Day has the structure of "the recit of deconstruction in deconstruction" (127). In de Man's language, it is the de-figuring of figuration.

In a way, though, since Madness of the Day re-cites its story verbatim (or is it?), Death Sentence is a better analogy to the Triumph of Life (but can I say analogy?). In Death Sentence, which really should be left in the French: "L'arret de mort." The structure of the l'arret de mort is two "separate" recit's within the same 'title' of "l'arret de mort."

Derrida will ultimately argue that even though we cannot show how these two 'recit's' are connected--indeed, that they may even have entirely different narrators, he thinks that the connection lies in the two women: "they--the two women, the two voiceless voices, tele-phone one another: come. And the relationship, the connection, between the two recits would be telegraphic in nature" (187). The word "telegraphic" can be translated as "that which writes at a distance." Somehow, the language that the two women use connect them--they connect them through the narrator as a kind of "medium."

I keep trying to work out how Derrida arrives at this "mad hypothesis." On one level, we want to connect the two seemingly independent and separate recits, because we want to believe there is a reason for them united under one title: L'arret de mort. We assume the narrators are the same and that these are two different women in his life. Blanchot's language does suggest a connection between these two women, particularly describing them as "statues" or almost like a statue. Derrida picks up this image and runs with it, claiming that "each woman lives off and dies of the other [. . .] each woman preserving the other's narrator" (184).

I suspect that this notion of "preserving" or "monumentalizing" or "statue"-esque themes are why the narrator is so initially disturbed at Nathalie's decision to make a death mask and a cast of her hands. Derrida asks (and qualifies): "Should we say that he gave her the idea of or the desire for the death mask, as he had wished to embalm the other woman, in order to preserve both of them, to keep them alive-and-dead, living on? Yes and no" (189). It is through him that the woman finds the card, but she is the one who finds it, so we cannot simply ascribe agency to the narrator or the woman, exclusively.

This theme of "monumentalizing" brings me back to the de Man reading of Shelly, which it is quite possible Derrida read or knew about (or perhaps these two texts "love" each other): "Is the status of a text like the status of a statue?" (de Man 95). de Man also writes that in order to deal with Shelly (and the Romantics) we "bury them [. . .] to bury them in their own texts made into epitaphs and monumental graves. They have been made into statues for the benefit of future archeologists" (121). How might we understand de Man's reading of Shelly in terms of Derrida and Blanchot?

To me, Derrida's "mad hypothesis" about the two women calling one another to "come" (and, I may add, I cannot but think the erotic connotations of two women telling each other at a distance to "come"), is also the possibility that the two texts, L'arret de mort and Shelly's Triumph of Life call each other, love each other, can be "superimposed" on one another and made to "live on" in a way, perhaps, that does not merely "monumentalize" and bury both Shelly and Blanchot.


I say what must not be said: for example, that a text can stand in a relationship of transference (primarily in the psychoanalytical sense) to another text. And, since Freud reminds us that the relationship of transference is a 'love' relationship, stress the point: one text loves another" (165).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jacques Derrida, "Acts of Religion," and "University Without Condition"


I feel the need to introduce this batch of half-conceived questions and notes that I have put together in the past few days as preparation for my class on these two incredibly dense and rich essays by Jacques Derrida.

First, these notes were not fashioned "linearly," questions are mixed with notes and notes with questions in the good spirit of not trying to make my "questions" merely questions that ask what "is" (let us avoid ontology when possible).

The notes gathered here I hope to turn into a solid post with a point (a? point--at least one point) perhaps with a bit more focus after our discussion.

One of the things that I am pleasantly surprised by in these essays (and really in all Derrida essays) is how he makes abstract theoretical and philosophical speculation relevant for concrete political, cultural, and "religious" phenomena. I enjoy how he is able to lay out the way he stays on the border without ever seeming like he is "noncommittal."

For instance, I think "Faith and Knowledge" bears on a lot of current (and i mean the last 10 or 20 years) events:

Genocides (pick your incident)
The "Rushdie" affair (FATWA)
Osama Bin Laden's tapes to America and their subsequent circulation
The circulation of images of beheadings (see what he says about taking vengeance on the "body proper") and what these come to mean (because they can be distributed globally)

I'm sure there is more and if I were more politically aware (which I am striving to become better at) I would be able to say something.

