Sunday, August 14, 2005


Thought I'd try rousing a thread again that has been more or less sleeping for two months. Badiou recently called Derrida the hunter who didn't wish to catch his prey, which suggests to me that he has been reading Counterpath (an essential book for those wishing Derrida was still around and writing a blog, in my opinion):
Derrida is the contrary to the hunter. The hunter hopes that the animal will stop. So that he can put an end to the vanishing of the animal.

Derrida hopes that the vanishing will not cease to vanish, that it can be shown without any interruption of its vanishing.

To show from a good distance the localisation of this vanishing.. to get as close as possible. ‘Softly, softly’ (whispered)

Derrida’s ingenuity = in resisting the discursive imposition so as to be able to say, ‘the vanishing point is in that region’. (In Glas he localises the vanishing point between the impenetrable conceptuality of Hegel and the relentlessly perverse Genet.)

The vanishing point is the treasure. I have a map. It is vague, but it is enough – or is it – to stop walking on the treasure. It’s a question of tact.

As mentioned before by a rather astute commenter, Badiou's characterization of Derrida is not without it's own set of priorities or stakes. In light of this (and being no "expert" on Badiou, nor qualified to defend Agamben from the likes of this fellow, who accuses Agamben of misunderstanding set theory in his response to Badiou), I thought it might be useful to point out, albeit in a rather banal sense maybe, how B's tribute here is a substantial rephrasing of D's own comments on the matter (the matter of hunting, that is.)

Here then, is the relevant excerpt from the adorable (perhaps in Barthe's sense of this word) 'postcard' section of Counterpath (it should be noted that in this passage Derrida is also responding, again, and in a different manner, to criticisms he once received from Blanchot and Genet for traveling and speaking so much as he did––and perhaps instead of staying at home like a good world traveller?):
As is often the case, I go looking for exiles, and have discovered a very old Sephardic community near here. There are various hypotheses about them (I met a Muslim francophone woman whose name, I think, is "Ammour" and who is doing research on these survivors) and I feel, a little like them perhaps, like a survivor, more Marrano than ever. Most often I watch myself traveling without changing places, an immobile voyeur who would analyze what befalls his body in movement in the world. Move camera without a camera, kinetoscope for a sort of errance that is forever encrypted: the always incognito displacement of a secret that I transport without knowing. Even when I speak in front of large crowds. I feel that I transport this secret (I can hear its heartbeat like a child in the womb) but don't understand anything about it. Perhaps it will be told to me while abroad: revelation, bedazzlement, conversion, I fall down backwards, I am born, I die at the moment when, at the end of an unknown alley, I meet the Messiah who will come out of me where he has been hiding for so long. You are giving birth, no? Think also of a spy charged with a mission. They have confided to this secret agent a message that he can't read, perhaps his own death sentence, the story I often recount to whomever wants to listen to what I have to tell them: Bellerophon, Hamlet, etc. That is why I call myself a "Marrano": not because of the peregrinations of a wandering Jew, not because of successive exiles, but because of the clandestine search for a secret that is greater and older than me, eschatological, fatal for me, as me. That is why I hunt it––there is no other word––I am in pursuit of it while making it flee. I don't travel like a hunter, but I run as if I were chasing someone by pretending to track them down all over the world, while knowing all along that they are buried within my body and that, in a word, I want to help them save themselves by running from me. It is I who is hunting and I who is pursued. There is someone I would like to save from me by keeping them in me. Me save me, perhaps that is the most economic formula for my "traveling with"; there you have it, follow that guide, the vademecum or viaticum, lower your head when entering the pyramid. Like certain Marranos I would have begun by forgetting, by believing that I have simply forgotten my own filiation. I have the feeling that the feeling that the people I meet while traveling, or who flock to hear me speak, can sense that. They expect one day to see the Thing or the Cause revealed. Like those who get buried in the old cemetery in Jerusalem, facing the Gate. They want to be being-there, on that day, standing (as one says for a "standing ovation"). They wait so as to reserve their place in the cemetery or lecture hall, like in Jerusalem. I am exaggerating, as I always do, with these Messianic scenarios, but they terrify me at the same time, for I am pleading––contradictory as that might seem––for each voyage to pass in the most insignificant way possible, without accident, without surprise: please don't let anything happen! As if I had already had my share of catastrophes. I give the impression of being for the event, of elaborating, as they say, a thinking of the event, of arrivance, of the singular exposure to what comes. You know the refrain. You've got to be joking [tu parles]! For I will tell you in all confidence, Catherine, just for this one book, and you only: I am also pleading (someone in me is pleading) all the time for nothing to happen, as if nothing could happen without being something bad. Leave the event to others! For that, isn't it better to stay at home or, on the contrary, to rush and hide outside so that nothing will happen [arrice], since the most arriving [arrivantes] things, and often the worst, come to pass in the bosom of one's own home?

