Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Derrida, waving, cont.

1. Why Politics?

It is true that, from the beginning, so to speak, when I started writing and teaching, many people, friendly and unfriendly, reproached me with not directly addressing political questions. I think that it was at the same time both an unfair and fair objection. Unfair because I think everything I did was directly or indirectly connected with political questions, and I could show this in a very precise manner. But it is true and it is a fair objection to the extent that this relation to politics was very indirect and very elliptical, and waiting for a moment in the development of my work when the level I wanted to reach in this re-elaboration of the political question could be reached; and this accounts for
the delay, for the implicit fashion I addressed this question at the beginning.

Now, to take literally Geoff's question which I have in front of me: I don't think that even now I am answering the demand for politics, that is to propose something which could fit into what one calls in our tradition, politics. What I am trying to do now, especially in the books Spectres of Marx or in the Politics of Friendship, is to try to understand or to re-think, I'm not the only one doing that of course, but to try with others to re-think what the political is, what is involved precisely in the dissemination of the political field. So, I'm not proposing a new political content within the old frame but trying to re-define, or to think differently, what is involved in the political as such, and for the very same reason I don't
propose a political theory because what I'm saying, specifically on friendship and
hospitality, on what friendship is and what hospitality is, exceeds, precisely, knowledge. In its extreme and more essential form it has to do with something which cannot become a theoreme, it is something which simply has to be known, there is some type of experience, of political experience in friendship and hospitality which cannot be simply the object of a theory. Which is not an anti-theoretical move; I think political theory is necessary, but I try to articulate this necessity of a political theory with something in politics or in friendship, in hospitality, which cannot, for structural reasons, become the object of knowledge, of a theory, of a theoreme.

So, it's not a political theory - part of what I'm trying to say in these texts is not part of a theory that would be included in the field known as politology or political theory, and it's not a deconstructive politics either. I don't think that there is such a thing as a deconstructive politics, if by the name 'politics' we mean a programme, an agenda, or even the name of a regime. We will see even the word democracy, which I try to locate, is not simply the name of a political regime or nation-state organisation. So, I don't think that what I'm engaged in, what I have been trying to do in a very complicated way for a long time, can be called political theory or deconstructive politics, but I think that given - or supposing that they are given - the premises of what I have been doing before these last books, the time has come for me to say something more about politics. Not simply a political theory, a deconstructive politics, but to say something about politics is again not simply a speculative gesture: it's a concrete and personal commitment, and this performative commitment is part of what I'm writing. Spectres of Marx, before being a text about Marx's theory, Marx's heritage, is, let's say, a personal commitment at a certain moment, in a certain form, in a singular fashion.


Q6: You talk about geographical exclusion and how your idea of hospitality can address that, but you haven't mentioned the way in which geographical exclusion is completely tied up with economic exclusion. The countries from which it's difficult to get into England are poor countries: it's not really France or Germany, it's the Caribbean, it's Africa, it's the Indian sub-continent, and I wondered how you think your concept of friendship, your non-canonical concept of friendship, can address economic exclusion, and especially economic exclusion in its most extreme form which is the exclusion by those who own capital of everyone else. You can't ask those who own capital to be hospitable ...

J.D.: I ask them nevertheless [laughter].

Q6: It's naive to ask them, it's a naive request.

J.D.: Perhaps, but I still do. The problem of the economy, although I didn't refer to it explicitly in this short presentation, is at the centre of this. It's a problem of economy, of appropriation, misappropriation, hospitality is economy. This is the question we addressed a moment ago about assimilation, which means appropriation, that is exploitation, and so on and so forth. So, I think of course that the problem of capitalism is at the centre of this question; if I didn't name it before I apologise, but it is at the centre of this attempt, without a doubt. When I try to question or to deconstruct the classical concept of the political, it is in order to open it on to other fields, spaces, strata and layers, such as the economical or economy in the broad sense. In the narrow sense of use and exchange values, capital, speculation, financial return and also in the broader sense of propriety, the proper, what is proper to whom, appropriation, and the concept of hospitality should not remain outside of this, and of who owns what. It consists of opening your own space, your own goods, your own house and nation, it's economical and it has to do with economy; and of course however naive I may be, I'm not totally unaware of the problems of the poor being more excluded at the border than the rich. In my own country I can see this every day, at the airport I see who enters easily and who does not with the same legislation. Thankyou for your suggestion, but I'm not totally blind to these questions.

