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Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts: Professions of Faith
 9781472548009, 9781441121196

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About the Contributors Matthew Calarco, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, California State University, Fullerton. He has published widely on leading figures in contemporary Continental thought, including Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, and Agamben. He has coedited The Continental Ethics Reader (Routledge, 2003); Animal Philosophy (Continuum, 2004); Sovereignty and Life: On Giorgio Agamben (Stanford, 2007); and Radicalizing Levinas (SUNY, 2007). His most recent book is on animal studies and Continental philosophy and is entitled Zoographies (Columbia, 2008). Mary Caputi, PhD, is a professor of political theory at California State University, Long Beach. She writes and teaches in many areas of contemporary political thought, including feminism, critical theory, psychoanalysis, and post-colonial studies. She is the author of three books, Feminism and Power: the Need for Critical Theory (Lexington Books, 2013), A Kinder, Gentler America: the Mythical 1950s (Minnesota, 2005) and Voluptuous Yearnings: A Feminist Reading of the Obscene (Rowman and Littlefield, 1994), as well as numerous articles. She has also taught at Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, and at Colby College in Maine. Simon Critchley is a professor and the chair of philosophy at the New School for Social Research and professor of Philosophy at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. His most recent books include The Book of Dead Philosophers (Vintage, 2009), On Heidegger’s Being and Time, coauthored with Reiner Schürmann (Routledge, 2008), Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso, 2008), and Things Merely Are: Philosophy in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens (Routledge, 2005). Jonathan Culler, PhD, is a professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature, Cornell University. He received his B.A. in History and Literature from Harvard University and his D.Phil. in Modern Languages from St. John’s College, Oxford University. Dr. Culler has published widely on literary criticism and theory, both introductory surveys (Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, and Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, which has been translated into some 20 languages) and more advanced works: Structuralist Poetics, The Pursuit of Signs, On Deconstruction, and most recently, The Literary in Theory. Vincent J. Del Casino Jr, PhD, is a professor in the School of Geography and Development and associate dean in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of Arizona. Dr. Del Casino has published numerous papers on various aspects of geographic thought and methodology, health care outreach and politics, and representational politics. He is coeditor of the book A Companion to Social Geography (Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

About the Contributors


Clorinda Donato, PhD, is the George L. Graziadio Chair of Italian Studies at California State University, Long Beach, where she is Professor of French and Italian and a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques. She has published over fifty articles spanning the history of encyclopedias, the Protestant and Catholic Enlightenments, Gender Studies, translation and travel literature. She co-edited The ‘Encyclopédie’ in the Age of Revolution (G. K. Hall, 1992); L’Encyclopédie d’Yverdon et sa résonance européenne: contextes contenus prolongements, (Slatkine, 2005) and Discourses of Tolerance and Intolerance in the Eighteenth Century (University of Toronto Press, 2009). The co-edited volume Jesuit Accounts of the Colonial Americas—Textualities, Intellectual Disputes, Intercultural Transfers, (University of Toronto Press), is forthcoming. Colm J. Kelly, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, St. Thomas University, Fredericton, N.B., Canada. His research is on Derrida and deconstruction, and on Wittgenstein and ethnomethodology, and how these different schools of thought relate to our understanding of the ‘social.’ He has published widely in such journals as the Canadian Journal of Sociology, Mosaic: A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature, Current Perspectives in Social Theory, and Studies: A Quarterly Irish Review. He is currently preparing a manuscript on the theme of Derrida and the social. Mark Mason is deputy dean at the University of Chichester (UK) where he also teaches in the History Department. His PhD research draws upon the conceptual resources of the (re)turn to religion in contemporary theory and, specifically, the messianic motif in Derrida’s work to reflect on the current and future state/status of historical representation. His work has been published in Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice (Routledge). Christopher Norris, PhD, is a professor at Cardiff University. He is a world-renowned philosopher who has written extensively and with authority on deconstruction. His Deconstruction: Theory and Practice (Methuen, 1991) and Jacques Derrida (Fontana and Harvard University Press, 1987) are both seminal texts on Derrida’s contribution to philosophy. Diane Rubenstein, PhD, is a professor of Government and American Studies at Cornell University, where she teaches in the fields of French Studies and Visual Studies. She is the author of What’s Left? The Ecole Normale Superieure and the Right (Wisconsin, 1991) and This is not a President: Sense and Nonsense in the American Political Imaginary (NYU, 2008). Her articles have appeared in Political Theory, theory and event, as well as edited volumes such as the Hysterical Male and The Final Foucault. Keith Woodward, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin–Madison. He explores the connections between radical and critical social theory and geographic thought. His work has been published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, among other journals. His current projects include the development of a site-based, flat ontology for geography (with Sallie Marston and John Paul Jones III) and a politicized theorization of affect for the study of social movements.



Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts Mary Caputi and Vincent J. Del Casino Jr

It is impossible, now more than ever, to dissociate the work we do, within one discipline or several, from a reflection on the political and institutional conditions of that work. Jacques Derrida, 2004.1 It is fair to say that university life is changing. From the advent of new technologies that allow for online and distance education to the broader debate on the “value” of higher education, it is clear that how universities work, what they do, and what their broader mission might be are being vigorously scrutinized. This is part of a general trend toward a more task- and job-oriented higher educational system. This trend is a function, in large part, of the forces of transnational capital, as campus culture has become susceptible to a business ethos, the input-output orientation and for-profit model of which differ fundamentally from earlier goals of providing students with a liberal education that encompasses the breadth of the humanities as well as the social and natural sciences. Instead of nurturing an environment concerned with “thinking about all sorts of things, with thinking as creatively, clearly, and rigorously as possible,”2 the energies of university life are excessively marshaled by legislators and often (or sometimes) well-meaning administrators toward the larger aims of financial gain, competitive edge, and the newest euphemism, “student success.” Embedded in this language of success is the notion that graduation rates are now the prime concern of the academy, and that university success can be measured in empirical terms by the raw number of graduates and the ability of those graduates to translate their degree directly to the job market. As the so-called “hard sciences” have been able to buffer themselves from these pressures, to a certain degree, because of their apparent “value” to the economy, those fields that cannot demonstrate direct connectivity to the global market of applied work and jobs are finding themselves further and further behind a discursive boundary through which they must break to justify their longer-term survival. The premise that data-driven analyses grounded in overly simplistic “facts” can guide and shape the twenty-first century university,


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

however, contradicts the liberal arts goal of fostering an intellectual environment, of allowing students to dwell on ideas, and of encouraging political creativity and social awareness. Given this contradiction, it is not surprising that Jacques Derrida asks us to turn our attention to the broader “political and institutional conditions” in and through which our academic work operates. For many academics in the liberal arts, these broader changes to the academy mark a distressing development, as the long-standing model of liberal arts education undergoes transformation, downsizing, reorganization, and, in some cases, complete annihilation, with the humanities and the so-called softer social sciences most directly under attack. Given this assault, it is not surprising that professors in the liberal arts are concerned that their scholarship and coursework are similarly under attack, with the rationalization of education leading to a devaluing of fields such as philosophy, literary theory, and languages, along with ethnic, area, and cultural studies, unless, of course, those fields can be mustered toward more material goals (i.e., a new military education training soldiers in “cultural sensitivities”). In such an environment, it is imperative that academics assert liberal arts education as a site through which students and educators can engage in conversations about the complexities of sociocultural and political-economic life. The ability to question and query, to call out and disaggregate the constituent parts of an argument, to recognize how one position is always already part of its constitutive other, and that one can use language to both convince and deceive are skills that must be central to a democratic society. These are skills that are traditionally taught in the liberal arts. And, we argue, it is these skills that are needed as we move forward into the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, however, it is these very skills that are being called into question, as universities rationalize their systems to meet the budget realities of higher education at this historic moment. So, where do we go and what might we do? To this end, we want to follow the late Bill Readings, who maintains that creative institutional reform can meaningfully salvage the besieged university. In his thought-provoking The University in Ruins, Readings both laments the infiltration of a consumerist mentality on campuses and proposes revisiting disciplinary boundaries in ways that keep alive “the question of the disciplinary form”3 in relation to knowledge. Regrouping, restructuring, and retooling academic departments can force deeper thinking about why and how academics group knowledge at all. What is the purpose and function of an academic discipline? What intellectual value do academic boundaries produce? Do these boundaries encourage the university’s social function and enhance its contribution to the larger democratic process? This exercise, Readings argues, can be a way to address pressing budgetary concerns without sacrificing the larger mission of the university. For us, then, we might ask the following: can university-wide structural reorganizations benefit the liberal arts in ways that can protect them against the self-seeking demands of economic necessity and capitalist value structures? Phrased differently, can those of us who teach in the liberal arts reformulate the narratives of “student success” and intellectual efficiency to our benefit and so retain the joy in what we do? Can we control the conversation and produce institutional formations that maintain the value and integrity of a wider liberal arts education? Can we draw on the critical scholarship of Derrida in this pursuit? We believe that we can.



In tackling these questions, this book focuses on the contribution of Jacques Derrida, who, during his lifetime, boldly defended the liberal arts. This collection of essays seeks to clarify how his oeuvre convincingly demonstrates the need for unbought, unfettered critical scholarship within democracies of the twenty-first century. After all, Derrida’s insights have done more than simply reimagine the humanities; they have also rethought the disciplinary practices and spaces of many social science fields as well as some areas of the natural sciences, fields historically less concerned with their own, perhaps unavowed, philosophical underpinnings. In so doing, Derridean thought challenges the historical trajectories of disciplinary knowledge, of the archive and text, and of teaching, language, and learning in ways that provide us with not only new ways of knowing but also new ways of conceiving university life altogether. Derrida’s contributions to the liberal arts thus offer antidotes to the pervasive instrumentalist philosophies that privilege so-called “applied” knowledge over theoretical knowledge, thereby keeping alive the crucial role of critical thinking in contemporary, fast-changing, globalizing societies. And Derrida’s work does so in ways that challenge the presumptive hierarchy of knowledge. In destabilizing the binaries of application and theory, we might better produce a liberal arts praxis that is an essential part of higher education training for the twenty-first century student. The essays that make up this book are committed to precisely this task: to rethink academic disciplines in ways that keep alive the university’s interrogative, contrapuntal status. In an effort to staunch the ability of corporate interests to swallow academe’s standing as an oppositional space, we pursue this challenge by reflecting upon the Derridean task of promoting a “reason [that] must let itself be reasoned with.”4 In this book, we focus on the manner in which deconstruction aids in the task of countering the infiltration of commercial interests into the “modern university” that has come to us from the medieval, European model. That university, which has focused on producing an intellectual trained across a breadth of fields, has given way to a university dependent on a rigid orthodoxy of disciplinary formations that distinguishes fields of knowing from each other. In Derridean terms, the production of the modern university5 is one that has effectively forestalled a conversation about what it means to ask a “question.” In reimagining the university, we need to do as Geoffrey Bennington suggests, viz., actually challenge the “old model of the university that posited a separation between inside and outside, which left it open to all sorts of critiques, and impotent faced with a fragmentation of knowledge that it no longer contains, even in the form of an Idea.”6 For despite the varieties of liberal arts practices that arise due to what we are calling the “geopolitics” of education—that is, the specificities of location, culture, language, etc., that influence how the liberal arts are offered—the university conceived of in accordance with this model remains, for Derrida, “unconditional.”

Organizing the discussion What follows are a series of interventions and arguments about the role that deconstruction and critical theory may play in our conversations regarding the liberal


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

arts. In situating this wider conversation, we first step back in Section I to examine Derrida’s own contributions to the liberal arts and to the academy more broadly. In so doing, we ask: what does Derrida have to say about the university? How does he theorize it as a site of critical scholarship and engagement? And how have other scholars taken up or challenged Derrida’s project? This section thus situates the work of the contributors to this book through an active re-reading of Derrida’s own thinking as well as the scholars who have been critical of his project. It is our hope in doing this that we can situate this book within a wider Derridean project of creating a “university without condition.” The second chapter in Section I is a re-publication of Simon Critchley’s “What is the Institutional Form of Thinking?,” in which he argues that a regrettable sense of “psychical impotence” pervades the university today.7 This feeling of helplessness is due, Critchley maintains, to the fact that the hallways of academe are increasingly vulnerable to corporate interests and values and a corporate model of organization that threaten to erode the university’s commitment to erudition and critical interrogation. In short, “[t]here has been a middle-management takeover of higher education,” writes Critchley, “and people with no competence or capacity for intellectual judgment force academics to conform to some sort of state-administered straitjacket.”8 Fitting the revered attributes of university life into this outcome-oriented straitjacket has been underway for some time, and liberal arts scholars have been most severely impacted in the process. Critchley suggests some ways out of this straitjacket and, as such, provides an important point of engagement for the other contributors to this book more generally. Section II consists of nine original essays and an afterword that offer specific insights into the transformative impact that Derrida’s oeuvre has had on the liberal arts in general and on a number of given disciplines in particular. Collectively, they offer a corrective to the “psychical impotence” described by Critchley by demonstrating the manner in which disciplinary boundaries and pedagogical practices can be rethought, restructured, and made to reach out to students enrolled in the university today. Because we believe that students must question the cultures that have shaped their thinking—even if they must first learn how to question critically at all—we are convinced that only a liberal arts education can provide the satisfying if open-ended questions that will always form part of higher learning. The very fact that globalization induces such cultural instability at such a fast pace and in so broad a fashion is alone reason to believe that the need for cultural interrogation will always remain part of the educating process. To deconstruct is therefore to draw upon one’s education, to employ the fruits of pedagogy in relation to larger social concerns. “Education is not something that is external to deconstruction,” writes Gert J. J. Biesta, “just as deconstruction is not something that comes to education from outside.”9 These nine essays are drawn from a wide variety of disciplines from across the humanities and the social sciences in an effort to demonstrate both the pervasiveness of Derrida’s impact within the liberal arts and the usefulness of deconstruction in rethinking the university’s larger purpose. What this book hopes to demonstrate is that education’s ongoing enterprise of critical reflection reinforces the social role of the university. For as each discipline deconstructs its traditional model and canon, its



luminary giants and pedagogical practices, it holds open the question of social values by remaining dedicated to critique. Each time we deconstruct our own discipline, in other words, we revisit the purpose of a liberal arts education in the Western world today, and profess our belief in the university’s unconditional, vital role within a democracy. Christopher Norris’s essay, “Grammatology Revisited: Derrida on Language, Truth, and Deviant Logic,” makes the case that Derridean philosophy puts a strain on the classical or bivalent (true/false) logic permeating Western thought, while also engaging central issues in the philosophy of logic and language. Norris explores the way in which philosophy may work against itself given its own internal, “deviant” logic, thereby raising crucial questions concerning its veracity, consistency, and integrity as a discipline. This deviant or paraconsistent logic puts any text into relationship with contradiction and aporia, thus showing how language may confound our best efforts to mean what we say and say what we mean. Such Derridean notions as supplementarity are therefore crucial to the philosophical enterprise, Norris argues, given their power to bring out complexities of sense and logic that would escape notice on a more orthodox, less attentive reading. This countering reality has bearing not only on the discipline of philosophy itself, but also on our larger argument regarding the ability of the traditional university to reconfigure itself based on the logic of what Simon Morgan Wortham has called “the counter-institution.”10 Thus the implications of Norris’s argument extend outward from the discipline of philosophy to the role of the university writ large: its oppositional status necessarily puts into question the values of the society that sustains it. If the university operates within a system of cultural institutions and social practices, in other words, the field of philosophy simultaneously puts these into question by demonstrating an inherently deviant logic at work within these very institutions and practices. Jonathan Culler’s “Derrida and Literary Studies” focuses on the importance of literature in the university setting by underscoring the connections between literary studies and democracy. The latter are both committed to the tenet of free speech: as with Norris’s “deviant logic,” literature allows the author to digress and transgress, to say anything, to be utterly countercultural, and to oppose operative norms and traditional practices. Culler thus argues that literary criticism’s celebration of what is unique, singular, and idiosyncratic militates against conformity in ways that challenge a totalitarian system. Yet the ability to say anything, to enjoy signifying freedom in unrestrained ways, also carries with it the responsibility to defend the plausibility of alternative meanings such that literary studies stand commensurate with democracy’s goals: the author, critic, and reader must be at pains to defend the cogency of fresh interpretations in ways that are meaningful to the society at large. The fact that a text’s signifying potential may be liberated from rigid, imposed meanings only augments the responsibility of those who engage with it, holding us accountable for the sense we make of and the uses to which we put it. Far from diminishing the value of literature, as some literary scholars may argue, then, Derridean philosophy underscores the central place of literature and of literary studies in a democracy. In his article, Culler thus defends the claim that the study of literature and, by extension, the study of the liberal arts are centrally important to a vibrant democracy: it is more than just literature for the pleasure of reading.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Mark Mason’s “Deconstructing History” illustrates the manner in which decon­ struction problematizes the discipline of history in a way that is consistent with Derrida’s own appreciation of history’s importance and centrality to the working and thinking of the academy. Whether we understand historical practice as focused on the meaning of history or the history of meaning, the chronicler’s work posits certain bases around which we construct knowledge and ways of knowing. Because deconstruction subverts the sovereignty of those bases by calling into question their “facts” and narrative authority, it affords history a more inquiring tone as it disallows a given account to remain identical with itself. As with Norris’s deviant logic, a deconstructive history opens up alternative readings that challenge the value of traditional narratives, thereby calling into question the stories a culture tells itself. In bringing the deconstructive enterprise to historical practice, it is possible to create a context wherein the hegemonic becomes marginal while the marginal become hegemonic. We thus learn to read history against itself in ways that are intellectually fruitful, begging the question of why we value one reading over another. This does not threaten history with extinction, Mason argues, but enriches the manner in which we understand the historian’s task in compiling, cataloguing, analyzing, and finally interpreting data in order to produce a cogent narrative. Mary Caputi’s “Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts” identifies leading trends within contemporary feminism and underscores the usefulness of the Derridean metaphor of ragpicker to one school of thought. Specifically, the essay contrasts the self-aggrandizing tendencies of “grrrl power” with the global concerns of other feminists and illustrates the manner in which the parergonal worldview of deconstruction keeps feminism’s focus on the injustices of transnational capital and neoliberal systems while widening the purview to include what stands outside our first world lexicon of meanings. The essay maintains that Derridean thought offers a meaningful corrective to the triumphalism of grrrl power, encouraging feminism to “resist from within,” as Gayatri Spivak insists it must. The essay thus calls into question a standpoint epistemology, which is often deployed to ground feminist praxis. And because gender studies force us to inquire deeply into the manner in which hegemonic, counter-hegemonic, and marginalized identities have been constructed by forces including global capital, it confirms the need for the liberal arts within the context of a globalizing world economy. The same can be said for departments of language and literature, as is made evident in Clorinda Donato’s “Reading and Teaching Derrida in Departments of French and Francophone Literature and Cultural Studies.” In this essay, Donato argues that deconstruction’s manner of forcing disciplines to push against themselves has caused Derrida to be “under erasure” in many departments of foreign languages and literatures. The result of his reception, when it is there, has done nothing less than render many of these departments schizophrenic as they struggle to legitimize their position within the academy. The direct attack on language studies seems at first blush to be supported by the schizophrenia produced by Derrida’s influence. In her article, Donato suggests otherwise, for the study of foreign languages and foreign narrative, poetry, autobiography, and biography already instantiates deconstruction’s tendency



to call into question the domesticated authorial voice. Such deviant logic embedded in the discipline holds open the question of values—thereby underscoring the role of the liberal arts as a bastion of free speech in a democratic society. This tendency toward valuing cacophony over uniformity is especially visible, Donato argues, in Francophone Studies. For indeed, the manner in which the Francophone world emanates from, reconfirms, but also undermines the hegemonic authority of the French language and culture parallels the relationship between a democratic society and the liberal arts. The counter-hegemonic forces at work in Francophone Studies teach students the very tools needed to sustain a self-critical, counter-hegemonic culture that is essential to a democracy. Thus, even as some academics deny the impact of Derrida’s writing on their work, Donato argues that his trace permeates their discipline. Matthew Calarco’s treatment of animal studies further expounds on the Derridean counter-hegemonic by calling into question the humanist tradition that undergirds so much of the Western university. Calarco’s essay, “Derrida, Animals, and the Future of the Humanities,” raises far-reaching questions about the scope and meaning of the Western humanist tradition, putting into question the Judeo-Christian tenet that human life stands in a hierarchal relationship to the natural world and that rationality factors prominently in justifying this stance. This tenet—that human life is inherently more valuable than that of animals—and the binary logic that it spawns are a fruitful site for deconstructive inquiry, Calarco maintains, forcing us to radically rethink our relationship with the natural world in ways that challenge the mind-body dualism. Animal studies exemplify a newer academic discipline whose organizing questions destabilize those principles that have so long sustained Western humanism and thus embody the university’s unconditional right to question, subvert, and scrutinize our value assumptions. It is a field in which intellectual innovation and ethical commitment to radical alterity bear the trace of Derridean thought and to Derrida’s insistence that deconstruction contains an appeal to justice.11 Colm J. Kelly’s thoughtful essay, “The Name of Sociology and the Trace of Derrida,” recognizes the manner in which deconstruction could permanently alter the discipline of sociology, which he argues has been resistant to the influence of Derrida. Deconstruction can both threaten and enrich the field, Kelly argues, thanks to its tendency to destabilize and displace assumptions about objectivity and truth that constitute the discipline. Kelly develops his argument by examining encounters between Derrida and major sociologists, such as Pierre Bourdieu and Jürgen Habermas, thereby highlighting the manner in which Derrida’s thought can either incorporate or transform elements of a theory which it deconstructs (Bourdieu) or collaborate with a thinking from which it differs profoundly (Habermas). Kelly concludes that Derrida’s work could lead to an “essential pluralization,” or dissemination, of sociology, which could be variously received as a strengthening or a weakening of the field. Kelly’s essay thus demonstrates our claim that the liberal arts tradition can transform itself from within and so heighten the university’s social function within a democracy as a place of incessant questioning, scrutinizing, and critique. Diane Rubenstein’s “A Most Inhospitable Discipline: Jacques Derrida and the ‘Political Science to Come’” draws similar conclusions to Kelly in that Rubenstein


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

traces the open hostility to Derridean deconstruction within her field of political science. While setting her work within the context of American political science with its emphasis on empirical rigor and outcome verifiability, Rubenstein suggests that “‘political science’ will stand as a name for a particular institutional configuration of the ‘resistance to theory.’”12 She uses both playful anectodal personal narrative and deep critical readings of the field to highlight the “nonreading” of Derrida’s work that characterizes her intellectual cohort. Contrasting Derrida’s reception to the reception of other theorists such as Foucault who have been more aggressively taken up in political science, Rubenstein suggests that political scientists have, by and large, failed to appreciate Derrida’s political engagements and political philosophy, whose insights into the nature of sovereignty in fact have much to offer. Rubenstein suggests that the discipline needs to more actively engage with the “paradox to sovereignty”13 and, as a result, be cognizant that “for democracy to be ‘democratic’ it must be ‘open’ to what could destroy it.”14 This powerful critique of “the political” within political science illustrates how fruitful Derridean thought could be to the field. And as with other disciplines, this internalized critique of political science identifies a deviant logic at work in its own practices, one that illustrates the university’s need to be allowed, unconditionally, to question, to critique, and to suggest alternative forms of community and of communication. Finally, Keith Woodward’s “Spacing Deconstruction” offers an insightful argument regarding the pertinence of deconstruction to the field of geography. Woodward treats the geographer’s concern with the seemingly objective, nonideological topics of mapping, spacing, and measuring as ample sites for deconstructive scrutiny, convincingly making the case that the interpretive closure traditionally offered by these practices is a ruse. Derridean analysis usefully queries whether the graphic representation of geographical territories proves as straightforward as it seems, countering traditional notions of objective observation with the claim that measuring space in fact engages différance: space is different and deferred, meaningful only in relation to other spaces, forever subject to both obsolete and emerging geopolitical realities. In sum, space is dynamic rather than static, just as writing is a dynamic enterprise that gives the lie to authorial certainty. Moreover, deconstruction usefully unearths the political relationships that inform the geographer’s understanding of the world, for “mapping builds hegemonic perspectives as much by what it names and places as by what it silences and erases. Naming, placing, silencing and erasing all record traces of the geographer’s participation in the construction of the spatially-inflected distribution of not only master signifiers, but the master’s signifiers.”15 Woodward thus makes a compelling case for deconstruction’s ability to enrich the field of geography by challenging the supposed objectivity and recourse to “facts” upon which so many geographers rely. And if it can demonstrate that our relationship to space is far more open to interpretation than previously thought, then the field of geography encapsulates our larger claim regarding the liberal arts’ function within society: the liberal arts teach critique and as such cause us to scrutinize the system of values that animate our culture. With these essays and our own short “Afterword,” it is our hope that this book will adumbrate the possibility of a renewed commitment to the university in the Western world by despoiling the administratively mandated straitjacket now imposed upon



us, allowing us to think creatively about the future of the liberal arts. Our aim is to affirm the ongoing importance of the liberal arts in the context of a globalizing world economy and the “Americanization” of the university; perhaps now more than ever, critique is needed. If we can demonstrate that deconstruction rehabilitates the purpose of the university in today’s society, we can counter the more pernicious, anti-intellectual aspects of invasive market forces that threaten to disempower and occlude critique. The weight of psychical impotence would thus be lifted as the life of the mind affirms its power over the machinations of the marketplace, allowing us, as Critchley hoped, to cultivate joy in what we do. This book urges us to actively defend the unconditional university whose questioning, querying raison d’être must never be co-opted by commercial interests or positions hostile to the intellectual commitments of the liberal arts. Derrida has inspired the authors featured in this collection to explain how and why his oeuvre keeps alive the life of the university within each of the featured disciplines. Each essay responds to the accusation that Derridean philosophy delivers political inertia by explaining how his writings militate against acquiescent torpor in favor of a willingness to fight for the liberal arts tradition that has structured, nurtured, and sustained our creative and professional lives. From within its given discipline, each essay illustrates how deconstruction keeps alive the unconditional university and so defends, animates, and nurtures the joy in what we do.

Notes 1 Jacques Derrida, Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2, trans. J. Plug et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004). 2 Simon Critchley (2010), “What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 21 (1), 19. 3 Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 177. 4 Derrida, 159. 5 Geoffrey Bennington suggests that “in spite of its medieval or even ancient roots, this organization of the university is really modern. It takes its inspiration from the philosophical projects that preceded the foundation of the University of Berlin in 1810” in Jacques Derrida (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), 260. 6 Bennington, 265. 7 Critchley, 19. 8 Ibid., 22. 9 Gert J. J. Biesta, “‘Preparing for the incalculable’: Deconstruction, justice, and the question of education,” in Derrida and Education, edited by Gert J. J. Biesta and Denise Egéa-Kuehne (New York: Routledge, 2001), 50. 10 Simon Morgan Wortham, Counter-Institutions: Jacques Derrida and the Question of the University (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). 11 With regard to the relationship between deconstruction and justice, see especially Drucilla Cornell, M. Rosenfeld, and D. G. Carlson (eds), Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice (New York and London: Routledge, 1992). See also Simon Critchley, The Ethics of Deconstruction (New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2005); and


12 13 14 15

Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts Jacques Derrida, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, Expanded Second Edition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999). Rubenstein, p. 195. Ibid., p. 208. Ibid., p. 209. Woodward, 225–6.


Derrida, Deconstruction, and the University Mary Caputi, Vincent J. Del Casino Jr, and Keith Woodward

The university without conditions is not situated necessarily or exclusively within the walls of what is today called the university. It is not necessarily, exclusively, exemplarily represented in the figure of the professor. It takes place, it seeks its place wherever this unconditionality can take shape. Everywhere that is, perhaps, given one (itself) to think. Sometimes even beyond, no doubt, a logic or a lexicon of the “condition.” Jacques Derrida, 2002.1 Jacques Derrida was committed to a “university without condition,” a space of engagement, of questioning, of political contestation. In seeking that uncondition, he found himself calling for a university as a “place in which nothing is beyond question.”2 The university without condition has, we could argue, been under assault by the instrumentalist logic of the market, which pushes higher education each day toward a mythical “applied knowledge” that is somehow magically situated against a “theoretical” body of knowledge. Derrida, of course, rejects such binary logics, which fail to fully engage the “trace” of the other that is always present in the utterance of one phrase—the applied—as that phrase must call upon its other—the theoretical—for its meaning. Derrida was thus committed to the university as a space of open engagement and political dialogue, one that rejected the binary logics of “application” and “theory” and instead sought to question the question—what does it mean to profess and where might that take place? This is why the contributors to this book believe that Derrida can help us with the challenge before us, for he confronted similar concerns during his lifetime. He did more than simply write about the traditional structure and disciplines of the academy: he actively engaged with like-minded academics in an effort to challenge conservative policies aggressively seeking to marginalize the study of philosophy in French high schools and universities. Opposing the effort to make education more outcomesoriented and committed to the so-called “practical skills,” Derrida argues that the liberal arts, and especially philosophy, play a crucial role in democratic societies. Of course, Derrida was not without his critics, from conservative scholars who thought his work to be trivial, inconsequential, and sometimes dangerous, to those more liberal scholars


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who questioned deconstruction as either an ethics or a methodology. In this section of the book, we examine Derrida’s life as an engaged academic and those scholars who present a theoretical challenge to the wider project Derrida sought to produce: “the right to deconstruction as an unconditional right to ask critical questions not only about the history of the concept of man, but about the history even of the notion of critique, about the form and the authority of the question, about the interrogative form of thought.”3 The remainder of this section examines Derrida’s own activism and his work in the founding of GREPH (Le Groupe des Recherches sur l’Enseignement Philosophique) and his theorization of the unconditional university. It follows this with an examination of those scholars who have relied on and challenged, to varying degrees, Derrida’s theoretical assertions. The section ends with a discussion of how these Derridean insights can influence and affirm the future of the liberal arts, understood as a crucial space of critical inquiry within a democratic society and academy.

Derrida and the unconditional university In Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, Derrida asserts that “we must sometimes, in the name of reason, be suspicious of rationalizations.”4 Thus, in the mid-1970s, Derrida played a key role in founding GREPH, whose mission it was to safeguard the study of philosophy. This new organizational unit was formed in order to offer resistance to an attempt on the part of a post-1968 conservative French government that was bent on diminishing the role of philosophy in French culture . . . GREPH mobilized in particular against the government’s program of curtailing the teaching of philosophy in the Lycée . . . Such curtailment would have weakened the ‘critical’ component in lycée education, and, needless to say, would have been felt in the universities, too, where the need to train such teachers would have been correspondingly eliminated. To limit the teaching of philosophy, even and especially on the high school level, is to limit the unlimited right to question, to nip thinking in the bud.5

The emergence of new organizational formations such as GREPH suggests that Derrida’s intellectual project—which challenges the sedimented formation of a singular truth and thus makes possible unimagined, unrealized alternatives— translates to a much wider academic project: that of maintaining the university as an unconditional space of différance—of realities that are different and deferred, thanks to the residual power of the intellect and imagination. Bearing this in mind, we consider how we might move forward while working through and against the wider sociopolitical challenges facing higher education today. Using the insights of deconstruction, we seek to counter the inroads of a more goal-oriented restructuring of education as we affirm the essential value of a liberal arts education within a democracy. The contributors to this book thus acknowledge Derrida’s defense of a liberal arts education. Subsequently, we agree with Readings’ central claim that the role of the university today is to promote the love of learning in ways that encourage

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students to hold open social values, to think oppositionally about politics, and to value the role of a contrapuntal mindset that actively analyzes rather than passively consumes.6 For, indeed, a successful liberal arts education trains students to develop a critical awareness of the world around them, arming them with the ability to discern fact from value, a given empirical statement from a normative claim, in ways that allow evaluative considerations that are vital to a democratic society. This brings us to the topic not just of structural reform but also of the ethos of the university and the Weltanschauung that we wish to promote. We are eager to keep alive the notion that learning is worthwhile, that training the mind is an activity that does not lend itself to strict methods of assessment, and that the life of the mind to some degree remains opaque to the instrumental rationality that governs balance sheets and management’s economies of return. “Education isn’t accountable in accordance with any calculative way of thinking,”7 writes Critchley, and we tend to agree. Moreover, as this book demonstrates, we believe that the intellectual skills honed by liberal arts training are particularly useful in countering the shortcomings of a calculative intellect when that intellect mistakes calculation for thinking itself. Throughout its pages, we seek to “save the honor of reason,”8 as Derrida writes, by disallowing “reason” to become synonymous with bottom-line, common-sensical “facts.” In asking how to preserve the ethos of learning in our shifting institutions, the authors of this text critically interrogate their disciplinary positionings in relation to the role that Derrida has played within each field. We rethink our own academic disciplines from within in ways that hold open the values that animate society and disallow intellectual activity from losing its critical, investigative edge. Instead of bemoaning the fact that the practices upheld by the liberal arts no longer serve as society’s cultural referent, the authors of this book find it necessary to think beyond the current impasse and use that “dereferentialization” as a call to action. As we rethink our disciplines, we must simultaneously revisit our larger raison d’être and use this opportunity to reframe questions about the conceptual terrains of democracy, society, and education. In Readings’ words, “we need to recognize that the dereferentialization of the University’s function opens a space in which we can think the notions of community and communication differently.”9 If approached in this way, transformation from within need not signal the ultimate demise of the university’s critical edge, but can allow the importance of a liberal arts education to emerge: the latter trains the mind to evaluate, and not merely consume, society’s meanings. By “unconditional,” Derrida intends that the university must always and without reservation be a locus of interrogation and critical scrutiny, a place where cultural values, intellectual positions, and the practices of society are held open to questioning. It is the right and political obligation of academe within a democracy to challenge societal convention and to defend speech that allows for creative, contrapuntal, and even subversive forces existing alongside the cultural mainstream whose social predominance risks delivering a troubling complacency to the unthinking, unreflective consumer. In this way, thanks to the dialectics generated by such constant interrogation, the university allows an informed, dynamic reasoning to counterpose the myriad offerings of the marketplace. Within the university, “reason” designates a more refined form of thinking that forever holds out different, differing possibilities as opposed to an


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end product whose value emanates from market-driven forces. By always encouraging further reflection and further investigation, the university embraces the aporia of différance. Derrida writes: “This university claims and ought to be granted in principle, besides what is called academic freedom, an unconditional freedom to question and to assert, or even the right to say publicly all this is required by research, knowledge, and thought concerning the truth.”10 Any institution is entitled to such unconditional freedom, even when the geotopolitics of its specific incarnation are quite idiosyncratic: in any time or place, the university must enjoy some measure of freedom from tendentious influence. This commitment to unconditional freedom, to the quest for knowledge unfettered by the demands of capital, is what affords scholars the ability to think freely and creatively in ways that keep alive the larger mission of the university. The Collège Internationale de Philosophie serves as a further example. Founded in  1983, Derrida became its first elected director. Though eager to prove its intellectual and institutional legitimacy, the Collège avoided doing so at the cost of simply reproducing the disciplinary, scholarly, and organizational structures of other academic institutions. The founders argued, in fact, that “[i]t must be so structured as to bring together scholars and researchers in such an open-ended way as precisely to resist any ‘stable hierarchy,’ to provide for a free and autonomous association that preserves maximum mobility as regards both the themes that are studied there and the scholars and researchers who teach there.”11 Indeed, Derrida and his colleagues sought an unconditional university, one that maximized the autonomy and freedom to engage an oppositional “truth,” allowing scholars to “organize research on objects – themes, which are not sufficiently represented in existing institutions in France or outside France. Objects and themes which are marginalized or repressed or not sufficiently studied in other institutions . . . .”12 The Collège thus represents a space of intellectual and political engagement that refuses to capitulate to outside social, political, and economic pressures. Within this new space of engagement, Derrida and his colleagues worked against the hierarchical nature of the university as traditionally conceived. The Collège will thus have no tenure chairs, no academic ‘ranks,’ no fixed or core curriculum, no grades or standard degrees . . . The sole criterion for teaching or doing research there is whether one can propose an object for research that has been ‘marginalized or excluded or disqualified in other institutions’ . . . ‘insufficiently “legitimated” ’ . . . and that promises to repay study, since not every bizarre, unusual, or illegitimate idea is a good one.13

This last point forcefully counters the frequently heard claim that deconstruction leads to nihilistic navel gazing and fruitlessly clever academic interrogations. On the contrary, Derrida was committed to the use of deconstruction in order to meaningfully rethink existing channels of authority while giving place to what traditionally has been silenced. His project is an ethical and political one that engages “distant strangers” in a dialogic process of conversation that constructs hospitable, dynamic new spaces within higher education that are essential to a thriving democracy. At a practical level, then, the broader vision of the Collège contains a challenge to the organization of the “the university” in general and the departmentalization of “philosophy” in particular, processes that go back to the founding of the University

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of Berlin in  1810. It is the thematic formation of academic departments, and in particular departments of philosophy, which has led to the heightened sense of philosophy’s position as the premier discipline among the humanities, as well as its own marginalization as a growingly esoteric practice on the other. This conceptualization of the “philosophy department” writ large arises out of the purchase that Kant’s critical formulation of philosophy in particular has on the academy and on the positioning of philosophy as the practice that sits in judgment over the conditions for thought, morality, deliberation, and critique. “Philosophy alone has the right to demand from the State an unconditional freedom,” Derrida asserts.14 For Derrida, as for the goals of this book, we have to appreciate that “[t]o resist that idea of philosophy and that institutional framing of philosophy is the reason deconstruction has come into the world. Such resistance would be its mission, if deconstruction did not resist the idea of having a mission. The Collège set out to disturb the pyramid and to effect a more horizontal – and hospitable – arrangement.”15 Such a hospitable, nonhierarchical arrangement arrives not only through interdisciplinarity (an “already well-legitimated practice within existing institutions”16) but also through a focus on new ideas, concepts, and objects that had either not yet been taken up in the academy, or not yet given the status of legitimate intellectual subjects. It was, in short, about “provoking philosophy into ‘new moves’ in a ‘new space’ in which it does not ‘recognize itself,’ exposed to an other which is not its other – that negation of itself by which it mediates itself into a higher form of itself – which moves philosophy into an exposure with ‘others’ it cannot appropriate.”17 This provocation pushes academics away from the notion that each idea “serve an immediate and evidently useful purpose” while also seeking out an “intersection with science, art and literature, politics, psychoanalysis, internationalities.”18 The Collège thus has an important international component, where voices from elsewhere are invited to partake in the organization and decisionmaking within the institution as “organic members”19—in an unconditional university. The contributors to this book view this invitation as crucial to any institution of higher learning in the twenty-first century. It follows from this logic that educators convinced of the university’s larger social mission must commit to our profession in ways that resemble a profession of faith, something not coerced yet eliciting devotion to a larger cause. We must profess not only our individual fields of training, but also our commitment to defending “truth” as that which upholds sites of resistance: the ability to speak freely, to say and publish anything, to question authority and social conventions such that our conversations never arrive at a standstill but are marked by the uncertainties of différance. This commitment to deconstruction’s “truth” never approximates a contractual agreement grounded in legalistic terms, but expresses confidence in the principles that animate our activities as well as hope for the future that these activities safeguard. The unconditional university therefore requires “a declarative engagement, an appeal in the form of a profession of faith: faith in the university . . . to question and to assert, or even the right to say publicly all that is required by research, knowledge, and thought concerning the truth.”20 The contributors to this book profess this faith as they explain the impact of deconstruction on their respective disciplines. We believe that this impact holds out


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hope for the liberal arts—and for the university in general—given that deconstruction inspires pedagogical practices conducive to rethinking the university’s normative, oppositional mission. As with other, more conventional professions of faith, we maintain that deconstruction recounts a tale of survival amid a groundswell of antiintellectual hostility toward the university; thus, rethinking a given academic discipline stands on a continuum with rethinking the larger goals of the institution in which that discipline is housed. Contained in the deconstructive practice is an undertaking that therefore directly addresses the “psychical impotence” that Critchley identifies, for in deconstructing our respective disciplines, we reconstruct a narrative regarding the general purpose of a liberal arts education. Supplementarity, the trace, différance, hospitality, forgiveness, listening to and welcoming the other in a gesture of hospitality: these and other Derridean concepts disallow the final resting point of thinking and therefore continue to scrutinize the values that undergird the forms of community and communication that we practice. Because of this, these concepts help us rethink our disciplines from within in ways that allow the liberal arts to escape the dreaded straitjacket that Critchley describes. If the question of ultimate purpose is forever teased out, which the deconstructive practice ensures, then the value of a liberal arts education reveals its centrality to a democratic society. Michael A. Peters and Gert Biesta therefore write of Derrida that “[a]s a man, a philosopher, and a teacher, he was . . . very much dedicated to the process of speech, teaching, and writing as the principle means of literature and the university in fulfilling their roles within a democracy.”21 Yet the unconditional university—the university without conditions—carries another meaning. This is the fact that the university so often finds itself without “conditions” or resources, a vulnerable entity that cannot defend itself against competing economic and commercial interests and so risks losing its interrogative, critical stance. When the university is without conditions, it lacks the resources to carry on its crucial cultural function and thus is “often destined to capitulate without condition, to surrender unconditionally . . . it risks becoming a branch office of conglomerates and corporations.”22 We are now painfully aware of how devastating such a lack of resources can be for the liberal arts and are daily informed of unwelcome changes signaling the extent to which our disciplines are threatened. Derrida’s 2005 declaration to take our time but simultaneously hurry up—“[t]ake your time but be quick about it”23—is thus distressingly fitting to our circumstances, for the liberal arts today are desperately scrambling to think of ways to reconfigure our pedagogical practices without sacrificing the larger, normative mission: deconstruction’s “truth.”

Derrida and his interlocutors It would be naïve to argue that Derrida’s work has been taken up wholesale and without question within the liberal arts. Indeed, Derrida’s ideas and practices have met with resistance—not only from the so-called right-leaning thinkers but also from those on the so-called left as well. Derrida, for example, provoked much angst and anxiety among critical scholars when he announced the “death of structuralism” in the 1960s. Perhaps the most famous—and adversarial—instance of such provocations, however,

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was the heavily publicized outcry from a small group of international academics in response to Cambridge University’s nomination of Derrida to receive an honorary degree in 1992.24 The ensuing debates about his reception of this degree were fodder for much media commentary and circulated a number of misrepresentations of Derrida’s work, many of which, he suggests, had their roots not in shoddy reporting, but in the academy. Most of the distorting, reductive, and ridiculous talk circulating in the news­ papers, on the radio, or the television on this occasion was first shaped in the academic arena, through a sort of public opinion transmitted ‘on the inside,’ so to speak, of the university. It is true that this ‘interiority’ has been radically transformed by the changing structure of public space, as it is marked out by the modern media. But it is academics, certain academics, who are responsible for these stereotypes, and who then pass them along to journalists who are often just as unscrupulous and just as unqualified for reading difficult texts, just as careless about respecting and patiently reading through work that actually requires time, discipline, and patience, work that requires several readings, new types of reading, too, in a variety of different fields. From this point of view, in spite of all the respect I feel for the fact that there was a debate within Cambridge, I have to say that what I read, after June 11, of a text inviting to vote non-placet [‘it does not please’], seemed to me in its style (dogmatic, uncomprehending, ignorant, with no evidence of having read me, in every sentence a misreading or an untruth) comparable to the worst excesses of journalistic misrepresentation.25

Derrida’s reflections on the controversy offer a glimpse at his method, viz., the endorsement of close and careful readings of the textual subject at hand. By way of his deconstructive practice, Derrida juxtaposes his method against less scrupulous reading practices of the broader community of peers at the university—many ostensibly under the influence of the media. The controversy aroused at Cambridge testifies both to Derrida’s position within the university as a philosopher and to the uncertain place of Derridean philosophy in society more generally. Broadening this out beyond the moment of Derrida’s own conflict at Cambridge, we might ask how such engagements and interventions are related to the conditionality and unconditionality of the university and what it (can) profess(es). Before moving on, therefore, we believe there is real value in situating Derrida in relation to some of the most keen critical thinkers of our period, as a mechanism for offering context for how Derrida has been taken up and also as a way to re-situate Derrida’s work and value today within the liberal arts. Speaking generally, Derrida’s deepest impression—the one sometimes met with the shallowest of reactions—is his extension of Heidegger’s philosophical destruktion of contemporary ontological concepts whose traditional meanings have been lost to the passage of time. Being and Time’s “ontological difference” is certainly the most famous example of this approach. There, Heidegger recovers the ontological sense of Being (in-itself) by distinguishing it from the popular, “ontic” sense of being attached to existing, specific things. In the latter (ontic) treatment, being is conditioned not by itself, by the existence of that object, and thus it is not Being qua Being that presents itself to the thinker, but only the being of that particular thing. And yet, contemporary


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philosophical conversations—though ontic—bear the kernel of that ontological sense of Being, and it is through the productive process of philosophical destruktion that it is recovered. Derrida’s reworking of Heidegger’s approach, deconstruction, takes things a step further, recovering the ambiguity of meaning itself. Heidegger’s position depends upon the recovery of a truer sense of the philosophical term “Being” precisely to retain its philosophical force (even if its encounter in thought is ever-fleeting and forgotten). However, Derridean deconstruction is suspicious of the position (apparently sitting in judgment of Being from outside of Being) that decides upon the truer truth of one term (ontological Being) over the other (ontic being). Instead, deconstruction zeroes in upon the very element within Heidegger’s treatment that enables him to recognize it as a problem: not that being and Being are distinct (for, in a very important sense, they cannot be and yet still they must be), but that there is a difference that perpetually keeps Being and being together and apart. This différance is a crucial intervention because, while making a decision about the truth of ontological concepts forces the thinker to a position outside of those concepts, their difference is installed within them, within the system, a decisive differentiator (as much as it can be) even of ontological concepts. Much of the theoretical and philosophical work that followed in subsequent decades has been haunted by the implications of Derridean différance. Above all, it extends to a seemingly infinite point the Heideggerian closure of metaphysics. In effect, it is foolish to build a metaphysical system, in any classical sense of the term, on the foundation of a set of truths, for these find their ground in a difference within/between its very terms that is incapable of definitive closure. For many within the humanities and social sciences, this disruption of the requirements of classical systematic grounding, this ungounding of thought, was viewed as a liberation that opened up new sites and avenues for political, cultural, and aesthetic explorations of difference. Yet, as the force of Derrida’s ideas took hold within certain corners of French- and English-speaking academic vogue, they brought with them their own form of closure on the metaphysical speculation others. Much like the wrong-headed claims that equated deconstruction with relativism, Derrida never proposed any such practice that would bar individuals from any of philosophical work. If anything, the spirit of his work would seem to call for the proliferation, rather than the narrowing or regulation of ideas. Nevertheless, the end of the twentieth century sometimes witnessed departments and editors who interpreted Derrida’s refusal of metaphysics as a refusal of metaphysicians. There have been different responses, then, to Derrida’s contributions. Some, such as Slavoj Žižek and Gorgio Agamben, criticize Derrida’s focus on language and text as well as the problematics of his ethical positions. Others, partially in response to that era of concern over the attack on metaphysics, such as Alain Badiou and François Laruelle, developed important approaches that endeavor to move beyond Derrida’s metaphysical impasse. Here, we briefly turn to these thinkers’ respective interventions and also engage those scholars who have developed a more intimate intellectual relationship with Derrida, including Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Drucilla Cornell. We turn first to Slavoj Žižek, the Slovenian theorist well-known for applying complicated Lacanian principles to everyday popular culture, who exemplifies those who have come to be identified with a position critical of the Derridean attention to

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language. Žižek has sought to revive a position that endorses a relationship of identity, of meaningful correspondence between words and action, even as his Lacanian sympathies prevent him from ever believing that totalized meanings can become a reality. For although we can never obtain the closure that we are patterned to desire, we can, according to Žižek, commit ourselves to concrete political action whose empirical results are anything but chimera. Indeed, our longing for the Real can inspire us to engage with social reality in ways that make of the present a “critically powerful moment,”26 causing the force of discourse to impact our lives in tangible ways that have more to do with a post-Marxian worldview than with the pleasures of deferred, differentiated meaning. In today’s intellectual landscape, Žižek thus situates himself among the critics of Derridean practices inasmuch as these are interpreted as fostering a depoliticized, disengaged turn away from the social sphere (a position that our book does not share). At the extreme, Žižek views the “death of the subject” to be coterminous with a disempowered human existence that prevails in a late capitalist society: consumerism, political apathy, and an individualistic materialism actually live out the reigning ideology even when people think that their stance is oppositional. Intellectuals such as Derrida are thus characterized by Žižek as those who have spawned the apolitical stance of late modernity, offering heady insights that have no social consequences. “Perhaps the time has come to resuscitate the Marxist insight that Capital is the ultimate power…that undermines every fixed social identity,”27 Žižek writes in Tarrying With the Negative, an earlier text whose political message has only become more pronounced in later works.28 Thus, while Žižek concedes the analytic contributions of Derrida in critiquing capitalism, he chides his scholarship for the academic distance that it maintains on concrete political struggle. For all of Derrida’s valuable insights into the malaise of the globalizing, capitalist economy, whose injustices indeed render “time out of joint,” his writings according to Žižek lack the necessary connection to political praxis. True, a text such as Specters of Marx correctly refutes the confident triumphalism of those who pronounced socialism dead with the fall of the Berlin Wall and is right to insist that behind such self-congratulation there still lurks a specter of socialist values. As in both Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ghostly reminders continue to haunt the neoliberal world: “Haunting would mark the very existence of Europe,” he writes.29 Yet where is the clear connection to a political course of action that might contravene the advancements of late capital, advancements whose corporate influences have adversely impacted the state of the university, as we have seen? Where is the mandate to engage politically? Indeed, at a colloquium at UCLA, Žižek bemoaned the fact that today we tend to associate organization, discipline, and a clear political agenda only with the right of the spectrum. The left, conversely, is too often fractured, multivocal, and diffuse in its aims as it broadens the scope of what counts as “political” to encompass the linguistic, the imaginary, the unconscious, etc. All of this proves confusing if not disempowering to leftist politics. While Derrida has contributed enormously to our understanding of why the latter indeed count as political topics, he has not tied them to a praxis that Žižek deems entirely satisfying. It is true that Žižek somewhat concedes the political weight of Derrida’s work in The Parallax View, in which he acknowledges a certain overlap between his own intellectual


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viewpoint and that of deconstruction. His tone becomes far more disarming when he recognizes that what he understands as the political implication of the parallax— “two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible”30—approximated the Derridean concept of différance. Žižek’s “minimal difference,” the extent to which the posited universal idea does not correspond neatly with its concrete empirical manifestation, thus resonates strongly with différance as the latter refuses closure but insists on a play of different, deferred meanings that defy totalization. Žižek writes: “Since I have written many pages in which I struggle with the work of Jacques Derrida, now . . . is perhaps the moment to honor his memory by pointing out the proximity of this “minimal difference” to what he called différance, this neologism whose very notoriety obfuscates its unprecedented materialist potential.”31 Still, the general trend of Žižek’s approach to Derrida has insisted that this “materialist potential” was left insufficiently developed in his work: with so much focus on the intricacies of language, the pleasures and indeterminacies of textual analysis, and the legacy of Western philosophy, where is the connection to a pragmatic politics that can assist our confrontation with pressing issues such as the restructuring of the university and future of the liberal arts? Similarly, Giorgio Agamben has situated his own thinking in ways that are antagonistic to Derrida’s and to deconstruction in particular. Indeed, Agamben’s philological approach, which questions the meaning and value of deconstruction as a particular practice, can be found in some of his earliest works.32 And, although they were both colleagues in the Collège, Agamben’s reading of key thinkers such as Heideger, Saussure, and even Aristotle is driven by a deep and abiding engagement with the history of those thinkers’ texts. It is in this area that Agamben launches some of his deepest criticisms of Derrida and deconstruction, as “Agamben reproaches Derrida for overvaluing his originality with respect to Heidegger and with missing the real import of Saussure’s analyses.”33 In short, Agamben questions Derrida’s focus on text and language as well as deconstruction’s attention to the signifier-signified relationship. He does so because, for Agamben, “deconstruction is an attempted form of non-ideological writing,”34 which he sees as deeply problematic. More importantly, Agamben, as a philologist, is disturbed by Derrida’s reading of key texts. For example, Agamben points out that in his own essay on friendship, Derrida relies on a mistranslation of the phrase “o friends, there are no friends,” which is actually, in the original, “he who has (many) friends, has no friends.”35 These sorts of mistranslations sit at the heart of Agamben’s mistrust of Derrida’s approach to philosophy, which aims to overcome metaphysics through endless deferral. Yet to displace metaphysics is in fact another way of affirming it, Agamben argues, and deconstruction remains rooted in the set of problems that it claims to be thinking beyond. For Agamben, then, Derrida remains “in exile because he has found an aporia he considers supreme. Because he sees no way to clear the path, no way out of exile, he misses what is for Agamben the most obvious, and necessary, response to our state of affairs.”36 It is, in the end, a nihilistic enterprise because “deconstruction is inextricably tied up with the relentless destabalisation of thought, discourse and ideas . . . . Derrida’s work is remorsefully textual; that is, he stresses the importance of deconstructing texts and systems of thought at work in the world today with the intention of accepting the alterity of the other.”37 Agamben, on the other hand, “seeks

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to rescue human life from the clutches of a nihilism inflected by deconstruction as a means of an experience of language.”38 Agamben’s criticism lies in what he sees as a lack of political possibility in deconstruction: it strives to overcome the authoritative voice of hegemonic interpretive control and yet forever reinscribes us in an endless wordplay whose assault on the metaphysics of presence in fact divorces us from meaningful political engagement. Explicitly positioning himself “against the critical idea of deconstruction,” Alain Badiou’s magnum opus, Being and Event, presents a formal metaphysical system that boldly proposes to return the Subject and Truth to central positions of philosophical importance. Very much an effort to forge beyond the linguistic foci that marked the Heideggerian-Derridian era, Badiou takes his cue from Platonic philosophy and institutes, instead, mathematics—by way of Cantorian set theory—as the “language” of metaphysics. Thus Being, for example, is reconceptualized as a “multiple” (as opposed to One), whose presentation is always partial and incomplete and, occasionally, through the intervention of an Event, which is mutable. During this period, he responds with increasing hostility toward what he considers to be Derrida’s late Heideggerianism and, in the philosophical “manifesto” that immediately follows Being and Event, he diagnoses the problems of contemporary philosophy largely as a product of the similar thinkers whose interpretations resulted in a vogue for the “‘current’ Heidegger”: the philosophical position I combated . . . was principally the Heideggerian position in its French variants (Derrida, Lacoue-Labarthe, Nancy, but also Lyotard), which consisted in announcing the irremediable end of philosophy in its metaphysical form and considering the arts, poetry, painting and theatre as proffering the supreme recourse for thought. My ‘Platonic gesture’ was to reaffirm the possibility of philosophy in its original sense – namely, the articulation (transformed, of course, but no less recognizable) of a crucial categorical triplet: that of being, the subject and truth. I maintained that philosophy had to subtract itself from the pathos of the end, that it was not in a particularly new, dramatic moment of its history, and that it needed, then as always, to attempt to go a step further with its constituent propositions – principally by the construction of a new concept of truth or truths. I set myself up, in sum, against the critical ideal of deconstruction.39

Thus, Badiou binds several of the key contributions of fin-de-siècle French philosophy— the death of the Subject, the rejection of metaphysics, the critique of logocentrism—in the tradition of Heidegger. It may be possible to deconstruct some of Badiou’s animosity toward this mode of Heideggerianism and thus uncover the influence of Althusser, his former teacher. However, Badiou’s more recent work seeks to combat certain aspects of French antihumanism’s imprimatur upon contemporary thought. In particular, his efforts to exhume the Subject and Truth—while simultaneously rejecting views of the former as a metaphysical screen—arguably fly as much in the face of their displacement by structuralist antihumanism as by the so-called deconstructive poststructuralism: our era is the one in which ‘subjectivity is driven toward its completion.’ To this, [Heidegger] adds that, consequently, thought can complete itself only over and above this ‘completion’, which is none other than the destructive objectivation of


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts the Earth; that the category of the Subject must be deconstructed and held as the ultimate (modern, precisely) avatar of metaphysics; and that the philosophical apparatus of rational thought, whose central operator is the category, is now held to such a degree in the unfathomable oblivion of that which founds it that ‘thinking shall only begin once we have learned that this thing, Reason, which has been so magnified for centuries, is the most relentless enemy of thought.’40

By contrast, thought, for Badiou, is only something that happens when an individual encounters a break with the status quo—an Event—that presents a new perspective that had formerly been masked by the doxa of popular ideas. Being, in other words, contains more than it reveals and that mathematical dimension is, crucially, subject to change. Thus, philosophy’s understanding of Being is subject to changing worldly conditions—for Badiou, there are four: politics, science, art, and love—that disclose new elements that force thought. The recognition of the existence and conditions of the proletariat or the subaltern, for example, forces the thinker to rethink inclusion and exclusion, representation and invisibility, in Being as well as in politics. For Badiou, there is a specific—and universal—Truth presented in that Event, and the recognition of that Truth—its forcing of thought—becomes the foundation for a Subject who develops a “fidelity” to it. In this way, the Subject and Truth are tied to, but crucially not the source of, the disclosures of multiple-Being. On the face of it, few formulations would seem to stand at a greater distance from Derrida’s interventions. Yet, despite the doggedness of his early opposition, components of Badiou’s more recent work have forced a reconsideration of Derridean philosophy. Reflecting on Derrida’s death, Badiou observes that his passing marks the disappearance of a generation—the philosophers of the 1960s whom Cixous referred to as “the Incorruptibles” – leaving philosophy to the next generation, among whom he counts himself a member.41 In Badiou’s homage, he claims that his formerly hostile feelings had cooled, revealing a newfound willingness to (re)engage Derrida under the “emblem” of “the passion of Inexistance.”42 Judging from such a statement, and from his earlier reading of Deleuze, this reengagement may eventually produce a treatment of deconstruction that more closely resembles Badiou’s own philosophical position. At the moment, however, the inexistent—that which must be present in set-like multiple-Being, but which nevertheless does not present itself—and its presentation—which assures its prior inclusion, though it had yet to appear—resembles the aporetic nonstructures that hold the privileged spot within Derrida’s work. Fittingly, it is within Badiou’s use of language and its ambiguities that he draws most clearly on Derrida to develop the complexity of the Inexistent and its presentation. In the introduction to Second Manifesto for Philosophy, Louise Burchill calls attention to Badiou’s careful and extended use of the concepts relever/relève [“raising up”/“to raise up”], which “first entered the philosophical lexicon in 1967, when Jacques Derrida proposed them as translations of two terms that have undoubtedly given rise to the most sustained and documented debates around all philosophical translation, namely Hegel’s aufheben and Aufhebung.”43 Derrida’s translation of these terms represents an effort to preserve and compound the dialectical double meaning that Hegel recognized in the original German terms.44 The pairing figures prominently in Badiou’s Second Manifesto and Logics of Worlds, the latter of which is an ontic or existential sequel or supplement to his treatise on Being, Being and Event.

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Despite an earlier period of animosity, then, Badiou seems to be proposing something of an honorific spot for Derrida within his own philosophy. The inexistent works somewhat like an intersection point between Badiou’s two major works of metaphysics. On the one hand, Being and Event is a formal, speculative account of Being as multiple, inspired by the systemic structures of set theory. On the other hand, Logics of Worlds is a materialist account of the existence of Event-ful worlds whose movements present changing conditions for the way that Being is thought via Truths and Subjects. In other words, we might read Being and Event and Logics of Worlds as, respectively, Badiou’s treatments of ontology and ontics. Between these two formulations, at the transitory event that moves from the unrecognizable membership within the set of multiple-Being to its presentation as an event, is the pivotal notion of the raising up [relever/relève] of the Inexistent. And it is precisely at that intersection, that privileged spot, that Badiou draws upon the full force of Derridean thought. What better place to situate the thinker of différance than at the point of mediation between the two components of Badiou’s own ontological difference? Still, we should be careful to recognize that crucial limits remain between these thinkers. For example, both broadly agree that the event gives rise to something new, but here much of the similarity ends. For Badiou, the event gives birth to a Truth and its Subject: it shifts conditions in a set from one state to another and produces a new truth to which its Subject attaches an abiding fidelity. By contrast, Derrida recognizes a form of event that arises with the spontaneity of the human organism but that is tied to the possibility of new forms of thought to-come by way of forms of machinic repetition in contemporary life. In other words, Derrida’s event concerns that which is to come and, as a consequence, is in some sense already here. This openness toward the future is commensurate with deconstruction’s emphasis on play, undecidability, and the dialectical interconnection between seemingly opposing ideas. By contrast, Badiou’s employment of mathematic set theory describes Inexistent elements as ostensibly present yet nondistinct and undifferentiated. For him, the event describes the point of differentiation/presentation, of coming to be recognized, of that which was formerly indiscernible. Thus, while their accounts draw upon related conceptual languages, their metaphysical differences point the expressions or functions of their events in opposing directions. It remains to be seen, then, how fully realized Derrida will become within this critical point in Badiou’s thought. During the same period that Badiou launched his metaphysical counterattacks and subsequent appreciations of Derrida, François Laruelle produced one of the most novel, far-reaching, and complicated challenges to deconstruction’s key themes concerning the inability to think “outside” philosophy. Defiantly inventing a “science” of non-philosophy through which philosophy’s metaphysical concepts can be assessed and compared, Laruelle, like Badiou, recognized Derrida as an inevitable target. Recall that Derrida, from his earliest engagements with Levi-Strauss, the nature/culture binary, and the notion that “language bears within itself the necessity of its own critique,” was skeptical, almost to the point of disinterest, of those efforts within the history of philosophy that sought to view it from “somewhere else”: “[t]he step ‘outside philosophy’ is much more difficult to conceive than is generally imagined by those who think they made it long ago with cavalier ease, and who in general are swallowed up in metaphysics in the entire body of discourse which they claim to have disengaged


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from it.”45 Not dissimilarly, Laruelle recognizes that philosophy suffers from a critical, systemic narcissism that, despite making ontological claims about the world, “manifests . . . nothing more than its own existence and does not demonstrate that it is the Real to which it lays claim, nor that it knows itself as this pretension.”46 However, where Derrida would approvingly suggest that this statement invites us to explore the differences and ambiguities within that philosophical invention, Laruelle announces it rather as a call to forge beyond, to the outside, in search of the Real that philosophy can only pretend to know. The problems of philosophical unreality and self-manifestation thus drive him to build an abstract “non-philosophy” that directly concerns the Real, thereby supposedly transcending philosophy’s internal (and dialectical) conflicts. According to Laruelle, if nonphilosophy’s domain is the Real, each philosophical school of thought distinguishes itself by first taking a philosophical position which creates a schism within the Real. Philosophy’s raison d’être thus becomes a self-perpetuating effort to explore and legitimate this schism. Thus, for example, even Derrida’s différance explores but is also legitimated and extended by the absence/presence pairing: the philosophical concept remains immanently connected to the conceptual pairing it critiques. Likewise, because philosophy inevitably invokes the changing, empirical world, it initiates a reciprocal, affective relation whereby each serves as a mutable condition for the other. By contrast, according to Laruelle, nonphilosophy is transcendental to philosophy but immanent to itself and thus unidirectional and nonreciprocal in its capacity to effectuate changes in philosophy.47 Derrida figures prominently in the early stages of Laruelle’s development and is the subject of an entire monograph, Machines textuelles: Déconstruction et libido d’écriture (1976). Laruelle’s Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction (1986), which appeared during the first period of nonphilosophy’s development as a school of thought, describes Derridean différance as belonging to a “species” of philosophical decision that also characterized the philosophies of Nietzsche, Deleuze, and Heidegger. Rejecting the accepted philosophical understanding of difference as that which underlies and is masked by deconstructable logics of sameness and similitude, Laruelle reads philosophies of difference (much like the philosophies they oppose) as engaged in the creation of their own foundational, dialectical splits. He explains that “all the systems of Difference postulate, even while denying it, a second principle next to and opposite the One, a principle that cannot be perceived from Difference itself, but only from the One as restored in its authentic essence.”48 Thus, in a clear reversal of Derrida, Laruelle explains that the One “is an object at the margins of philosophy.”49 Derrida’s work is central to the culminating argument of Philosophies of Difference as a point of intersection between the differing milieux of both Nietzsche and Heidegger: “borrowing from the former not only schema or invariant syntax of difference, but an ‘idealist’ primacy of the syntax of Difference over its reality; and from the latter the concern for Finitude, which is to say, for an anti-idealist limitation of the primacy of the syntax over the real.”50 Because he inverts Heidegger’s “irreducible transcendence of the real . . . relative to the syntax (that folds Being and beings),” he thus makes finitude “an ideal effect of syntax.”51 A consequence of this maneuver, according to Laruelle, is that Derrida prioritizes the cut over continuity, and thus we find difference again grounded in a prior decision (the “cut”) that splits the real.

