Sunday, August 28, 2005

" just a plain picture"

BD: If I wanted ta find out anything I'm not gonna read Time Magazine...I'm not gonna read Newsweek..I'm not gonna read any of these magazines...I mean 'cause they just got too much to lose by printing the truth...You know that....They'd just go off the stands in a day if they printed really the truth.

What is really the truth?

BD: Really the truth is just a plain picture.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

for ____'s sake

That Space responds to John P. and Amardeep S.:
John Pistelli, recognising in Nafisi the familiarly deceptive apostasy of 60s radicals, begs to differ:

[Nafisi's] book [Reading Lolita in Tehran] is of course not apolitical and you don't have to read the whole thing to know that; everything about it, from its cover blurbs to its acknowledgments page in which the author thanks Paul Wolfowitz, to its credulous critical reception, looks political.

Indeed. One only has to think of the actions of another unthinkably repressive regime to recognise a blindspot in the critical reception. This regime has destroyed many other women's lives in many other nations (though not, as yet, Iran). It's been happening for years and it's happening right now. This does not seem to trouble very much those celebrating the romance of Nafisi's literary resistance. As professional reviewers, they know what can and cannot be said in literary reviews. This is why they are professionals in the first place. So much for a free and open imagination. As Pistelli says: Nafisi, militantly apolitical as she now imagines herself, is actually objectively pro-fascist.

I haven't read the book (it never really grabbed me when I tried). So I couldn't possibly comment.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chavez, Readings

Hey, that's nice of him: Chavez Offers Cheap Gas to Poor in U.S. Would there be an income meter at the station, then? Maybe a tie and shoe-scanner?

And from Socialist Worker:
The festival was also an opportunity for him to showcase the social changes taking place in Venezuela.

Missions intended to end poverty and improve the economic and cultural lives are educating the population through literacy drives. Other reforms such as the re-nationalisation of universities and the building of new housing are being carried out.

These radical reforms are enthusiastically supported by the majority of Venezuelans. Indeed Chavez’s support seems to be growing. During the festival pro-Chavez candidates won 73 percent in the local elections.

The changes have also led to a growing discussion about socialism. At the festival Chavez spoke about Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky. He insisted that the immediate choice facing humanity is socialism or barbarism.

Old models of “one party, authoritarian states” were rejected as incompatible with democratic socialism.

I know nothing about this Cybercast News Service but they have a video of this important story:
Washington ( - The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the current home of hundreds of wounded veterans from the war in Iraq, has been the target of weekly anti-war demonstrations since March. The protesters hold signs that read "Maimed for Lies" and "Enlist here and die for Halliburton."

Oh when will the peaceful anti-war protestors stop tormenting our wounded, crippled and poisoned, pension-less, lied-to, economically-bereft, morally-unzipped and punch-drunk, gonzo, dispensable child soldiers?

And Chris Hedges speaks on The Cannon of Christianity.

Even better is Greg Palast and...Greg Palast (courtesy of here).

An interview with Arundhati Roy courtesy of here:
In a recent article, the remarkable un-embedded journalist Dahr Jamail interviews several American marines who served in Iraq. Asked what he would do if he met Bush, one of them says: "It would be two hits—me hitting him and him hitting the floor." It’s for this reason that the US is looking for allies—preferably low-cost allies with low-cost lives. Because the media is completely controlled, no real news makes it out of Iraq. But last month, I was on the jury of the World Tribunal on Iraq in Istanbul. We heard 54 horrifying testimonies about what is going on there, including from Iraqis who had risked their lives to make it to the tribunal. The world knows only a fraction of what’s going on. The anger emanating out of Iraq and Afghanistan is spreading wider and wider.... It’s a deep, uncontrollable rage that you cannot put a PR spin on. America isn’t going to win this war.

The Theory's Empire Squatting post continues to be updated, with related fallout here, if anybody still cares.

Invisiblog: Is it Good for You?

So what's the scoop on Invisiblog, the purportedly thoroughly anonymous blogging service currently in beta? Is it as thoroughly anonymous as it purports? Is it safe? Will one's posts be removed at the slightest whisper of legal action? Here's the Village Voice article. Someone at Crooked Timber should really look into this matter soon. Thank you.

Monday, August 22, 2005

tips, from W.B.

Mozart is rolling over in his grave:
Good Writing

The good writer says no more than he thinks. And much depends on that. For speech is not simply the expression but also the making real of thought. In the same way that running is not just the expression of the desire to reach a goal, but also the realization of that goal. But the kind of realization, whether it is precisely adapted to the goal, or whether it loosely and wantonly wastes itself on the desire–depends on the training of the person who is running. The more he has himself in hand and avoids superfluous, exaggerated, and uncoordinated movements, the more self-sufficient his position will be and the more economical the use of his body. The bad writer has many ideas which he lets run riot, just like the bad, untrained runner with his slack, overenthusiastic body action. And for that very reason, he can never say soberly just what he thinks. The talent of the good writer is to make use of his style to supply his thought with a spectacle of the kind provided by a well-trained body. He never says more than he has thought. Hence, his writing redounds not to his own benefit, but solely to the benefit of what he wants to say.

Easy for you to say; W.B. who never penned a clunky phrase in all his life.

And on introjective imagination vs. projective empathy:

Reading Novels

Not all books are to be read in the same way. Novels, for example, are there to be devoured. To read them is a pleasure of consumption [Einverleibung]. This is not empathy. The reader does not put himself in the place of the hero; he absorbs what befalls the hero into himself. The vivid report on those events, however, is the enticing form in which a nourishing meal is presented at the table. Now, there is of course a raw, healthy form of experiencing, just as there is raw, healthy food for the stomach–namely, experiencing something for oneself. But the art of the novel, like the art of cooking, begins where the raw products end. There are many nourishing foodstuffs that are inedible when raw. Just as there are any number of experiences that are better read about than personally undergone. They affect many people so strongly that individuals would not survive them if they were to experience them in the flesh. In short, there is a Muse of the novel–it would be the tenth–it must bear the features of a kitchen fairy. She raises the world from its raw state in order to produce something edible, something tasty. Read a newspaper while eating, if you must. But never a novel. For that involves two sets of conflicting obligations. (Selected Writings, Vol 2, part 2, 1931-1934, pp.728-729)

More on saying no to empathy here (and here) as John P. responds already to Amardeep S. Elsewhere, Michael B. makes some pasta.