And of course, "The University Without Condition," urges us to take on a deconstruction of the Humanities and to open up the question of the human (and the animal) again by re-thinking the history of our discipline. It asks us to be self-reflexive (which I believe we are on our way to doing) in the way that Ronell thinks "Science" needs to be become self-reflexive. We must inquire into our grounds (and our histories, our traces) in order to understand.

Furthermore, "University Without Condition," although it focuses at the end on the "event," seems committed to understanding a Professor's work as prescriptive rather than merely descriptive. In other words, Derrida seems to support the idea that professors profess--that there can be no ideologically "neutral" professor and that we have the right (perhaps, academic freedom?) to teach from those interested standpoints. Of course, our "profession," according to Derrida, needs to be an affirmation of an impossibility--a University Without Condition"

These are all moments and motifs, points and particulars that stand out for me in the two essays, but the following notes should give those who have not read the essays a glimpse into the wide ranging issues taken up on merely 1 or two pages (or across pages!). These essays are rich and demand not only attention but ACTION. I found myself again and again looking up words (German, Latin, French, even English) in order to grasp their various implications.

Derrida's texts strive to be "unreadable," but this unreadability should not merely cause us despair. Rather, as he writes in "Living-On: Borderlines," :
If reading means making accessible a meaning that can be transmitted as such, in its own unequivocal, translatable identity, then this title is unreadable. But this unreadability does not arrest reading, does not leave it paralyzed in the face of an opaque surface: rather it starts reading and writing and translation moving again" (140). 
Derrida's essays force us outside of his text into other texts (which is also, sometimes, his other texts). Rather than think Derrida's emphasis on the "sliding of the signifier" as an interminable task that erases meaning, we should think of the setting-into-motion (which is also the moment--although here we get too much into presence) as a pedagogical imperative. We as readers are forced out of our comfort zones--out of our chairs , for instance, on the balcony and back into the sea of texts that we are constantly trying to arrest in an article or what we call a "book."

So is this my introduction to the notes? Or are the notes a propaedeutic (cf. Kant and "University Without Condition,")  to what I am calling my "introduction"? Which comes first? what is the "important" part?

Cormac McCarthy: "The ugly fact is books are made out of books" (out of texts[?] 

Post-Scriptum (cf. Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge," pg. 60)

“University Without Condition” notes

Professional Professors

Ronell—We need to go back to pgs 196-203 and put Weber’s ideas in conversation with Derrida’s ideas about the University. Weber, like Rorty, seems to want to avoid a confrontation with the dangerous. In Weber’s case, the possibility of transference: “The debasement of a teacher to an implicit word-salad [. . .] puts a restraining order on the possibly devastating politics of transference that teacher’s function could otherwise prime” (197)–Concerned with  the “prophetic professor”—meaning, a professor who actually professes, rather than transmits knowledge  through exchange value (rather than even use-value): “The American’s conception of the teacher who faces him is: he sells me his knowledge and his methods for my father’s money, just as the greengrocer sells my mother cabbage” (196).

This is the teacher, but what is relationship between the professor and the professional—the professional “renders services.” As Sam Weber puts it

“The incommensurability of the professional, of the ‘services’ he rendered, and did not merely sell, sought to place his activities outside of the pale of ordinary commodity relationships. This was, and has remained, a decisive feature of the professional who, while offering his services for pay, nonetheless claims for them a value irreducible to that determined by the market” (Weber 26).

Thus, the professional frames his or her services in terms of a “social need”: “the professional professes to be concerned primarily with the public good, with the necessities of life and welfare” (Weber 27).

This puts the Humanities in a precarious position though, does it not? Or perhaps puts the university and the professor into a precarious position because  it is concerned with public good and indeed we frequently have to frame our ‘work’ (this problematic term will be explored later) in terms of “use value,” but the Humanities in particular refuses such use value. As Ronell puts it, “The professor comes in handy as figuring the university’s tendency to undermine its cause. Academic speech consistently fails the test of scientific integrity by lapsing into prophecy” (200). Ronell’s word “prophecy” may be akin to what Derrida speaks of in terms “professing” as “performance”—even a professing of faith.


How can we claim a "crime against humanity" when we are still in the process of redefining and clarifying what man "is"? The New Humanities doesn't seem to merely call for protection of already constituted "human rights" but rather to rethink the very concept of "man" (and, I assume, Derrida includes women?)