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Laruelle has called nonphilosophers the “great destroyers of the forces of philosophy and the state, which band together in the name of order and conformity.”52 Nonphilosophy, by contrast, endeavors to create new, “heretical” thought by radically transforming philosophy while refusing to submit to its conditions. Still, because it claims to access the Real while maintaining a critical distance from philosophical systems, nonphilosophy’s viability ultimately depends on whether it can assess philosophy without itself being philosophy or becoming subject to its conditions. In this way, although Laruelle works to surpass Derrida’s skepticism concerning the overcoming of philosophy, it has remained a continuous, very real challenge to the feasibility of nonphilosophy. The criticisms of Žižek, Agamben, Badiou, and Laruelle, as well as others are welltaken and help adumbrate the larger academic context in which Derridean philosophy has been received. However, our purpose here is to demonstrate the ways in which Derridean philosophy affirms the life of the university, rather than detracting from its social mission. It is our conviction that, far from underscoring the more arcane, impractical dimensions of the liberal arts, Derrida’s writings cause the liberal arts to be actively engaged with society’s most pressing political and ethical issues as they force us to pause, reflect, reconsider, and think dialectically about the values and assumptions that distinguish societies. Collectively, we thus concur with scholars such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Drucilla Cornell—to be discussed presently—who have argued that the intellectual demands of deconstruction represent the kind of questioning, parergonal rigor that is needed in our social and political setting wherein the privileges of white, male, Judeo-Christian, Euro- and American-centric cultures are increasingly called into question. Indeed, the works of both Spivak and Cornell exemplify the kind of rigorous scholarship that incorporates Derridean premises at its core, each having forged inroads into their fields—postcolonial theory, feminism, and legal studies—and thus introduced a new way of conceiving their disciplines. Their writings illustrate how we are called upon to question our lexicon of meanings in the face of the radical alterity that deconstruction posits, recognizing both the urgency and the impossibility of the quest undertaken. To mention but a few of their writings, Spivak’s famous “Can the Subaltern Speak?” and Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, along with Cornell’s Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism, Deconstruction and the Law, Moral Images of Freedom: A Future for Critical Theory, and Philosophy of the Limit,53 demonstrate how deconstruction “both allows things to be presented and at the same time disrupts the idea of any notion of absolute presence.”54 A major figure in the fields of postcolonial and feminist scholarship, Spivak has consistently argued that the principles of Derridean philosophy not only serve the purposes of these disciplines, but are crucial to their intellectual honesty. Eager to move away from the male-dominated, Eurocentric, Anglo-American worldview that has dominated the academy in the West, these two fields of study endorse an intellectual encounter with all that is radically other to the mainstream of our tradition and insist that other voices be heard and vantage points considered in what our lexicon deems valuable knowledge. By definition, postcolonial and feminist scholarships offer a corrective to the worldview that has for so long determined the academic standards


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to which we conform. Yet Spivak’s careful reading of Derrida precludes her from simply endorsing such an encounter in a straightforward manner, for she is keenly aware of the ease with which one intellectual norm can quickly be supplanted by another. Once such a supplanting occurs—when the margin becomes the center and the center the margin, when the canon is devalued and only former renegades command respect—the same relationships of power, authority, and points of reference rush in to take the place of the previous offender, and the same self-referencing dynamic unwittingly reproduces itself. If a patriarchal, Eurocentric worldview, having dictated our academic norms and established our intellectual heritage, is simply replaced with another worldview now considered our locus of being—our presence—we have not truly engaged the concept of différance which forever insists on different, deferred meanings. Eager to engage with Third World women and others whose vantage point has so long been overlooked, Spivak thus warns against fetishizing these groups in ways that will read their worldview as essentially privileged, essentially moral, essentially attuned to the play of différance. Applying this warning to feminism, she opines: “[i] t seems particularly unfortunate when the emergent perspective of feminist criticism reproduces the axioms of imperialism.”55 Added to this potential threat of reproducing the worst of what we are trying to disable is an additional concern that Spivak has been careful to address. How are we to approach another whose worldview is so radically different from our own that her terms in no way correspond to the language we understand? How are we to engage with the one whose radical foreignness gives us no indication of where to find common ground, where to locate points of entry that will allow our terms of discourse to converge? When we confront what is truly parergonal—that is, what is marginalized, silenced, occluded, or unknown within the mainstream—we come armed with the lexicon in which we have been trained regardless of our erudite, altruistic intentions. Our intellectual apparatus dictates the manner in which we read any encounter, and we cannot pretend to operate from a vantage point unscathed by our cultural heritage. John McLeod puts it in these terms: “we cannot encounter the subaltern on their own terms but are fated instead to render their consciousness with recourse to dominant models.”56 Thus, in a sense, the “subaltern” can speak, although it is not obvious that we will understand what is said, for the untranslatability of its iteration may well be an insurmountable hurdle in the language of the listener. Spivak concedes that “our sense of critique is too thoroughly determined by Kant, Hegel, and Marx for us to be able to reject them . . . although this is too often the vain gesture performed by critics of imperialism. A deconstructive politics of reading would acknowledge the determination as well as the imperialism and see if the magisterial texts can now be our servants . . . .”57 What has been occluded may then remain so, for the gulf between the (First World, educated) interlocutor whose actions are driven by a raised feminist and political consciousness and the (Third World, uneducated) “subaltern” may be a chasm that cannot be altered. There are limitations, therefore, to the profoundly enriching value of encountering the other whose voice we may not understand, for the disciplines of feminist and postcolonial theory expose us to axes of interpretation that we can never fully embrace as our own. The very intellectual training that drives us to encounter

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alterity is precisely the thing that damages the quality of our exchange. Still, this imperfect encounter is worthwhile: “to ignore the subaltern today is, willy-nilly, to continue the imperialist project.”58 Spivak concedes that such an irony undergirds the disciplines that she nevertheless endorses, for she interprets the subsequent spheres of knowledge that open up to be invaluable despite their inherent shortcomings. Although “[t]he much-publicized critique of the sovereign subject thus actually inaugurates a Subject,” still “intellectuals must attempt to disclose and know the discourse of society’s Other.”59 Drucilla Cornell is also to be greatly credited with demonstrating the usefulness of Derridean philosophy while making significant contributions to her own fields of study. Because she is not only a feminist, but also a legal scholar, she has perhaps gone further than anyone in showing the practical significance of Derridean philosophy in its ability to impact the realms of legal scholarship and jurisprudence. Indeed, Cornell’s writings consistently illustrate the ethical dimension of deconstruction, which, she argues, militates against a self-referencing, self-affirming tendency with regard to both feminist and legal concerns. In all of her writings, Cornell underscores the urgency of incorporating the viewpoint of those whose perspectives do not determine our cultural standards and whose disempowered stance keeps their social vulnerability opaque to those of us in more comfortable positions of power. Cornell thus believes that deconstruction helps craft a “nonviolent relationship to otherness”60 that will found new forms of community, “a different way of belonging together”61 that rethinks relationships of power. For her, Derrida “makes us think differently about the beyond.”62 Thus the chasm to which Spivak’s work so frequently points is also visible to Cornell, who nevertheless affirms the need to demonstrate a “generosity”63 toward the absolute other whose lexicons of meaning do not correspond to my own. In terms of legal studies, such generosity underscores the degree to which the law is a malleable, flexible system of interpretation that allows multiple forms of community to emerge from the more traditional arrangements with which we have lived. We cannot simply rely on traditional legal interpretations, a recourse to time-honored “community standards,” or the claim that documents such as the American Constitution should not be open to ongoing interpretation. Rather, Cornell endorses the practice of judicial activism, insisting that any pretense of legal and political foundationalism must be discredited. She writes: The Good is beyond any of its current justifications. As a result, when we appeal “back” to what has been established, we must look forward to what “might be.” As we do so, we represent what “might be.” Without a simple origin the very process of discovery of legal principles from within the nomos will also involve invention. It is this specific appeal to the “ought to be” that demands a vision of the Good that goes beyond the appeal of convention. The “origin” we evoke in our thematizations is ultimately a representation of the future. Legal interpretation demands that we remember the future.64

Indeed, it is this sense of generous responsibility toward the parergonal other that allows Cornell to employ deconstructive premises within legal frameworks in ways


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that truly challenge the discipline of legal studies. While any legal stricture represents a normative assumption favored by its proponents, it is possible to embrace a sense of community that recognizes the existence of competing, even contradictory normative claims espoused by underdog communities. While law establishes a status quo to which a community must adhere, our ability to revisit and reinterpret the law, which is never static, presents the possibility of different, deferred meanings. In The Philosophy of the Limit, Cornell writes: “The power of law to establish ‘universal’ principles within a community both represents imperial power and its ability to regenerate the paideic pattern of law making as a world of shared precepts.”65 The normative standards without which a community fails to cohere are thus always open to reinterpretation in ways that allow for unforeseen insights: law generates meaning and creates new legal standards just as often as it reaffirms what already exists. Far from being “a mere mechanism of social control,”66 it represents fertile ground in which to deconstruct the unreality of eternal truths, for, according to Cornell, we cannot divorce any legal standard from the narrative, cultural framework in which it finds itself ensconced. Read in this light, normative legal standards which are forever open to reinterpretation do not establish an immutable foundation, but highlight the trace of the communal meanings that are in fact responsible for their creation. To focus on the contextual, fluid, narrative dimension of law makes us responsible to hearing alternative interpretations: law does not unify, but points to something beyond, something yet to come and as of yet unimagined. This ethical component further extends to Cornell’s feminism, which she often refers to as “ethical feminism.” As with legal analysis, this term denotes a study of gender committed to the possibility of future societies in which the dynamics of power, meaning, and cultural values do not simply replicate what we have known already. Such a commitment to new beginnings is of course integral to much feminist thought given the shared consensus that patriarchy has been the dominant mode of social arrangement throughout much of history. Yet, like Spivak, Cornell is aware of the pernicious tendency among some feminists to reproduce aspects of masculinism that are not in keeping with her own principles. Perhaps the most obvious example of this lies in the differences that separate Cornell from another feminist legal scholar for whom Cornell has much respect, Catharine MacKinnon. While Cornell acknowledges the tremendous inroads that MacKinnon has made in introducing a feminist corrective into legal studies and jurisprudence, she differentiates herself strongly from certain premises that heavily inform MacKinnon’s scholarship. One is MacKinnon’s reliance on what she assumes to be a (more or less) universally shared sensibility of women which dictates a (more or less) universally shared female experience. This positing of a feminine given, a generalizable, standard condition of women at least in the West, is made evident in MacKinnon’s writings on pornography. In these writings, MacKinnon argues that, whether women realize it or not, pornography expresses the misogynistic impulses of patriarchy and thus unveils the degree to which women are vulnerable to attack, degradation, humiliation, and objectification. Issues of class, race, ethnicity, etc., that might separate women one from another are overridden by the sheer fact of their sex, and in Western culture,

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women have always been relegated to the status of victim. Should they not feel oppressed by society in its current guise, women are, according to MacKinnon, simply suffering from false consciousness. MacKinnon writes that “consciousness raising does not devalue the roots of social experience . . . It allows a critical embrace of who one has been made by society . . . .”67 Yet as in her analysis of the legal system, Cornell takes issue with the foundationalism that undergirds MacKinnon’s thinking where women’s suffering is concerned. While MacKinnon insists that feminism must aim to raise women’s consciousness, she makes assumptions about both an inherited victimization and the shared feminist culture that will come into being. “In contrast to MacKinnon,” Cornell writes, “I believe consciousness raising does not involve the revelation of our ultimate situation as women. Rather, I understand consciousness as the endless attempt to re-imagine and re-symbolize the feminine within sexual difference so as to break the bonds of the meanings of Woman that have been taken for granted and that have been justifiable as fate.”68 Operating from the deconstructive premise that posited origins are always far less stable than they appear, Cornell argues that we cannot make assumptions regarding a universal, generalized female experience, but must always beware the voice that we have not heard, the experience we have not lived, and the idea we have never entertained. As with legal matters, this renders everything more fluid where the eradication of sexism is concerned: we all want to end the harmful dimensions of Western patriarchal dominance, yet we must not posit a true, shared origin that definitively encompasses women’s experience. Moreover, the spuriousness of a shared origin in turn impacts how we can imagine the future, for if we are not all throwing off one common plight of victimization in unison, our desired futures free of sexism will certainly look different one from another. For Cornell, deconstruction allows us to dream of a changed society that will not reproduce what we have already known, for it “operates against the sedimentation of gender”69 in ways that allow us to envisage new forms of society, identity, and meaning. While the critique of metaphysics implicit in any Derridean reading indeed causes assertions regarding presence, identity, and a totalized discourse to pause and to recognize their potentially conflicted, contradictory natures, we do not see such pausing to be politically disempowering. On the contrary, as several of our essays illustrate, deconstructive insights often incite critique and political action, for to recognize the potential for totalitarianism in one’s stance necessitates a gesture that reaches out to forms of alterity even as it undermines and reconsiders the authority within. Such ideas are made evident in Matt Calarco’s essay on animal rights, Mary Caputi’s observations regarding debates within third wave feminism, and Diane Rubenstein’s perspicacity vis-à-vis the tenuousness of democracy. Together, these essays illustrate the manner in which Derridean philosophy strengthens rather than diminishes our commitment to the social sphere, for to deconstruct authoritative, authoritarian claims heightens one’s sense of responsibility toward the occluded, silenced, marginalized elements whose peripheral existence always allowed the center to stand. As argued incessantly in The Politics of Friendship, deconstruction makes us “[r]esponsible before the other.”70


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Derrida and the future of the liberal arts What we might take away from this examination of Derrida’s own notions of the university as well from the critiques of his work is that deconstruction is not a singular object situated in unitary space. It is a process by which we can engage the intellectual politics of “the question.” That question, of course, suggests that we need not be content with the meanings that are ascribed to the university or to the acts of profession in which scholars engage. In this way, and despite the criticisms that one may find in a reading of Derrida, deconstruction provides an ethopolitics by which we might interrogate our own project as scholars and the institutions in which that project is situated. As with Cornell’s discussion of gender, deconstruction allows us to imagine, for example, the future differently, thanks to the oppositional politics that it endorses. Its innovative process thus helps us address the by now hackneyed assertion that, within the university, the liberal arts serve little purpose due to their lack of “applied” knowledge. As against the claim that higher education must promote an instrumentalist mentality intent on honing skills that get “results,” deconstruction defends the intrinsic value of training the mind, engaging critique, and querying definitive answers that shut down further investigation. Deconstruction is committed to the play of ideas, a play that breeds intellectual maturity, seriousness, and responsibility. Moreover, the concept of play carries with it a sense of joy in what we do, and we in no way wish to lose that dimension of university life. In the essay that follows in Chapter 2, Simon Critchley offers thought-provoking examples of how the university might restructure itself while preserving the collaborative nature of its mission. Among other things, he argues that a smaller, nonhierarchical setting might preserve the intellectual focus that university life is all about and that we can best demonstrate the value of a liberal arts education through a more intimate setting in which collegiality, humor, and the sheer joy of learning are held paramount. Smallness preserves the student-professor rapport, which lends a human face to the process of intellectual growth; it is precisely this human quality so many of us feel is eroding, thanks to “the culture of increasingly purposeless and endless work.”71 For the liberal arts, particularly at larger public institutions, it might therefore be possible to create a “university within a university,” where learning community models and hybrid classrooms integrate technological chat rooms with face-to-face experiences centered around intellectual conversations, allowing students similar opportunity for intimate discussion and debate. Indeed, it seems much more likely, particularly in the case of public higher education in places such as the United States, that creative organizational reframings may be the only way to allow for some of what Critchley suggests: “Could we imagine the humanities based on enjoyment, a collaborative, institutional form of existence based on the cultivation of joy at what we do?”72 The global economic backdrop of the twenty-first century demands new levels of creative restructuring such as those proposed by Critchley in order to preserve the liberal arts against the heightened demands of educational “efficiency.” We thus agree with Critchely, even though he does not invoke Derrida directly, when he argues that the institutional strictures that both house and confine the life

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of the mind need not deprive the professoriate of a sense of joy. Without question, intellectual curiosity and the thoughtful, theoretical development that it promotes are both integral to a thriving democratic society: we cannot have either the conceptual or empirical trappings of an advanced democratic society in the twenty-first century without creative intellectual work behind them. Thus, the philosophical legacy of Derrida is of great use as we work to reconceive the university of the future. This is why we are dedicated to the larger project he sought to produce with his theoretical engagements and political projects.

Notes 1 Jacques Derrida, Without Alibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 237. 2 Derrida, 205. 3 Derrida, 204. 4 Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 157. 5 J. D. Caputo, “A Commentary: Deconstruction in a Nutshell,” in Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, edited by J. Caputo (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 31–202. 6 Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 119–20. 7 Simon Critchley (2010), “What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 21 (1), 22. 8 Derrida, Rogues, 119. 9 Readings, 124. 10 Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University (Thanks to the “Humanities,” What Could Take Place Tomorrow),” in Deconstructing Derrida: Tasks for New Humanities, trans. Peggy Kamuf, edited by Peter Pericles Trifonas and Michael A. Peters (New York: Palgrave-MacMillan, 2005), 11. 11 Caputo, 64. 12 Derrida, 1989, 210, quoted in Caputo, 1997, 64. 13 Caputo, 65. 14 Derrida, Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2, trans. J. Plug et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 74. 15 Caputo, 67. 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid., 68. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid. 20 Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University (Thanks to the ‘Humanities,’ What Could Take Place Tomorrow)”, 11. 21 Michael A. Peters and Gert Biesta, “Introduction: the Promise of Politics and Pedagogy” in Derrida, Deconstruction, and the Politics of Pedagogy (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc., 2009), 9. For further reading on this topic, see Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, edited by Tom Cohen (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

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22 Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University (Thanks to the ‘Humanities,’ What Could Take Place Tomorrow)”, 14. 23 Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University (Thanks to the ‘Humanities,’ What Could Take Place Tomorrow)”, 24. 24 For the text of this objection, see: Jacques Derrida, Points . . . Interviews, 1974–1994, edited by Elizabeth Weber (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 419–21. 25 Ibid., 420–1. 26 Susan Buck-Morss, Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West (Cambridge and London: The MIT Press, 2000), 240. 27 Slavoj Žižek, Tarrying With the Negative: Kant, Hegel, and the Critique of Ideology (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 216. 28 See especially Žižek, First As Tragedy, Then As Farce (London: Verso, 2009), and Living In End Times (London: Verso, 2011). 29 Derrida, Specters of Marx: the State of Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International (New York: Routledge, 2006), 3. 30 Žižek, The Parallax View (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006), 4. 31 Ibid., 11. 32 Leland De la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009). 33 Ibid., 186. 34 David Fiorovanti (2010), “Language, exception, messianism: the thematics of Agamben on Derrida,” The Bible and Critical Theory 6 (1), 1–12. 35 Agamben, G. (2004), “Friendship,” Contretemps 5, 2–7. 36 De la Durantaye, 190. 37 Fiorovanti, 8. 38 Ibid., 9. 39 Alain Badiou, Second Manifesto for Philosophy, trans. Louise Burchill (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011), 117–19. 40 Badiou, Manifesto for Philosophy, trans. Norman Madaraz (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1999), 44–5. 41 Badiou, “Homage to Jacques Derrida,” in Adieu, Derrida, edited by Costas Douzinas (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 34–5. 42 Badiou in Adieu, Derrida. He repeats this declaration – along with a brief account of his reconciliation with Derrida – in Alain Badiou, Logics Of Worlds, trans. Alberto Toscano (New York: Continuum, 2009), 545–6. A more cynical account might suggest that Badiou appears to be something of a friend post-mortem. During his time as a colleague of Deleuze at the University of Paris VIII at Vincennes/St. Denis, he had been, both intellectually and collegially, aggressively anti-Deleuzian, having, for example, occupied and encouraged his students to occupy and disrupt Deleuze’s lectures. However, he opens his book on Deleuze (Alain Badiou, Deleuze: The Clamor of Being . . .) by relating the details of a short correspondence that he had initiated with Deleuze toward the end of his life. There he suggests that some sort of intellectual relationship had developed between them. A similar transition occurs in his comments following Derrida’s death:

For two or three years, I had been in the process of patching up with him, after a very long period of semi-hostile distance and sundry incidents, the most pointed of which involved the colloquium Lacan avec les philosophes, in  1990.

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At the beginning of this new phase in our relations, Derrida told me “In any case, we have the same enemies.” And we all saw those enemies, especially in the United States, scurrying out of their rat-holes on the occasion of his death. Death, decidedly, always comes too soon. This is one of the forms taken by its terrifying logical power: the power to precipitate conclusions. I count on paying homage again, and often, to Jacques Derrida, rereading his oeuvre, otherwise, under this emblem: the passion of Inexistance. (Badiou, Logics of Worlds, 546) It is difficult not to note the parallels in Badiou’s postmortem regard for Deleuze and Derrida. Likewise, there are profoundly striking similarities between Badiou’s claim that Derrida initiated a reconciliatory phase of their relationship with the declaration, “In any case, we have the same enemies” and Derrida’s memorialization of his friendship with Deleuze, a decade earlier: “This friendship is not based merely on the fact – and this is not insignificant – that we had the same enemies” (Jacques Derrida, The Work of Mourning, edited by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001, 193.) Certainly, the latter passage reveals that Derrida recognized such a point of view. Still, the relationship between Badiou and Derrida – as it was between Badiou and Deleuze – is quite literally haunted by a voice from beyond the grave. Both are voices from an earlier generation, identified with figures who had, for a time, over-shadowed Badiou and whom he had previously disparaged. It seems likely that future scholarship will be conflicted about what it means for the “later” Badiou to have spoken with the voice of his other, particularly those who had already departed: “I even believe, I might say, if you will allow me this narcissistic touch, yes, I think I am able to say that I am the Old Man now” (Badiou, “Homage to Jacques Derrida”, 35). 43 Louise Burchill, “Translator’s preface: A manifest power of elevation,” in A Second Manifesto for Philosophy, trans. Louise Burchill, edited by Alain Badiou (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2011), xi. 44 “Literally meaning ‘to lift up,’ aufheben also contains the ‘double meaning’ of ‘to preserve’ and ‘to put an end to’  ” (Burchill, “Translator’s preface,” xi). 45 Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. A. Bass (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1978), 284. 46 François Laruelle (1999), “A Summary of Non-Philosophy,” Pli 8, 139. 47 Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference, trans. Rocco Gangle (New York: Continuum, 2010), 16. 48 Ibid., xxi. 49 François Laruelle (1999), “A Summary of Non-Philosophy,” Pli 8, 138. 50 François Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference, trans. Rocco Gangle (New York: Continuum, 2010), xx. 51 Ibid. 52 François Laruelle, “A New Presentation of Non-philosophy”.   53 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999); “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Patrick William and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 66–111; Drucilla Cornell, Beyond Accommodation: Ethical Feminism,


54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72

Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts Deconstruction and the Law (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1991); The Philosophy of the Limit (New York: Routledge, 1992); Moral Images of Freedom: A Future for Critical Theory (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefied Publishers, Inc., 2008). Cornell, Moral Images of Freedom: A Future for Critical Theory (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefied Publishers, Inc., 2008), 65. Spivak, Critique of Postcolonial Reason, 114. John MCLeod, Beginning Postcolonialism, 2nd edn (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 219. Spivak, 6–7. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, 94. Spivak, 66. Cornell, The Philosophy of the Limit, 63. Ibid., 60. Ibid., 110. Ibid., 57. Ibid., 110–11. Ibid., 104. Ibid., 104. Catharine Mackinnon, Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 102. Cornell, “What Is Ethical Feminism?” in Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange (New York: Routledge, 1995), 82. Cornell, 83. Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso: 2005), 69. Ibid. Simon Critchley (2004), “What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?,” differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 21 (1), 24.


What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?1 Simon Critchley

Academic institutions are unavoidable. Institutions are unavoidable. My discipline, philosophy, has always been a school discipline, beginning with Plato’s Academy, Aristotle’s Lyceum, but also the hugely important example of Epicurus’s Garden. Such schools are institutions of an informal kind, usually organized around a charismatic master and devoted to the transmission of the master’s teaching to the pupils. The model is discipleship, and the purpose of the institution is the production of disciples. This model, which Jacques Lacan calls “the master’s discourse,” is easy to criticize, but what is interesting about these philosophical schools is their small-scale, autonomous nature and their commitment to teaching. Plato’s dialogues were written not as research projects but as ways of extending the audience for a teaching. For me, what the humanities can offer is an experience of teaching, where teaching becomes the laboratory for research. But I’ll come back to this later. As a philosopher, I am concerned with thinking, with thinking about all sorts of things, with thinking as creatively, clearly, and rigorously as possible. Nothing should be alien to a philosopher. The question is: what is the form of thinking? Well, at one obvious level, it is what appears to take place in your head, in the articulation of concepts. But what is the collaborative form for thinking or the institutional form for thinking? My worry is that I don’t think the university, particularly the state university, is the right form for collaborative thinking. The university in its modern form is a largely German, Humboldtian, nineteenth-century invention, with its pyramidical hierarchy and its division into disciplines, with professors in chairs and varieties of submissive assistants kissing the hems of their academic gowns. It’s beautifully and properly Prussian. Its philosophical expression is Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which is the philosophical apologia for the state where Plato’s philosopher king becomes the state bureaucrat. This is what Husserl had in mind when he described the philosopher as the civil servant or functionary of humanity and what Heidegger had in mind when he ominously described philosophers as the police force in the procession of the sciences. Let’s just say that I don’t see philosophy, or indeed the humanities, as a branch of the state bureaucracy or a police academy.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

The linking of the university to the state, whether the classical nation-state or the European superstate form, generally has a deadening effect. Tying the university to the state might have been justified and productive at certain points in history, but at the present time it risks turning academia into an increasingly uniform and pleasureless machine, a kind of knowledge factory at the service of the abstractions of the state and capital. I think we need to think and think again about what might be a better collaborative form of thinking, about what institutional forms might better serve the students we teach. There are, of course, exceptions to what I’m saying about the university, bureaucracy, and the state. I’m sure there are counterexamples in various contexts, and to be clear, I’m not arguing for private universities. It was otherwise, for example, in England in the 1960s. In 1959, C. P. Snow gave a famous lecture at Cambridge, “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” in which he identified two cultures in English academic and social life: the cultures of science and literature. Furthermore, he argued that there was a crisis in English society because these two cultures couldn’t talk to each other. They didn’t even share any common vocabulary, and neither really had any interest in what the other was doing. The great project of university reform in the 1960s responded directly to Snow’s challenge. Experimental universities were founded, like Sussex, Essex, Rent, Warwick, York, and Keele. It was a fantastic experiment, but at the core of universities like Sussex and Essex was the idea that students from the humanities had to take courses in the sciences and vice versa. Students weren’t in departments, but in large and diverse schools that effectively had complete autonomy over their curricula, like the schools of American or European studies at Sussex or the School of Comparative Studies at Essex. I was a student in the School of Comparative Studies at Essex in the early 1980s, and it was originally decided not to have a philosophy department, but to have one philosopher in each department. The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, for example, was professor of sociology for some years. There was a tripartite structure to these universities: departments, schools, and universities. The schools were like Soviets (“all power to the Soviets,” as Lenin said), departments were pretty weak, interdisciplinarity was extremely strong, academics ran their own curricula through various democratic forums with heavy student input, and the administration was tolerated but held at a polite distance. In fact, it’s fair to say that as a consequence of extended student protests and occupations from 1968 until the miners’ strike in 1984–1985, the administration was frightened of the students and of many of the faculty. To be clear, this was not paradise; but it meant that students who wanted to stick to their specialization (students always want this; they are born conservatives about education and therefore have to be educated into the virtues of working in several disciplines) were obliged to receive a broad humanistic education that included the natural and social sciences. What happened to these universities? Basically, the tripartite structure was inverted: the schools are now weak, effectively nonexistent; the administration is now called “central management,” and it rules with an arrogance and philistine brutality that would have been unimaginable even 10  years ago; and departments are increasingly isolated from each other, competing for students and

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scarce financial resources in a kind of Hobbesian state of nature. The informal bonds of civility that tie a university community together are being stretched to the breaking point and, in many cases, being broken. Departments simply exist in order to please the management, and the management simply exists to carry out the endless shower of increasingly meaningless university reforms and make money pulling in research grants. What began under Margaret Thatcher as an ideological attack on the liberal intelligentsia in the universities, particularly left-wing experimental universities like Essex, was perfected in a Blairite bureaucratization of universities obsessed with three concepts: transparency, accountability, and quality. Before continuing, let me just say that what goes on in teaching, in actually working with students in the real experience of education, is very often not transparent. It’s sometimes obscure and difficult to grasp at the time and perhaps only really understood retrospectively, sometimes months or years later. Education isn’t accountable in accordance with any calculative way of thinking. Finally, quality is something that cannot be measured like coffee beans; it is very difficult to define, like an ethos (I’ll come back to this word), an atmosphere that enables students to become something, to become more than they would ever have imagined. Education emancipates in ways that are often difficult to define and impossible to measure. There has been a middlemanagement takeover of higher education in Britain, and people with no competence or capacity for intellectual judgment force academics to conform to some sort of stateadministered straitjacket. Another vapid buzzword of higher education is excellence. The issue facing universities is very simple: excellence at all costs. But what on earth does that word mean? Nothing, I fear. For a philosopher, excellence recalls the Greek idea of arete, virtue, and there is a long and fascinating debate in ancient and modern philosophy as to what excellence might mean and how and whether virtue can be taught. It’s not at all clear whether it can be taught. But let’s just say that excellence is dependent upon an ethos that is fragile, at times obscure, and that cannot be reduced to the bean-counting methods of measuring research quality. In Britain, the situation is completely hypocritical, with increasingly separate and professionally competent disciplines drifting apart and spinning centripetally into smaller and smaller orbits, fighting tooth and nail for resources, let alone some recognition that they are good at what they do and are valued. Above those disciplines in their Hobbesian state of nature, there floats an ideological patina of interdisciplinarity that can somehow be measured by quality assurance agencies, by the new police force. The true mechanism of doom in Britain was the RAE, the Research Assessment Exercise, which made cross-disciplinary collaboration much harder to justify and completely downgraded the importance of teaching. Some academics have been given overpaid jobs without much teaching in order to improve departmental research scores as part of some bizarre quest for increased income streams. (I know a little about this, as I had one of these jobs until recently—you see, I’m a hypocrite, too.) Teaching is looked on as a loser activity; what counts is research at all costs, and research is always conceived on the model of the natural sciences. What can one say? At some point in the late 1980s, an ideological mist descended, making academics obsessed with research, cutting the fragile bonds of solidarity with their colleagues (and collegiality is so important to academia and so fragile), and


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introducing an obsession with measuring and the ranking of institutions. Academics have almost entirely conspired with this process and are completely culpable. We have shifted from a model of oppositional politics in the Marxist sense, where there was a sort of war or class struggle between academics and the state that required strong unions, to a Foucaultian model, where university academics learn to discipline themselves and govern themselves in terms of structures and criteria handed down to them by university management and state departments of education. I watched this disaster unfold at Essex and other British universities and really saw it up close when I was head of the department for a few years and obliged to do management training courses and the like. It was soul destroying to watch the institution that had taught me to think and to which I was fantastically loyal turn into something so different. So I left. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to leave. Since leaving, I see, on my trips back, the effects that the European Union and the Bologna Accords are having on higher education. I’m sure there are benefits, but I see only universities across Europe in a state of confusion, particularly with the pressure to publish in English in non-English-speaking countries. Universities have turned into football teams trying to pull in the faculty that are good at getting recognition and research grants. I apologize for being polemical, but this has become a topic that angers me—because university education is so important, and it wouldn’t be that difficult to make genuine improvements. *** Are there other ways of thinking about institutions? For deep sociological reasons having to do with feelings of disenfranchisement, disempowerment, and disconnection, we are living through a time where there is a massive lack of creative thinking about academic institutions. We’re living through a long anti-1960s reaction, governed by an overwhelming sense of psychical impotence and a fear of not being seen to follow the law, to submit to what the state demands. Overwhelmingly, academics want to be left alone to do their “research.” They feel a growing sense of anomie and increasingly have instrumental, functional relations to their universities. The question I want to think about is what might be a better, collaborative, institutional form for thinking, one not at the service of knowledge, but—and I fear saying this in public—based on an experience of enjoyment that is at the service of truth. Did I really write that? Could we imagine the humanities based on enjoyment, a collaborative, institutional form of existence based on the cultivation of joy at what we do? This feels like a dirty, obscene, and slightly shocking question in the context of a culture of increasingly purposeless and endless work, but I would like to pose it nonetheless. Universities, particularly in the humanities, are defined by a mood of melancholy. This makes sense because people feel powerless, and powerlessness induces melancholia. What I see in many British universities, and this certainly hasn’t been refuted by my time in other corners of northern Europe, is a culture of depression. It’s a depression that people really rather like, recalling Dostoevsky’s remark that corporal punishment is better than nothing; at least it livens you up. In my final years at Essex, I saw colleagues

What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?


whose entire existence was sustained by the depression that the university was causing in them. It seemed to be the only thing that gave their professional lives meaning and shape. This is hateful. They would wander around the corridors and cafes on campus desperately trying to find someone to complain to about the latest initiative that was being produced from the university central management at the behest of central government. The problem here is autonomy. The goal of academic institutions is autonomy, both their own autonomy and the autonomy they induce in their students. What we are witnessing at present is a serious undermining of autonomy at two interconnected levels. First, the autonomy of teachers, departments, schools, and universities is being undermined by an obsession with regulation, quality assessment, transparency, and all the other elements of the middle-management takeover of higher education. What I saw at Essex and other United Kingdom institutions was—to speak in Habermasian jargon—the colonization of the academic lifeworld by systems of administration and a cadre of administrators who seemed suspicious and sometimes even contemptuous of the work of academics and who implemented new government initiatives with sadistic delight. It is a particularly beautiful sadism because no one is responsible. “Listen,” they will say, “you have to be punished because you cannot do things in the way you previously did. You have been bad academics and need to be punished. But look, I am not the person to blame. I am just the messenger. I am simply carrying out the instructions of the university central management at the behest of the national government in order to fall in line with new EU regulations.” We live in academic institutions where there is a palpable absence of autonomy; no one is to blame, no one is responsible, and no one can do anything. It all adds up to a crushing sense of psychical impotence, and it’s really worrying, all the more so when academics conspire willingly with their own powerlessness and positively enjoy their depression and misery. They wouldn’t want it any other way. So the heteronomy is double: it is both imposed from outside and cultivated from within. People are utterly dependent on their feelings of psychical impotence. And for as long as this situation continues and we fail to analyze the psychosocial economies of power that are at stake, conferences on questions such as what counts as theory or the future of the humanities or the nature of the university will do precisely nothing. Teachers and students will have a relation of heteronomy and quiet resentment toward their institutions and their teaching and dream of the moment they can get back to the library and continue their earth-shatteringly wonderful book on the experience of nothingness in some or other poet. Believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I used to sit in the library and write books with titles like Very Little . . . Almost Nothing. *** What, then, is the institutional form of thinking in the humanities? It is simple. It is teaching. It is teaching people to have an orientation toward truth. This is perhaps where philosophy provides an exemplary and compelling model. As everyone knows, philosophy begins in the Socratic dialogues by opposing itself to sophistry, the promise of knowledge obtained with a fee. What does philosophy offer by way of contrast? It offers a critique of sophistry and its spurious claims to knowledge. It offers a critical


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

undermining of conventional views on justice, beauty, love, and so on. But it does not offer knowledge in the form of information. It doesn’t even provide wisdom. It simply offers a disposition toward wisdom, what we might think of as an orientation of the soul toward the true. This is what Socrates calls “philosophy,” the “love of wisdom.” We might even say that philosophy challenges the discourse on knowledge and offers in its place a nonknowledge where the object of philosophical investigation is not conceptualized, compartmentalized, or neatly defined, but where we might be inclined toward that matter in a certain, definite interpersonal experience. Philosophy begins in dialogue, in a drama that is a competitor discourse to that of the tragic poets whom Socrates excludes in Plato’s Republic. Philosophy offers a scene of instruction, of encounter; in a psychoanalytic sense, it is a transferential experience, a teaching that is not the passing of information from teacher to student, but something much more subtle and profound: a contact, a communication, a pedagogical erotics that has to be handled with tact and prudence and that requires discipline on both sides. These are my watchwords: teaching, an orientation toward the true, contact and communication through the spoken word, enjoyment, tact, touch, prudence, and discipline. I’m not against research in the humanities. Far from it. I have been known to engage in it myself from time to time. But I think it’s a mistake to formulate an agenda for research in the humanities in a way that simply accepts established criteria for what counts as research. What needs to be pointed out is the distinguishing of what we do in the humanities, the delicate tact of teaching, being involved in the formation of human beings, leading them out into something new, rich, and exciting. This is what the Greeks meant by paideia. Without it, a culture dies. My question is, what might be the institutional, collaborative form of such a paideia? *** I find Lacan instructive here. He never described what he did as a theory or a psychoanalytic research program, but as a teaching, un enseignement, which required a persistent experimentation with institutional forms, largely due to the fact that he was repeatedly expelled from the institutions of the psychoanalytic establishment because of the radicality of his teaching and practice. Lacan makes a brilliant distinction between four orders of discourse: master, university, analyst, and hysteric. The master’s discourse is pretty much that of classical philosophy, which is concerned with the production of disciples and the irony of drawing unknown knowledge from the mouth of the slave, as in Plato’s Meno. Implicit in Lacan’s approach is the idea that there has been a collapse of the discourse of the master. This is paralleled with an ethical collapse. The idea that the highest good or happiness is the bios theoretikos, the dialogue of the soul with itself in contemplation, has been replaced by the idea of happiness as the happiness of the greatest number and morality as something quantitative and utilitarian. Morality becomes what Lacan calls “the service of goods.” This is paralleled in university discourse, which is also the discourse of capital. Both the university and capital are obsessed with accumulation. Universities become factories for the production of knowledge in the form of degrees, PhD theses, and research. Universities are phallic knowledge machines designed to accumulate at all costs. Capital and the university collide in the model of the rich American private university,

What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?


where the value of the institution lies in the size of its endowment. Everyone wants to be well-endowed. Private capital is the Viagra of the modern university. Lacan works with an ad hoc distinction between knowledge and truth, where truth is what bores a hole in the self-certainty of knowledge. In this sense, truth is something new, something unpredictable and surprising, something with a relation to enjoyment, something that perhaps even idles in the relentless activity of knowledge and capital accumulation, something on the order of an event. We should be trying to cultivate the conditions under which such an event might happen, in our teaching, our listening to students, and our collaborative being-with others. *** Are there forms other than the traditional Humboldtian university or the contem­ porary bureaucratic university machine that might be more amenable to thinking, to collaborative thinking? Might there be collaborative forms where we might actually enjoy ourselves? Let me sketch seven models for thinking about institutions, each of which is an open question. 1. The anarchist tradition offers rich resources for thinking about new institutional and collaborative forms. Contrary to popular stupidity, anarchy is all about order and organization, which is enshrined in directly democratic procedures like affinity groups. Anarchists are rightly convinced that institutions should not be organized hierarchically around a relation to the state or to God. Institutions should not have to be legitimated by the state, and academics should not be the civil servants of humanity or the police force at the procession of the sciences. Institutions should be horizontally self-legislating and self-organizing, like small republics, entirely accountable to their students. Perhaps the path to some sort of institutional autonomy is by keeping institutions as small as possible. 2. The problem that has to be confronted is the relation between such institutions and capital. For example, on a summer’s evening in central London, while watching the gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist engage in two different conversations while calling someone else, it occurs to me that contemporary art institutions might offer a compelling form of collaborative thinking. It is undeniable that the art world has become increasingly culturally hegemonic; sometimes it provides a space where thinking can take place. But the problem here is money, the way in which this form of cultural life has become a slave to money. Gallerists are often doing really interesting things but are equally often whores to the market. 3. Another model is the American private liberal arts college. We have one at the New School in New York called Lang College for the Liberal Arts that is perfectly Utopian, where students have a freedom unimaginable in the United Kingdom and an ambition and honesty about what they want from their education. Life in the United States is an often dubious and complex pleasure, but the importance placed on education, particularly humanities education, can be truly breathtaking. Small liberal arts colleges are often collectively governed and extremely radical. But it comes at a high price: about $40,000 per year.


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4. We might also think about examples of new corporate forms that are more rhizomatic and horizontal than classically hierarchical in the way academics might associate with business structures. I recently gave a talk at the Google offices in New York and toured the site, a wonderfully fluid, soft environment full of seemingly very happy creative people. But that shouldn’t blind us to the hard business reality just beneath the surface. 5. The one place in academia where the question of the university is still being vigorously posed is in the Catholic universities. Think here of the work of Charles Taylor and Alasdair Maclntyre. Obviously, the question is posed in relation to questions of faith versus reason and the nature of church hierarchy and church teaching in relation to a secular state. But at least the question of the nature of the university is still being addressed. 6. As already mentioned, psychoanalysis is interesting to think about in relation to institutions, and the history of psychoanalysis is a largely bloody history of fights over institutions. Lacan had a highly fraught relation to institutions, but to his credit he constantly struggled with the psychoanalytic establishment around the issue of autonomy. This turns on the question of who can be a psychoanalyst, which has to be a question both self-legislating (“I am an analyst; I take responsibility”) and requiring some other form of legislation (“This institution legitimates your claim to be a psychoanalyst”). 7. A final example that comes to mind in this connection is Georges Bataille. Throughout his life, particularly in the 1930s and 1940s, Bataille experimented with different forms of informal institutions, from Contre-Attaque, the College de Sociologie, and the College Socratique through to the more mysterious Acéphale. Now, I am not preaching human sacrifice in a forest anytime soon, but I find Bataille an interesting example to think about in terms of experimenting with institutional form. Let me close by returning to my own experience and to the importance of ethos, in the sense both of atmosphere, climate, and place and of a disposition for thinking and thoughtfulness. I used to be the director of something called the Centre for Theoretical Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences (CTS). This was an initiative created by Ernesto Laclau in 1990 to bring together theoretical work in a number of disciplines at the University of Essex and provide a context where we could talk to each other. I took over in 1995 and ran the center for 7 years. It was a success because it simply formalized an existing informal culture of discussion and disagreement among a range of colleagues. We were people with common interests in philosophy and politics, and we created a space where faculty and students from law, art history, sociology, literature, history, and various natural sciences could take part. It was a genuinely interdisciplinary space that produced a huge amount of research that went on to be published. This was not due to any policy on interdisciplinarity but was because of an existing interdisciplinary culture that could be “hegemonized,” as we used to say in Essex, and organized organically. The point of the tale is twofold: on the one hand, the research flowed from oral presentations and collective discussions in an atmosphere—and this is crucial—of

What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?


familiarity and trust. People took risks with their work because they knew they would find a sympathetic ear, although debate was often highly critical and contentious. On the other hand, at any point in the history of the CTS, probably only about five people were really active in planning and creating ideas. The core personnel changed, but the number was always small, and I think this was a virtue. What I want to emphasize is the fragility of such an ethos and any other intellectual ethos; it is the easiest thing in the world to destroy. At the time of this writing, the fate of the CTS is in grave doubt. There has been a top-down reorganization of the faculties at Essex, with a new management structure, and it looks like the CTS will fall through the cracks and probably disappear. It is a huge pity but in no way surprising. I moved to the New School for Social Research (NSSR) in 2004 and found myself in a very different academic culture, but with some surprising similarities. I won’t go into the long and heroic history of the New School and its origins in its opposition to US policy on the World War I and the period of the University in Exile in the 1930s and 1940s, when the New School was home to many exiled German Jewish professors and, later, their French colleagues. The aim of the NSSR is a program of critical social research on the model imagined by John Dewey, who was involved at the origin of the institution. We don’t have humanities as such, but rather, grouping of very humanistic social science departments along with departments of philosophy and history. Although many people at the NSSR are perhaps deluded about its importance in American academic life—I confess that I am one of them—it is a unique place with a strong intellectual culture and a live institutional memory. This is combined with a secular Jewish leftist Weltanschauung and a healthy competitiveness among colleagues. Every year, there are severe threats to this culture, this ethos, and the institution is profoundly crisis-prone and fragile. But we keep that ethos alive through conversation, playful joking relationships, and a strong sense of solidarity. I particularly like that we sometimes refer to ourselves as a collegium, as a collegial institution. What is surprising about the NSSR to someone coming from the United Kingdom is the importance placed on teaching. We all teach pretty much the same load, and it is simply assumed that faculty members are doing research. What counts is the quality of your teaching, your engagement with students, and your presence in the institution. One’s kudos among colleagues comes from the buzz around your teaching. Most of my colleagues are better teachers than I, and as a consequence, I am constantly seeking to improve my pedagogical technique. Teachers have a level of autonomy over curriculum, assessment, and all the rest that would be unimaginable in the United Kingdom. But, oddly, or perhaps not so oddly, this does not produce autocratic teaching. On the contrary, classes are the most democratic that I have seen, and students expect and like to take initiative. *** Of course, the question of the institutional form for thinking shouldn’t be answered by old farts like me talking whimsically about a lost golden age and feeling powerless in the face of the new university machine. Maybe it’s for another generation to decide. Maybe we should ask the students what they think. Maybe students should design the


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curricula of their own institutions and their own manner of testing. Maybe we should allow for the emergence of some radically autonomous institution of thinking by establishing its conditions, sketching a framework, and then walking back and letting the thing live on its own. Maybe. What do students want?

Note 1 This paper was originally presented at a conference on the future of the humanities in Stockholm, Sweden, in December 2008. Its spoken style has been preserved. It is reprinted here with permission from the Duke University Press. The original citation is: Simon Critchley, “What Is the Institutional Form of Thinking?,” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 21 (1), DOI: 10.1215/10407391-2009-014.


Grammatology Revisited: Derrida on Language, Truth, and Deviant Logic Christopher Norris

Derrida, Rousseau, and the “logic of supplementarity” Jacques Derrida’s extended reading of Rousseau in Of Grammatology puts forward some far-reaching claims about the relationship between language and logic that have so far not been examined with anything like an adequate regard for their rigor, subtlety, and scope of application beyond the particular case in hand.1 What I shall do here is outline that reading—albeit in highly condensed and schematic form—and then discuss its wider implications for philosophy of language and logic. On Derrida’s account, there is a deviant logic at work in philosophical discourse, a “logic of supplementarity” which reveals the simultaneous and strictly inseparable working of discordant, anomalous, mutually exclusive or downright contradictory trains of implication. Its effect is thus to emphasize the problems involved in any direct appeal to authorial intention or to the self-present “voice” of the philosopher as locus of unquestioned authority and truth. By so doing, deconstruction can be seen to challenge certain deep-laid rules or regularities of philosophic discourse in just the manner deemed so important by contributors to this book. That is to say, it subjects the discipline to a searching and rigorous yet respectful critique of its dominant presuppositions or those largely unspoken conceptual-discursive constraints that are taken to mark the scope and limits of philosophy’s proper domain. Deconstruction thus assumes a prominent role as avatar of the “unconditional university,” one that keeps open a critical space for the questioning of various entrenched disciplinary bounds while nonetheless maintaining a due regard for those standards of validity in argument and textual interpretation without which its questions would be merely rhetorical. I had better say first—so as to preempt one likely rejoinder—that Derrida’s commentary is not (or not only) a piece of interpretive criticism, one that fastens on certain themes—like the term “supplement” in its various contexts of occurrence—and then deploys them with a view to subverting other, more orthodox interpretations. To be sure, he does spend a great deal of time expounding particular passages in Rousseau’s work which have to do with a large variety of topics, from the origin of


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language to the development of civil society, from the history of music to the genealogy of morals, or from educational psychology to the role of writing as a “supplement” to speech which (supposedly) infects and corrupts the sources of authentic spoken discourse. What these all have in common—so Derrida maintains—is a sharply polarized conceptual structure whereby Rousseau equates everything that is good (spontaneous, genuine, passionate, sincere) with the approbative term nature and everything that is bad (artificial, civilized, decadent, corrupt, merely conventional, and so on) with the derogatory term culture. The same goes for those cryptic passages in the Confessions where Rousseau obliquely acknowledges his “solitary vice” and reflects on the perversity of supplementing nature (the good of heterosexual intercourse) with a practice that substitutes imaginary pleasures and the “conjuring up of absent beauties.”2 So to this extent, granted, the Derridean reading has to do with certain distinctive (not to say obsessional) topoi that can be seen to exercise a powerful hold on Rousseau’s memory, intellect, and imagination, which lend themselves to treatment in something like the traditional expository mode. Still, as I have said, it should not be construed by philosophers as evidence that Derrida is here practicing a mode of thematic or literary commentary, one that makes play with certain “philosophical” themes—like the logic (or pseudologic) of supplementarity—so as to disguise that fact. Rather, what chiefly interests Derrida in the reading of Rousseau’s texts is “[the] difference between implication, nominal presence, and thematic application.”3 In other words, it is the kind of difference that emerges—unnoticed by most commentators—when one strives to read Rousseau in accordance with his own explicit intentions (his vouloir-dire) only to find that those intentions are “inscribed” in a supplementary logic beyond his power fully to command or control. No doubt Rousseau “declares what he wishes to say”, namely that “articulation and writing are a post-originary malady of language,” introduced with the passage to a “civilized” (=  corrupt, artificial) state of society when language would have lost its first (natural) character of spontaneous, passionate utterance. Yet it is also the case— on a closer reading—that Rousseau “says or describes what he does not wish to say: articulation and therefore the space of writing operates at the origin of language.”4 For as he well knows—and indeed on occasion quite explicitly states—there can never have been any language that lacked those various articulatory features (phonetic structures, semantic distinctions, grammatical parts of speech, etc.) which alone make it possible for language to function as a means of communicative utterance.5 Nevertheless, according to Rousseau, these must all be counted “supplementary” (bad or corrupting) additions to an “original” language—an authentic speech of the passions—that would surely have had no need for such artificial devices since its purpose was fully served in the faceto-face (or the heart-to-heart) of intimate mutual exchange. Even now, he remarks, there are certain languages—those of Italy and Southern Europe—which continue to manifest something of that natural character since they have remained close to the wellspring of passionate speech and have not (like the “Northern” tongues) acquired all manner of progressively debilitating structural traits. Yet, Rousseau is once again compelled to acknowledge that this can be only a matter of degree, and moreover that everything which ought by rights to be considered merely a “supplement” to language in its first (natural) state must rather be thought of as integral and prerequisite to any language whatsoever.

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Hence the ambiguity—more precisely, the double and contradictory logic—that Derrida discerns in Rousseau’s usage of the term across an otherwise diverse range of argumentative contexts. On the one hand “supplement” may be taken to signify: that which is added unnecessarily—by way of gratuitous embellishment—to something that is (ought to be) complete as it stands and which does not (should not) require—even tolerate—any such otiose addition. In this sense, the entire development of language away from its passional origins and toward more complex, articulate, or structured forms of expression must be counted as a definite perversion of language, that is to say, a melancholy sign of the way that “supplementary” features or devices can somehow (deplorably) come to stand in for the living presence of authentic speech. However, there is a second sense of the term that obtrudes itself—most often—against Rousseau’s express intent and that constantly threatens to make him say just the opposite of what he means. On this alternative construal, “supplement” signifies: that which is required in order to complete what must otherwise be thought of as lacking or deficient in some crucial regard. Thus, the “original” language of Rousseau’s conception would quite simply not have been a language—would have lacked some or all of those constitutive features that define what properly counts as such—if indeed (as he thinks) it belonged to a time when human beings managed to communicate through a kind of prearticulate speech-song wholly devoid of phonetic, semantic, or grammatical structures. Hence that curious “logic of supplementarity” which complicates Rousseau’s texts to the point where his explicit statements of authorial intent are called into question by other (less prominent but strictly unignorable) statements to contrary effect. This example gives substance to Derrida’s above-cited cryptic remark that what interests him chiefly in Rousseau’s texts is “[the] difference between implication, nominal presence, and thematic application.”6 Moreover, it is a characteristic of his writing that emerges in so many different connections—or across such a range of thematic concerns—that it cannot be put down to just a blind spot in his thinking about this particular topic. Thus, culture is invariably conceived by Rousseau as a falling-away from that original state of nature wherein human beings would as yet have had no need for those various “civilized” accoutrements like writing as a bad supplement to speech, harmony as a bad supplement to melody, or civic institutions, delegated powers, and representative assemblies as a bad supplement to that which once transpired in the face-to-face of oral community. That this fall should ever have occurred—that nature should have taken this perverse, accidental, yet fateful swerve from its first state of natural innocence—is the chief sign or diagnostic mark of those various “supplementary” evils that have come to exert their corrupting effect on individual and social mores. In each case, however, it is Derrida’s claim that Rousseau’s overt (intentional) meaning is contradicted by certain other, strikingly discrepant formulations whose logic runs athwart the manifest sense of his argument. Thus, on the one hand, there to be read plainly enough, is what Rousseau wants to say—and does quite explicitly say—with respect to the intrinsic and self-evident superiority of nature over culture, speech over writing, melody over harmony, passion over reason, the law of the heart over laws of state, and small-scale “organic” communities over large-scale, anomic and overly complex societal aggregates. Yet, on the other hand, there to be read in certain passages—often in parentheses or obiter dicta where their disruptive effect may be least felt—is a series of concessions, qualifying clauses, and


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seeming nonsequiturs that exert a constant destabilizing pressure on Rousseau’s more explicit avowals of intent. So in reading Rousseau, it is not so much a matter of discounting or routinely disregarding his intentions but rather one of aiming, in Derrida’s carefully chosen words, at “a certain relationship, unperceived by the writer, between what he commands and what he does not command of the patterns of the language that he uses.”7 This point is worth emphasis since hostile commentators—John Searle among them—have often charged Derrida with showing no respect for authorial intentions or with riding roughshod over passages which make it quite plain what the author wanted to say.8 So I had better now cite the well-known paragraph from Of Grammatology where Derrida specifies (again very carefully) the principles which govern a deconstructive reading and which set it firmly apart from any such free-for-all or “anything goes” attitude of hermeneutic license. “To produce this signifying structure,” he writes, obviously cannot consist of reproducing, by the effaced and respectful doubling of commentary, the conscious, voluntary, intentional relationship that the writer institutes in his exchanges with the history to which he belongs thanks to the element of language. This moment of doubling commentary should no doubt have its place in a critical reading. To recognize and respect all its classical exigencies is not easy and requires all the instruments of traditional criticism. Without this recognition and this respect, critical production would risk developing in any direction at all and authorize itself to say almost anything. But this indispensable guardrail has always only protected, it has never opened, a reading.9

We should not be too quick to conclude, with the hostile commentators, that this is just a pious expression of respect for principles—those of “traditional” exegesis or commentary—that Derrida is perfectly willing to flout whenever it suits his convenience. For it is a statement that is fully borne out by the detailed reading of Rousseau which forms its immediate context and also by those other readings—of philosophers from Plato to Kant, Husserl, and Austin—where Derrida likewise combines a due regard for the author’s professed intent with a principled (not merely opportunist) allowance that authorial intention cannot have the last word.10 After all, “the writer writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely.”11 And again: “[h]e uses them only by letting himself, after a fashion and up to a point, be governed by the system.”12 None of this should be taken to suggest—let me emphasize again—that authorial intentions are wholly irrelevant or even subject to a large discount when it comes to the business of deconstructing this or that text. Rather, it is a question—in the more familiar analytic parlance—of distinguishing “utterer’s meaning” from “linguistic meaning,” or what a speaker intends to convey by some particular form of words in some particular context of utterance from those background norms (semantic, syntactic, pragmatic, etc.) which determine what their utterance standardly means according to shared linguistic criteria.13 What is distinctive about Derrida’s approach is the fact that he reverses the usual order of priority whereby it is assumed that utterer’s meaning can always trump linguistic meaning if the speaker must be taken to intend something different from the standard or default interpretation. (For an extreme version of this

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argument, see Davidson 1986; also my dissenting commentary in Norris 1997.) On the contrary, Derrida maintains: although it is always possible for speakers (or writers) to express more than could ever be grasped on a purely “linguistic” construal, still there is a need to remark those counterinstances where logic countermands any straightforward ascription of utterer’s intent, or where analysis reveals a certain noncoincidence of authorial meaning and linguistic (logico-semantic) sense. Such is the case with Rousseau’s usage of the term “supplement,” a usage that cannot be reduced to the order of univocal meaning or intent and which thus holds out against any attempt to close or to reconcile this conflict of interpretations. That is to say, it has to function both in a privative, derogatory sense (“supplement” = that which subtracts and corrupts under the guise of adding and improving) and also—despite Rousseau’s intention—in the positive sense: “supplement” = that which fills a lack or makes good an existing defect. And this is a matter, Derrida writes, “of Rousseau’s situation within the language and the logic that assures to this word or this concept sufficiently surprising resources so that the presumed subject of the sentence might always say, through using the ‘supplement,’ more, less, or something other than he would mean [voudrait dire].”14 What is “surprising”—in the root etymological sense—about this logic of supplementarity is the way that it overtakes authorial intentions and twists them around, so to speak, through a kind of involuntary reversal that leaves Rousseau strictly incapable of meaning what he says or saying what he means. No doubt it is the case that “Rousseau would like to separate originarity from supplementarity,” and indeed that “all the rights constituted by our logos are on his side,” since surely “it is unthinkable and intolerable that what has the name origin should be no more than a point situated within the system of supplementarity.”15 Yet this system (or logic) cannot be ignored if one is to take account of the objections that rise against Rousseau’s thesis by his own admission elsewhere and which constitute a standing refutation of his claims with respect to the order of priorities between nature and culture, speech and writing, origin and supplement. For in each case, the latter term can be seen to “wrench language from its condition of origin, from its conditional or its future of origin, from that which it must (ought to) have been and what it has never been; it could only have been born by suspending its relation to all origin.”16 Which is also to say—if one reads Rousseau with sufficient logical care—that “[i]ts history is that of the supplement of (from) origin: of the originary substitute and the substitute of the origin” (ibid). And this is not just a kind of willful paradox-mongering on Derrida’s part but a conclusion arrived at (as I seek to show here) through textual exegesis and logical analysis of the highest, most rigorous order.

Langue ou parole: What counts as “language”? At any rate, Derrida’s main thesis with regard to the conditions of possibility for language is one that would most likely be endorsed by many analytic philosophers. What it amounts to is a version of the argument advanced by (among others) Donald Davidson: that in order for anything to count as a “language,” it must possess certain minimal features that permit it to function in a strictly nondenumerable range of


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expressive-communicative roles.17 Of course, there are significant differences between Derrida and Davidson when it comes to specifying just what those features are or just what constitutes the threshold point beyond which language—as opposed to some proto-“language” of the passions—may properly be said to exist. For Derrida, this issue is posed very much against the background of mainly French debates, from Rousseau to Saussure, about the relative priority of langue and parole, or language-as-system (the object of study for structuralist linguistics) and language as produced by individual speakers in particular contexts of utterance.18 This in turn gives rise to the paradox— or the chicken-and-egg conundrum—that language (la langue) must already have existed in order for those individual speech-acts to possess any proper, linguistically communicable sense even though it is hard to conceive how langue could ever have developed except through the gradual codification of individual speech-acts or items of parole. Thus, Derrida’s interest is chiefly in the way that a thinker like Rousseau attempts to resolve the paradox in favor of a speech-based account even though this involves the projection of a mythic “original language” which must either have been no language at all or else have been marked by those very same traits (articulation, structure, difference, hierarchy) which supposedly belong only to language in its “civilized” (decadent) state. As a result, when Derrida specifies the minimal conditions for what counts as a language, he does so in broadly Saussurean terms which depict Rousseau as a kind of proto-structuralist malgré lui, one whose intermittent grasp of those conditions compelled him to question the very possibility that language might once have existed in any such natural, innocent, or prelapsarian state. From which it follows—on Derrida’s account—that the structures concerned are primarily those which form the basis of Saussurean linguistic theory, that is to say, structures having to do with the various systemic and contrastive relationships that constitute la langue at the phonetic and semantic level. For Davidson, conversely, the prerequisite features of language are those various logico-syntactic attributes—negation, conjunction, and disjunction along with the quantifiers and sentential connectives—which can plausibly be argued to provide a common basis for interlingual translation.19 This reflects his primary concern to explain how such translation (or mutual understanding) can indeed take place despite the arguments for radical incommensurability mounted by paradigm-relativists of sundry persuasion such as Quine 1961, Kuhn 1970, Feyerabend 1975, and Whorf 1956.20 Where these thinkers go wrong—Davidson argues—is in being decidedly overimpressed by the evidence that different languages (or language communities) operate with different semantic fields and underimpressed by the extent of those shared structural features that languages must possess if they are to function effectively as a means of communication. This is why, as he puts it, syntax is so much more “sociable” than semantics, namely through its offering grounds for the assurance that reliable translation can indeed occur despite and across those divergences of “conceptual scheme” that would otherwise render it impossible. So it is natural enough—given this agenda—that Davidson should place maximum stress on the logical connectives and allied functions rather than the structural-semantic aspects of language that tend to predominate in Derrida’s approach.