(Perhaps "salvages" is a better word.) And finally:
The Newspaper

In our writing, opposites that in happier ages fertilized one another have become insoluble antimonies. Thus, science and belles lettres, crticism and literary production, culture and politics, fall apart in disorder, and lose all connection with one another. The scene of this literary confusion is the newspaper; its content, "subject matter" that denies itself any other form of organization than that imposed on it by the reader's impatience. For impatience is the state of mind of the newspaper reader. And this impatience is not just that of the politician expecting information, or of the speculator looking for a stock tip; behind it smolders the impatience of people who are excluded and who think they have the right to see their own interests expressed....

And yet, as always, there is an upside to the story. One marvels again and again at Benjamin's self-restraint from the indulgences of anything like an habitual cynicism:
....And it is at the scene of the limitless debasement of the word–the newspaper, in short–that its salvation is being prepared. (ibid. 1934, pp. 1933-34)

Or rather still being prepared, 70 years later.

Kafka by the Shore

The room itself doesn't have any decorations at all, except for a small oil painting, a realistic portrait of a young boy by the shore...The boy looks about twelve or so, and he's wearing a white sunhat and sitting on a small deck chair. His elbow's on one of the arms of the chair, his chin resting in his hand. He looks a little sad, but kind of pleased, too. A black German shepherd sits next to the boy, like he's guarding him. In the background is the sea and a couple of other people, but they're too far away to make out their faces. A small island's visible, and a few fist-shaped clouds float over the water. Most definitely a summer scene.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Dr. Eric Wind

Isn't that a character from Nabokov's Pnin? In any case, some angel of the internet posting under said name left a must-read "comment" on the tail end of this Long Sunday post 'other day, and was quickly buried, I couldn't help but notice (however fallen from grace the concept of the 'multidude may be––more here). Also, I'm glad some people have been listening to more than "reality-based" slogans over the course of the last year. Some new and necessary translation work on The Society of the Spectacle here. And three cheers for Political Theory Daily Review (always a pleasure having one's words repeated by important blog people).

I'm off to hike in the White Mountains for a day or two (S. is in training for the Appalachian Trail. Actually, S. refuses to train for the Appalachian Trail. I am in training to recapture my floundering status as jock who used to do stuff like this on a semi-regular basis. Sadly, no, neither of us is training for anything. But everyone should really get outside more often); be nice.

Update: Hiking was great, but as of this afternoon, my paddle:

...not so great. Not the truck's fault, please note. Rather the bizarre result of doing fancy tricks on a foggy lake (with a fancy hangover). Maybe the Gods of kayaking are trying to tell me something? Thinking I may need to borrow a paddle for the class IV's tomorrow...
You make yourself sound like such a badass; it's funny, S remarks.
(Assuringly) No, you are a bad ass.

Oh, and if anyone wants to assasinate Pat Robertson, we wouldn't particularly mind (Dumbass, you can't say those kinds of things out loud...and then lie about it). *Sigh*...America?

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."

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Yes, that's right, yet another "theorist" whose name begins with "B". As I may or may not have been saying ever since, oh, around 2003, there really are a lot of them. I bet in 100 years people will still be pointing this odd fact out to each other, from time to time (though hopefully not as if they are the first, though then again maybe that is all too much to hope for)...In any case, I am reading about Blanqui. Maybe Hugh would like to read him too, in which case this (a strange text quoted liberally by Benjamin in his later musings on historiography), this and this (and from here) are probably as good a place to start as any. Interesting stuff. This will have been the shit and garbage/poseur post, as usual to be updated and edited later as however its author sees fit.

From here:
Blanqui [1805-1881] a political activist, wrote L'Éternité par les Astres [Eternity Through the Stars] (1872) when imprisoned following his involvement in the Paris Commune. Benjamin considered this little-known text to be a work of major philosophical significance, declaring in The Arcades Project: "This book completes the century's constellation of phantasmagorias with one last, cosmic phantasmagoria which implicitly comprehends the severest critique of all the others". [97] Blanqui's book is a piece of cosmological speculation which curiously prefigures the Borges of "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius". It alternates rather restlessly between a dark vision of the universe as endless repetition - a series of "duplicata tirés à milliards" ["duplicates produced by the billion"] [98] - and a less oppressive notion of the cosmos as a set of elaborately gradated combinations and variations. Benjamin reads this text as an overpowering nightmare or anti-utopia; other readings are, however, possible, and one approach could be to foreground Blanqui's incessant oscillation between the rival notions of standardisation (paralleling industrial mass-production) and variation (pointing to a utopian future). Today's Internet partakes in both phenomena: it permits the infinite reproduction of the same text and its diffusion to a potentially unlimited number of recipients, while also allowing multiple discourses to bloom worldwide. In an arresting passage that suggests a cosmic utopia of communication between like-minded beings over huge distances, and thus curiously foreshadows the Internet, Blanqui declares: "Il nous importe assez peu que nos sosies soient nos voisins. Fussent-ils dans la lune, la conversation n'en serait pas plus commode, ni la connaissance plus aisée à faire" ["It scarcely matters whether our doubles are our neighbours. Even if they lived on the moon, the conversation would be just as comfortable and it would be just as easy to get to know each other"]. [99]

Is that a star on his lapel?

Thursday, August 11, 2005


Mark Kaplan, who deserves the quality of comment he gets, although he doesn't get enough, adds a crucial update to his blog-renowned "Notes on Rhetoric":
Indeed. How many times must we see this stupid, dishonest gesture rehearsed?

It’s not only the vain, tedious pretence that arguments and viewpoints shared across the population are the preserve of the bourgeoisie (a bourgeoisie defined not by its position in the relations of production, but by its poncey ‘lifestyle’). It’s not the the trotting out of this feeble rhetorical trick in lieu of argument. Nor is it the dull inevitability with which these ‘critics’ of middle-class pomposity are in fact it’s most obvious and embarrassing representatives. Nor is it even the patronising and disingenuous adoption of a ‘robust working class common sense’ from which these attempts at satire are launched (Even though their audience is also middle-class, so that they rely only on some kind of collective class shame or bad faith). It’s that these self-dramatising comedians would never dream of any actual class analysis, any genuine critique of ‘bourgeois values’ or ideology. They’d run a mile before pronouncing something like this, for example:

...what makes them representative of the petit-bourgeois class, is that their minds, their consciousnesses do not extend beyond the limits which this class has set to its activities.

