Monday, February 28, 2005

irregularnews, Foucault Society blog

Well maybe it's not that lonely up here after all. We're a savage bunch, no doubt. But then if one is truly humble, why risk appearing to feel the need to proclaim it, to play at being able to take oneself lightly? (Granted this is all some people ever do; one wonders if they have a serious side at all.) A good chunk of Vermont is more "progressive" than Howard Dean will ever be, and not afraid to say so. Granted, some of them are beyond quaint, haven't watched television in 30 years, and smell a bit. And although what this word signifies in the popular imagination (car insurance, perhaps?) of course remains more than a little ambiguous.

Awash in stories about bloggers (not about what they say), the mainstream press without fail imposes a frame for "debate" a priori immunized against sincere analysis (which would mean self-criticism). Is not the need to refuse the question greater now than ever? Those not in a position of power to actively shape the dominant discourse, not bearing that responsibility, ought not to be confused, or to allow their egos to be confused, with those who are, and do. Then the real work can begin.

Of the 393 interviews about the coming war on the four major nightly newscasts—NBC, ABC, CBS, and the PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer—in this critical period right before invasion, only three interviews were with anti-war representatives. That is not mainstream media. That didn’t represent mainstream America, when most people were in favor of pursuing diplomacy and inspections rather than going to war. That’s extreme media.

-Amy Goodman

Update: The first post on The Foucault Society's new blog happens to feature a quote from a visit to a certain very (sorry, Martin Amis) special state.

Friday, February 25, 2005

in lieu of a post

The incomparable wood s lot featuring M.B.
, the disturbingly fructiferous Alphonse, who also probes Sade, Bourdieu and Zizek, and Charlotte on "The Power of Nightmares" (indirectly, I think). Responses welcome to the following quotes:
With regard to the "perhaps," moreover, there exists a theological vein, in the work of Böhme, Bruno, Nicholas of Cusa, that defines God not as being--and precisely for which fact they break with what Heidegger call the "ontotheological tradition"--but defines God as "before" and outside of being, without being. They define God as "perhaps." God is the perhaps...The most impossible becomes more than impossible, otherwise than impossible. (Derrida, "Deconstructions: The Im-possible," 31)

Theories are necessary (the theories of language, for example): necessary and useless. Reason works in order to wear itself out, by organizing itself into systems, seeking a positive knowledge where it can posit itself, pose and repose and at the same time convey itself to an extremity which forms a stop and closure. We must pass by way of this knowledge and forget it...Forgetfulness is a practice...The theoretical battle, even if it is waged against some form of violence, is always the violence of an incomprehension; let us not be stopped short by the partial, simplifying, reductive character of comprehension itself. This partialness is characteristic of the theoretical: "with hammer blows," Nietzsche said. But this hammering is not only the clash of arms. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 75-76)

The correct criticism of the System does not consist (as is most often, complacently, supposed) in finding fault with it, or in interpreting it insufficiently (which even Heidegger sometimes does), but rather in rendering it invincible, invulnerable to criticism or, as they say, inevitable. Then, since nothing escapes it because of its omnipresent unity and the perfect cohesion of everything, there remains no place for fragmentary writing unless it come into focus as the impossible necessary: as that which is written in the time outside time, in the sheer suspense which without restraint breaks the seal of unity by, precisely, not breaking it, but by leaving it aside without this abandon's ever being able to be known. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 61)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

memoria technica

Well, Manning Marable, it's been thirteen years, and there is still no comprehensive archive. Although "The Official Web Site of Malcolm X" does claim to have "everything you want to know about this historical figure."
This most certainly being computer wallpaper.
A better resource of audio files is here. Would recommend listening to the comments he made in Paris, 1964. He was an advocate for the New International before his time (one must at least hope, and even despite a fierce neo-nationalism). From a speech given in 1965:
The step-by-step process that was used by the press: First they fanned the flame in such a manner to create hysteria in the mind of the public. And then they shift gears and fan the flame in a manner designed to get the sympathy of the public. And once they go from hysteria to sympathy, their next step is to get the public to support them in whatever act they're getting ready to go down with. You're dealing with a cold calculating international machine, that's so criminal in its objectives and motives that it has the seeds of its own destruction, right within.

See also this excellent resource.

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.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

email from a Vermont poet

...with his own journal and everything.

Up in the morning early pot of tea sun salute
play my shakuhachi sit cross-legged on my cushion
burn some incense.

To my desk a morning's work write a couple letters
a dozen emails work on a poem work on another essay
about The Emperor's cruelty.

Lunch a nap tea.

Put on my winter work clothes long johns greasy over-alls
old shirt, beat up sweater duct tape mended mittens
hard-hat grab the chainsaw head out to the woods.

A couple hours cutting next year's firewood stagger around
in the snow hump and sweat heave and groan then home
through the dark trees.

Eat good food in the warm, night-time house toasty
by the woodstove go to bed. Get up the next day
do exactly the same thing day after day after day.

Boring? Are you kidding? Who needs
nirvana enlightenment satori?

This is heaven right here on earth.

David Budbill

It's cold up here again, the sap might not be running for a week.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Hunter S. Thompson R.I.P.

photo via scarecrow

More and less here, here and here. A long interview with Terry Gilliam about the making of the film, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is worth reading.


So apparently Shakespeare was a crypto-Catholic, eh? Well that would explain a lot. Not that it means anything, even if true, of course. It would seem, in a sense, a pretty easy claim to make about just about anyone (so Derrida accuses Heidegger). And like the label of "cynic," not as unflattering as it might at first sound.

On another note (and in keeping with this blog's down to date policy) would anyone happen to recommend the Carole Angier biography of Primo Levi (as opposed to the other one)? The woman in the bookshop was nice enough to let me use her computer to "pull up the Amazon reviews." When I proceeded to tell her about blogs, she expressed the usual, entirely justifiable hesitancy, the feeling overwhelmed by just how much is out there. Which is, I suppose, precisely the reason to read blogs (I may have recommended a few). But might anyone else have any lines they like to use re: why those in the bookshop business should not be afraid of blogs (and afraid of Amazon)? To her great credit, she did mention the recent scandal concerning anonymous self-reviewers at that Bush-supporting, monolithic, bottom line-worshipping place. Or if the bookshop woman happens to stop by here, and cares to leave a comment of any sort, that would of course be most welcome.

I was able to locate one review in The New Republic (BugMeNot required), from whence the following sentences:

Angier's book is not a critical biography or an intellectual biography. It is an emotional biography.


Angier's approach will not appeal to everyone. She is unrelenting in her pursuit of the personal, and she can be mawkish. Though she comments very effectively on certain aspects of Levi's writing, anyone looking for literary criticism should look elsewhere. Her book has passages of much grace, but it is bloated. She assumes a broad base of knowledge about Levi's books, failing to adequately introduce much of his work. And her speculation about Levi's wife and mother is astonishingly one-sided, utterly lacking the sympathy with which she treats so many of the other figures in his life.