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All the same—as I have said—their thinking has more in common than might appear from this face-value characterization. For with Derrida also the main point of interest is not so much the ambiguity (or semantic overdetermination) of a word like “supplement” in isolated instances of usage but rather the logic of supplementarity as revealed through a mode of conceptual exegesis that scarcely conforms to accepted models of textual or thematic exegesis. Indeed, there is a somewhat comical footnote in Of Grammatology21 where he cites Rousseau on the supposed fact that “the Arabs have more than a thousand words for camel and more than a hundred for sword, etc.,” just as the semantical case for paradigm relativism makes much of the fact that the language of certain nomadic farmers picks out manifold shades of “green,” or that Eskimo language has many different words for “white.” All the same, as Davidson sensibly remarks, Whorf makes a pretty good job of describing in English what it is like to inhabit the conceptual scheme of cultures very different from ours, just as Kuhn makes a fair shot at describing the worldview of pre-Copernican astronomy or the thinking of physicists before Galileo and chemists before Lavoisier.22 What enables them to do so—despite and against their skeptical-relativist principles—is the existence of certain basic regularities (like the logical constants) that must be at work in any such process of interlingual or interparadigm translation. So likewise, when Derrida talks of the “logic proper to Rousseau’s discourse,” he is not referring only to certain blind spots of logical contradiction in Rousseau’s text or to the kind of paradoxical pseudologic that literary critics often treat as a hallmark of poetic value.23 Still less is he suggesting— as Nietzsche and some deconstructionists would have it—that the ground rules of classical logic (such as bivalence or excluded middle) are in truth nothing more than illusory constraints that can always be subverted by a reading that demonstrates their merely persuasive (i.e., rhetorical) character.24 Rather, his point is that Rousseau’s discourse exemplifies a form of deviant, “classically” unthinkable, but nonetheless rigorous logic which cannot be grasped except on condition—as Derrida declares in his response to Searle—that one attempts so far as possible to read his texts in accordance with those strictly indispensable ground rules. Learning to identify the deviant logic at work in certain types of discourse surely plays a major part in the social role and the pedagogic function of that “unconditional university” that Derrida deemed so essential to the workings of a genuine as opposed to a partial, limited, or—to bring this message even nearer home—media-manipulated (pseudo-)democracy. If philosophy as a discipline can cultivate such modes of thought, and thereby hone its students’ ability to deconstruct (i.e., analyze and criticize) the discourses and institutions that dominate their culture, then it must surely count as an integral part of the liberal arts education so urgently needed in Western societies today. Informed by a range of exemplary Derridean interventions, philosophy is uniquely able to provide a bastion of principled yet tough-minded since keenly analytical resistance to the sundry private-commercial interests that threaten to infiltrate the university and overtake society at large. For as the late Bill Readings reminds us, in a globalizing economy “the question of value becomes more significant than ever” since “holding open the question of value is a way of holding open a capacity to imagine the social otherwise.”25


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This is why Derrida, like Davidson, rejects any theory that would treat semantics as prior to logic, or issues of meaning as prior to issues concerning the various logical functions that enable speakers to communicate reliably across otherwise large differences of linguistic or cultural context. Of course, this goes against the dominant idea—among hostile and friendly commentators alike—that Derrida is out to deny the very possibility of reliable communication, or at least any prospect that it might be based on trans-contextual regularities and constants of the kind that early Davidson seeks to establish. I say “early Davidson” in order to distinguish the truth-based, logically grounded approach that he once developed with a view to countering Quinean, Kuhnian, and other versions of the conceptual scheme-relativist argument from the strikingly different (indeed, flatly incompatible) line of thought pursued in his later essay “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs” (1986). Here, Davidson famously proposes that “there is no such thing as a language,” if by “language” we mean something like the notional object of theoretical linguistics, philosophical semantics, transformationalgenerative grammar, or any such attempt to describe or explain what underlies and makes possible our various kinds of linguistic-interpretive-communicative grasp. Thus, according to Davidson’s “minimalist” view, we most often get along in figuring out people’s meanings and intentions through an ad hoc mixture of “luck, wit and wisdom,” that is to say, through a socially acquired knack for responding to various context-specific cues and clues, rather than working on a “prior theory” that would somehow provide an advance specification of what it takes to interpret them correctly. This goes along with a generalized version of the Davidsonian “principle of charity” which requires nothing more than our predisposed willingness to “bring them out right”—or interpret them as saying something relevant and meaningful—even where they misspeak themselves, use the wrong expression, or utter some piece of (apparent) nonsense. Since we do this all the time—and manifest a striking degree of tolerance for verbal aberrations of just that kind—then surely it must indicate something important about what goes on in the everyday business of understanding others and getting them to understand us. Davidson’s main example here is that of malapropism, as in the title of his essay which is taken from Sheridan’s play “The Rivals” and alludes to Mrs. Malaprop’s comical penchant for mixing up her words, for example, saying “a nice derangement of epitaphs” when what she means—and what the audience knows she means—is “a nice arrangement of epithets.” However, this optimizing strategy is by no means confined to such extreme (pathological) cases or to speech-acts, like hers, where there is simply no connection between utterer’s meaning and the sense of their utterance as given by a dictionary or survey of standard lexico-grammatical usage. For—as Davidson argues— it is a strategy everywhere involved in our capacity to interpret novel utterances, fresh turns of phrase, metaphors, ironies, oblique implications, and even the most familiar items of language when these occur (as they always do) in new or at any rate slightly unfamiliar contexts. So linguistic competence is much more a matter of pragmatic adjustment, intuitive guesswork, and localized (context-sensitive) uptake than of applying a set of interpretive rules that would somehow—impossibly—determine in advance what should or should not be counted a meaningful, well-formed, or relevant usage. Hence Davidson’s idea that “prior theories,” though playing some minimal role

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in this process, are largely irrelevant when it comes to interpreting particular speechacts in particular contexts of utterance. What we chiefly rely on here is the kind of “passing theory”—or informed guess as to what the speaker most likely intends to convey—that works well enough for such one-off applications but which has to be revised (or abandoned altogether) as soon as we are faced with a different speaker or the same speaker in a different context. Thus, we don’t get much help—if any at all—from our generalized competence as language-users, at least if this “competence” is taken to involve the interpreter’s possession of a prior theory (an innate or acquired grasp of meanings, structures, grammatical rules, and so forth) which by very definition fails to provide the relevant sorts of guidance. For there are, according to Davidson, “no rules for arriving at passing theories, no rules in any strict sense, as opposed to rough maxims.”26 On his view “the asymptote of agreement and understanding is where passing theories coincide,” and if we want to explain this in terms of two people “having the same language,” then we shall need to qualify the claim by saying “that they tend to converge on passing theories.”27 In which case it follows that “degree or relative frequency of convergence [is] a measure of similarity of language.”28 So in the end there is no difference—or none that really counts in philosophical or linguistic-theoretical terms—between “knowing a language” and “knowing our way around in the world generally.” Both come down to our practical savvy, our “wit, luck and wisdom” in judging situations, and—what amounts to the same thing—our readiness to junk any prior theory that doesn’t fit the case in hand. By the same token linguists and philosophers are getting things backto-front when they try to produce some generalized (noncontext-specific) account of the rules, regularities, semantic structures, generative mechanisms, or whatever, that supposedly subtend and explain our powers of everyday linguistic-communicative grasp. Such theories miss the point when it comes to describing how people actually manage to do things with words just as those people would themselves miss the point—fail to get their meanings across or understand what was said to them—if indeed they were wholly or largely reliant on the kinds of linguistic competence the theories purport to describe. So any project of this sort must inevitably fail “for the same reasons the more complete and specific prior theories fail: none of them satisfies the demand for a description of the ability that speaker and interpreter share and that is adequate to interpretation.”29 I have taken this rather lengthy detour via Davidson’s “A Nice Derangement” because it has struck some exegetes as adopting an approach to issues of language, meaning, and interpretation which invites comparison with Derrida’s work, in particular his deconstructive reading of Austin in “Signature Event Context.”30 What these thinkers have in common, so the argument goes, is (1) an emphasis on the capacity of speech-acts to function across a vast (unpredictable and unspecifiable) range of communicative contexts; (2) the rejection of any theory that would claim to establish normative criteria for deciding in advance just which kinds of speech-act are meaningful, valid, or appropriate in just which kinds of context; and (3)—resulting from this—a “minimalist-semantic” conception of meaning which strives so far as possible to avoid all dependence on prior theories of whatever type. Thus, according to one of these commentators,


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts [i]f a sentence can be put to any use, and if its meaning does not restrict its use in any way, and it retains the same meaning in the context of those multiple uses; or if a sign can always be removed from its context and grafted into another context and its identity as a sign does not hamper its functioning as that sign in those new contexts; then we had better posit only the minimum required semantically to constitute that sentence or that sign as that unit of language.31

For Derrida, this involves the notion of “iterability” as that which enables speechacts, written marks, or other such linguistic tokens to be cited (“grafted”) from one context to the next while avoiding any more specific appeal to identity-conditions or criteria for deciding what shall count as an appropriate or relevantly similar context.32 For Davidson, as we have seen, it takes the form of a basically pragmatist approach according to which “passing theories” (or ad hoc adjustments) are the best we can reasonably hope for since they alone offer any prospect of achieving some measure of convergence between utterer’s intent and communicative uptake. Hence the idea that Davidson and Derrida are likewise converging—albeit from different angles—on a kind of interpretive theory to end all theories, or a minimalist conception that finds no room for more substantive specifications of meaning or context. It seems to me that this proposal gets Derrida wrong on certain crucial points and that his readings of Austin and Rousseau (among others) have more in common with the “early” Davidson position than with that advanced in “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs.”33 That is to say, what Derrida shares with early Davidson is the belief that interpretation cannot even make a start except on the premise that linguistic understanding is primarily a matter of the logical resources that alone make it possible for speech-acts or texts to communicate across otherwise unbridgeable differences of language, culture, social context, background presupposition, and so forth. Early Davidson sets these conditions out in the form of a Tarskian (truth-based) formal semantics which—as he argues—can then be extended to natural languages by way of those various logical constants in the absence of which they would fail to qualify as “languages,” properly speaking. In which case there is no making sense of the Quinean, Kuhnian, or Whorfian claim that since “conceptual schemes” (semantically construed) vary so widely across different languages or cultures, therefore translation from one to another is strictly impossible, or at best a matter of approximate convergence for practical purposes. After all, as Davidson pointedly remarks, “Whorf, wanting to demonstrate that Hopi incorporates a metaphysics so alien to ours that Hopi and English cannot, as he puts it ‘be calibrated,’ uses English to convey the contents of sample Hopi sentences.”34 The same goes for Quine’s across-the-board talk of “ontological relativity” and Kuhn’s idea that scientific revolutions bring about such a wholesale paradigm-shift that there is simply no room for comparing different theories in point of truth, explanatory power, or predictive warrant. Where the error comes in, so Davidson maintains, is through these thinkers’ shared tendency to promote issues of semantics—the fact that various languages differ in their range of lexical or descriptive resources—over issues concerning the elements of logical structure that all languages must have in common in order to qualify as such. Thus, “what forms the skeleton of what we call a language is the pattern of inference and structure created by the logical constants: the sentential connectives, quantifiers, and devices for cross-reference.”35

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All of this seems to go pretty much by the board when later Davidson advances his claim that “there is no such thing as a language” and puts the case for regarding “prior theories”—among them (presumably) truth-based logico-semantic theories of just this type—as more or less redundant when it comes to the business of figuring out what speakers mean in particular contexts of utterance. One way of bringing this lesson home—he suggests—“is to reflect on the fact that an interpreter must be expected to have different prior theories for different speakers—not as different, usually, as his passing theories; but these are matters that depend on how well the interpreter knows his speaker.”36 In which case clearly the role of prior theories must be thought of as “vanishingly small,” or as subject to revision—or outright abandonment—whenever we encounter some speech-act that fails to make sense (or which yields an aberrant interpretation) on our currently accepted prior theory. What this amounts to is a massive extension of the early-Davidson “principle of charity” which now requires not that we maximize the truth-content of sample utterances by construing their sense in accordance with shared (presumptively rational) standards of accountability but rather that we simply ignore or discount the linguistic meaning of any utterance that doesn’t make sense by our best interpretive lights. For if indeed there is “no word or construction that cannot be converted to a new use by an ingenious or ignorant speaker” (vide Mrs. Malapop), and if linguistic uptake can amount to no more than “the ability to converge on a passing theory from time to time,” then surely it follows that “we have abandoned . . . the ordinary notion of a language.”37 But this is no great loss, Davidson thinks, since we can get along perfectly well by applying the extended principle of charity plus those elements of “luck, wit and wisdom” that always play a part in our everyday dealings with language and the world. So one can see why some theorists (or antitheorists) have perceived a striking resemblance between late Davidson’s “minimalist-semantic” approach and Derrida’s idea of “iterability” as the best—least semantically burdened—account of how speechacts or textual inscriptions can function across an open-ended range of possible contexts while somehow retaining just sufficient in the way of identity criteria from one such context to the next. However, as I have said, this resemblance turns out to have sharp limits if one looks in more detail at Derrida’s readings of Austin, Rousseau, and others. For it then becomes apparent that he, like early Davidson, places more emphasis on the logical components of linguistic understanding—the connectives, quantifiers, devices for cross-reference, etc.—as opposed to the kinds of primarily semantic consideration that lead thinkers like Quine, Kuhn, and Whorf to raise large problems about interlingual translation or cross-paradigm understanding. To be sure, Derrida’s “logic of supplementarity” is one that might itself be thought to raise similar problems for any attempt—like early Davidson’s—to resist the force of such skeptical arguments. Thus it does, undeniably, complicate our sense of the relationship between what Rousseau expressly intended to say and what—on a closer, more critical reading— turns out to be the counter-logic at work in various passages of his text. Yet this is not to say either that Rousseau’s intentions must henceforth be counted irrelevant for the purposes of any such reading, nor again that the “logic of supplementarity” precludes our ever grasping the operative concepts that organize Rousseau’s discourse. Rather, it is to say that we can best understand what Rousseau gives us to read through the kind of close-focused textual exegesis that registers precisely those logical tensions and


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moments of aporia which mark the presence of incompatible themes and motifs. And such a reading could not even make a start were it not for the imperative—as Derrida conceives it—of applying the ground rules of classical (bivalent) logic right up to the point where those principles encounter some obstacle or check to their consistent application.

“In the beginning was (wasn’t) song”: Deconstruction and paraconsistent logic I must now give substance to these general claims by examining a number of extended passages from Of Grammatology where Derrida spells out exactly what is involved in this logic of supplementarity. One has to do with the origins, nature, and historical development of music, a subject that greatly preoccupied Rousseau and which called forth some typically complex sequences of assertion and counter-assertion. What Rousseau explicitly says about music is very much what one might expect him to say, given his general view that the “progress” of civilization has been everywhere marked by a falling-away from the innocence of origins and a decadent resort to the kinds of “supplementary” device that typify latter-day European culture and language. So the story that Rousseau chooses to tell is one in which music at first took rise from a spontaneous expression of the feelings which as yet had no need for merely decorous conventions or for supplements—such as harmony or counterpoint—whose advent signalled a thenceforth inevitable process of long-term decline. “If music awakens in song, if it is initially uttered, vociferated, it is because, like all speech, it is born in passion; that is to say, in the transgression of need by desire and the awakening of pity by imagination.”38 Indeed, music and spoken language have their shared point of origin in a kind of prearticulate speech-song that would have served to communicate all those genuine emotions—prototypically, that of “pity,” or compassion—which set human beings apart from the other animals and must therefore be taken to have marked the emergence of human society from a presocial state of nature. Moreover, just as spoken language began to degenerate with the development of grammar, articulation, and other such gratuitous “supplements,” so music acquired those disfiguring features that Rousseau identifies with the predominant French styles and conventions of his time. Here again, he makes a partial exception of the Italian and other Southern-European musical cultures where melody has retained at least something of its primacy as an authentic language of the passions, and where music has not yet gone so far down the path toward harmonic-contrapuntal decadence. But, in general, the process has been one of progressive corruption which reflects—for Rousseau—the wider predicament of a culture whose ever more complex forms of social and political organization are likewise to be seen as so many symptoms of the same chronic malaise. What is more, this unnatural degenerative process finds an analog in the way that writing—or the graphic “supplement” to speech—comes to exercise an altogether bad and corrupting influence on the development of language in general and especially those languages that count themselves the most “advanced” or “civilized.” For “if supplementarity is a necessarily indefinite process,” then

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writing is the supplement par excellence since it marks the place where the supplement proposes itself as supplement of supplement, sign of sign, taking the place of a speech already significant; it displaces the proper place of the sentence, the unique time of the sentence pronounced hic et nunc by an irreplaceable subject, and in turn innervates the voice. It marks the place of the initial doubling.39

Thus writing takes on for Rousseau the full range of pejorative associations—artifice, conventionality, removal from the sphere of authentic (face-to-face) communication— which Derrida brings out in a great many texts of the Western logocentric tradition from Plato to Husserl, Saussure, and Lévi-Strauss.40 At its most straightforward the link between harmony (or counterpoint) and writing is simply the fact that whereas melodies can be learned—or got “by heart”—without any need for graphic notation in the form of a musical score, this becomes more difficult—and finally impossible—as music acquires harmonic complications beyond the unaided mnemonic capacity of even the best-trained musicians. However, the connection goes deeper than this and involves all those above-mentioned negative attributes or predicates which mark the term “writing” as it figures in Rousseau’s discourse. Thus, according to Rousseau, it was once the case—and would still be the case had language and music not taken this “disastrous” wrong turn—that the human passions were fully expressed in a kind of emotionally heightened speech-song that communicated straight from heart to heart and which had no need for such supplementary adjuncts as articulation, grammatical structure, writing, harmony, musical notation, or the “calculus of intervals.” These latter he thinks of as having somehow befallen language and music through an accident of “progress” that need not—should not—have happened yet which also (by a certain perverse compulsion) marked their development from the outset. This is why, as Derrida shows, Rousseau’s language is itself subject to extreme complexities of modal and temporal articulation whenever it broaches the issue of priority between nature and culture, speech and writing, melody and harmony, or origin and supplement. In each case what should by all rights have been a self-sufficient entity requiring (or admitting) no such addition turns out—by the logic of Rousseau’s argument—to have harbored a certain incompleteness at source which belies that claim and thus complicates his argument despite and against its manifest intent. This complication first enters at the point where Rousseau attempts to define what it is about passional utterance—speech or song—in its earliest (i.e., most natural, spontaneous) character that nonetheless sets it decisively apart from the expression of animal need. “Everything proceeds from this inaugural distinction: ‘It seems then that need dictated the first gestures, while the passions wrung forth the first words.’ ”41 By the same token music could only have arisen when speech had advanced to the stage of expressing passions—distinctively human passions—as opposed to mere snarls of “anger,” grunts of “contentment,” or other such nonhuman animal noises. Thus “[t]here is no music before language. Music is born of voice and not of sound. No prelinguistic sonority can, according to Rousseau, open the time of music. In the beginning is song.”42 “Song,” that is, in a sense of the term that would include those instances of passional language (or emotionally heightened speech) which had not yet become “music,” properly so called, but would exclude—as Rousseau firmly declares—any


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animal sound (such as birdsong) which lacks the distinctively linguistic attributes of meaning and articulation. “That is why there is no animal music,” as Derrida writes, closely paraphrasing Rousseau. “One speaks of animal music only by looseness of vocabulary and by anthropomorphic projection.”43 Yet in that case one is surely entitled to ask what has now become of Rousseau’s claim that language and music both took rise from a “natural” expression of feelings, emotions, or sentiments which would somehow have remained as yet untouched by the corrupting (“supplementary”) effects of culture or civilized artifice. For there is simply no way that Rousseau can put this case while maintaining the distinction—equally crucial to his argument—between that which belongs to the realm of merely animal pseudo- or proto-“expression” and that which belongs to the human realm of articulate and meaningful language. Thus if the stage of transition from “sounds” or “noises” to language in the proper usage of that term is the point at which culture supervenes upon nature—or the point at which intersubjective feeling takes over from the dictates of animal need—then clearly by the logic of Rousseau’s argument one has to conclude that language could never have existed in any such “natural” (prelinguistic) state. And if the song is indeed, as Rousseau declares, “a kind of modification of the human voice,” then just as clearly “it is difficult to assign it an absolutely characteristic (propre) modality.”44 For it is just those defining or “characteristic” features—of melody, cadence, emotional expressiveness, empathetic power—which Rousseau takes to distinguish song (authentically human song) from the kinds of song-like animal “expression” which possess no genuine claim to that title. The same complication emerges when Rousseau attempts to make good his argument for the “natural” priority of melody over harmony, or the straightforward expression of human sentiments through an unadorned singing line over the various false and artificial embellishments introduced by later composers, among them— preeminently—Rameau and the fashionable French figures of his day. (That Rousseau’s own compositions in a more “natural” Italianate style enjoyed no comparable measure of success is doubtless a fact of some psychological or sociocultural significance but philosophically beside the point.) “Melody being forgotten,” Rousseau laments, and the attention of musicians being completely turned toward harmony, everything gradually came to be governed according to this new object. The genres, the modes, the scale, all received new faces. Harmonic successions came to dictate the sequence of parts. This sequence having usurped the name of melody, it was, in effect, impossible to recognize the traits of its mother in this new melody. And our musical system having thus gradually become purely harmonic, it is not surprising that its oral tone [accent] has suffered, and that our music has lost almost all its energy. Thus we see how singing gradually became an art entirely separate from speech, from which it takes its origin; how the harmonics of sounds resulted in the forgetting of vocal inflections; and finally, how music, restricted to purely physical concurrences of vibrations, found itself deprived of the moral power it had yielded when it was the twofold voice of nature.45

This passage brings out very clearly the logical strains that emerge within Rousseau’s discourse when he attempts to theorize the origins of music and the causes of its subsequent decline. For how can it be thought—consistently maintained—that the

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fateful swerve from melody to harmony (or nature to culture) was something that befell music only by an accident of cultural change and not through its inherent propensity to develop and extend its resources in just that way? After all, on Rousseau’s own submission, the earliest (most natural) stage of musical expression was one already marked by certain characteristics—“the genres, the modes, the scale”—which could only have belonged to that postoriginary (decadent) phase when melody had acquired a range of conventional forms and devices, along with the “supplementary” traits of harmony and counterpoint. Thus, far from having wrongfully “usurped the name” of melody, harmony must rather be conceived as an integral component and defining feature of all melodious utterance, even at the outset—the mythic point of origin— when by rights it should have found absolutely no place in the authentic speech-song of passional language. For has not Rousseau quite explicitly acknowledged that song is in itself and by its very nature “a kind of modification of the human voice?” In which case the “twofold voice of nature”—originary speech and song—would not so much have “suffered” a gradual decline and a process of increasing “separation” that deprived it of its “moral power” but would rather have taken the course that it did through a natural development of harmonic resources that were always already present at the earliest stage of melodic expression. Again, how could it have been that “the harmonics of sounds resulted in the forgetting of vocal inflections?” For, according to Rousseau, those inflections originally came about through a certain harmonic modification of the human voice that marked the transition from a realm of animal noises (such as birdsong) provoked by nothing more than physical need to a realm of humanly significant passional utterance. To the extent that “music presupposes voice, it comes into being at the same time as human society. As speech, it requires that the other be present to me as other through compassion. Animals, whose pity is not awakened by the imagination, have no affinity with the other as such.”46 Such feelings should have characterized the earliest stage of musical development, a stage (more properly) when “development” had not yet occurred and when there was—as yet—no room for the “desolating” split between nature and culture (or melody and harmony) which wrenched music from its otherwise preordained natural path. Yet it is impossible to ignore the counter-logic that runs athwart Rousseau’s professed statements of intent and compels him to acknowledge— not without “embarrassment”—the fact that this split must already have occurred by the time that music was able to express even the most basic of human feelings and emotions. Rousseau strives to avoid this self-contradictory upshot by specifying just how the accident befell and by means of what alien, parasitic device harmony managed to substitute itself for the melody of living song. It is the musical interval, he thinks, that must be blamed for having thus opened the way to all manner of subsequent abuses. For the interval brings with it an element of “spacing,” a differential relationship between tones which disrupts the otherwise self-sufficient character of melody by introducing an unwanted harmonic dimension that breaches the original (natural) unity of speech and song. Such is at any rate what Rousseau wishes to say: that the interval obtrudes as a bad supplement, an accidental perversion of music, or a source of harmonic conflicts and tensions that should never have befallen the development of music had


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it only remained true to its original (purely melodic) vocation. And he does indeed say just that in a number of passages—cited by Derrida—where the emphasis falls on this unnatural, perverse, and above all accidental character of harmony as that which can only have impinged upon melody as a threat from outside its original (proper) domain. Yet there are other, symptomatically revealing passages where Rousseau is constrained to say just the opposite, namely that harmony is and was always implicit in melody, since the interval—or the differential “spacing” of tones—is something which enters into all conceivable forms of musical expression, even those (such as monody, folk-song, or “primitive” chant) that on the face of it haven’t yet arrived at the stage of multivocal harmony or counterpoint. For in these cases also it is a fact of acoustics as well as a subjectively verifiable truth about the phenomenology of musical perception that we don’t hear only the bare, unaccompanied melodic line. Rather that line is perceived as carrying along with it an additional range of harmonic overtones and relationships in the absence of which we should simply not perceive it as possessing the distinctive melodic traits of contour, cadence, modal inflection, intervallic structure, and so forth. Hence—to repeat—that curious “logic of supplementarity” which brings it about that what should have been original, self-sufficient, and exempt from addition turns out to harbor a certain lack that can only be supplied by conceding its dependence on some “accident” of culture or history which should never have occurred in the natural course of things. However this logic is no less rigorous—and Derrida’s reading likewise—for the fact that Rousseau is compelled to articulate some “classically” unthinkable conjunctions of claim and counterclaim with regard to these strictly undecidable issues of priority between nature and culture, speech and writing, melody and harmony, etc. To be sure, when his commentary comes closest to a paraphrase of Rousseau’s arguments then this requires some highly complex—at times even tortuous— deviations from classical logic, deviations that typically involve the recourse to modal or tensed constructions which strain the limits of intelligibility and often lean over into downright paradox. Thus, for instance (to repeat): the “supplementary” character of articulation is that which “wrenches language from its condition of origin, from its conditional or future of origin, from that which it must (ought to) have been and what it has never been; it could only have been born by suspending its relation to all origin.”47 In such passages, Derrida is, no doubt, pressing beyond any order of statement that might be acceptable in terms of those various modal or tense-logics that philosophers have lately proposed by way of extending and refining the resources of the first-order propositional and predicate calculus.48 However, it should also be clear that he does so precisely in order to reveal the kinds of paradox and illogicality that result when Rousseau attempts to make good his case for there once having existed a proto-language devoid of those necessary (language-constitutive) features which must have been already in place for the transition to occur from the realm of prearticulate (merely “animal”) sounds. Granted, Rousseau “wants us to think of this movement as an accident.”49 Yet despite his intentions, Rousseau “describes it . . . in its originary necessity,” that is to say, as a “natural progress” which “does not come unexpectedly” on the origins of spontaneous, passionate speech-song but which must be there from the very first moment when language arrives on the scene.

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I hope to have communicated something of the way in which Derrida’s commentary pursues the twists and turns of Rousseau’s argument by citing passages that directly contradict his thesis and thereby expose the “supplementary” logic that structures his entire discourse on the origins of language and music. As direct quotation gives way to paraphrase and paraphrase, in turn, to a detailed analysis of Rousseau’s discourse and its various complexities of tense, logic, and modal implication so Derrida’s reasoning can be seen to maintain a clearly marked distance from the text in hand, or from anything like a straightforward proposal that the exegete endorses this logic of supplementarity as a substitute for “classical” concepts. Indeed, it can be seen that Derrida necessarily deploys those concepts by way of showing how Rousseau’s discourse is compelled to undergo such “supplementary” swerves from manifest or overt expressive intent in order to avoid more blatant instances of self-contradiction and thereby preserve at least some semblance of coherent sense. So commentators like Priest (1995) are right to find something of interest here for theorists of deviant, many-valued, or paraconsistent logic but wrong to suppose that Derrida’s exposition of Rousseau should be taken as a straightforward recommendation that we adopt the logic of supplementarity as another such alternative to classical norms. Rather, it is a mode of paradoxical pseudo-logic that is forced upon Rousseau by those false premises which cannot but generate aporias or contradictions once subject to a reading that calls them to account in rigorous (bivalent or classically consistent) terms. Thus where Rousseau claims to measure the degree of “deviation” that separates civilized (articulate) language and music from their presumed “natural” origin, Derrida estimates the “deviant” character of Rousseau’s discourse precisely by its ultimate failure to redeem that claim and its need to adopt such exiguous logical (or quasilogical) resources in the effort to sustain its strictly unthinkable thesis. At any rate it is clear from a careful reading of the above passage that Derrida is applying standards of consistency and truth which place his commentary decidedly at odds with the manifest purport of Rousseau’s argument and which construe that argument in deconstructive (i.e., critical-diagnostic) rather than purely exegetical terms. This aspect of deconstruction is one chief reason why the discipline of philosophy is so essential to the liberal arts, and why the liberal arts, in turn, contribute so essentially to the unconditional university within a legitimate or properly functioning democracy.

When “harmony wears the trousers”: Abduction, inference, and retro-reasoning Thus, Derrida’s approach to the philosophy of logic is in this respect more conservative—or classical—than that of empirically minded logical revisionists like Quine or antirealists, such as Michael Dummett, who would renounce bivalence or excluded middle whenever it is a question of statements that lack any determinate proof-procedure or means of verification.50 In their case, the willingness to revise logic is more a matter of foregone philosophical commitment, even if Quine takes it as something that might be forced upon us by certain empirical discoveries in physics (such as wave/particle dualism) and Dummett is led to suspend bivalence chiefly on account of his intuitionist, that is, nonclassical and antirealist approach to issues in the philosophy of mathematics.51 Still both thinkers may with justice be said to incline very


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strongly in this direction and to do so for reasons which—although different—involve a predisposed readiness to give up the principles of classical logic. For Derrida, those principles hold as a matter of strict necessity right up to the point where it can actually be shown—on the textual evidence to hand—that they encounter some obstacle which leaves no alternative except to “transform” or “complicate” the logic that assigns truthvalues to a given statement. Indeed, I would claim that Derrida’s exposition of the “logic of supplementarity” as it emerges through his reading of Rousseau is in this respect more rigorously argued and more responsive to the demonstrable need for such analysis than either Quine’s somewhat speculative arguments based on just one possible interpretation of the quantum phenomena or Dummett’s highly contentious understanding of the scope and limits of mathematical knowledge. Thus, it has to do not only with certain curious blind spots or logical anomalies in Rousseau’s text but also with the plain impossibility that things could ever have been as Rousseau describes them, for example, as concerns the absolute priority of melody over harmony in music or of a natural “language of the passions” over all those mere “supplementary” devices—articulation, grammar, structural traits of whatever kind—that supposedly signaled the onset of linguistic and cultural decline. For there is simply no conceiving that idyllic phase when speech would have lacked those same language-constitutive features yet would still have been a “language” in the sense of that term which Rousseau elsewhere (in his more theoretical, even proto-structuralist moments) considers to mark the stage of transition from animal noise to human speech. That this impossibility is found to emerge through a meticulously argued reading of Rousseau should lead us to conclude that the aporias in question are not so much products of “textualist” ingenuity on Derrida’s part but rather have to do with certain empirically warranted and theoretically ascertainable truths about language. Thus, as I have said, his approach falls square with an argument like “early” Davidson’s concerning the minimal range of necessary attributes—quantifiers, devices for negation, conjunction, disjunction, anaphora, cross-reference, etc.—that any language surely must possess if it is to function effectively as a language, rather than a means of vaguely emotive pseudo-communication.52 So the Derridean “logic of supplementarity” has this much in common with other, more “classical” modes of logic: that while laying claim to its own kind of formal rigor and validity-conditions, it must also correspond to the way things stand with respect to some given subject-domain or specific area of discourse. That is to say, when Derrida finds Rousseau obliquely conceding (despite his declarations elsewhere) that “harmony is the originary supplement of melody,” or that melody could never have existed in a state of pure preharmonic grace, this has implications not only for philosophy of logic but also for our thinking about music and the history of music. For indeed it is the case—empirically so, as a matter of acoustics and the overtone-series, and phenomenologically speaking, as concerns the ubiquitous role of harmony in our perceptions of melodic contour—that what ought (for Rousseau) to figure as a mere “supplement” turns out to be the very condition of possibility for music and musical experience in general. There is a sense in which Rousseau acknowledges this—recognizes it to follow from the basic principles of acoustics and music-theory—but also a sense in which he

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constantly endeavors to deny or repress that knowledge. For “Rousseau never makes explicit the originarity of the lack that makes necessary the addition of the supplement— the quantity and the differences of quantity that always already shape melody. He does not make it explicit, or rather he says it without saying it, in an oblique and clandestine manner.”53 And again: “Rousseau wishes to restore a natural degree of art within which chromatics, harmonics, and interval would be unknown. He wishes to efface what he had . . . already recognised, that there is harmony within melody, etc. But the origin must (should) have been (such is, here and elsewhere, the grammar and the lexicon of the relationship to origin) pure melody.”54 That Rousseau is unable to sustain this thesis against certain powerful objections that arise from the logic of his own discourse is a fact that should interest logicians as much as musicologists and cultural historians. For it offers a striking example of the way that complications which develop in the course of arguing from (apparently) self-evident premises to (apparently) sound conclusions can introduce doubt as to whether those premises are indeed self-evident or those conclusions warranted by anything more than strength of doctrinal attachment. This emerges very clearly from certain passages in Rousseau’s writing on the theory of music where he effectively concedes as much through a curious reversal of the very terms— or the order of priority between them—which bear the whole weight of his argument. Thus: “harmony would be very difficult to distinguish from melody, unless one adds to the latter the ideas of rhythm and measure, without which, in effect, no melody can have a determined character; whereas harmony has its own by itself, independent of every other quality.”55 But in that case—as Austin might have said—it is harmony that “wears the trousers” with respect to this conceptual opposition and melody that lacks the self-sufficient expressive resources which would enable it to manage perfectly well without the “supplement” of harmony. This I take to be the single most distinctive feature of the “logic of supplementarity” as Derrida expounds it through his reading of Rousseau. That is to say, it is an exception to the general rule which requires that we distinguish logical validity from argumentative soundness, or the question what counts as a case of formally valid inference from any question concerning the truth of premises or of conclusions drawn from them. In this respect, the logic of supplementarity has more in common with certain kinds of abductive reasoning—or inference to the best explanation—than with classical (e.g., deductive) schemas of truth-preservation.56 Abduction is essentially a mode of inference that reasons backward (so to speak) from whatever we possess in the way of empirical evidence to whatever best explains or accounts for that same evidence. In so doing, it allows for the standing possibility that premises may be confirmed, infirmed, strengthened, or indeed discovered through just such well-tried methods of reasoning, especially in the physical sciences. It is therefore a process of rational conjecture which involves the application of standard principles—such as bivalence and excluded middle—but which deploys them in a nonstandard way so as to extend the resources of logic beyond its classical limits. Among other things this provides an answer to the “paradox of analysis,” or the claim that since deductive logic comes down to a matter of purely definitional (analytic) truth, therefore its conclusions must always be contained in its premises and hence be


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incapable of making any new or substantive contribution to knowledge.57 The paradox received its classic statement in the following passage from C. H. Langford’s essay “The Notion of Analysis in Moore’s Philosophy.” Let us call what is to be analyzed the analysandum, and let us call that which does the analysing the analysans. The analysis then states an appropriate relation of equivalence between the analysandum and the analysans. And the paradox of analysis is to the effect that, if the verbal expression representing the analysandum has the same meaning as the verbal expression representing the analysans, the analysis states a bare identity and is trivial; but if the two verbal expressions do not have the same meaning, the analysis is incorrect.58

The approach via inference to the best explanation gets around this seeming paradox by maintaining (1) that abductive logic can provide grounds for a nontautological (ampliative) process of knowledge-acquisition and (2) that this process is perfectly consistent with an application of classical precepts such as bivalence and excluded middle. That is to say, it rejects any Quinean empiricist recourse to across-the-board logical revisability—or any Dummett-type antirealist proposal to suspend those classical precepts—while nonetheless extending the scope of valid inference well beyond the highly restrictive terms laid down by a hard-line deductive-nomological conception of valid reasoning. It may well be objected that arguments of this sort have their place in philosophy of science and other empirically oriented disciplines but not—surely—in the business of textual interpretation where the only “data” are words on the page and where these are subject to entirely different (by which it is implied, less exacting or rigorous) standards of accountability. However, this objection misses the mark if applied to Derrida’s commentary on Rousseau since the operative standards here—as I have argued—are simply not those of “interpretation” in the usual (literarycritical) sense of that term. Rather, they have to do with the evidence of certain logical anomalies that cannot be ignored by a sufficiently attentive reading and which therefore require an abductive revision of various “self-evident” premises—such as the absolute priority of nature over culture, speech over writing, or melody over harmony—whose claim is countermanded by the logic of Rousseau’s discourse. Thus, on his account, there was once (must have been) a time when speech and song had not yet gone their separate ways and when “[a]ccents constituted singing, quantity constituted measure, and one spoke as much by sounds and rhythm as by articulations and words.”59 Yet here already—as Rousseau is constrained to acknowledge—there is simply no conceiving how “accent” is produced (or how languages might be compared in point of their accentual features) unless with regard to differential structures like “quantity,” “measure,” and “articulation.” That is to say, it is impossible for Rousseau to maintain his position concerning the natural priority of melody over harmony without either ignoring these various items of counterevidence or allowing them to twist the logic of his argument against its own avowed or manifest intent. The same applies to Rousseau’s concept of imitation, referring as it does to that which defines the very nature of human sociality—whatever lifts music and language beyond the realm of mere animal need—yet  also to that which supposedly inhabits a realm of

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spontaneous (natural) human passion as yet untouched by the disfiguring marks of cultural progress. “Rousseau has need of imitation,” Derrida writes: he advances it as the possibility of song and the emergence out of animality, but he exalts it only as a reproduction adding itself to the represented though it adds nothing, simply supplements it. In that sense he praises art or mimesis as a supplement. But by the same token praise may instantly turn to criticism. Since the supplementary mimesis adds nothing, is it not useless? And if, nevertheless, adding itself to the represented, it is not nothing, is that imitative supplement not dangerous to the integrity of what is represented and to the original purity of nature?60

Thus, “imitation,” like “supplement,” is a term whose logical grammar—whose “syncategorematic” status, to adopt the analytic parlance—is such as to induce an unsettling effect in any context of argument where it purports to establish that certain concepts (like “nature,” “speech,” and “melody”) must take priority over certain others (like “culture,” “writing,” and “harmony”). In Rousseau’s case, what emerges is a sequence of contradictory propositions which cannot be reconciled according to the terms of a classical (bivalent) logic and which therefore require either that this logic be abandoned or that Rousseau abandon his cardinal premise with respect to that supposedly self-evident order of priority. As I read him, Derrida regards the first option as philosophically a nonstarter since it would license any number of revisionist proposals—like the suspension of bivalence or excluded middle—whose effect would be to render thinking altogether devoid of conceptual clarity and precision. Rather what is required, here as in discussions of speech-act theory, is a rigorous deployment of bivalent logic—“a logic of “all or nothing” without which the distinction and the limits of a concept would have no chance”—but one that goes on to reason abductively from certain contradictions in Rousseau’s discourse to the necessity of revising or abandoning Rousseau’s premise.61 Thus, the Derridean “logic of supplementarity” differs from other revisionist programs in its insistence that any change in our thinking can only be warranted—logically justified—when arrived at through a strict application of bivalent (“all or nothing”) criteria. Otherwise, it could offer no adequate grounds for drawing the kinds of conclusion that Derrida draws, that is, that as a matter of logical necessity as well as a matter of empirical fact there cannot be melody without harmony or a language of the passions that is not already marked by those differential features—of accent, tonality, “laws of modulation,” etc.—that belong to a given (however “primitive”) stage of cultural development. And this not merely as an odd, unlooked-for consequence of Rousseau’s obsessional desire to prove just the opposite but rather as a matter of linguistic, historical, and logical necessity.

Mythical origins, the site of supplementarity My point is that Derrida arrives at these claims through a reading of Rousseau that undoubtedly places considerable strain on the precepts of classical (bivalent) logic


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but which is nonetheless obliged to respect those precepts—to follow them so far as possible—since it would otherwise be able to establish nothing concerning the selfcontradictory nature of Rousseau’s thematic premises. Thus, when Derrida notes the emergence of a different, that is, nonclassical or “supplementary” logic in Rousseau’s text, it is only on the basis—as the logical outcome—of applying the axioms of bivalence and excluded middle to certain problematical passages which must then be seen to cast doubt on the coherence of Rousseau’s project. This is why Derrida’s commentary goes out of its way to insist on the strictly unresolvable tensions and logical strains that characterize not only Rousseau’s writings about language, music, history, and social development but also its own best efforts to produce a consistent (noncontradictory) reading of Rousseau. These complications arise at precisely the stage where commentary is obliged—logically compelled—to register the presence of a deep-laid conflict between “implication, nominal presence, and thematic exposition.” They typically take the form of an attempt, on Rousseau’s part, to establish a clear-cut conceptual distinction which should be sufficient to resolve the problem but which then turns out to require yet another distinction, and so on to the point where his argument displays that repeated pattern of substitutive swerves from origin which Derrida terms the “logic of supplementarity.” However, once again, this case would lack any semblance of demonstrative force—of philosophical cogency and rigor—were it not for Derrida’s applying the precepts of classical logic in his own exposition of Rousseau’s text and also his holding that text accountable to standards which cannot be other than those of bivalence and excluded middle. For it is crucial to his argument that any relaxation of those classical criteria will produce a merely “approximative” logic and a blurring of conceptual distinctions whose effect is to render thought incapable of reflecting critically on its own premises or presuppositions. Let me take one further example from Derrida by way of bringing out this requirement that bivalence retains its place even—or especially—where it encounters obstacles such as those thrown up by Rousseau’s discourse on the origins of language and culture. Thus, according to Rousseau, the first societies exhibited a state of natural, harmonious human coexistence that was as yet unmarked by those various differential structures—rank, class, social privilege, delegated power, representative assemblies, and so forth—which only later came to exert their artificial and corrupting social effect. However, it is clear as a matter of conceptual necessity as well as of historical, anthropological, or sociocultural reflection that such structures—in some form or another—must be taken to constitute the very precondition of societal existence. This is why, as Derrida remarks, all attempts to draw a line between “nature” and “culture” while counting some cultures more “natural” than others must at length give rise to the kinds of logical complication that characterize Rousseau’s text. In short, “language is born out of the process of its own degeneration,” a statement that may seem willfully paradoxical but which captures both the curious double-logic of Rousseau’s discourse and the straightforward (conceptually self-evident) truth that there cannot ever have been any language—or any state of social existence—that would meet the requirement of transparent communion in the face-to-face of unmediated mutual understanding.62 Just as language depends on a system of differential structures, contrasts, and relationships so society depends on—cannot be conceived in the absence of—those

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structures which articulate social or cultural distinctions of various kinds. And this applies just as much to that Rousseauist conception of “nature”—a nature supposedly untouched by the ravages of cultural decline—which is yet paradoxically required to do service as a description of how human beings once lived in a state of (what else?) social coexistence under certain distinctively cultural rules and constraints. “All the contradictions of the discourse are regulated, rendered necessary yet unresolved, by this structure of the concept of nature. Before all determinations of a natural law, there is, effectively constraining the discourse, a law of the concept of nature.”63 Hence the difference that Derrida constantly remarks between that which Rousseau expressly wishes to say and that which he is nonetheless compelled to describe by a logic that resists, contradicts, or countermands his avowed meaning. Thus, “Rousseau’s discourse lets itself be constrained by a complexity which always has the form of a supplement of or from the origin. His declared intention is not annulled by this but rather inscribed within a system which it no longer dominates.”64 Moreover, this demonstrable noncoincidence of meaning and intent has implications beyond what it tells us concerning Rousseau’s problematic ideas about the origins of human society. Nor are those implications by any means exhausted when Derrida extends his analysis to other texts—notably by Saussure and Lévi-Strauss—where a range of kindred binary oppositions (nature/culture, speech/writing, authentic passion versus civilized artifice) are likewise subject to a deconstructive reading.65 Rather his case is that Rousseau’s predicament is one that will inevitably mark any discourse on these or related themes beyond a certain stage of conceptual or logico-semantic complexity. That is to say, this particular form of deviant (“supplementary”) logic is certain to emerge whenever it is a question of fixing—or attempting to fix—some notional point of origin for language or society that would not yet partake of the defining traits (articulation, difference, structure, hierarchical relationship, etc.) in the absence of which no language or society could possibly have come into being. Indeed, Derrida remarks, [t]he expression “primitive times,” and all the evidence which will be used to describe them, refer to no date, no event, no chronology. One can vary the facts without modifying the structural invariant. In every possible historical structure, there seemingly would be a prehistoric, presocial, and also prelinguistic stratum, that one ought always to be able to lay bare.66

However, it is precisely Derrida’s point—borne out by the meticulous analysis of passages in Rousseau’s text—that this zero-point of history, society, and language is one that cannot be described or evoked without giving rise to that counter-logic (or logic of logical anomalies) which marks the emergence of supplementarity and hence the nonexistence of anything that answers to Rousseau’s wishful description. So it is wrong—a very definite misreading of Derrida’s work—to suggest that deconstruction is really nothing more than a rhetorical technique for generating textual aporias which has long been the stock-in-trade of literary critics professionally skilled in finding out instances of paradox, ambiguity, or multiple meaning.67 Indeed, Derrida is at pains—in Grammatology and other texts—to insist that his readings are not so much concerned with localized examples of semantic overdetermination but rather with the logical syntax of terms (such as “supplement,” “différance,” “pharmakon,”


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and “parergon”) whose contradictory meanings cannot be contained by any such familiar model of literary interpretation.68 To be sure, Derrida makes this case through a critical-expository reading of Rousseau which promotes textual fidelity to a high point of principle and which even insists—in one notorious passage—that “there is nothing outside the text” (il n’y a pas de hors-texte; more accurately: “no ‘outside’ to the text”).69 However, this should not be taken to suggest that he is concerned only with the sacrosanct “words on the page” or that he must subscribe to some kind of far-gone transcendental-idealist doctrine according to which textual inscriptions are the only items that should figure in this drastically pared-down ontology. What he is claiming, rather, is that deconstruction is able to bring out certain logical complications which also have much to tell us concerning the real (as distinct from the mythic or idealized) conditions of emergence for language and society. This is why, as I have said, Derrida’s reading of Rousseau has less to do with thematic commentary in the literary-critical mode than with issues in philosophy of logic and philosophical semantics. Chief among them are (1) the status of “deviant” vis-àvis classical logics and (2) the question—at the heart of much philosophical debate from Aristotle to Kant and beyond—as to how logic can be both a matter of formal (or transcendental) warrant and a mode of reasoning that, in some cases, permits the extension or refinement of our knowledge concerning matters of empirical fact. Given time, one could pursue these topics back to Derrida’s early, in many ways formative studies of Husserl and his detailed account of the latter’s attempt to reconcile those seemingly discrepant claims.70 One could also instance the numerous passages in Of Grammatology where Derrida takes up this theme from Husserl—the opposition between logical “structure” and empirical “genesis”—and finds it prefigured in the texts of Rousseau at just those points where Rousseau’s argument manifests the kinds of conceptual strain imposed by his attempt to theorize the natural (precultural) origins of culture. Thus, according to Rousseau, there should or by rights must have been at one time a mode of social existence—a “perpetual spring,” a “happy and durable epoch”— when humankind enjoyed all the benefits of society without its subsequent corrupting effects. “The more we reflect on it,” he writes, “the more we shall find that this state was the least subject to revolutions, and altogether the very best man could experience; so that he can have departed from it only through some fatal accident, which, for the public good, should never have happened.”71 Yet this idea is called into question by the counterlogic that regularly surfaces to undermine Rousseau’s wishful professions of belief and to demonstrate the sheer impossibility that any such state could once have existed, let alone have formed “the most happy and durable” epoch of human history. In Derrida’s words, “[t]he passage from the state of nature to the state of language and society, the advent of supplementarity, remains then outside the grasp of the simple alternative of genesis and structure, of fact and principle, of historical and philosophical reason.”72

Deconstruction and classical logic: Two conditions of the unconditional university It seems to me that logicians—especially those with an interest in issues of modal and tense-logic—have much to learn from a reading of Derrida which accords his text the

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kind of detailed attention that he brings to the texts of Rousseau. For it is among the most striking features of his Rousseau commentary that Derrida engages in some highly complex—at times logically and grammatically tortuous—attempts to reconstruct the rationale of Rousseau’s argument in a form that would respect the principles of bivalence and excluded middle. That he fails in this endeavor and demonstrates rather the sheer impossibility of carrying it through is a sign not so much of Derrida’s fixed intention to subvert those principles as of his fixed determination to apply them right up to the point where they encounter unignorable resistance from Rousseau’s text. Let me cite another extended passage from Of Grammatology which exemplifies the kinds of logical complication—the extraordinary twists of tense-logic and modal or hypothetical-subjunctive reasoning—which characterize Rousseau’s discourse on the origins of language, music, and society. The passage in question has to do with his attempt to explain how the “grammar” of music—its codified conventions and (above all) its structures of harmonic development—might somehow be thought of both as having their source in the wellspring of natural melody and as having come upon that source from outside through an accident of culture that need not—better not—have happened. Thus: instead of concluding from this simultaneity [i.e., their common point of origin] that the song broached itself in grammar, that difference had already begun to corrupt melody, to make both it and its laws possible at the same time, Rousseau prefers to believe that grammar must (should) have been comprised . . . within melody. There must (should) have been plenitude and not lack, presence without difference. From then on the dangerous supplement, scale or harmony, adds itself from the outside as evil and lack to happy and innocent plenitude. It would come from an outside which would be simply the outside. This conforms to the logic of identity and to the principle of classical ontology (the outside is outside, being is, etc.) but not to the logic of supplementarity, which would have it that the outside be inside, that the other and the lack come to add themselves as a plus that replaces a minus, that what adds itself to something takes the place of a default in the thing, that the default, as the outside of the inside, should be already within the inside, etc. What Rousseau in fact describes is that the lack, adding itself as a plus to a plus, cuts into an energy which must (should) have been and remain intact.73

There are two main points that I wish to make about this passage—and about Derrida’s reading of Rousseau more generally—by way of bringing out its relevance to issues in philosophy of logic. One is that it shows the complex array of tensed and modal constructions (“had already,” “must [should have] been,” “would come from,” “would be simply,” “would have it that,” “should be already,” etc.) to which Rousseau typically has recourse in order to maintain the natural—supposedly self-evident—priority of passion over reason, melody over harmony, or spontaneous utterance over grammar and articulation. Thus what Rousseau undoubtedly “prefers to believe” with regard to these and other, kindred topics is expressed clearly enough in various propositions (or individual statements) concerning those respective orders of priority. However, it is far from clear that Rousseau can maintain this position if one looks beyond the presumptive self-evidence of authorial intent to the logical grammar of a term like


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“supplement.” For it then turns out that he cannot get around the obstacles to any straightforward (empirically plausible and logically coherent) statement of his views without having recourse to some tortuous locutions which symptomatically betray the stress-points in his argument. Yet, of course, those stress-points could never emerge— or register as such—were it not for Derrida’s applying the precepts of classical (twovalued) logic and his doing so, moreover, in keeping with the strictest requirements of Rousseau’s text. That is to say, Rousseau could not possibly advance a single proposition concerning those topics except on the understanding that every such statement is subject to assessment in bivalent (true-or-false) terms. And this condition applies whatever the extent of those modal, counterfactual, or tense-logical complexities that Derrida brings out in his reading of Rousseau. Hence my second point: that the “logic of supplementarity” is not proposed by Derrida as a substitute, replacement, or alternative to “classical” logic but rather as a measure of just how far Rousseau is forced to equivocate in the effort to maintain his express position with regard to these various topoi. Here again I should wish to make the point that if Derrida is indeed a logical “revisionist” then this is not so much—as with Quine or Dummett—a distinctive philosophical parti pris but a matter of remarking certain logical aberrations that characterize the discourse of certain writers, chief among them Rousseau. That is to say, there is no question of renouncing those classical precepts (such as bivalence or excluded middle) which alone provide Derrida with the necessary means by which to analyze Rousseau’s text and to bring out its various tensions, complications, and aporias. On the other hand, this is not merely a matter of Rousseau’s having fallen prey to conceptual confusions which he might have avoided with a bit more care in framing his arguments or thinking their implications through. For the logic of supplementarity is both indispensable to Rousseau’s argument—the only form in which he is able to articulate its various propositions—and also (as Derrida shows) the main point of leverage for a reading that effectively subverts all its governing premises. This is why Derrida is at pains to insist that deconstruction is in no sense a “psychoanalysis” of philosophy, or a depth-hermeneutical technique whose chief aim—as might be supposed—is to uncover certain “repressed” or “sublimated” themes in Rousseau’s discourse. Rather it is concerned with those blind spots of logical contradiction where that discourse runs up against the impossibility of straightforwardly saying what it means or meaning what it says. Nor should this position seem so far removed from a good deal of work in the mainstream analytic line of descent, that is, the Frege-Russell tradition of thinking about issues in philosophy of language and logic. After all, it is taken for granted there that analysis can quite legitimately challenge the presumed self-evidence of utterer’s intent—or the normative authority of “ordinary language”—and concern itself with logico-semantic structures that need not be thought of playing any role in the consciousness of this or that speaker. Frege’s canonical account of the relationship between “sense” and “reference” and Russell’s broadly similar “Theory of Descriptions” are of course the paradigm examples of this approach.74 Thus, Derrida’s “revisionism” is more like that which separates thinkers in the Frege-Russell camp from thinkers (such as Wittgenstein and Austin) who take it that “ordinary language” is our best source of guidance in these matters, and hence that any claim to go beyond the deliverance

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of unaided linguistic intuition—or, worse still, to correct for certain “blind spots” in our everyday habits of usage—is so much wasted effort.75 That is to say, Derrida takes the view—upheld by analytic “revisionists” like Gilbert Ryle—that ordinary language can be systematically misleading and that in such cases we are entitled to press the claims of logical analysis beyond anything acceptable in terms of straightforward (philosophically untutored) linguistic grasp.76 It is also one reason for his downright refusal to accept Searle’s idea that concepts (or logical distinctions) need only be as precise as required by this or that context of usage, so that—for instance—an “all-ornothing” logic has no valid application in the context of Austinian speech-act theory.77 For the point is, surely, that even if such a loosening of clear-cut logical criteria has its place in some items of everyday parlance even so it should not be thought to carry over—or to license a similar laxity of conceptual grasp—in the philosophic treatment of those same items. Whence, to repeat, Derrida’s remark that “the writer writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely.”78 This comment has a double pertinence as applied to Rousseau since his discourse can be seen to exhibit all the signs of a thinking that is caught between two logics—that of classical (bivalent) truth/falsehood and the logic of supplementarity— whose conflicting claims it has somehow to negotiate from one sentence to the next. But it also applies to any speaker or writer whose language might always be logically constrained to mean something other than what they intend or have it in mind to say. “This is why,” as Derrida writes, travelling along the system of supplementarity with a blind infallibility, and the sure foot of the sleepwalker, Rousseau must at once denounce mimesis and art as supplements (supplements that are dangerous when they are not useless, superfluous when they are not disastrous, in truth both at the same time) and recognize in them man’s good fortune, the expression of passion, the emergence from the inanimate.79

Commentators like Priest are right to suggest that the Derridean “logic of supplementarity” merits recognition as one among the range of deviant, nonstandard, or paraconsistent logics that have lately received a good deal of philosophical attention.80 However, it is also important to emphasize that Derrida is not for one moment proposing the overthrow, abandonment, or supersession of classical (bivalent) concepts. For the point about any such deviant logic—whether adopted in response to anomalous quantum-physical data or to textual aberrations like those of Rousseau—is that it must be taken to indicate some problem or unresolved dilemma with respect to the topic in hand.81 Thus it requires not so much an outlook of unqualified endorsement—such as commentators often ascribe to Derrida concerning the logic of supplementarity—but rather a process of diagnostic reasoning that questions the premises (the “unthought axiomatics”) which can be shown to have produced that dilemma. At any rate there is no justification for the idea that Derrida seeks to subvert the most basic principles of truth, logic, and reason. How this idea took hold in so many quarters is perhaps more a question for sociologists and chroniclers of academic culture than for philosophers who might


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instead take the time actually to read Derrida’s work rather than endorse the standard dismissive estimate. Then they will find, I suggest, that his Rousseau commentary makes a highly original contribution to philosophy of logic and language, not least for its being cast in the form—one more familiar to literary critics—of a critical exegesis finely responsive to verbal details and nuances. What distinguishes Derrida’s work is the way that he raises such issues through a mode of analysis that combines textual explication with the utmost rigor of logico-semantic grasp. Beyond that, he draws out some extreme complexities of modal, subjunctive, or counterfactual reasoning—like those cited above—whose gist can be paraphrased (albeit very often at tortuous length) and whose logical form can sometimes be captured in a suitably refined symbolic notation but which serve above all to indicate the aberrant (logically anomalous) character of Rousseau’s discourse. Thus Derrida implicitly rejects any approach that would assign the “logic of supplementarity” to its rightful (albeit “deviant”) place within the range of alternative, that is, nonclassical logics which might always be invoked so as to accommodate some awkward or recalcitrant case. Quite simply, bivalence is the sine qua non for a reasoned and philosophically accountable treatment of these topics that would not rest content with an “approximative” logic, and thereby forego any claim to conceptual rigor. At the same time, contra theorists like Searle, Derrida insists on the absolute impossibility that philosophy of language should somehow attain a methodological perspective outside and above the kinds of problematic instance that provide its most challenging material. Hence his attraction to Austin as a thinker who remained keenly aware of the problems thrown up for his own theory by cases which failed to fit in with some existing categorical scheme. Yet it is also very clearly the case that Derrida never goes so far as his poststructuralist disciples would wish in renouncing the distinction between objectlanguage and metalanguage, that is, the necessity that reading should aim “at a certain relationship, unperceived by the author, between what he commands and what he does not command of the language that he uses.”82 In keeping with these principles—as I have argued here—his work offers some of the best, most searching and perceptive commentary anywhere to be found in the recent literature on philosophical semantics and philosophy of logic. However, there is no question, as so often with philosophy in the mainstream (chiefly Anglophone) analytic tradition, of this formal rigor somehow excluding or at any rate tending to marginalize issues of urgent social and political concern. What emerges from much of Derrida’s work is just that combination of logically disciplined, politically engaged, and intensely speculative thought that will—if it manages to beat against the current of all those forces now ranged against it—become a main focus of critical dissent within the “unconditional university.”

Notes 1 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri C. Spivak (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 141–316. 2 Ibid., 149–57. 3 Ibid., 135.

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4 Ibid., 229. 5 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. “On the Origin of Language,” in Rousseau and J. G. Herder, On the Origin of Language, trans. John H. Moran and Alexander Gode (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986). 6 Ibid., 135. 7 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 158. 8 John Searle, “Reiterating the Differences,” Glyph, I (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 198–208; Ellis, John M., Against Deconstruction (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989). 9 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 158. 10 Derrida, Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973), “Plato’s Pharmacy,” in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (London: Athlone Press, 1981), 61–171; “Signature Event Context,” Glyph, I (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 172–97; “Limited Inc. a b c,” Glyph, II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977), 162–254; The Post Card: from Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); “The Parergon,” in The Truth in Painting, trans. Geoff Bennington and Ian McLeod (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 15–147. 11 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 158. 12 Ibid. 13 Donald Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984); H. P. Grice, Studies in the Ways of Words (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). 14 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 158. 15 Ibid., 243. 16 Ibid. 17 See fn. 13. 18 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Roy Harris (London: Duckworth, 1980). 19 See fn. 13. 20 W. V. O. Quine (1961), From a Logical Point of View. 2nd edn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; Thomas S. Khun (1970), The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 2nd edn. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Paul K. Feyerabend (1975), Against Method. London: New Left Books; and Benjamin L. Whorf (1956), Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 21 Derrida, fn p. 243. 22 Davidson, 184. 23 Derrida, 215. 24 See especially Paul de Man (1979), “Autobiography as De-facement,” MLN: Comparative Literature 94 (5), 919–30. 25 Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997). 26 Davidson, “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs,” in Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson, edited by Ernest LePore (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 173. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid. 29 Davidson, 171.


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30 See for instance Shekar Pradhan (1986), “Minimalist Semantics: Davidson and Derrida on Meaning, Use, and Convention,” Diacritics 16 (1), 66–77; Samuel C. Wheeler, “Indeterminacy of French Translation: Derrida and Davidson,” in Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson, edited by Ernest LePore (Oxford: Blackwell, 1986), 477–94. 31 Pradhan, 75. 32 Derrida, “Signature, Event, Context.” 33 See also Christopher Norris, Resources of Realism: Prospects for “Post-analytic” Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1997). 34 Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation, 184. 35 Ibid., 182. 36 Davidson, “A Nice Derangement of Epitaphs,” 171. 37 Ibid., 170. 38 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 195. 39 Ibid., 281. 40 Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy,” in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (London: Athlone Press, 1981), 61–171; “Speech and Phenomena” and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973); Of Grammatology; “Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978), 278–93. 41 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 195. 42 Ibid. 43 Ibid., 195–6. 44 Ibid., 196. 45 Cited by Derrida, Ibid., 199–200. 46 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 195. 47 Ibid., 243. 48 See especially Jaakko Hintikka, Models for Modalities (Dordrecht: D. Reidel), 1969; Michael Loux (ed.), The Possible and the Actual: Readings in the Metaphysics of Modality (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979); G. E. Hughes and M. J. Cresswell, A New Introduction to Modal Logic (London: Routledge, 1996); A. N. Prior, Time and Modality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1957). 49 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 242. 50 W. V. O. Quine, “Two Dogmas of Empiricism,” in From a Logical Point of View, 2nd edn (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 20–46; Michael Dummett, Truth and Other Enigmas (London: Duckworth, 1978). 51 Dummett, Elements of Intuitionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977); also Christopher Norris, Truth Matters: Realism, Anti-realism and Response-dependence (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002), and On Truth and Meaning: Language, Logic and the Grounds of Belief (London: Continuum, 2006). 52 Davidson, Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation. 53 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 214. 54 Ibid. 55 Cited by Derrida, Of Grammatology, 210. 56 Charles Peirce, Reasoning and the Logic of Things (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); Gilbert Harman (1965), “Inference to the Best Explanation,” Philosophical Review 74 (1), 88–95; Peter Lipton, Inference to the Best Explanation (London: Routledge, 1993).