No, the invocation of ‘middle-class’ and ‘bourgeois’ as pejoratives is all dandy as long as it’s aimed at the Left. That’s the rule. And there are enough scribes who’ve read the script and appreciate the remuneration to pass these stock gestures off as their own spontaneous ideas...(more)

On another note, I've been trimming the blogroll and sidebar lately, and rather late at night. If I've made the mistake of deleting any friends, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

from Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

"Haydn was an enigmatic figure. Nobody really knows the amount of intense pathos he held inside him. In the feudal time he was born in, though, he was compelled to skillfully cloak his ego in submissiveness and display a smart, happy exterior. Otherwise he would have been crushed. A lot of people compare him unfavorably to Bach or Mozart––both his music and the way he lived. Over his long life he was innovative, to be sure, but never exactly on the cutting edge. But if you really pay attention as you listen, you can catch a hidden longing for the modern ego. Life a far-off echo full of contradictions, it's all there in Haydn's music, silently pulsating. Listen to that chord––hear it? It's very quiet––right?––but it has a persistent, inward-moving spirit that's filled with a pliant, youthful sort of curiosity."
"Like François Truffout's films."
"Exactly! the owner exclaimed happily, patting Hoshino's arm reflexively. "You've hit it right on the head. You find the same spirit animating Truffaut. A persistent, inward-moving spirit that's filled with a pliant, youthful sort of curiosity," he replied.
When the Haydn concerto was over Hoshino asked him to play the Rubinstein-Heifetz-Feuermann version of the Archduke Trio again. While listening to this, he again was lost in thought. Damn it, I don't care what happens, he finally decided. I'm going to follow Mr. Nakata as long as I live. To hell with the job!

This passage does a good job of presenting what simultaneously pleases and annoys me about Murakami's style, very generally speaking. There is more than a subtle whiff of "everything is profound" at times, couched albeit within a very likeable, sort of fatherly voice (a tone belonging to the characters and not necessarily the author, but when taken within the larger context of Murakami's ouevre, with its consistency of overlapping themes, emotional registers and logical progressions, not entirely or purely unbiographical either). What might this mean, for fiction to be a kind of autobiography? For the author's name itself to appear, in a sense, in every line she writes? These are questions that intrigue me, as they do Derrida among others. In a way, this tone of Murakami's seems true to the roots of a particular American reception of the existentialist wave that superstars in 60s France, which is ironic, of course, because Murakami is Japanese (though it helps explain, I thnk, why he translates so well). But as with Derrida, America as a concept, or perhaps 'America' as a place from which to look back on oneself with the necessary distance––where language itself is granted the possibility of this distance, for example the possibility to temporarily escape certain linguistically-embedded trappings of nationalism––this America would seem to be quite important for Murakami. Perhaps it is this America that is worth defending.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

on fishes

Of fishes, such as swim in shoals together are friendly to one another; such as do not so swim are enemies. Some fishes swarm during the spawning season; others after they have spawned. To state the matter comprehensively, we may say that the following are shoaling fish: the tunny, the maenis, the sea-gudgeon, the bogue, the horse-mackerel, the coracine, the synodon or dentex, the red mullet, the sphyraena, the anthias, the eleginus, the atherine, the sarginus, the gar-fish, (the squid,) the rainbow-wrasse, the pelamyd, the mackerel, the coly-mackerel. Of these some not only swim in shoals, but go in pairs inside the shoal; the rest without exception swim in pairs, and only swim in shoals at certain periods: that is, as has been said, when they are heavy with spawn or after they have spawned.

The basse and the grey mullet are bitter enemies, but they swarm together at certain times; for at times not only do fishes of the same species swarm together, but also those whose feeding-grounds are identical or adjacent, if the food-supply be abundant. The grey mullet is often found alive with its tail lopped off, and the conger with all that part of its body removed that lies to the rear of the vent; in the case of the mullet the injury is wrought by the basse, in that of the conger-eel by the muraena. There is war between the larger and the lesser fishes: for the big fishes prey on the little ones. So much on the subject of marine animals.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Janus Head

The new issue features one of the last interviews by Paul Ricoeur. Elsewhere, à Gauche reviews Khalfa, Intro to Deleuze:
Again, my quarrel is not with the quality of these essays, but with the rationale for publishing them together and especially with the title chosen by the publisher/editor. Students who finish this book and still find themselves bewildered by page fifteen of Difference and Repetition or Logic of Sense need not feel responsible.

For some air-clearing humor, you may go here. And if you're not reading the translations of Kafka's diaries, you really should be.

on Bad Art

"Josipovici implies that it is the willful perpetuation of myth after its collective falsification that makes for bad art, and I think this is a useful, new abstraction."––Waggish

Friday, August 05, 2005

Theory's Empire: Dissenting With "Dissent"

Here, for those googling in especially, is a collection of links dealing with the blogosphere's reception of (although some of them were always already receiving), and more specifically with the reception of the The Valve's reception of Theory's Empire. These are links to very thoughtful posts you may not otherwise find simply by googling the words, "Theory's Empire". They are collected here only to help facilitate an honest and open debate. This page may be updated as time goes by; further suggestions for links dissenting with dissent are of course welcome.

• Mark Kaplan: T1 and t2?; Prosthetic Thoughts; Breaking News; Cover Charge; Thought for the Day; Interruption Continuation; The Para-Costives; Haloscan; Coda to coda

• Jodi Dean: What's so scary about theory?; a comment; The challenge of thinking without a head

• Kenneth Rufo: On Theory and it's Empire, 1: the Pedagogy of Reception; On Theory and it's Empire, 2: the Politics of Capitalization; a comment; another comment

Craig: Mere Theory?; The Value of Theory; On Classification; Ian Hunter's "The History of Theory"

• John Ransom: a comment; another comment; a joke; another comment; making fun of theory's empire; theory's empire: the intro; rewriting the introduction to theory's empire

• Adam Kotsko: A Response to the Deconstructive Angel; a comment; another comment; Against My Better Judgement

• Michael Bérubé: Theory Tuesday I; Engine Trouble; Theory Tuesday II; Theory Tuesday III; Theory Tuesday IV

• Will Large: Philosophy as a Consumer Good

• Mark Henson: a comment

John McGowen: Nussbaum v. Butler, Round One; Theory Tuesday: Nussbaum v. Butler, Round Two

• Ray Davis: Pull in Your Head, We're Coming to a Tunnel

• Matt Christie: Theory, Having Just Begun; The Deconstruction Jetty and It's Resistance to Theory ; And more...

• Archive: sometim3s: Theory and Empire; Oikos Academicus

* Larval Subjects: Against Theory

John Holbo, on Heidegger

• Scott Eric Kaufman: Let the Market Speak! Market, Dear Market, How Can We Help You? or We Hate Your Ears!; Theory Friday: In Which Our Hero Discusses the Merits of His Heroism and Finds Them Wanting; Anti-Thoughts about the Anti-Desires of the Deeply Stupid, or Ideas Obscured by Assumptions; Bulwark Against An Actual Empire, or another Maginot Line?