Most controversially, Angier confesses in the introduction that at times she has "felt or imagined the past from a story, or from an encounter." This is not as dubious as it sounds, because the chapters in which she does this form a sort of "shadow biography": they are set apart from the main text, with their headings in italics, and anyone wishing to avoid speculation about Levi's life could simply skip them. Angier comments that these chapters have an "unstable bond" with Levi, but her own relationship with them is slippery as well. By setting them apart from the text and emphasizing their reliance on guesswork rather than scholarship, she appears to disavow them; but at the same time she says that she believes these "irrational chapters" to be "more true" than the rational ones. Angier really does seem to believe that she has gotten inside Levi's head, and maybe she has. But her perceived intimacy with him dominates the book, leading to a sense that she is too close to her subject, whom she refers to throughout by his first name.

It strikes me that this is much like what Derrida does in Counterpath, with his 'postcards' set aside in grey boxes, separate from the "more rigorously philosophical" text written by Catherine Malabou, and yet more intimate, more easily written (in the spirit of Debord, perhaps), and ultimately, more interesting.

Update: Speaking of being more interesting, some more thoughts on the Shakespeare book, the everyday contempt for readers, London, life and death are here.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

books and bookshops

From Bookshop Memories (1936), by George Orwell (via wood s lot):

When I worked in a second-hand bookshop — so easily pictured, if you don’t work in one, as a kind of paradise where charming old gentlemen browse eternally among calf-bound folios — the thing that chiefly struck me was the rarity of really bookish people. Our shop had an exceptionally interesting stock, yet I doubt whether ten per cent of our customers knew a good book from a bad one. First edition snobs were much commoner than lovers of literature, but oriental students haggling over cheap textbooks were commoner still, and vague-minded women looking for birthday presents for their nephews were commonest of all.

Many of the people who came to us were of the kind who would be a nuisance anywhere but have special opportunities in a bookshop. For example, the dear old lady who ‘wants a book for an invalid’ (a very common demand, that), and the other dear old lady who read such a nice book in 1897 and wonders whether you can find her a copy. Unfortunately she doesn’t remember the title or the author’s name or what the book was about, but she does remember that it had a red cover. But apart from these there are two well-known types of pest by whom every second-hand bookshop is haunted. One is the decayed person smelling of old breadcrusts who comes every day, sometimes several times a day, and tries to sell you worthless books. The other is the person who orders large quantities of books for which he has not the smallest intention of paying. In our shop we sold nothing on credit, but we would put books aside, or order them if necessary, for people who arranged to fetch them away later. Scarcely half the people who ordered books from us ever came back. It used to puzzle me at first. What made them do it? They would come in and demand some rare and expensive book, would make us promise over and over again to keep it for them, and then would vanish never to return. But many of them, of course, were unmistakable paranoiacs. They used to talk in a grandiose manner about themselves and tell the most ingenious stories to explain how they had happened to come out of doors without any money — stories which, in many cases, I am sure they themselves believed. In a town like London there are always plenty of not quite certifiable lunatics walking the streets, and they tend to gravitate towards bookshops, because a bookshop is one of the few places where you can hang about for a long time without spending any money. In the end one gets to know these people almost at a glance. For all their big talk there is something moth-eaten and aimless about them. Very often, when we were dealing with an obvious paranoiac, we would put aside the books he asked for and then put them back on the shelves the moment he had gone. None of them, I noticed, ever attempted to take books away without paying for them; merely to order them was enough — it gave them, I suppose, the illusion that they were spending real money...(more)

Yes, the weekend is a time for books. Purchased today, for less than $20, Kafka's The Castle and Amerika, Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, DeLillo's Libra, Nabokov's Bend Sinister, and an old hardcover of Dorris Lessing's Stories. Such a pleasant problem to have, too many books to read. And yet also the pressure always, bordering on compulsion, for just one more book...Fortunately enough I can't afford to do this often. Have just begun Wittgenstein's Mistress, and would like to post something on that next, without forgetting Counterpath.


Mark Kaplan is right to insist on the sometimes weight of certain words. (Although sometimes it is not quite, of course, as simple as saying "point taken." Neither is it sufficient to invoke the false assurance of a "we," saying something like, "we defer.") But in any case, the "recovering Habermasian" come Zizekian Jodi Dean links to a provocative article that deserves wider mention:

There is a new joke circulating in the post-vote liberal press: prominent sections of the Left are now advising that in order to avoid any further drift into irrelevance it should compromise its principles and adopt a new Bible-toting symbolism capable of appealing to the swing voters of Middle America. The punch line, of course, is the notion that the Left has any principles left to compromise! Principles require a non-cynical approach to the political, and cynicism is precisely the strategy the Left has embraced so it can justify its pragmatic opportunism as the height of "enlightened" thinking. The rise to cult celebrity of John Stewart and Comedy Central's The Daily Show is a case in point. Most weeknights The Daily Show entertains a primarily younger audience with a savvily cynical Left take on current events. With shrewd hilarity, Stewart and his cohorts relentlessly puncture the solemnity of the official political discourse in the U.S., all under cover of what is billed as "fake news". "Fake news" is what allows Stewart to evade any political responsibility for the state of political discussion on the Left while remaining an idol of the Left. Laughing the seriousness out of all "principles", Stewart is the "real" idol of a supposedly idol-less Left (and his faking not being an idol only adds to his idol-ness). Yet what Stewart conveniently doesn't get is that in Bush's "America" the fake is what keeps the (manufactured) "real news" looking like reality. The cultural politics of the "fake news" of Comedy Central is to produce the "real fake" so that the Brian Williams and Peter Jennings of the world look less fake.

Is this not the same role, ultimately, as that played by shows like 24? Whether comforted in the tired evenings with benign satire, or with a sensational collage of vulgar stereotypes and reactionary, semi-coherent plot lines and mediocre dialogue, the difference is, as they say, the same. The actual workings of power and ideology have received a fresh round of immunizations, safely assimilating again the potential real menace of meaningful critique.
In fact, "After Theory," the populist left has started marketing a new commodity: the uncritical reading. "Uncritical" is, for the populist left, the code of brave defiance against reason and critique and a celebration of what it represents as the people's wisdom. "Uncritical reading" is the Left's latest attempt to naturalize by spontaneity the ideological working of capitalist cultural politics. Through "uncritical reading"—which is the sign of "reading from the heart" (and a not-so-secret attack on science, critique, and objective understanding of the world)—it posits a pre-critical authenticity that precedes all reading, and celebrates an uncritical thinking (a resistant irrationality, a pre-textual essence or experience that cannot be conceptualized, etc.) that is present in all critical thought. Uncritical reading critically trains the student to turn away from objective class interests and toward values, religion, and even superstition, all in the name of the spontaneous. Uncritical reading is a continuation of the left's interpretive strategy that in the 1980s and 1990s found in every quietistic text a moment of resistance and argued that power was actually in the hands of the weak. After the disastrous end of that project, resistance reading has been transformed into uncritical reading—a reading that resists the knowledge of the world (which might be used to transform the world) and embraces instead matters of affect.