Q6.: I am only saying: how can you use your concept of hospitality to address the problem of capitalism?

J.D.: I can't do it right here and now, but I think this is the problem, the problem that has to be faced no doubt. What I call the transformation of international law implies a transformation of the market, of the global market, and you can't touch the global market without touching capitalism. Everything I say here has to do with that, it would have been easier for me to say 'Well, that's capitalism', but capitalism is precisely tied to this organisation of the political, the classical organisation of the political. At the same time I think it's a little more complex than that, and I think that the development of new forms of capitalism are responsible for, on the one hand the consolidation of the old concepts of politics, democracy, friendship, etc., but at the same time undermining this tradition. It's because of new developments of capitalism that everything is shaken. When you see that for instance the concentration of the powers of the media and tele-technologies goes beyond state power, becomes international, on the one hand it confirms the traditional structures of politics, and on the other it deconstructs them. There is a deconstructing effect of capitalism, that's why the approach to capitalism is very complex, but I agree with you it's a central problem.

Q7: I wanted to link into this last question, and I just wanted to ask you if you think it's possible to transform a concept like democracy without linking that attempt to an attempt to transform material reality? In other words, the example you used about immigration and democracy - the fact that under bourgeois democracy in theory everyone is free to go wherever they like and do whatever they like, except if you're seen as the wrong colour you can't cross the border, or if you don't fit with the politics of a certain nation - and doesn't that mean that basically we have to go back to Marx and say that to throw your weight behind the struggle of the exploited against the exploiters is the only way you can go beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy? Don't we have to go beyond discourse and look to a systematic attempt to change the world?

J.D.: We won't change the world before two o'clock [laughter], but what I'm saying is that we have to, and through the transformation of the organisation of capitalism, to a transformation of the Marxist heritage, taking into account what's happening today especially in terms of citizenship and colour of skin and so on and so forth; and when I'm not giving a lecture at the University of Sussex I try to do my best as a French citizen to fight for the transformation of the laws on immigration in my country, which is a very burning issue right now in the French parliament. I'll do what I can to intervene, very modestly and minimally, in this field of concrete and urgent questions. We have to do both, to speak and to act.

-excerpted from a brief talk on Specters of Marx and The Politics of Friendship, given at The University of Sussex in December of 1997

• Also of serious note: No Compromise [PDF]: An exchange between François Laruelle and Jacques Derrida (1988(?)), translated (a work in progress) by Robin Mackay of Dread, Walking

And Scott McLemee reports on the conferences in New York this past weekend.

Update: McLemee's second piece is here:
The root difficulty, according to Derrida, is that we cannot think about democracy without dragging in another concept, sovereignty. "These two principles," he writes, "are at the same time, but also by turns, inseparable from one another."

Why is that a problem?

Well, the concept of sovereignty (that is, authority and domination over a discrete territory) has survived from the era of monarchy. Under democracy, "the people" replace the king as sovereign. But the structure remains at least potentially authoritarian. For one thing, defining "the people" is anything but a semantic issue: Even a multiethnic democratic state can be gripped by the passions of xenophobic exclusion.

At the same time, the very notion of sovereignty implies the use of force. The borders of a sovereign state are ultimately backed up by the power to wage war in their defense.

The internal contradictions create what Derrida calls political "autoimmunity" -- the tendency of sovereign power to turn on democratic rights, in the name of democratic principles. (full)

'Autoimmunity' may be one of Derrida's most slippery, potentially distracting concepts, in that it appears to resist the stronger emphasis, or moment of aporia--the loophole, if you will--upon which he always insists. When following Derrida's own reading closely, it becomes difficult to see such a process in either a purely negative or positive light. The biological and psychoanalytic stakes also add to the confusion. Nevertheless he seems to distinguish between autoimmunity and auto-immunity: the former would be merely practical or prescriptive (political, in a sense) and the latter more descriptive, representing a stronger aporia.

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