• Christoph Wimmer-Kleikamp: What the Hell is Multi-Culturalism Anyway?; Stability Outside Humanity or Reason?

• Spurious: His Majesty the Baby

• Kerim Friedman: France In The 60s

• Amardeep Singh: Four Challenges to Postcolonial Theory

• Jeffrey Wallen: The Death and Discontent of Theory

• Alphonse Van Worden: Rationality's Latest Advertisement; Die Fledermaus

And finally, tacked on just for the hell of it, and if only to help us keep this word, "Empire" itself in properly uncalcified perspective, here is something by Scott McLemee:
Asked about this criticism, Mr. Hardt responds, "We're certainly not in the business of writing manifestoes, or What Is to Be Done?" He does indicate, however, that his work with Mr. Negri has now reached the stage where they need to "think global democracy today" -- that is, develop some notion of what would replace Empire.

"People spend a lot of time criticizing contemporary global institutions, and the insufficiency of national institutions as well," he says. "The obvious thing, of course, is to ask: What would an alternative look like, and where would it come from?" Some of those questions begin to emerge in the final pages of Multitude, but not the answers.

"Toni's talking about volume three," says Mr. Hardt. They are at the early stage of what sounds like a well-established routine. "We exchange letters about criticisms of the last book. We give each other reading lists." (Eventually, someone's academic career will be made from analyzing the documents of how an American professor and an Italian revolutionary collaborated on their books.)

After Empire and Multitude, Mr. Hardt says, "We need a little rest." But it is clear that Mr. Negri is ready to push on to the next phase -- defining a new vision of some still newer world order. The multitude waits, patiently or otherwise.

UPDATE: And the more official reviews begin to trickle in:

  • Simon Jarvis

  • Michael Bérubé [PDF file]
  • Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Beatitude: Blanchot and Death

    (Following on from here...)

    "I" die before being born. (Blanchot, The Writing of the Disaster, 101)

    I believe only in death, and precisely in death as impossible, for which reason I am obsessed with, curious about, and convinced of mortality. (Derrida, "Deconstructions: The Im-possible," 18)

    But there is another kind of interruption, more enigmatic and more grave. It introduces the wait that measures the distance between two interlocutors--no longer a reducible, but an irreducible distance. (Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, 76)

    Conversely, political speech--Blanchot refers especially to the "terrible monologues" of Hitler--often seeks to eliminate silence altogether, and so perhaps also the exigency that is an incessant dying (The Infinite Conversation, 75).

    To think the way one dies: without purpose, without power, without unity, and precisely without "the way." Whence the effacement of this formulation as soon as it is thought--as soon as it is thought, that is, both on the side of thinking and of dying, in dis-equilibrium, in an excess of meaning and in excess of meaning. No sooner is it thought than it has departed; it is gone, outside.
    Thinking as dying excludes the "as" of thought, in a manner such that even if we suppress this "as" by paratactic simplification and write: "to think: to die," it forms an enigma in its absence, a practically unbridgeable space. The un-relation of thinking and dying is also the form of their relation: not that thinking proceeds toward dying, proceeding thus toward its other, but not that it proceeds toward its likeness either. It is thus that "as" acquires the impetuousness of its meaning: neither like nor different, neither other nor same. (The Writing of the Disaster, 39)

    Presence is only presence at a distance, and this distance is absolute--that is, irreducible; that is, infinite. (Blanchot, Friendship, 218)

    Language, in its attentive and forgetful being, with its power of dissimulation that effaces every determinate meaning and even the existence of the speaker, in the gray neutrality that constitutes the essential hiding place of all being and thereby frees the space of the image - is neither truth nor time, neither eternity nor man; it is instead the always undone form of the outside. It places the origin in contact with death, or rather brings them both to light in the flash of their infinite oscillation - a momentary contact in a boundless space. The pure outside of the origin, if that is indeed what language is eager to greet, never solidifies into a penetrable and immobile positivity; and the perpetually rebegun outside of death, although carried toward the light by the essential forgetting of language, never sets the limit at which truth would finally begin to take shape. They immediately flip sides. The origin takes on the transparency of the endless; death opens interminably onto the repetition of the beginning. And what language is (not what it means, not the form in which it says what it means), what language is in its being, is that softest of voices, that nearly imperceptible retreat, that weakness deep inside and surrounding every thing and every face - what bathes the belated effort of the origin and the dawnlike erosion of death in the same neautral light, at once day and night. Orpheus's murderous forgetting, Ulysses' wait in chains, are the very being of language. (Foucault, Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside)

    My speech is a warning that at this very moment death is loose in the world, that it has suddenly appeared between me, as I speak, and the being I address: it is there between us as the distance that separates us, but this distance is also what prevents us from being separated, because it contains the condition for all understanding. Death alone allows me to grasp what I want to attain; it exists in words as the only way they can have meaning. Without death, everything would sink into absurdity and nothingness. (Blanchot, The Work of Fire, 323-24)

    Derrida's emphasis on radical aporia extends to "belief" in this manner: "belief" in its strongest affirmative sense requires that the thing one is believing in remain unbelievable. That is, "if one only believed in what was believable, the concept of belief itself would disappear." (In Derrida's reading, Heidegger never attempts to acknowledge sufficiently the act of belief that allows him to say "we" in the first place (Derrida, "Faith and Knowledge"). According to Derrida then, if anything would seem to require an act of true belief it would be atheism. Atheism is precisely the belief in death. Death, only ever knowable by the other, from the distance of the witness becomes, in a sense maybe, the new God.

    Giving urgency and meaning to language, given to each other through the act of witnessing, death is the condition of possibility for any community, ethics or just relation toward the other. Blanchot's writing is obsessively occupied with the experience of the death of the other, which is a "limit-experience" because it exposes the subject to a certain fragility that is unavoidably at once immediate and inaccessible.