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57 See also J. L. Mackie, Truth, Probability and Paradox (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 1–16; G. E. Moore, “A Reply to My Critics,” in The Philosophy of G.E. Moore, edited by P. A. Schilpp (La Salle: Open Court, 1968), 535–687; Moore 1968; Arthur Pap, Semantics and Necessary Truth (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958), 276–9. 58 C. H. Langford, “The Notion of Analysis in Moore’s Philosophy,” in The Philosophy of G.E. Moore, edited by P. A. Schilpp, 323. 59 Cited by Derrida, Of Grammatology, 214. 60 Ibid., 203. 61 Derrida, “Afterword: toward an ethic of conversation,” in Limited Inc, edited by Gerald Graff (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1989), 111–60. 62 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 242. 63 Ibid., 233; author’s italics. 64 Ibid., 243. 65 Ibid., 27–73, 101–40. 66 Ibid., 252. 67 Cleanth Brooks, The Well-Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1947); William K. Wimsatt, The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 1954). 68 Derrida, “Speech and Phenomena” and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs; “Plato’s Pharmacy;” The Post Card: from Socrates to Freud and Beyond. 69 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 158. 70 Derrida, “Speech and Phenomena” and Other Essays on Husserl’s Theory of Signs, 1973; Edmund Husserl’s “Origin of Geometry”: an Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1978). 71 Cited by Derrida, Of Grammatology, 259. 72 Ibid. 73 Ibid., 215. 74 Gottlob Frege, “On Sense and Reference,” in Translations from the Philosophical Writings of Gottlob Frege, edited by P. Geach and M. Black (Oxford: Blackwell, 1952), 56–78; Bertrand Russell (1905), “On Denoting,” Mind 14, 479–93. 75 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Black, 1953); J. L. Austin, How to Do Things With Words (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963). 76 Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (London: Hutchinson, 1949); Dilemmas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1954). 77 Searle, “Reiterating the Differences.” 78 Derrida, Ibid., 158. 79 Ibid., 205. 80 Graham Priest (1994), “Derrida and Self-Reference,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 72 (1), 103–11; The Limits of Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). 81 Peter Gibbins, Particles and Paradoxes: the Limits of Quantum Logic (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); Susan Haack, Deviant Logic: Some Philosophical Issues (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974). 82 Derrida, Ibid., 158.


Derrida and Literary Studies1 Jonathan Culler

The humanities are in crisis in the United States and elsewhere. Although the humanities are so frequently in crisis in one way or another that crisis seems to have become part of their identity, the crisis today differs from that of the culture wars of the 1980s, for example, where the humanities were accused of subverting the traditional values of Western culture through their critiques of received notions of social, cultural, and political authority and their championing not only of new ways of reading the classics but of whole new areas of attention, from the literatures of various minority groups to popular culture and cultural studies generally. At that time, the crisis of the humanities, what brought them under fire, was a conviction that they were influential, important to society—too important to be left to long-haired leftist or nihilist professors. The crisis of the twenty-first century seems rather different, based not on the presumption of the importance of the humanities and their crucial role in influencing the young but rather on the presumption of their marginality. At a time of economic crisis, for many people they have come to seem luxuries: forms of reading and reflection in which one may indulge but whose social worth and contribution to material wellbeing are scarcely evident. Since this is not just an American phenomenon but is occurring in other cultures that have previously set higher value on the humanities (e.g., Britain and France)— cultures which did not experience the culture wars to the same extent that the United States did—the source of this crisis cannot simply be a resurgent American antiintellectualism. One explanation might lie in the general processes of democratization that have occurred in most industrialized societies and the decline in the value of what is often called “cultural capital.” Previously, one way of gaining access to elites was the acquisition of cultural capital through appropriate schooling. Knowledge of art, literature, and history made you a cultivated person, the sort who might indeed achieve advancement in a stratified society. Education was seen as in considerable part the transmission of a cultural heritage, so education in the humanities was of particular value—more so than education in the social or natural sciences, though they certainly had their uses. But this situation has changed. Whether democratization is the right word for what has occurred, no longer is there the assumption, even in France and Britain where the old valuations lingered longer, that advancement is

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likely to be facilitated by a store of appropriate cultural knowledge. The expansion of media culture—first television and now the internet—and its gradual rise to a place of primacy among common cultural references has led to a situation in which people no longer feel that they are lacking something if they do not have a knowledge of literature or art or history. A vast range of cultural materials has become widely available, and a ready knowledge of sports or recent films or popular television programs may be as socially useful as detailed acquaintance with Shakespeare or European history—which might these days be found pretentious. Liberal arts education, once presumed to be a passage which opened broad career possibilities and prospects of social advancement, now needs to make its case in other ways. Under these circumstances, there is much less call for literary education of the traditional sort, focused on historical coverage of particular periods. The literature major which required acquaintance with the great cultural monuments no longer has the cachet that it once did. Frequently, departments of literature, in attempts to attract students, have multiplied courses on film and popular culture, which have in some measure been successful, but if departments of literature give themselves over too fully to cultural studies, they risk losing their raison d’etre, their engagement with literature. Why shouldn’t students enroll directly in departments of film or pursue cultural studies in other venues, if that is what departments of literary studies propose to offer them? The question of what literary departments ought best to be doing remains unresolved. What, if anything, does Derrida have to offer literary studies in the current conjuncture? One unheralded feature of his work is its celebration of literature, not as cultural capital to be studied, learned about, in the hopes of presenting oneself as a well-educated person, but as a fascinating resource to be explored in a variety of ways. In an interview with Derek Attridge, “This Strange Institution Called Literature,” Derrida speaks eloquently of literature: Experience of being, nothing less, nothing more, on the edge of metaphysics, literature perhaps stands on the edge of everything, almost beyond everything, including itself. It’s the most interesting thing in the world, maybe more interesting than the world, and this is why, if it has no definition, what is heralded and refused under the name of literature cannot be identified with any other discourse. It will never be scientific, philosophical, conversational.2

Literature can be “the most interesting thing in the world, more interesting than the world,” because it exceeds the actual but includes its possibilities, opening their condition of possibility. This is a celebration of literature of a sort not much heard these days, when advanced critical approaches treat literature as one discourse among others, to privilege which would be an elitist mistake. It is important to emphasize that this celebration of literature is not, in fact, a privileging of some distinctiveness of literary language or of aesthetic achievement. Derrida suggests that “there is an experience rather than an essence of literature.”3 This experience has various dimensions, but one which Derrida stresses is the experience linked to what he calls the suspension of the “thetic”—the articulation of theses or propositional claims: “literary experience, writing or reading, . . . is a non-thetic experience of the thesis, of belief, of position,” providing, in its


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fictionality an experience of what belief, position, thesis might be. Denying literature an essence, Derrida nevertheless gives great importance to literary discourse, but not as an aesthetic phenomenon apart; rather to its engagement with the world, on the edge of the world, and to the engagement that it calls forth in readers. In affirming the importance of literature in these terms, Derrida reminds us of its power and of the centrality of its structures to many other worldly phenomena. In a book largely inspired by Derrida, The Singularity of Literature, Derek Attridge writes, “Derrida’s work over the past thirty-five years constitutes the most significant, farreaching, and inventive exploration of literature for our time.”4 Not simply of our time, for our time. This is unmistakably true, though it is not widely recognized. One of the more grotesque aspects of the mediatic reception of Derrida in this country is the idea somehow Derrida’s work and deconstruction generally have constituted an attack on literature. Derrida’s writing on and around literature is not so well known as his early work on philosophical texts or even so well known as later engagements with political and ethical texts and issues, such as Specters of Marx. This is particularly ironic, given the fact that Derrida has been most welcomed by members of literature departments, but perhaps it is not so strange after all, since we literary critics have a professional stake in believing that we already know how to read literature and are eager to learn other things from Derrida, such as how modes of analysis attentive to language and to the problematic of language can engage other discourses—of philosophy, ethics, politics, and so on. Perhaps also, the writers on whom Derrida has spent the most time—Blanchot, Ponge, Genet, Celan—seem special cases, so that his writing about them does not seem so easily generalizable into an “approach” to the novel, for instance, or to poetry.5 And indeed, Derrida’s writing about literature is not easily assimilated to any approach that would present literature in historical periods (The Victorian novel), as literary education has been wont to do. It engages literature in more novel ways. “Che cos’è la poesia,” a wonderful brief meditation that responds to the question “what is poetry?” put to him by an Italian journal, stresses that to respond to such a question is to dispense with knowledge, to burn the library, to leave the paradigm of knowledge and respond in a different way. Such a text does not engage in critical practice. It boldly speaks of “the poem”—the poem in general—as, for instance, “une passion de la marque singulière” (a passion for the singular inscription). This text offers an account of the poem as hedgehog, hérisson, prickly on the outside, rolled into a ball to protect itself, yet entirely vulnerable to being squashed on the highway. Outside this animal fable, it treats the poem as something addressed to an anonymous “you” that asks to be learned by heart, that teaches the heart.6 Although this essay certainly sparks thoughts about a theory of the lyric, it does not, any more that Derrida’s writings on Mallarmé, Shakespeare, Kafka, Joyce, or Baudelaire, provide a method of reading. These Derridean texts cannot be described as a deconstruction of hierarchical oppositions, an inversion and displacement of oppositions, (though “La Double Séance” in Dissemination shows how Mallarmé’s text “Mimique” deconstructs the Platonic model of mimesis); nor do they invert or critique the illusions of the aesthetic—as some of Paul de Man’s deconstructive writings about literature seem to do. They do not invest in a recognized mode of academic writing but invite readers to engage differently with literary works.

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It is not easy to say what these essays are—they are as different from one another as, on the one hand, the elaborate pursuit of the paradoxes of mimesis in “La Double Séance,” on Mallarmé, the aphoristic reflection on proper names and naming of “Aphorism Countertime,” on Romeo and Juliet, and the rigorous pursuit of a thematics of the gift and the counterfeit and of textual self-reflexivity in the chapters of Given Time on Baudelaire. Nicholas Royle stresses the radical patience of these essays, and their focus on small units—not Joyce or Mallarmé but a particular sentence.7 One might say about them that they attempt to respond to the singularity of the texts they treat, and indeed the singularity of the literary work is a major theme of Derrida’s literary engagement. While his critical performances are partly consonant with the traditional notion that the task of criticism is the celebration of the uniqueness of each literary work, he notes that singularity is necessarily divided (se diffère), takes part in the generality of meaning, without which it could not be read, and so is not closed in on itself, ponctuelle, but iterable.8 The singularity of a work is what enables it to be repeated over and over in events that are never exactly the same. Stressing this aspect of singularity, as opposed to a traditional notion of uniqueness, Derrida never claims to offer a reading of a text as an organic or self-contained whole but, rather, in taking up a literary work, to write “a text which, in the face of the event of another’s text, tries to ‘respond’ or to ‘countersign.’ ”9 But his response to singularity opens onto the most general questions of meaning and the conditions of experience. The singularity of a work is related to its enlisting of chance, of the contingencies of language, which, for example, in Derrida’s text Demeure, on Blanchot’s ‘L’Instant de ma mort,” structure the word demeure (“remains” but also “abode,” and “abide”—ce qui met en demeure—what positions you so you must abide it, and what “remains abidingly”—à demeure, abidingly at home). Demeure, in Blanchot and elsewhere, also communicates with archaic forms that Derrida recalls, demourance (abidance), as well as with the word meurt (he dies; de-meure, un-die). Demeure (abide) carries a questioning of stability to the heart of memory, of what remains. Derrida’s essay reads all the instances of this root or this family of words in Blanchot’s text, in what becomes a far-reaching investigation of memory, testimony, and fiction. But again, while this procedure may recall the pursuit of the pharmaceutical chain in “La Pharmacie de Platon” in La Dissémination—the family of pharmakon (poison/remedy), pharmakeus (sorcerer), and pharmakos (scapegoat)—this is not a model for Derrida’s other engagements with literature, as though to do a Derridean reading were to fasten upon a family of related terms, a play of roots. For instance, the essay on Baudelaire does not attempt any such maneuver but has quite other goals and means. The establishing of such linguistic connections, though, is part of what makes a text singular and an event, in language, of language, and of thought. And it is a provocation to reading. “Reading,” Derrida writes, “must give itself up to the uniqueness [of the work], take it on board, keep it in mind, take account of it. But for that, for this rendering, you have to sign in your turn, write something else which responds or corresponds in an equally singular, which is to say irreducible, irreplaceable, “new” way: neither imitation, nor reproduction, nor metalanguage.”10 This writing on and in response to literature impinges on literary and critical culture in that it makes the goal of one’s writing on literature not, as various hermeneutics of


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suspicion and historicisms may have seemed to teach us, one of mastery, in which the critic tries to demystify other contextualizations and outflank all other commentators, scrutinizing their assumptions. Nor is it a matter of producing knowledge about the literary productions of a period. Rather, you should try to respond with writing that is rich enough and idiomatic enough to provoke responses in its turn—not an easy matter, of course. “Good literary criticism,” writes Derrida, “the only worthwhile kind, implies an act, a literary signature or countersignature, an inventive experience of language, in language, an inscription of the act of reading in the field of the text that is read.”11 This is a tall order, not at all easy to do, of course, which helps explain why this critical work on literature has not so far been a model for literary studies, but it certainly offers possibilities for the humanities. Students are greatly attracted to creative writing courses offered by English departments, and while much of this attraction may flow from the rampant modern ideology of self-expression, it is quite possible that a fundamental draw here is also here a desire to write in interesting, creative ways. Such desire could be channeled in new directions in literature courses if, instead of demanding “sound” interpretive essays, they encouraged students to invent more freely. The responsive engagement that Derrida calls “inscription of the act of reading in the field of the text that is read” is provoked, Derrida suggests, by an “impassioning” linked to the secret, a theme in a number of his writings on literature, from “‘Passions” to Given Time and “I Have A Taste for the Secret.” Derrida’s early reading of Plato’s Phaedrus began, “A text is not a text unless it hides from its first comer, from the first glance, the law of its composition and the rules of its game. Its law and rules are not, however, harbored in the inaccessibility of a secret; it is simply that they never can be booked [livré] in the present, into anything that could be rigorously called a perception.”12 Here the notion of secret—which is rejected as a model—seems linked to something hidden that could be revealed, made present—which is not the case with a text, whose threads have to be teased out, or articulated in a reading. Much literary education has, unfortunately, seemed to have proceeded on the presumption that there is a secret, that the text harbors a secret meaning (for some critical schools, what the author intended, for others not even known to the author)—a secret which the teacher doubtless knows and which students have to attempt to uncover or at least guess at: “what is this text really about?” Derrida’s rejection of the model of a secret that could be known is potentially salutary. Twenty years after “Dissemination,” in “Passions,” Derrida repeats as a refrain the phrase, “il y a là du secret,” which could be clumsily translated as “there is something of the secret there.” The secret now functions as a limit—not as a content that might be detected or revealed. Derrida’s later understanding of literature links it to “a secret without secret,” as what impassions us in our engagement with literature.13 Literature depends upon the call of the secret, which, he writes in “Passions,” “points back to the other or to something else . . . the secret impassions us. Even if there is none, even if it does not exist. Even if the secret is no secret, even if there has never been a secret.”14 What pulls us to literature is the sense of a secret, even though it is a secret that could not possibly be revealed—perhaps “secretiveness” would be a more apt characterization: the sense of a secret despite our knowing that there is no truth to be revealed. A broader recognition of the centrality of this structure to the appeal and functioning of

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literature might help to free literary study from the students’ sense that they are, in their ignorance, being asked to discover and reveal the secret of the text. Derrida’s writing about Baudelaire’s prose poem “La Fausse Monnaie” in the last two chapters of Given Time is both a brilliant exploration of this structure of the secret without secret and an example of the sort of reading procedure Derrida describes in the interview with Derek Attridge: the reading of Baudelaire is inscribed in the field of a larger problematic—not that of the author, the genre, or the period, but that of the gift, with its anthropological and philosophical dimensions. In “La Fausse Monnaie” [The Counterfeit Coin—or “Counterfeit Money,” as it is translated], the narrator recounts that when his friend gave a large coin to a beggar, the narrator said to the friend, “You are right; next to the pleasure of feeling surprise, there is none greater than to cause a surprise.” “C’était la pièce fausse” [It was the counterfeit coin], the friend calmly replied, “as though to justify himself for his prodigality.” The narrator speculatively runs over what the friend might have intended, and he concludes that there must have been an attempt to create an event in the life of the beggar which is excusable, even if it involves a sort of criminal enjoyment, but just as he reaches this conclusion, he is convinced by the friend’s next response—“Yes, you are right, there is no sweeter pleasure than to surprise a man by giving him more than he hopes for”— that on the contrary the friend wanted to do a good deed while making a good deal, to win paradise economically, with counterfeit rather than real coin. But what if the friend’s remark is ironic? The narrator is convinced by the friend’s demeanor that he speaks candidly, but the look of candor that the narrator observes is what an ironist would want to affect. In reading this text, which is about fiction—counterfeit money—and the gift, Derrida in Given Time speculates on the numerous possibilities that the narrator’s speculative inclination invites in his changing views of what the friend must be thinking (the narrator tells us that he has the exhausting faculty of seeking “midi à quatorze heures”—always reading something into everything)—in the course of which speculation and expatiation Derrida poses a question that was not previously attested in the critical literature: what if the friend is not telling the truth?15 “Assuming that he did tell the truth. Assuming that there is any sense in speculating on it! For it is also possible —we will never know and there is no sense in wondering about it in literature—that he gave real money and then boasted to his friend that he gave a counterfeit coin so as to produce a certain effect, not on the beggar but on the narrator.”16 Under those circumstances, it would be to the narrator rather than to the beggar that the friend passed counterfeit coin. Since the problematic of the false and the counterfeit suffuses the whole text, and since the narrator himself offers radically contrasting conclusions about the friend’s propensity to diabolical adventurousness, this speculation about whether the friend’s remarks can be taken as coin of the realm or a simulacrum, a counterfeit, seems to be a question that one can indeed pose. If the narrator can conclude that the friend wants to create an event in the life of the beggar, by giving him false money that could lead him to prison as easily as to well-being, why not imagine the friend capable of seeking to create an event in the life of the narrator (as he manifestly has done) by falsely claiming to have given the beggar a counterfeit coin? Why does this hypothesis, Derrida asks, “correspond to the most powerful and


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most interesting speculation? Nothing in what is readable for us here can exclude or limit such a speculation . . .”17 Indeed, Derrida goes on to argue that “the readability of the text is structured by the unreadability of the secret, that is, by the inaccessibility of a certain intentional meaning or of a vouloir dire (wanting-to-say) in the consciousness of the characters and a fortiori in that of the author.”18 The secret of the friend’s intentions tantalizes and generates effects but is not something that could ever be known, is not something that Baudelaire himself could know, though he too could speculate about it and could, of course, have made it function differently. “The interest of ‘Counterfeit Money,’ ” Derrida concludes, “comes from an enigma constructed out of this crypt that gives to be read that which will remain eternally unreadable, absolutely indecipherable . . . there is no sense in hoping to know one day what the friend did, wanted to do, wanted to say . . .”19 This is a secret whose unknowability depends on the superficiality of the literary phenomenon, as a surface without depth, this exemplary secret without secret that assures the possibility of literature. That is what enables Derrida to suggest that with this prose poem, “we are perhaps witnessing something that resembles the birth of literature.”20 This secret of what the friend meant to say and do is constituted by the possibility of the literary institution and revealed by that institution in its possibility of secret only to the extent that it is loses all interiority, all thickness, all depth. It is kept absolutely unbreakable, inviolate only to the extent to which it is formed by a non-psychological structure. This structure is not subjective or subjectile, even though it is responsible for the most radical of effects of subjectivity or subjectivation. It is superficial, without substance, infinitely private because public through and through, spread on the surface of the page . . .21

This structure of the secret without secret is nevertheless a condition both of literature and of democracy, and here Derrida’s reading of a literary text displays his conviction that critical writing is not revelation of a secret of the text but intervention in a broader field. “If a right to the secret is not maintained,” Derrida writes in “A Taste for the Secret,” “we are in a totalitarian space.”22 He warns us to mistrust an insistence on transparency: to be compelled to reveal secrets is a feature of totalitarianism. The exemplary secret of literature has to do with the fact that the poetic or fictional sentence detaches itself from the presumed source; that voice is always doubled, in the absolutely bare device of “being-two-to-speak.” “Here we touch,” he writes, “on a structure of the secret about which literary fiction tells us the essential or which tells us in return the essential concerning the possibility of a literary fiction. If the secret remains undetectable, unbreakable, in this case, if we have no chance of ever knowing whether counterfeit money was actually given to the beggar,” it is, as I have said, first because there is no there there, nothing behind the utterance of the friend.23 This inviolability depends, Derrida writes, “on nothing other than the absolutely bare device of being-two-tospeak and it is the possibility of non-truth in which every possible truth is held or made. It thus says the (non) truth of literature, let us say the secret of literature, what literary fiction tells us about the secret, of the (non) truth of the secret, but also a secret whose possibility assures the possibility of literature.”24

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But this exemplary secret “impassions us,” Derrida writes, it engages us with literature, even though—or because—“there is no longer even any sense in making decisions about some secret behind the surface of a textual manifestation.”25 That “impassioning” opens the possibility of a reading which, in performing what Derek Attridge calls “the text’s engagements with linguistic power,” countersigns the singular signature of a work.26 This model offers a challenge to literary education: a challenge to write more inventively about literary works, in a kind of translation or extension of their force. Thinking the literary text as singularity, a singularity that challenges the generality of truth that it nevertheless makes possible, goes along with thinking of it as an event. Once again, this is scarcely without precedent, but Derrida’s notion of iterability gives him a conception of the work as a temporal event, to be identified not with the experience of a reader, nor with the act of a historical author, but with a linguistic event whose nature is to repeat. Another way to put this is that since literature, as fiction, does not presume a reality already given and to be represented but posits its own truth, it inscribes its own context, institutes its own scene, and gives us to experience that instituting. The opening of Moby Dick, “Call me Ishmael,” is only a dramatic version of that performative instituting, whereby readers simultaneously participate in and observe the instituting of the literary scene. What is said is the saying itself. This crucial aspect of literature is succinctly instantiated in apostrophic lyrics—“O wild west wind, thou breath of autumn’s being . . .”—which in addressing something attempt to bring it into being as potentially responsive agent and thus above all display that saying as something gratuitous and hyperbolic, a testing of poetic power.27 (Baudelaire wrote that apostrophe and hyperbole are the forms of language that are not only the most agreeable but also the most necessary to the modern lyric—literature as hyperbolic event.28) Not only are literary characters and events brought into being by language but this performative instituting is foregrounded, as event—an event dependent upon fiction and thus a performance of linguistic power. Whereas we treat much language instrumentally and may experience it as an event, with effects and causes, in literary reading we experience not just the event itself but its happening as linguistic event, in a show of linguistic power. The concept of iterability, crucial to Derrida’s account of signature, the event, and performativity, gives us a notion of literature as performative—perhaps the aspect of Derrida’s thinking of literature that has become best known, in that his theorization of the performative through iterability has resonated well beyond the realm of literary criticism—in the work of Judith Butler, for example. Derrida’s account of the performativity of literature speaks of an experience of writing that he calls “subject” to an imperative: to give space for singular events, to invent something new in the form of acts of writing which no longer consist in a theoretical knowledge, in new constative statements, to give oneself to a poetico-literary performativity at least analogous to that of promises, orders, or acts of constitution or legislation which do not only change language or which, in changing language, change more than language.29


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Here is another opening to an important domain. In a passage that has become quite well-known, Derrida describes literature as a modern invention inscribed in conventions and institutions which, to hold on to just this trait, secure in principle its right to say everything [tout dire]. Literature thus ties its destiny to a certain noncensure, to the space of democratic freedom, (freedom of the press, freedom of speech, etc.). No democracy without literature; no literature without democracy. One can always want neither one nor the other, and there is no shortage of doing without them under all regimes; it is quite possible to consider neither of them to be unconditional goods and indispensable rights. But in no case can one dissociate one from the other. No analysis would be equal to it. And each time that a literary work is censured, democracy is in danger, as everyone agrees. The possibility of literature, the legitimation that a society gives it, the allaying of suspicion or terror with regard to it, all that goes together – politically – with the unlimited right to ask any question, to suspect all dogmatism, to analyze any presupposition, even those of the ethics or the politics of responsibility.30

This last clause is particularly important, for Derrida is practically unique in connecting the political significance of literature to the status we designate with the term “fiction”: to its suspending or bracketing of reference, including reference to the empirical author. The key role of literature in democracy, its integral relation to democracy, hinges, Derrida argues, on the fact that this authorization to say anything paradoxically makes the author an author who is not responsible to anyone, not even to himself, for whatever the persons or the characters of his works, thus of what he is supposed to have written himself, say and do, for example. And these “voices” speak, allow or make to come – even in literature without persons or characters. 31

This is an elementary fact about literary discourse—that the views expressed, questions raised, arguments or associations proposed, are not to be taken as propositions endorsed by the author, even when there is no particular character to whom to attach them. It is a feature of literature that Baudelaire is not to be held liable for having dropped a flower pot on the head of a poor glazier, after pushing him down the stairs, as the speaker of “Le Mauvais Vitrier” recounts having done, or even for the thematic assertion—the apparent moral—that concludes “La Fausse Monnaie”: “On n’est jamais excusable d’être méchant, mais il y a quelque mérite à savoir qu’on l’est, et le plus irréparable des vices est de faire le mal par bêtise” [to be méchant is never excusable, but there is some merit in knowing that one is; the most irreparable of vices is to do evil from stupidity].32 This feature of literature comes from what Derrida in Given Time calls “the altogether bare device of being-two-to-speak” [être-deux-à-parler], there always being more than one voice. But, of course, this irresponsibility of literature, this double-voicedness, is always under attack, and Vladimir Nabokov was lucky to escape being held responsible for the pedophilia of Humbert Humbert in Lolita, whose 50th anniversary we recently celebrated in Ithaca.

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Derrida continues, “This authorization to say everything (which goes together with democracy as the apparent hyper-responsibility of a “subject”) acknowledges a right to absolute nonresponse.”33 Absolute nonresponse might mean, for instance, Bartleby’s “I would prefer not to,” in Melville’s story, which Derrida discussed in a seminar that unfortunately has not been published. The right to absolute nonresponse: this is startling, for this right, like the right to privacy, does not seem to have been incorporated in our Bill of Rights—but it makes a good deal of sense. The right to nonresponse can be an essential feature of democracy, for it is totalitarian to require that one respond, to call one to answer for everything. Literature as the authorization to say anything carries with it an absolute right to nonresponse, Derrida maintains. “This non-response is more original and more secret than the modalities of power and duty because it is fundamentally heterogeneous to them.”34 This heterogeneity, which is linked to literature, helps us to conceive of what Derrida calls “a hyperbolic condition of democracy,” quite distinct from the historical conception of democracy, which is dependent upon a particular conception of the subject: as calculable, accountable, imputable, and responsible, a subject having-to-respond [devant-répondre], having-to-tell [devant-dire] the truth, having to testify according to the sworn word (“the whole truth, nothing but the truth”), before the law [devant la loi], having to reveal the secret, with the exception of certain situations that are determinable and regulated by law (the confession, the professional secrets of the doctor, the psychoanalyst, or the lawyer, secrets of national defense or state secrets in general, manufacturing secrets, etc.).35

Current democracy has certain zones of secrecy, of which the most sacrosanct is perhaps the secrecy of the secret ballot, but this hyperbolic democracy, a democracyto-come, is linked to a fictionalized literary subject rather than to the calculable, responsible citizen-subject. This is a surprising result, but we can understand, I think, that the calculable, accountable, imputable subject is already part of a system of power and authority that must be a particular determination of the state, and one of the virtues of literature is to help us think beyond this determination. The idea of democracy, especially a democracy to come, is broader, less limited. And I would stress that responsibility in Derrida is thus different from Levinasian infinite responsibility to the other.36 It is better seen as a responsibility without limits, which means not limited to what you consciously intended, or to the responsibility to or for members of your own group or nation; it can extend to animals and to the inanimate world. Nor is it limited to one’s responsibility to try to calculate how these responsibilities intersect. It is unlimited, undecided. Not only is this hyperresponsibility of the subject in a hyperbolic democracy linked to the fictionalizing of the subject. Derrida stresses the dependence of what we call real events on the structure of fictionality exemplified in such literary events. In Demeure, a very rich text on Maurice Blanchot’s short narrative “L’Instant de ma mort,” Derrida writes, “the possibility of fiction has structured but with a fracture – what is called real experience. This constituting structure is a destructuring fracture.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

It is the condition that is common to literature and non-literature. . . .”37 Literature, we might say, displays the borders and folds that maintain a scene, that open a space, that institute the possibilities then enacted in the nonliterary events of our lives. Fiction is the condition of possibility of nonfiction as well as fiction. Speaking of this “spectral necessity which overflows the opposition between reality and fiction,” Derrida argues that “if the testimonial is by law irreducible to the fictional, there is no testimony which does not structurally imply in itself the possibility of fiction, dissimulation, simulacra, lie and perjury – that is to say the possibility of literature, of the innocent or perverse literature that innocently plays at perverting all of these distinctions.”38 Literature, whether innocent or perverse—we have abundance of both—is innocent in the fictional play by which it perverts these distinctions. Literature, which narrates or cites, is the name for a neutrality before decision, conceptuality, prior to the oppositions between actual and virtual, serious and nonserious, real and fictional, but a priority which we can think of as the permanent possibility of the suspension of reference. Derrida’s heterogeneous writings about literature, while breaking with a practice of literary education based on the study of literary periods, the accumulation of knowledge about literary works, and the production of literary interpretations that seek to tell us what the literary work is really about, model a more inventive responsiveness which connects literature, in its most characteristic structures, to a host of political and ethical issues. The analogy between literary and political performativity and the analogy between role of the secret in literature and in politics both prove discursively productive: literature, like the legal text, produces events, and democracy, like literature, involves the preservation of secret, and especially the resistance to the compulsion to reveal or determine secrets. But Derrida’s thinking of literature and democracy goes beyond analogy, in the dependency of the nonfictional on the fictional, on the one hand, and on the other, the dependency of the responsibility of the subject of and in a democracy on hyperresponsibility, the responsibility without limits, entailed by the possibility of fiction. Productions authorized in advance by no reference and unpredictable in their functioning, they thereby make responsibility responsible without limit, not only to the given but to the indeterminable that possibly is à venir. In view of such connections, calling literature “the most interesting thing in the world” is manifestly not a turning aside from the public sphere to a inner life of the private sphere but on the contrary a deconstruction of the opposition between the public and private, the political and the literary, and a rethinking of what is crucial for democracy. This rich vein of writing about literature contains possibilities that the human­ ities might exploit in breaking away from a conception of the humanities as cultural capital that no longer works and in trying to make literary study a site of thinking and inventiveness. Let us hope that, like the democracy-to-come of which Derrida writes—a horizon that can structure our present thinking of politics—a university-to-come animated by the sorts of intellectual drive manifested in Derrida’s engagement with literature can offer more than an uncertain prospect to the humanities.

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Notes 1 An earlier version of portions of this paper was published in Diacritics as “The Most Interesting Thing in the World,” Diacritics 38:1–2 (2008), 7–16. I am grateful to the journal for permission to reuse this material. 2 Jacques Derrida, “This Strange Institution Called Literature,” in Acts of Literature, edited by Derek Attridge, (New York: Routledge, 1992), 47. 3 Ibid., 45. 4 Derek Attridge, The Singularity of Literature (London: Routledge, 2004), 139. 5 Essays of Derrida’s on Blanchot, Celan and Ponge, as well as Joyce, Kafka, Mallarmé, and Shakespeare, can be found in Acts of Literature. On Celan, see Derrida, Sovereignty in Question; on Ponge, see Signéponge/Signsponge; on Blanchot, see Demeure: Fiction and Testimony; on Genet, see Glas; and on Baudelaire, see Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money. 6 Derrida, “Che cos’ è la poesia?” in Between the Blinds: A Derrida Reader, edited by Peggy Kamuf (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991). 7 Nicholas Royle, Jacques Derrida (London: Routledge, 2003), 4, 25. 8 “This Strange Institution Called Literature,” 68. 9 Ibid., 62. 10 Ibid., 69–70. 11 Ibid., 52. 12 Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 61. 13 Derrida, Given Time: 1. Counterfeit Money, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 94. 14 Derrida, “Passions: ‘An Oblique Offering,’ ’’ On the Name, edited by Thomas Dutoit, trans. David Wood (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 29–30. 15 Given Time, 96. 16 Ibid., 150. 17 Ibid., 151. 18 Ibid., 152. 19 Ibid., 152. 20 Ibid., 169. 21 Ibid., 170. 22 Derrida, “I Have a Taste for the Secret,” in A Taste for the Secret, trans. Giacomo Donis, edited by Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris (London: Polity Press, 2001), 59. 23 Given Time, 153. 24 Ibid., 153. 25 Passions, 29. 26 Attridge, 98. 27 See Jonathan Culler (Winter 1977), “Apostrophe,” Diacritics 7 (4). Derrida writes about the address of the lyric in “Che cos’ è la poesia?” 28 Charles Baudelaire, Oeuvres complètes, edited by Claude Pichois (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), vol. II, 164–5. 29 “This Strange Institution . . . ,” 55 30 Passions, 28. 31 Ibid., 28–9. 32 Baudelaire, Oeuvres, vol. I, 324.


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33 Passions, 29. Let me mention in passing that in her splendid The Book of Addresses, Peggy Kamuf takes up these paragraphs of “Passions” about literature and democracy and the right of nonresponse and turns them to a fascinating reflection on Clinton’s impeachment and Monica Lewinsky. My concerns are different. 34 Passions, 29. 35 Ibid., 29. 36 On the importance of distinguishing Derrida and Levinas, see Hägglund’s brilliant discussion, “The Necessity of Discrimination: Disjoining Derrida and Levinas,” Diacritics 34 (4) (2004), 40–71, taken up in his Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 76–106. 37 Demeure, 92. 38 Ibid., 29, 92.


Deconstructing History1 Mark Mason

On “beginnings,” “reflexive thematics,” and dreams of being a historian I begin by making the usual beautiful disclaimers and qualifying remarks. Acknowledging that “we must begin wherever we are . . . in a text where we already believe ourselves to be” I have opted in this essay to explore some of the ways in which I believe the work of Jacques Derrida problematicizes ideas of history and historical representation.2 However straightforwardly thematic this exploration may initially appear it also hopes to be animated by a reflexivity that is in partial resonance with some prefatory comments made elsewhere by Julian Wolfreys, who warns against approaching a reading of Derrida’s work with naïve thematicist intent: “One cannot read Derrida thematically.”3 As Wolfreys argues (comments worth quoting at some length given that they help to “position” the aspiring “reflexive-thematics” of this essay from “the outset” and, in doing so, “get it underway”): One cannot approach any of the texts by Derrida as if, in doing so, certain patterns might be discerned, the purpose being to learn those forms of thought and then “apply” them to whatever it is you want to read. One cannot fit Derrida into a methodological or formal analytical frame. The very idea ignores just about everything Derrida says or does in writing . . . To thematize or order Derrida on the pretence or misguided, however well intentioned, belief that one has to start somewhere with Derrida is to believe in the idea of the finite or containable, schematic representation of “Jacques Derrida,” “the work or thought of Derrida,” “deconstruction,” and so on. Such phrases imply that there is an organic whole, so many species belonging through genetic relationship to a genus, whether that genus is identified as “deconstruction” or “Derrida.” Such thinking is what Derrida describes as logocentric. It is a dominant form of thinking in the history of Western thought, or metaphysics from Plato at least, to the present day. And such thinking is precisely what in tireless and endlessly


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts inventive fashion, Derrida exposes for its limitations . . . All such gestures desire representation as the first and last word. They believe, mistakenly, that, behind all the variable expressions, one can unearth or find a single semantic kernel.4

In this essay, I will argue that it is precisely this ceaseless effort throughout Derrida’s work to expose the limitations of “gestures desiring representation as the first and last word” that radically undermines widely held assumptions about the “nature” and purposes of history. Here I am in agreement with Nicholas Royle, who, in the introduction to his excellent discussion of “writing history after Derrida,” points out that “it is clear that the implications of his work for historiography in general are quite massive. In question here is everything that is brought together under Derrida’s rubric of the notion of history as the history of meaning.”5 For what I think Derrida’s work does to/for both the academic history enterprise (as it is outworked both within academic history departments and at the level of popular history) and the ongoing discussions about—and contestations over—the current status and future prospects for the university, the liberal arts, and, specifically, the humanities, is to highlight the aporia of what Sylvère Lotringer and Sande Cohen have described as “the permanent suspension of representation.”6 Derrida’s work constitutes a ceaseless effort to radically challenge (in an affirmative way) any attempt in any representation—including historical representations, that is, historical narratives—to “settle, answer, resolve, and control the represented.”7 Yet, at the same time, it is precisely this ceaseless corrective challenge in Derrida’s work that helps us to think differently about the university, and history, including thinking otherwise about the possibilities and functions of the latter within the former. A deconstructive challenging of history —emphatically not a simple rejection—is a necessary (pre)condition for thinking about some other concept of history: a future for historical representation that is reflexive8; historical representations that, as a condition of their production, turn back on themselves and, in doing so, demonstrate and make explicit self-awareness regarding their limitations.9 This highlighting of the permanent suspension of representation via a ceaseless, unconditional deconstructive challenge—in other words, the development of an emphasis in historical writing that refuses and problematicizes any attempt to settle and control—is what needs to take place in the “field” of academic history if it is to be responsive to Derrida’s appeal, formulated as a “profession of faith . . . in the university and, within the university, faith in the Humanities of tomorrow.”10 In order to “run” these arguments, and while mindful of how the desire to “begin” can slip into unreflexive thematicizing, it is nonetheless necessary to begin this “narrative”—and I am aware of all the accompanying dangers when using that word— of the deconstruction of history “somewhere.”11 Simple refusal, as Wolfreys goes on to point out, is inadequate: “It isn’t enough to refuse the temptation of producing something in the space of an introduction though. You cannot simply refuse the call. Avoidance should be avoided, and one must accept an impossible responsibility, seeking to respond.”12 This is an aporia that anyone seeking to begin writing about the impact of Derrida’s work on a particular academic field—for example, “Derrida and History”—must pass through. As Niall Lucy has argued, a deconstructive analysis is distinguished by always

Deconstructing History


beginning from an “. . . encounter with the aporias that must be overlooked in order to make presence seem undeconstructible.”13 And an unreflexive thematic aspiration vis-à-vis Derrida’s work runs the risk of “making presence seem undeconstructible.” Therefore, in the wake of Derrida’s work, any attempt to respond to a call to write about it, to begin where we believe ourselves to be with it, demands sustained reflection in order to avoid “the purely thematic approach.”14 Yet here I also read Wolfreys as implying that some elements of a thematic approach are unavoidable, resulting in the development of an “impure” thematic that demonstrates an explicit awareness of the tension to which he alludes: reflexively engaging and resisting the metaphysical but unable to dispense with, or get beyond, it. Derrida did not believe that it would be possible “simply to escape metaphysics” in the same way that “one can never break once and for all” from “the imperatives of classical pedagogy,” although submitting to them “rigorously” should be avoided—and that allows accounts such as this one (and all historical representations) to proceed.15 Sarah Wood describes this tension very well in the course of her useful discussion of historicity in Derrida’s Writing and Difference: In general, we can’t help but accept what we would like to resist, even if only in order to resist it more effectively. To resist what should be resisted we must remain in the closest possible touch with its logic, without simply adopting it.16

This same tension identified and described by Wood in relation to Derrida’s discussions about historicity also applies to ongoing discussions concerned with the crises and futures of the university and the humanities. Simon Morgan Wortham has provided a wonderful analysis of such tensions in relation to Derrida and the “question of the university.”17 As he interprets Derrida’s own institutional activism: “We must not only reconstitute this history as a source of guidance or inspiration . . . but we must also countersign it, which means transforming it, borrowing from it and abusing it, both taking it and leaving it, in order to recast the ‘counter’ in ways that might seem somewhat unrecognizable from the perspective of such a history.”18 Morgan Wortham goes on to discuss how, in a number of texts, Derrida points out that the contre or counter implies a “with-against” movement, a turning toward and away from, a measure both of distance and proximity (inordinately difficult to calculate, and therefore in constant need of reckoning), which – if one ties the term as intimately as Derrida does to the concept of the institution – implies a deeply complex and highly ambivalent relationship to orthodox academia, official organizations of all kinds, state and party politics, and so forth.19

Morgan Wortham further explicates “this (counter) logic of the ‘with-against’ ” by making the argument that while Derrida advocated and worked for a profound transformation of university institutions this was nevertheless, and crucially, a carefully nuanced call where categories of transition and “negotiation” were stressed since, for Derrida, there can be no absolute suspension of various forms of legitimacy, authority, competence, or tradition (indeed, claims to this effect


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts frequently reconstitute all the more stealthily yet forcefully the forms of power and control they ostensibly reject or deny).20

It is in support of such readings that I also want to appropriate for this essay some remarks made by David Wood as he sets up his narrative of the deconstruction of time, remarks which all historians who wish to produce their historical representations and/or rethink the university and the humanities in a reflexive way would do well to remember: Our story has its own logic, but there are a hundred ways in which it could be retold. . . I am not suggesting that all these options are equivalent; they are clearly not. But they each yield distinct fruits. And what is particularly curious is that if one were to try to justify starting here rather than there, or to reflect on the very idea of “starting” somewhere (as if we had not always already started), one would find oneself already thematizing an understanding of the significance of history, tradition, development, progress, retrieval, reworking, and so on. In other words, one would find oneself already invoking fundamental temporal schemas and values. And it is, to my mind at least, one of the real strengths of deconstruction that it allows one to acknowledge and negotiate such paradoxes without being paralyzed by them.21

With these reflexive—impure—thematic qualifying remarks in mind and without further delay (no more justification), I want to identify a beginning for the discussion that follows: a set of comments (made in response to a question during a conference roundtable discussion) by Derrida that can be read as containing both a “confession” and a “call” vis-à-vis history. In the course of a roundtable discussion at the conference “Religion and Postmodernism 3: Confessions” held at Villanova University in 2001—the papers from which later formed the basis of the volume Augustine and Postmodernism edited by John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon—Elizabeth A. Clark, a historian of late ancient Christian studies, asked Derrida which aspects of his work he considered the most interesting, or useful, for historians. In the course of his response, Derrida made the following comments: I think that historians have to [be] or should be interested in theory, in the status of the documents, of the texts, that they are analysing and interpreting, and not all of them do that. But in my own small case, on the one hand, I’m a very bad historian, but I dream of being a historian. Really, I dream this. In fact, I think I said this somewhere, the only thing I’m interested in is history. But I’m not doing what I should do . . . I’m constantly trying to take into account the work of historians that I don’t do myself but that I think it is absolutely necessary. That’s why I consider very unfair to me the judgments that say that what I’m doing is totally ahistorical. From the very beginning, in Of Grammatology, I was just doing history, in my own way, and of course I was also questioning the concept of history, which is assumed by historians and even by philosophers and philosophers of history. Sometimes the concept of history – say, as theological – has to be questioned and deconstructed. There should be a deconstruction of the main assumptions of

Deconstructing History


historians, of historiography, even of the philosophy of history, not in the name of the eternal, of something ahistorical, but in the name of some other concept of history.22

Here then we have both (although perhaps they are one and the same?) a confession (“I’m a very bad historian, but I dream of being a historian.”) and a call (“There should be a deconstruction of the main assumptions of historians, of historiography . . . in the name of some other concept of history”). This essay contributes to the exploration of this confession by Derrida and tries to demonstrate that, contrary to numerous (mis)readings and imputations of a rejection of history and/or ahistoricality as characteristic of his work, he has always been concerned to wrestle with the problematic of history in, as has already been stated, an affirmative way, albeit one which signals the end of certain ways of thinking about history and, therefore, of particular types of histories. It is also a response to Derrida’s call for a deconstruction of the currently dominant settlements in the “discipline” of history. This call “in the name of some other concept of history” is apparent in his earliest works. And, this call has been responded to over several decades by historians and historical theorists/ historiographers with varying degrees of precision, patience, and sympathy.23 For example, at the brief passing mention point on the spectrum of such responses is the assessment made by the historian Richard J. Evans that Derrida rejects “the search for origins and causes as futile”, a misreading (or nonreading?) that—in addition to indicating the metaphysical aspirations that some historians still harbor for their discipline, particularly when they view it as under threat—was, as he at least later acknowledged, an inadequately supported assertion.24 In a similar vein, Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob charge Derrida (and Foucault) with arguing “vehemently against any research into origins (perhaps the classic historical approach to any problem).”25 Another example, pitched at the introductory level, is to be found in Callum Brown’s enthusiastic “dedicated primer on postmodernism for the History student” (back cover) which attempts to show how “postmodernism works for the historian” and “how the theory can be infused into what we [i.e. historians] all do.”26 Here the reader is informed that Derrida has made “the most famous statement of postmodernism: ‘il n’y a pas de hors-texte.’ ”27 Furthermore, Brown describes how This statement has been hotly debated, with critics claiming that Derrida seems to suggest that the world is a text and not real, whilst his defenders say it means getting outside of a text is impossible as that only creates another text. To describe a fact, you need to use another fact. In other words, humans are trapped in language in order to understand the world. Derrida has been a revered figure of postmodernism. . .28

Quite apart from the problem of describing Derrida via reference to the term postmodernism—a term he viewed as “foreign” to him29—there are some important and familiar qualifications that need to be made in relation to certain features of Brown’s summary, features that are typical of many discussions of Derrida’s work by historians. I undertake these qualifications later in this essay.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

In addition, there have been some major interventions into historical theory/ historiography that have been associated with Derrida’s work, not always, I think, by their authors but, rather, by commentators in the field. However, in relation to some of them, Derrida has asserted how the associations that have been made with his work are a product of misconstruing deconstruction as being “inscribed in the ‘linguistic turn,’ when it was in fact a protest against linguistics!”30 According to Derrida, such misconstruals gave rise to misunderstandings regarding his work in various disciplines, including history: there are some historians, epistemologists of history (Clifford Geertz, Hayden White, etc.), who have attempted to apply the linguistic turn to history. And their work has been placed in the same camp as mine – quite wrongly, in my opinion. Though it may well be true that I have more of an affinity with them than with more classical historians.31

Derrida has offered elsewhere some hints as to the specifics of this relative affinity with epistemologists of history such as White, an affinity that can be read as, in part, a sympathetic response regarding the widespread misunderstandings and hostile reactions to their work: if you don’t take into account, or pay attention to the possibility of a serious historical narrative signed by a historian being a lie, a fiction or a perjury, then you miss the reference. You miss the real things. The real may be a lie. If historians were simply relying upon historical sources we could not say their work was in any way critical, but when a historian or historiographer does pay attention to fiction – let’s take the case of Hayden White, for instance – immediately people get angry and, not trying to understand, charge him with saying that “everything goes, history is fiction.” Look at Carlo Ginzburg who got mad because a historian was simply paying attention to the fact that, in historical discourse, serious historical discourse, there was rhetoric, there were tropes and sometimes fictions.32

I want to conclude this introduction by providing some clarification on the scope of this essay. I aim to explore, albeit to varying extents, the profound implications of Derrida’s work for—as well as gauging the impact it has had on—both “upper case” (metanarrative) and “lower case” (professional, academic) history as well as on understandings of the concepts of historicity and historicism. In my usage and understanding of the terms “upper-case” and “lower-case,” I follow the historical theorist Keith Jenkins, who defines these terms as follows: By “upper case history” I mean the consideration of the past in terms that assign objective significance to what are actually contingent events. It does this by identifying their place and function within a general schema of development; the past is used to advance a specific point of view. Examples are the more orthodox forms of Marxism or Whig progressive theories of history. By “lower case history” I mean the “disinterested” study of the past for its own sake, on its own terms, as objectively, impartially and thus as “academically” as possible.

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This kind normally regards itself unproblematically as “proper” history and thus as being non-ideological and non-positioned. But I take lower case history to be just as ideological and positioned/positioning as any other: history is always for someone.33

I think that both types of history can be found settled within university departments and that Derrida’s radical critique problematicizes them both. In an essay focusing on Derrida’s engagement with history in his early writings Peter Fenves explains the idea of historicity thus: “the historicity of something is whatever makes it historical—in both senses of the term: dated (even if the precise date can never be determined) and capable of entering into public memory (even if it is only the most rudimentary calendar).”34 Such an understanding of historicity will be considered alongside some clarification offered by the historical theorist Frank Ankersmit. In the course of a helpful “terminological clarification” of historism and historicism, Ankersmit quotes Maurice Mandlebaum’s definition of historicism, a definition that I will be working with throughout this essay: Historicism is the belief that an adequate understanding of the nature of any phenomenon and an adequate assessment of its value are to be gained through considering it in terms of the place which it occupied and the role which it played within a process of development.35

Of course, historicism can be understood in many different ways that need not be limited to (and in some cases exceed) Mandlebaum’s definition, and any discussion of the extent to which Derrida is, or isn’t, a historicist needs to take this into account. For example, historicism can also designate a belief in the ability to discover an inner meaning in, or essence of, the historical process with an attendant extrapolation of metaphysical or ontotheological conclusions. Other historicist theories privilege a mythical origin or event that negates everything that follows, thus constituting a desire to disrupt or go beyond history. These are also definitions that I will be working with, particularly in relation to Derrida’s call for “some other concept of history,” a call marked by the rejection of classical and covertly metaphysical conceptions of historical representation and that questions rigid history/historicity/historicism distinctions.

The unfairness of (the judgment of) “the rejection of history” Robert Young has discussed Derrida’s “insistence that history is a metaphysical concept according to which the meaning of history always amounts to the history of meaning.”36 History, in both its upper and lower case forms, cannot be exempted from the logocentric. As Young puts it: The Derridean critique of logocentrism necessarily includes the concept of history insofar as it depends on notions of presence and meaning determined as truth.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

For all its frequent invocation as the “concrete,” history must by definition entail a problematic represencing of an absence; Derrida therefore argues that, even in its “materialist” conceptualization, it cannot avoid a certain metaphysics.37

Yet as I have already emphasized, and will continue to do so throughout this essay, Derrida’s critique of a metaphysical concept of history should not be taken to constitute a wholesale rejection of history per se. As Geoffrey Bennington has commented “deconstruction . . . is in fact in some senses the most historical of discourses imaginable”38; it is a challenge in the name of “some other concept of history.” Elsewhere, Bennington has helpfully clarified, via reference to Derrida’s famous debate with Foucault over a reading of Descartes’ Meditations,39 one sense in which deconstruction can be conceived of as a radicalized historical discourse (in the name of some other concept of history and, presumably, historicism): The “historian’s” objection to Derrida, whose refutation we announced earlier, must invoke a necessity or obligation to put things (back) in their context in order to understand them, and the exchange between Derrida and Foucault around Descartes hangs in part on this question. Faced with such a demand, the point is not at all to claim the liberty to read out of context, which would be meaningless (one always reads in one or several contexts), but to interrogate the coherence of the concept of context deployed in this way.40

However, this radically (meta)historicist point and the imperative to interrogate what it means to be a “better” historian and/or historicist in the name of some other concept of history/historicism has not always been understood. Indeed, this notion is frequently lost, resulting in Derrida being perceived by some as ahistorical. This widespread perception is identified by Claire Colebrook who, in her introduction to a collection titled Deleuze and History, neatly summarizes some of the more common misreadings of Derrida’s work by historians (and others) when she writes that “It was perhaps Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction that has been most responsible for the perception that post-’68 French thought was a form of anti-historicism, idealism, textualism or overly individualist attention to events.”41 However, as Colebrook goes on to point out, Derrida’s early work began with focusing on the importance of genesis in terms that were distinctly un-ahistorical.42 Colebrook explains Derrida’s emphasis on, and exploration of, genesis as an attempt at “countering any structuralist forms of historicism that would simply place one cultural paradigm after another” by insisting that “a truly responsible mode of thinking would have to account for the emergence of various historical totalities and their relation to truth, which could not be reduced to an infra-historical determination.”43 What Derrida sought to do through this metahistorical emphasis was to problem­ aticize—precisely because of its importance—Husserl’s work on the “necessity of giving an account of the genesis of formal structures, such as language and logic” by highlighting “those anarchic or untamed forces that disrupt any meaningful structure.”44 Derrida was focusing on, and radicalizing, the paradox(es) and aporia(s) of genesis and origins of the world. In his various explorations of the idea that “the origin of the world is and must be non-mundane and non-existent” as, if not, “it would

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not be transcendental, it would not be an origin,” Leonard Lawler suggests that Derrida argues as follows: . . . on the one hand . . . such an origin must not only be determined as non-mundane and non-existence, but must also be determined as non-present and non-sense. An intuition, Derrida realizes, is always a finite intuition; evidence is always given in person. Thus intuition is always mundane, with the result being that an origin cannot be determined by presence and sense. To use language Derrida will adopt from Levinas, the origin is wholly other. On the other hand, the non-presence of the wholly other does not mean that it can never appear. The origin can and must be given as something. It can never and must never appear as such and yet it must appear as something in the world. It is this ‘‘must’’ which unites transcendental and mundane, other and same, essence and fact, non-presence and presence; it is this necessity that constitutes the paradox of genesis. This necessity of never appearing as such and yet appearing as something, in a specific experience, defines what Derrida in Voice and Phenomenon calls ‘‘différance’’ (or contamination). It is what Derrida implies when he says in the Introduction to Husserl’s “The Origin of Geometry,” “the Absolute is Passage” [Derrida, 1978, 149]. This absolute passage between transcendental and mundane, etc., means that the origin is not really an origin in the sense of an absolute beginning – it is not an arche – and that the end, la fin, is never an absolute end – it is not a telos. The paradox for Derrida, is in-finite. 45

Colebrook complements Lawlor’s account with her explanation of the way in which the “untamed forces” described by Derrida problematicize any exploration into the origin/genesis of any “meaningful structure”: Notoriously, Derrida would refer to such forces as “écritur,” “trace” or “différance”: in order for an experienced sense to be transmitted through time it must be inscribed in some manner of formal system - ranging from a repeatable gesture to linguistic signifiers. But this would mean that any experience of the present would never be in full command of itself, for in order to live or experience a “now” as this identifiable now I must have already marked or determined it in some way, anticipated its carrying-over into the future. Husserl had already insisted that the lived present was composed of retentions and protentions; experience is always, in part, a retaining of what has been and a projection of what will come. Derrida radicalises this manoeuvre by arguing that this process is not consciousness’ own: in the narrow sense we would require something like writing or signs in order for consciousness to mark out a relation or series of times.46

Having provided an initial response to the unfair charge of “the rejection of history” made against Derrida, I now want to turn to his more specific and explicit challenge to (or “radical deconstructive critique” of) teleological history (and histories)—that is, a deconstruction of the history (and histories) of meaning but not a rejection of history per se—and consider this alongside, indeed as part of, his affirmatory call for “some other concept of history.”