I don't know. I certainly agree with the general spirit of this. At times I've found myself arguing just such a line, querying the general disposition of much hypertext and self-styled postmodern "theorists," calling for a much-needed critique in terms of economic class, and invoking Zizek on the cynical, ironic viewer. (Incidentally, proclaiming oneself "postmodern" is just not, you know, something one does, if one wishes to be taken seriously, as I think Caterina Fake once pointed out, back when I first started reading blogs.) But then there's also a sense in which these (especially Internet) tendencies toward uncritical, light (light as in Terry Gilliam's terrorist-stricken restaurant in Brazil), affective reading represent more than just a passing trend or a still deeper entrenchment of habitual cynicism and denial. They are also of course indicative of real and substantial changes in the 'tele-techno-media' texture of our environment. Which is not for a minute to suggest that they are merely natural, or that a disservice to critical thought isn't done every time they are spoken of in a way that somehow naturalizes them. Whether these evolving tendencies represent anything like an End of History or not, as some a notion hardly worth dignifying with a response. (Without my response they are already striving hard to become a self-fulfilling prophesy (is there any other kind?) And in a sense, one cannot help but respond, and every day.) But keen observers are those who recognize a red flag (as they say) whenever the word "failure" is invoked as self-evident, beyond all doubt (as in the "failure of Theory," "failure of Communism," "failure of the 60's," etc.) Such phrases often betray an entire host of common, clichéd prejudices--in short, a worldview--whether they intend to do so or not. And the phrase "failure of the left" is not always untouched by this tendency. As the film Control Room concludes, on a Howard Zinnian note, the tragedy is in people remembering only one thing: Victory (whether "History" or disengenuous, attempted performative utterance). Another such prejudice would be that 'deconstruction' somehow dogmatically priveleges affect over fact. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

new posts, new to the page

...down below the long Derrida quote. (Granted one is another excerpt.) Was just the order I was composing them in; sorry. Usually just don't announce this practice at all. Well the game is up! Read farther down the page if you like.
Update: I've also just added two rather old, short essays to my little page, one on Eagleton, The Russian Formalists and Bakhtin (fixed) and the other on Nabokov. The second one especially is stunningly mediocre. Bear in mind they were written a while ago. Just thought some might enjoy the first. That is all.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

there is no meta

Matthew Kirschenbaum:
It got even more interesting after the talk, when I went up to ask what happens when my desire to save a copy of every song I’ve ever listened to collides with the iceberg of DRM. At this point Gemmell said that ultimately MyLifeBits may not seek to preserve actual media content but rather metadata—what’s important are not the bits in the song itself, but a record of the fact that I listened to such and such a song on a gorgeous, 65-degree afternoon on such and such a day when I attended the MyLifeBits talk, etc. etc.—if I then wanted to hear the song the presumption is that there will be a digital service to make it available to me (for the appropriate micropayment). This is not, I think, a small point that should emerge only with a walk-up question after the formal presentation is concluded...


There have been a number of intelligent and provocative weblog discussions on "theory" of late (see for instance here, here, here, here, here and here). With all due respect, I do still find that Derrida's thinking (which has yet to be quoted at any substantial length, although his name is often carelessly invoked) still sort of best transfigures this debate. Of course "theory" (or "Theory") is not a universal, self-evident term, but rather something of a 'watchword' and especially in America. So maybe the question becomes, then, what happens when the watchword no longer ap-plies?

From a section in Counterpath written by Catherine Malabou (in working towards a blog post to-come on this strange, beautiful, and rather helpful book):
The Deconstruction Jetty and Its Resistance to Theory

The text "Some Statements and Truisms..." again takes up this set of reasons. The word "theory," Derrida says, is "a purely North American artifact," which refers to disciplines taught in certain American university departments of "literature." He groups together a set of "-isms": "New Criticism, structuralism, poststructuralism, postmodernism, post-Marxism, new historicism, and so on," as well as "deconstruction" and "deconstructionism." From that point of view, the general title of the colloquium he is addressing, "The States of 'Theory,'" can have real meaning only in the United States. What is at stake here is not, as one might understand from a European perspective, scientific (physics or mathematics), epistemolical, or even philosophical theory. "Theory" corresponds to "the opening of a space, the emergence of an element in which a certain number of phenomena usually associated with literature will call for trans-, inter-, and above all ultra-disciplinary approaches" such as linguistics, psychoanalysis, feminist studies, structuralism, or deconstruction.

These disciplinary fields act as forces. In order to characterize them, Derrida convokes the figure of the "jetty," a word that should be understood in two senses: in the first place, the jetty designates a movement (one can hear in it the French verb jeter, "to throw"). Derrida calls this "first" jetty a "destabilizing" one:

By the word "jetty" I will refer from now on to the force of the movement--which is not yet sub-ject, pro-ject, or ob-ject, not even rejection...that finds its possibility in the jetty, whether such a production or determination be related to the subject, the object, the project, or the rejection. [1]

Each theoretical jetty has an antagonistic relation to the other. Whereas it could not simply be part of a whole, it nevertheless projects itself as a whole. It cannot comprise itself without attempting to include and englobe all the other parts, without trying to account for them. For example, what, in the field of "literary theory" in the United States is these days called "Marxism" appropriates to itself fundamental concepts borrowed from psychoanalysis, from structuralism, and from poststructuralism. By means of this operation the jetty at the same time stabilizes what it names and transforms it into a "state":

Each theoretical jetty is the institution of a new statement about the whole state and of a new establishment aiming at state hegemony. Each jetty has a hegemonic aim, which isn't meant to subjugate or control the other jetties from the outside, but which is meant to incorporate them in order to be incorporated into them. [2]

The second sense of the word "jetty" then comes into view, that of the "stabilizing jetty," which, like the construction in a harbor that is designed to protect ships anchored at low tide, fixes a set of axioms. In the order of theory, the stabilizing jetty

proceeds by predicative clauses, reassures with assertory statements, with assertions, with statements such as "this is that": for example, deconstruction is this or that.
For instance, one assertion, one statement, a true one, would be, and I would subscribe to it: Deconstruction is neither a theory nor a philosophy. It is neither a school nor a method. It is not even a discourse, nor an act, nor a practice. It is what happens, what is happening today in what they call society, politics, diplomacy, economics, historical reality, and so on and so forth. Deconstruction is the case. I say this not only because I think it is true and because I could demonstrate it if we had time, but also to give an example of a statement in the static form of the jetty. [3]

Since it is clearly possible to formulate assertions on the subject of deconstruction, it remains subject, like every other theory, to the law of the stabilizing jetty. In other words, it is capable of being transformed into "deconstructionism," the formalization and systematization of technical rules, of teachable methodological procedures, into the codification of a discourse, etc.

There is deconstructionism in general each time that the stabilizing jetty closes and stabilizes itself in a teachable set of theorems, each time that there is self-presentation of a, or more problematically, of the theory. [4]

Yet, to the very extent that the statements or assertions that deconstruction gives rise to fundamentally oppose or resist "theory," it remains a destabilizing jetty even within its rationalizing and controlling structure. Because it destabilizes the conditions of possibility of objectivity, of the relation to the object, of everything that constitutes an assured subjectivity in the form of the cogito, the certainty of self-consciousness, etc., deconstruction proves the impossibility of closure, of totality, of a system or discourse of or on method. Deconstruction is not a theory of theory. And California, the seismic state of theory, is not its only homeland. (Malibou, Counterpath, 224-226)

[1] Derrida. "Some Statements and Truisms," in The States of Theory, 65
[2] Ibid., 68.
[3] Ibid., 84, 85.
[4] Ibid., 88.