    What calls me most radically into question? Not my relation to myself as finite or as the consciousness of being before death or for death, but my presence in the proximity of another who by dying removes himself definitively, to take upon myself another's death as the only death that concerns me, this is what puts me beside myself, this is the only separation that can open me, in its very impossibility, to the Openness of a community. (The Unavowable Community, 9)

    The death of the Other is one of those overwhelming events which reverberate throughout L’arrêt de mort [Death Sentence], and indeed all of Blanchot’s fiction. In such events, the Other affects me, or concerns me. and at the same time escapes my scrutiny. The traditional directionality of Western thought is inverted. I am no longer able to refer the advent of the other person to my thought of that person, or to a space of figural substitution in which my fantasy is able to play freely. Instead, my thought is taken away from me, estranged, singularized, and necessitated, by the Other’s attraction. Metaphor gives way to metamorphosis. I am altered, and drawn outside of myself, in an encounter that does not even occur in the time of my own interiority but precedes the constitution of myself as someone capable ot having such an encounter. Just as my thinking is sustained by a pensée that exceeds my capacity to think it, so in its turn that pensée is generated in the violence and surprise of a happening that it is unable to adequately formulate. Just as writing is not a self-sufficient action, but is drawn into and impelled by a broader movement of compulsion, so the obsessive repetition that initiates thought is itself exceeded in a moment of contact. The impersonality and nonintentionality of passion implies, not isolation, but engagement with an Other. Before the unhappy subsistence of the “I,” there is the shock of the Other’s touch. Prior to the very constitution of my subjectivity in obsession, there is the singularity of a glance or a voice that summons me. (Shaviro, Passion and Excess, 153-154)

    Through this contact--an incommunicable intimacy or touch existing, or pre-existing 'outside' of language--it is perhaps the other who is granted something like the potentially earth-and-self-shattering power of God, and precisely as she gives, by withdrawing. The indifference that normally permits communication (as well as violence) is shattered by an even greater indifference. Can this touch even really exist? And yet it does. There is a willing for it, although a willing that does not belong to anything except perhaps this willing itself. Something takes place. (The disaster...happens.)
    Something beautiful takes 'place', but not because it is pure, only because it is bound up with a yearning or a willing toward a purity it knows to be impossible. Something enigmatic and yet extremely simple. Something without cure. Speaking of Mallarmé, Blanchot writes:

    "If it gets finished (the tale), I shall be cured." This hope is touching in its simplicity. But the tale was not finished. Impotence--that abandon in which the work holds us and where it requires that we descend in the concern for its approach--knows no cure. That death is incurable. The absence that Mallarmé hoped to render pure is not pure. The night is not perfect, it does not welcome, it does not open. It is not the opposite of day--silence, repose, the cessation of tasks. In the night, silence is speech, and there is no repose, for there is no position. There the incessant and the uninterrupted reign--not the certainty of death achieved, but "the eternal torments of Dying." (The Space of Literature, 118-119)

    Death always means: the death of the other. But death itself remains unpronounceable; we know only dying. Is then the witness in fact the one who dies? With something of a crude finger, I would like to point to a passage that should really not be pointed to in this way, without being read in the full weight (or full 'lightness') of its context. (But then again, maybe context is not so all-important after all.) It comes from a work of Blanchot's "fiction," and yet it may express things better than any theoretical argument ever could. At the same time, we are led to believe it is nothing less than an intensely personal act, almost a confession, the writing of this story, his words, writing as a witness, in a sense the closest thing to him-self that will have been possible, and so to cite it merely as support for some "theory" may be another violence toward Blanchot (or at least until several years ago, it would have been). Now it is something different again, but let us listen:

    She had fallen asleep, her face wet with tears. Far from being spoiled by it, her youth seemed dazzling: only the very young and healthy can bear such a flood of tears that way; her youth made such an extraordinary impression on me that I completely forgot her illness, her awakening and the danger she was still in. A little later, however, her expression changed. Almost under my eyes, the tears had dried and the tear stains had disappeared; she became severe, and her slightly raised lips showed the contraction of her jaw and her tightly clenched teeth, and gave her a rather mean and suspicious look: her hand moved in mine to free itself, I wanted to release it, but she seized me again right away with a savage quickness in which there was nothing human. When the nurse came to talk to me--in a low voice and about nothing important--J. immediately awoke and said in a cold way, "I have my secrets with her too." She went back to sleep at once.
    ...As I listened without pause to her slight breathing, faced by the silence of the night, I felt extremely helpless and miserable just because of the miracle that I had brought about. Then for the first time, I had a thought that came back to me later and in the end won out. While I was still in that state of mind--it must have been about three o'clock--J. woke up without moving at all--that is, she looked at me. That look was very human: I don't mean affectionate or kind, since it was neither; but it wasn't cold or marked by the forces of this night. It seemed to understand me profoundly; that is why I found it terribly friendly, though it was at the same time terribly sad. "Well," she said, "you've made a fine mess of things." She looked at me again without smiling at all, as she might have smiled, as I afterwards hoped she had, but I think my expression did not invite a smile. Besides, that look did not last very long.
    Even though her eyelids were lowered, I am convinced that from then on she lay awake; she lay awake because the danger was too great, or for some other reason; but she purposefully kept herself at the edge of consciousness, manifesting a calm, and an alertness in that calm, that was very unlike her tension of a short time before. What proved to me that she was not asleep--though she was unaware of what went on around her because something else held her interest--was that a little later she remembered what had happened nearly an hour before: the nurse, not sure whether or not she was asleep, had leaned over her and suggested she have another shot, a suggestion which she did not seem to be at all aware of. But a little later she said to the nurse, "No, no shot this evening," and repeated insistently, "No more shots." Words, which I have all the time in the world to remember now. Then she turned slightly towards the nurse and said in a tranquil tone, "Now then, take a good look at death," and pointed her finger at me. She said this in a very tranquil and almost friendly way, but without smiling. ("Death Sentence")

    A sentence of death, spoken with a finger, is passed from the dying to the witness. The witness receives a death sentence, with an exchange of looks, and for a death that is not his. The affinities shared by this passage and the meditations on God that are pursued by Derrida in The Gift of Death are striking.