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Some other concept of history I: Systematizing a deconstructive “critique”47 against the history of meaning Keith Jenkins has commented that in his published writings, Derrida appears to have paid “little direct attention” to the academic discipline of history, “although he did discuss it briefly in, for example, Positions.”48 I want to consider this discussion of history in Positions in some detail, specifically some comments made by Derrida in the course of an interview from 1971 with Jean-Louis Houdebine and Guy Scarpetta.49 Here, Derrida, in response to criticisms made of his work by Christine Glucksmann during a colloquium (on the relationship between “Literature and Ideologies”) at Cluny in 1970, states that: from the first texts I published, I have attempted to systematize a deconstructive critique precisely against the authority of meaning, as the transcendental signified or as telos, in other words history determined in the last analysis as the history of meaning, history in its logocentric, metaphysical, idealist (I will come back to these words in a moment) representation.50

Derrida is adamant that this “position” is “legible on every page” of his work to the extent that he finds it difficult “to see how a concept of history as the ‘history of meaning’ can be attributed to me.”51 He goes on to suggest that such a misunderstanding is the result of being “constituted as the proprietor of what I analyze, to wit, a metaphysical concept of history as ideal, teleological history, etc.”52 Seemingly by contrast, another objection raised (again at the Cluny colloquium) in relation to his work is that of the “rejection of history.”53 Yet, as becomes apparent later in the interview when Derrida responds to another question, such an objection is unjustified. Scarpetta (in Positions), quoting from Of Grammatology, states that “The word ‘history’ doubtless has always been associated with the linear consecution of presence,” and then asks Derrida whether he can “conceive of the possibility of a concept of history that would escape this linear scheme?,” a concept of history that is “. . . neither a monistic nor a historicist history?”54 Derrida replies in the affirmative but again stresses his wariness of “the metaphysical concept of history . . . the concept of history as the history of meaning . . . the history of meaning developing itself, producing itself, fulfilling itself. And doing so linearly.”55 Derrida emphasizes that the “metaphysical character of the concept of history,” about which he has “many reservations,” is linked (as well as to linearity) with “an entire system of implications” including “teleology, eschatology, elevating and interiorizing accumulation of meaning, a certain type of traditionality, a certain concept of continuity, of truth etc.”56 By the force of this “system of predicates” the concept of history “can always be reappropriated by metaphysics.”57 And yet, because Derrida thinks that no concept can exist in and of itself, he continues to use the word “history” so as to “reinscribe its force” and “in order to produce another concept or conceptual claim of ‘history.’ ”58 There is thus a continuity between the Derrida of 1971 and of 2001: the desire to develop “some other concept of history.” This other concept of history would imply “a new logic of repetition and the trace” given that “it is difficult to see how there could be history without it.”59 In producing this other concept of history, Derrida regards it as imperative to “distinguish between history in general

Deconstructing History


and the general concept of history” which “aims at showing that there is not one single history, a general history, but rather histories different in their type, rhythm, mode of inscription – intervallic, differentiated histories.”60 Yet this emphasis on multiple histories (i.e., a multiplicity/plurality of historical representations) raises further questions that Derrida goes on to state and consider: on the basis of what minimal semantic kernel [here we return to the comments made by Wolfreys cited at the beginning of this essay] will these heterogeneous, irreducible histories still be named ‘‘histories’’? How can the minimum that they have in common be determined if the common noun history is to be conferred in a way that is not purely conventional or purely confused?61

Such dilemmas reintroduce “the question of the system of essential predicates” (teleology, traditionality, continuity etc.) with the issue being not to simply capitulate to “metaphysical reappropriation” in an unreflexive way: As soon as the question of the historicity of history is asked – and how can it be avoided if one is manipulating a plural or heterogeneous concept of history? – one is impelled to respond with a definition of essence, of quidity, to reconstitute a system of essential predicates, and one is also led to refurbish the semanatic grounds of the philosophical tradition. A philosophical tradition that always, finally, amounts to an inclusion of historicity on an ontological ground, precisely.62

The inevitability of this metaphysical reappropriation can and should be problem­ aticized by asking about not only the “essence” of “history” (i.e., “the historicity of history”) but also “the ‘history’ of ‘essence’ in general.”63 However, Derrida goes on to point out that, despite this problematicization, it is not just a case of subjecting the concept of history to a “simple and instantaneous mutation, the striking of a name from the vocabulary.”64 Rather than rejecting the metaphysical name/concept of history in favor, perhaps, of some form of “temporal studies” Derrida can be read as wanting to incrementally transform it. Derrida, in the context of discussing the concept of the sign (and semiology) but which I think also applies to that of history, described this incremental process as follows: It is not a question of junking these concepts, nor do we have the means to do so. Doubtless it is more necessary . . . to transform concepts, to displace them, to turn them against their presuppositions, to reinscribe them in other chains, and little by little to modify the terrain of our work and thereby produce new configurations; I do not believe in decisive ruptures, in an unequivocal “epistemological break,” as it is called today. Breaks are always, and fatally, reinscribed in an old cloth that must continually, interminably be undone.65

This subversive approach involves elaborating “a strategy of the textual work which at every instant borrows an old word from philosophy in order immediately to demarcate it.”66 Such “textual work” involves “a double gesture or double stratification” and involves overturning “the traditional concept of history” at the same time as marking “the interval,” taking care that “by virtue of the overturning” as well as “by the simple


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

fact of conceptualization, that the interval not be reappropriated.”67 This work is crucial to developing a new concept of anything, including history, as it explicitly takes into account “the fact that conceptualization itself, and by itself alone, can reintroduce what one wants to ‘criticize,’ ” that is, the metaphysical concept of history.68 This is why textual work cannot be “purely ‘theoretical’ or ‘conceptual’ or ‘discursive.’ ” By this, Derrida means that it cannot be “the work of a discourse entirely regulated by essence, meaning, truth, consciousness, ideality, etc.”69 What Derrida calls ‘general text’ (‘‘not limited . . . to writings on the page’’) is that ‘‘which ‘practically’ inscribes and overflows the limits of such a discourse’’: There is such a general text everywhere that (that is, everywhere) this discourse and its order (essence, sense, truth, meaning, consciousness, ideality, etc.) are overflowed, that is, everywhere that their authority is put back into the position of a mark in a chain that this authority intrinsically and illusorily believes it wishes to and does in fact govern.70

This is not the place for a detailed discussion of  “general text” as “a limitless network of differentially ordered signs,” a network that “is not preceded by any meaning, structure, or eidos, but itself constitutes each of these.”71 What I want to emphasize—drawing on Simon Critchley’s work—is that it is “upon the surface of the general text, that there ‘is’ deconstruction . . . that deconstruction takes place.”72 Here the deconstruction of the metaphysical concept of history occurs; the general text unsettles the “pretensions to authority and autonomy” of this concept and “grounds” it in what it does not control within a system to which it is “blind.”73 It is general text that accounts for and provides Derrida with his axiomatic starting point: “. . . no meaning can be determined out of context, but no context permits saturation.”74 I now want to link this discussion of “general text” and “no context permitting saturation” with a statement that Derrida makes early on in Of Grammatology - “writing opens the field of history”75 - and then move to exploring the implications of this systematized deconstructive critique of the history of meaning for the academic history profession and examine how a range of historians and historiographers (broadly construed) have responded to it. Derrida has described Of Grammatology as being a “history book through and through” and, in the course of responding to a question about demonstrating “literature’s historical solidarity with the metaphysical tradition”, has reminded us that Contrary to what some people believe or have an interest in making believe, I consider myself very much a historian, very historicist . . . Deconstruction calls for a highly ‘historian’s’ attitude (Of Grammatology, for example, is a history book through and through) even if we should also be suspicious of the metaphysical concept of history. It is everywhere.76

I would argue that it is in the light of these comments that we should understand that, in Of Grammatology, Derrida is resisting a metaphysical concept of history and not some other concept of history, that is, not histories per se. This is clear in the preface where his stated aim to produce “the problems of critical reading” is linked to “the guiding intention of this book”:

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My interpretation of Rousseau’s text follows implicitly the propositions ventured in Part I; propositions that demand that reading should free itself, at least in its axis, from the classical categories of history – not only from the categories of the history of ideas and the history of literature but also, and perhaps above all, from the categories of the history of philosophy.77

This intention to follow the propositions demanding that reading free itself from the “classical categories of history” involves understanding how what Derrida calls “logocentrism: the metaphysics of phonetic writing (for example, of the alphabet)” has controlled “the history of (the only) metaphysics.” That is: “the history of the truth of truth, has always been . . . the debasement of writing, and its repression outside ‘full’ speech.”78 However, in Of Grammatology, Derrida also seeks to demonstrate that, as Royle puts it, “a certain notion of writing is the condition of possibility of history.”79 It is through “patient mediation and painstaking investigation on and around what is still provisionally called writing” that we may “merely glimpse the closure” of the “historicometaphysical epoch” of logocentrism.80 It should be stressed that the comment that “writing opens the field of history” should not be interpreted as “history . . . simply . . . [being determined] by what has been written in the conventional sense and which forms the bulk of the traces/sources of the past actuality used by historians – archival deposits, journals, books, etc.”81 Rather, as Royle clarifies, a different conception of how history is constituted is being posited here: To say that history is radically determined by writing, then, is to say that it is constituted by a general or unbounded logic of traces and remains – general and unbounded because these traces and remains, this work of remainders and remnants, are themselves neither presences nor origins: rather, they too are constituted by traces and remains in turn . . . Derrida’s argument, however, is that speech and the experience of self-presence are themselves only possible on the basis of a logic of writing, that is of repetition and difference, of traces and remains. ‘Writing’ then is not simply (as Rousseau phrases it) a ‘supplement to the spoken word’ [Derrida, 1997, 7]: as mark, trace, spacing, it inhabits speech (and the very experience of self-presence) as its condition of possibility, while at the same time being nowhere either present or absent.82

On the basis of this understanding of how writing opens up the field of history – history as writing constituted by a ‘‘general or unbounded logic of traces and remains’’ – Keith Jenkins has developed a devastating critique of both its upper and lower case forms, specifically around the unavoidable epistemological failure of all historical representations in terms of any claims made for their objectivity, literal truth, nonpositioned and non-figural construction.83 The implication of this “unbounded situation” is that all of us, including historians, will “never really know where to start or end our accounts” and that the way “those reminders and remnants [of ‘the past’ or ‘the before now’] are carved up, emplotted and troped is ultimately one of choice.”84 This situation reminds historians that


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

how to contextualise, combine, recombine, connect, disconnect is not in the ‘things themselves’ . . . we get no definitive help from the ‘seamless past’ in these matters, and where any help we do derive from the always already ‘framed’ historicised past is actually always ultimately through encounters with it – with ourselves – as textuality. And these arbitrary ways of carving things up are compounded by the fact that we readers and writers are ourselves part of this process of the general and unbounded logic of traces and remains; we are ourselves textual. We too are the stuff of history, of textuality, unable to access any Archimedean point outside of ourselves from whence we might issue forth, omniscient narrator style.85

It seems to me that such reminders of this problematicization of historicization are— on the basis of Sande Cohen’s wholly convincing analyses and arguments regarding the ongoing and multiple uses and abuses of contemporary historical representation—still necessary to give, so as to inconvenience and disturb, the work of many historians and cultural/political commentators/operators who make unreflexive recourse to a metaphysical concept of history.86 In response to the question about where historians should begin and end their accounts Jenkins, who is also reading Royle, finds the answer in Derrida’s comments that it is “impossible to justify a point of departure absolutely” and that: “We must begin wherever we are . . . Wherever we are: in a text where we already believe ourselves to be.”87 Royle has drawn attention to the “syntactically enigmatic supposition of the ‘already’ ” in this quotation and the question that it raises: “are we in a text before we believe or in some sense as an effect of believing?”88 It is this “already” that “situates” the “surprising law of historicity, the states of emergency out of which ‘history’ calls to be thought.”89 This assumption of the already “illustrates” the “axial proposition that there is nothing outside the text,” that is, that “there is nothing outside context (even though, or rather precisely because, context is non-saturable).”90 Jenkins addresses the misunderstanding of this proposition by historians (those both receptive and hostile to Derrida’s work): Derrida’s statement does not mean that, say, the actual past never existed outside of literal texts, or that houses and factories, wars and concentration camps are literally texts. All this is so obvious that the point should not need to be made, but apparently it is needed, not least because this way of reading Derrida . . . remains common.91

In this way, Jenkins aligns himself with Critchley who reminds us that, in the “Afterword” of Limited Inc., Derrida reformulates “there is nothing outside the text” as “there is nothing outside context.”92 Critchley further points out that This redefinition is required because the word ‘text’, despite Derrida’s many corrections, is still understood empirically and thereby reduced to a refutable slogan. To say it once again, the text is not the book . . . A generalized concept of the ‘text’ does not wish to turn the world into some vast library; nor does it wish to cut off reference to some ‘extra-textual realm’. Deconstruction is not bibliophilia. Text qua context is glossed by Derrida as ‘the entire ‘‘real-history-of-

Deconstructing History


the-world’’ ’ [Derrida, 1988, 136]; and this is said in order to emphasize the fact that the world ‘text’ does not suspend reference ‘to history, to the world, to reality, to being and especially not to the other’ [Derrida, 1988, 37]. All the latter appear in an experience which is not an immediate experience of presence – the text or context is not present . . . but rather the experience of a network of differentially (or différantially) signifying traces which are constitutive of meaning. Experience or thought traces a ceaseless movement of interpretation within a limitless context.93

As such, Jenkins suggests that the “the implications of Derrida for history really should be apparent”94 and goes on to quote Royle by way of elaborating this point: ‘The referent is in the text’, as Derrida puts it in the interview on ‘Deconstruction in America’ in  1985. His concern is to elaborate readings which take rigorous account of the ways in which any text (in the traditional sense of that word) and any writer (the notion of the writer being itself ‘a logocentric product’) are variously affected, inscribed and governed by a logic of text, of supplementarity or contextualisation, which can never be saturated or arrested. Every text (in the traditional sense of that term) has meaning only on the basis of belonging to a supplementary and ‘indefinitely multiplied structure’ [Derrida, 1997, 163] of contextualisation and incessant recontextualisation. As Derrida declares towards the end of Part II of Of Grammatology: ‘The supplement is always the supplement of a supplement. One wishes to go back from the supplement to the source: one must recognize that there is a supplement at the source’ [Derrida, 1997, 304] . . . Language, text and writing are constituted by supplementarity, by a network of traces and referents, references to other references, a general referability without simple origin, presence or destination.95

Jenkins therefore thinks it is crucial that historians understand that reading . . . cannot legitimately transgress the text toward something other than it, toward a referent (a reality that is metaphysical, historical, psychobiographical, etc.) or toward a signified outside the text whose content could take place, could have taken place outside of language, that is to say, in the sense that we give here to that word, outside of writing in general.96

By putting together in various ways in his work all these challenges for historical representation, Jenkins has repeatedly sought to make explicit the full implications of this systematized deconstructive critique of the history of meaning (the metaphysical concept of history) as it disrupts both upper and lower case historical representation. And here I want to emphasize that this radical deconstructive critique should not be viewed as a kind of methodological application to, and taking apart (dismemberment) of, historical accounts, but more as a disclosure of what is always already inscribed in any history. Deconstructing history is a kind of highlighting of that which unsettles all—including historical—representation(s), that is, deconstruction always already at work within the historical representation/account as a kind of “force.”97 As Jenkins puts it:


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

‘History as a text’ as understood here, then, can obviously never be finished. All the limits erected by the historian – the world, the real, reality, the facts, teleology, immanence, essence - in opposition to the incessant and interminable exploitation of readings, are transgressed. History in general and in its modernist upper and lower case genres can never be stabilised, definitively known. Locked into the uncertainties of ontology and epistemology, methodology is no high road to truth, to meaning.98

What is, perhaps, debatable is the extent to which Jenkins’ reading of Derrida as being “happy” with this situation is one that is acknowledged by his readers in both historicist and ahistoricist academic settlements: Derrida hopes that histories of the future—of histories to come (if we still bother with them) — will be histories without end(s); histories of surprise, of risk, of democracies to come - and come again.99

Some other concept of history II: Further implications and responses I now move to make some remarks about the further implications of such a deconstructive challenge to history. My argument is that embracing this challenge is the first step in developing “some other concept of history” that Derrida is calling for. By way of (once again) beginning, I think it is important to recognize that, as Christopher Norris has conceded: Now Derrida is indeed sceptical up to a point as concerns the truth-claims and values of enlightened modernity. Thus he raises questions — searching questions — about truth, knowledge, meaning and representation. He is also sceptical (again up to a point) about the possibility that we could somehow reassemble or reconstitute historical knowledge in such a way as to speak with any confidence about historical progress or the emergence of better, more enlightened forms of ethical, political and social thought . . . Derrida can be said to share the attitude of postmodern scepticism with regard to any metanarrative account that claims a privileged access to truth, or to the unfolding logic of historical events as revealed in the wisdom of teleological insight.100

The credibility—in an objectivist, empirical sense—of upper case history is irreparably damaged by such skepticism, whether we wish to call it postmodern or not. And yet I also think that it is clear that such scepticism, arising out of the radical deconstructive challenge previously described, also has a profound impact on lower case history in its disinterested, own-sakist forms (which, albeit more covertly, are just as “positioned” as upper case histories). Theoretically sophisticated historians like David Harlan have recognized and accepted the implications of Derrida’s work on historical representation and have gone on to reflect on the challenges of this for what they do and how the discipline of history could be reconceived in light of it.

Deconstructing History


As Harlan, in a humorous take on the hostility of many historians to Derrida’s work, puts it: We historians must somehow get ourselves to the point where we no longer feel that if we cannot refute contemporary scepticism – or if, in some moment of inexcusable weakness, we allow ourselves to be seduced by the likes of Henry Adams or William Faulkner (not to mention the white-haired archfiend himself, holed up somewhere in Paris, writing yet another treatise on death and deconstruction) – then all is lost, history will slide into fiction, Holocaust deniers will rise up everywhere, and we will have to fight the Second World War all over again.101

What Harlan then goes on to argue for is not the “scrapping” of historical representation but rather the abandonment of the pretensions of objectivity and truth-telling that many historians still operate with: The Polish philosopher Leszak Kolakowski recently pointed out the obvious in a way that may help us here: none of the great metaphysical questions have ever been resolved. It is as intellectually respectable to be a nominalist – or an antinominalist, or a realist, or an idealist – at the end of the twentieth century as it was at the end of the twelfth century. So it is with the question of historical objectivity, which is why we should simply drop the whole shopworn subject. It has not gotten us anywhere in our long, twisted past, and it is not going to get us anywhere in the crooked future that looms ahead of us. God knows we have wasted a lot of time and bored a lot of students with all our dreary polemics on this subject.102

Harlan explores—in a wonderfully lucid and suggestive fashion—the question of what historical writing would look like, as well as what benefit and utility it might have, “if we abandoned our by now threadbare pretense to objectivity and truth telling?”103 He demonstrates the possibility of affirmative and sophisticated responses by historians/ historiographers to Derrida’s work in the name of developing “some other concept of history.” Alun Munslow and Robert Rosenstone are two more historians/historical theorists who—like Harlan—recognize and embrace the creative possibilities that Derrida’s work “releases” for the historian. In their edited collection Experiments in Rethinking History, Munslow celebrates the way in which such criticism has had the effect for history of releasing the creativity of the historian. Instead of pursuing the knowability of the past and the grand narrative of givenness (which we can still do if that is our preferred epistemological choice), we have been launched into a state of engagement with the sublime nature of the past. Learning to live, in other words, with its unknowability in terms of what it means and how, as a result, we can explore its multiple meanings through experiments with form. In other words, explore its own nature as a form of representation.104

In other texts, Munslow has stressed—a point which, as has been previously discussed, Derrida was also at pains to repeatedly emphasize—that “We should not be misled here: Derrida does not doubt referentiality per se, only knowable original meanings. All the historian has are endlessly deferred and undecidable and undecipherable meanings.”105


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

All of this constitutes a very desirable state of affairs as far as Jenkins, again summing up the situation in an affirmative tone, is concerned: What is really excellent about historians’ historical representations is that they always fail. There is no possibility that any historicization of  “the past” can ever be literally true, objective, fair, non-figural, non-positioned and so on, all of which opens up that which has happened ‘‘before now’’ to interminable readings and rereading . . . this inability to secure what are effectively interpretive closures – the continuing raison d’être of the professional historian in even these pluralist days despite sometime protestations – is not only logically impossible but also ethically, morally and politically desirable. The fact that “the past” both as a whole and in its parts is so very obviously underdetermining vis-à-vis its innumerable appropriations (one past – many histories) is to be both celebrated and worked.106

If one accepts Jenkins’ argument – which I do – then questions need to be asked and explored regarding the motivational factors that remain for historians in continuing to produce their histories after Derrida. Is the historian’s task—the production of historical representations, historicizing “the past”, etc.—therefore impossible and pointless or, paradoxically, can the impossibility of this task be conceived as signaling the very possibility of a new beginning and a fresh motivation; a chance for historians to reconfigure their understanding of the task itself in a way that allows them to be more explicit and positioned about what they do, to take ownership and control of their historical representations in a more radical way? To put it differently: can a historical theory be developed that has come to terms with an explicit awareness of the unavoidable epistemological failure of any historical representation and yet both permits and motivates historians to continue to work at producing subsequent historicized articulations and appropriations of the past? What kind of historical theory is capable of energizing historical praxis following the way in which Derrida’s work has foregrounded this epistemological failure? I do think that there is a future (or futures) for particular kinds of historical representation(s) produced by reflexive historians after Derrida, and I now want to describe some of the emphases that, in my view, such representations should display. Young has observed that “History cannot be done away with any more than metaphysics: but its conditions of impossibility are also necessarily its conditions of possibility.”107 In support of this statement, Young cites Rodolphe Gasché’s observation that “The mimicry of totality and of the pretension to systematicity is an inseparable element of deconstruction, one of the very conditions of finding its foothold within the logic being deconstructed.”108 On this basis, Young goes on to argue, in accordance with Gasché’s observation, that Derrida “does not in any sense abjure history (or totality) but rather attempts to reinscribe it by writing histories that set up supplementary figures whose logic simultaneously invokes and works against historical totalities.”109 Therefore, the historical representations produced by historians after Derrida should always make explicit that they have meaning only on the basis of supplementarity, that is, of ceaseless recontextualization. Such representations draw attention to, and do not try to conceal, that there is a supplement at every origin (i.e., they are not origins at all) and that, as representations, they are constituted by supplementarity: a general

Deconstructing History


referability without origin or presence. In this future, all historical representations will auto-reflexively embrace the implications of Derrida’s work—the deconstruction of the history of meaning, a metaphysical concept of history—as part of the process of their production/construction. Munslow underlines the importance of this reflexive project: Because history shares the same epistemological status as all cultural and representational discourses – it is never neutral but always partial (usually ideological) with open meanings – it becomes extremely important that we deconstruct or dissect the mechanisms by which we create it. The central principle of experimental history should now be obvious it is to hunt out and confront the myth of the given.110

Experimental histories that aim to confront and expose “the myth of the given”— including in relation to their own production—constitute, in my view, a valid future for historical representations after Derrida. And I think that despite recent comments by historians such as Gabrielle Spiegel about “the retreat from positions staked out during the high tide of  ‘linguistic turn’ historiography,” there is still value in theorizing and developing the kinds of historical representations I have described.111 As the cliché goes, it is less a case of tried and found wanting and—with some exceptions—more a case of not tried at all by vast swathes of the academic history profession. Questions have, of course, been raised regarding the utility of the kind of deployment for historical representations that I am advocating here. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, in her classic essay entitled “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography,” has made some important responses to some of these questions, responses that should figure prominently in the considerations of historians as they produce their reflexive historical representations. In the context of a consideration of the discussion of rumor in the Subaltern Studies group, Spivak describes the question as follows: What is the use of pointing out that a common phonocentrism binds subaltern, elite authority, and disciplinary-critical historian together, and only a reading against the grain discloses the espousal of illegitimacy by the first and the third? Or to quote Terry Eagleton: “. . . If what is in question for deconstructionism is metaphysical discourse, and if this is all-pervasive, then there is a sense in which in reading against the grain we are subverting everything and nothing.”112

In the course of her response to these questions, Spivak suggests that Not all ways of understanding the world and acting upon it are equally metaphysical or phonocentric. If, on the other hand, there is something shared by elite . . . colonial authority, subaltern, and mediator . . . that we would rather not acknowledge, any elegant solution devised by means of such a refusal would merely mark a site of desire. It is best to attempt to forge a practice that can bear the weight of that acknowledgement. And, using the buried operation of the structure of writing as a lever, the strategic reader can reveal the asymmetry between the three groups above. Yet, since a ‘reading against the grain’ must forever remain strategic, it can never claim to have established the authoritative truth of a text, it


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

must forever remain dependent upon practical exigencies, never legitimately lead to a theoretical orthodoxy. In the case of the Subaltern Studies group, it would get the group off the dangerous hook of claiming to establish the truth-knowledge of the subaltern and his consciousness.113

Here, then, are some important characteristics of some other concept of history in the name of which Derrida called for a deconstruction of metaphysical history. What is to be strived for are historical representations that explicitly acknowledge (and, in so doing, try to minimize their covert metaphysicality) their unavoidable complicity in an all-pervasive metaphysical discourse but that try to “bear the weight of that acknowledgement” in terms of the ways in which they are constructed and in the claims they do and don’t make (no claims to “truth-knowledge”). In the context of a reply to Thomas R. Flynn, John Caputo has suggested the role that historical representations (e.g., histories) conceived in this way might have in “offering practical resistance” to any account—including their own, as well as other histories—that presents something as “given,” any account that attempts to “nail things down once and for all.” Such resistance takes the form of historical analyses “that expose the historical contingency of the various ways we have been constituted.”114 Caputo argues that Writing a history is as powerful a way to deconstruct something as one could desire, for a history shows that something that is trying to pass itself off as having dropped from heaven has been historically constituted . . . how we tend to be taken in by various contingencies trying to pass themselves off as necessities. Whence the apophatic strategy: we do not know who we are and every time someone tries to tell us who we are we can write a history that exposes the contingency of the construction of that identity. The histories keep the future open, while the metaphysics wall us in.115

Caputo’s contribution to the development of “some other concept of history,” a contribution that is greatly influenced by Derrida’s work, is, I think, a valuable one. It also resonates with the call by Jenkins to celebrate the “one past—many histories” situation: It is to be celebrated because it is a positive democractic value when everybody can at least potentially author their own lives and create their own intellectual and moral genealogies, that there is no credible authoritative or authoritarian historicized past that one has to defer to over one’s own personal history, or indeed to even acknowledge.116

Dominick LaCapra has pointed out that some historians (predominantly those who produce “lower case” histories) view Derrida as having failed to adequately understand the point of the work of the historian, particularly their “interest and involvement in the archive.”117 LaCapra has produced an incisive and wholly convincing critique of such arguments, specifically in relation to Carolyn Steedman’s original and stimulating book Dust,118 which includes a discussion of Derrida’s Archive Fever.119 LaCapra summarizes Steedman’s position as follows: “The historian is not engaged in a metaphysical search for origins, and one should disengage this supernal quest from the more everyday,

Deconstructing History


humble, and often grubby activity of the historian.”120 LaCapra reads Steedman as trying to draw “a divide between deconstruction and history,” of fetishizing the archive and turning it “into a sanctuary somehow impermeable to deconstructive and perhaps all critical-theoretical approaches.”121 According to LaCapra (and I am in agreement with him here), establishing such a position puts forth an undefended and altogether dubious opposition between history as written text and ‘reading matter found in the archive’, as if the way archival material is itself put together by those who create the archive, and actively read and made into the historical work by the historian, were not itself a problematic issue for critical reflection.122

LaCapra charges Steedman with driving “an impenetrable wedge between historical research and metahistorical or critical-theoretical analysis”123 and asks: “Is there nothing the historian, including the archival historian, can learn from varieties of deconstruction concerning historical processes, the problem of temporality, and ways of accounting for them?”124 The answer is, of course, that there is much to be learned from deconstruction by historians wanting to develop reflexive historical representations in spite of, or, perhaps, precisely because of, the unsettling effects of such a learning curve. The kinds of unsettling of historical representation (in the name of some other concept of history) that I have described above are dangerous. Such unsettling results in historical representation slipping into, as Royle has described it, “states of emergency.”125 Yet, paradoxically it is this reconceptualization of historical representations as states of emergency that also suggests something important about their future. Historical representations, histories, “open up the future.” As Royle explains: What we have . . . are states of emergency, states which would be apocalyptic but at the same time a deconstruction of the apocalyptic. Not a state, but states: there is no singular . . . History comprises states of emergency; but there can be no history, and therefore no states of emergency, without that which surprises and deconstructs every emergence, the emergence of every ‘I’ and the emergence of every event . . . More generally, we could say that Derrida is concerned with a notion of surprise that would itself be deconstructive . . . comparatively little attention has been given to the notion that history, like deconstruction, is less about the past than about the opening of the future. Writing history has to do with states of emergency, states given both to an acknowledgement that ‘The future can only be anticipated in the form of an absolute danger’ [Derrida, 1997, 5] and to a recognition that the past was never present.126

Here, some further comments from Colebrook are helpful in unpacking Royle’s acute insights that history is “less about the past than about the opening of the future” and that “the past was never present.” Colebrook points out that, in Specters of Marx, Derrida extended his earlier critique—or radicalization—of Husserl’s ideas about the lived present to argue for “the necessity of mourning, ghosts and spectrality at the heart of experience or spirit.”127 As Colebrook, glossing aspects of Specters, goes on to explain:


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

We cannot simply follow Marx and see consciousness or man as having a proper human and self-commanding essence that falls into the division of labour but then retrieves its proper potential when it understands its own history. Indeed, to be faithful to the spirit of Marx and Marx’s materialism, we must recognise that we inherit the past as a body of work to be read; this means that the sense or potential of the past is never fully given, for its ghosts, and possible futures, may always be re-read or re-encountered. This does not lead to an ahistorical free for all; on the contrary, it is precisely because the past remains as a spectre or ghostly present, haunting us, that ‘our’ future is always open. To read Marx, or the past, is to open the present to that which it does not fully command or comprehend.128

What I think such analyses of Derrida’s work highlight is that while, as Young has put it, “Derrida has not been concerned to formulate a new philosophy of history”129 this is not to say that Derrida lacks a concept of history. Here I am in agreement with Caputo (in Derrida 1997b), who, drawing on material from Derrida’s The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe (Derrida 1992a), argues that: On the contrary, by depriving himself of the idea of either a teleological or an eschatological heading, Derrida has developed a more spare and radical idea of historical happening. For a culture to be ‘on the move’ with otherwise-than-aheading130 means to hold itself more radically open to a future (l’avenir), to what is to-come (à venir). History, thus, is not a course set in advance headed toward its telos as toward a future-present, a foreseeable, plannable, programmable, anticipatable, masterable future. History means, rather, to set sail without a course, on the prow for something new. Such an open-ended, non-teleological history is just what Derrida means by history, which means for him that something – an event – is really happening, e-venting (é-venir), breaking out, tearing up the circular course of Greco-German time. History is not programmed in advance, for Derrida, not set to work within a pre-set archeo-teleological horizon, kept all along on course, keeping its head and its heading by way of some sort of ontological automatic pilot. That is why when something comes along that nobody foresaw, that surprises the daylight out of us, we say it is very ‘historical.’131

This description reflects Derrida’s “brief recollections” in Specters of Marx that a certain deconstructive procedure, at least the one in which I thought I had to engage, consisted from the outset in putting into question the onto-theo- but also archeo-teleological concept of history – in Hegel, Marx, or even in the epochal thinking of Heidegger. Not in order to oppose it with an end of history or an anhistoricity, but, on the contrary, in order to show that this onto-theo-archeoteleology locks up, neutralizes, and finally cancels historicity. It was then a matter of thinking another historicity – not a new history or still less a ‘new historicism’, but another opening of event-ness as historicity that permitted one not to renounce, but on the contrary to open up access to an affirmative thinking of the messianic and emancipatory promise as promise: as promise and not as onto-theological or teleo-eschatological program or design.132

Deconstructing History


It is this matter of thinking another historicity in Derrida’s work that should then, in my view, motivate historical writing/representation. Derrida’s response to the call “in the name of some other concept of history” can be read as a vital part of his “profession of faith . . . in the Humanities of tomorrow.”133 Another historicity is required so that the “new Humanities” is able to take on the “tasks of deconstruction, beginning with the deconstruction of their own history and their own axioms.” This infinite task includes, of course, the endless deconstruction of the history of H/history and its own axioms. As Derrida, asserting the importance of  “some other concept of history” to the (re)thinking of the university and the possibilities of institutional transformation, puts it: One of the tasks to come of the Humanities would be, ad infinitum, to know and to think their own history, at least in the directions that can be seen to open up (the act of professing, the theology and the history of work, of knowledge and of faith in knowledge, the question of man, of the world, of fiction, of the performative and the ‘as if ’, of literature and of the oeuvre, etc., and then all the concepts that can be articulated with them).134

My argument is that another way of formulating this challenge for historians, and others who confess/profess faith in the Humanities and university of tomorrow, is the thinking and development of historical representation in messianic terms; a messianic historical theory that is mindful of, and open to, that which surprises: to an emancipatory promise of impossible histories to-come.

Notes 1 This is not the first piece of work in the field of historical theory to bear this title. Alun Munslow’s Deconstructing History (first published in 1997 and now in its second – 2006 – edition) is an excellent and provocative attempt to (in his words) “navigate through the central debate to be found in history today, viz. the extent to which history, as a discipline, can accurately recover and represent the content of the past, through the form of the narrative. Put plainly, to what extent is the narrative or literary structure of the history text an adequate vehicle for historical explanation, and what implications can we draw from our answer?” (Munslow, 2006, 1). Here Munslow is concerned to develop what he calls “deconstructive consciousness”: a way of understanding history by viewing it “not solely and simply as an objectivist empiricist enterprise, but as the creation and eventual imposition by historians of a particular narrative form on the past: a process that directly affects the whole project, not merely the writing up stage . . . The deconstructive consciousness not only defines history as what it palpably is, a written narrative (the textual product of historians), but additionally, and more radically, suggests that narrative as the form of story-telling may also provide the textual model for the past itself. However, Munslow stresses that his use of the term “deconstructive consciousness” is not to be confused with Derrida’s usage of “deconstruction” (3). 2 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 162.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

3 Julian Wolfreys, Derrida: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: Continuum, 2005), ix, italics mine. 4 Ibid., ix–x. 5 Nicholas Royle, After Derrida (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 13. 6 Sylvère Lotringer and Sande Cohen (eds), French Theory in America (London: Routledge, 2001), 4. 7 Ibid. 8 Hilary Lawson, H., Reflexivity: The Post-Modern Predicament (London: Hutchinson, 1985). 9 I acknowledge, but do not have the space here to explore (and so am bracketing them out for the purposes of this essay), arguments about the extent to which advocacy of reflexivity presupposes and requires stable (because they have been stabilized) and/or unified notions of the self and subjectivity as well as whether such notions are, in any case, viable and, if so, the extent to which they can (and should) be problematized before they collapse, perhaps taking reflexivity with them. 10 Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University (Thanks to the ‘Humanities,’ What Could Take Place Tomorrow)”, in Deconstructing Derrida: Tasks for the New Humanities, edited by P. P. Trifonas and M. A. Peters (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 11. 11 Here I have been educated and inspired by Sande Cohen’s brilliant ongoing critique of the myriad of ways in which academic historical thinking “recodes” our “reactive” culture via narrativization. Cohen (1986) argues that “recoding, which dominates in the academic system, suggests the proliferation of ways in which meaning is recalibrated to favour the Same, the elimination of the untimely from meaning and thought.” It is “radically opposed to intellectual states of apertinence, asyntacticality, and semanticism: these latter categories are intolerable to bourgeoisacademia since they scramble the production of continuous meanings.” (328). Cohen goes on to define narrativization as: “the organization of signifiers so as to display transformations whereby subjects, actions, and sanctions install modalities of ‘history’ in the form of a story. The term refers to the ways in which that which cannot be directly stated – an axiological projection, for example – is nevertheless manifested as a narrative answer . . . The reduction of meanings to stories.” (330). As Cohen puts it at the beginning of his first book: “A culture is reactive when it continues to narrativize itself despite, at any moment, being six minutes away (by missile) from its own nonnarrative obliteration. The dissemination of models of ‘history’ promotes cultural subjects who are encouraged to think about nonnarrative relations – capitalism, justice, and contradictions – in a narrative manner. Narrating screens the mind from the nonnarrative forces of power in the present, insofar as ‘historical’ narration reduces present semantic and pragmatic thought (connotation) to forms of story, repetition, and model, all of which service cultural redundancy. Historical thought is a manifestation of reactive thinking-about, which blocks the act of thinking-to.” (1) Cohen raises difficult questions about the role of historians in “blocking” critical thought in, and on, the present when they attempt to reduce, via historical narration, “relations” such as “capitalism” and “justice” to stories. He regards attempts to make “history” relevant – to relate it – to critical thinking as “ill-conceived” arguing that the “presence of the present” is nonaccessible, to us “once narrative thinking dominates semantics, where an obligation to history generates the illusion of the autonomy of historical

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12 13 14 15

16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

24 25 26 27 28 29

30 31 32 33 34 35


culture, which in turn reinforces the cultural debilitation of radical thought.” (1–2) The result, according to Cohen, is that “critical thinking is not possible when connected to academic historical thinking.” (2). Wolfreys, Derrida, x. Niall Lucy, A Derrida Dictionary (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2004), 1–2. Wolfreys, Derrida, x. Derrida, Positions, 17; “Otobiographies: The Teaching of Nietzsche and the Politics of the Proper Name,” in The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation: Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida, edited by C. McDonald (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988), 4. Sarah Wood, Derrida’s Writing and Difference, (London: Continuum, 2009), 18. Simon Morgan Wortham, Counter-Institutions: Jacques Derrida and the Question of the University (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007). Ibid., 11. Ibid., 1. Ibid., 4. David Wood, The Deconstruction of Time (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001), xii, emphasis mine. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon Augustine and Postmodernism: Confessions and Circumfession (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005), 31–2, emphasis mine. Some of the better discussions from those operating in the “field” of academic history/historical theory that are not referred to in any detail in this essay are: Berkhofer (1995), Breisach (2003), Clark (2004), Cohen (2006), Ermarth (1992), Kellner (1989), LaCapra (1998), Raddeker (2007), Roberts (1995) and Roth (1995). Richard J. Evans, In Defence of History (London: Granta, 2000), 159–60/292. Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994), 224. Callum Brown, Postmodernism for Historians (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2005), back cover/2. Ibid., 96. This is, of course, a quotation from Derrida, Of Grammatology, 158. Ibid. John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon (eds) God, the Gift, and Postmodernism (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1999), 2: “Derrida would describe himself not as a postmodern, but as a man of the Enlightenment, albeit of a new Enlightenment, one that is enlightened about the Enlightenment and resists letting the spirit of the Enlightenment freeze over into dogma.” Jacques Derrida and M. Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret (Oxford: Polity Press, 2001), 76. Ibid. Jacques Derrida, “Following theory: Jacques Derrida,” in Life After Theory, edited by M. Payne and J. Schad (London: Continuum, 2003), 27–8. Keith Jenkins, Why History? Ethics and Postmodernity (London: Routledge, 1999), 1–2. Peter Fenves “Derrida and history: some questions Derrida pursues in his early writings,” in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, edited by T. Cohen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 272. Frank R. Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics: Political Philosophy Beyond Fact and Value (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 375.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

36 Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West, 2nd edn (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 100. 37 Ibid. 38 Geoffrey Bennington, “Demanding history,” in Post-Structuralism and the Question of History, edited by D. Attridge, G. Bennington and R. Young (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 17. 39 Geoffrey Bennington, Jacques Derrida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993). 40 Ibid., 85. 41 Claire Colebrook, “Introduction in Jeffrey Bell and Claire Colebrook,” Deleuze and History (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2009), 4. 42 Jacques Derrida, The Problem of Genesis in Husserl’s Philosophy, trans. Marian Hobson (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003), xvii–xviii. As he argued in that text: “Running throughout this work, there will be two sets of problems that will continually mix with and imply each other. Were these to be susceptible of distinct definitions that could be strictly placed side by side, we would have to speak here of a ‘‘historical’’ set of problems and of a set of problems that is ‘‘speculative’’ or philosophical in a very wide sense. But from the start we must say that we shall finish by adopting a philosophy of genesis which precisely denies the possibility of such a distinction; both through its conventions and its method, this philosophy will reveal to us [what are] the radical implications of this essential inseparability of these two worlds of meanings: history of philosophy and philosophy of history.” (xvii, emphasis mine). 43 Colebrook, “Introduction,” 4. 44 Ibid. 45 Leonard Lawlor, Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2002), 21. 46 Colebrook, “Introduction,” 4. 47 In foregrounding the word “critique” here in my section heading I wish to avoid giving the impression that I regard deconstruction as some variant on, or mutation of, a Marxist or Freudian critique of ideology. Rather, I follow Derrida’s desire to “keep faith” with “a radical critique, namely a procedure ready to undertake its self-critique. This critique wants itself to be in principle and explicitly open to its own transformation, re-evaluation, self-reinterpretation” (Jacques Derrida Specters of Marx: The State of Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf London: Routledge, 1994, 88). 48 Keith Jenkins and A. Munslow, The Nature of History Reader (London: Routledge, 2004), 224. 49 Jacques Derrida, Positions, trans. and annotated by Alan Bass (London: The Athlone Press, 1981). 50 Ibid., 49–50. 51 Ibid., 50. 52 Ibid., 50. 53 Ibid., 51. 54 Ibid., 56. 55 Ibid., 56. 56 Ibid, 57. 57 Ibid., 57. 58 Ibid., 57. 59 Ibid., 57. 60 Ibid., 57/58.

Deconstructing History 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97

98 99


Ibid., 58. Ibid., 58–9. Ibid., 59 Ibid., 59. Ibid., 24. Ibid., 59. Ibid., 59. Ibid., 59. Ibid., 59. Ibid., 50–60. For a helpful discussion see Simon Critchley, The Ethics of Deconstruction: Derrida and Levinas, 2nd edn (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999), 38. Ibid. Rodolphe Gasché, The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 260. Jacques Derrida “Living On: Border Lines,” in Deconstruction and Criticism, edited by H. Bloom, P. de Man, J. Derrida, G. Hartman and J. Hillis Miller (New York: Continuum, 1979), 81. Derrida, Of Grammatology, 27. Jacques Derrida, Acts of Literature, edited by Derek Attridge (London: Routledge, 1992), 54. Derrida, Of Grammatology, lxxxix. Ibid., 3. Royle, After Derrida, 18. Derrida, Of Grammatology, 4. Jenkins, Why History?, 51. Royle, After Derrida, 20. Jenkins, Why History? Ibid., 51. Ibid., 52. Sande Cohen, History Out of Joint: Essays on the Use and Abuse of History (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Derrida Of Grammatology, 162. Royle, After Derrida, 21. Ibid. Royle, After Derrida, 21; Ibid.; Derrida, Of Grammatology, 163. Jenkins, Why History?, 52. Jacques Derrida (ed.), “Afterword: Toward an Ethic of Discussion,” in Limited Inc. (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 136. Critchley, The Ethnics of Deconstruction, 32. Jenkins, Why History?. Royle, After Derrida, 21–2. Jenkins, Why History?, 158. For more on the use of the concept of “force” in Derrida’s work see Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (London: Routledge, 2001), 1–35, and Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion, edited with an Introduction by Gil Anjdjar (London: Routledge, 2002), 1–35, 230–98. Jenkins, Why History?, 54. Ibid.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

100 Christopher Norris, “Derrida’s Positions, Thirty Years On: Introduction to the Second English Language Edition,” in Positions, 2nd edn, edited by Jacques Derrida, trans. and annotated by Alan Bass (London: Continuum, 2002), xii–xiii. 101 David Harlan, The Degradation of American History (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1997), xxxi. 102 Ibid. 103 Ibid., xxxii. 104 Alun Munslow, Introduction, in Experiments in Rethinking History, edited by Alan Munslow and Robert Rosenstone (London: Routledge, 2004), 10. 105 Munslow, Deconstructing History, 84. 106 Keith Jenkins, (2003), “On Disobedient Histories,” Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice 7 (3), 367. 107 Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West, 2nd edn (London and New York: Routledge, 2004), 103. 108 Gasché, 180. 109 Young, White Mythologies, 103. 110 Alun Munslow and Robert Rosenstone, Experiments in Rethinking History (London: Routledge, 2004), 9. 111 Gabrielle Spiegel, Practicing History: New Directions in Historical Writing after the Linguistic Turn (London: Routledge, 2005), 4. 112 Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography,” in The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, edited by D. Landry and G. Maclean (London: Routledge, 1985), 225, emphasis mine. 113 Ibid., 225–6, emphasis mine. 114 John Caputo, “Hounding Hermeneutics: A Response to Flynn,” in A Passion for the Impossible: John D. Caputo in Focus, edited by M. Dooley (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003), 197. 115 Ibid., 197–8. 116 Jenkins, “On Disobedient Histories,” 367. 117 Dominick LaCapra, History in Transit: Experience, Identity, Critical Theory (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004), 26. 118 Carolyn Steedman, Dust (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001). 119 Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995). 120 LaCapra, History in Transit . . ., 26. 121 Ibid., 27. 122 Ibid., 28. 123 Ibid. 124 Ibid. 125 Royle, 30. 126 Ibid, 32–3. 127 Colebrook, 4. 128 Ibid., 34–5. 129 Young, 100. 130 Caputo (in Derrida 1997b) explains the term “the Other Heading” thus: “To signal the notion of a culture that articulates difference,” Derrida makes use of a navigational term, “the Other Heading” (l’autre cap) (from the Latin caput, head, one of my favorite words), as in the heading of a ship or plane. The expression

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131 132 133 134


suggests a mindfulness of the heading of the other, which forces us to be a little more accommodating about those who are headed otherwise, headed elsewhere, than are we. Beyond that, the title suggests something “other than” a heading. By this Derrida does not mean an anarchic antiheading or “beheading”—as an international traveller himself, he would be the last one to suggest, for example, that Air France jettison its navigational equipment—but a delimitation of the idea of “planning ahead” in favour of an openness to the future that does without the guardrails of a plan, of a teleological head, an arche heads resolutely or ineluctably—either way, frontally—toward its own, proper telos inscribed deep upon its hide (or engraved upon its brow, frons), gathering itself to itself all the more deeply in an archeo-teleologica unity that “becomes itself.” The trick in deconstruction, if it is a trick, is to keep your head without having a heading. (116). Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, edited, with a Commentary, by John D. Caputo (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997), 117–18. Derrida, Specters . . ., 74–5. Derrida, “The Future . . .”, 11. Ibid., 18.


Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts Mary Caputi

One of the defining characteristics of third wave feminism is a preference for lived experience as opposed to the generalized abstractions of theory. While this eschewal of theory not does typify all of the third wave—which is famously, markedly variegated—many of the voices from within this younger generation clearly insist that feminism is an action word, something that one does and acts upon in palpable, distinctive ways rather than a topic lending itself to speculation. It is a plan of action, not a philosophy; hence the expression “doing feminism” arises frequently in third wave literature. Significant texts such as Listen Up, Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, and To be Real all attest to the fact that an academically oriented, reflective approach to gender stands, for many, as a hallmark of the past.1 “To do feminism differently from one’s mother, to make choices that are our own . . . that is the task of our generation,” write Manifesta coauthors Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards.2 Importantly, one reason for this eschewal of theory emanates from a shared conviction that the latter’s abstract, academic nature precludes its speaking for everyone. Theory is synonymous with philosophy, and while philosophy takes us into a deep tradition characterized by long conversations and lots of books, it doesn’t resonate with everyone. Today, many argue, feminism is about experience, not abstractions: “Rather than thinking of feminism in terms of a movement or a theory or a text,” Erin Harde explains to her second wave mother in Catching a Wave, “women should be encouraged to express their own feminist perspectives.”3 Race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, where I went to school, and what kind of music I like: all these take on heightened meaning as the emphasis shifts from the generalized to the specific, from the inclusive to the radically singular. What matters is what makes each woman one-of-a-kind, each experience singular, each body different. The formal, inclusive language of theory cedes to the casual, often irreverent, in-your-face vernacular of the confessional. “I believe that the emphasis on individual expression makes the third wave inviting and effective,” Harde opines.4 If experience trumps categorical thought—if the younger set’s sassy, spicy vernacular, which is “idiosyncratic, surprising, yet savvy,” wins out over the formality of theory—then theorizing gender is presumably on the wane.5

Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts


Yet this statement is not entirely true, for the focus on individual experience at the expense of theory is not universally endorsed. Another constituent part of contemporary feminism interprets its purpose as responding to the demands of life in the twenty-first century in ways that have little or nothing to do with individual expression. Setting aside the allure and, yes, the self-indulgence of the confessional, this other strain in contemporary feminist thought continues to see the importance of abstracted speculation and to deem it essential to feminist scholarship. This group of authors emphasizes feminism’s need to respond to the injustices of globalization and to the problems of a neoliberal, market-driven world so caught up in a consumerist ethos. Their position demands that the confessional—marked by an in-your-face style that assumes familiarity—reach out beyond our first world perspective to address the unglamorous, unexciting realities confronting the majority of women in the world today. It demands that the familiar embark upon an encounter with what is decidedly unfamiliar and often uncomfortably different. Theory thus becomes necessary even when, indeed because, the experience of others appears utterly foreign to us. When we meet that which bears no cognate to our (first world, Occidental, neoliberal) experience—when we encounter what Jacques Derrida terms le différend—philosophy becomes a theoretical as well as a practical imperative. Aligned with the argument promulgated in Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s influential Half the Sky, feminist authors such as Gayatri Spivak, Drucilla Cornell, Winifred Woodhull, Leslie Heywood, Jennifer Drake, Michelle Sidler, Ligaya Lindio-McGovern, and Isidor Wallimann are among those who insist that feminism today must expand its scope to embrace the concerns of women adversely impacted by the wealth and power of the first world’s neoliberal order.6 Collectively, these authors maintain that if we are “to see a broad movement emerge to battle gender inequality around the world,”  as Kristof and WuDunn hope, we must learn to encounter alterity.7 Importantly, we must ensure that our relations with the other are not what Spivak terms “a displaced or reversed legitimation of colonialism” wherein alterity is always forced back into our Western, first world grid.8 Thus I would argue that the context of a globalizing world marked by political and economic interpenetrations renders the discipline of philosophy all the more essential since, as is demonstrated in Derrida’s writings, philosophy forces us to examine the values that undergird these interpenetrations. Theory helps us confront what Derrida terms the “interlacing of the same and the altogether other (“Grundlich-Anderes”) which orients us in this labyrinth.”9 In an interconnected, interdependent world, we need philosophical clarity, for the “altogether other” does not speak our language, yet we cannot afford to reproduce the violence of a self-referencing, colonizing worldview. In sum, although the in-your-face vernacular of the New Order’s confessional exudes a spirited familiarity (e.g., regular features in Bitch include “Love It/Shove It,” “the Bitch List,” and “Adventures in Feministory,”), le différend remains inscrutable. Such inscrutability highlights the ongoing usefulness of theory—of philosophy—to feminism, given that feminism must deconstruct our privileged vantage point. Theory’s focus on critical thinking and on calling out our own premises forces us to question, assess, and revalue our involvement with radically different cultures. We cannot treat what is radically other as a mere extension of ourselves, and feminism in all its guises


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

must model this conviction. Hence the centrality of philosophy to our worldview. Hence the indispensability of a liberal arts education in the twenty-first century.

Spy school versus ragpicking As stated, third wavers who disparage theory place a high premium on confident, irreverent, sometimes brazen self-expression that is rife with rebellious overtones. Rather than conform to a theoretical model that they feel homogenizes women’s experience, theirs is an emotional and intellectual rebellion against anything that seeks to codify, generalize, categorize—in sum, to theorize—experience. They argue that because theory is necessarily, unforgivably appropriating the most important features of lived reality are lost as theory strives to codify what can only be experienced individually, in real time, on an everyday basis. And to a good degree, they are correct. The abstracted, pristine quality of theory always runs the risk of discounting the living, breathing realities of women’s lives and of distorting the details that fail to corroborate larger claims. Thus, since the second wave’s inception, the affirmation that the personal is political has always raised questions regarding the “personal” in question: whose experience, what experience, and who is claiming to speak for others? And because the academic weightiness of the second wave so often erred in theory’s favor, younger women today often seek to differentiate themselves from that tradition by preferring the up-close-and-personal. Quite frequently, then, third wave accounts of women’s unique experiences are deliberately cheeky, aiming to come on strong with brash pronouncements and uncen­ sored expressions that exemplify the many contradictions, quandaries, and inconsist­ encies that make up young feminists’ lives today. According to it editors, BUST is a publication that began as a magazine for “broads who weren’t afraid of any f-words,” and who have “smart-ass, outspoken friends.”10 These young women define a newer brand of feminism, known variously as “grrrl power,” “babe,” “choice,” “lipstick,” or simply “power” feminism, that is concerned with exploring new expressions of female strength. Starting from the assumption that women can now do (nearly) everything men can, this younger school of feminist thought stresses the great freedoms women have and the variety of choices they confront. Women can reinvent themselves at will and embrace various persona, thanks to the inroads made by a previous generation of feminist scholars and activists. Corporate attire or frilly getups; Hello Kitty hair clips or a platinum blond beehive; stiletto heels or combat boots; a career in medicine or a new angle on prostitution: it’s all good, and it’s definitely all “feminism” so long as it feels empowering. This is the “New Girl Order,” whose outgoing, gutsy, even lewd qualities are unmistakable, and whose heroines range from female action heroes (earlier, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Laura Croft; more recently, the machine-gun wielding stars of Sucker Punched) to the sexual libertines exemplified in Sex and the City. To be sure, the third wave’s lexicon is marked by a manifest chutzpah that seeks to reclaim feminine attributes—“girlish doodles, such as hearts, stars and flowers”—even as it celebrates grrrl power’s raw aggression: “I want to scream something . . . powerful and strong.”11 A 2010 issue of Bitch magazine, for instance, showcases “Stiletto Spy

Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts


School,” arguing that each woman has a “daring, confident and gorgeous secret agent inside,” a “Bond-girl persona” ready to be let out.12 Trench coats with upturned collars accessorized by dark sunglasses might just enter the lexicon of feminist semiotics, as could an appreciation for dry Martinis—shaken, not stirred. Revaluing girly attributes (formerly deemed the building blocks of sexism) while celebrating female aggression (formerly deemed imitative of a masculinist culture) thus typify the New Girl Order which self-confidently exhorts others to “wake up and smell the lip gloss,” because feminism has changed: it’s what you make of it here and now, on your own terms.13 One devotee of Bitch magazine expresses gratitude that feminism today lets everyone just be themselves. To this reader, the publication’s positive, esteem-boosting affirmations substitute for “the sexy, balls-to-the-wall, secure and confident roommate I never had . . . damn, Bitch, you make me want to be a better person.”14 To be fair, there are voices within the New Girl Order that indeed call for progressive, collectivist action focused on the greater good of the community. It must be said that for some third wave authors, allowing women to eschew theory and just be themselves is part of a larger effort to rekindle political engagement. For example, Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner’s thirteen-point manifesto, articulated in their aptly titled book, Manifesta, enumerates principles that heavily favor political involvement: “We should . . . volunteer for the revolution,” they write.15 And both BUST and Bitch magazines emphasize that a woman’s worth is in what she does, not in how she looks. Nevertheless, the innervated, brazen tone of these writings, along with the emphasis on personal strength and daring, does potentially feed into a self-importance that exalts the individual’s feelings over a commitment to the collective. The latent narcissism of this feminism indeed empowers the individual, and allows her to dub as “feminist” whatever she deems worthy of the term, such that the resultant smorgasbord of privately meaningful experiences potentially dilutes the term “feminist” altogether. A pernicious form of consumerism results, one predicated not only on the actual buying power of the Western world (as seen in “choice” feminism), but also on the claim that the customer is always right: a wide variety of things carry an equally potent “feminist” content. However, as mentioned, not all feminists today are convinced that self-improvement is the road that young women should embark upon. This different cohort worries that the highly personalized focus of some third wavers, so keen on the confessional mode and so loathe to subsume the individual within the collective, in fact carries a dangerous underside. In its efforts to rebel against a previous generation of theorizing scholars, the rebellion has gotten personal to such an extent that it has lost sight of feminism’s larger political purpose. “Suddenly feminism is all about how the individual feels right here, right now, rather than the bigger picture,” writes Katherine Viner. “The idea of doing something for the greater good . . . has become an anachronism.”16 Yet my argument is that it needn’t be, indeed it must not be if we recognize that such an anachronism problematically endorses “the totalitarianism of the same” whose circular, potentially narcissistic worldview forever seeks its own reflection even in what is truly different, untranslatable, “altogether other.”17 If we take the time to examine our own logic and to scrutinize our politics, we might be able to exit the latent selfreferencing that occupies so much of our first world concern with power (with


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

“power” defined as money, position, a new car, a Prada handbag), and to encounter a fundamental alterity whose reality impinges on our own. It is when we risk such an encounter that we employ Derrida’s notions of hospitality and friendship wherein the other remains other even as we seek out a mutual relationship. Such a meeting breeds an asymmetry, thanks to our inability to comprehend and our inability to name what doesn’t translate. We therefore befriend the other, but never assume familiarity. Nor can we speak for him or her: “[W]e have come to wonder whether absolute, hyperbolical, unconditional hospitality doesn”t consist in suspending language . . . .”18 For Gayatri Spivak as for Drucilla Cornell, the Derridean attention to asymmetry so central to his concepts of friendship and hospitality provides a crucial step in avoiding the consumerist, self-referencing pitfalls of the New Girl Order. For these scholars, the work of Derrida has helped forge a form of feminism committed to a “ragpicker” mentality, one that deflects attention from self-empowerment in search of forgotten, neglected, unheard of positions refractory to its own governing matrices. Derrida’s ragpicker, or chiffonier, embraces a stance that is deliberately counter-hegemonic as it purposefully rummages through the often forlorn detritus of culture: it remains on the lookout for the fragment, the innuendo, the detail that does not corroborate the mainstream position, but challenges the authorial voice. It picks through what has been discarded and considers what was never noticed in the first place. Informed by a critique of the ethical theory of Emmanuel Levinas, Derrida’s writings on friendship and hospitality employ a ragpicking worldview as they move beyond the familiar and self-affirming to contexts and situations having no corresponding meanings in our world.19 In order to become “a scavenger of the Other” as exemplified in Derrida’s Glas, one employs a parergonal logic: eyes fixed on the margins, ears attuned to silences and ellipses, the critical faculty forever in search of what has been omitted and can only be understood with the help of different, deferred meanings. “Deconstruction is the scavenger of the Other,” writes John D. Caputo.20 Ragpicking can never be selfpromotional, for its commitment to the logic of différance deconstructs the hubris of one’s Archimedean viewpoint in search of what has been overlooked or disregarded. In The Philosophy of the Limit, Cornell describes the ragpicker as “the aspiration to a nonviolent relationship to the Other, and to otherness more generally, that assumes responsibility to guard the Other against the appropriation that would deny her difference and singularity.”21 Where meaning is always different and deferred, the claims of the self-empowered are, at a minimum, open to question. And while our relationship to the other always contains some dimension of violence and appropriation, the aim is to attenuate this violence through a ragpicking mindset that underscores the other’s difference.22 Thus, in The Politics of Friendship, Derrida writes: I decide, I make up my mind in all sovereignty – this would mean: the other than myself, the me as other and other than myself, he makes or I make an exception of the same. This normal exception, the supposed norm of all decision, exonerates from no responsibility. Responsible for myself before the other, I am first of all also responsible for the other before the other.23

This realization that self and other are marked by asymmetry, yet answerable to one another, thus imposes a responsibility toward difference, never demanding that

Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts


difference translate back into one’s own familiar terms. Derrida’s frequent repetition of the phrase “O my friends there are no friends!” illustrates this point, for although this utterance appears to be a peculiar assertion in a book about friendship, its message is consistent with the text’s underlying theme. A friend, Derrida explains, is one who cares for the other on the other’s terms and in the interest of the other. Operating outside the circular reasoning of fixed identities, the friend does not seek “his ideal double, his other self, the same as self but improved.”24 This is because, in his or her altruism, a friend can love the other’s alterity, all that is unknown and unforeseeable, and thus risk not being loved in return. Unlike the classical version of a more specular friendship articulated in the Aristotelian and Ciceronian claims that friendship is one soul living in two bodies, Derrida highlights the value in an asymmetrical relationship. And unlike the Levinasian trace which insists on the inscrutability of the other, Derrida acknowledges that our relationship to alterity, despite its element of epistemic violence, must allow itself to be influenced by the other’s trace. We will always do violence to what we cannot know, yet the trace of difference must yield an ethical response. In “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” he writes that ethics always involves addressing something other, left over, supplementary, and untranslatable: Neither representation, nor limitation, nor conceptual relation to the same. The ego and the other do not permit themselves to be dominated or made into totalities by a concept of relationship. And first of all because the concept . . . which is always given to the other, cannot encompass the other, cannot include the other . . . cannot lend itself to inclusion . . . of the other without violence.25

And in this task, one cannot assume the reward of grateful, complimentary recognition: “One can love being loved, but loving will always be more, better and something other than being loved . . . .”26 Far from achieving a synthesis in their polar relationship, self and other may well abide in an ongoing discordance that never pretends to resolve itself: there is no overcoming the hurdle, no promise of recognition.27 This lack of synthesis goes to the heart of deconstruction’s focus on what is left out of our conceptual grid, yet what, in a parergonal gesture, we realize that we cannot grasp. Importantly, this left over, excessive “supplement”—always an implicit underside of the stance we take, a deviant, renegade logic present in the logic we articulate—escapes our intellectual radar and thereby contains the seed of change: The unstable is as required here as its opposite, the stable or the reliable of constancy . . . To think friendship with an open heart – that is, to think it as close as possible to its opposite – one must perhaps be able to think the perhaps, which is to say that one must be able to say it and to make of it, in saying it, an event: perhaps, vielleicht, perhaps.28 Do we know that – that things will be different; and how very soon things will be different?29

Derrida’s concept of friendship, like that of “unconditional hospitality, is not founded upon a specular dynamic, yet neither does it promote simple tolerance.”30 Indeed, neither friendship nor hospitality endorses “tolerance” given that it contains a perhaps


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

unstated, yet freighted judgment about the other; subsequently, there can be no assertion that the other causes pain and thus must be “tolerated.” Rather, both friendship and hospitality necessitate that I rethink my own relationship to authority: if I deconstruct my supposedly empowered vantage point, I am in no position to claim that the other is merely to be tolerated. Hospitality is “unconditional” in the sense that it places no restrictions or parameters on the other’s acceptance: the foreigner, for instance, is not welcome on the condition that he or she profess the superiority of Western values. Similarly, friendship “of a new species” does not ask that the other be my reflection or share my worldview, for to make such a demand implies the host’s superiority and takes us headlong once again into the neurotic dynamics of the colonial setting.31 Indeed, as Wendy Brown has argued, “tolerance” in the West—surely an important virtue—is often a codeword for a Western, Protestant, bourgeois individualism that we assume everyone else admires.32 Thus, whereas a tolerant politics often “manages antagonism or hostility toward difference,” Derridean friendship and hospitality do not expect that alterity respond to the worldview of the friend or host.33 But can such radical alterity truly be a friend, we might wonder, if together we are “inaccessible friends, friends who are alone because they are incomparable and without common measure, reciprocity or equality . . . [w]ithout a familial bond, without proximity.”34 Surely on one level this makes no sense, since my “friend” might just as easily be my enemy, “and here madness looms.”35 True, there is something mad about inviting in and befriending what we cannot understand. Yet in order to escape the axiomatics of imperialism to which Spivak draws attention, and not reproduce the specular logic that ensures epistemological if not physical violence, it is necessary that we adopt the mindset of the ragpicker and strive to comprehend the other on the other’s terms: an impossible task which an increasingly interconnected world demands of us. Deconstruction asks that both figuratively and literally, “I open my home and that I give not only to the foreigner . . . but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them . . . .”36 Hospitality, like friendship, is only truly hospitable when it does not seek to translate or convert otherness, giving place to him or her while recognizing that my lexicon does not explain their logic. In Richard Rorty’s words, our lexicon does not carry “the primordiality . . . that metaphysicians seek,” and Derrida’s work has been instrumental in illustrating “a rejection of . . . transcendental temptations.”37 This commitment to alterity is what sets the feminist scholarship of Spivak and Cornell apart from the New Girl Order (or at least those aspects of the New Girl Order that display a self-contained, self-referencing worldview). A feminism attuned to the demands of an asymmetrical world moves beyond the ideal of a vaunted, in-your-face expression of power—“Buffy totally, and literally, kicks ass,” writes Mimi Marinucci—to a politics predicated on one’s responsibility toward the other whose meanings are not one’s own.38 Spivak’s famous analysis of the Hindu practice of sati exemplifies an encounter with le différend, which is as necessary as it is problematic. In her acclaimed article, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak lays out the vexed terrain wherein we encounter a foreign culture whose practices are unknown to us.39 She cites the British outlawing of the Hindu practice of sati during colonial rule, sati being a practice wherein widows throw themselves on a funeral pyre. To the British, this

Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts


practice stood tantamount to suicide, and thus was deemed illegal. Spivak corrects this British interpretation, highlighting that in Hinduism a widow is destined to join her deceased spouse in the next life; thus, if she ends her life now, she is being faithful to both her husband and her religion. It was therefore wrong for the British to interpret this practice in Judeo-Christian terms, for it does not correspond to anything that the Western world knows. Yet, as a feminist educated in the West, schooled in Western philosophy, and indebted to Derridean criticism, she admits that she cannot honestly endorse the practice: “Obviously, I am not condoning burning widows.”40 She is pleased, therefore, with this practice being outlawed in contemporary India where, at least de jure, it is no longer practiced.41 Spivak’s article thus demonstrates the difficulty of simultaneously chiding the colonial effort of bringing Hindu beliefs in line with Judeo-Christian tenets while maintaining her own commitment to feminism. The encounter with alterity is indeed a difficult one with no easy solution: the subaltern cannot speak in terms that we understand, but we must allow for its expression in ways that are hospitable and not merely tolerant. This encounter is one that we must pursue, Spivak insists, lest we commit the violent act of allowing European and American cultural matrices to pass as the unrivaled, unquestioned universals. This is the feminism that Spivak (and Cornell) condone, one that is most needed today given the dynamics of an interpenetrating, interdependent world. When the focus shifts from personal experience to the global arena, and when we become aware of the interpenetration of Western capital with far needier, less fortunate cultures, we leave behind comfortable topics in favor of harsher realities whose asymmetry with ourselves often proves disquieting. “The basis for ethics is not identification with those whom we recognize as like ourselves,” writes Cornell, “instead the ethical relation inheres in the encounter with the Other, the stranger, whose face beckons us to heed the call to responsibility.”42 Translating this philosophical insight into concrete, proactive terms endorses a feminism that actively connects first world activity to third world suffering. And in light of the great disparities that an increasingly small world has generated between rich and poor, together with the deeply gendered nature of this order’s inconsistencies, there is much with which feminism must be connected. Excellent scholarship attests to the manner in which the economics of globalization have heightened the gender divide and disproportionately impoverished women in developing countries. For example, in Globalization and Third World Women, Ligaya Lindio-McGovern and Isidor Wallimann strongly oppose the claim that the neoliberal policies of globalization exhibit a “neutral” execution.43 On the contrary, many developing countries originally emerged from the brutal dynamics of colonial rule and, still bearing the traces of that regime’s violent practices, have adapted to the globalizing world arena with great difficulty. Yet it is women who suffer most, these authors insist, and the pronounced sexism witnessed in female exploitation and poverty gives the lie to claims of neoliberal neutrality. “Third World women whose nations had been colonial subjects embody in their experience of exploitation and oppression the gendered nature of the colonial project that was an instrument in the expansion of global capitalism,” they write.44


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

It is not my intention here to provide an overview of the body of literature that examines this situation, but to highlight the extent to which contemporary feminism must seek out an encounter with that unknown, incomprehensible experience.45 It is surely a body of literature that speaks directly to my concerns as it offers a needed corrective to the potential narcissism of the New Girl Order in its various incarnations. This Order may allow us to be “raw and real” with our clothing, saucy language, and even important political commitments. Nevertheless, another kind of political work—one that does not reproduce the self-same by allowing its vernacular to assume familiarity—comes with encounters taking place outside our comfort zone. Cornell explains that a Derridean, parergonal, ragpicking perspective always occurs in the disquieting encounters located at the outer reaches of mainstream experience: “The alterity of the Other is displayed in her separateness or asymmetry in her stance toward me. She is the stranger, yet as the orphan, the widow, and the hungry, she is also the one who judges me on the basis of my responsibility to her.”46 Letting out our gorgeous secret agent as we hone the Bond persona endorsed by Bitch thus seems a less urgent task than letting in what will surely be a painful, unscripted encounter. This encounter will be marked by moments of nontranslation, revealing ellipses and gaps that, having no intellectual cognate to facilitate our understanding, highlight our inability to comprehend certain aspects of another culture or a different worldview. Refractory to our understanding, they underscore the need for a theoretical framework to accompany feminism’s efforts at encounter. As Spivak explains in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, feminism must succeed in “producing a counternarrative that will make visible the foreclosure of the subject whose lack of access to the position of narrator is the condition of possibility of [the West’s] position.”47 And our work is only half done when the charm of Hello Kitty dissolves in the face of immense human suffering. It is additionally crucial that, in our efforts to encounter alterity, we not assume a voice for the one who has been silenced, thereby endorsing a “native informant,” the other who gives me the version of otherness that I want to hear. Spivak urges us to constantly, painstakingly “resist from within.” She writes: If [feminism] entails an unacknowledged complicity . . . a persistent critique may be in order. It is a truism to say that the law is constituted by its own transgression . . . When publishing women are from the dominant “culture,” they sometimes share, with male authors, the tendency to create an inchoate “other” (often female), who is not even a native informant but a piece of material evidence once again establishing the Northwestern European subject as “the same.” Such textual tendencies are the condition and effect of received ideas. Yet, against all straws in the wind, one must write in the hope that it is not a deal done forever, that it is possible to resist from within.48

Such a subversion of familiar logic is not merely an intellectual exercise undertaken for academic purposes, but a responsibility that we have toward the world. It is a difficult, awkward task: there is always something that does not translate, and if we insist on turning the other into a “native informant,” we in fact deflect and

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disallow the very encounter we claimed to have been seeking. Even the luminaries of the Western canon are guilty of translating alterity into something near and dear: “Another way of putting it is that because Hegel places all history and reality upon a diagram, everything fits in.”49 Spivak therefore argues that feminist (and postcolonial) scholarship in fact often participates in an insidious first world self-referencing even without knowing it. Eager to give voice to an occluded other, these scholars nevertheless strive to make that other fit into their preestablished categories. For instance, “[a]ttempts to construct the ‘Third World Woman’ as a signifier remind us that the hegemonic definition of literature is itself caught within the history of imperialism.”50 Cornell concurs, highlighting the risks involved in a ragpicking worldview: “The danger of certainty is that it turns against the generous impulse to open oneself up to the Other, and to truly listen, to risk the chance that we might be wrong. The move to nonclosure, then, can and should be understood ethically.”51 Spivak does not endorse widow burning, yet still underscores the untranslatability of a Hindu practice in an effort to extend a hospitable gesture toward what so many women continue to believe in. The liberal arts tradition encourages such a move to nonclosure—intellectual scavaging—given that it is a tradition that draws upon critical thinking skills and encourages thinking outside the box. Thanks to the centrality of philosophy to the liberal arts, it is a tradition that holds open the values that inspire our cultural heritage: even as it posits the “Western” canon, it deconstructs that canon’s foundation. For unlike the essential technical, professional expertize gained through other disciplines, and unlike research that carries an ideological indebtedness due to funding sources, the liberal arts actively scrutinize the meanings of Western hegemony and the dynamics that govern “the West and the rest.” Indeed, it is precisely because “the university in the West has never been so conditioned as it is today by its obligations to corporate and government funding sources” that we need critical distance —that is, theory, including feminist theory—with regard to our operating principles.52 This, together with the dynamics of a globalizing world economy and the world’s increasing interpenetration, make theory’s abstraction imperative, given that transnational capital, egregious disparities in wealth, and the first world’s disregard for struggling nations are a political reality. Today more than ever, we are brought face to face with forms of alterity that do not translate into our own cultural lexicon; hence, feminism must embrace the plight of nonWestern women from developing nations whose experiences seriously destabilize our Occidental, Archimedean vantage point. I wish to illustrate this need for theory and for the liberal arts in today’s society through the service learning component of my course in feminist thought. I highlight the experience of one student whose service learning project located amid the devastation of Haiti radically changed her perception of contemporary feminism, steering her away from the dangers of consumerism toward a worldview that is more cosmopolitan and compassionate. In Haiti, she came face to face with a reality unlike anything she had experienced in the United States and often confronted the disquieting, unsatisfying difficulties of practicing a hospitable outlook.