What is this mondialisation? A “humanization,” but a humanization in terms that have not been properly thought?
Derrida writes that,  paradoxically, the university is exposed in its unconditionality because “it is a stranger to power, because it is heterogeneous to the principle of power,  [. . .] without power of its own” (206). Thus, there is always a risk that it may be appropriated by institutions and structures that have power. But this seems to be the condition of its unconditionality. Derrida asks whether the university can affirm a sovereignty “without ever risking the worst, namely [. . .] being forced to give up and capitulate without condition, to let itself be taken over and bought at any price” (206). If the university is a “stranger” to power then it must take this risk. But this risk must be confronted by resistance (but a resistance that is not a power?)

The university as a meeting of faith and knowledge: “In an original way, this professional faith articulates faith to knowledge in the university above all in the place of the self-presentation of unconditionality that will go by the name ‘Humanities’” (208).

What is the connection between mondialisation (a ‘humanization’) of the world and the advent of the technology of cyberspace. As Derrida asks, “Where is to be found the communitary place and the social bond of a ‘campus’ in the cyberspatial age of the computer, of tele-work, and of the World Wide Web”?  It is not that virtualization is absolutely new, but “what is new, quantitatively, is the acceleration of the rhythm, the extent, and the powers of capitalization of such a virtuality” (210).

Is this virtualization eroding the boundaries between the ‘university’ and ‘public space’?  Derrida claims that the discussions of the New Humanities must “in pricinple find its space of unconditional discussion and, without presupposition, its legitimate [!] space of research and reelaboration, in the university”  (203). Derrida says that the unviersity allows us to find “the best access to a new public space transformed by new techniques of communication, information, archivization, and knowleedge production”  (203). But it is precisely this “space” that Derrida puts into question on the following page, when discussing how “the topology of the event” has been upset.
The connection of the “as if” to the “event.” While it is generally believed that the event must interrupt the order of the “as if” so that its place is “real,” Derrida asks “What happens when the place itself becomes virtual, freed from its territorial (and thus national) rootedness, and when it becomes subject to the modality of an ‘as if’. In other words an event that may (perhaps) come “through the university,” “thanks,” to it—the university which is now virtual?

“to profess” has the structure of a promise, a performative act and engagement: “it is to promise to be that, to pledge oneself on one’ word to be that,” “to give oneself over to philosophy, to bear witness” (215).
Derrida seems to perform what he argues for—thinking the university’s history, laying it out. So he inquires into the religious connotations (and ‘origins’) of the “professor” in the university. He is tracing how we got from profession (of faith) to professor.


Working (or le travailleur) seems to imply a market concept—work is recognized only if it is connected to a salary (the teaching assistant). Insofar as the student “studies” the student is not a worker. However, is he/she working toward being a professor? In order for someone to be recognized as a “worker” it must have market value.

Types of work:

1.)    Work in the sense of “product” or “ouevre”

a.       Products that are “objectivizable use or exchange values without deserving the title of ouevres.
b.      Ouevre—something like fine art.

2.)    Work that does “not give rise to substantial or real products, only to virtual specters
In the classical/modern tradition we usually do not think of the professor’s authority as a professor like we think authority of an “author.” He does not “sign” his work. Rather, to be a professor was to produce a knowledge that does not consist in this kind of product—It was “to teach a knowledge even while professing, that is, even while promising to take a responsibility that is not exhausted in the act of knowing or teaching” (217). Derrida speculates that this has been changing because of the thin line between creation and criticism, reading and writing. Of course, Derrida himself “signs” for his work, for his professing. He becomes a kind of “author” as much as a professor, even though he frames this entire essay in terms of “profession of faith.”


The traditional university’s knowledge  is not “in principle” performative: “The act of professing a doctrine may be a performative act, but the doctrine is not” (218). Somehow we must ‘conserve” this and “change” it but NOT through a hegelian dialectical mode.

Derrida argues, we have to realize that the “unconditional theoreticism” will itself always suppose a performative profession of faith, a belief, a decision, a public pleged, and ethico-political responsibility. “ (218).

This view of the non-performative goes back to Kant, where he argues Humanities as a ‘propadeutic’ to Fine Arts: “The Humanities must prepare without prescribing: they would propose forms of knowledge that remain merely preliminary” (Derrrida 219).