    One hesitates to read too much. But with that worry in mind, it might just be noted that in Blanchot's story the character of the nurse (if she is a character, as well as--perhaps?--a real person) occupies an interesting position as a sort of mediator between the narrator and "J." The death worn on the witness's or narrator's face can only be seen by a third party or a second witness. In a strange way, then, the nurse is not unlike a sort of priest, mediating between a God (the narrator--death)--a God who sees in the other (J.) in secret, without himself being seen-- and J. herself. But the story also lends itself to being read in an opposite direction (and this is part of the performative ambiguity--if such a thing can be said without raising to many eyebrows at once--of the text), whereby J. is clearly the figure of God ("you've made a fine mess of things")--a God whose omniscience (seeing every secret) with regard to the narrator is a profound comfort, although one that is at once "terribly friendly" and "terribly sad."
    In any case, much more might be said about this passage, and this story where every act of naming may or may not be quite deliberate. Could it have been written--and can it be read--by someone who hasn't felt these things as well? Blanchot writes of having once been convinced he was about to die, before the firing squad. He miraculously escaped, but it would seem an experience that left him forever marked by death. An "alertness in that calm"--isn't this also the "passivity" of which The Writing of the Disaster speaks at such length? A friendship without friendship, a gift without giving--these are the aporias that Derrida transforms from Blanchot's logic of the 'neuter'. In his reading of Blanchot's récit, "The Instant of My Death", Derrida elaborates:

    Life can only be light from the moment that it stays dead-living while being freed, that is to say, released from itself. A life without life, an experience of lightness, an instance of “without,” a logic without logic of the “X without X,” or of the “not” or of the “except,” of the “being without being,” etc. In “A Primitive Scene,” we could read: “To live without living, like dying without death: writing returns us to these enigmatic propositions.”
    The proof that we have here, with this testimony and reference to an event, the logical and textual matrix of Blanchot’s entire corpus, so to speak, is that this lightness of “without,” the thinking of the “X without X” comes to sign, consign or countersign the experience of the neuter as ne uter, neither-nor by bringing it together. This experience draws to itself and endures, in its very passion, the thinking as well as the writing of Blanchot, between literature and the right to death. Neither...nor: in this way the witness translates the untranslatable demourance....The neuter is the experience or passion of a thinking that cannot stop at either opposite without also overcoming the opposition -- neither this nor that, neither happiness nor unhappiness (Demeure: Fiction and Testimony, 88-90).

    There is of course also a 'weaker' sense in which the phrase "death sentence" may be read. As precisely a sort of entirely banal prohibition against dying--a living death instead of a dying life, if you will. For example, the political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal, currently serving his twenty-second (24) year in solitary confinement (and in support of whose case Derrida wrote, years ago, to then-President Bill Clinton), has been given such a "death sentence."
    To presume to pronounce the other's death--is this to exercise the violence of a sovereign, as if one could ever justly assume adequate authority over whether the other lives or dies (the implication being that one had then somehow mastered one's own death); moreover to justify this power as the condition of possibility for any relation at all to the other, or indeed of any politics--such might even be the definition of injustice, mightn't? Derrida's critical reading of Carl Schmitt in The Politics of Friendship would point away from such a politics. Where Schmitt would affirm the permanent threat of war between sovereign nation-states (annihilation, even, extending without limit the exigency of the Cold War's logic of "deterrance") as the condition of the political, Derrida would rather dream of something else, and not only because he sees in Schmitt's analysis a dangerous sanctioning of a certain sanctified or legalized "killing without murder." With regard to Schmitt, Derrida writes (and it is well worth reproducing at a little length for the playful echoes of Blanchot's questions and indeed Blanchot's style that appear):

    One can infer symmetrically that there is no friend without this possibility of killing which establishes a non-natural community. Not only could I enter into a relationship of friendship only with a mortal, but I could love in friendship only a mortal at least exposed to so-called violent death--that is, exposed to being killed, possibly by myself. And by myself, in lovence itself, in an essential, not an accidental manner. To love in love or friendship would always mean: I can kill you, you can kill me, we can kill ourselves. Together or one another, masculine or feminine. Therefore, in all cases, we already are (possibly, but this possibility is, precisely, real) dead for one another...Let us not forget that the political would precisely be that which thus endlessly binds or opposes the friend--enemy/enemy--friend couple in the drive or decision of death, in the putting to death or in the stake of death. We were speaking of the political enemy at the beginning of this analysis. A hypothesis, then: and what if another lovence (in friendship or in love) were bound to an affirmation of life, to the endless repetition of this affirmation, only in seeking its way (in loving its way, and this would be phileîn itself) in the step beyond the political, or beyond that political as the horizon of finitude, putting to death and putting of death. The phileîn beyond the political or another politics for loving, another politics to love, for love (à aimer)? Must one dissociate and associate together differently pólis, politeía, philía, Éros, and so forth? If a choice between these three hypotheses and these three logical chains were simply or clearly possible, we would make that choice, we would choose one immediately. In this very place.
    Hence we must be patient at the crossroads and endure this undecidable triviality. Without it--and this is the thesis and the decision--no decision would be possible, nor even any friendship. There we are. In this very place? No, there.(The Politics of Friendship, 122-123)

    No doubt what then began for the young man was the torment of injustice. No more ecstasy; the feeling that he was only living because, even in the eyes of the Russians, he belonged to a noble class.
    This was war: life for some, for others, the cruelty of assassination.
    There remained, however, at the moment when the shooting was no longer but to come, the feeling of lightness that I would not know how to translate: freed from life? the infinite opening up? Neither happiness, nor unhappiness. Nor the absence of fear and perhaps already the step beyond. I know, I imagine that this unanalyzable feeling changed what there remained for him of existence. As if death outside of him could only henceforth collide with the death in him. "I am alive." "No, you are dead." ("The Instant of My Death", 7-9)

    This lightness neither frees nor relieves of anything; it is neither a salvation through freedom nor an opening to the infinite because this passion is without freedom and this death without death is a confirmation of finitude. Yet here is a more affirmative response, if not a more positive and more assured one...We could appeal to all of Blanchot's texts on the neuter here--the neither-nor that is beyond all dialectic, of course, but also beyond the negative grammar that the word neuter, ne uter, seems to indicate. The neuter is the experience or passion of a thinking that cannot stop at either opposite without also overcoming the opposition--neither this nor that, neither happiness nor unhappiness. (Demeure: Fiction and Testimony)

    Taking issue with the formula often attributed to Kafka--"Write to be able to die--Die to be able to write"--Blanchot in "The Work and Death's Space" responds:

    At first glance, the preoccupation of the writer who writes in order to be able to die is an affront to common sense. It would seem we can be sure of at least one event: it will come without any approach on our part, without our bestirring ourselves at all; yes, it will come. That is true, but at the same time it is not true, and indeed quite possibly it lacks truth altogether. At least it does not have the kind of truth which we feel in the world, which is the measure of our action and of our presence in the world. What makes me disappear from the world cannot find its guarantee there; and thus, in a way, having no guarantee, it is not certain. This explains why no one is linked to death by real certitude. No one is sure of dying. No one doubts death, but no one can think of certain death except doubtfully, the brittleness of the unsure. It is as in order to think authentically upon the certainty of death, we had to let thought sink into doubt and inauthenticity, or yet again as if when we strive to think on death, more than our brain--the very substance and truth of thought itself--were bound to crumble. This in itself indicates that if men in general do not thing about death, if they avoid confronting it, it is doubtless in order to flee death and hide from it, but this escape is possible only because death itself is perpetual flight before death, and because it is the deep of dissimulation. Thus to hide from it is in a certain way to hide in it. (The Space of Literature, 95)