Malibou then turns to a brief discussion of "The Time Is Out of Joint," in Deconstruction is/in America, thus concluding an entire chapter entitled with the question, "Deconstruction is America?"

So it is a question again, for Derrida, of two potential forces -- "stabilizing()destabilizing" that cannot be reduced one to the other, but at the same time never cease to condition each other. Of course as easy as it may be to state, such is in fact extremely difficult to think. One may well grasp that 'deconstructionism' may be subjected to theory, or to theorizing, but that this occurs simultaneously along with the action of the "destabilizing" force (of the very conditions of possibility!) is harder to swallow. Derrida insists on giving these two forces equal weight. But at the same time neither of them may add up to their potential, which remains hidden, or in a sense secret. That is, Derrida's purpose is not simply to demolish a pseudo-concept vulgarly employed as "Theory" in America. Rather 'theory' in America, in some unique but unclassifiable, un-localizable sense (unattached to any nationalism, religious dogma, or Schmittian state) needs to be defended. A space needs to kept clear and thoughtfully preserved--cared for--so that it may come into being. As 'democracy,' perhaps.

The concept of 'autoimmunity' that Derrida appears to formulate rather late in his career may in fact be seen to run through his work, and in particular as it relates to his reading of the site, or rather nonsite/place-name, 'khora' (transformed from the Timaeus). I will try to draw on the passage in Counterpath entitled, "The Khora--Nuclear Catastrophe" in a future post.

nb. Some more thoughts on 'theory' are helpfully compiled here: Theory's Empire: Dissenting With Dissent


Athens, 18-21 December 1997

...saw all the friends from "Demeure..." once again, those you talk about in your chapter on "The Greek Delay." You know them now. Still in the same hotel, on the Lycabette. Didn't sleep last night: the Acropolis, visible from the balcony, illuminated through the mist until sunrise, I loved...I also love "through," the word "through" [a travers]. What if one were to perform the shibboleth of this viaticum? Just about untranslatable, like the subtle difference between a travers and au travers de, or de travers [sideways, crooked], like the nouns le travers [foible] and la traversee [crossing] (by sea rather than by air or land, except for crossing the desert, and the desert within the desert was referred to on an island, Capri, during the first of two trips there). The crossing is the figure for every voyage: between the trance or transport, and overdoing it, the extravagence [outrance] that crosses the frontier. But if one traverses (traveling, crossing, or going through the Latin memory of) this word, one finds in it, besides the idea of a limit being crossed, that of a deviation [detournement], the oblique version of the detour. It says, in a word, everything about my crosstruths. My little truths, if there are any, are neither "in my life" nor "in my texts," but through what traverses them, in the course of a traverse that, right at the last moment, diverts their encrypted references, their sidelong wave, down a counterpath [le salut en contre-allee]. From him or her--to the other. Cross-cut-reference [reference de traversee], that's the edge the texts of imminence I was talking to you about last time are written from; en route toward the uninscribable that is going to come--or that has just come [vient de venir] to me, but always without horizon, without prior announcement. At least without my knowing it, and neither "in the text," nor "in life," but between and through. When all is said and done, the work of this crossing is what I have always called the trace: traveling itself....Someone asked me the other day what my "influences" were then, stupid question. Replied quick as a flash: "none, none that might tell you anything," but it is true that I always write "under (the) influence," most often through my two sons, toward an encounter with them. They are my sole judges in the long phantasm, as one says "in the long run," that's all there is to it, th esole influence I recognize, oblique but intractable. Two metabolizers of hyperbole; the formula? negotiating more than one superego. to be influenced by one's sons is not a simple narcissistic circle as those in a hurry to reach a conclusion might allege, presuming to know what narcissism is. And the Odyssey. There is there, in the infinite detour, really another origin of the world, an insurmountable secret, and death on the way, the other that is the least reducible to the inside (careful, not the other "inside," but th eother least reducible to the inside). The one that commands us through a transversal, or transverified deviation: the poem of the wholly other. For we are indeed talking about a poem, a whole poem, theirs, they know it before me, they know everything before me. You will see what authority Felix holds over you already...(Derrida, Counterpath, 23-24)

War Crimes in Fallujah: Photographic Evidence

From Socialist Worker and via 'lenin':
In some places we found bodies of fighters, dressed in black and with ammunition belts.

But in most of the houses, the bodies were of civilians. Many were dressed in housecoats, many of the women were not veiled—meaning there were no men other than family members in the house. There were no weapons, no spent cartridges.

It became clear to us that we were witnessing the aftermath of a massacre, the cold-blooded butchery of helpless and defenceless civilians.

Nobody knows how many died. The occupation forces are now bulldozing the neighbourhoods to cover up their crime. What happened in Fallujah was an act of barbarity. The whole world must be told the truth.

And then there is this part:
I also found survivors of another family from the Jolan district. They told me that at the end of the second week of the siege the US troops swept through the Jolan. The Iraqi National Guard

used loudspeakers to call on people to get out of the houses carrying white flags, bringing all their belongings with them. They were ordered to gather outside near the Jamah al-Furkan mosque in the centre of town.

On 12 November Eyad Naji Latif and eight members of his family—one of them a six month old child—gathered their belongings and walked in single file, as instructed, to the mosque.

When they reached the main road outside the mosque they heard a shout, but they could not understand what was being shouted. Eyad told me it could have been “now” in English. Then the firing began.

US soldiers appeared on the roofs of surrounding houses and opened fire. Eyad’s father was shot in the heart and his mother in the chest.

They died instantly. Two of Eyad’s brothers were also hit, one in the chest and one in the neck. Two of the women were hit, one in the hand and one in the leg.

Then the snipers killed the wife of one of Eyad’s brothers. When she fell her five year old son ran to her and stood over her body. They shot him dead too.

Survivors made desperate appeals to the troops to stop firing.

But Eyad told me that whenever one of them tried to raise a white flag they were shot. After several hours he tried to raise his arm with the flag. But they shot him in the arm. Finally he tried to raise his hand. So they shot him in the hand.

The five survivors, including the six month old child, lay in the street for seven hours. Then four of them crawled to the nearest home to find shelter.

Watching the documentary "Control Room" this evening, I am struck by how the Senior Producer at Al-jazeera comes off as intelligent, courageous and genuinely likeable. Courageous not only in the face of missile attacks against the station of course, but also in his articulation of what an open media in an active democracy should be. The pitiful blue-eyed boy at CentCom doesn't come off as any of these things. At one point he nearly has an epiphany--(about the, gasp, humanity of Iraqi civilian casualties, and ironically enough brought about by the same Al-jazeera coverage of interviews with captured US soldiers that he has just been criticizing as "propoganda")--a critical awakening that should have come sometime in sixth grade, say. It's a fleeting moment. The organized propaganda spectacles of the Jessica Lynch affair, of the 12 men (without Iraqi accents) waving their shirts as the Saddam statue falls, of Kurds tearing up Iraqi currency that isn't used in their region, of the US general who holds a press conference to announce a "deck of cards" (of the 55 "most wanted" Iraqis) that he first agrees and then refuses to let anyone actually see, etc. etc. basically shows the U.S. media as no more than an effective propaganda machine. Surprise, suprise. But the documentary is well worth seeing for the behind-the-scenes look at Al-jazeera, and as an interesting study of a young press organization feeling its way in a particularly fragile, if also unprecedentedly influential moment. Of course so much has happened since then that another documentary probably deserves to be made.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Fat Controller Update

That's an overly ambitious title, but this is just to follow up on an enormously popular quiz a bit:

In an age in which steam trains have all but died out, their stories have not only endured but have become a driving force for a worldwide publishing, television and merchandising phenomenon.