To crudely summarize then, the distinction is that between a hunter who secretly doesn't wish to catch his prey, and a hunter who is in fact hunting something elusive or 'secret' 'within' himself, and for the sake, perhaps, of some 'other.' What might this mean? How does this relate to the concept, explicitly formulated so late in Derrida's life (although the signposts are scattered throughout his oeuvre) of 'auto-immunity'? Might Artaud––as one example among many, surely––offer us a foggy clue? (This blog, not unlike others, will forever be more interested in a certain kind of smog.)

Contrary to many current practices, Derrida's reading often (though with the possible exception of Fukyama...and Hegel) is so courteous an exposition as to make it difficult if not impossible to tell where his querelle begins, or what precisely may be at stake.

For example, if anyone wishes to explain to me whether Derrida "The Mere Stylist" is agreeing or not with Patocka in these paragraphs from The Gift of Death, I would be most obliged:
{to be added later...go here first, or for now...ok here it is, your crash course in Derrida, building on your crash course in Blanchot from last week}

Patocka is close to both Heidegger, whose work he knew well, and Levinas, whom he may or may not have read, but what he says differs from each of them. Even if it seems slight and secondary, the difference does not just reduce to levels of intonation or pathos. It can be quite decisive. It is not only Patocka's Christianity that separates him from those two thinkers (for argument's sake let us follow the hypothesis that in what they say in general Heidegger and Levinas are not Christian, something that is far from being clear). Along with Christianity there is a certain idea of Europe, its history and future, that also distinguishes him from them. And since Patocka's Christian politics retains something heretical about it, one might even say a decided predisposition towards a certain principle of heresy, the situation is very complicated, not to say equivocal, which makes it all the more interesting...

The fact that Christian themes are identifiable does not mean that this text is, down to the last word and in its final signature, an essentially Christian one, even if Patocka could himself be said to be...[thus echoing something D. has on other occasions said about Kierkegaard -ed.]

The Christian themes can be seen to revolve around the gift as gift of death, the fathomless gift of a type of death: infinite love (the Good as goodness that infinitely forgets itself), sin and salvation, repentance and sacrifice. What engenders all these meanings and links them, internally and necessarily, is a logic that at bottom (that is why it can still, up to a certain point, be called a "logic") has no need of the event of a revelation or the revelation of an event. It needs to think the possibility of such an event but not the event itself. This is a major point of difference, permitting such a discourse to be developed without reference to religion as institutional dogma, and proposing a genealogy of thinking concerning the possibility and essence of the religious that doesn't amoung to an article of faith. If one takes into account certain differences, the same can be said for many discourses that seek in our day to be religious–discourses of a philosophical type if not philosophies themselves–without putting forth theses or theologems that would by their very structure teach something corresponding to the dogmas of a given religion. The difference is subtle and unstable, and it would call for careful and vigilant analyses. In different respects and with different results, the discourses of Levinas or Marion, perhaps of Ricoeur also, are in the same situation as that of Patocka. But in the final analysis this list has no clear limit and it can be said, once again taking into account the differences, that a certain Kant and a certain Hegel, Kierkegaard of course, and I might even dare to say for provocative effect, Heidegger also, belong to this tradition that consists of proposing a nondogmatic doublet of dogma, a philosophical and metaphysical doublet, in any case a thinking that "repeats" the possibility of religion without religion. (We will need to return to this immense and thorny question elsewhere.)