    In the "brittleness of the unsure," thought finds its necessity. The real is fragile, and this is precisely what makes it real. However, the real has already been forgotten, and then remembered. Following in the steps of Nietzsche, and perhaps even skipping a mountain peak every now and then (though we could argue about whether he reaches the clouds), Blanchot emphasizes that memory is always a function of forgetting.
    Impossible necessary death; why do these words--and the experience to which they refer (the inexperience)--escape comprehension? Why this collision of mutually exclusive terms? Why efface them by considering them as a fiction peculiar to some particular author? It is only natural. Thought cannot welcome that which it bears within itself and which sustains it, except by forgetting. (The Writing of the Disaster, 67)

    However, returning to the phrase: “Prevented from dying by death itself." One way of approaching this enigmatic statement might run more or less like this: if death as such is only knowable or realizable through the experience of watching the other die--of witnessing the other in their absolute mortality from a perspective and necessary distance that they themselves will never know--then this “death” is also in some sense a pronouncement of immortality, signifying the impossibility of one's own death.
    But in another sense (and there are many--Derrida has quipped in Demeure that “years could be spent on this sentence alone”--which is most convincing coming from him, but in any case), if one thinks this sentence with a different emphasis, one placed not unlike invisible quotes on “dying” rather than on death, then, again, the aporia might be said to be placed on dying. In this sense, one’s need for a kind of dying--an infinite dying, in fact--would be violently abridged by the imposition: death. (In a sense it is the same everyday imposition of calling someone by their name, which is at once to reference a time when such a call cannot be answered, but only the name itself will echo.)
    In other words, it is essential to be able to die without in fact dying, to die without death--otherwise the ethical demand of death is not addressed, and "death" becomes only a kind of epithet or slogan hurled at the living. One can never be through responding to the dead, or rather to the demand placed by the enigma of their disappearance. Just how one remains faithful to this infinite demand (and what being "faithful" might mean) without, as Freud once said, being “unconsciously afraid of the dead and because of this hidden awe...often led to speak in overpraising term," is not a simple question (Lacoue-Labarthe, "The Echo of the Subject," 158). Freud, for one, might suggest that it is also a question of shame.

    It is a question whose tone has been uniquely and permanently altered by the events of the second World War. It may be a question of an “ethics without redemption,” but, paradoxically, also one of lightness, and perhaps, above all, of friendship.

    To be truly responsible, in the strongest possible sense of this word--a word that is so important in linking Blanchot and Derrida, and in a manner that may finally open beyond either one of them--requires a negotiation of the aporia of dying. Dying is at bottom an impossible contradiction that can never be resolved with any finality, through the mantric or numbing false comfort of any formula, program or prescription--there is in fact no “at bottom” at all.

    The "I" that is responsible for others, the I bereft of selfhood, is sheer fragility, through and through on trial. This I without any identity is responsible for him to whom he can give no response; this I must answer in an interrogation where no question is put; he is a question directed to others from whom no answer can be expected either. The Other does not answer. (The Writing of the Disaster, 119)

    The inessentiality and necessity of dying, for any ethics (as essentiality necessarily devoid of essence), can only be approached by first acknowledging the impossibility of doing so. (Which is not, of course, what anybody likes to hear, and it may be only too easy to underestimate the power of this dislike.) But then as soon as one chooses an approach--a decision that is always in some sense "mad"--so Derrida follows Kierkegaard--one is constantly in danger of letting one’s style seduce and subsume the meaning or obscure the stakes of one’s intervention. In fact there is no avoiding this obscurity, but only degrees of patience.
    If in fact every interpretation cannot help but transform what it interprets, then one is still responsible for how one goes about transforming, deforming, and reforming, even if the result is always failure. There might be a kind of relief in this, if it were not also the greatest burden in the world: how to fail responsibly and in failing, disappear (or nearly disappear)...with style (but not into style). To fail so that in failing, there is still genuine risk.

    "Prevented from dying by death itself." This sentence plays on the many readings made possible depending on which language--general or restricted, weak or strong--is heard, and when. In the end, every reading might amount to much the same point. But there might also be a kind of violence in reducing the enigmatic quality or multiplying expressiveness of such a phrase to a single point, because the inability of language to express the full weight of such a point is also part of the point. That is, to dismiss such phrases as mere "word play" is to miss hearing the serious tone of the game--one refusing to be excused from aporia and contradiction.

    The phrase, “prevented from dying by death itself” must finally be read in the light of the camps--where "light" is not a 'lightness' at all; it is perhaps a blinding glare, a "night without darkness," or a day without dawn.

    "Prevented from dying by death itself." Is this not the self-sacrificial "leap" that is required of 'belief'?

    Yes, let us remember the earliest Hegel. He too, even prior to his "early" philosophy, considered that the two deaths were indissociable, and that only the act of confronting death--not merely of facing it or of exposing oneself to its danger (which is the distinguishing feature of heroic courage), but of entering into its space, of undergoing it as infinite death and also as mere death, "natural death"--could found the sovereignty of masterhood: the mind and its prerogatives. The result was perhaps, absurdly, that the experience which initiates the movement of the dialectic--the experience which none experiences, the experience of death--stopped it right away, and that the entire subsequent process retained a sort of memory of this halt, as if of an aporia which always had still to be accounted for. (The Writing of the Disaster, 68)

    See also, not unrelatedly...

    Wednesday, August 03, 2005


    Macknair Efuctost points to this amusing pen-name generator. Henceforth I should like to be known as "Mirth Testica," if it's all the same to you.

    From a review of Peter-Paul Verbeek, What Things Do: Philosophical Reflections on Technology, Agency, and Design, Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005:
    Analytic philosophy is dominant at all the great universities in this country, but, as Jerry Fodor and Richard Rorty have recently observed, its research program has petered out, and its contributions to the national conversation have been negligible.[1] Philosophy of Technology is the mirror image of analytic philosophy. It's marginal within the profession. The Advisory Board of Brian Leiter's Philosophical Gourmet Report recognizes thirty-three specialties, but philosophy of technology is not among them; and you can scour the pages of Jobs for Philosophers and not find a call for a philosopher of technology. (more)

    some notes on liberalism *now*

    From here (courtesy of wood s lot):
    RR: The best restatement of liberalism I have read recently is Timothy Garton Ash's Free World. I do not see that it is "full of contradictions". It restates the ideals of the French Revolution in terms appropriate to the current set of socio-economic problems, just as writers in 1900 restated those ideals in terms appropriate to the problems that were urgent then. Ash insists (rightly, in my opinion) that the aspirations of people in Shanghai and Bangkok are the same as those of people in Chicago and Bratislava -- that liberals need not worry about the difference between "eastern" and "western" values.