"Children identify perfectly with the characters," said Catherine, a French expatriate living in London whose two boys, aged three and six, collect Thomas locomotives. Like youngsters their age, she said, "Thomas and his friends don't always listen, they do things that end up in catastrophe, and they end up getting punished by the Fat Controller — the parental figure."

Thomas the Tank Engine started its journey in 1941 in the imagination of the Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry, an English clergyman telling stories to his ailing three-year-old son Christopher, down with measles in the dark days of World War II. He penned 26 'Thomas' adventures, and his son Christopher another 40 more, with more than 80 million books sold worldwide — on top of Thomas cartoons, toys, clothes, children's furniture and the obligatory website.

And still doing well, it might seem. He's even inspired a poem or two (that is, Will Self's transpetation has).

But I really don't know much at all about the history of this figure/icon in Britain. Images that spring to my American-grown mind would include: J.P. Morgan's coach (or are those the letters "H.P." -- from the first scene in which Harry Potter appears in It's a Wonderful Life), the monopoly-man icon (again, based on the Morgans/Rockefellers?), the grouchy cartoon baby with a cigar in his mouth, always either insulting women or throwing tantrums (his tears obscenely visible, strange caricature of repressed jouissance? but what's his name--does he even have one?), Citizen Kane and William Randolph...

Americans of course fly into an instant fit (like instant coffee...instant anxiety) whenever one makes allusions to an alleged European lineage. (Either that or perhaps what is worse: they habitually, hypocritically accept the worst sloganized condemnation without a critical blink.) Are there even grounds for such a lineage with regard to this figure? In Gore Vidal's apt phrase: "The United States of Amnesia." A phrase that doesn't quite do justice to the ingrained, default bigotry here. The thinly disguised nationalistic hubris. And it's true, nobody seems to have any time for historical continuities anymore. History being ended, and all. Chant on, ye delusional euphorics, ye spoiled anorexics, ye obsequious, mono-personality mega-workers, ye aspiring megalomaniacs, ye dismal apocalyptics, ye throwbacks and jerknees. Why oh why do we hate our freedom? Come on now, chant together. Stomp your feet, stomp your boots. Stomp you stompcruisers down the street. Young (Signifier) on the march!

Before we were ranting against predictable targets, there was a simple silly question being formed: Which came first, The Fat Controller or The Fat Cat? Sir Topham Hat or Harry Potter (not the neo-epic neo-Tolkein, neo-Narnia, blockbuster)?

You see:

Thomas the Tank.

I see:

Is it just me or have the eyes changed?

Burden and anxiety of Empire. So much conjuring-away to come. This has all helped me to understand Will Self's book immensely, I must say.
Incidentally, the hit song, "Ain't we got fun" was first popular back in the roaring '20's? It then slept for around 40 years until eventually being revived by The Beatles (via Kerouac, I personally suspect). Is there an economy to these images, or 'in' these eternally recurring signposts? This is why the cultural/linguistic/philosophical archeology practiced by Eco, by Benjamin, and by Derrida is so important. Without seeking to conceptualize--critically, but not too critically--an economy of these images, to view them critically and so begin to see them for the first time maybe, not stripped of their charm and aesthetic content necessarily (that would be the worst!) but also as inextricably bound to an economy of sorts (as historical artifacts) -- without such analysis, such rigorous, serious 'play'... the future is preemptively condemned, the horizon closed off. Victory declared and cake eaten -- too soon.

The greatest and sickest irony of my divided life was that if I acknowledged that it was I who had done these things, I was free from all remorse. Instead, like my mentor, I held myself to be beyond all morality, a towering superman whose activities could not even be observed from the grovelling positions of mere mortals, let alone judged. Yet it also remained perfectly plausible for me to deny that I had done any of theseawful things at all. Most of the outrages had been committed during little odds and sods of borrowed time, they were will o' the wisp happenings, scraps of the Holocaust, left-overs from the Gulag. Although I had liked to torture my victims, I seldom indulged in so long a session as I had with the pit bull. Usually I would call it a wrap, after a leisurely hour or so of soldering flesh, pulling nails and shooting up strychnine.

And if I willed it, really believed it, then the knowledge of the little outrages vanished from my memory, wiped out as surely as a computer file. Ah, but then the septic tank hit the jet turbine, I became craven, culpable and driven. More than worried for my own sanity. Perhaps I was the borderline personality Dr Gyggle had said I was, all those years ago at Sussex?

My eidesis, I now realized, had been upgraded. The next generation made my mind a cheap bit of virtual reality, allowing me only two basic game modes. I could play mad or I could play bad, and although the two simulations might parallel one another all the way to infinity, they would never touch. Moreover, unless I remained vigilant I would sneakily flit like a cheating kid between the two: mad/bad, bad/mad, mad/bad. It could be quite bewildering.


I could style myself the very Demiurge of Dissociation, if I so chose, because of my delightfully separate centres of self; and when they commingled fully there was a sweet melancholia engendered alongside the terror of the dark and the arrogance of the justified sinner...(Will Self, My Idea of Fun, 291-293)

public service announcement

Some folks might be interested in today's announcements on the Site Jacques Derrida.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Gilbert Garcin



...also has a blog

(via wood s lot)

Passion for the Real, or So Says Martin Amis #2

Pussies are bullshit. Don't let them tell you any different.

"Answer me something," I said to John Stagliano. We were stepping out of the porno home--onto the porno patio with its porno pool. This was Malibu. Down the slope and beyond the road lay the Pacific Ocean; but the Staglianos have no access to its porno shore. In the evening they can watch the porno sunset with its porno pink mauve and blood-orange, and then linger awhile, perhaps, under a porno moon.

"Answer me something. How do you account for the emphasis, not just in but in the industry in general, how do you account for the truly incredible emphasis on anal sex?"

After a minimal shrug and a minimal pause Stagliano said, "Pussies are bullshit."

Now John was bing obedient to the dictionary definition of "bullshit," which is nonesense intended to deceive.

With vaginal, Stagliano elaborated--well, here you have some chick chirruping away. And the genuinely discerning viewer (jacknifed over his flying fist) has got to be thinking: Is this for real? Or is it just bullshit?

With anal, on the other hand, the actress is obliged to produce a different order of response: more guttural, more animal. As Stagliano quaintly puts it, "Her personality comes out." He goes on: "You want guys who can fuck really good and make the girls look more...virile." "Virile," of course, means manly; but once again Stagliano is using the King's English. You want the girls to show you "their testosterone."