Thus, Kant separates the University from public space in order to render the knowledge constative rather than performative (or prescriptive). Derrida points out the (impossiblity?) of saying “publically all that one believes to be true and what one believes on must say, but only inside the university” (220).

Regardless of the fact that this is basically impossibelwe must believe that “this is an idea we must reaffirm, declare, and profess endlessly—even if it always means addressing ourselves to the university’s outside without neutrality” (220). Meaning, we must continue to commit ourselves to this view of truth even as we realize that we too are caught up in the questions of the university in the marketplace, which Derrida says that he will “leave aside.” This is why we must think the university’s history, because it allows us to realize our position within this system.

Questions that arise then: If indeed the Humanities is foreign to the production of ouevres, what could it possibly mean “to profess,” “to be a professor.”

What happens when we accept that “a professor produces oeuvres and not just knowledge or pre-knowledge? (Derrida 221).

Looking back at again the question of the “end” of work (its termination; its object or aim). “Work” and production is not the same, but work (travaille) connotes “the passivity of a certain affect (221).

Derrida writes, like Sam Weber notes, a profession (or a professor) implies a sort of “social responsibility” and “duty” (here is the Kantian language again). There is a commitment, a faith, a testimony to render an account (see Derrida 222).

“Work” is related to the event , but an actual event, in the sense that we do not think that what “happens or comes about in general “ can be virtual (223)

“as if the world began where work ends” is a difficult phrase. Here, Derrida lays out two interpretations of this phrase: 1) a utopia (without work) to come or 2.)  an originary, earthly paradise. Similar to the way we articulated Nietzsche’s in-between the teleological and the original (or archaeological) (223).

Derrida plays on this notion of the world coming into being where “work” ends in the sense that at the same time that we are witnessing the end of work, the ‘world’ seems to be coming into being in the meaning of “globalization.”

225—something is happening to our conceptions of “work” and “world” (through mondialisation) that will change our conceptions of “the being-in-the-world of what is still called man”

“What is happening is indeed an effect of techno-science ,with the world-wide-izing virtualization and delocalization of tele-work” (226).

Rifkin (in ‘the-end-of-work) argues that the “teachers,” in the “sector of knowledge” will be spared this end of work, but Derrida points out that he does not mention the unemployed teachers or aspiring professors (particularly in the humanities)

In general, those who are overly optimistic about the possibilities of globalization “ending work” exclude the victims of this movement who suffer either because “they lack the work they would need” or “because they work too much for the salary they receive” (Derrida 227).

228—The Figure of the Humanist is a response to the question of work.
                --the “unity” of the world of work
229-230—“The difficult task of the Humanities to come is to think their own history” in a cross-disciplinary way that will not necessarily be ‘interdisciplinary’ or ‘cultural studies’.

Derrida’s 7 professions of Faith (see pgs 231-237)

--these studies will not be merely “theoretical” or “neutral” but “practical and performative transformations” Sam Weber echoes this sentiment in the studying of disciplines: “On way of exploring such limitations might be precisely to demonstrate how the apparently objective, denotative language of individual disciplines entails, necessarily but implicitly, a precise series of prescriptive ‘speech acts’, involving injunctions and commands such as those that comprise the professional ethos in general” (Weber 32).  The problem for Weber, said differently than Derrida, is that the university instituted areas of research that could “ignore the founding limits and limitations of the individual disciplines” (Weber 32).

1.) These new Humanities will treat “these performative productions of law or right (rights of man, human rights, the concept of crime against humanity) where they always imply the promise and, with the promise, the conventionality of the as-if.  With regard to the distinction between human and ‘animal’.

2.) These humanities will treat the history of democracy and the idea of sovereignty.

3.) These new Humanities would treat the history of ‘professing’ of the ‘profession’ (and its Christian and Abrahamic origins)

4.)the history of literature

5.) the history of profession, the profession of faith, professionalization, and the professoriat.

6.) the history of the ‘as-if’ and the “precious distinction between performative acts and constative acts

7.) the event—that which comes about and is outside a horizon of expectation.  “only the impossible can arrive”
235: “It would be necessary to dissociate a certain unconditioned independence of thought, of deconstruction, or justice, of the Humanities, of the university, and so forth from any phantasm of indivisible sovereignty and of sovereign mastery” (It is the “what if” rather than the “as if”

The key to this quotation is “indivisible,” meaning that the university has a kind of unconditioned independence, but it ALSO has a history, a history that must be interrogated.