    BE: Historically, liberalism emerges when there is a space for reasonable discourse regarding social priorities. And if there is open debate about the need to moderate demands for greater individual freedoms, as well as demands for greater economic freedom, the pressures on liberalism will only be internal. Its main problem is that while a free market economy is a powerful engine for generating national wealth, it tends to ensnare individuals in a vicious cycle of consumption-production, thereby thwarting human development.

    RJ: Yes, it is impossible to speak of "liberalism" as if it were a static thing. Indeed, liberalism, in order to remain true to itself, must change; it must respond to historical shifts. For instance, guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression meant one thing in the eighteenth century and another in the twenty-first. To be sure, there are invariables. In the past as today, theocratic regimes and their supporters would circumscribe free speech. Today, for much of the world that has not changed; you are evidently at risk for what you say or publish in Egypt or North Korea. Yet the forms or shapes have altered elsewhere. In North America and Europe, "classic" cases of the government censoring or trying to stop the publication of a book or newspaper rarely happen. On the other hand, efforts to censor or control what teachers teach -- about evolution or religion -- are common. Nor does this mean that some of the "classic" battles no longer take place. The basic protection against unlawful detention (habeas corpus) has often been flouted by the Bush administration; it keeps prisoners off the mainland of the US (on a military base in Cuba), for example, to avoid court appearances where it would have to justify imprisonment.

    The bane of liberalism is its economic dimension. In the absence of secure and decent lives, people have little interest in or commitment to political liberties: this is as true in the advanced industrial countries as in the underdeveloped world. This is the difficulty and plight of liberalism today: appeals to rights or free speech or equality between men and women fall on deaf ears when daily life is constantly threatened. Real or imagined dangers of terrorism or simply unemployment, undrinkable water, and decaying schools displace political liberalism and its world of rights and freedoms. The problem is that on the plane of economic ideas or plans the left is both clueless and disheartened, while conservatives are all-knowing and confident. Conservatives believe that the collapse of communism proves the truth of unfettered capitalism. Yet the undeniable vitality of capitalism -- a vitality that Marx himself celebrated -- does not translate into a peaceful and secure society. On the contrary...(more)

    And from here (via):
    In short: the third–wayish globalisation Garton Ash says is on offer is one thing – but globalisation plus continuing great–power nationalism is quite another. Free World charts many sympathetic hopes and suggestions for the former; but the latter is what is really on offer. The armed, great–nationalist storm has given new life to a “failed” state; and (though we can’t yet be sure) that state may be constitutionally incapable of moderating or repudiating its violence. If this turns out to be true, then the imagination is forced back towards Adrian Leverkühn’s own Todesfuge, the great cosmic lamentation towards the end of Doctor Faustus, where the Devil’s music soars up to voice the eternity of human sorrow, permitting “to the very end no consolation, appeasement, transfiguration”.

    Garton Ash's rhetoric is warmly persuasive, but evokes the style of permanent present that suits his moral and ideological approach. He believes in Life after Crisis, but situates his formulae in too recent a historical perspective. His standpoint remains the 1990s, and the emancipation of central and eastern Europe. But it was surely unlikely that all the famous “burdens” of former imperial conflict and world wars would simply vanish, along with the Berlin wall, into Francis Fukuyama’s spellbinding The End of History.

    The latter was only an anti–Communist Manifesto, destined for a far shorter life than its great ancestor. Like the heady projections of 1990s, it distracted thought away from what Musil’s historical millipede was up to. The latter went on wriggling, with renewed energy after the long, unnatural chill; since 2001 it has been threshing violently about, as if impatient to burst forth into something else.

    No complaint is more commonly heard today than accusations of “mass apathy”, or even cynicism – the wilful popular conviction that politics doesn’t matter, or that they (politicians) are in the business for some self–interested motives, either personal or group, in the sense of party, or élite. What else is to be expected, in a world of “no alternatives” and generalised masochism? Popular indifference is not unconnected with a largely justified sense of being governed by zombies. This isn’t new either. A whole generation had been required to cultivate entropy of such depth and persistence. Jeremi Suri describes how. “At its core”, he argues, “détente was a mechanism of domestic fortification”, on both sides of the cold war boundary...

    Yet he still has to conclude, as in his book, that it’s a huge mistake to conclude that “George Bush is the true face of America”, which remains “one country, but two nations”. Hence it will be our self–colonising duty to put up with it, and make the best of whatever the victorious nation chooses to offer – choking back “the bitterest bile” as we do so – since it’s “our enlightened self–interest” to do so, in order to preserve what’s left of the free world and also to “keep faith with the other America”, those he met across black Washington. And in four years time they, and we, will probably get a better US president.

    But there is no huge mistake. Of course Bush isn’t all America, or all Americans. What this platitude ignores is that Bush is the American state – including all too much of the constitution that produced this state – and that the tempestuous river of democracy has to be directed against the barriers that have created and still maintain it. While the US opposition continues to follow its embedded rules, rather than striving to replace them, no shift of party rule or president will do other than itself compromise or re–manifest the historical character which has emerged after Bush’s non–election, and the traumatic shock of the 9/11 attack.

    Timothy Garton Ash doesn’t perceive this qualitative shift: not just the reaffirmation of a past, inherited national nature, but the decisive formation of a new one, never present in this way in previous American involvements with the outside world. From the Hispano–American conflict, via both world wars and the cold war, US civic–constitutional identity retained a regulative role which – however dubious, and sometimes equivocal, or worse – still restrained the nationalism invited by such developing, and finally dominant, power.

    But today the restraints have gone. Keeping faith with Garton Ash’s other America — the “very nearly half who think like Europeans”, as he puts it – demands acknowledgement of the sea–change threatening to drown them, along with the rest of us. He assumes that free–worldly things will somehow just go on, and remain essentially unaltered four years from now. I doubt it. Democracy will now be forced in other directions, underground as well as on the surface, towards destinations unknown to the hidebound Atlantic seaboard world that Free World still defends so eloquently.

    Update: There's more here (via).