Wednesday, June 22, 2005

A Passage in Question

There is probably something obscene in posting a passage from the very last pages of one of the richest and most patient philosophical works ever written. Such transcribed offerings most often—and perhaps rightly—get passed over entirely by impatient blog readers. But the passage in question has been cited enough in passing, in various scholarly writings, that we may as well read it here together, while not failing to acknowledge for a moment the indisputable fact that 300-odd extremely dense pages do preceed it. Soon enough, dear reader, this blog will return to something else, more bloggly.

Most unfortunately of all, the Caputo article/review entitled, "Who is Derrida's Zarathustra?" seems to have disappeared from the Internet. Caputo is perhaps the first to comment on the certain "disquiet" and "reticence" that Derrida acknowledges, with respect to Blanchot in particular, having "inspired" this book, which is of course The Politics of Friendship. I've only read it through once, this book, so I won't presume to comment. But maybe this passage can serve as a guidepost nonetheless in starting to think about Levinas. That is my vain desire.

The passage in question "begins" with Derrida quoting Blanchot:

'It is obviously the Nazi persecution (which was in operation from the beginning, unlike what certain professors of philosophy would wish to convince us of––to have us believe that in 1933, when Heidegger joined, national-socialism was still a proper, suitable doctrine, not deserving of condemnation) which made us feel that the Jews were our brothers and that Judaism was more than a culture and even more than a religion, but, rather, the foundation of our relationships with the other [autrui].'

I shall not hazard an interpretation of this definition of Judaism, although I sense both its highly problematic character and its imposing necessity (which is of course unquestionable, from the moment one decides to call Judaism the very thing one thus defines: a question of a circle with which we cannot here engage again). Putting aside, then, what is most difficult in this definition, but supposing, precisely, that Judaism is 'the foundation of our relationships with others', then––and this will be my only question––what does 'brothers' mean in this context? Why would autri be in the first place a brother? And especially, why 'our brothers'? Whose brothers? Who, then, are we? Who is this 'we'?
(Reading this sentence, and always in view of the admiring and grateful friendship which binds me to the author, I was wondering, among other questions (more than one): why could I never have written that, nor subscribed to it, whereas, relying on other criteria, this declaration would be easier for me to subscribe to than several others? In the same vein, I was wondering why the word 'community' (avowable or unavowable, inoperative or not)––why I have never been able to write it, on my own initiative and in my name, as it were. Why? Whence my reticence? And is it not fundamentally the essential part of the disquiet which inspires this book? Is this reserve, with respect to the above definition of Judaism, insufficiently Jewish, or, on the contrary, hyperbolically Jewish, more than Jewish? What, then, once again, does 'Judaism' mean? I add that the language of fraternity seems to me just as problematic when, reciprocally, Lévinas uses it to extend humanity to the Christian, in this case to Abbot Pierre: 'the fraternal humanity of the stalag's confidential agent who, by each of his movements, restored in us the consciousness of our dignity. The man was called Abbot Pierre, I never learned his family name.')

It is rather late in the day now to issue a warning. Despite the appearances that this book has multiplied, nothing in it says anything against the brother or against fraternity. No protest, no contestation. Maligning and cursing, as we have seen often enough, still appertain to the inside of the history of brothers (friends or enemies, be they false or true). This history will not be thought, it will not be recalled, by taking up this side. (Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 304-305)

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