Preliminary Questions

In class, Dr. Leavey argued that Ronell thinks that Nietzsche wants to kind of stay somewhere in the middle (so to speak) between the archaeological and the teleological. In “University Without Condition,” Derrida discusses two different “ways” to interpret the “as if” as utopian or ‘earthly paradise’.  Is there a relationship between this Nietzschean attitude and the kind of ‘middle ground’ Derrida is going to try and lay out?

Derrida writes about world-widization and cyberspace virtualization upsetting “the topology of the event, the experience of the singular taking place” (210). My question is: Can an ‘event’ still take place? Derrida asks (and can we respond): “what happens, then, when the place itself becomes virtual, freed from its territorial (and thus national) rootedness, and when it becomes subject to the modality of an ‘as if’” (213).

What is the relationship between the “world-widization” discussed in “University Without Condition” and “Faith and Knowledge”? Obviously, it is the same phenomenon, but how is the effect different.

In “University without Condition,” Derrida writes that the research into humanity “in principle” must take place in the university and above all in the Humanities. “Not so that it may enclose itself there, but, on the contrary, so as to find the best access to a new public space transformed by new techniques of communication, information, archivization, and knowledge production” (203). The question of access is also brought up in “Faith and Knowledge”: “the religious cultures, states, nations, or ethnic groups that they represent have unequal access, to be sure, but often one that is immediate and potentially without limit to the same world market [. . .] <At stake in the struggle> is thus the access to the world (transnational or trans-state networks of telecommunications and of tele-technoscience” (79).  How might we address this issue of access?

In a footnote in “Faith and Knowledge,” the translator makes a point about the shift from “mondialisation” and “globalization”—what is at stake in this shift from world to globe? Or rather, what is the significance of ‘mond’ being translated into English as “globalization,” a phenomenon the West has named? What bearing does Derrida’s discussion of “world” have on the Christian and Heideggerian ideas of “world,” (and being-in-the-world)?

In “University Without Condition,” Derrida argues that the University is able to have an independence, but an independence without power However, it is this independence without power that also exposes us to the risk of being appropriated by other institutions with power.

When we discussed Ronell, we talked a lot about how the book was organized. Moreso with “Faith and Knowledge,” why is Derrida’s text set up like it is? Why are there phrases in bold? Is it for easier navigation? Is it because he wants them to look like hyperlinks (going along with the techno-science idea)? Is it because they are “key terms”?  Related to this, Derrida explains why he organized his text into sections:

Let us choose, then, I told myself, a quasi-aphoristic form as one chooses a machine, the least pernicious machine to treat of religion in a certain number of pages: 25 or a few more, we were given; and, let us say, arbitrarily, to decipher or anagrammatize the 25, 52 very unequal sequences, as many crypts dispersed in a non-identified field (Derrida 76).

Do we trust Derrida here? What is the significance of the word “crypt” (and cenotaphs)?  Why is the Post-Scriptum longer than what we usually think is the ‘body’ of the work?

Faith and Knowledge: Notes


  • ·         Belief and Truth
  • ·         Sacredness, holiness, healing

Religion: Two possible “sources” (etymologically)

1.) Relegare—“To bring together in order to return and to begin again

2.( Religare—“To bind, in sense of obligation or debt”

·         It is this second sense that “binds” religion to respondeo (acc. To Beneviste) and spondee (promise and “to answer for”) which stems from the Greek spondē, which means a sacrifice to the gods”

Etymology/Form of essay

Pg 73—How does Derrida get from relegare to this sense of “scruple, patience, modesty”? (this may be answered on page 74)

Pg 76—“crypt,” “cenotaph” A ‘cenotaph’ is an "empty tomb" or a monument erected in honour of a person or group of people whose remains are elsewhere. This concept of monument, tomb, crypt—this sense of “burying”—the empty tomb, linked with death, resurrection, a S(crypt).