"It looks like violence, but it's not. I mean, pleasure and pain are the same thing, right? Rocco is driven by the market. What makes it in today's market place is reality."

And assholes are reality. And pussies are bullshit.


After a while you begin to think that porno stars, despite being very bad at acting, are very good at acting in one particular only: they can keep a straight face. But then humorlessness, universal and institutionalized humorlessness, is the lifeblood of porno...

If you're going to be a porno star, what do you need? It's pretty clear by now. You need to be an exhibitionist. You need to have a ferocious sex-drive. You need to suffer from nostalgie de la boue (literally "mud nostalgia": a childish, even babyish delight in bodily functions and wastes). And--probably--you need damage in your past. You also need to be humorless...

As I sampled some extreme productions on the VCR in my hotel room, I kept worrying about something. I kept worrying that I'd like it. Porno services the "polymorphous perverse": the near-infinite chaos of human desire. If you harbor a perversity, then sooner or later porno will identify it. You'd better hope that this doesn't happen while you're watching a film about a copraphagic pigfarmer--or an undertaker...

Later that afternoon I journeyed from San Fernando to Pasadena: I was expected at a conference on "The Novel in Britain, 1950-2000" at the Huntington Library. After some prompting, I told a gathering of delegates about my recent experiences. "Pussies are bullshit" became the (unofficial) conference slogan.

If pussy is bullshit, then bullshit is pussy. On the second night, I played a regrettably sophomoric parlor game on this theme with Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Hitchens. What's New Bullshitcat? Bullshit in Boots. "The Owl and the Bullshitcat" ("Oh lovely Bullshit! O Bullshit, my love, / What a beautiful Bullshit you are"). Bullshit-whipped. Bullshit-wagon. Bullshit's in a well. Someone mentioned the character from Goldfinger: Bullshit Galore. Salmon Rushdie paused; his eyes widened, and he said, suddenly,

Jokes have been defined (by Nietzsche) as epigrams on the death of feelings. In other words, the best jokes are always a new low. It is utterly characteristic that the coiner of "pussies are bullshit" had no idea that he was joking. In any case, porno is littered--porno is heaped--with the deaths of feelings.

-Martin Amis, Porno's Last Summer

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Harold Pinter

pays tribute to playwright Arthur Miller here (courtesy of Vitro-Nasu):
He had a wonderful kind of velocity about him. He was as tough as a rock, really. He looked like a bit of a rock too.

I've been enjoying Pinter's 99 Poems in Translation very much lately.

Go pay a visit

to mal du siecle (by way of The Young Hegelian, who will very much be missed).

That is an understatement, of course. One might begin by reading, or re-reading, no cause for concern, from which one may extract, and bring again to the light of day, such posts as the following:

no cause for concern
Saturday, May 31
Sangatte Ethics

French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray was one of headliners at the Independent Radical Bookfair, talking about her latest book 'The Way of Love'. One of Jacques Lacan's former students (their falling-out is infamous in French psychoanalytic history and prompted the writing of the influential 'Speculum of the Other Woman'), she has more recently moved into territory cleared by Jacques Derrida - the 'ethics of hospitality', an ethics which draws on the writings of Immanuel Levinas, and further back, Martin Buber.

One moment in the discussion that followed her talk really struck me. After having talked for a good hour about 'welcoming the other' and 'finding a room in one's house for the other', someone in the audience asked her, "what if the other is unwelcoming to your welcome, what if they are malevolent?"

Irigaray's response: "Let them be."

An interesting answer. What she was doing - following Levinas - was rewriting Heidegger's 'Gelassenheit', an ontological category, as an ethical category, or more precisely, as a moral law (because we must remember that these are exhortations to a way we should act; they are not grounded in a current way of life, or present customs or laws, however flawed).

The question was well put, I thought, and the answer wholly inadequate.

It seemed to me to show up the pious passivity that issues from this morality, and its powerlessness in the face of the violence of the other and the self. Here morality has been divorced from politics and from law and from any action, collective rather than individual, which might make any real 'hospitality' possible.

Furthermore, it is strangely complicit in the kind of colonialism it obliquely protests against. Could one exhort an Iraqi to 'welcome' the American soldier who entered his country? Could one urge a Palestinian to 'welcome' the driver of the bulldozer who demolished her house? What room does she have left to offer this invader? Here morality shows its impotence in the face of what Hegel called 'the course of the world', and the result is little more than a good conscience which leaves the other untouched in the violence which a third is always doing to them. As Gillian Rose once put it, the new moralists are 'waving at the other' whilst the other is drowning. ¶ Saturday, May 31, 2003

Saturday, February 12, 2005

it happened again

This evening: yet another old friend has a husband, and a child. Hence an opportunity to lament growing older, becoming so very, very old, as everyone loves to do, don't they? Almost as much as even older people love to reply with a knowing smile, "You're not really that old; don't worry." Part of me wants to say, "Goddamn, doesn't anyone hold out past 24 anymore?" Really it's an institution the necessity and purpose of which (other than for tax convenience) I just don't understand. But then my life has become so domesticated, so civilized, so minutely co-ordinated of late (albeit in a semi-employed, car-less, endless job search sort of way), that I may as well be married. Not that I am complaining, not in the slightest (sincerely), but then why is it that once you begin living with someone they cease to read your blog? Is this a sign of anything important? We've started writing each other letters again, I'd like to say, to remember what that was like, the patience that required, and its many rewards. But in truth it's only when she's gone that I feel the urge to write to her. She responds in kind, and agrees this is something we should take up again, but then we just enjoy each other's company too damn much to enforce the separation this would require. I'm not sure what, if anything, this has to do with marriage, and old friends.


A nice write-up on Blanchot, Derrida, Shakespeare and the artist Robert Smithson at For something of a bit more substance, see "The City and the Stars: Politics and Alterity in Heidegger, Levinas and Blanchot" by Lars Iyer:

Is philosophy really homesickness, the desire to be at home everywhere? In Heidegger and Levinas, this is still the case even if both emphasize a certain alterity. But Levinas, as I have shown, criticizes Heidegger's determination of the unhomely from the perspective of saying whilst producing a politics that bears a structural similarity to that of his adversary. There are, however, other conceptual resources in Levinas, linked, as I will show, to the work of his friend Blanchot, to whom he attributes a critical function with respect to Heidegger.


Blanchot's practice of reading is a refusal of the exemplarism of both Heidegger and Levinas. Blanchot's poet-witness, the one whose writing must be witnessed in turn in its relation to the earth, to the il y a, is not the founder of a people who would permit in turn the setting up of the polis, the rekindling of a hearth, the inauguration of a temple. Blanchot's notion of reading invents a community of readers, not, he is adamant, a Volk, but a gathering of individuals each of whom is exposed to an irreducible openness. This non-people are not united by a shared memory, a shared civilization, or a shared myth. No cathedral, synagogue, no temple, no plastic form will contain them. They share no history, no solidarity; they belong neither to a religion nor to a nation. They are bound only by the reading that disperses them. They read, but what they read are signs and flashing indications. To what do they point? Not to the stars or to the astronomical order; but nor, simply, to the darkness that would exist before and after stars. They indicate the darkness that inhabits each star, to the earth from which the city is made that prevents either from settling into a pure relation.