The response involves [passe] the logical necessity of a possibility for the event. Everything comes to pass as though only the analysis of the concept of responsibility were ultimately capable of producing Christianity, or more precisely the possibility of Christianity. One might as well conclude, concersely, that this concept or responsibility is Christian through and through and is produced by the event of Christianity. For if it is as a result of examing this concept alone that the Christian event–sin, gift of infinite love linked to the experience of death–appears necessary, does that not mean that Christianity alone has made possible access to an authentic responsibility throughout history, responsibility as history and as history of Europe? There is no choice to be made here between a logical deduction, or one that is not related to the event, and the reference to a revelatory event. One implies the other. And it is not simply as a believer or as a Christian affirming dogma, the revelation, and the event, that Patocka makes the declaration already referred to, as would a genealogist historian stating what point history has arrived at:

Because of its foundation within the abyssal profundity of the soul, Christianity represents to this day the most powerful means–never yet superseded but not yet thought right through either–by which man is able to struggle against his own decline. (117)

On what condition is responsibility possible? On the condition that the Good no longer be a transcendental objective, a relation between objective things, but the relation to the other, a response to the other; an experience of personal goodness and a movement of intention. That supposes, as we have seen, a double rupture: both with orgiastic mystery and with Platonism. On what condition does goodness exist beyond all calculation? On the condition that goodness forget itself, that the movement be a movement of the gift that renounces itself, hence a movement of infinite love. Only infinite love can renounce itself and, in order to become finite, become incarnated in orderto love the other, to love the other as a finite other. This gift of infinite love comes from someone and is addressed someone; responsibility demands irreplaceable singularity. Yet only death or rather the apprehension of death can give this irreplaceability, and it is only on the basis of it that one can speak of a responsible subject, of the soul as conscience of self, or myself, etc. We have thus deduced the possibility of a mortal's accession to responsibility through the experience of his irreplaceability, that which an approaching death or the approach of death gives him. But the mortal thus deduced is someone whose very responsibility requires that he concern himself not only with an objective Good but with a gift of infinite love, a goodness that is forgetful of itself. There is thus a structural disproportion or dissymmetry between the finite and responsible mortal on the one hand and the goodness of the infinite gift on the other hand. One can conceive of this disproportion without assigning to it a revealed cause or without tracing it back to the event of original sin, but it inevitably transforms the experience of responsibility into one of guilt: I have never been and never will be up to the level of this infinite goodness nor up to the immensity of the gift, the frameless immensity that must in general define (in-define) a gift as such. This guilt is originary, like original sin. Before any fault is determined, I am guilty inasmuch as I am responsible. What gives me my singularity, namely, death and finitude, is what makes me unequal to the infinite goodness of the gift that is also the first appeal to responsibility. Guilt is inherent in responsibility because responsibility is always unequal to itself: one is never responsible enough. One is never responsible enough because one is finite but also because responsibility requires two contradictory movements. It requires one to respond as oneself and as irreplaceable singularity, to answer for what one does, says, gives; but also requires that, being good and through goodness, one forget or efface the origin of what one gives. Patocka doesn't say that in so many words, and I am stretching things a little further than he or the letter or his text would allow. But it is he deduces guilt and sin–and so repentance, sacrifice, and the seeking of salvation–in the situation of the responsible individual:

The responsible man as such is a self, an individual that doesn't coincide with any role that he might happen to assume [an interior and visible self, a secret self at bottom]–something Plato expresses through the myth of the choice of destiny [a pre-Christian myth then, one that prepares for Christianity]; he is a responsible self because, in confronting death and in dealing with nothingness [a more "Heideggerian" than "Levinasian" theme], he takes upon himself what only each of us can realize in ourselves, that which makes each of us irreplaceable. Now, however, individuality has been related to infinite love and man is an individual because he is guilty, alwaysguilty with respect to that love. [Patocka emphasizes "always": like Heidegger he defines there an originary guilt that doesn't wait for one to commit any particular fault, crime or sin, an a priori guilt that is included in the conception of responsibility, in the originary Schuldigsein, which one can translate as "responsibility" as well as "guilt." But Heidegger has no need to make reference, no explicit reference at least, to this disproportion with respect to an infinite love in order to analyze the originary Schuldigsein.] Each is determined as individual by the uniqueness of what situates him in the generality of sin. (116)

(Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills, 48-52)

Here's the cover:

It was a theme that Rembrandt wrestled with more than once:

As for a different hunter, and in quite another register entirely (but one bearing on the monstrous comment thread below), Ian Hunter's conflations here (PDF) lead me to ask what purpose such revisionist histories can ever hope to serve? If, in order to meaningfully criticize a trend, or style, in academia, it is necessary to speak so broadly and so reductively about something entitled "Theory" (again, by itself a purely American-invented word), then what does that suggest about the happy scope of one's critique? It seems to me an indirect way to criticize Derrida and others without having to engage with their actual writing, much less with the intense disagreements and more subtle distinctions between philosophies and between philosophers (you'd think, from reading Hunter, that Derrida, Habermas, Kristeva and others all arrived on the same boat at once and shortly thereafter left smiling and holding hands). Isn't this trend, however subtle, identifiably the latest manifestation of something only all-too-familiar (anti-interdisciplinary sentiment and antipathy toward the German-inflected French, to be gruff about it), something that further constitutes a discourse seeking desperately to canonize itself before it has even begun? And failing, in the process, to adequately account for its begninnings? A discourse in fact hesitating or neglecting entirely to limit itself to its alleged scope, as a specific critique of a certain institutionalized taste culture or style within American institutions, but instead succeeding in slipping in a whole lot more (the not-so-subtle insinuation of a "wrong philosophic turn")? (As a side note, one wonders if English departments were not always practicing in the shadow of philosophy departments, to some degree...)

But this post has begun to wander far and wide. Let's give the final words for now to JD, again from Counterpath:
Spoke a lot also about the lie and pardon (today in politics, but also beyond the political or juridical). Well received. No perceptible bad conscience on their part, just a discourse of the victims--of Nazism, then communism, now of "postmodernism," that word so many intellectuals, here and everywhere else, stuff everything into, and which here they confuse with a symmetrical liberal antithesis of totalitarianism: the market, drugs, anything at all. Anything whatsoever, really. It's difficult. I'll have to give up describing all that to you, like the press and television, which, as you know, I consent to more easily abroad. Wrongly, but why?...(Counterpath, 237)

nb. To be updated and possibly made more coherent as time permits. Oh, and also on hunters, there is...this (via).

8/28/05: Reading the other evening in the newly translated Selected Writings of Walter Benjamin, I stumbled across this from the 1934 essay entitled, "Franz Kafka: On the Tenth Anniversary of His Death." It may suggest that Rembrandt's rather pious Abraham, a face shot through with misery and fright (but is it really terror?) fails to capture something–I don't know, would we call it the jouissance unique to the father?–in as Benjamin says, "throw[ing] off the burden of the blanket...set[ting] cosmic ages in motion in order to turn the age-old father-son relationship into a living and consequential thing." In any case here is the magnificient passage:
If Lukács thinks in terms of historical ages, Kafka thinks in terms of cosmic epochs. The man who whitewashes has epochs to move, even in his most insignificant gesture. On many occasions, and often for strange reasons, Kafka's figures clap their hands. Once, the casual remark is made that these hands are "really steam hammers" ["Auf der Galerie"].