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The apparent project: “Giving place” to the other as an act of “unconditional hospitality” A requirement of my feminist theory course is that students complete service learning hours intended to bring ordinary, practical experience to bear on the theory we learn in the classroom. These hours are done in collaboration with various prearranged partnering organizations. Occasionally, however, students find their own partners, and such was the case with Kendra. When the semester began, Kendra had just returned from a brief sojourn in Haiti where she served as a volunteer in rebuilding the country, and her exposure to the recent Haitian tragedy served as her service learning project. Kendra’s firsthand observation of the country’s response to devastation, with its deeply gendered implications, forever changed her conception of feminism, transforming her American-based parameters into a worldview far more attuned to the vagaries of transnational capital, the self-seeking of international agendas, and the tacit assumptions about who and what matters. Indeed, Kendra affirms that Haiti’s abject posttemblor conditions so lacking in competent infrastructure defy comprehension by American standards. “Women run that country,” she told me after explaining how the Haitian people cannot rely on the established corridors of power for help. Hope lies elsewhere, in creative efforts at rehabilitating the country through innovative, unscripted measures that “particularize what other forms of knowledge leave out,” thereby allowing “the opening up, the becomings, the transformations the present can bear that bring about new futures.”53 During her time as a volunteer, it became painfully clear to Kendra that efforts at rebuilding the country after an earthquake that killed approximately 316,000 people have been unsuccessful when conducted through official channels.54 Indeed, so little has happened in terms of rebuilding the country that additional tragedies add themselves to the first: the tragedy of aid not reaching needy recipients, of only 5 per cent of the 25 million cubic yards of rubble being cleared away, of a cholera epidemic that augments what is already a desperate, despairing situation.55 From what Kendra describes, there appears to be no way out of the labyrinth of despair for the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. “Spring back to . . . what?” asks Robert Maguire, who chairs the Haiti Working Group for the US Institute for Peace. “[T]he vast majority of Haitians are stuck in impoverished and desperate conditions, as opportunities for them to improve livelihoods, enhance well-being, and achieve personal growth are lacking.”56 Despite international aid, media attention, and ongoing, well-meaning relief efforts that preceded the earthquake, it is depressing how little has changed. If the designated channels of power are ineffective, how can a nation “with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty” find hope ?57 The lack of infrastructure is so extensive that “after a year of unfathomable hardship . . . there is little reason to be hopeful now.”58 “All I can see is another bunch of SUVs driving around, but nothing else,”59 says the mayor of Leogane. And while foreign aid has been pledged in the amount of six billion dollars, it has not been adequately dispersed due to a variety of technical and administrative issues. How then to “build back better?” With

Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts


such squalor, chaos, and despair, what is there to build back to? “Despair is the only certainty here,” writes Rodney Saint-Éloi in a post-temblor short story titled “The Blue Hill.”60 “Despair sticks to your skin; it’s your sweat, and the air you breathe. Despair is the second nature from which everyone draws the joy of laughter and resilience together . . . but doom, like a valiant soldier, always comes hounding.”61 The situation is especially hard on Haitian women, who struggle to make families survive and communities cohere by allowing day-to-day life to go on with some remote semblance of normalcy. First, there is the fact that women have always been the caretakers of young and old alike and thus act as the conduit for the needed yet as-of-yet undelivered aid. “Women are . . . overwhelmingly responsible for other vulnerable people,” Marie St. Cyr explains to Feminist Peace Network, “including infants, children, the elderly, and people who are ill or disabled.”62 Second, there is now much less prenatal and postnatal care, resulting in deaths among child-bearing women. Yet perhaps most pervasive is the phenomenon of rising domestic violence, which is sanctioned, facilitated, and even given benediction, thanks to voodoo practices that condone selling women’s spirits. Thanks to the practice of voodoo, women thus belong to the men whose abuse of them is culturally endorsed. Haitian abjection, marked by practices such as the commercialization of women’s spirits, therefore instantiates le différend, for there is no cognate when one’s Western frame of reference constitutes the backdrop of this desolation. Therefore, the danger, gloom, and general misery of the situation do not correspond to anything with which an American like Kendra is already familiar. How to address such abuse without perpetuating the axiomatic of imperialism? How to prohibit selling women’s spirits without violating the premises of hospitality and friendship? The mandate to think differently, to go against the grain and approach the situation from outside the existing corridors of power, is not only a theoretical tenet, but a question of survival. If we can move away from all that reconfirms how things have always been done and embrace a more parergonal approach, signs of hope may emerge. The Apparent Project is one such sign of parergonal hope, an organization that calls itself not an orphanage, but an “un-orphanage,” with which Kendra was involved. This seemingly odd description owes itself to the fact that The Apparent Project cares not only for children left orphaned by the earthquake in 2010, but for children abandoned by parents who simply cannot afford to take care of them. Many of the children are not truly orphans—hence, the “un-orphanage”—but the offspring of persons whose poverty has deprived them of parenting. The Apparent Project not only cares for these children, but offers various forms of training, education, and counseling to parents in hopes that they will reclaim their children. Computer skills, typing, jewelry making, bookbinding, and sewing are among the things taught in an effort to prepare parents for the workforce. Moreover, the “un-orphanage” markets the fruits of this labor over the internet, thereby finding sources of revenue that can be funneled into the Haitian economy from without. This offers the beginnings of a self-sufficient existence to women and men in ways that bypass the established, impoverished economy and finds new ways of empowering local people. Yet the establishment’s focus is not only on skills. As explained on their website, it is imperative to help Haitians think differently about their customs and traditions so that


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the ingrained ways of life might change. Importantly, the Apparent Project teaches men how to rethink masculinity in ways that emphasize respect for women, nonviolence, sexual responsibility, and the importance of providing for one’s family. It presents gender as something that can be rethought and redefined rather than accepted as immutable. It strives to redefine the prevalent vision of masculinity in ways that emphasize caring and connection, for these things are “vital to changing the predicament in Haiti.”63 Of course, the importation of this feminist outlook on gender into traditional Haitian culture presents us with the same problems that plague Spivak’s critique of sati: even as we acknowledge le différend, we deliver judgment and risk reproducing the axiomatic of imperialism that we revile. As we strive for Derridean friendship and hospitality, we reveal our own “luxury of power,” and our gesture smacks of tolerance (rather than of hospitality or friendship).64 And as we have seen, “tolerance carries within it an antagonism toward alterity as well as the capacity for normalization.”65 Nevertheless, the effort to encounter forms of difference that do not translate into Occidental, first world norms while “giving place” to their being does, in my mind, at least vitiate the charge that The Apparent Project imposes Western, first world cultural practices along imperialist lines. Because the Apparent Project confronts le différend’s most distressing aspects, and strives to re-educate adults regarding their personal and social responsibilities, it aims primarily to replace the horror of Haiti’s self-same condition, where doom always comes hounding, with something new. Through its creative endeavors it undertakes “the labor of producing new thought beyond patriar­ chal concepts.”66 Its contribution to rebuilding the country economically, emotionally, and intellectually “resists from within” by teaching Haitians to at least envisage a way out. In this, I believe, it displays Derridean friendship and hospitality even if a residual judgment, a trace of sanctimonious tolerance, mars the process. Because it copes with untranslatable realities on the ground—yet never claims to understand voodoo—it displays a ragpicking mindset in a nation where ragpicking is unfortunately an apt metaphor. Derrida asks: Does hospitality consist in interrogating the new arrival? Does it begin with the question addressed to the newcomer . . . what is your name? . . . Or does hospitality begin with the unquestioning welcome, in a double effacement of the question and the name? . . . Or is hospitality rendered, is it given to the other before they are identified, even before they are . . . a subject, legal subject and subject nameable by their family name, etc.?67

While the situation in Haiti surely remains fundamentally bleak, Kendra’s experience at the “un-orphanage” forced her to rethink her understanding of community and global interdependence in ways that will forever inform her feminism. Her concept of what feminism has to offer the world today bears the imprimatur of her experience in Haiti, where she saw “what requires change, what is in the process of changing . . . how the real could become something else, could become otherwise.”68 The sheer magnitude of the Haitian experience invites her, and us, to forsake the logic of the self-same in favor of something new. Because such intellectual scavaging illustrates the centrality of philosophy, of theory, to feminism, it illustrates the centrality of the liberal arts to a globalizing world. It shows that “philosophy . . . is the condition under which

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new ways of thinking and acting can understand themselves, question themselves, and elaborate themselves.”69 Philosophy, feminist theory, the tradition of the liberal arts: these are essential to a world order whose interpenetration, at times tragic, demands new thought.

Notes 1 See Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010); Rory Dicker and Alison Piepmeier (eds), Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century (Boston, MA: Northeaster University Press, 2003); Barbara Findlen (ed.), Listen Up: Voices From the Next Feminist Generation, New Expanded Edition (New York: Seal Press, 2001); Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake (eds), Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism (Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press, 1997); Rebecca Walker, To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (New York: Anchor Books, 1995). 2 Baumgardner and Richards, 215. 3 Roxanne Harde and Erin Harde, “Voices and Visions: A Mother and Daughter Discuss Coming to Feminism and Being Feminist,” in Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the 21st Century, 117. 4 Harde and Harde, 119. 5 Piepmeier, Alison (ed.), Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 4. 6 Spivak is of course not easily defined as a third waver, for she established herself as a scholar well before the third wave came about. Nevertheless, her contributions to feminism are pertinent to my argument concerning those who critique the New Girl Order and call for an increased focus on women in developing countries informed by Derridean philosophy. This disclaimer regarding Gayatri Spivak is also true of Drucilla Cornell. See Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Vintage Books, 2010); Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999); Drucilla Cornell, The Philosophy of the Limit (New York: Routledge, 1992); Winifred Woodhull, “Global Feminisms, Transnational Political Economies, Third World Cultural Production,” in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, edited by Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie and Rebecca Mumford (New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2007), 156–67; Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, “It’s All About the Benjamins,” in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, 114–24; Michelle Sidler, “Living in McJobdom: Third Wave Feminism and Class Inequity,” in Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Doing Feminism, 25–39; Ligaya Lindio-McGovern and Isidor Wallimann (eds), Globalization and Third World Women: Exploitation, Coping, and Resistance (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009). 7 Kristof and WuDunn, 233. 8 Spivak, 62. 9 Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 2005), 37.


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10 Marcelle Karp and Debbie Stoller, The BUST Guide to the New Girl Order (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), xiii. 11 Alison Piepmeier (ed.), Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 103. Girls to the Front, 15. 12 Yael Grauer, “Heroine Overdose: the Mediated Missions of Stiletto Spy School,” in BITCH: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, issue 49, winter 2010, 26. 13 Rebecca Munford, “Wake Up And Smell The Lipgloss: Gender, Generation and the (A)politics of Girl Power,” in Third Wave Feminism: A Critical Exploration, edited by Stacy Gillis, Gillian Howie and Rebecca Mumford (New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2007), 266–79. 14 BITCH, Summer 10, No. 47, 7. 15 Baumgardner and Richards, 297. 16 Katharine Viner, “The Personal Is Still Political,” in On the Move: Feminism for a New Generation, edited by Natasha Walter (London: Virago Press, 1999), 22. 17 Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), 91. 18 Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 135. 19 See especially C. Fred Alford (April 2004), “Levinas and Political Theory,” Political Theory 32, (2), 146–71; Alford, Levinas, The Frankfurt School and Psychoanalysis (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2002); Séan Hand (ed.), The Levinas Reader (Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers, 1989); Simon Critchley (April 2004), “Five Problems In Levinas’s View of Politics and the Sketch of a Solution to Them,” Political Theory 32 (2), 172–85; Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity: Conversations With Philippe Nemo, trans. Richard A. Cohen (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1985); Levinas, Humanism of the Other, trans. Nidra Poller (Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2005); Levinas, Otherwise Than Being: Or Beyond Essence, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1998). 20 Caputo, 152. 21 Cornell, 62. 22 See especially Martin Hägglund’s (Spring 2004), “The Necessity of Discrimination: Disjoining Derrida and Levinas,” Diacritics 34 (1), 40–71. 23 Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 69. 24 Ibid., 4. 25 Ibid., 95. 26 Ibid., 11. 27 In fact, in a conversation with Giovanna Borradori, Derrida also makes clear the degree to which assuming a friendly, hospitable attitude toward the absolutely other can contain an element of danger. See Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003). 28 Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, 30–1. 29 Ibid., 30–1. 30 Derrida, Of Hospitality, 25. 31 Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 34. 32 Wendy Brown, Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). 33 Ibid., 28.

Third Wave Feminism, Derridean Ragpicking, and the Liberal Arts 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41

42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60


Derrida, Politics of Friendship, 35. Ibid., 33. Ibid., 25. Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 129. Mimi Marinucci, “Feminism and the Ethics of Violence: Why Buffy Kicks Ass,” in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale, edited by James B. South (Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court Press, 2004), 69. Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: A Reader, edited by Patrick William and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 66–111. Ibid., 97. For several accounts of both the history and the current practice of sati in India and elsewhere, see Jörg Fisch, Immolating Women: A Global History from Ancient Times to the Present (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005); Andrea Major, Sati: A Historical Anthology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); Andrea Major, Sovereignty and Social Reform in India: British Colonialism and the Campaign Against Sati, 1830– 1860 (New York and London: Routledge, 2010); and Mala Sen, Death by Fire: Sati, Dowry Death, and Female Infanticide in Modern India (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001). Cornell, 66. See ft. #6. Lindio-McGovern and Wallimann, 7. In addition to Lindio-McGovern and Wallimann, and Kristof and WuDunn, see Ankie Hoogvelt, Globalization and the Postcolonial World: The New Political Economy of Development (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001). Cornell, 53. Spivak, A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, 9. Ibid., 113. Ibid., 39. Ibid., 131. Cornell, 57. J. Hillis Miller, “Sovereignty Death Literature Unconditionality Democracy University,” in Deconstructing Derrida, Tasks for the New Humanities, edited by Peter Pericles Trifonas and Michael A. Peters (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005), 30. Elizabeth Grosz (Spring 2010), “The Practice of Feminist Theory,” in differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 21 (1), 99. “Haiti Slow to Rebuild,” The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, January 13, 2011. Ibid., January 12, 2011., January 30, 2011. Deborah Sontag, “A Year Later, Haunted but Hopeful, Haiti Struggles Back,” The New York Times, January 4, 2011, A1/A6. “Haiti Slow to Rebuild.” Rodney Saint-Éloi, “The Blue Hill,” in Haiti Noir, edited by Edwidge Danticat (New York: Akashic Books, 2010), 305.


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61 Ibid. 62 “Providing Gender-Responsive Aid in Haiti,” http://www.feministpeacenetwork. org/?s=pre-natal+care+in+Haiti&searchsubmit, 2010. 63 64 Brown, 26. 65 Ibid., 26. 66 Grosz, 105. 67 Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality, trans. Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), 27–9. 68 Grosz, 97. 69 Ibid., 96.


Reading and Teaching Derrida in Departments of French and Francophone Literature and Cultural Studies Clorinda Donato

Come on! You are a skeptic, a relationist, a nihilist, you are not a serious philosopher. You will be placed in a department of rhetoric or literature. Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, p. 4 The “deactivation” of the French Department at the State University of New York, Albany, sent shock waves throughout the French teaching community in the United States. On October 1, 2010 seven tenured professors of French were made obsolete during a budget speech by President Philip, hastily called on a Friday afternoon when no one was around because, the President claimed, it was the only time slot for which a large enough venue could be found. That feeble excuse was easily interpreted as a condescending “What’s all the fuss? It’s only language and literature.” Indeed, other programs met their untimely demise at the same time as well — Classics, Russian, and Italian, oh, and also theater. German had already been eliminated some 7 years prior. Despite the falling of the ax on several other programs at the same time, it is the elimination of the French program — BA, MA, and PhD — that has had the most symbolic impact for precisely the reasons cited by Stanley Fish in an October 11, 2010, New York Times article entitled “The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives.” Fish’s article bears citing: For someone of my vintage the elimination of French was the shocker. In the 1960s and ‘70s, French departments were the location of much of the intellectual energy. Faculty and students in other disciplines looked to French philosophers and critics for inspiration; the latest thing from Paris was instantly devoured and made the subject of conferences. Spanish was then the outlier, a discipline considered stodgy and uninteresting.1

Fish’s words hold the content and the chronology that pinpoint the Derridean moment, a moment however, which contained the seeds of its own destruction. Indeed, in the 1960s and 1970s, intellectual energy was held in high esteem by elite humanities


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departments throughout the United States. Jacques Derrida, certainly, led the pack, becoming both an intellectual and a physical presence at prestigious universities on the east and west coasts alike. His annual quarter of teaching at the University of California, Irvine, drew acolytes far and wide, and many recall with nostalgia having taken classes with him or having followed his lectures during his west coast appearances. Sadly, over the course of the 2010–2011 academic year, the entire Derridean empire at UC Irvine was completely dismantled, physically deconstructed, leaving hardly a trace. With far less fanfare then Albany and no media attention whatsoever, UC Irvine eliminated the PhD and MA in French, informing students who were in the graduate programs to transfer to other programs, or to seek refuge in Comparative Literature. Only one faculty member in French remains. Similar dismantlings can be found elsewhere — the University of Arizona eliminated its PhD in French in 2010, while the California State University system has shelved three French MA programs in recent history. At many campuses, such as Pepperdine University in Malibu, French has been reduced to a token presence with one assistant professor of Francophone Studies in a newly configured International Studies and Languages Division. Somewhere in Philadelphia, Camille Paglia is gloating. Her attack on Derrida and the complexity of his thought, waged over the past 40 years coincides, finally, with the ideal economic and political climate. Study must have a practical outlet. Intellectual inquiry whose path is not charted and made accessible is suspect. A look at SUNY Albany’s website holds some interesting clues. The Department of East Asian Studies is thriving, with outside money and international programs. Students attempt to learn Mandarin for business purposes. Literature is only offered as a survey course in translation. This is replicated in Asian language programs everywhere. Populated predominantly by linguists, the focus is on heritage language acquisition, second language acquisition, and international business. Literature has been let out through the back door, a pursuit deemed too intellectual, difficult, and useless in a world that prizes economic exchange. How did we get here and what is the prognosis for French and Francophone literary studies in the United States today? And where, in all of this, is Jacques Derrida, the formidable intellectual presence of the 1970s alluded to by Stanley Fish?

What is left?: French and Francophone studies today Within French and Francophone literary studies today, the elephant in the room is Jacques Derrida. And while this elephant is somewhat present within the fields of English and Comparative Literature as well, its size in departments of French and Francophone Studies is large enough to completely suck the oxygen from the room. In Departments of English and Comparative Literature, Derrida may at least be taught in classes on critical theory as a nod to his long and glamorous career in American and continental English and Comparative Literature Departments. That career has been masterfully immortalized through David Lodge’s deconstruction theorist-hero Professor Morris Zapp, who, in the 1984 academic novel Small World, definitively ascertained that “the possibility of interpretation” had vanished.2 Such avuncular musings from the intertextual world of academe and the academic novel may

Reading and Teaching Derrida


entertain and even tangentially enlighten while promoting the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” reaction in departments of English and Comparative Literature. In departments of French and Francophone Studies, however, the reception of such characterizations has been downright dour, for they reinforce the image of the frivolous intellectual posturing attributed to French poststructuralists, Derrida in particular, by the American academy. Add to this picture the embattled status of programs of French and Francophone literature on American university campuses over the past 20 years, and their mandate to prove their relevance to the community at large if they wish to offer any courses beyond language instruction, and you have a glimpse of the stakes for survival of programs of French and Francophone Studies in American academe. To be sure, the absence of Derrida from the French and Francophone Studies curriculum is nothing short of paradoxical, for Derrida’s presence is in reality so pervasive as to be invisible, not only in what we teach in departments of French and Francophone Literature today and how we teach it, but also in the very designation of such departments as French and Francophone, no longer merely French. Fully attributable to Derrida’s work is the renaming of such departments with the inclusive term “Francophone” to signal an academic space where a wider cultural, linguistic, and literary activity beyond the Hexagon is acknowledged. As the transformation of departments formerly known as French into departments of French and Francophone Studies escalates, sweeping even small, liberal arts colleges that at one time took pride in their status as bastions and repositories of French cultural and literary patrimony, the need to explain and understand this transformation has become pressing.3 While Derrida’s name and the “baggage” that accompanies it in French and Francophone Studies may be perceived as divisive, such perceptions prove ungrounded and superficial when innovative ways of teaching Derrida are developed. To this end, it would merely take a rethinking and reevaluation of Derrida, man and oeuvre, to infuse him and his vast body of work into the French and Francophone Studies curriculum so that we can stop talking around him and thus stop doing ourselves and our students the enormous disservice of consciously continuing to ignore the elephant in the room. This article, then, though written at a time of grave consequences for French and Franocophone Studies, argues nonetheless for the reclaiming of Derrida and his teachings by Departments of French and Francophone Studies through: (1) an analysis of the history of our discipline in the United States; (2) a proposal for teaching him together with canonical authors in French and Francophone Studies; and (3) an overview of his footprint in the most provocative critical perspective to anchor the attention of French and Francophone Studies, if not Literary and Cultural Studies, in over a decade — that of Translation Studies. On the surface, it strikes one as particularly odd that Derrida would be anathema in departments of French and Francophone Studies since Derrida is automatically identified with French and Francophone Studies Departments because of the interests that drew him from Algeria to France, and to the university, in the first place. Those interests were literary, and sprung forth from an early passion for high French literary language and French literature, passions that would prove to be abiding, as he himself has documented on numerous occasions in his own work.4 Why, then, the reticence to teach, explore, think, and rethink his work and his legacy in American departments


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

of French and Francophone Languages or French and Francophone Studies? In 2011, some 5 years after his death, we can begin to ask why his name remains unspoken, under erasure, and yet we receive no immediate answers. As this paper argues, the lack of immediate answers stems from the overwhelming abundance of answers, so abundant and numerous, in fact, that the literary professional who takes up even the superficial perusal of Derrida’s work, and in particular Derrida’s later and most autobiographical work, will be staggered by the presence on every page of the theories, ideas, and directions about literary study that constitute the very heart and soul of the discipline today. To name only a few of these theories finds us in the familiar territory of intertex­ tuality, race, identity, language, mediatization, friendship, gender studies, and most recently, translation and transnational studies, few of which, however, bear open witness to his legacy. How the study of French language and literature morphed into French Studies and then French and Francophone Studies and the role of Derrida and his theories may be answered by carefully considering the principal moments in this evolution. In this way, numerous questions about deconstruction and its master, but also about our discipline, may be answered. To keep these answers from disappearing, however, they must be explored through the kind of collective exploration that is only possible in the American classroom through coursework devoted entirely to his writings, with forays into writings by other scholars who have taken inspiration from Derrida’s work to forge those theories that have infused our discipline with the approaches and trajectories that involve us in the fascinating pursuit of engaging literary expression. As this paper will conclude, Derrida has succeeded, through deconstruction, in enabling us to consider, for the first time, how language, literature, translation, and transnationalism are the means through which we craft identities in biographies and autobiographies. Indeed, Derrida models the crafting of the “linguistic” biography/ autobiography in his later work, where the writing of theory has become part and parcel of the writing of his identity and his autobiography. This work deserves and commands our attention and active vigilance in a world of mediatization in which the origins, traces, events, and the idea of their history appear to be on the verge of extinction.5 Indeed, it is for this reason that Derrida ultimately reclaims the space of literature as the freest, the least susceptible to institutional constraints and Foucauldian discourses and “dispositifs.” Literature is also the discipline with the greatest amount of flexibility, a site of potentiality where there is always an opening toward something else. As Derek Attridge and Thomas Baldwin observed in the obituary they wrote on Derrida’s passing for the The Guardian, Derrida found validation and affirmation in literature: “This affirmative attitude became particularly visible when he was discussing literary works, where he often found vivid enactments of his arguments.”6 Literature best defies the imposition of rhetorical categories; it is the genre where the same speech-act may convey serious and nonserious connotations.7 And what better affirmation of the possibilities inherent in the literary enterprise than Derrida’s observation that “literature and democracy belong to the same constellation.”8

Reading and Teaching Derrida


Derrida’s impact on departments such as mine might be described as schizophrenic, in the sense that he is both embraced and shunned, a thoroughly Derridean dilemma! Mark Edmunson wrote authoritatively about this dilemma in his 1995 monograph, Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida. In a meditation on the commonality of language that linked philosophy and literature, Edmunson presaged a brighter future for Derrida in literary studies “The true relevance of Derrida’s work for literary study is one that will take some time to unfold.”9 The moment for its unfolding is now, though to argue this point, it is important to review, albeit briefly, the rocky relationship that for too many years has made French and Francophone Literature departments and Derrida uneasy partners. For the past 20 years, the mention of Derrida’s name might have as easily been met with accolades as with dread. Appearing on the American academic scene in  1966 as a French philosopher who questioned the very tenets of structuralism by demonstrating how it reinforced humanism’s autonomous self rather than unveiling the mechanisms that preserved it, language and literature departments had suddenly inherited a spokesperson about whom they knew very little, by virtue of the fact that he was French. Let us chart then the history of this uneasy relationship, a proposal for teaching and understanding Derrida, and his overarching relevance in the field of French and Francophone Studies today.

Derrida “under erasure” in French and Francophone literature and studies Somewhere on the campus of Yale University, an enthusiastic admirer of decon­struction traced in the wet plaster the following statement: “Derrida était ici, Lanson, non.”10 These five short words set in Yale cement succinctly summarize both the entire history of French literary study in the United States and the historical and disciplinary reasons for which Derrida’s status exists “under erasure” today. The reasons are historical, in the sense that French Departments in the 1960s, when Derrida came on the scene, were still heavily committed to Gustave Lanson, or the Lanson of the cement inscription who toured the North American universities in the early twentieth century, skipping Yale and thus, the inscription implies, leaving room for Derrida to engage American academe in a place, Yale, that was unfettered by Lansonian-style literary history, with its reduction of literature to a subject matter that could be grasped, understood, and mastered. This reduction is closely linked to the definition of the discipline of French literature in 1911, both in France and in North America, when French literary historian and cultural activist Gustave Lanson first set foot in the United States.11 During a three-month visit in which he chastised American universities for their close adherence to German academic models and as a corollary, to the intensive study of German language and literature, almost to the exclusion of other languages and literatures, Lanson succeeded in establishing for French Literature, and for France, a new platform of academic activity and reference: the American university. The purpose of Lanson’s trip to the United States was twofold: (1) to advocate for the teaching of French language and literary studies; and (2) to push for the professionalization of


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

the discipline through the exclusive hiring of trained professionals from France to replace the “cooks and hairdressers” that he had found teaching French in American universities. His advocacy in America created a ripple effect in France such that his transatlantic success bolstered his efforts to modernize the Sorbonne and to redirect literary study from Classics in Latin and Greek to modern languages and literatures as a way to reestablish France’s “mission civilisatrice” on the recalcitrant North American shores. Thus Lanson unwittingly primed the transatlantic space for reciprocal intellectual prowess, a space that Derrida and the poststructuralists would utilize to their benefit some 60 years later. Lanson and others lamented the inferior role of literature in the French university curriculum, both at home and abroad. They called for reform that would promote French letters in the same way that German literature had succeeded in establishing a primordial place for great authors, most especially, Goethe.12 Lanson’s signature opus, L’Histoire de la littérature française, is a testament to his influence on American university campuses, where as recently as the 1970s, it still held a great deal of sway in American departments of French, along with the ubiquitous Lagarde & Michard history/anthology whose six chronologically organized volumes became the pedagogical instrument of Lansonian mastery and are still used on some American university campuses today. Lanson’s Histoire de la littérature française and the Lagarde & Michard textbook series were written for use in French lycées in the 1950s and 1960s and reflect what Derrida himself was exposed to in terms of the French literary canon. It fully subscribes to Lanson’s pedagogical recipe for thoroughness and pragmatic disciplinary access to French literature as a justification for its masterability as the supreme expression of high culture in its distinction between “good” and “bad” writers.13 Lanson tackled what he saw as French literature’s largest obstacle, the lack of a towering literary genius of the likes of Goethe or Dante, by demonstrating through his literary history how “literature develops according to an organic model, and regards the influence of other literatures as a kind of catalyst that causes the seeds of French originality to germinate.”14 Lanson’s pedagogical strategy for mastery lay in the successful application of the framework provided by the “explication de texte,” in which the reader asks a series of questions of a short text sample in order to extract the truth of a particular writer and style. Derrida’s training in French literature in Algeria was thoroughly grounded in this method. Indeed, Derrida engaged in excruciatingly exacting and thorough “explication de texte” in an almost ritualistic gesture of his first associations with success in the academic arena, even though he would quickly tip them to reveal how, if anything, they ultimately slipped into the unfettered open-endedness of the literary text.15 The reasons for this approach within the French university in the nineteenth century and the subsequent divide between literature as a historical pursuit, à la Lanson, and literature as a literary pursuit, à la Derrida, have been outlined by Peggy Kamuf in The Division of Literature: Or the University in Deconstruction.16 Kamuf ’s 1997 monograph juxtaposes Lanson and Derrida in ways that explain the ever-declining status of literary study at the university and why Derrida is such an easy target for those who wish to blame the demise of the entire western canon on his ideas. When first published, Kamuf ’s book on the tenuous position of literary study in universities received mixed

Reading and Teaching Derrida


reviews, with criticism of Derridean style and purposeful obscurantism leveled at it by more than one reviewer.17 Read today within the context of the current crisis of the humanities in higher education, Kamuf ’s analysis provides, ironically, the historical link that helps us understand the development of literature as a discipline in the academy and how universities, obsessed with imparting a body of knowledge and sets of reliable facts, are confronted with the inability to define what literature is, finding value only in what literature was as a historical pursuit. Yet any reading of literary texts inevitably catapults the reader into the future, for the literary work spills over time, asserting its contingent meanings at any given moment. As Kamuf has ascertained, the Lansonian model treats literature as an object of knowledge with a set of procedures inherited from Hippolyte Taine’s historicist justifcation of the study of art for his colleagues in the sciences. Taine’s attempts to contain art succeed in telling us what art was as Kamuf suggests, but not what it is. Nonetheless, this form of reasoning was necessary to create a place for the study of art at the university. Like Taine for art, Lanson grappled with the need to justify the study of literature as a discipline analogous with history and science to prove its validity as a scholarly pursuit worthy of a fullfledged place in the academy. Driven by competition with the inevitable comparisons that were made between literature and scientific fields such as botany, disciplines had to be made to cohere to institutional requirements of legitimation. Kamuf explains Lanson’s struggle with glossing over the role of subjective impressionism in literary study and the need to focus on the objective truth of literature. She sympathizes with Lanson’s dilemma to reduce literature to a method that would legitimize its status within the scientific university, noting that his philosophical naïveté is consistently replicated in the academy today, informing the camps that square off over the place and role of literature in the curriculum. Even Lanson understood that the subjective element could never be purged entirely because it is the literary text’s iterability as unfixed that constitutes our engagement with it. Indeed, subjects engage literary texts over and over again with “results” that never cohere to the methods imposed on them. The literary text continually questions its own authenticity by existing as transitory signification at the periphery of the tradition which it continually undermines by its potential for innumerable iterations. It sits outside of history, at the margins of the very disciplinary content that universities wish to quantify and assess in order to make sure their students are “on target.” By demonstrating that literature eschews this very intent, it is a constant reminder of “the university in deconstruction.” As some of Derrida’s interpreters have predicted, the evolution of our discipline would eventually catch up with him and restore to the event of his writing about literature the context it was lacking when he was still alive. He would become “the dead man walking, salut, salut,” whom we can greet, repeatedly, as we tread his life/death, left and revived at the same time in his texts. The same thing is happening to Derrida’s interpreters, like Kamuf, whose message for universities is more understandable today than it was 10 years ago. Hélène Cixous’ recent denunciation of the direction of the French university which she no longer recognizes brings both the French and American academies into the same, unhappy alignment.18 In order to understand Derrida’s status under erasure, in American departments of French, however, we must address the words and persona of one of Derrida’s


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

biggest detractors in the United States, Camille Paglia, who for the past 18 years has stridently continued to lay the blame for the demise of the humanities at the foot of Post-Structuralism, and in particular, Derrida, her favorite punching bag, followed closely by Foucault and Lacan. One must also address the aspersions cast on Derrida by Paglia who gave anti-Derrideans the opportunity to heave a collective sigh of relief in her rejection of Derrida’s textual approach in the 1990 Yale University Press bestseller, Sexual Personae.19 Paglia’s strident declaration that the French and their theories should be sent back across the Atlantic Ocean in a highly publicized critique of French influence in the American academy only fueled the divide, attracting even greater negative press to embattled language and literature departments. Proponents of theory squared off against proponents of literature, creating a series of cold wars in language, literature, and comparative literature departments throughout the United States. Ironically, the bombastic Paglia has picked up the Lansonian mantle, fighting for the reduction of literature to tangible, manageable sound bites that inscribe literary currency in tradition, whether that tradition be sexual personae or poetry. Paglia’s blast of anti-French vitriol in the early 1990s revived the French versus German debate over the search for pinnacles of cultural success and the critic’s role in promoting, expanding, and maintaining that success. As stated in a recent videotaped interview about her book Break, Blow, Burn, whose purpose is to make 43 poems accessible to the average, befuddled poet-phobe, in the interest of wresting poetry from theory, Paglia claims Derrida as her prime foe in an interview she granted at the time the book was published in 2005: I have done all those attacks on post-structuralism in Arion and junk-bond corporations and corporate raiders in the early ‘90s, now I want to go directly to the general readers and also to young people and also, as I say in the introduction, I am going to adjuncts and the people who are out there teaching and being condescended to by the theorists, who think they are doing important work. I’m still fighting [deconstructionalist philosopher Jacques] Derrida at this point. And also the embattled teachers who are always writing to me saying how they are silenced in their departments when they just want to do literature and art. There has been a tremendous flight from the grad schools of people who wanted to devote their lives to teaching literature and were driven out when they were forced to read post-structuralism. I got letters over the years. But, oh my God, I have been on the road only two weeks but people are coming to the signings and the Q&A, how many people multiplied by hundreds and thousands have left the grad schools, our future teachers. Our future generations, people who are teaching our young people – all these drones that are teaching post-modernism – 20

Paglia sets up the American-French dichotomy around which she continues to polarize the view of Academe. She exhorts American students to forget poststructuralism: “American students, forget Foucault! Reverently study the massive primary evidence of world history, and forge your own ideas and systems. Poststructuralism is a corpse. Let it stink in the Parisian trash pit where it belongs!”21 Because of Derrida, according to her, people who want to “just teach literature” can’t. She has cleverly divided the professoriate between adjuncts and full-time faculty.

Reading and Teaching Derrida


Those who are doing the real work of teaching are the uninitiated, the “working-class intellectuals” as she defines herself, bringing it to the people. Here identification with plain speaking people comes from the persona she has cultivated as a street-savvy, Italian American who credits her bombastic intelligence to the grit and brains to succeed in the English language that she inherited from her immigrant mother, moving “to Sexual Personae in one generation!”22 In an interview with Thomas J. Ferraro, she explains how she jumped back a generation over her assimilated parents to her grandparents, rejecting the bourgeois assimilation of her parents to embrace the “working class style of [her] grandparents.”23 Part of that working class style is a disdain for intellectual sophistication and the “quarrel” that eighteenth-century France had with Italian literature and the arts in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. France challenged Italy’s viability as intellectual leader in a time when scientific prose as a vehicle of modernity was tauted by the French as superior to the Italian poetic tradition of the past. Though largely unspoken, Paglia’s self-fashioning as an Italian American popular culture persona has been constructed in opposition to French abstraction, defined as a disembodied, cerebral pursuit. She was certainly steeped in some of these ideas and may have also watched her father struggle in his career as a professor of Italian in a small, liberal arts college. These are part and parcel of the chip that weighs heavily on her shoulder whenever she speaks, and especially when she speaks about Derrida or French poststructuralism. Paglia has always been extremely vocal about how her childhood has shaped her, especially in recent years. She tirelessly comments on the expectations of propriety in the scholarly ambiance of Yale and how her loudness was considered offensive. She identifies with Harold Bloom’s Jewishness and his unwillingness to hide who he was, crediting this similarity in their ethnic American personae as the reason for their compatibility. For all of her concern with roots, she has never spoken of Derrida’s background and the ways in which his childhood as a French Algerian Jew who lost his official identity and then regained it may have affected him. Nowhere does she mention his Jewishness, not even to criticize his “wearing” of it, as she does Stephen Greenblatt’s. Were she to entertain who Derrida was, she would be forced to abandon her categorical classification of him as a member of the French poststructural camp, which she bashes. The object of her vitriol, which she has constructed as carefully as she has her own persona, would vanish. In order to avoid delving into scholarly traditions with which she is less familiar, Paglia also steers clear of classifying Derrida among philosophers, for in philosophy departments he is taught as part of the continental philosophy curriculum. Paglia would like you to forget that part, because she wants him firmly planted on her own turf so she can kick him around as the foil against which she sets up her own persona, a bursting confirmation of intentionality, who is not lying to you, subverting you, giving you theory, condemning you, or abandoning you to Derrida’s irresponsible nihilism. Her approach, that of imposing the way in which her mind reaches out to literature to know it, that is, her intentionality in the Husserlian sense, thoroughly neglects the numerous possibilities that the features of a literary text may offer up for the knowing. One of the biggest debates, then, that has ensued over time about the intellectual work of Jacques Derrida is whether he belongs to literature or philosophy. This debate


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

is all the more intriguing because of Derrida’s own involvement with that very debate throughout his entire career, as student, scholar, and public intellectual. And for those who wish to understand Derrida’s legacy to literature and philosophy, one must read Derrida, his critics and his interpreters, taking care to situate them within their proper place during the exercise. To a vast number of literary scholars today, his name inspires both reverence and fear. Reverence for his stature as an undeniable intellectual giant whose work has revolutionized western thought; fear, because reading Derrida in a cursory fashion can only intimidate, especially in the absence of sufficiently generous amounts of time with which to savor and discern, as does the sommelier, to whom the mouthful of wine calls forth both the desire of abandonment to the elixir’s heady potential and at the same time, the urgent need to judge, and engage in the task of discernment at hand. Paglia’s explaining of literature, then, the imposition of her own interpretation and method (critics have remarked on this very danger in their reviews of Break, Blow, Burn) in an approach whose results are ironically similar to those of Lanson, with their New Criticism line-by-line explication de texte, tries to play to this very complexity, telling readers that the complexity is invented and that the sweeping generalization is to be the goal.24 As Annie Wagner explains in her review: Paglia isn’t dumb, and for the most part, she has a good command over the poetry. But her explications are plodding and unnecessarily elementary. It’s rare to see her delve into even the most basic literary devices–alliteration, syntax, and so on. She’s also bizarrely condescending. Unlike almost every modern editor of the older poems in the volume, she withholds annotations. This decision pretends to lead the reader into a direct encounter with the poems, when in fact it jealously guards Paglia’s air of authority.25

As another critic has stated, “She is the queen of the categorical statement . . . Because Paglia reasserts ideas so ingrained in our thinking, she has become popular by reaffirming common prejudices.”26 And it’s easy to agree as a visit to her website will confirm, with its invitation to enter “Camille’s World” and sample “Camille’s Top Ten,” which as a follow-up to her pick of the 43 best poems, offers her ten best of just about everything imaginable.27 Having become a diva of popular culture, a criticcum-performance artist, her rhetoric and persona have been effective deterrents to the reception of Jacques Derrida, who deconstructs her very claim to fame. Paglia’s positive assessment of both Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre has also created an insidious cleavage in the presentation of French thought in American Universities, which once again leads directly into her Derrida backlash. In her categorical, binary thought and presentation processes, authors and critics stack up against each other along continual battle lines drawn throughout intellectual and literary history, with future generations of critics yelling louder at each other from across the divide. Derrida’s lukewarm attitude toward Sartre has also posed yet another obstacle in the American public’s appreciation and understanding of his thought, for Derrida can be easily construed in opposition to Sartre when it would be better to read them together. American universities have developed an almost hagiographic approach to the Beauvoir-Sartre couple. De Beauvoir’s cachet as the embodiment of French Feminism has made her an endearing figure across Women’s Studies and

Reading and Teaching Derrida


French Departments alike, while Sartrean “engagement” is a clear, easily taught, and easily understood, and observable concept that is easy to teach. And as their crowning achievement, both Beauvoir and Sartre were hailed as the intellectual engine behind the student movements of 1968 in France, both visible presences among the ranks of the demonstrating students. Their review of culture, literature, and politics, Les Temps modernes, founded in 1945 to present their point of view and Derrida’s conspicuous absence and critique of the review cast shadows on his support of the student movements of 1968 which, though less ostentatious, was no less supportive, though focused directly on his own students and the classes he was teaching to anyone who wanted to attend. Derrida opened up his classes at the Ecole Normale Superieure, a bold move for someone of his untenured status as “maître des conferences”; yet his distance from Sartre made him suspect here, perhaps, as Denis Hollier has observed, because postwar France was dominated by Sartre.28 Sartre and his philosophy of “engagement” connect writing directly to action, making “engagement” the necessary prerequisite for the writing of prose. The movement of 1968 in France resonated with American students and professors alike, who sympathized and identified with Sartre in their own pursuit of a politically liberated academic institution, which came about in response to the Vietnam War. Derrida’s lack of public demonstration could be construed as ambivalence, his participation only known to the very few who knew him in that period, for, unlike Sartre, he did not mediatize his actions.29 This direct relationship between intention, writing, and political action took hold of American French departments as well, bolstered by the fact that Simone de Beauvoir, Sartre’s companion, was also enormously popular among American university students of French, as well as among the earliest proponents of Women’s Studies. Camille Paglia has repeatedly drawn both of them from her arsenal of rhetorical weapons against Derrida. As Elaine Showalter has noted in Inventing Herself, which examines Paglia in comparison with iconic feminist intellectuals including Susan Sontag, Germaine Greer, and Simone de Beauvoir, the latter is the only one whom Paglia does not attack as somehow having betrayed women and feminism.30 Instead, she is deeply offended by the refusal of both Sontag and Greer to recognize her, Camille, as an insider of equal stature, which prompts, in turn, total rejection of them and their work. Her acceptance and emulation of Beauvoir, instead, could be related in equal measure to the fact that Beauvoir was dead, but more importantly, aligning her own work with Beauvoir’s has allowed Paglia to place herself on the righteous side of French literature and criticism, thereby bolstering her position against Derrida and all of French criticism in the binary mode she is wont to practice.31

Reading and teaching Derrida and Rousseau together: A course proposal Jean-Jacques Rousseau serves as a prism through with one might read both Paglia and Derrida, and here, as a way to separate the “two Rousseaus” who invariably turn up when teaching almost anything in French and Francophone literature these days,


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

especially when addressing women’s literature and the postmodern writer. Feminists have reacted to Rousseau’s “discourse on women” from as early as 1788, some 10 years after his death, when his junior contemporary and fellow Genevan, Germaine de Staël, analyzed with singular clarity both the accolades and the anger his writing engendered in his women readers. She immediately identified with the emotional demand that the victim be listened to, while at the same time rejecting Rousseau’s appeal to nature in the denial of female agency. While Paglia adds her voice to a long list of feminist Rousseau-bashers, she does so from a new angle, that of blaming the entire feminist movement on Rousseau’s distrust of hierarchies and his empowerment of the feminism she despises through the forging of victimhood and self-justification. While sensationalistic in its sweeping claims, serving as a means to pit herself against both Rousseau and Feminism, Paglia on Rousseau disappoints, miring the reader in the banal, almost workaday Rousseau interpretation.32 Derrida’s Rousseau, instead, is his alter ego, as important to understanding himself as Derrida is to understanding Rousseau. A blogger’s post on what binds Rousseau and Derrida is worth citing as we contemplate this proposal to teach them in tandem: Thus, in a sense, Rousseau’s daring is what makes Derrida possible. By bringing forward the question of presence without obscuring it or hiding from it, Rousseau reveals it in its emptiness. After his failure, Derrida doesn’t have much left to do–point it out, develop explicitly what Rousseau must have known by instinct. If Derrida makes of Rousseau only a problem, not a living author, it is because he knows that Rousseau was as aware of it as he is.33

I propose teaching Derrida by pairing him with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the author, thinker, and alter ego, with whom Derrida even shares his French name, Jacques, whose lives and careers as writers and thinkers share a tremendous degree of similarity. Indeed, the study of Derrida and Rousseau together facilitates our access to knowledge and understanding about them both.34 Like Derrida, Rousseau’s work has the potential to be read and often is read in departments spanning the social sciences, philosophy, history, and the arts, yet his critical acumen, like Derrida’s, may be best studied from within the space of literature and all that entails today, from autobiography, to the novel, to the travel narrative, to translation, to the conflation of these genres in hybrid, polyphonic texts of the type that both Rousseau and Derrida wrote.35 While the teaching of Derrida within departments of English and Comparative Literature can focus on theory, selectively adding a salient essay by Derrida or a chapter from Of Grammatology, teaching Derrida in Departments of French and Francophone Studies requires an approach that allows for contemplation of the very construction and constitution of the entire discipline. It is for this reason that Derrida is absent, because, indeed, he would have to be fully present in order to do him justice. How to teach Derrida, then, and what to teach? Indeed, Derrida may be likened to Rousseau by mapping his genius against the many great minds with whom he tangled through the course of his academic and scholarly life. But more pointedly, it behooves us to contemplate what was surely one of the most intriguing aspects of Rousseau, the man, the character, and his texts, especially the Confessions: “iterability’s radical potentiality” associating literature with a certain radical irresponsibility. The freedom

Reading and Teaching Derrida


to say everything in literature means the right not to respond, a right — as argued by Jonathan Culler in this book — to absolute nonresponse, to keep a secret. Derrida’s engagement and fascination with Rousseau from the very onset of his writing career offers a means of access to both. Indeed, Rousseau may be considered the first writer of Francophonie, for, to use Derrida’s formulation, Rousseau testifies in the only language he had but which was not his — French, which at the time that he wrote was identified officially with seventeeth-century Absolutism, and later, with the biting discourse of philosophie. Rousseau’s testimonials from the “marges” of high French culture in Calvin’s Geneva and his early attempts at validation with the French philosophes mirror Derrida’s own struggles and failed attempts at Louis le Grand and l’Ecole Normale Superieure. The striking similarities with Rousseau’s own entanglements with French society become the stuff of Derrida’s work in his later years, just as they became the stuff of Rousseau’s work in the autobiographical literary production of his later years in Les Confessions and Rousseau, Judge of Jean-Jacques in which a three-way dialogue between “Jean-Jacques,” “Rousseau,” and “the Frenchman” recall Derrida’s own musings about “the Jew,”  “the Algerian,” and “the Frenchman.” Like Derrida, who entered the French academic establishment as an outsider, a reality of his life that he has written about in great detail in his later work, and an experience that is directly related to theories of self, identity, and displacement, and his rejection of the ideology of the time, existentialism, Rousseau’s own intellectual trajectory follows a similar parabola, and most strikingly in his rejection of philosophie, a bold move against the dominant intellectual mindset and its practitioners.36 While Foucault has written about Rousseau’s tripartite dialogue in an introduction he wrote to an edition of Rousseau, juge de Jean-Jacques, it is interestingly from the perspective of the literary historian who notes, and rightly so, that Rousseau moves from this dialogue about himself into the solitude of the Reveries.37 Instead, Derrida’s engagement with Rousseau is personal. In reading both the Confessions and the Dialogues, he discovered not only Rousseau’s paradox as the author of Emile, proponent of  “family values” through the breast-feeding mother and the abrupt reversal in his refusal of such values for his own family when it was discovered that he had sent his own five children straight to an orphanage after their birth. This was a paradox Derrida could embrace. Rousseau’s meditations on friendship, hospitality, the secret, and gifts in his relationship with David Hume and the many women who had taken him in as described in the Confessions also resonated with Derrida. Rousseau’s life in this regard immediately brings to mind the very public debate about Derrida’s friendship with Paul de Man and his later writings on cosmopolitanism and the gift. One of the most decisive moments in Rousseau’s life, a veritable turning point when his fame and glory were implicated irrevocably once again, was his six-month “visit” at the home of David Hume in London. Hume had invited him as a gesture of friendship to a man in need of refuge from both France and Switzerland that had both expelled him. Correspondents for a number of years, Rousseau and Hume shared a number of concerns. Yet the demise of their relationship, as Hume rightly noted, “made [a] great . . . Noise all over Europe,” echoes of which still reach us today.38 Considering the amount of ink that has been spilled over this incident from 1766 until now, it is ironic that no exhaustive treatment has ever teased out its implications. Yet Derrida’s writings on friendship, cosmopolitanism, and the gift can


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be read in direct reference to Rousseau’s London odyssey, for Derrida’s relationship with Paul de Man and its public face have provoked and will continue to stimulate commentary and analysis, as well as invite reflection. Michael Ben Naftali has stated that enough time has lapsed to revisit their relationship and its aftermath once again.39 Yet I suspect the real issue may be one that is alluded to in Rousseau’s Dog on the Hume-Rousseau affair, where authors Edmonds and Eidinow conclude that the falling out was really due to a clash of world views.40 Ultimately, de Man is to Derrida as Hume was to Rousseau. The stakes of friendship were ultimately far too high. Derrida spoke on numerous occasions about the influence of Rousseau’s Confessions on him and his own trajectory as a writer of texts that marry philosophy, literature, and the confession.41 Reading Rousseau, in particular, the Confessions and the Rousseau, Judge of Jean-Jacques, in tandem with Derrida, sheds light on them both and the ways in which language and location resonate for Rousseau and Derrida alike as issues of Francophonie. Indeed, we tend to forget that Rousseau was Swiss, not French, a fact that is often completely overlooked in our assessment of his writing, but one that is instead central to understanding his writing, and his issues with writing, especially French. Being Swiss, and more specifically, Genevan, meant hailing from a Protestant Republic where the entire system of cultural references and values contrasted sharply with Parisian urbanity. Never was Rousseau more uncomfortable than during his immersion in a French salon in which his embarrassment at being unable to improvise on his feet and engage in witty repartee left him an outsider, a role he would inhabit for the rest of his life. In Roundtable on Translation, a published discussion in which Derrida answered questions posed to him by a number of his students and peers, Rodolphe Gasché reminded Derrida of a conversation the two of them had had, which is pertinent to our topic: Jacques Derrida, I remember that several years ago, you said to me (permit me this indiscretion if it is one) that you were writing against the French language, more precisely against the institutionalized language of the metropolis, which was not, strictly speaking, your mother tongue. Let me then set this statement in a border alongside your life and your “works” (if, once again, I may permit myself such an expression) and open your texts and your writing to the question of this double relation to your mother tongue. It is, then, a mother tongue that is yours without really being yours and whose duplicity you take on. The day before yesterday, you spoke of autobiography in this strong sense of the term . . .42

In proposing a course on Derrida that uses the highly autobiographical writings of his later career to read the works of his earlier career, we intend to engage for the student and newcomer to Derrida’s works both the entirety of his oeuvre and its relevance. As Ian Balufur has expressed in the introduction to his 2007 collection of essays on the last 15—20 years of Derrida’s work, Late Derrida: . . . this part of his body of work – is less well known and much less well assimilated in critical discourse these days. Perhaps this can be chalked up partly to the fact that Derrida wrote so much (and granted so many interviews) that it is difficult even for devoted readers to keep up with his voluminous output. Surely some of us

Reading and Teaching Derrida


are still struggling with and over the writings of the 1960s and 1970s. . . . It’s hard not to get the impression that in his later years Derrida was writing all the more under the shadow of a looming death, whose date was scarcely knowable, even, apparently at the very end. This contributed, it seems, to a new sense of urgency, an urgency combined with the patience and vigilance that only once in a blue moon would fail the author. These texts, then, are fast and slow at the same time. 43

The sense of time running out haunts the latter years of Rousseau’s oeuvre as well, as he explores the ethics of his own existence in the “lie” of friendship, cosmopolitanism, and the limits of the written text in his ever-growing desire to escape from writing through the “herbier” or the “book” he proposed so as to document “every blade of grass” as a German author had done for the “zeste de citron”.44 As has been provocatively observed in a recent comparison of Voltaire and Rousseau, Voltaire was the last happy author in his thorough and abiding faith in the intentionality of writing, while Rousseau, instead, was the first to understand that writing conferred not happiness or place, only, perhaps, a certain iterability, one, however that was always mediated through the translator’s voice.45 Rousseau’s mistrust of the sign as obstacle to pure meaning, an origin that had been completely lost in our distancing from the state of nature reverberated in Derrida’s revisiting of Rousseau’s obsession with origins, and in particular, the origins of language, and the act of listening, reiterating, respeaking, and reinscribing all of which are iterative acts that form the basis of translation. As recently as 2003, translator and theoretician of translation, Lawrence Venuti, and translator of Derrida on translation claimed: “Translation continues to rank low in the scale of scholarly rewards.”46 However, some 6 years later, the field of translation studies has reinvigorated the entire domain of literature and cultural studies. As Derrida’s fascination with translation presaged, translation, a founding concept of deconstruction, would continue to provide points of critical access to Derrida’s thought and to his concept of self and the act of writing in which the reader is asked to perform an act of translation, or substitution, a concept that closely mirrors Rousseau’s own concept of self and writing, proclaimed in the opening of the Confessions: I HAVE begun on a work which is without precedent, whose accomplishment will have no imitator. I propose to set before my fellow-mortals a man in all the truth of nature; and this man shall be myself. I have studied mankind and know my heart; I am not made like any one I have been acquainted with, perhaps like no one in existence; if not better, I at least claim originality, and whether Nature has acted rightly or wrongly in destroying the mold in which she cast me, can only be decided after I have been read.47

Derrida must have had this opening in mind when writing, describing how identification with the victim is experienced in his discussion of “the universal hostage” in Monolingualism of the Other: when someone resorts to describing an allegedly uncommon “situation,” mine, for example, by testifying to it in terms that go beyond it, in a language whose generality takes on a value that is in some way structural, universal, transcendental,


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or ontological? When anybody who happens by infers the following: “What holds for me, irreplaceably, also applies to all. Substitution is in progress; it has already taken effect. Everyone can say the same thing for themselves and of themselves. It suffices to hear me; I am the universal hostage.”48

Indeed, Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other together with what can be considered its companion piece, Otologie, strikes at the very heart of what has always bothered us about translations and translation studies: The fact that every communicative occasion enacts and reenacts a translation, since in every communication there are two “moments,” a rhetorical moment and a hermeneutical moment, such that, all communication is translation, or substitution. As Rousseau understood all too clearly, words are mediation. That mediation is translation. If we want to exist among others, we must rely on translation.

What French, Francophone studies, and the discipline of literature owe to Derrida?: Translation and ethics To invoke modern languages and literatures means, automatically, to invoke the Modern Language Association, our modern-day guild of apprenticeship and mastery, whose greatest minds coalesce to chart and predict trends that range as diversely from the study of lesser taught languages, the division of labor in departments of language and literature between professors of language, literature, and cultural studies, to counseling chairs of departments of language and literature on how to conduct the busi­ ness of such department in the world of academe at any given moment. As bellwether and political advocate for our discipline with paid lobbyists in Washington, whose goal it is to keep our agenda relevant and funded, the Modern Language Association sets the national agenda for language and literature study throughout the United States through its prolific publishing operation, as well as through regional meetings, but above all, through its annual convention where the most salient questions vexing the field are articulated for the membership and the public at large through the President’s forum and the selected topic for a particular year’s convention. In 2009, that topic was translation and interpretation. Set forth to the MLA’s “over 30,000 members in 100 countries,” this imposing document is a palimpsest of Derrida, where Jacques Derrida is conspicuous by his absence, for through the entire document on translation, Derrida’s 1996 Le monolinguisme de l’autre: ou la prothèse d’origine (Monolingualism or the other), can be read in filigree. No credit was given, no trace of recognition about where this complex statement and thesis may have originated. Another elephant in the room then, an elephant that took up residence on the conven­ tion floor of the Modern Language Association keynote address in December, a few days after Christmas, when, as the president gave her speech, Derrida once again inhabited those presidential spaces as the ghost who animates the discipline of literature, as he has been doing since he first recognized that only literature, in its ungrandiose status in the larger world of academe, up against such giants as history and philosophy, was the only place where he could comfortably reside, within the words as only literature accepts

Reading and Teaching Derrida


them, polyvalent, shifting, terrible, beautiful and, yes, moqueur.49 At the heart, then, of what we do in Departments of French and Francophone Studies is translation. In the essay “Shiboleth,” Jacques Derrida speaks of the “bar of translation”50 that functions as a barrier on the one hand and as a threshold on the other. This bar both blocks and generates meaning; it takes away from and adds to the original text. Translation, in its broadest sense, could be said to encapsulate any act of communication where meaning is always equally generated and lost.51 In the year in which the theme of the Modern Language Association’s annual meeting was translation for the first time in its 116-year history, we are forced to reflect on its history in the academy. Translation theory has existed as a subgenre of critical theory for hundreds of years, with any number of anthologies of translation theory through the ages attesting to the ongoing debate among scholars of literature about how exactly to evaluate it. Yet until Jacques Derrida’s seminal work on language led him to peel back the layers of translation theory and practice to expose our discomfort with translation as an act of inauthenticity whose roots lie within ourselves as unreliable receivers and conveyors of messages, translations and translation studies often occupied an uncomfortable back seat in programs of literature. As we lose our fear of inadequacy over the communicative act and its inherent translation, we are beginning to understand it as the vital tool required to access cultural studies, postcolonial subjects and hybrid, transnational identities that are constructed through the transfer and grafting of places and languages, both public and private, onto a site that is constantly in flux. The texts we work with in Departments of French and Francophone Studies, texts from France to be sure, but increasingly from Haiti, the Maghreb, Quebec, and Africa, require our attention as translative acts. They bespeak the very fragility of communication, evoking the dire need to bolster the translative moment as one of the most basic needs and desires of the human psyche. Indeed, Derrida’s Monolingualism of the Other, together with its companion piece, Otobiographies, strikes at the very heart of what has always bothered us about translations and translation studies, that is, the fact that every communicative occasion enacts and reenacts a translation, since in every communication there are two “moments,” a rhetorical moment and a heurmeneutical moment, such that, all communication is translation. Derrida’s reflections apply to all translations, from the highly technical to the perfunctorily superficial, opening up any number of fresh perspectives. Until Derrida, the treatment that translation and translation studies had been subjected to in our discipline of literary studies can be summarized as suffering from the negative view of the translator, or “traduttore”, who, by necessity, is always a traitor, or “tradittore” of meaning, as if this act of betrayal were done consciously to confound meaning and understanding. We had never quite tapped what made us uncomfortable about translation, asking ourselves whether it should be tolerated as some sort of necessary evil, or if we should consider it an art form, one that more than any other not only draws reader and writer together, but also conflates their work into a diachronic moment that transcends both the act of writing and the act of reading. In such a context, translation becomes a collaborative form of writing, a reinforcement of the trace of human presence on the earth, a coming together to produce the perfect text, enabling the view that we are all involved in writing the same text. As Rousseau understood all too clearly, words constitute mediation, and


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mediation is comprised of translation. If we want to exist among others, we must rely on translation as the means through which all of the strangers in our house might talk to one another. It is time to pull Derrida from erasure at this juncture to give us the opportunity to read Derrida’s reflections and the beauty and energy of his writing on this subject, the subject of translation, which for the first time unites the uncomfortable cleavage in departments like mine where the teaching of language and the teaching of literature square off against each other across the table in that uneasy hierarchy of literature over language, even though we pull together in the face of our colleagues from Comparative Literature who purport to succeed in doing literature just as well as we do, albeit in English translation. In the wake of the MLA’s valorization of translation as indeed, the activity, the performativity, that binds us all, in the zone between languages, the space where Derrida has declared: “I have only one language; it is not mine,” has refocused our view of translation away from the static notion of translation as arrival, toward, instead, translation as transversal, as the definition of the human mode of existing in the moment of interpretation, between messenger and receiver, from the language that is not mine to the language that is not yours. As Departments of French and Francophone Studies decline, shadows of their former selves, or disappear altogether, Derrida reasserts his relevance in translation studies, where the weakness of the notion of equivalencies forces even the most philistine of translating practitioners to stand humbled before the site of transience that is life, literature, and language.