Respect for Life

Pg 86-> about “respect for life” (how does this relate to the “University without Condition’s ‘crime against humanity’)  

Life and the Posthuman

How might we take Derrida’s claim that “This dignity of life can only subsist beyond the present living being [. . .] This excess above and beyond the living, whose life only has absolute value by being worth more than life, more than itself—this, in short, is what opens the space of death that is linked to the automaton (exemplarily ‘phallic’) to technics, the machine, the prosthesis” (87). Does this concern what we tend to call in our discipline the “posthuman”?
See also:

Pg 78—“the machinic”
Pg 80—“immunity/autoimmunity à What is this relationship (see footnote)

82-84—Seems like Derrida is laying out a future project about life, sacredness, and swelling

Life of a Co (auto) mmunity

Pg 87— About Community (Co-auto-immunity) as the alive community –“open to something else, more than itself” –this more than itself—the “to come”? This relates to the concept of hospitality? The opening to any other that is every other?

Religion –Sacrifice? Prayer?

88-Religion sans Sacrifice/prayer—Is it possible? What side is the sacrifice/prayer on? Is prayer in the “faith” category rather than the “sacred” category? Can these things be separated?

Religion and Violence—

Derrida looks at different violences committed in the name of religion (and sometimes not in the name of religion, but basically as “religious” wars)

Pg 89—Vengeance of the body proper against the delocalizing tele-technoscience. It’s a claim to “rediscover roots” and such violence is “auto-immune.” The irony is that they have align themselves with this very technology to get the effect—what has been known as the “Rushdie” affair wouldn’t be such a big deal if it wasn’t able to be picked up by the media and distributed through the very science that this revenge on the “body proper” tries to recover its sacredness (its “purity”).

This search for “roots” is a complicated one as Derrida also acknowledges that the violence of “abstraction” and “radical extirpation” can be just as harmful.  “Extirpation” means “to pull up from roots” and it has a meaning in (ecology?) as “local extinction.” This “local extinction” is at the expense of mondialisation/globalization/abstraction/tele-technoscience. 

Derrida points out though that the reasons for reactionary violence are tied to a notion of “sacredness,” “purity,” “un-contamination” that is simply not there (for the same reason that we cannot see the University as completely divorced from its history, which is a history of interaction with institutions of power).

Derrida also contrasts this localized violence (that still must employ the forces it fights against) on the ‘body proper’, which can be imaged and calculated to the “incalculable” (see page 90) which I think is related to the many deaths that we do not count (as the United States—or any nation). What do we do with events that simply are incalculable? The holocaust? Genocides?

Our relationship with science is interesting as well, considering there is a divorce between our scientific knowledge and our manipulating competence. We put “faith” in technology like animists—as if there really were a ghost in the machine rather than wires and chemicals. Technology  is something we can manipulate but (many of us) do not understand. Derrida seems to suggest there is a kind of religio, a kind of bind and obligation to technology.

Religious Reactions to Technology: 2 Forms (neither of which are inherently democratic or anti-democratic (pg 92)

1.)  The fervent return to national citizenship 
2.) A protest that is universal, ecumenical. We get this from “ecologists, humanists” who want to unite in an anti-technology movement. (who have to employ the mechanisms they oppose in order to gather and garner support)

Heidegger and Thought (pgs 94-98)

--Here Derrida shows how Heidegger tries to exclude the first sense of religion (faith, belief, glaube) from a notion of the “sacred” and the difficulties of doing this. Derrida refers explicitly to the idea of the “attestation” of conscience. Indeed, is not phenomenology’s project (or at least existentialism’s project) of “authenticity” always tied up in a faith or belief that one is being-authentic? That there is no external criteria that we can apply and say: yes, you, you are authentic.

--I’m also interested in how  this section seems to deal with Heidegger’s idea  of the mit-sein, which is assumed in his phenomenology. It is assumed in Heidegger that we are all “being-in-the-world’ in the same world (the phenomenological world). What is the significance for Heideggerian thought when we speak about “globalization” as a particularly Western (perhaps even American) force that is a wide-spread conversion that extirpates? How can we harness the power of tele-technoscience without potentially welcoming the “other”—radical evil.

Radical Evil

The idea of “radical evil” comes from Kant. Kant's idea of ‘radical evil’, so far as I understand it, affirms that we are responsible for evil because we are not following the right (and reasonable) actions. We must enact a “moral conversion”—I’d like to explore how this ‘moral conversion’ relates to Derrida’s idea of “faith/belief” as well as Derrida’s mention of Kant’s “reflective” judgments as opposed to deliberative judgment.