We meet these holders of power in constant, slow movement, rising or falling. But they are at their most terrible when they rise from the deepest decay–from the fathers. The son in "Das Urteil" [The Judgement] calms his spiritless, senile father whom he has just gently put to bed:

"Don't worry, you are well covered up."
"No," cried his father, cutting short the answer. He threw the blanket off with such strength that it unfolded as it flew, and he stood up in bed. Only one hand lightly touched the ceiling to steady him.
"You wanted to cover me up, I know, my little scamp, but I'm not all covered up yet. And even if this is all the strength I have left, it's enough for you–too much for you...But thank goodness a father does not need to be taught how to see through his son"...And he stood up quite unsuported and kicked his legs out. He beamed with insight...
"So now you know what else there was in the world besides yourself; until now, you have known only about yourself! It is true, you were an innocent child, but it is even more true that you have been a devilish person!"

As the father throws off the burden of the blanket, he also throws off a cosmic burden. He has set cosmic ages in motion in order to turn the age-old father-son relationship into a living and consequential thing. But what consequences! He sentences his son to death by drowning. The father is the one who punishes; he is drawn to guilt, just as the court officials are. There is much to indicate that the world of officials and the world of fathers are the same to Kafka. The similarity does not redound to this world's credit; it consists of dullness, decay, and filth. The father's uniform is stained all over; his underwear is dirty. Filth is the element of officials. "She could not understand why there were office hours for the public in the first place. 'To get some dirt on the front staircase'–this is how her question was once answered by an official, who was probably annoyed, but it made a lot of sense to her." Uncleanness is so much the attribute of officials that one could almost regard them as enormous parasites. This, of course, refers not to the economic context, but to the forces of reason and humanity from which this clan makes a living. In the same way, the fathers in Kafka's strange families batten on their sons, lying on top of them like giant parasites. They not only prey upon their strength, but gnaw away at their sons' right to exist. Fathers punish, but they are at the same time accusers. The sin of which they accuse their sons seems to be a kind of original sin. The definition of which Kafka has given applies to the sons more than to anyone else: "Original sin, the old injustice committed by man, concsists in the complaint unceasingly made by man that he has been the victim of an injustice, the victim of original sin" ["Er"]. But who is accused of this inherited sin–the sin of having produced an heir–if not the father by the son? Accordingly, the son would be the sinner. But one must not conclude from Kafka's definition that the accusation is sinful because it is false. Nowhere does Kafka say that it is made wrongfully. A never-ending process is at work here, and no cause can appear in a worse light than the one for which the father enlists the aid of these officials and court offices. A boundless curruptibility is not their worst feature, for their essence is such that their venality is the only hope held out to the human spirit facing them...

A certain kind of original sin remains indispensable then, and can only be sacrificed by sacrificing also the very foundations Judeo-Christian law, justice, and perhaps in Benjamin's and others' readings a great deal more as well. Leaving aside that final proposition about "hope" for the moment (one Agamben will re-peat 60 years later in The Coming Community), recall Derrida again:
As soon as I enter into a relation with the other, with the gaze, look, request, love, command, or call of the other, I know that I can respond only by sacrificing ethics, that is, by sacrificing whatever obliges me to respond, in the same way, in the same instant, to all the others. I offer a gift of death, I betray, I don't need to raise my knife over my son on Mount Moriah for that.

Indeed no; for one needs only stand up in bed! Of course D. is also abandoning the strict Lacanian 'law of the father' for a more enlightened, daily sort of existentialism at once equally serious and less profound:
Day and night, at every instant, on all the Mount Moriahs of this world, I am doing that, raising my knife over what I love and must love, over those to whom I owe absolute fidelity, incommunsurably.

Howevever fathers, in Benjamin's reading of Kafka at least, are inevitably stained by a complaint (the implicit accusation) of original sin; forever stained if only because they have given life to the sinner–"the sin of having produced an heir". (It would seem that bachelors are therefore home free.) Derrida is not unaware of these stakes in his discussion here oriented, as usual, around the concept of 'economy/aneconomy', and specifically as it relates to that unique "sacrificial hubris [that] Nietzsche calls the 'stroke of genius called Christianity'" (Gift of Death, 114).

Interesting though, how in Kafka's story the father's semi-self-liberatory bluster and accusation ("even more true that you have been a devilish person") hinges on an exposure of some fundamental lie, and innocence that was at once foundational, originary, and in some significant sense still "not...false."

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