Notes 1 Stanley Fish, “The Crisis of the Humanities Officially Arrives,” October 11, 2010 New York Times. 2 David Lodge, Small World: An Academic Romance (London: Secker & Warburg, 1984). In this sequel to the academic novel Changing Places, Morris Zapp has discovered deconstruction, which operates as a magic bullet, procuring him access to wild academic sex and intrigue, all through the mastery of the obfuscating deconstructive discourse, a parody of which heavily laces the entire novel. 3 Beginning in the early 1990s, departments and programs that had previously gone by the name of Departments of French, or French Program, changed their name to French Studies, or added a French Studies component in response to the growth in cultural studies programs in Britain and in the United States, starting with the program at New York University, one of the first in North America. 4 See Jacques Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other, originally published in French as Le monolinguisme de l’autre: ou la prothèse d’origine, (Paris: Edition Galilée, 1996). For this article we have used Patrick Mensah’s translation, Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prothesis of Origin (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1998). 5 See Mark Redfield, “Derrida, Europe Today,” in Late Derrida (373–92), for a discussion of the finite quality of the Derridean trace: “The ‘trace’ . . . is infinitely finite—it is nothing apart from its inscription in history, and it is fundamentally exposed to loss or disappearance—yet it makes ideality (or perhaps one should say quasi-ideality) possible; it is thus ‘prior’ to conceptual pairings such as presence and absence, finitude and infinity, the sensible and the intelligible, or the empirical

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7 8 9 10 11

12 13

14 15 16 17


and the transcendental. Quasitranscendentals provide names—illicitly, through paleonymy—for the fundamental instability of such oppositions.” 380. Derek Atteridge and Tom Baldwin, “Jacques Derrida,” Obituary, The Guardian, Monday, 11 October 2004. “These readings were not done in a spirit of oneupmanship or negative criticism; Derrida claimed to love everything he deconstructed. For him, it was a mark of the greatness of Plato, Rousseau, Hegel or the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas that their texts moved beyond what they straightforwardly asserted. This affirmative attitude became particularly visible when he was discussing literary works, where he often found vivid enactments of his arguments.” It is not surprising that the debate on Speech-Acts took place between Derrida and American philosopher John Searle about the work of philosopher of language J. L. Austin. Jacques Derrida, “This Strange Institution Called Literature,” 37. Mark Edmunson, Literature against Philosophy, Plato to Derrida: A Defence of Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 84. I am grateful to Yale Emeritus Professor of German, Jeffrey Sammons, for telling me about this plaque. Gustave Lanson (1857–1934) was a professor at the Sorbonne who fought for the restructuring of the French University so that French literature might become a place of national power and pride, thus carrying the standard for French excellence in all disciplines throughout the world. The cultural politics of this approach within German letters is discussed in Jeffrey Sammons, Kuno Francke’s Edition of the German Classics (New York: Peter Lang, 2009). See Allan Stoekl (Winter 1995), “From Culture to the Canon: Lanson’s Mission in America,” ADFL Bulletin, 26 (2), 12–15 (ADFL stands for Association of Departments of Foreign Language; it is an association for language and literature professionals that operates under aegis of the Modern Language Association) for a discussion of Gustave Lanson’s experiences teaching and lecturing at Columbia, Harvard and a score of other venues (he boasted 40 in 60 days) and his subsequent book memorializing that experience, on American shores, Trois mois d’enseignement aux Etats-Unis, notes et impression d’un professeur français (Three Months of Teaching in the United States), 1912. Stoekl compares Lanson’s visit and its outcome to that of Derrida and Foucault, whom he considers metonyms for Lanson. However, his analysis differs sharply from ours as he pits Derrida and Foucault against Lanson as those who “dismantled” the canon of high French literature and culture that Lanson first brought to the United States. Manet de Montfrans (1999), “Travailler pour la patrie. Gustave Lanson, the Founder of Academic Literary History in France,” European Studies: Yearbook of European Studies 12 (155–72), 169. Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, edited by Tom Cohen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Peggy Kamuf, The Division of Literature: Or the University in Deconstruction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). See the review by Paul Smethurst, The Division of Literature: Or, the University in Deconstruction by Peggy Kamuf, The Modern Language Review, Vol. 94, No. 3 (July 1999), 808–9. Smethurst reports that he: “found the introduction dense, and self-consciously over-theorized, very much ‘after-Derrida’. It wanders off down



19 20 21 22 23


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts too many by-ways, exploring so many contradictions and divisions, all grist to the deconstructive mill.” See also the review by David S. Gross, The Division of Literature, or, the University in Deconstruction by Peggy Kamuf, World Literature Today, Vol. 72, No. 2, “The Baltic Literatures in the 1990s,” (Spring, 1998), 466–7. His comments begin as follows, “The Division of Literature is an interesting, unusual book. It is also frustrating, jargony, and willfully obscure. The political conclusions and implications favoured by the author are all too typically those of what one might term the American professorial deconstructionist. But the book is erudite, thought-provoking and diverse in sources and in objects of scrutiny.” These two reviews and the quoted material provide a good idea of how only ten years ago scholars still approached with great trepidation a text that “spoke” deconstruction, even though they might agree with the ideas being set forth. See the following excerpt from an interview with Hélène Cixous conducted by Yves Housson and published on 30 September, 2009 in L’Humanité about the restructuring of France Télécom and the ensuing suicides. In her comments, she compares the situation of the restructuring and the demand for more work by Sarkozy to similar demands made of faculty at the French university. It was translated into English and published in Revista Amauta, archives/6827. Cixous: “People say they’re going to ‘reduce the workforce;’ they must provide ‘costed’ accounts of what is incalculable: meaning, invention. It’s insane: The numbers are crazy. In the university, there’s also what’s called the DBN: That means, every three months you must describe your projects to the financial management department, along with their anticipated financial results! Teachers become accountants doomed to failure. So then, of course, people feel dreadful humiliation. That’s not life: Life is conversing with others, circulating meaning . . . In the world of literature, to which I belong, that I attempt to defend because it is attacked on all sides, the value of work has also been destroyed. There is no writing that is not a work, a transmission of traditions.” Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990). Robert Birnbaum interviews Camille Paglia, The Morning News, an online magazine published weekdays, August 3, 2005, birnbaum_v/camille_paglia.php. Camille Paglia, Salon, December 2, 1998, htm. See Camille Paglia, “Crisis in the American Universities,” an extemporaneous talk sponsored by M.I.T.’s Writing Program on 19 September, 1991. The full text of the talk can be found online at See Thomas J. Ferrero, “Italian Catholic in My Bones: A conversation with Camille Paglia,” in The Italian American Heritage, a Companion to Literature and Arts, edited by Pellegrino D’Acierno (New York and London: Garland Publishing Company, 1999), 41–60. In this interview Paglia explains how she constructed her Italian American identity in contrast to Wasp culture, which flattens emotional experience in her view. While it has been noted that Paglia feigns to be of low class origins when instead she came from an educated, culturally rich environment, reading this chapter explains how she sees her background, the narrative she has developed about it, and how this narrative of her background has shaped her professional life. See Kevin Clark’s review of Break, Blow, Burn in The Georgia Review, Summer 2006, 438–42,

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25 Annie Wagner, “Broken, Blown Up, Burned Out: Camille Paglia’s misguided Agression,” The Stranger, Seattle’s Only Newspaper, April 21–5, 2005. 26 Molly Ivins, “I Am the Cosmos,” Impolitic, by Molly Ivins, Mother Jones, September/ October 1991, 8–10. 27 “The Camille Paglia Checklist” 28 Steve Martinot, “Introduction,” Forms in the Abyss: A Philosophical Bridge between Sartre and Derrida (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006), 17. 29 In the politically fraught world of 1968 France in which the grand gesture of visible solidarity with the students gauged for public consumption one’s viability as an icon for change, Simone de Beauvoir herself was not exempt from blame. See Mary Caputi, “Beauvoir and the Case of Djamila Boupacha,” in Simone de Beauvoir’s Political Thinking, edited by Lori Jo Marso and Patricia Moynagh (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2006), 109–26, for similar claims of political passivity leveled against Simone de Beauvoir in the case of Djamila Boupacha, the Algerian woman whom Beauvoir helped exonerate of a crime she hadn’t committed. 30 See Elaine Showalter, “Feminist Personae: Camille Paglia—Woman Alone,” in Inventing Herself (New York: Scribner, 2001), 303–19. 31 Paglia has remarked numerous times about the role of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in her life, recalling how her father gave her the book for her sixteenth birthday, and that the effect was that of convincing her to leave behind the biography of Amelia Earhart she was planning, to take up instead the mantle of critic. The genealogy of the transmission of this legacy through the father is imbued with significance in Paglia’s telling. 32 Paglia, Sexual Personae, claims the feminism, is “heir to Rousseau” in that it “sees every hierarchy as repressive, a social fiction; every negative about woman is a male lie designed to keep her in her place. Feminism has exceeded its proper mission of seeking political equality for women and has ended by rejecting contingency, that is, human limitation by nature or fate . . . If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.” 38. 33, posted by Greg Afinogenov, July 27, 2008. 34 See Jacques Derrida, On the Name, edited by Thomas Dutoit, trans. David Wood, John P. Leavey, Jr. and Ian McLeod (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995). 35 Peggy Kamuf discusses the comparable status of Plato, Rousseau and Derrida as authors whose “name Rousseau, Plato, Derrida—that stands metonymically for a work and, even beyond that, for an age, an epoch” 97, in “To Do Justice to Rousseau, Irreducibly,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 40 (3) (2007), 395–404. 36 See Christian Delacampagne (2006), “The Politics of Derrida: Revisiting the Past,” MLN 121, 862–71, for a discussion of Derrida’s rejection of existentialism and the political moment in which this rejection took place. 37 See Antoine Lilti (Summer 2008), “The Writing of Paranoia: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Paradoxes of Celebrity,” Representations 103, 53–83, and Michel Foucault, introduction to Rousseau, juge de Jean-Jacques, Dialogues (Paris: A. Colin 1962), vii–xxiv. 38 See Rob Zaretsky, “An Odd Couple,” 39 See Michael Ben Naftali, “The Story of a Friendship: The Archive and the Question of Palestine,” in Judeities: Questions for Jacques Derrida, edited by Bettina Bergo, Joseph D. Cohen and Raphael Zagury-Orly, trans. Bettina Bergo and Michael B. Smith (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), 78–110.


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40 David Edmonds and John Eidinow, Rousseau’s Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment (New York: Ecco Press, 2006). 41 Peggy Kamuf, “To Do Justice to Rousseau, Irreducibly,” 404, n. 10. 42 “Roundtable on Translation,” in Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida: The Ear of the Other. Otobiography, Transference, Translation, edited by Christie V. McDonald, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Schocken Books, 1985), 110–11. 43 Ian Balfour, “Introduction,” Late Derrida 206. 44 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “Cinquième Promenade,” Les Rêveries du promeneur solitaire (New York: Adamant Media Corporation, 2006). 45 Lilti, “The Writing of Paranoia” 46 Lawrence Venuti (2003), “Translating Derrida on Translation: Relevance and Disciplinary Resistance,” The Yale Journal of Criticism 16 (2), 237–62. 47 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Confessions, Livre 1, edited by Raymond Trousson (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2010). 48 Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, 19–20. 49 At the actual MLA meeting, Derrida was mentioned in a number of the presentations, notably those of Peggy Kamuf, Gayatri Spivak, and Emily Apter. Here we are objecting to the lack of reference to Derrida in the official statement about translation made by the MLA. 50 Jacques Derrida (1992a), Acts of Literature, edited by D. Attridge. London: Routledge, p. 409. 51 Christine Roulston (Fall 2001), “Translating Gender: Teaching Translation in Women’s Studies Courses,” ADFL Bulletin 33 (1), 36–46.


Derrida, Animals, and the Future of the Humanities Matthew Calarco

In the closing pages of “The Future of the Profession or the University without Condition,”1 Derrida suggests that the future of the Humanities will have to include an analysis of the history of the concepts that institute the various disciplines comprised by the Humanities. Such historical analyses, he argues, would be far from neutral; they would be driven, instead, by an attempt to open up these disciplines to modes of alterity that they have left unthought in the constitution of their foundations. That this kind of critical reckoning would also have to be extended to include an analysis of the problematic foundations of the Humanities as such and as a whole (and not just the individual disciplines that fall under this rubric) did not elude Derrida. In fact, this critical exigency is the first matter he underscores when attempting to outline a positive, quasiprogrammatic project for the Humanities. He suggests that the Humanities, if they are to maintain the ethical spirit from which they are constituted, will have to turn its critical lenses on its own founding concept, viz., the concept of “the Human.” Among the questions that would be raised along these lines are: What is “the Human”? How is this concept and its associated institutions and practices instituted and maintained? How is the Human figured over and against a wide range of nonhuman Others? It is at this juncture of his analysis that Derrida takes note of a particular articulation of the human/nonhuman distinction he deems essential to the delimitation of the propriety of the human, a particular articulation that will form the focus of my analysis here. I am referring to the human/animal distinction, which, according to Derrida is perhaps the most important distinction to subject to critical analysis in a discussion of the figure of “the Human” and the future of the Humanities.2 Derrida suggests that a future, more deconstructive Humanities that takes this question seriously would need to interrogate “the history of man, the idea, the figure, and the notion of ‘what is proper to man’ (and a nonfinite series of oppositions by which man is determined, in particular the traditional opposition of the life-form called human and of the life-form called animal).”3


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Derrida’s highlighting of the particular importance of the human/animal distinction in this context might have at one time seemed somewhat odd to many of his long-time readers. Derrida has often been read as belonging to a group of thinkers interested in exploring the ways in which a philosophy of difference plays out only in inter- and intrahuman experience and relation. But with the recent publication of a wide range of Derrida’s writings on the question of the animal, it is becoming increasingly clear that his work has had a much broader aim since its inception. Indeed, as I shall try to suggest in what follows, Derrida has been asking questions about the other-than-human world in general, and the constitution, status, and effects of the human/animal distinction in particular from the very beginning of his career. I begin here by examining the general contours of Derrida’s writings on the question of the animal before turning to a brief analysis of how Derrida’s work along these lines might help us to rethink and reorient what goes by the name of “the Humanities.”

The question of the animal From his earliest to latest publications, Derrida is keenly aware of and intent on problematizing the anthropocentric underpinnings and orientation of dominant metaphysical discourses. This project takes place across a number of fronts and through various modes of intervention. The most constant and evident aspect of Derrida’s concern with the question of the animal is found in his efforts to underscore and contest the anthropocentric dimensions of ontotheological humanism. He develops this critical point primarily in view of Martin Heidegger’s deconstructive engagement with ontotheological humanism, a tradition that Heidegger interrogates from the perspective of the role that presence and self-presence play in the determination of the Being of the human. If the main stakes for Heidegger in his critical confrontation with ontotheological humanism revolve around a rethinking of the Being of the human and its role in co-determining the Being of beings, it is not at all clear that Derrida shares this focus on the human. For not only does he cast a suspicious glance on the idea that there is anything “proper” (which is to say, essential in an exclusive and binary sense) to human beings, but he also interrogates the manner in which the logic of the proper functions to draw a simple and reductive dividing line between human and animal. Thus we find in Of Grammatology the claim that the term “human” gains sense only in relation to a series of excluded terms and identities, foremost among them nature and animality.4 Similarly, in Glas, Derrida underscores the point that the ontotheological philosophical tradition is fundamentally humanist and anthropocentric, and that it has as yet been unable to come to grips with the so-called “second blow”5 to human narcissism that Darwin delivered in undercutting the religious foundations of classical forms of the human/animal distinction.6 Derrida also finds traces of this religious humanism and anthropocentrism among the most insightful critics of the metaphysical tradition, such as Emmanuel Levinas. In Derrida’s early essay on Levinas, he takes Levinas’s thought of the face to task for its reliance upon anthropocentric and religious notions of the ethical and the human, and for its unwitting use of a simplistic and reductive version of the human/animal distinction.7

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The latter point, concerning a reductive understanding of the human/animal distinction, is one of the invariable themes one finds in Derrida’s writings concerning the question of the animal. On this issue, he is at pains to argue that binary oppositions between human beings and animals are not only empirically inaccurate, but also overlook the various differences we find between and among human beings themselves and animals themselves. The vast majority of what Derrida has written on the issue of animals and animality touches on the myriad ways in which philosophers and theorists have tried to cleanly and clearly separate human beings from animals using single traits, characteristics, or “propers.” Entire essays and chapters of books have been devoted to a deconstruction of traits or capacities often thought to be uniquely human, such as spirit, world, nudity, and awareness of death, while other traits such as language, reason, responsibility, and technology are discussed critically only in passing. Throughout these texts, it is clear that Derrida is highly suspicious of classical formulations of the human/animal distinction and is seeking to rethink differences between human beings and animal in a nonhierarchical and nonbinary way. Beyond the critical tasks of calling attention to the anthropocentric aspects of ontotheological humanism and questioning its reliance on binary oppositions in thinking about differences between and among human beings and animals, Derrida’s work also gestures toward the positive project of trying to think otherwise about animal life and its place in ethics and politics. This positive project is, like much else in his work that is aimed at articulating an alternative to the traditions he inherits and deconstructs, not as fully worked out as his critical and negative projects. Nevertheless, there is a significant amount of material devoted to this task that is relevant to the aim of tracking the question of the animal in his work. Along these lines, there are two major strategies that Derrida employs. The first is to develop a series of so-called “ultra-transcendental” concepts or “infrastructures” (such as “différance,” supplement, arche-writing, and so forth) that are not exclusively human. Although Derrida has always insisted that such notions as “différance,” the trace, ex-appropriation, and so forth circulate and function well beyond humanity, many of his best readers have missed this aspect of his thought. What Derrida seems most interested in developing with these sorts of quasiconcepts and infrastructures is not just a decentering of human subjectivity (as is sometimes supposed), but rather a thought of the same/other relation where the same is not simply a human self and where the other is not simply a human other. At bottom, what these infrastructures seek to give for thought is a notion of finite life as responsivity, where life is understood not exclusively but broadly and inclusively, ranging from human to animal and beyond (and in such a way that life is not simply different from or opposed to death but includes finitude at its very heart). Stated in very bald terms, Derrida’s position here seems to be that wherever among life-forms we find something like an identity, we will invariably also find the play of difference, affect, inheritance, response, and so on, at work. From this perspective, there is no clear separation between human and animal inasmuch as both “kinds” of beings are irreducibly caught up in the “same” network of differential forces that constitute their respective modes of existence. The second chief strategy that Derrida’s positive project employs is to bring animals within the scope of ethical and political consideration. If one of the overarching


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dogmatisms of the ontotheological philosophical tradition has been that animals are incapable of ethics and politics and thus fall outside the scope of ethical and political concern, then one of the main advances of Derrida’s thought is his attempt to develop a thought of ethics and politics that avoids repeating these standard theses. Here again it is clear that the major political motifs and ethical infrastructures of his work from the mid-1980s forward (democracy to come, the gift, hospitality, friendship without friendship, the specter, the messianic, and so forth) are not intended to exclude animals from their scope. Indeed, not only does Derrida explicitly extend these infrastructures to include animals, thus bringing them within the scope of ethics and politics, he also insists that animals have the capacity to interrupt one’s existence and inaugurate ethical and political encounters. In this vein, he discusses at length the violence and injustices suffered by animals, and, in contrast to Levinas in particular, makes it clear that animals confront us with as much (if not more, in certain instances) ethical force than human beings do. In addition to these two dominant threads in Derrida’s work, he also stresses what could be called a kind of pre- or proto-ethical imperative that opens up thought to the animal and nonhuman Other (I use pre- or proto-ethical to underscore that the relation that opens and sustains ethics cannot be entirely captured by visible or speakable ethical relations). Derrida’s most explicit and sustained account of this proto-ethical imperative is found in his discussion of Jeremy Bentham in “The Animal That Therefore I Am.”8 As is well known, in his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham laments the fact that animals are treated in his time as “mere” things and states his grief over the fact that a great portion of humanity receives the same poor and unthinking treatment that animals receive. For Bentham, there can be no rigorous justification for ignoring the suffering of either human beings or animals, and his hope is that one day such injustices will be transformed. This is what leads Bentham to ask a question that Derrida considers profound: “The question [concerning animals] is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” The well-known utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer takes this passage as one of his central inspirations for Animal Liberation, pressing Bentham’s consequentialist, sentience-based hedonic utilitarianism into the service of his own form of preference utilitarianism.9 Given what we have seen from Derrida thus far, it should be clear that he would endorse the general thrust of the position advanced by Bentham and Singer and that he would also subscribe to the surface dimensions of the logic of extending moral consideration to all sentient beings. And yet, Derrida does not pick up on these threads of Bentham’s statement in his analysis. Rather, he focuses on how Bentham’s question has the potential for revolutionizing the proto-ethical dimensions of the question of the animal. In this vein, Derrida would have us read Bentham’s focus on suffering in a way that is somewhat different from Singer’s. Rather than examining animals’ capacity to feel pleasure and pain (Bentham), or their having preferences for certain states of affairs over others (Singer), Derrida uses Bentham’s question to broach the issue of the embodied exposure of animals, which is to say, their finitude and vulnerability. While the surface level of Bentham’s discourse speaks in terms of capacities and faculties (Can

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they suffer?, etc.), Derrida wants to suggest that such capacities are not the ultimate foundation of obligations toward animals. In other words, the question of the animal as it posed in the utilitarian tradition — that is, the question of whether an animal can suffer and how much moral weight that suffering should have — is not the primordial matter in ethical relations with animals. Instead, Bentham’s question points toward and contains within itself the trace of something more basic: a prior, interruptive encounter with animal suffering that has disrupted and called for thought. As such, the question of the animal is according to Derrida already a response to some event that has preceded it. Whether or not such an event is explicitly remarked or noticed, the question testifies to it and poses it for thought. It is because of this fact of exposure that Derrida can argue that the “face” (understood in the Levinasian sense as marking the site of expression, vulnerability, and finitude) of other animals is undeniable. This is the case, he insists, whether we affirm or deny the animal’s face, whether we respond affirmatively to a given encounter or disavow it. Both responses — negation and affirmation — testify to the encounter’s force and to the fact that the vulnerability and expressivity of the face pierce and affect us. Derrida’s approach thus seeks to work through the question of the animal at the level of proto-ethical exposure in order to challenge the traditional metaphysical grounding (most often in reason and theoretical reflection) of dominant modes of ethical thinking and practice and re-orient them along alternative lines. This is why he can suggest that Bentham’s question has the potential to change the ground and base of the entire philosophical and practical problematic concerning animals, thereby helping to move us away from a search for the indubitable (by way of a reason and theoretical reflection deemed foundational) and toward the undeniable and compassion (by way of a thinking of the proto-ethical exposure and relation of finite embodies beings): No one can deny the suffering, fear or panic, the terror or fright that humans witness in certain animals. . . . The response to the question “Can they suffer?” leaves no doubt. In fact it has never left any room for doubt; it precedes the indubitable, is older than it. No doubt either, then, for the possibility of our giving vent to a surge of compassion, even if it is then misunderstood, repressed, or denied, held in respect. Before the undeniable of this response (yes, they suffer, like us who suffer for them and with them), before this response that precedes all other questions, the problematic changes ground and base.10

At the proto-ethical level, then, Derrida wants to suggest that animals carry a potentially disruptive force, one that affects and challenges us prior to any explicit or theoretical reflection or debate we might have on the ethical status of animals. One of the more provocative aspects of Derrida’s approach to the question of the animal, and one that further distinguishes his thought from Levinas’s and other Continental ethical philosophers’, is that he doesn’t limit the interruptive capacity of the animal simply to its vulnerability and susceptibility to wounding and suffering. While vulnerability is no doubt an exemplary “site” of interruption, one should not mistake this exemplary mode of exposure for the totality of modes of proto-ethical encounters. There are various ways in which animals might interrupt us, challenge our standard ways of thinking,


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and call us to responsibility — and it is the task of Derrida’s discourse on animality to partially remark these ways and pursue their consequences for thought, for language, for institutions, and for life.

The post-humanities? The foregoing analysis leaves us with a question: How might Derrida’s thought on animals be put to work in the context of our opening discussion of the future of the Humanities? If we follow Derrida in maintaining that one of the primary tasks for thought today is to attend to the animal (and other nonhuman) Others with whom we find ourselves in relation, then it becomes immediately clear that much of the work that takes place within the Humanities would have to be fundamentally transformed to take this thought into account. What would the social sciences look like if their founding concept of the socius were expanded to include animals and the nonhuman world? What would happen to the myriad fields that are grounded in cultural studies if the nature/culture binary were rethought along deconstructive lines and nonhuman nature were considered central to the constitution of what goes by the name of human culture? How might fields such as queer studies, women’s studies, and ethnic studies be transformed if they were to open themselves up to the questions that are raised by Derrida and other theorists and activists who are working in the field of animal studies? While Derrida himself offers no concrete answers to such questions, there can be little doubt that it is precisely these kinds of critical and disruptive encounters with issues surrounding animals and other nonhuman beings that he sought to foment.11 But rather than end on this open question about the possible impacts of the question of the animal for the Humanities, I should like to explore a bit more this critical challenge to the Humanities and close with a brief discussion of how Derrida’s thought on animals might be brought to bear on my “home” discipline of philosophy. Contemporary philosophy (of both the so-called analytic and Continental varieties) is characterized by some of the most persistent and unyielding forms of anthropocentrism imaginable; and Derrida’s status as a trained philosopher no doubt made him especially sensitive to the anthropocentric dogmas of the discipline. In very few fields in the Humanities are questions about nonhuman beings actively discouraged from being raised. However, in philosophy, this active unwillingness to consider the anthropocentric underpinnings of the discipline remains dominant and widespread. One of the few places in which this kind of anthropocentrism is at least partially questioned is in ethics (thanks to the work of analytic philosophers like Peter Singer and Tom Regan). And increasingly, thanks to Derrida’s (and a handful other Continental philosophers’) interventions, question about animals and animality are now beginning to be taken seriously in recent debates in Continental philosophy. Overwhelmingly, though, the major philosophical fields of inquiry (such as political philosophy, philosophy of mind, epistemology, ontology/metaphysics) have avoided any direct confrontation with the question of the animal and have continued to focus on questions that are exclusive to and motivated solely by concerns

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with human being, human knowledge, human perspectives, and human welfare. Consequently, if philosophy were to take the deconstructive question of the animal seriously, it would both require and constitute a revolution in philosophical thought, concepts, and practice. For example: When raising questions in ethical and political philosophy, it would be necessary to ask about the welfare and status not just of human beings but also of animals and other nonhuman beings in the constitution of the polis. When raising questions in the philosophy of mind, it would be necessary to challenge the chauvinistic concern with human intelligence and consciousness and learn to place animal and other nonhuman minds and intelligences on the same plane of theoretical and practical importance. When raising epistemological questions, it would be necessary give thought to other, nonhuman ways of knowing, other worlds, other perspectives than those considered to be quintessentially human. In ontology and metaphysics, the beings and relations that are taken to be most basic to reality would have to derive not just from the mind/world correlate but also include animal and nonhuman correlations and relations of all sorts. It might even be the case that these major philosophical fields would themselves dissolve or be reconstituted along different lines altogether if the human perspective were to be displaced from the center of philosophical analysis. Despite the anthropocentric dogmas of dominant philosophical research and programs, such work is now beginning to get underway, both inside and outside of the discipline. Similar trends can be found in related disciplines among the various theorists working in animal studies and other groupings associated with posthumanist thought. These recent developments suggest that contemporary nonanthropocentric thought is already working within a space that has been partially delimited and opened up by Derrida’s writings on animals and the more-than-human world. In other words, the kind of revolution in thought, concepts, and practice that I mentioned just above is already underway in philosophy and related disciplines. Although much of this nonanthropocentric work takes place in the Humanities, there is no guarantee that it will stay there or that it will leave the Humanities intact. In many ways, this emerging field of critical, deconstructive work is asking the Humanities to rethink itself from the ground up, to rethink its founding concepts, and to re-raise the question of the meaning of “the Human.” In that sense, the question of the animal as raised by Derrida, along with the work it has inspired, not only asks us to rethink the future of the Humanities, but also asks us to rethink whether the Humanities as they are currently configured should have a future.

Notes 1 Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the University without Condition (thanks to the ‘Humanities,’ what could take place tomorrow),” in Jacques Derrida and the Humanities: A Critical Reader, edited by Tom Cohen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). 2 Jacques Derrida and E. Roudinesco For what Tomorrow . . . A Dialogue (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004). As Derrida states in an interview with Elisabeth Roudinesco that the question of the human/animal distinction and animality is, for


3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts him, “not one question among others. . . . I have long considered it to be decisive . . . in itself and for its strategic value. . . . [I]t also represents the limit upon which all the great questions are formed and determined, as well as all the concepts that attempt to delimit what is ‘proper to man . . . ’ ” (62–3). For what tomorrow . . ., 50–1. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974). Sigmund Freud, “A Difficulty in the Path to Psychoanalysis,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London: Hogarth Press, 1955). Jacques Derrida, Glas (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990). Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics,” in Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978). Jacques Derrida (2002), “The Animal That Therefore I am (More to Follow),” Critical Inquiry 28, 369–418. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation, 2nd edn (New York: Harper Collins, 2002). “The Animal . . .”, 396–7. In recent years, of course, this kind of critical animal and animality studies discourse has exploded throughout the Humanities and social sciences, with influential work done by a wide variety of scholars such as Donna Haraway, Cary Wolfe, and others too numerous to list here.


The Name of Sociology and the Trace of Derrida Colm J. Kelly

In the hypothesis of a complete objectification’ . . . that is, an objectification that has been achieved and is no longer maintained as a regulating idea, such a consideration in Bourdieu’s sociology should reconstitute the metalanguage of an absolute knowledge that would place “sociology” in the place of the great logic (à la place de la grande logique) and would ensure it absolute, that is, philosophical hegemony over the multiplicity of the other regions of knowledge, of which sociology would no longer simply be a part. It should find (as I believe every time I subscribe to its most radical projects) another name for itself.1

Derrida, sociology, the humanities, and the university The term “deconstruction” has been used quite widely in sociology, as have the terms “post-structuralism” and “post-modernism.” “Deconstruction” is normally used, loosely, as a synonym for critical analysis or for social constructionism. “Postmodernism” was used quite extensively in the late 1980s and 1990s in sociology in the same way that it was used in the humanities more generally in the same time period. “Post-structuralism” is a term used much less frequently, and, as in the humanities more generally, it is assumed to refer to a supposed style of thinking associated with Althusser, Foucault, Deleuze, Kristeva, Derrida, etc. In no case are these terms linked with or used by wide-ranging or coherent schools of thought within sociology. They have more of the quality of occasional usage. It would be of little use to treat discussion of these terms in sociology as evidence of the influence Derrida has exerted on sociology. To do so would be, at best, to assimilate Derrida to one or more climates of thought which exist or once existed and then to conclude that the influence of these climates of thought on sociology attests to the influence of Derrida on sociology. Nothing would be gained from such a parade of abstractions. At its worst, the variety of uses and meanings associated with these terms, together with the sometimes occasional and seldom coherent ways in which they were used, both within and outside sociology, would not allow a coherent discussion on the topic.2 This chapter instead takes the


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approach of examining documented occasions when major sociologists commented on Derrida and when Derrida responded. These occasions are few and far between, and so the chapter focuses on two major episodes: (i) Pierre Bourdieu’s critical comments on Derrida, and Derrida’s only published, and generally sympathetic, response to the work of Bourdieu; and (ii) Jürgen Habermas’ critical early papers on Derrida, together with Derrida’s responses to Habermas’ criticisms, followed many years later by an apparent rapprochement between the two, and two joint initiatives, which they undertook. These two episodes will take up the second and third portions of this chapter. The chapter, however, does attempt a little more than a documentation of these two “encounters.” In the opening section I document, on the one hand, the misreading, and dismissal, of Derrida, by Anthony Giddens, and on the other hand, the engagement with Derrida by Ernesto Laclau. This reading and nonreading of Derrida bookend with the concluding section, in which I will try to suggest what relevance Derrida might still have for sociology in the future. I will show that there are genuine openings here for a new and different sociology, but at the same time there will be no easy or comforting conclusion. The most powerful claim that could be made would be that sociology’s highest calling and duty is that it must become deconstruction, and a central way in which it would go about this would be fundamentally to reconceive the social as the relation to the other. But, in this becoming-deconstruction, the possibility cannot be ruled out that their might be “very little, almost nothing” left of sociology as it now recognizes itself.3 This potential deconstruction of sociology is also a potential realignment of the relationship between the humanities and the social sciences, as these in turn relate to current debates about the future of the university. The encounters that run through this paper began in the 1980s, at the time of the “culture wars” in the United States, concerning the university curriculum. This was the conflict between defenders of the classical humanities and defenders of critical, historicist, Marxist, and sociological approaches to human studies. Derrida was attacked by representatives of both sides in these conflicts. A classic case in point, from the pen of a defender of the classical humanities, was Allan Bloom’s polemic against deconstruction in The Closing of the American Mind: “. . . Deconstructionism . . . is the last stage in the suppression of reason and the denial of the possibility of truth in the name of philosophy ( . . . ) there is no text, only interpretation ( . . . ) there is both no text and no reality to which the texts refer.”4 It is important to remember, however, that if Bloom and the other defenders of the classical liberal arts believe that they are defending truth against the depredations of Derrida and his like, they also believe that the social sciences must be defended as well. The social sciences are constituted so that they cannot ask the great questions of classical political philosophy about truth, beauty, virtue, and the good life, and thus what is wrong with the social sciences is also what is wrong with modernity in general, from the perspective Bloom is defending. Derrida did not participate directly in the sort of polemics represented by Bloom, but he — or at least his name — was often caught in the crossfire between classical humanists and their opponents.5 He was at times attacked by those who advocated the types of positions that defenders of the classical humanities were attacking, that is, by advocates of historicism and sociologism. A case in point is Anne McLintock

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and Rob Nixon’s criticism of Derrida’s brief text, “Racism’s Last Word,” written to accompany an anti-apartheid art exhibit.6 They claim that Derrida fails to give an adequate historical and social account of apartheid, or more pointedly, that he fails to “point to something beyond the text.”7 However, the real crux of McLintock and Nixon’s argument is that the historical, political, and sociological approach they advocate gets at the fundamental reality of the phenomenon under investigation. This approach will integrate “discursive, political, economic and historical analyses” in order to reveal how “the discourses of South African racism have been at once historically constituted and politically constitutive.”8 In response, Derrida points out that, in an elementary sense, his critics simply failed to recognize what kind of text he had composed; that is, an “appeal,” not an “historical or anthropological treatise.”9 But more importantly in the present context, Derrida insists that deconstruction is more than conceptual or discursive analysis, and that it also, at the same time as it analyzes, is an attempt to intervene in institutions and to alter contexts. The “Left” and the “Right,” progressives and neoconservatives “get impatient when they see that deconstructive practices are also first of all political and institutional practices.”10 Underlying these divergent criticisms of Derrida, and in a sense passing him by, is a disagreement about the essence of the phenomenon being studied. The classical humanists claim that there are timeless issues and problems facing humans, which are best addressed through studying the “great books.” The historicist claims, in contrast, that the social and historical context shapes and determines the phenomenon of the “human.” It is clear that Derrida will not accept either pole of this alternative. There is no need to rehearse the extent to which Derrida’s thought is profoundly different to the classical humanities, while Derrida’s differences with the historicism and sociologism of the social sciences will be evident in the section below on Derrida’s response to Bourdieu. At the present time, the humanities are attempting to defend themselves against the effects of cutbacks to the university sector and against the corporatization of the university. It is clear that Derrida’s work, and any work taking his work seriously, cannot be about a re-institution of the classical humanities. But nor can it be about subjecting the humanities to outright historicism and sociologism, and politicization, in the style of McLintock and Nixon from within the humanities, or as we shall see below in more detail, in the style of Bourdieu from within professional sociology. Any sociology worthy of the name, which will have gone through the ordeal of deconstruction, will be cross-fertilized with the humanities in such a way as to generate a new “social studies,” one that, like deconstruction, will attempt to intervene in and alter discourses, rather than studying them; or to anticipate the conclusion, this social studies will address the other, rather than objectifying the other.

On reading and not reading Derrida Anthony Giddens, one of the world’s most distinguished sociologists, draws freely on certain strands of phenomenology and of the philosophy of language in the development of his theory of structuration. It might, thus, have been expected that


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Giddens would be able to respond effectively to such a major thinker as Derrida. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. In a paper delivered in 1986 and published in 1987, entitled, “Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and the Production of Culture,” Giddens began as follows: “Structuralism, and post-structuralism also, are dead traditions of thought.”11 While briefly conceding that there might be reasons not to use the controversial term poststructuralism, Giddens summarily dismisses these reasons, misnaming, and pronouncing the patient dead, in a single sentence. He continues: “In this discussion I shall not so much seek to write their obituary as to indicate what they have bequeathed to us today in respect of intellectual possessions which might be put to good use.”12 In other words, Giddens is intent on extracting what he decides is of value in these poorly categorized works, rather than attempting to deal with them in their own terms. In the course of the paper, Giddens devotes around eight pages to more or less direct discussion of Derrida. Consigning Derrida to an intellectual current whose very existence as an entity has been disputed by those to whom it is applied, and announcing that said current is nevertheless dead, hardly augurs a serious intellectual encounter. The result is as could be expected. There is a remarkable complacency and selfassurance on Giddens’ part, which allows him to know in advance what sociological theory is and needs, and thus to know in advance how he should interpret Derrida. “Derrida’s writings are in some ways the most sophisticated outcome of the transition from structuralism to post-structuralism,” Giddens writes and he then continues to suggest an affinity between the deconstruction of the metaphysics of presence and the operations of Wittgenstein in the Philosophical Investigations.13 These apparently sympathetic comments, however, are made in passing and do not lead to any insightful comments on Derrida. Having briefly tried to explain that Derrida’s archi-ecriture is not literally “writing” but rather is a “proto-writing,” which involves “a process of the temporal spacing and repetition of signifying phenomenon” within a few pages, Giddens chastises Derrida for his retreat into the text, having forgotten already that what Derrida says about texts is already informed by the notion of archi-ecriture, and thus that Derrida’s “textuality” is emptied of any literal notion of the text.14 Giddens claims some sympathy for what he characterizes as the poststructuralist theme of the decentring of the subject, arguing that any notion of a subject with an “unmediated access to consciousness” is thoroughly discredited.15 However, he unequivocally rejects any notion of an unconscious, and instead says that the Cartesian subject must be replaced with the concept of an “agent” who uses language in “contexts of social conduct” or more generally with respect to the “contextuality of social practices.”16 Giddens’ resulting concept of agency, which is central to his entire sociology, is fundamentally characterized by freedom, and bears no resemblance to any thinking on the subject influenced by said “post-structuralism,” let  alone by Derrida himself. The other noteworthy feature of Giddens’ comments on Derrida is the repeated use of the adjective “social,” as above in “social practices” or “social conduct.” The social, for Giddens, as for most of the sociological tradition, is a full name or a full concept — it must refer to something fully real and fully actual, and this something must also encompass and explain everything else.

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In the same period when Giddens was coming to prominence, the mid- to late-1970s, there were some social theorists in Britain and Ireland more genuinely open to what had been coming from France for 10 years or more, that extraordinary efflorescence of thought which Giddens’ caricatures as “post-structuralism.” Among the most important of these was Ernesto Laclau (together, in many instances, with Chantal Mouffe, who for reasons of space I will not deal with here). Although Laclau is a political theorist by profession, his is perhaps the only major social theory in any significant way influenced by Derrida, and so his work is worth considering in some detail. Laclau develops his approach by using various ideas drawn from Althusser, Lacan, the later Wittgenstein, and Derrida to challenge the essentializing and totalizing aspects of Marxist theory in particular, and more generally, of all social theory. The central or anchoring idea in the work of Laclau is that society or the “social” lacks an essence. The social is a lack or a gap. It is the absence of an identity or an essence. The social as lack or nonessence is characterized by an antagonism that cannot be reconciled or resumed within any dialectic. The social is thus always being institutionalized or stabilized through hegemonic practices which can be broadly called political. The social is thus reconceived as a field of conflicting forces rather than as an entity with a substantial or essential identity of its own. Let me give some examples of Laclau’s analyses from a significant book published in 1996 entitled Deconstruction and Pragmatism, with contributions by Laclau, Mouffe, and Derrida, as well as by Richard Rorty and Simon Critchley. Laclau points out that Marxism conceives of power as something that will wither away once a free and transparent communist society has ultimately been established.17 Laclau rejects this conception. Freedom, other than for a fully self-determining God, requires the capacity to act over and against a power which transcends us, in some fashion. Thus power both limits freedom and makes it possible. Exercising our capacities for freedom is an exercise of power, which, in actualizing certain possibilities, inevitably, represses or sets aside other possibilities. Laclau then moves on to cite and adapt Derrida’s analysis of the undecidable. As Derrida says, citing Kierkegaard, the moment of decision is a moment of madness. We must calculate all the possibilities, and take account of all the norms and laws as thoroughly as possible, but the instant of the decision always must go through the ordeal of the undecidable. At the moment of decision, we cannot and do not know what is the right decision. Laclau is greatly engaged by this analysis of decision and the undecidable. Immediately, however, he enters a reservation. “Deconstruction,” he writes, “has immensely enlarged the areas of structural undecidability, but what . . . the logic of the decision taken in an undecidable terrain . . . would consist of, is far from clear.”18 Then Laclau claims that deconstruction needs to be supplemented with what he calls a logic of the lack, derived from Lacanian theory. I believe that this reference to Lacan is a key to understanding Laclau, and how his work differs from that of Derrida. The Lacanian logic of the lack, or the absolute absence of an essence, is what requires Laclau to conclude that everything in society is an exercise of hegemony, that is, the always present and necessary attempt to fix the lack, or to supply the absent essence. For Derrida, I would suggest, the essence or the identity of some entity is never fully present, but nor is it ever fully absent. Derrida could never write or say that something has no essence. This would be the mirror image of saying that it does have an essence,


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and it is precisely this powerful and pervasive logic of the mirror-image that Derrida is drawn to deconstruct. Laclau derives from the logic of undecidability the argument that the subject is precisely that which makes a decision, in and through the undecidable. The making of the decision requires what we might call a becoming-subject. This becoming occurs through a process of identification. One identifies with something or as something or as someone, and in doing so, one becomes a subject, capable of, and making, a decision. This process of becoming-subject involves “politico-cathectic” investments, through which the logic of undecidability, identification, and “subjectification” is linked back to the more macro logic of hegemony, which will inform and in turn be informed by the cathexis of the subject.19 “I am completely in agreement with everything that Ernesto Laclau has said on the question of hegemony and power,” says Derrida.20 Glossing on Laclau’s insistence that hegemony is the lynchpin of society, Derrida adds: “. . . I also agree that in the most reassuring and disarming discussion and persuasion, force and violence are present.”21 But he then politely demurs from Laclau’s position that hegemony is everywhere, and in a sense, is everything. Derrida suggests instead that in every space of argumentation, and even of violence, there is a reference to disarmament, nonviolence, vulnerability, and exposure. He says: “I do not believe in non-violence as a descriptive and determinable experience, but rather as an irreducible promise and of the relation to the other as essentially non-instrumental.”22 We can imagine this as Derrida’s indirect response to Laclau’s objection earlier to Simon Critchley: “. . . I do not see in what sense an ethical injunction, even if it only consists of opening oneself to the otherness of the other, can be anything else than a universal principle that precedes and governs every decision.”23 Clearly, for Derrida, the relation to the other is not a universal ethical principle. It is rather the dehiscence or destabilization or deconstruction, which already occurs in “the things themselves.” Thus Laclau’s disagreement with an ethical interpretation of deconstruction slightly misses the mark. Next, Derrida responds to Laclau’s comments on the subject and the decision. In contrast to Laclau’s idea that the subject becomes a subject in the process of identifying itself as someone or something, and making a decision, Derrida says that if the who, or what, who makes the decision is known, the ordeal of undecidability that constitutes the decision would be annulled. “If one knows, and if it is a subject that knows who and what, then the decision is simply the application of a law.”24 Derrida agrees that this more or less conforms to Laclau’s notion of identification. But there is a subtle difference. For Derrida, a subject as such cannot be fully present, either before, at, or after the moment of decision. A decision must also involve a process of disidentification, that is of “not-becoming-subject,” if it is to be a decision, rather than a program instituted by a subject. These various differences with Laclau may seem subtle, but they are also quite significant. The result is that Derrida cannot, nor ever would, settle on one moment or aspect of things, whether, hegemony, power, ethics, the political, the social, or anything else. No one thing can be the focus of his concerns, for essential reasons. The alterity of the other, the trace, difference, and so many other terms, are mobilized because there is no one thing or no one essence. In my epigraph to this chapter, Derrida evokes the

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problem of the name of sociology, with respect to the work of Bourdieu. To identify is to name. Derrida could never call what he does political philosophy, or political theory, which is how Laclau describes his own work. There is too much going on, and for essential as well as for contingent or accidental reasons, to do only one thing, and to name something, or only one thing. It should also be noted before moving on, that despite the significance of Laclau’s work, it has had very little impact on sociology. Laclau is based in England. The “moment” when “post-structuralism” was influential in British sociology is gone. Meanwhile, the great figures of this moment had virtually no influence on American sociology. A separate paper would be required to explain this. Such an explanation might begin with a crude but nevertheless helpful beginning formula: In Britain, poststructuralism greatly influenced the humanities, but it also had a major entry point into sociology via British Marxism’s reception of Althusser. In the United States and Canada, there was no equivalent reception of Althusser in sociology. Post-structuralism exercised its influence via Derrida and others in literature and philosophy, but not at all in sociology.

Encounters: Bourdieu/Derrida Pierre Bourdieu, who died in 2002, is known as one of the great sociologists of the last 40  years. He and Derrida were educated together, first at Lycée Louis le Grand in 1951–1952, and in the following years, at the École Normale Supérieure. Derrida attested that they remained friends, despite important differences between them, until the time of Bourdieu’s death. Bourdieu thus had exposure to a similar intellectual milieu as did Derrida in his early years, and had a similar formation in philosophy as a student, before devoting himself to sociology. Bourdieu, unfortunately, felt no more need to take Derrida seriously as a thinker, than did Giddens. Indeed, reading his intellectual memoir, Sketch for a Self-Analysis, first published in 2004, and scattered comments on Derrida throughout his work, one sees at best a profound impatience and irritation with Derrida, and at worst a dismissal of him. Let us turn to his 1979 book La Distinction: Critique sociale du jugement, which was translated into English in 1984 as Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. This work contains his only substantial — although still very brief — discussion of Derrida. The most explicit purpose of the book was to demonstrate that tastes in art and culture are formed by social class habitus, and that such tastes are also markers of, and reproducers of, distinctions among classes and class fractions. The data are all drawn from France, and indeed, the argument, while easy to locate in the traditions of the sociology of knowledge and culture, is also explicitly an analysis and critique of the supposedly particularly French “aristocracy of culture” and its “cultural nobility.” For Bourdieu, the great carrier of this aristocracy of culture is French philosophy as an institution and a pedagogy. Distinction is thus at one and the same time an empirical exercise in the sociology of culture, and a sociological critique of French philosophy, and of philosophy in general. These philosophical aspects of Bourdieu’s argument are set out most explicitly in his “Postscript: Towards a ‘vulgar’ critique of  ‘pure’ critiques.”


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

The first two-thirds of the postscript criticizes Kant’s notion of the disinterestedness of pure taste, which Kant contrasts to the facile enjoyment characteristic of vulgar taste. Bourdieu argues that Kant’s philosophical distinction is, both the expression of, and a transformation of, the class distinction between high culture and low, or popular, culture. Thus, in a sense, Kantian aesthetics, and aesthetics in general, become a disguise for, marker of, and reproducer of, class distinctions. In the final third of the postscript, Bourdieu offers a pointed, if not abrupt, criticism of Derrida’s reading of Kant, as it appeared in the latter’s The Truth in Painting. Derrida’s reading of Kant, as might be expected, does not tackle Kant head-on, or attempt in any straightforward way to oppose him. Instead, Derrida raises a series of questions about how works of art are framed, questions which Kant only mentions in passing. Derrida focuses on a slippage in Kant, where items like clothing on a statue or the column in a building are referred to as parergon, that is as supplementary to or outside the work, in the same way that the frame of a painting is. But if the clothing on a statue or the column in a building is clearly not outside the work, then Kant has unintentionally introduced a slippage, and this opens up the possibility that there is no absolute, once and for all, divide between the inside and the outside of the work. The edges of the work that are in the work lead toward, and in a sense allow for and give rise to, the frame, and then everything that comes after the frame, such as the signature, the museum, the artmarket, and so on.25 In a sense, this is a classic maneuver in Derrida, the deconstruction of the inside/outside opposition, but these brief comments cannot give any sense of his singular and inventive response to his sources — including Kant and Heidegger, as well as to various works of art — which this work represents. Bourdieu, however, will have none of this. The brunt of the criticism is that, however seemingly inventive and daring Derrida’s critique may seem to be, it remains comfort­ ably internal to philosophy and to the philosophical institution, in the sense that it remains merely a reading, or interpretation, of Kant’s texts. Only Bourdieu’s sociological approach can effectively situate, and thus criticize, philosophy, from the outside. It is difficult to select a passage from Bourdieu for detailed exposition and quotation, since all the apparently appropriate ones strike me as marred by miscomprehension, and/ or hostility, and/or dogmatism. For example: “Because he never withdraws from the philosophical game, whose conventions he respects, even in the ritual transgressions at which only traditionalists could be shocked, he can only philosophically tell the truth about the philosophical text and its philosophical reading which (apart from the silence of orthodoxy) is the best way of not telling it, and he cannot truly tell the truth about the Kantian philosophy of art, and more generally about philosophy itself, which his own discourse has helped to produce.”26 Miscomprehension: Derrida never claims simply to withdraw from philosophy nor to remain within it. Rather he claims to find a place or nonplace which is neither inside nor outside of philosophy, from which to destabilize philosophy and to newly analyze and disseminate its problematics . . . precisely into other disciplines, which a more open-minded Bourdieu might see particularly applies to sociology. Hostility: “. . . ritual transgressions at which only traditionalists could be shocked,” and elsewhere, “a dramatization (mise en scène), particularly visible in ‘parallel-column’ production,” which “has the effect of turning commentary, a typically scholastic genre ( . . . ) into a personal work suitable for

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publication in avant-garde reviews”; Dogmatism: Bourdieu implies, against Derrida, that he will “truly tell the truth about the Kantian philosophy of art.”27 Derrida was aware of Bourdieu’s reading. He never responded directly to the blunt comments we have just referred to, but he did respond at some length to the work of Bourdieu, in an essay entitled “Privilege: Justificatory Title and Introductory Remarks.” This is essay is part of a large collection entitled Du droit à la philosophie (Right to Philosophy). The collection as a whole, containing papers from 1974 to 1990, deals with a variety of questions concerning philosophy as an institution and concerning the teaching of, and access to, philosophy. Many of the papers attest to and analyze aspects of Derrida’s activities in defending the teaching of philosophy in French schools and universities, and in attempting to develop new philosophical institutions. “Privilege: Justificatory Title and Introductory Remarks” is the first essay in the book, and it thus claims a certain privilege in relation to the book as a whole. Its “title defines the horizon of this collection.”28 The first footnote tells us that the essay recalls the “principal argument” of a seminar entitled “Right to Philosophy,” given in January 1984. This was the last seminar that Derrida gave at the École Normale Supérieure, as he was about to move to the École Des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, where he had been elected director of studies in a section entitled “Philosophical Institutions.” The course was also jointly offered by the Collège Internationale de Philosophie, a new institution, which Derrida and others had cofounded, and of which Derrida had recently been elected the first director. The course and the essay thus stand at a point of transition in Derrida’s career, where he had decided to seek a new position at “The School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences.” Derrida tells us that the reason for changing institutions was to allow him to pursue questions about philosophy as an institution, questions which he could not pursue as effectively at the École Normale Supérieure. It is at this juncture in his career that Derrida decides to address Bourdieu in some detail. The chapter is 66 pages long in English (99 pages in French). Derrida directly discusses Bourdieu only in the last three pages, and in two or three other brief references. However, the rest of the chapter is, among other things, a response to the types of claims made by Bourdieu, and by the sociology of knowledge more generally. Indeed, the title itself is already the beginnings of an encounter with Bourdieu and sociology. A title, the title implies, is already a claim to authority, a granting to oneself of a privilege. The title, in naming itself as “Privilege” both claims for itself the privilege it names itself, and in thus naming itself begins to expose its claim to privilege. “For philosophy (this will be my hypothesis), clings to the privilege it exposes.”29 The first sentence of the essay puts forward the very case, we could argue, that Bourdieu’s sociology makes about, for example, symbolic capital: “Title, chapter heading, heading, capital, capital letter (Titre, chapitre, tête de chapitre, en-tête, capital, capitale): questions of title will always be questions of authority, of reserve and right, of rights reserved, of hierarchy or hegemony.”30 Then, almost immediately, in the first footnote Derrida quotes from the prospectus for the course of which this chapter formed the opening, stating that in examining philosophy and its institutionalization, the course, while going beyond the inside/outside, internal/external distinction, will draw “upon certain notions from the sociology of knowledge or culture, from the history of the sciences or pedagogical institutions, from the politology of research.”31


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

These notions, however, will not simply be used to investigate philosophy. They also will be investigated themselves: “But beyond an epistemology of these knowledges, we will begin to situate their professionalization and their transformation into disciplines, the genealogy of their operative concepts (e.g., “objectification,” “legitimation,” “symbolic power,” and so forth), the history of their axiomatics, and the effects of their place in the institution.”32 Clearly, then, an important engagement with Bourdieu’s sociology — “objectification” and “symbolic power” are central concepts of Bourdieu — among other things, occurs in this course. Let us return to the body of the chapter. As we have seen, philosophy, and particularly Kantian philosophy, claims for itself a privilege. This is not the privilege of ancient philosophy to cover all aspects of knowledge. Rather, it is the claim of Kant and his inheritors, to legislate, to rule over, the various specialized fields of knowledge, that is to decide on their legitimacy as such, that is as fields of knowledge, rather than judging their specific content. Kantian philosophy is the tribunal of reason; it is the judge that decides what reason is and what the limits of reason are. As soon as philosophy makes this claim to be a legislator, it exposes its own weakness; it exposes itself to debate, discussion, and argument concerning this claim. Derrida amusingly illustrates this with a “malicious caricature.”33 The philosopher claims to oversee the encyclopedia and the architectonic of knowledge, without having to know anything about the actual content of the various fields of knowledge. While philosophers are often well-versed in one or more empirical disciplines, this knowledge is fundamentally unnecessary with respect to the task of legislating on the legitimacy of the disciplines as such. “The philosopher gives himself the right (even if he does not always take it, in fact) to incompetence in  all the domains of the encyclopedia, all the departments of the University. He does this while demanding the right to pronounce the law about the totality of these knowledges and about the essence of knowledge in general, about the meaning of each region of beingness or objectivity.”34 Thus philosophy exposes both its power and its powerlessness in the same moment. Let us add some comments concerning this exposure and vulnerability of philosophy. Claiming the right to legislate on the legitimacy of all fields of knowledge, philosophy reciprocally exposes itself to challenges to its own legitimacy, that is, to its self-declared right to be the tribunal of reason. This challenge to philosophy can happen in a number of ways. Perhaps most obviously, modern natural science, or at least popularized yet powerful versions of natural science, can claim to usurp philosophy and to be the true tribunal of reason, through the operations of “the scientific method.” In the social sciences, especially, an acute and sustained devotion to methodology is a hallmark of the historical attempt to achieve legitimacy as science. The scientific methodology of the orthodox social sciences was nearly always modeled on a logical empiricist or logical positivist understanding of classical Newtonian physics. Thus, in an acute irony, the social science devotion to methodology and hostility to metaphysics seems like the installation of a sort of Kantian tribunal of reason at the heart of a project that defined itself by claiming to have turned the page on philosophy. There is thus a strange relationship between post-Kantian, post-metaphysical philosophy, and the various projects of empirical reason, since the latter at once claim to replace metaphysics and philosophy, and they bear the imprint, and carry a certain heritage of, Kantian philosophy. There are processes of denial, introjection,

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displacement, and more, taking place. The resulting topography, as Derrida might say, is complex and always shifting. Sociology, especially in the way it is elaborated by Comte, Durkheim, and Bourdieu (but something similar could be said for Marx, for Parsons, and for so many others) has nearly always claimed that it will replace metaphysics and philosophy. Sociology will explain how all the regions of being and of knowledge fit together, and can be explained, under the rubric of society or the social. At its most ambitious, sociology attempts to, or claims to, explain everything, including the emergence and success of the modern natural sciences. At one level, one might simply laugh at this ambition. But seen in another way, sociology’s wish to explain everything is a constitutive part of its being as a discipline, and it marks it as a successor or inheritor, however worthy or unworthy, of metaphysics and philosophy. This wish or desire to explain everything cannot simply be explained away or denied, without thereby giving up the claim of sociology, the claim to be a sociologist or to be doing sociology. At the same time, sociology must interrogate and criticize this philosophical heritage that it carries within itself. Sociology even has a critical name for its own constitutive overreach — “sociologism.” My own view, which I will discuss in the final section of this chapter, is that in turning back and questioning its own introjected philosophical borderline, sociology must turn toward, or begin to move toward, deconstruction. Matters, however, are very complex. Sociology already has multiple relations to this philosophical lineage: In addition to the attempt to replace philosophy as the queen of the sciences, and the methodological naturalism of logical positivism, both already referred to, sociology also has the decisionism and, possibly, irrationalism of Max Weber, the uncritical humanism of symbolic interactionism, the post-metaphysical “Wittgensteinian” school of research called ethnomethodology, and numerous positions which saturate the field with different ethical and political stances, from feminism to multiculturalism and beyond. And this is just the beginning of a list! Then, we have Derrida, whose work is both extraordinarily rigorous and consistent, and very inventive and variable. Derrida has a taste for complexity and an aversion to simplification. He dazzles, enchants, and ultimately enlightens, but never makes things simpler, easier, or more accessible. Thus, the sociologist may feel the desire and the obligation to respond to, and move toward deconstruction, but he or she may find himself or herself caught in a kind of maze, between the complexity and variability of sociology’s own relation to the philosophical tradition, and the demand coming from Derrida never to simplify or reduce; the demand that deconstruction would find the complications and multiple divisions in any and all internal and external borders between sociology and philosophy. Let us turn back toward Derrida’s encounter with Bourdieu. First, we will briefly indicate how, for Derrida, Kantian philosophy and Western industrial modernity are intimately connected, since this helps to set the stage for what he says about Bourdieu. Referring to the “self-authorization” of Kantian discourse as the tribunal of reason, Derrida writes: To say of this self-authorization that it defines the autonomous power of the university as philosophy and philosophical concept of philosophy does not mean that this discourse would be offered or implied only in the university, even less in


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chairs of philosophy. It corresponds to the essence of the dominant discourse in industrial modernity of the Occidental type [ . . . ] The “truth” of this university discourse pronouncing the law of the law is found elsewhere in other forms. We must correct our perception of it and recognize the university site outside the walls of the institution itself: in the allegory or metonymy of the University; in the social body that gives itself this power and this representation.35

Let us try to decipher the reasoning at work here. Kantianism would be the most powerful philosophical expression and formalization of the liberalism, rationalism, and proceduralism, which characterizes Western modernity. The rule of reason, the specialization of knowledge, the withdrawal of metaphysics, of theology and of religion, the rights of “man,” the rule of law, the limits to and separation of powers, and many more, all these markers and carriers of the “West,” carry a Kantian imprint. As a sociologist, one is likely to think that Derrida is overvaluing the role of philosophy and downplaying everything that goes under the name of “history”, “society,” “economics”, etc., which has helped to create the modern West. But Derrida is by no means suggesting that philosophy somehow created modernity, or that ideas create the world. He is, however, denying that philosophy is just an epiphenomenon or a superstructure, which would be determined by society, the mode of production, etc. Kantianism involves the power to judge, evaluate, and sanction, to confer titles, and to decide what is reasonable and what is not. It is this power, or this possibility, which, as we have seen, Derrida believes to be central to Occidental modernity. Now comes Derrida’s sociology of institutions and knowledge, if I can put it so crudely for a moment. This possibility of Kantian discourse, this power of judgment and of the law, which Kantianism “possibilizes,” is “as much a symptom (and there are so many others) as a determining factor. It would be naïve to choose here between the two terms of such an alternative.”36 Kantianism, then would be both a symptom and constitutive feature of Occidental modernity. Product and production, origin and repetition, symptom and meaning: these sets of terms are subject to deconstruction as they are set within what Derrida calls a graphics of iterability. For something to be the same, to be what it is, it must be repeatable as the same; but this necessity of being repeated introduces the necessary possibility of the copy, the diversion or the fake, into the heart of sameness or identity. Hence none of the conceptual couplets favored by a standard sociological account — base-superstructure, agency-structure, etc. — or those favored by metaphysics, are left intact. Kantian philosophy and discourse should be read as both “cause” and “effect” of Occidental modernity. Likewise, Occidental modernity — all the institutions and social structures that sociology takes as its task to analyze — should also be read as “cause” and “effect” of Kantian philosophy and discourse. “‘Kant’ is the name of something ‘possible’: made possible and making possible in turn.”37 This notion of “possibilization” is designed to circumvent the classical metaphysical — and common-sensical — distinction between the potential and the actual, that is between the stored-up capacity or power to be or become something, and the coming into actuality of that potential. In a sense, Derrida infects each side of the opposition with the other side. He allows one side to haunt the other side, without eliminating or destroying either side of the couplet. This would be

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“possibilization,” which allows the actual to appear but prevents it from being fully actualized. Does Kant then “possibilize” modernity or does modernity “possibilize” Kant? Both, in turn. Kantian discourse possibilizes Western modernity and that modernity possibilizes Kant. Kantian discourse is a symptom of Western modernity, is carried by it, we could say, but Kantian discourse also carries that modernity and imprints it as Kantian. It is clear from the above that Derrida is by no means hostile to something coming from sociology, that is, the attempt rigorously to take account of society, history, the economy, etc., when examining the history of philosophy, of ideas, of discourses, etc. However, he radically resets this concern for society in a new vocabulary and approach, to avoid reducing philosophy to society. With respect to Bourdieu, Derrida evinces an openness to what Bourdieu is trying to do and reservations about the conceptual apparatus and approach which Bourdieu brings to the task. A central insight of Bourdieu is that knowledge of philosophy, taste in art and culture, and so on, are forms of cultural capital which mark, carry, reproduce, and disguise inequalities of power and prestige. Far from being hostile to this insight, running throughout Derrida’s essay is a taking on board, coming to terms with, and transformation of this insight. Derrida asks: “What does it mean to refer to Kant in order to draw authority from him, even if the authority of an objection to Kant? What benefit do we still derive from a discussion or explication with Kant?”38 Clearly, Kant is one of the major philosophers, and it is philosophically necessary to know him and read him. But that is not all. The analysis of Kant “guarantees, authenticates, legitimates the philosophical dignity of an argument. This gesture presents itself as “major.” It signals “great” philosophy. It raises to the level of the canon.”39 In other words, or in Bourdieu’s words, the philosopher’s engagement with Kant, in addition to having its “intrinsic” merits, helps to add to his or her cultural and symbolic capital. However, it is clear for Derrida that intrinsic merit and cultural capital go together. One does not accumulate cultural capital by doing research on a weak philosopher. Bourdieu, however, seems unwilling to grant any idea of intrinsic merit and seems fundamentally hostile to the philosophical project as such. Derrida continues, again taking on board a flavor of Bourdieu: “For many of “us” (“us”: the majority of my supposed readers and myself) the authority of Kantian discourse has inscribed its virtues of legitimation to such a depth in our philosophical training, culture, and constitution that we have difficulty performing the imaginary variation that would allow us to “figure” a different one.”40 So it is clear, then, that Derrida is more than sympathetic to much of Bourdieu’s argument. However, for Derrida, the mistake of Bourdieu (and by implication of all sociologisms, historicisms, economisms, etc.) is to believe that you can simply turn the page on philosophy and move directly to empirical research freed from all “philosophemes.” One of Derrida’s earliest and most persistent themes is that philosophy has its roots deep in the soil of ordinary language and of common sense. Believing oneself to have simply left philosophy behind allows these roots to grow and flourish anew and in disguise. Derrida points out that Distinction, in addition to being an empirical study in the sociology of culture, is also, indirectly, an encounter, and an argument, with Kant. This is most evident in the subtitle, A Social Critique of Judgment, which is a transformation, and a criticism, of Kant’s title, Critique of Judgment. Bourdieu, however, repeats Kant


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and the Kantian gesture, through his conception of truth as objectivity. “Objectivity is interpreted as the “ethical,” that is lucid and free relation to what must therefore have the form, place, status, identity, and the visible, reliable, available, and calculable stability of the object.”41 Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Bourdieu’s notion of objectivity, which would distinguish it from a more mainstream positivism in the social sciences, is that the social scientist must actively engage in a process of objectification of the social world and the subject’s experience of that world, and then must objectify his or her own process of objectification. This means that the sociology of sociology, and more generally, the sociology of the intellectual field in general, is for Bourdieu an indispensable and centrally important part of sociology. Bourdieu calls this the objectification of the objectification. The notion of the objectification introduces a fold, or a twist, into previous conceptions of objectivity. But it also retains the philosophical concept of total objectivity or “complete objectification,” that is the objectification of everything, including sociology, the site of objectification. Derrida quotes Bourdieu as follows: Objectification is only complete when it objectifies the site of objectification, and the unseen standpoint, the blind spot of all theories – the intellectual field and its conflicts of interest, in which sometimes, by a necessary accident, an interest in truth is engendered – and also the subtle contributions that it makes to the symbolic order, even through the purely symbolic intention of subversion which is assigned to it in the division of the labour of domination.42

In his commentary, Derrida first pays attention to the “necessary accident” through which the conflicts of interest in the intellectual field can sometimes give rise to an interest in truth. The notion of a “necessary accident,” would point toward, or open toward deconstruction, since neither philosophy nor science can tolerate such a notion. Bourdieu, however, does not develop the idea. Next, Derrida draws attention to the idea of the complete objectification of the intellectual field, including sociology itself as the site of this objectification. If this complete objectification were ever completed it would reconstitute the metalanguage of an absolute knowledge that would place “sociol­ ogy” in the place of the great logic (la grande logique) and would ensure it absolute, that is, philosophical hegemony over the multiplicity of the other regions of knowledge, of which sociology would no longer simply be a part. It should find (as I believe every time I subscribe to its most radical projects) another name for itself.43

I have pointed out earlier that it is part of the heritage, and even the mandate or responsibility of sociology, to exert this hegemony over all the fields of knowledge. It is this mandate which means that sociology cannot, nor should not, extricate itself from its philosophical provenance, and it is also this mandate, which can lead to sociology opening itself to the deconstructive questions, gestures, and moves which it has so far resisted. I will return to this in the conclusion. Derrida suggests that complete objectification is impossible. “The ‘objectifiable’ is not objectifiable, because it always exceeds the scene of visibility.”44 This would be the

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“blind spot of all theories” that Bourdieu refers to. This blind spot is not an empirical defect in the observing apparatus of each discipline, which could be counteracted by changing position, or instruments, or disciplines. Nor does it reside in the object where it could be overcome by the same techniques. This blind spot is instead structural or necessary. But even beyond this structural blind spot, there is a reason “of another order” why complete objectification will remain incomplete. The “necessary accident” that gave rise to an “interest in truth” can “also induce a supplement of objectification that no longer belongs to the order of objectivity . . . .”45 This would be a kind of objectivity beyond objectivity, or a hyperobjectivity, which would question, and destabilize the value of truth as objectivity, and the value of freedom as a free relation to the object. . . . [W]hat if the truth of objectivity no longer took the form of the object? Of the completeness of objectivity [ . . . ] What if “the interest in truth,” leading one to question the authority of objectivity [ . . . ] cor-responded to a freedom, or answered for a freer freedom, differently free, than the freedom that reflects objectivity?46

Here, Derrida is trying to show that Bourdieu’s sociology could, to use a brutal shorthand, engender an interest in deconstruction. The limit between deconstruction and sociology is not impermeable and does not occur only once, or in one fashion, or in one place. If sociology has been resistant to allowing traces of Derrida to mark and alter it, Derrida has, in the case of Bourdieu, shown the interest and the capacity to address sociology, to intervene in it, and to leave a trace there.