Friday, February 11, 2005

From Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone"

(3) To play the card of abstraction, and the aporia of the no-way-out, perhaps one must first withdraw to a desert, or even to isolate oneself on an island. And tell a short story that would not be a myth. Genre: "Once upon a time," just once, one day, on an island or in the desert, imagine, in order to "talk religion," several men, philosophers, professors, hermeneuticians, hermits or anchorites, took the time to mimic a small, esoteric and egalitarian, friendly and fraternal community. Perhaps it would be necessary in addition to situate such arguments, limit them in time and space, speak of the place and the setting, the moment past, one day, date the fugitive and the ephemeral, singularize, act as though one were keeping a diary out of which one were going to tear a few pages. Law of the genre: the ephemeris (and already you are speaking inexhaustibly of the day). Date: 28 February 1994. Place: an island, the isle of Capri. A hotel, a table around which we speak among friends, almost without any order, without agenda, without order of the day, no watchword (mot d'ordre) save for a single word, the clearest and most obscure: religion. We believe we can pretend to believe--fiduciary act--that we share in some pre-understanding. We act as though we had some common sense of what "religion" means through the languages that we believe (how much belief already, to this moment, to this very day!) we know how to speak. We believe in the minimal trustworthiness of this word. Like Heidegger, concerning what he calls the Faktum of the vocabulary of being (at the beginning of Sein und Zeit), we believe (or believe it is obligatory that) we pre-understand the meaning of this word, if only to be able to question and in order to interrogate ourselves on this subject. Well--we will have to return to this much later--nothing is less pre-assured than such a Faktum (in both of these cases, precisely) and the entire question of religion comes down, perhaps, to this lack of assurance. (Acts of Religion, 43-44)


But Heidegger still extends with force and radicality the assertion that belief in general has no place in the experience or the act of thinking in general. And there we would have difficulty following him. First along his own path. Even if one succeeds in averting, in as rigorous a manner as possible, the risk of confusing modalities, levels, contexts, it still seems difficult to dissociate faith in general (Glaube) from what Heidegger himself, under the name of Zusage ("accord, acquiescing, trust or confidence"), designates as that which is most irriducible, indeed most originary in thought, prior even to that questioning said by him to constitute the piety (Frommigkeit) of thinking.....We cannot address here the immense question of the ontological repetition, in all these concepts, of a so markedly Christian tradition. Let us therefore limit ourselves to a principle of reading. Like the experience of authentic attestation (Bezeugung) and like everything that depends upon it, the point of departure of Sein und Zeit resides in a situation that cannot be radically alien to what is called faith. Not religion, to be sure, nor theology, but that which in faith acquiesces before or beyond all questioning, in the already common experience of a language and of a "we." The reader of Sein und Zeit and the signatory who takes him as witness are to justify the choice of the "exemplary" being that is Dasein, the questioning being that must be interrogated as an examplary witness. And what renders possible, for this "we," the positing and elaboration of the question of being, the unfolding and determining of its "formal structure" (das Gefragte, das Erfagte, das Befragte), prior to all questioning--is it not what Heidegger then calls a Factum, that is, the vague and ordinary pre-comprehension of the meaning of being, and first of all of the words "is" or "be" in language or in a language? This Factum is not an empirical fact. Each time Heidegger employs this word, we are necessarily led back to a zone where acquiescence is de rigueur. Whether this is formulated or not, it remains a requirement prior to and in view of every possible question, hence prior to all philosophy, all theology, all science, all critique, all reason, etc. This zone is that of a faith incessantly reaffirmed throughout an open chain of concepts, beginning with those that we have already cited (Bezeugung, Zesage, etc.), but it also communicates with everything in Heidegger's way of thinking that marks the reserved holding-back of restraint (Verhaltenheit) or the sojourn (Aufenthalt) in modesty (Scheu) in the vicinity of the unscathed, the scared, the safe and sound (das Heilige), the passage or the coming of the last god that man is doubtless not yet ready to receive. That the movement proper to this faith does not constitute a religion is all too evident. Is it, however, untouched (indemne) by all religiosity? Perhaps. But by all "belief," by that "belief" that wouold have "no place in thinking"? This seems less certain. Since the major question remains, in our eyes, albeit in a form that is still quite new: "What does it mean to believe?" we will ask (elsewhere) how and why Heidegger can at the same time affirm one of the possibilities of the "religious," of which we have just schematically recalled the signs (Faktum, Bezeugung, Zusage, Verhaltenheit, Heilige, etc.) and reject so energetically "belief" or "faith" (Glaube). Our hypothesis again refers back to the two sources or two strata of religion which we distinguished above: the experience of sacredness and the experience of belief. (Acts of Religion, 95-97)


Progressive blog directory for the U.S., listed by state. Pretty lonely up here.

Kenneth Reinhard: a much shorter quote

But it is only by means of risk taking, of undertaking acts
with unpredictable results, that new thought can emerge. If theory will
become more than the production of Code for the deciphering of Messages, more than the endless recycling of things we already know in always predictable new forms, it must break from the safety of familiar paradigms and calculated interventions.

There must be a throw of the dice for something new to emerge into the
world, and the desire of theory is for the production of new truths, not
for the repetition of old knowledge. Such truths are singular, momentary,
vanishing, and theory is the vision that discerns what is universal in
them, and holds fast to it. (Thinking With Shakespeare: Manifesto For Experimental Critical Theory)

Kenneth Reinhard: a long quote from 1995

Perhaps the strongest post-foundational encounter with the ethics of the demand to love the neighbor appears in the recent writings of Emmanuel Levinas.11 In Otherwise than Being, or Beyond Essence (1974), Levinas reformulates the Biblical call to neighbor-love as the insistence on the priority of ethics over ontology, a relation to the other that antedates the very being of the subject.12 The "neighbor," in its double connotation of proximity and strangeness, names the occasion of an originary responsibility that precedes both the subject who assumes or denies that obligation and the community in which responsibility will be represented or rescinded under the sign of Justice. In a 1982 interview Levinas comments that "responsibility for the neighbor" is doubtless the "strict term for that which is called the love of the neighbor" (Entre Nous 113, my translation), insofar as both are defined by an ability to respond to the other that is not predicated on the experience of self-love (as in St. Augustine) but is rather the precondition of the self. 13 Levinas argues that the subject as such is "called into being" only insofar as it is called into question, finding itself already guilty, already indebted to and obsessed with its neighbor.