Rhetorical Situation

In every Derrida essay, it is important to pay attention to what Derrida is “responding” to and how immediately makes the very call for this response a problem. In “Faith and Knowledge” the problem is that of the academic conference, which necessarily (?) excludes others. Gil Anidjar is going to make a major point that Derrida harps on the question of Islam. Derrida emphasizes that we are expected to  speak of Monotheisms that do not fall under the Latin word “religion.” And so, he emphasizes that they are all speaking a derivative of Latin and suggests that the word “religion” is a Christian and Latin conception (globalatinization). 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On the "Deaths of Roland Barthes" and Camera Lucida

Blanchot and Barthes

Last class, we discussed Derrida's seemingly banal conclusion from his reading of Blanchot; namely, that Derrida's point ends up sounding like reader-response theory where it is a question of a (partial) identification with the character. Derrida speaks of the idea of the "singular in general" (93). For me, this is the passage that comes closest to yielding this conclusion: 

But this attestation both secret and public, fictional and real, literary and non-literary--we only judge it to be readable, if it is, insofar as a reader can understand it, even if no such thing has ever 'really' happened to him, to the reader. We can speak, we can read this because this experience, in the singularity of its secret, as 'experience of the unexperienced' beyond the distinction between the real and the phantasmatic, remains [demeure] universal and exemplary. (93)

On one hand, Derrida is right that the situation of an always impending death is an exemplary condition. He writes before this passage on the 'lightness' in Blanchot's story as a "confirmation of finitude" (90). But this seems to appeal to an unproblematic humanist notion of the subject. As we pointed out in class, does Derrida really need Blanchot's story to get to this point? If this is his point (or one of them), I think we answered no. 

However, he returns to Blanchot as a relay for Barthes in his essay, "The Deaths of Roland Barthes." Here, Derrida argues that Blanchot’s writing on Bataille’s friendship is absolutely unique: “And yet the metonymic force of the most poignant writing allows us to read these pages” (Derrida 290). When he discusses Barthes’ mother, he argues for a similar metonymic force. Derrida’s language here is hard to parse out. He asks (I assume rhetorically) how the text about Barthes mother could be poignant if that metonymic force was not there. However, in this essay, he seems to think less in terms of ‘understanding’ the text while reading and more about being affected by the text—the possibility of a punctum. The metonymic force is “not to be mistaken for something that facilitates the movement of identification” (Derrida 289). 

I am perplexed at the next few lines where Derrida writes, “I do not put myself in his place. I do not tend to replace his mother with mine” (Derrida 289). So if he does not “tend” to replace his mother with his own and he maintains that Barthes is right in distinguishing his mother and the Figure of the Mother (see Camera Lucida pg 75) perhaps Derrida is thinking here of “a quality (a soul): not the indispensable, but the irreplaceable” (75). Perhaps the reader associates qualities of the mother. Or, rather, we understand Barthes mother through the adjectives that force into our minds—this is our way of feeling Barthes loss. But in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, the narrator writes, “a relationship which adjectivizes is on the side of the image, on the side of domination, of death” (Barthes 43). So can the soul—that which animates the body (the air) be grasped through adjectives, if adjectives are on the side of death?

Barthes describes the air not as an ‘image’ (and thus, embodied in adjectives) but as “ultimately something moral, mysteriously contributing to the face the reflection of a life value” (110). The ‘air’ is not my identity, so we should agree with Derrida that this metonymic force cannot be a move of identification. Rather it is an “intractable supplement of identity, what is given as an act of grace” (109). So perhaps (and I use perhaps intentionally, following Derrida’s hypothetical, “as if” style) what Derrida would argue we “read” in Blanchot is that irreplaceable value—or maybe it’s a “feeling.”

I feel as though I may not be getting where I need to go (or returning to what I need to return to). Furthermore, I think these texts, as fragmentary, preliminary, and scattered, authorize my own response text to be in pieces, pieces that try and grasp without grasping too hard, so as to contain what the text say within a concept.

The Referent

Derrida reads Barthes generously. When I think of Barthes thoughts on the referent, the “this has been,” I think it in the naïve way of saying that the photograph offers a certainty that this person indeed has been in the sense that the photograph cannot lie as to its truth. Barthes writes, “because it was a photograph I could not deny that I had been there” (85). For Barthes, writing cannot give this kind of certainty because it is not able to “authenticate itself” (85). In the age of digital image manipulation, it is hard to think that this is a structural necessity of the image, even though we persist in calling digital photography, photography. Perhaps we can save Barthes from the accusation of being before his time in a few ways.