For both Lacan and Levinas, substitution does not imply an act of self-sacrifice within an economy of expiation and redemption, but rather the sacrifice of sacrifice. The moral economy of sacrifice entails giving up enjoyment for a place in the symbolic order (always advertised as a "higher" pleasure). The sacrifice of sacrifice, on the other hand, insists not on the enjoyment that attends responsibility, but rather on the responsibility for enjoyment, the obligation to maintain the jouissance that makes responsibility possible. In Lacan's dictum, "the only thing one can be guilty of is giving ground relative to one's desire" (SVII 321); renunciation in the name of the symbolic order to morality is merely a ruse, a resistance to desire and the trauma that is its cause. For Levinas, enjoyment is not simply renounced by the subject of responsibility, but remains its intimate and ongoing condition: "only a subject that eats can be for-the-other, or can signify" (OTB E 74). Levinas articulates the responsibility of "for-the-other" as a substitution that determines not one meaning among others, but rather opens the field of signification as such. Like Lacan's substitutive love, Levinasian responsibility institutes the process of metaphorization without abandoning jouissance, which indeed depends on the primal signification of substitution: "I can enjoy and suffer by the other only because I am for-the-other, am signification" (OTB 90). For Levinas the subject's passive responsibility for its neighbor is experienced as a "deafening trauma" that creates the subject as the response to a call so loud or so close that it cannot be heard, cannot be fully translated into a message. In the deferred temporality that places ethics before ontology, responsiveness before being, the subject is produced as "the echo of a sound that would precede the resonance of this sound" (OTB 111).


Sade's refusal to be a "good neighbor" exposes the fundamentally asymmetrical structure of neighboring: I never "am" a neighbor, I only have neighbors to and for whom I am responsible. That is, the neighbor is not an ontological category, defining my being, but an ethical situation vis à vis the other, who always logically precedes me. Nor is it an epistemological category, insofar as it is always marked by a certain misrecognition of the "neighbor" within ourselves, the strange sadistic enjoyment that causes Freud to renounce the Levitical injunction in nearly Nietzschean terms in Civilization and its Discontents as the cruel joke of a world defined by unlimited aggressivity. In Lacan's rewriting of the Sadian maxim, there is no limit to the neighbor's right to enjoyment [droit de jouir] save the "capriciousness of the exactions that I might have the taste to satiate"; the only ground for Sade's ethical rule is aesthetic, a law which not only applies exclusively to the other, and not to me, but which also leaves that rule open to the sublime groundlessness of aesthetic judgment. The responsibility called for by the neighbor's jouissance is a judgment, a radical act of asymmetrical substitution where the unlimited freedom of the torturing agent's erotic "taste" is secured at the expense of that agent's subjective autonomy. To reinflect Klossowski's phrase, Sade is my neighbor, despite the fact that he refuses for me to be his. Sade recognizes that to have a neighbor means to put myself in the neighbor's place, to substitute myself for him or her--not to imagine myself as like my neighbor, to constitute myself as his or her mirror or antithesis, but to serve my neighbor's jouissance, no matter how strange or traumatic or not to my "taste" it may be. 25

In their situation side by side, connected as ethical "neighbors" rather than either brothers or enemies, Kant and Sade open a gap in the history of ethics that unveils the place where psychoanalysis will have come to be. This is not to suggest that for Lacan either Sade's catalog of perversions or Kant's limitation of the possibility of knowledge "anticipates" or enables Freud's discoveries. If Sade is the "inaugural step of a subversion, of which . . . Kant is the turning [End Page 801] point," this ethical rhythm repeats itself and is only visible in the gap between Freud's death at the beginning of World War II and the resumption of Lacan's seminar eight years after the Occupation: namely, through the breach torn in the history of pure reason by the Holocaust. It is indeed the Holocaust that provides the occasion of the return to Sade, not only by Lacan, but also by such writers as Adorno and Horkheimer, Blanchot, Bataille, de Beauvoir, and Klossowski. All of these thinkers turned to Sade after the war to try to discover the failure of the project of Enlightenment, the perversion at its core; for it is only after Auschwitz that the most disturbing consequences of the failure to recognize Sade as our neighbor emerge. If Christianity defines itself as the universalization of the Levitical injunction to "love thy neighbor as thyself," the Holocaust reveals in the most horrific way both the violence and the blindspots of that totalization. In its wake, neighbor-love, once more confronted in its non-commutativity, becomes the locus of an ethics in excess of the Pauline dialectic of enlightenment which had appropriated it. (Kenneth Reinhard, my emphasis in bold)

Update: Just to balance things out, here's something more current (and less cryptic) by Todd May (pdf) (scroll down for the relevant bit):

There can be a convergence between analytic and Continental approaches to ontology. Both ask about the nature of what there is. But their inflections on this asking are different. Analytic philosophers are interested in the beings of which the universe is constituted. They seek to account for the nature and existence of those beings and their relationships to one another. Continental philosophers often see a question of being that cannot be addressed in terms of constituent beings. Following Heidegger, they see in the attempt to reduce the question of being to that of beings a symptom of an age that is too ready to accept the terms in which science conceives the world....Nietzsche, Sartre, Foucault and Derrida have shown the constrictions that arise when the question of how one might live must answer to ontology. Deleuze suggests that it is possible to move in the opposite direction, to create an ontology [or ontologies] that answers to the question of how one might live rather than dictating its limits...

Regarding such an optimistic reading of Deleuze, I remain unconvinced.

polis, indifferent murmur

From the end of Mark Cohen's review of The Book to Come:

The most overtly political moment in The Book to Come comes at the end. The final essay, "The Power and the Glory," does bring up an important cultural theme very much in the air in France in the 1950s: the relationship of the writer to mass culture. Blanchot in effect compares the alienation imposed on the reader by literature with that of the public on the individual. What might in Heideggerian terms look like a fall into the "they" or more conventionally and nostalgically the loss of identifiable human beings ("friends") who might read one's books is actually embraced by Blanchot as a happy meeting of the twain. In his closing lines, he is implicitly celebrating the equalizing powerlessness that language can, if understood properly, induce us to accept and thus clearing the ground for his, the writer's, return to politics. In a rarely remarked allusion to Orpheus that is no longer that of The Space of Literature, where it is used as an allegory of Blanchottian creation, here the poet is said not to find the artwork by losing its object but to arrive at his speech by joining the flow of his song with the indifferent murmur of public culture:

If today the writer, thinking of going down to the underworld, is content with going out into the street, that is because the two rivers [the underground and above-ground Styx] . . . passing through each other, tend to be confused. . . . the profound original rumor . . . is not unlike the unspeaking speech . . . the "public mind." (250) (PMC)

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Blog of Henry David Thoreau

The text is from The Journal of Henry David Thoreau, ed. Bradford Torrey and Francis Allen, 14 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906).

Each blog post is an excerpt from that day's entry in the Journal, and although not necessarily the complete entry, it is an integral and intact section thereof.

All contents may be copied for private and non-profit use with proper attribution to The Blog of Henry David Thoreau.


Update: Also recommended would be this extensive Thoreau site.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


According to the lists at the film The Society of the Spectacle is available online via LimeWire.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Gentleman Returns!

From an interview with the author of The Compleat Gentleman: The Modern Man's Guide to Chivalry:
Q: Is your book descriptive or prescriptive? In other words, do you see a lack of gentlemen among the male population and seek to remedy the problem in your book?

Miner: The book is boldly descriptive and only mutedly prescriptive. I'm not an evangelist for chivalry, and in any case my view is that the descriptive part -- the detailing of the history, the telling of stories, the listing of virtues -- amounts to a kind of prescription, at least for the few willing to swallow the medicine.

"We need scholarship." I couldn't agree with that part more.