One way is that he allows that if we can prove that an “image is not a photograph” then its having-been-there is not a necessity. In this sense, there is no more photography and Geoff Dyer’s introduction will have been right: “Far from invalidating Barthes’ arguments, however, the self-fueling, self-consuming present of the digital tense means that Camera Lucida has acquired the internal glow of its own preoccupation with photography as a technology in the process of becoming past, part of what has been” (Barthes xvii).

Another way may be to realize that the Referent that Barthes (and later Derrida) talks about has nothing to do with the truth of the object or person it portrays: “The important thing is that the photograph possesses an evidential force, and that its testimony bears not on the object but on time. From a phenomenological viewpoint, in the Photograph, the power of authentication exceeds the power of representation” (Barthes 89).

It is this possibility that Derrida holds onto. Rather than reading the Photograph as a specific and irreplaceable instance, Derrida takes Barthes logic of the “having been” to be characteristic of language as well: “this conjugation of death and the referent did not have to wait for the Photograph to have an essential relationship to reproductive technique, to technique in general” (Derrida 284).

Derrida initially distinguishes between the Referent, which is “noticeably absent, suspendable,” but the “reference to this referent” call it the “intentional movement of reference,” “implies just as irreducibly the having been of a unique and invariably referent” (Derrida 284). Even though Derrida says that this does not happen with any other image or discourse, it seems to me like he is implying that it does happen with other discourses—or at least autobiography. If not, how could he call the Winter Garden Photograph (which is never presented to the reader) the “punctum” of Barthes text? It seems to me that Derrida is saying that this supplementary, contrapuntal movement of the studium/punctum is not limited to what we consider (ontically) the Photograph. As he says earlier in the essay, “Ghosts the concept of the other in the same, the punctum in the studium, the completely other, dead, living in me.  This concept of the photograph photographs every conceptual opposition: it captures a relationship of haunting that is perhaps constitutive of every logic” (Final italics mine, Derrida 272).

Thus, this haunting logic of the photograph, this having-been is less a having been existing, but rather a having-been-unique, in the same way that the narrator’s (or, perhaps, Blanchot’s) experience cannot be “experienced” again by the one who testifies in his place. In the same way that we can never fully understand or grasp the “deaths” suffered by Roland Barthes, such as the death of his mother. The name “Roland Barthes” is an absent referent, haunting Derrida’s text without ever presenting itself. It is impossible to present him to the reader.

Derrida himself reads these two texts (the first and the last: Writing Degree Zero and Camera Lucida) as if

the negative of an idiom were finally going to appear and develop before my eyes, as if the place, step, style, timbre, tone, and gesture of Roland Barthes [. . .] were all of a sudden going to yield their secret to me. (Derrida 268)

Derrida’s Task

The question Derrida is asking (in different ways throughout the text) is how to speak on Roland Barthes on (near?) the occasion, at the instant? of his death. He initially promises himself that he would never speak near someone’s death because it would be “unbearable” (280). He then proceeds to list several different ways that someone speaks about the individual who has just died, laying out what he could have done. So to get around this, he decides to talk less about Barthes deaths, but the deaths he has endured.

So one of the questions Derrida is asking is what should we say on the occasion of someone’s death. He writes at the beginning that he is writing this for Barthes even though it may never get to him. Thus, Derrida seems to be writing less for the living than for the dead: “The interaction of the living must be interrupted, the veil must be torn toward the other, the other dead in us though the other still” (Derrida 282).

Thus, Derrida decides that he will talk about who Barthes was for him rather than in a particular context. He undergoes a passion for Barthes and the religious connotations of his language are not accidental. Derrida ends his essay on a quasi-religious note, using stigmata for wound and referring to anamnesis. While I am most familiar with the doctrine of anamnesis in Plato, where knowledge is framed as a process of remembering, it also refers to the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.”

Interestingly, these words are uttered, repeated, again and again at every Catholic mass as each communicant seeks to enter into the Mystery of Christ. In a religious sense then as well, Derrida is right that “anamnesis, even if it breaks off always too soon, promises itself each time to begin again: it remains to come” (Derrida 298). It remains “to come” because it is necessary to repeat it week after week.