Encounters: Habermas/Derrida Habermas, while being seen primarily as a philosopher, is also considered to be one of the greatest sociological and social theorists of our time. Habermas’ famous — or infamous — criticisms of Derrida occur in two chapters of his The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, first published in 1985.47 The criticisms seem to be carried out in exclusively philosophical terms. However, standing just behind the philosophical standpoint of the entire book is an equally important sociological-philosophical analysis of modernity. Habermas believes that modern philosophy since Descartes, and especially since the Enlightenment, has bequeathed us with a concept of reason as being lodged in the individual subject. This he calls the philosophy of the subject. This philosophy, which pits subject standing over against object, is tied into many of the most problematic aspects of modernity, as identified by thinkers such as Marx, Nietzsche, Weber, Horkheimer and Adorno, Foucault, etc. The problems would result from conceiving of reason as a means for the subject to understand and master the objective world. The goal of mastering an objective world leads to the domination of nature and of humanity — the relentless subjection of the natural world and the social world to the rule of science, technology, efficiency, and instrumentality. Habermas’ solution to this crisis of modernity is to develop an account of reason as being based on intersubjective communication. The naturally occurring validity claims embedded in the pragmatics of everyday communication provide a grounding and a basis for a genuine rationality.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Modernity can be renewed with such a conception of intersubjective reason infusing the “life-world,” which will revitalize democracy and will allow us to demarcate and contain those spheres of nature and of administration, which do need to be subject to scientific, technical, and instrumental concepts of reason. The thinkers addressed in The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity — including Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Adorno, and Bataille — all criticize the philosophy of the subject, according to Habermas. However, rather than helping to rescue modernity, they all in different ways make things worse. They do this by undermining reason, rather than renewing it, thus also helping to undermine modernity, rather than contributing to its critical renewal. It is against the backdrop of this sociological and philosophical critical defense of modernity that Derrida — along with all the others — will be found wanting. Habermas begins with an account of Derrida’s deconstruction of Husserl’s theory of sign, indication, expression, and meaning. This account seems reasonably fair insofar as it goes. But Habermas interprets Derrida’s analysis in terms of his own preexisting scheme of interpretation. The references to arche-writing, difference, etc., in Derrida function as a criticism of the philosophy of the subject, but provide no exit route from it. In other words, Derrida fails to discover intersubjectivity and the pragmatics of speech, the proper route to the renewal of modernity, which Habermas has discovered. But this is a tendentious reading of Derrida. He is not trying to find a way out of the philosophy of the subject. Had Habermas been capable of following more closely Derrida’s own path, he would have been able to produce a more nuanced and sympathetic reading of him. But Habermas will have none of it. He already knows what needs to be done and he knows that Derrida is not doing it. Things only get worse from here. Derrida remains in the grip of “the intentions of first philosophy” and “in the end he, too [the ‘too’ refers mainly to Heidegger] promotes only a mystification of palpable social pathologies; he, too, disconnects essential (viz. deconstructive) thinking from scientific analysis; and he, too, lands at an empty, formulalike (sic) avowal of some indeterminate authority,” that is archi-ecriture the trace, and so on.48 More problematic still, Derrida is “an authentic disciple”49 of Heidegger; but he “stands closer to the anarchist wish to explode the continuum of history than to the authoritarian admonition to bend before destiny.”50 He “remains close to Jewish mysticism.” But he does have the merit of avoiding the “New Paganism” of Heidegger. His mysticism, to his credit, is tied to monotheism and remains in the vicinity of that “historical locale where mysticism once turned into enlightenment.”51 This seems to imply that, for Habermas, the work of Derrida might still have the potential to contribute to the renewal of modernity, depending on how it unfolds in the future. Aside from the schoolmasterish tone of these admonitions from Habermas, let us recall the logic behind them. Having worked through a series of sociological and philosophical analyses of modernity in a series of works, Habermas has a strong sense of its malaise, and the required remedies. The “philosophical discourse of modernity” is part and parcel of this malaise. The diagnosis of Derrida — and all the others — while carried out primarily through a reading of works of philosophy, rests as much on his sociological analysis of modernity as it does on a trajectory through modern philosophy.

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Derrida’s response to Habermas was predictably, and understandably, sharp.52 Having rejected Habermas’ most egregious misreadings of him, Derrida then offers some interesting characterizations of those advocates of dialogue and consensus who seem so readily and massively to misread others. I will quote Derrida at some length since it points to something crucial for our entire topic in this chapter. Everywhere, in particular in the United States and Europe, the self-declared philosophers, theoreticians, and ideologists of communication, dialogue, and consensus, of univocity and transparency, those who claim ceaselessly to reinstate the classical ethics of proof, discussion, and exchange, are most often those who excuse themselves from attentively reading and listening to the other, who demonstrate precipitation and dogmatism, and who no longer respect the elementary rules of philology and interpretation, confounding science and chatter as though they had not the slightest taste for communication or rather as though they were afraid of it, at bottom [ . . . ] Exposed to the slightest difficulty, the slightest complication, the slightest transformation of the rules, the self-declared advocates of communication denounce the absence of rules and confusion. And they allow themselves to confuse everything in the most authoritarian manner.53

Here, I believe, is a clue to following everything that we have tracked so far in this chapter. Derrida is a careful and rigorous reader of others. Which is not to say that he produces neutral commentaries on the work of others. His readings are never neutral. They always intervene in, and even do a certain violence to, the text being read. But this intervention and this violence always attempt to be the lesser of two violences. The greater violence is the violence of imposition and mastery; it is the violence of telling the text being read that you know what it means and what it is supposed to, or should have, meant. Derrida’s lesser violence is the violence of intimacy. It is that strange or disturbing minimal violence that comes from knowing the text being read so well that you know especially where it is slightly off balance, slightly set against itself, or slightly mad. The hermeneutician, confident of what communication should consist of, or the sociological theorist, confident of what the tasks, if not the end point, of sociology should be, has no need to pay such minute attention to the very detail and movement of what they are reading. Or rather they must not pay such attention, as to do so might challenge their macrological understanding of what they already know to be the case. These exchanges between Habermas and Derrida occurred between 1983 and 1988. Surprising as it may seem, they did later collaborate on two occasions: their joint publication of separate interviews after the terrorist bombings in the United States in September 2001, and in May 2003 their cosigning a letter written by Habermas, published in German and French newspapers, which was a plea for a common European foreign policy in light of the then recent US invasion of Iraq.54 Before discussing these joint activities, let us briefly see how the two managed to collaborate in the first place, based on Derrida’s own brief account of their relationship.55 Already in 1984, Derrida had given a lecture at the University of Frankfurt, probably at Habermas’ invitation, at which they met. In the immediately proceeding years, there followed the difficult exchanges documented above. In the late 1990s, they met and talked after a lecture Derrida had given at Northwestern University, where Habermas was a professor.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Habermas “with a friendly smile” suggested that they should discuss matters. At a later dinner in Paris, Habermas, “with exemplary decency, for which I will always be grateful to him, did his utmost to get rid of all traces of the former polemics.”56 After this, it seems, the way was open for future exchanges, meetings, and collaborations between the two. It is clear that, while Derrida supports many of Habermas’ publically stated political positions, their “philosophical” trajectories, although sometimes overlapping in interesting and significant ways, remain marked by important and fundamental differences. Let us begin with their 31 May 2003 newspaper article.57 This was one of six articles by prominent European philosophers (and one American — Richard Rorty) published in seven European newspapers on the same day. It was thus part of a public and political initiative, designed to protest against the recent US invasion of Iraq, and designed to set out a broadly European position in contrast to the American one. This was thus a political and public alliance, but stopped well short of a genuine philosophical or theoretical collaboration. The piece is entitled “February 15th, or what binds Europeans together: A plea for a common foreign policy, beginning in the core of Europe.” This title encapsulates the argument: That the mass protests across Europe on February 15th of that year, against the imminent invasion of Iraq, might be the beginning of a European public sphere, and that this in turn might allow for a common European foreign policy. By implication, this European foreign policy would partly counteract US hegemony and project into the wider world certain distinctly modern European values, for example, concerning the role of the state, social welfare, the death penalty, the end of empire, and so on. Derrida wrote a preamble, of only 1,500 words, explaining his role in the published article. He refers to the piece as both “an analysis and an appeal.” Habermas and Derrida “regard it as necessary and urgent that French and German philosophers lift their voices together, whatever disagreements may have separated them in the past.”58 Thus we have a strange alliance of the two philosophers who agree, that despite their philosophical disagreements, they share enough politically to launch a common appeal; and who cosign, without coauthoring, the appeal. A second major collaboration between Derrida and Habermas is the joint publi­ cation of their separate interviews on the subject of the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001. The interviews were conceived of as a joint project and were conducted by the same person, Giovanni Borradori. These interviews once again attest to a broadly shared political analysis and trajectory. They are each committed to the strengthening and development of democracy and international law and even to a new Europe and a new Enlightenment. This would provide a space for an alternative to US foreign policy to be more forcefully articulated. Ultimately, however, it is the differences between these two thinkers that are the most striking. Habermas’ diagnoses conform in most respects to a classical liberal position.59 He supports the development of international law, rather than US unilateralism, in response to the attacks. He believes that the European Union, and ultimately he hopes other international organizations such as NAFTA and ASEAN, can lead this movement and counterbalance both the US “realist” approach to international relations and the unfettered globalization of capitalism. He supports unequivocally the classical liberal

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concepts of cosmopolitanism and tolerance, and argues that constitutional democracy is an unsurpassable institutionalization of tolerance, since it can even tolerate internal reform pressure up to and including nonviolent civil disobedience. In philosophical and social theoretical terms, he defends his well-known view that communicative rationality — meaning roughly rational dialogue free of any form of coercion — is both the goal, and the essence of, reason. Suspicion, misunderstanding, and failed communication are missteps on the road to successful communication. The gaps between the powerful and the weak, the North and the South, are flagrant violations of the need for dialogue free from coercion and domination. In sum, Habermas provides a liberal political analysis, undergirded by his philosophical-theoretical analysis of communicative action. Derrida, like Habermas, touches on many of the necessary and critical questions that have typically been posed about these events, for example, concerning the fact that quantitatively worse atrocities can and do get less media coverage and thus do not become “major events” [a term used by Borradori in one of her questions.] But more distinctively and more centrally, he suggests how the events of that time, and similar events strike our “geopolitical unconscious,” that is, disturb us and our habituated languages of understanding and response in a way that remains resistant to analysis and articulation in the common-sense language of what Derrida calls British empiricism. He then employs a different language and different concepts. He refers frequently to the unconscious. For example, the trauma of 9/11 relates not so much to what has happened and to the past, which can always be understood or at least mourned and put to rest, but to what threatens to return with the uncanniness of a nightmare or a specter, what comes from the future as an unimaginable and even absolute threat, “worse than anything that has ever taken place.”60 Without going any further into the details of Derrida’s analysis, it is this deliberate departure from ordinary language that so sets Derrida apart from Habermas. Derrida’s language registers the event in a way that Habermas’ never could. I am reminded of Marx’s sardonic comment on the liberalism of the classical political economists, where they self-assuredly move from the middle-ages, presumed to be bathed in darkness, to the marketplace, bathed in light. Habermas seems as self-assured, and as determined not to see what is obscure, as were Marx’s precursors and antagonists. Derrida insists that the conceptual instability, which bedevils the concepts of terrorism and international terrorism, and indeed all concepts, is not merely an accident. The indeterminacy of the concept is always stabilized in relations of force or in temporarily hegemonic conceptual and institutional orders. Force thus insinuates itself from the beginning into the purest order of conceptuality, of philosophy, and of theory. This is like the night, to the day of Habermas’ communicative reason. More acutely aware of the darkness, Derrida thus takes more risks to deal with it. The sense of urgency is palpable; the use of hyperbola, always a mark of Derrida’s writing, is evident here. For example, with reference to how we experience the threat of terror, Derrida says: “Absolute evil, absolute threat, because what is at stake is nothing less than the mondialisation or the wordwide movement of the world, life on earth and elsewhere, without remainder.”61 Derrida’s work here is both rigorous, fecund and generously insightful, and cold and terrifying, carrying and transmitting the terror it is urgently analyzing and responding to. It is transmitting also


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

an Enlightenment for today — not the Enlightenment of Habermas — the day that is coming, when the day will no longer be the measure of all things.62 These differences in tone and style between Derrida and Habermas are also differences in argument, substance, and content. Similar differences exist between Derrida and sociology in general, which I will discuss in the concluding section.

Futures of sociology, of the humanities, and of the university I have indicated thus far that sociology in general has tended to ignore Derrida or to misunderstand him. Derrida’s own work presents itself more and more, at least since the 1980s, but really much earlier, as needing to be taken seriously by sociology, in that it evinces a concern for thinkers whose significance in the history of sociology and social and political theory is undisputed. A partial list of these thinkers would include Rousseau, Hegel, Kant, Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Mauss, Bataille, Schmidt, Benjamin, Levi-Strauss, and Foucault. At least since the mid-1980s, more and more of Derrida’s works have addressed themes that should resonate in social theory: the gift, hospitality, the decision, forgiveness, spectrality, autoimmunity, etc. There is thus ample material for Derrida to have had a greater influence in sociological theory. What might be the major reason why this influence has not taken place? Perhaps the major obstacle standing between Derrida and sociological theory/social theory is that Derrida, to put it bluntly, is not a theorist. His concern with the trace, writing, iterability, and innumerable other quasiconcepts, and his deconstruction of logocentrism and presence, evince a deconstruction of theory itself, that is, a deconstruction of the power of theory to master and explain its object. If Derrida, however, is not a theorist, he is also not trying to eliminate theory. Nothing could be further from Derrida than the following passage from Wittgenstein: For the clarity that we are aiming at is indeed complete clarity. But this simply means that the philosophical problems should completely disappear. The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself in question.63

The desire to stop doing philosophy and to make it at peace with itself is itself the originating aim of philosophy. If philosophy were to complete itself, if it were to understand and explain the world, we would be done with it and it would no longer need to put itself in question. Derrida, instead, is engaged with, and by, an “essential unrest (trouble essential) of philosophical identity.”64 The richness and greatness of philosophy lie not in its fullness or completion, but in its essential incompletion. Deconstruction would be that which lives off, and cultivates, this “essential unrest.” Philosophy is at its richest, and most deconstructive, when it attempts, and fails, to master its own limits and to stabilize its own identity.

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To say that Derrida is not a theorist is thus to say that he operates at the border or limit — a limit which is not drawn or marked just once, and which is not an indivisible line — where theory — understood at its most rigorous as an inheritor of philosophy — aims to succeed in its task of explaining the world, and in thus aiming, fails. Theory, contra Wittgenstein, is not put to rest. Despite, or because, it is not what it claims to be, despite, or because, theory cannot explain the world, it lives on in a sort of essential after-life. This does not make theory weaker, or stronger, than the world and life that it tries to explain. It is part of that life; a part which tries to explain the life it is part of, but which necessarily fails to explain its own “being a part of life.” Neither a theorist nor a non or antitheorist, Derrida and his style of deconstruction can thus survive only at the border, limit or margin where theory cannot be what it claims to be, or what it must be, and where it cannot or must not be nothing at all, something put to rest, completed, at peace, and dead. It is thus this space or nonspace of “essential unrest,” where deconstruction lives, that sociology finds hard to tolerate. (And not just sociology — every discipline finds it hard to tolerate.) The sociologist qua sociologist, however intellectually adventurous and open to interdisciplinarity he or she may be, must aim to constitute, explain, and understand the object of his or her science: society or the “social.” No amount of appealing to “postmodernism” or “poststructuralism” can alter this demand and this obligation. In order to move closer to the region where deconstruction lives, the sociologist must allow an “essential unrest” to enter everything they do. This will not be an unrest acknowledged in an introduction or a conclusion, or in occasional footnotes. It will be an unrest which never ceases to destabilize sociology, without thereby destroying it. Sociology suffers from, and lives off, two kinds of constitutive unrests or instabilities. First: Its relationship to philosophy. Here is meant not only its more or less official and documented relationship to “official” philosophy, in the case, for example, of Marx to Hegel, Durkheim to Kant, Weber to Nietzsche, and so on. There are also the philoso­ phical gestures that enter into and become constitutive of sociology: for example, the wish to master the entire field of knowledge (Comte, Durkheim, Bourdieu); the wish to master the entire field of human social existence (Marxist sociology); the wish to have a guaranteed methodological access to truth (empiricism, positivism); and many more. This means that sociology cannot constitute itself as such without incorporating into itself, both a relationship to the history of philosophy — often dissimulated — and a series of philosophical gestures — always dissimulated — which become part of the makeup of the discipline. Second Sociology has a very close relationship to other social science disciplines and fields. That is, sociology requires the materials of other disciplines in order to do its own work. History and anthropology provide the comparative and temporal variations, which give sociology much of its evidence, or data. The other social science disciplines, especially economics and political science, provide evidence about central aspects of society, that sociology needs to transform, and incorporate into itself. Furthermore, sociology seeds, in a sense, small “s”, or nondisciplinary, social thinking, which starts to pervade other disciplines, for example, in literary studies, women’s and gender studies, queer theory, cultural studies, postcolonial studies, and many more.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

We have then two constitutive instabilities, the second of which involves a pluralization and scattering of sociology. An encounter with Derrida can help us to think through these instabilities. We know that the theme of the relation to the other is an obsessive concern running through everything that Derrida writes. This “thinking of alterity” is part of every theme Derrida addresses, whether hospitality, cosmopolitanism, forgiveness, and so on, and of every quasiconcept he proposes, whether, the trace, différance, iterability, the trait, the signature, and so on. Although I do not have the space properly to indicate it here, there are grounds for suggesting that the “social” could be reconceived as “the relation to the other.” Or rather, we could propose a notion of “arche-sociality:” a minimal relation to the other, which begins at or before the beginning of life, which occurs everywhere, which makes possible everything we normally think of under the rubric of the “social,” but which also prevents the “social” from ever coalescing into a full entity which could be the object of a theory or a science. From there, everything that sociology traditionally attributes to an almost omnipotent and ubiquitous “society” would have to be reinscribed into the psychic, the sexual, the economic, the political, the ethical, etc. The social would leave none of these domains untouched, but nor would it govern them or the relations between them. Thus might Derrida give sociology a chance to enquire into what I have called its constitutive instabilities, and to see if these are essential instabilities in the sense that Derrida has discussed in relation to philosophy. A requirement or duty, inherited from philosophy, to investigate the essence of the social, might lead to a thought of the social as a sort of essential dissemination of itself. This might in turn lead to a thinking of an essential pluralization of sociology. This essential pluralization of sociology would also be an essential opening to the humanities. Without wishing to predict what this deconstructive sociology might look like, and what role it would play in the future of the liberal arts and of the university, some hints about its contours and possibilities can be found in Derrida’s essay from 1999, “The University Without Condition.”65 Derrida points to the “virtualization of the space of communication, discussion, publication, archivization” which “upsets the university’s topology, disturbs everything that organizes the places defining it . . . .”66 Derrida refers to this theme he is introducing as a “politics of the virtual.” It can be suggested, however, in a nondisciplinary and quite ordinary meaning of the word, that Derrida is referring to how “virtualization” is affecting society or social relations. Derrida continues in this small “s” sociological vein: “Where is to be found the communitary place and the social bond of a “campus” in the cyberspatial age of the computer, of tele-work, and of the World Wide Web?” This theme of virtualization is then linked to a projected examination of the history and nature of work, of the university professor, and of the humanities, and how these are all interrelated. The notion of the “as if,” from Kant, provides a thread that ties together the various themes.67 Virtualization itself implies an “as if,” or a suspension of actuality; the humanities treat irreal objects, which are symbolic productions with an “as if ” texture; the professor professes a faith in the truth which also involves an “as if ” structure; and we could add: as does the “social bond” more generally, which requires faith and trust in the response of the other to one’s own gesture. Derrida concludes by calling for unconditioned university research which will investigate such themes as the history of the idea of what is proper to man; the history of sovereignty as it relates to democracy and citizenship; the history of the professoriat as it relates to the profession

The Name of Sociology and the Trace of Derrida


of faith, the performative, and the oeuvre, and the limits of the humanities and the university; and the history of the “as if,” as it relates to the distinction between the performative and the constative, and as these in turn relate to the event and the relation to the other.68 The types of research that Derrida alludes to must find a space “above all in the humanities,” but will also be found well beyond the humanities — whose borders at any rate will not be secure — in law, theology, medicine, genetics, and the natural sciences.69 And I would add, although Derrida does not, this research will also extend into, will in part be, a deconstructive social studies, in the sense that much of what will be investigated will relate to the history and nature of society, in the nonprofessional, nonsociological or nonscientific sense of “society.” These various investigations, insofar as they touch on something connected to “society,” will only function and be effective in so far as they can persuade others who read them to think anew about society, or to use the word society in new ways, or to modify the grammar of “society.” Derrida ends “The University Without Condition” by directly addressing and appealing to his audience, with reference to his profession of faith in the university without condition.70 He suggests that he does not know “the status, genre, or legitimacy of the discourse that I have just addressed to you” and goes on to wonder is it a discourse within the humanities, or about the humanities; is it a performative; “does it belong to the inside of the university?” All these questions remain necessarily suspended, awaiting the response of the other to effect what they might become. “I have numerous hypotheses on this subject, but finally it will be up to you now, it will also be up to others to decide this.” Thus might the relation to the other, or the social as if it were the relation to the other, inflect deconstruction, the humanities, and the prospects for the university.

Notes 1 Jacques Derrida, “Privilege: Justificatory Title and Introductory Remarks,” in Who’s Afraid of Philosophy: Right to Philosophy 1, trans. J. Plug (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 106; “Privilège: Titre Justicatif et Remarques introductives,” in Du droit à la philosophie (Paris: Editions Galileé, 1990), 106. 2 Space restrictions do not permit me to document these claims. However, an example of this type of approach to the influence of Derrida, is F. Cusset French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, and Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States, trans. J. Fort (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2008). 3 Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 80. 4 Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 379. 5 An example of Derrida referring to such an attack can be found in Derrida, “The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of its Pupils,” in Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2, trans. Jan Plug et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 147 and fn. 15).


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

6 Anne McLintock and Rob Nixon (1986), “No Names Apart: The Separation of Word and History in Derrida’s ‘Le Dernier Mot du Racisme.’ ’’ Critical Inquiry 13 (1), 140–54. 7 McLintock and Nixon, 140. 8 McLintock and Nixon, 140, 154. 9 Jacques Derrida (1986), “But, beyond . . . (Open Letter to Anne McLintock and Rob Nixon).” Critical Inquiry 13 (1), 141. 10 Ibid., 168. 11 Anthony Giddens, “Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and the Production of Culture,” in Social Theory and Modern Sociology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987), 73. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid., 85. 14 Ibid., 83. 15 Ibid., 89. 16 Ibid., 91. 17 Ernesto Laclau, “Deconstruction, Pragmatism, Hegemony,” in Deconstruction and Pragmatism, edited by Simon Critchley, Jacques Derrida, Ernest Laclau and Richard Rorty (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 52. 18 Ibid., 53. 19 Ibid., 57. 20 Derrida, Deconstruction and Pragmatism, 83. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid., 83. 23 Ibid., 53. 24 Ibid., 84. 25 See Jacques Derrida, The Truth in Painting, trans. G. Bennington and I. McLeod (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 9; David Willis, Matchbook: Essays in Deconstruction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 25. 26 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (London: Routledge, 1984), 495. 27 Ibid., 495, 497. 28 Jacques Derrida, “Privilege: Justificatory Title and Introductory Remarks,” in Who’s Afraid of Philosophy: Right to Philosophy 1, trans. J. Plug (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 193, n. 1. 29 Ibid., 1–2. 30 Ibid., 1; Derrida, “Privilège: Titre Justicatif et Remarques introductives,” 9. 31 Ibid., 193–194. 32 Ibid., 194. 33 Ibid., 61–2. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., 52. 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid. 38 Ibid., 48. 39 Ibid., 48–9. 40 Ibid., 49. 41 Ibid., 64. 42 Quoted in Ibid., 64. 43 Ibid., 64–5; Derrida, “Privilège: Titre Justicatif et Remarques introductives,” 106.

The Name of Sociology and the Trace of Derrida 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70


Ibid., 65. Ibid. Ibid., 65–6. Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, trans. Frederick Lawrence (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1987), 160–84. Ibid., 181. Ibid., 161. Ibid., 161, 182. (Habermas 2002a, 182, 184). Jacques Derrida, “Afterword: Toward an Ethic of Discussion,” in Limited Inc., edited by G. Graff (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988), 156–8, fn. 9. Ibid., 157–8, fn. 9. See Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003). See Derrida, “Honesty of Thought,” in The Derrida-Habermas Reader, edited by Lasse Thomassen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 300–6. Ibid., 302. Jacques Derrida and Jurgen Habermas, “February 15, or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe,” in The Derrida-Habermas Reader, edited by L. Thomassen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 270–7. Ibid., 271. See “Fundamentalism and Terror – A Dialoque with Jürgen Habermas,” in Borradori, 25–44. Jacques Derrida, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides: A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” in Borradori, 85–136. Ibid., 99. Jacques Derrida, “Call it a Day for Democracy,” in The Other Heading: Reflections on Today’s Europe, trans. P.-A. Brault and M. Nass (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1992), 109. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3rd edn, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958), §133. Jacques Derrida, “Privilege: Justificatory Title and Introductory Remarks”, 7. Jacques Derrida, “The University Without Condition,” in Without Alibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 202–37. Ibid., 210. Ibid., 210–15. Ibid., 230–7. Ibid., 203, 230. Ibid., 237.


A Most Inhospitable Discipline: Jacques Derrida and the “Political Science to Come” Diane Rubenstein (for David Apter1)

Political science is a collective protagonist of course and its tragic predicament grows out of the fact that, like Achilles torn by indecision, or like Creon and Antigone simultaneously pursuing cross-purposes, the discipline is committed to two ends which, from time to time, turn out to be incompatible . . . . As a tragic protagonist, the discipline’s collective shortcoming is located in a stubborn insistence on studying politics scientifically, even though inquiry in that mode can not insure the health of a democratic society . . . . It follows that something is tragically amiss in a discipline which knows of these things yet continues working in ways that do little to serve the object it sincerely reveres. David Ricci2 O my democratic friends. Jacques Derrida3 I. Political science as an American discipline4 has been peculiarly inhospitable to the work and teaching of Jacques Derrida. Indeed, I would be so impertinent as to evoke a memory of Derrida’s “roguish” (yet impeccably Aristotelian) response to his friend Abdelkebir Khatibi and contend that political science is the most inhospitable discipline in all of the liberal arts to his thought and his writing.5 And yet, if this is the (always paradigmatic) case, this lack of interpretive generosity or intellectual opening paradoxically testifies to the saliency of Derrida’s legacy and its implications for the discipline, both as a threat (to its received wisdom concerning democracy and sovereignty) as well as to its opportunity or chance for what I will be calling a “political science to come.” Putting forth such a hyperbolic claim will involve several moves at once genealogical and conceptual. I will delineate the distinctiveness of the discipline of American political science (i.e., its co-imbrication with the development of a university as opposed to a college model, its ideological debts and national inheritances.) Concurrently, I will be tracing a narrative of the selective reception of Derrida’s work from the mid1980s to the present. For, as Geoff Bennington has noted, deconstruction is also “an

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


attempt to take seriously the historical inscription of any theoretical discourse.”6 On the conceptual level, I will detail the crux of Derrida’s greatest (and most threatening) theoretical contribution as a democratic theorist—the autoimmunity of democracy and the separation of unconditionality from sovereignty. I conclude briefly with a projective vision of what a political science that assumed its affinities with and the risks of deconstruction might contibute. Throughout this chapter “political science” will stand as a name for a particular institutional configuration of the “resistance to theory.”7 *** Deconstruction is neither a theory nor a philosophy. It is neither a school nor a method. It is not even a discourse an act or a practice. It is “what happens” (ce qui arrive), what happens today in what we call “the social” (société), “politics”, and “historical reality”, etc. Deconstruction is the case. (emphasis mine) Jacques Derrida, “Some statements and truisms about neologisms . . . ”8

II. Since Derrida’s death, hostility to his work has been duly noted in personal testimonies and in the disrepect conveyed by public obituaries such as the New York Times with its synecdochal condensation of “abstruse.” Permit me to add an exemplary testimony. At an annual meeting of the Western Political Science Association during the mid-1980s, I presented a paper that used Derrida’s writings on GREPH (i.e., “Where a Teaching Body Begins and How It Ends”), comparing them to thinkers (better known to political theorists) of academic normalization such as Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Regis Debray.9 My discussant (quite familiar with Foucault) admitted that she had not read Derrida—neither the texts I discussed nor others widely in translation at the time—yet given what she had read about him in the New York Review of Books, she was convinced that I had “misinterpreted” him. Derrida simply could not have been “political” in the way that the GREPH writings indicated, concerned with the politics of higher education and the institution of philosophy in France. I must have misread him. In the discussion period that followed these remarks, a voluble audience (who also confessed their nonreading of Derrida) agreed with the discussant, confirming or rather, rescuing her nonreading. I offer this example to mark the foreclosure that attended Derrida’s work and name at this time—the mid-1980s. I do think that since the more explicit mid-1990s texts of “Force of Law,” Spectres of Marx, and The Politics of Friendship, that the discipline (not Derrida) has effected a turn (which will be examined in this chapter). But first I would like to make an institutional disciplinary point about the strength of resistance as it concerns nonreading and the ability to express it in a public venue of a professional meeting (and the Western is not just any meeting but is the one that is historically the most friendly to theory which is why they had a panel where papers on Derrida and Foucault could be presented in the mid-1980s in the first place.) The fact that an asserted nonreading could trump an (always possible) misreading should give precisely the type of pause Derrida considered in another national (French) context of nonreading: (“a book or author whom they obviously did not read, did not know how to read, were unable to read, or did not want to read”) proved more significant than either the book


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

or its author. Derrida observes that sometimes it is necessary to pay the “most vigilant” attention to questions of “reception.” When nonreading practices are professionally validated “. . . we would have to ask ourselves what is happening in our public space. . . .”10 There is perhaps a teachable moment here in the resistance to deconstructive theory that concerns the autoimmunity of democracy. This will first require negotiating an overdetermined context of institutional constraints and phantasms. For what is apparent in the differential receptivity to Derrida as opposed to Foucault, Deleuze, Lyotard, or any other French theorist who played the role of “oppositional Other” to critical standpoint epistemologies is the question of what makes for the good disciplinary object. It could be argued that from the vantage point of social theory, Foucault, Lyotard, or Deleuze would present analogous challenges to questions of agency and the subject, yet there were efforts at invention with these authors to use the theory in a supplemental way or to otherwise engage with it.11 Moreover, when compared with Foucault, Derrida had an equally impressive record of political engagement—if one cared to look for it—both in the politics of higher education and of immigration such as opposition to the Haby reforms and the Pasqua immigration law. He had signed many petitions as a public intellectual. Why was the discipline in the mid-1980s so able to see possibilities in Foucault’s power/knowledge yet so resistant to seeing either Of Grammatology or “Différance” as a serious critique of ethnocentrism? Arthur Kroker presents a provocative hypothesis concerning contemporary French theory as restaging a quarrel of the ancients. French theorists enact different “attitudes towards existence:” Lucretian fatalism (Baudrillard, Barthes); Epicurean sensuality (Irigaray) and pragmatic naturalism (Virilio, Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari, Foucault). It is not surprising that the theorists most easily accommodated to the traditions of American political theory inhabit this last category and the most difficult remain the Lucretians. They mark the “most advanced stage of technological consciousness” but are duly criticized for lacking a sense of historical specificity and the dialectic. In addition, Lucretian fatalism has “the merit of exercising no différend from that which it purports to study.” While Kroker does not include Derrida in his study of “technology and the French postmodern” I would place Derrida with Barthes and Baudrillard. Kroker’s depiction of an affective tenor of “melancholy skepticism and political stoicism” recalls similar assessments of Derridean mourning and endurance. In contrast, the pragmatic naturalists, whether resurrected Kantians (Lyotard), Spinozist (Deleuze and Guattari), or otherwise Christian and eschatological (Virilio) are “cultural materialists” more easily translatable into a “politics of resistance” in line with a Gramscian “optimism of the will.”12 It would be for another time to take up Arthur Kroker’s suggestive analogy between the French “naturalist perspective” in thought and what “St. Augustine once remarked of those other secular pragmatists at the eclipse of the Roman empire, that their best hopes would be ultimately dashed against the rocks of the very naturalism that they thought would save them.”13 Thus, for Kroker, there is a chiasmic relation between political success (i.e., the naturalist tradition does succeed politically) and theoretic legacy (i.e., because it fails intellectually). Another plausible hypothesis comes from Derrida himself and concerns the national question, more precisely the relation between writing and nationality. In an interview

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


with Elisabeth Roudinesco, Derrida admits to a different relation to the French language than Foucault, Lévi-Strauss, Deleuze, Althusser, or Lyotard, who “despite differences in style . . . maintain a common relation to the French language, one that is at bottom very placid, very sedentary.”14 While this assertion may no doubt surprise an Anglophone reader who would see quite an “enlivened” (not “sedentary”) prose, Derrida has something else in mind which refers to a writing that is transformative not only on the level of the signifier (which all the above writers so ably perform) but on the level of the letter, understood as “rhetoric, composition, address, destination, mise-en- scène.”15 We might, (following Gasché16) call these the “infrastructures” of the sentence, which would resonate otherwise with political science as concerned above all with matters of infrastructure. The only other French writer in this tradition of the letter (and not the signifier) is Lacan—another theorist that political science has not been especially hospitable to. Derrida describes his writing as “a hand to hand combat with the French language.”17 It makes the language “tremble.” This image of a war, albeit sometimes unseen and protracted, more akin to a Gramscian war of position than a frontal war of maneuver, is evoked in a concluding challenge of Monolingualism: Compatriots of every country, translator-poets, rebel against patriotism! Each time I write a word, a word that I love and love to write; in the time of this word, at the instant of a single syllable, the song of the new Internationale awakens in me. I never resist it. I am in the street at its call, even if, apparently, I have been working silently since dawn at my table.18

But the national question is inscribed in a scene of writing in modes of countertransference as well. Commenting in that same interview upon the relations between France and Germany, and their mutual implications for twentieth-century French philosophy as well as the recent Heidegger affair, Derrida astutely notes that “authors define themselves through their allergy to a way of writing, to a manner of dealing with writing.”19 Writing differentially reinscribes the question of the nation— its nationalist tradition in political thought as well as the “national specificity of the university and all the professional stakes involved in the institutional field.”20 How is the national question implicated in a story of American political science’s reception to Derrida? An American experience [is] deeply written into American political science, [which embraces features such as] a written Constitution . . . a bill of rights, a territorial division of powers and a functional separation of powers . . . the development of an enduring two party system and a luxuriant group life with political associations . . . and a deep and pervasive sense that the American experience will become the human experience.21

III. The story of American political science resonates deeply with Derridean writings on the university (with and without conditions22), nationalism, and citizenship. In our “conflict of the faculties,” American political science emerged in the mid-nineteenth century in a uniquely university setting, which marked a triumph over the college ideal and the substantive teaching of moral philosophy.23 Through the antebellum


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

period, the “science of government” was tied to the teaching of political ethics and the study of ancient Greek, but with greater professionalization after 1900, political science became less tied to other kindred disciplines such as history, economics, and sociology. A second generation of political scientists founded the American Political Science Association, but it was the third generation (1920–40) that combined a postWorld War I disillusionment with a renewed dedication to fulfilling civic responsibility through university research rather than involvement in politics more directly. This was the moment of national conferences on the Sciences of Politics (1923–25) and the start of the Social Science Research Council; political science was one of its founding disciplines. If I have cited these specific disciplinary facts, it is to underscore a precise set of tensions peculiar to American political science as a discipline, sometimes depicted as a contradiction between scientific form and professional substance. As formalized in documents such as the 1930 “Teaching of Government” task report, the discipline was under the dual imperatives of science and promoting citizenship. It specified three tasks of the political science instructor: preprofessional education for careers in law and government as well as training all students for citizenship. Indeed, all activities—whether research, publishing, or citizenship training—were geared to knowledge production that would guarantee the proper sort of civic instruction; no matter what the immediate pedagogic objective of any particular course (state and local government, international relations, political theory), the telos of these endeavors is the “efficient conduct of public affairs” whether as a future public servant or as a private rights bearing citizen.24 However, one cannot read the addresses of this generation of APSA presidents and not sense the tremendous anxiety about the double imperative and proleptic danger of science: “That practioners might undermine, in a scientifically professionally way, the very object the discipline was committed to support.”25 Bernard Crick resumed this gap between the seemingly unconditional demands of science (including the question of what is “proper” to academic research) and the conditionality of actually existing reality in democratic politics: “Political scholars have worked hard to return politics to the people and the people returned Harding.”26 “Scientific study” and the “ameliorative civic mission” were likened to a chemistry experiment where two “safe” substances combine to form an “unpleasant reaction.”27 Henry James Ford, the Association’s 15th president, posed the question in a language open to an autoimmunological reading (that we will be turning to shortly): “What is the matter with political science if it may serve to undermine institutions of government? Has it no settled criteria of political value, no methods of analysis by which it can accurately discern the causes of bad government and prescribe the means of a cure?”28 Ford emphasized those aspects of political science that could put democracy at risk by “undermining faith in democracy and therefore weaken the very regime that political scientists in good faith sought to support.”29 The exception to this pattern was APSA’s 11th president, Jesse Macy, who reconciled the requisites of science and democracy at risk through an appeal to Christian faith. Science was likened to the biblical injunction to “foreswear a lie and to seek the truth.” Political science and modern democracy as twin ameliorative projects were but the fulfillment of the bible: “The modern scientific spirit is simply

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


the Christian spirit realized in a limited field of experience.”30 This cursory citing of these addresses suggests a rhetorical unconscious that begs for a sustained Derridean engagement with questions of perjury and the lie as well as faith and knowledge.31 But there were further constraints that exceeded the potential conflict of interest between science and civics. Democratic politics might be seen to be in tension with the values of liberalism: “If the discipline was born in a university environment of science, it dwelt in a national context of liberalism. That meant that, even while new professional scholars worked according to the university’s standards and requirements for professional repute, the goals of their work were always linked, in complex ways to the hopes and fears of an entire country.”32 This tradition can be resumed as congruent with Hartzian liberalism. Herbert McClosky formalized it in the following philosophemes: consent, accountability, limited or constitutional government, representation, majority rule, minority rights, the principle of political opposition, freedom of thought, speech, press, assembly, equality of opportunity, religious toleration, equality before the law, the rights of juridical defense and individual selfdetermination over a broad range of affairs.33

It would not be too much of an overstatement to see this as the Rosetta stone to our discipline, the scrim through which Derrida will be read. For Kenneth Minogue, a liberal political philosophy is but a “description of this kind of state” combined with its imminent (and immanent) rationalizations.34 We will see how this informs the translation of derridean concepts such as ipseity and how difficult it is to read Derrida without projecting this inheritance, however critically disavowed. In other words, the importance of liberalism as a context for American political science and its reception of Derrida cannot be overestimated. Moreover, it is difficult not to concur with David Ricci’s assessment that most US political scientists work in a liberal tradition based on a few documents established as a canon in 1825 by the Board of Visitors looking for appropriate texts to teach at the University of Virginia: The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Washington’s “Farewell Address,” and Locke’s Second Treatise of Government.35 William Munro (the 28th APSA president) underlined the centrality of this corpus for the discipline: “the postulate that all ablebodied citizens are of equal weight, volume and value, endowed with inalienable rights, vested with the attribution of an indivisible sovereignty.”36 Derrida’s work— most forcefully in Rogues—has unsettled these a priori of equal measure and possible metric, as well as the unconditional sovereignty that serves as their guarantee. Thus, it should not be surprising that the first article concerning Derrida to be published in the American Political Science Review (derived from a paper given at an annual meeting of the association) would be centered on his reading of the Declaration of Independence, a text that appeared in translation in New Political Science in 1986.37 The reading presented in “Declarations of Independence: Arendt and Derrida on the Problem of Founding a Republic,” opposes their respective views of political performatives. For the Declaration is a document that opens itself to all of the troubles of the performative paradoxes at work in promising: “How can the We stand as the guarantor of its own performance? How can it function as the sole source of stability for


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

the republic?” Arendt sees the few “constantive” moments of the founding document as impure contaminants; in Honig’s felicitous phrasing, the Declaration does not “require the blessing of a constative in order to work.”38 For Derrida, it is precisely the very undecidability between the constantive and performative structures that is “required in order to produce the sought after effect.”39 We cannot know whether independence is attested to, or rather produced or created by, the Declaration and this is a structural effect of language, present in every countersignature, promise, or act of foundation: “in every system, whether linguistic, cultural, political, there is a moment or place that the system can’t account for. Every system is secured by placeholders that are irrevocably, structurally arbitrary and prelegitimate. They enable the system, but are illegitimate from its vantage point.”40 Honig’s careful and close reading of Derrida’s text is illustrative in several ways. It demonstrates how this empty place is necessarily supplemented—in Arendt’s case—by fables. She also—well before the more recent writings on autoimmunity—compared Derrida’s comments on “survivance- living on”41 with republican augmentation and amendment, as a possible opening on to Arendt (its promise will be drawn out in Honig’s later work on hospitality).42 Most importantly, her article is exemplary of the three features of the early (and some recent43) disciplinary reception of Derrida: the treatment of foundational texts—in particular the Declaration of Independence; an attention to what Derrida called the play of the signifier as opposed to the letter (i.e., the logic of supplementarity); and a foregounding of a particular performative, more Butlerian than wholly Derridean. For Anne Norton as well, Derrida enters through the “Declaration of Independence” and in the grammatological opposition between speech and writing: “Liberal regimes, as Derrida observes, voice themselves. Each nation marks itself as a ‘unanimous people in the presence of its speech.’ The American people called itself into being in writing. In the Constitution, as in the Declaration, the American nation speaks itself into being in writing. The practice of American courts echoes Derrida’s conception of speech, where writing is already the spoken word.”44 Throughout her Republic of Signs, the constitution of the Constitution as the work of the nation takes place through a differential economy of trace writing where the logic of supplementarity prevails. “The constitutional text, with its evocation of a more perfect union, is silent on the present condition and the history of the nation.”45 America’s racial history is also one of erasure and replacement: ethnicity—as a supplement—something extra “is added to people who are alike under the same skin.”46 Warhol’s “Marilyn Monroe” reveals the supplementary logic of celebrity in American consumer culture.47 Murray Edelman, in Constructing the Political Spectacle, used Derrida to further his understanding of political language and more specifically the “ways such language systematically undermined its own premises.”48 Edelman was particularly concerned with the inversion of value hierarchies, how language could be used in an Orwellian way to claim that waging war was fostering peace.49 This did not signal hypocrisy but rather, the “openness of language” as well as a certain nonfoundationalism he associated with the Derridean critique of logocentrism. Political language worked on the level of the signifier: “Deconstruction proceeds as well through the use of adverbial or adjectival qualifiers that purport at one level of meaning to intensify an

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


affirmation while they negate it at another level.” These qualifiers modify signifiers such as “democracy”, “freedom,” “justice,” “communism,” and tend toward evocations of “true” and “essential.”50 Edelman stressed a disseminative polysemy at work that complemented aspects of American pluralism. Indeed, “(e)very term and every entity in the environment is a signifer and signifiers evoke a range of meanings that continue to widen endlessly.”51 Like Norton, Edelman found the Derridean logic of supplementarity a compelling analytical lens for social policy and its persistent failures: “There are constant claims that policies to deal with the social problems that are never solved (poverty, crime, inflation, unemployment, emotional disturbance, and so on) are failures and also that they are successes; each claim is a necessary supplement to the contradictory one and is made because the other is made.”52 Ultimately, Edelman traces the deconstructive logic to the disseminative associative play of the “spoor,” “trace,” and “graft.” “To speak or hear a term is to experience the spoor of the other terms. Language therefore entails a wide range of resonances that are both present and absent, available for recognition and denial.”53 Edelman’s book was unusual for its time in its devastating litotic style. It simply stated that Derrida’s work challenged conventional logic and assumptions about the subject (i.e., rational and subject-centeredness) while still “recognizing what we know to be the case” and encouraging us “to make use of language incisively.” He then proceeded to enumerate the trace logic of American political discourse: “The traces of political terms make it easy to link issues in dubious and challenging ways and such grafting is endemic in political discourse.”54 Whether it was an issue of state’s rights (which bear on reproductive or racial matters) or the bureaucratic intervention into “private” health issues of workers, Edelman situated political deadlocks in the refusal to see the performative capacities of language to “constitute” the issue and make resolution impracticable. (“We fail to notice the characteristics of language as aspects of social situations . . . ”)55 What appears to be missing in this admirable early textual appropriation of Derrida to be found in Edelman (and to a lesser extent in Norton) is a question of economies of violence, a question of the lesser violence and the passive decision to which I will return. Derrida has proved an invaluable resource for critical work in the discipline that looked to founding oppositions or hierarchies, such as that of Richard Ashley or David Campbell in international relations where both the anarchy problematique and the division between international and domestic (e.g., the domestic analogy) seemed overripe for Derridean interventions.56 Yet even after the appearance of “Force of Law,” Spectres of Marx, and The Politics of Friendship, there has been little sustained treatment of Derrida and democracy at all comparable to the work that has been produced by departments of literature or philosophy such as that of Pheng Cheah, Samir Haddad, Martin Hagglund, Michael Naas, Alex Thomson,57 to name just a few recent contributions. As Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac note in their pellucid introduction to Derrida and the time of the political, emphasis has been on performatives of violent founding and the exceptional decision as found in Schmitt. This elides “the effacing power of performativity,” that neutralizes the event. Political science’s unexamined valorization of performativity fails to see that it too is “tainted with ipseity, the power of mastery of


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an “I can” that effaces the event.”58 They astutely note that performatives are effective modalities in political, juridical, ethical domains (all the ways we traditionally find them useful in political science) because they are seen to constitute or produce events. Yet, to a certain extent this “event” which is performatively produced is always already calculated via the (discursive) norms or conventions that are its enabling or defining conditions. The event thus produced is already “codified” hence, “it also neutralizes through calculation, the eventness of the event associated with the temporality of the to- come.”59 In such a way we can see that there is an “inherent conservatism” to performativity’s creativeness. Derrida, while noting possible emancipatory effects, challenges the “academic investment in this theory”, especially in political theory (because the “juridical is at work in the performative”). As performatives always establish the conditions for an authoritative speech act, the theory also has a “protectionist effect.” It should not be surprising that the university has been receptive to or complicit with theories that are (self) legitimating. Derrida’s assessment in “Performative Powerlessness” recalls his prior writing on the Declaration of Independence. “In a certain way, theories of the performative are always at the service of powers of legitimation, of legitimized or legitimizing powers. And consequently, in my view, the ethical must be exposed to a place where constantive language as well as performative language is in the service of another language.”60 Just as political scientists focusing on the earlier period of Derrida’s work have favored a strategy of the signifier over the letter (framed by foundational documents, liberal philosophemes, and diacritical oppositions), those who engage with the later texts pursue equally reductive paths. Cheah and Guerlac neatly resume the twin avenues these articles pursue. The first is an ontological argument that exposes the paradox of foundation. This is no longer framed as a linguistic one but rather that the founding of a new state always necessitates an act of violence (that is destructive of the prior state) and imposes a new legitimate order “on human being by human beings.” This new all too human order tries in vain to “approximate the absoluteness of divine authority.”61 The second (relativist or historicist) account argues that any political foundation can always be seen as potentially illegitimate due to its prior inscription in a founding violence. Michael Shapiro’s concluding chapter “Democracy’s Risky Business” illustrates both of these tendencies. He begins with Derrida’s reading of the Declaration and sees it as a “critique of Jefferson’s scripting of Euro-America’s founding document.”62 Shapiro relates Derrida’s recognition of the text’s undecidability (which Shapiro calls temporal instability): “it hovers ambiguously between a description of what has been the case and a performative utterance that establishes the case.”63 Rather than reading, as Honig did previously, a tie to the constantive that always already remains, Shapiro asserts: “To hold such truths to be self evident from Derrida’s perspective is not merely to find a warrant for them as it is to constitute them. The self-evident truths to which the document refers are productively brought about by the statement.”64 Shapiro reads Derrida in hindsight, through the vantage point of “Force of Law” and a received tradition of thinking about the performative:

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


On Derrida’s reading, it is force rather than accord with an external document that establishes the lawfulness that the document engenders. Jefferson’s document can therefore be recruited into what Walter Benjamin famously called “lawmaking violence’, for as Derrida points out the radical doubt (or aporia in his terms) of the founding document bases the American democracy on a fiction, a “founding violence” in which there is an irreducible complicity between force and law.65

Shapiro takes the next step (pas) beyond and calls America “Euro-America”; the founding is now a “crime story”66, “a continuing crime story”67: “Inasmuch as the force it deployed was on behalf of white men rather than an inclusive chromatic and gender, the founding was of a patriarchal ethnocracy rather than a democracy. Jefferson et al. were effectively “worlding” at the expense of other possible worlds. They were instituting a very exclusive “we.” ”68 Shapiro turns away from Derrida, from political science, and toward literature and cinema (Thomas Pynchon, Ken Loach) to question America’s constitutive fictions. He gives up on “American political theory” as an “unreflective democratic discourse” which cannot question “the constitutive fictions in founding documents and the subsequent territorial and juridical implementations that follow.” All have contributed to “law-preserving violence.”69 Shapiro’s use of Derrida thus both overemphasizes the emancipatory force of performativity and does not attend to what Derrida sees as a more critical point “the neutralization of the event by the performative.”70 This designates “a quasitranscendental violence in which any kind of rational calculation necessarily effaces the eventness of the event.”71 It is another form of violence, more fundamental than the law preserving one he decries and has implication for the performativity of those “marginalized” by the “law preserving violence” he describes. For norms can be de- as well as re-stabilized by their repetition. Subversion works in two ways that can still be conservative: another ipseity or counter-power can be preserved. Also, as Cheah and Guerlac noted above, the subversion will still be calculable, subject to the dictates of the norm itself (as the norm’s other and target.) To some extent then, subversion is foreseeable and calculable; “it is measured in terms of the norm that it destabilizes.”72 Shapiro’s readings do conform to their depiction of a certain blind spot and relativism; the relativism concerns the ways foundational acts or the constitution of “hegemonic subjects are seen as contingent performatives by virtue of their connection to concrete scenarios of historical, social and political violence.”73 But as Cheah and Guerlac specify, this simply underlines their blind spot—their very conditionalitity: “the blind spot of these critical analyses of socio-political performativity is that they are necessarily conditioned by their location and are conditional. They cannot appeal to an unconditional force because they regard any claim to unconditionality as a ruse of hegemonic power and authority. Thus, they inevitably end up in a historicist or cultural relativism.”74 It is not incidental that Shapiro’s reading in this chapter pursues a common supplemental strategy of turning to Jacques Rancière “to rethink social space and save contingency.”75 What would a political science and a political theory that truly engaged with the unconditional look like? In my concluding section, I want to argue two things. A


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political science that tarried with “democracy to come” might be analogous to what Jacques Derrida said concerning psychoanalysis: “If one took psychoanalysis into account (la psychanalyse), seriously, effectively, practically, this would be a nearly unimaginable earthquake. Indescribable. Even for psychoanalysts.”76 And yet it is happening, it happens every day . . .

Pièce de résistance . . . at the end of a long detour, right near the end, it will perhaps become clear that democracy in America, or more precisely, democracy and America, will have been my theme . . .77

IV. There could be no better example of a symptomatic disciplinary reading of the later Derrida’s politics than Wendy Brown’s “Sovereign Hesitations.”78 Given the inventiveness of her prior work (evident, to cite just two titles, in her States of Injury and the edited volume Left Legalism/Left Critique)79 which display her concern for justice, capacity for tolerating ambivalence, political savvy, and humor, Brown would be an ideal reader. Thus her presentation of Derrida on sovereignty and democracy is all the more curious, presenting blind spots that read as institutional re-markings of the discipline’s constitutive limits. Her choice of Rogues as a key post 9/11 text to thinking the political present indicates her astuteness; yet the total elision of the concept of democracy’s “autoimmunity,” (the new name for the double bind or aporia in Rogues) as well as the restricted reading of “democracy to come” function as present absences, demonstrating the limits of critique even as she “limns” Derrida.80 The opening paragraph of her reading moves quickly from a foregrounding of the problematic of sovereignty in political philosophy (Plato, Hobbes, Bodin, Schmitt) and deconstruction to a projection of what we should have expected from such an encounter: “Deconstruction would be compelled to undo sovereignty—to reveal it as predicated, dependent, internally divided, vulnerable and hence not sovereign—and by doing this would vanquish sovereignty.”81 Deconstruction would not do this for the (Oedipal) reason that it likes to slay dragons, but because “sovereignty simply cannot survive being undone.”82 Derrida performs counterintuitively to these projected expectations. He is involved not in a familiar deconstructive mission, but rather in a rescue and recuperation one. He will first recuperate a conditional sovereignty from the unconditional or absolutist tradition and then reattach, a new transformed sovereignty to a “democracy to come.”83 The movement of severance next links the unconditional to freedom in order to reground a “shared, divisible, conditioned” sovereignty. But this freedom is not your father’s freedom—it is now detached from autonomy.84 Brown characterizes this imputed rescue and recuperation of a conditioned sover­eignty as “liberal” (we are now in the article’s second paragraph) and the questions posed are from the vantage point of why would Derrida wish to rescue sovereignty. Some hints con­ cerning “freedom” and “barbarism” are offered: “Sovereignty underwrites the individual freedom that Derrida takes to be at democracy’s heart”85 “Sovereignty promises to secure civilization against its barbarous opposite.” Whether democracy has a synecdochal heart or essence is precisely what will be pressured by the concept of autoimmunity and

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


ipseity. (Whether sovereignty has an other, barbarous or otherwise, similarly neglects the différantial or autoimmune structure of sovereignty.) “Barbarous opposite” while not a term congruent with Derridean logic, however, is a suggestive one. It signals a Lefortian vantage point (which is also present in Brown’s treatment of democracy as an open signifier, as opposed to its constitutive autoimmunity). Barbarism would work as an other term, a constitutive outside to democracy, which could function as a totalization or limit to the political field; it precisely lacks the openness (or indetermination) of a “to come.” Brown’s reading of Rogues combines a crucial conceptual elision (“autoimmunity”) with a peculiar entry point. For example, rather than looking at the substitution of sovereignty for justice as Derrida rethinks democracy (something Rogues made possible after “Force of Law” or The Politics of Friendship) and the place of the unconditional, Brown begins with Derrida’s putatively passionate “attachment” to sovereignty (why he is reluctant to “give up on” liberal parliamentary forms) and an examination of the political effects of “holding out for a liberal democratic form of sovereignty.”86 Her reading is motivated (as is Derrida in Rogues) by pressing political realities: the “deconstitution of the sovereign nation state in late modernity,” increasing pressures on the concept of sovereignty occasioned by the occupation of Iraq and the realignments of the European Union.87 This will impact Brown’s translation of derridean philosophemes in some surprising ways; for example, she sees the opposite of ipseity as “occupation,” that is, “foreign domination” “any power of rule imposed from outside.”88 Brown reads what she will call Derrida’s “brief for freedom”89 symptomatically, aligning it with other contemporary European thinkers such as Habermas, Rancière, Balibar, Laclau, Mouffe, Negri, and Agamben whose similar preoccupation with democracy might shore up troubling Euro-Atlanticist identifications with an accompanying theocratic projection onto Islam, thereby insulating them (as well as us/Americans as their heirs) against their own “barbarisms.”90 Part of the problem of this jump to speculation and grouping of Derrida with other European “for export theorists” (especially the most commonly traded ones with American political theory) is that it misses both the evolution of Derrida’s engagement with the question of Europe91 (as well as with America) and how “Europe” had increasingly—during the Bush years—held out a possible promise that might be read against America as a unipolar hegemon. Derrida has noted the complex and contradictory nature of Europe today: “Hence the paradox: globalization is Europeanization. And yet Europe is withdrawing: it is being fissured and transformed . . . Europe is in my opinion the most beautiful example, and also the allegory, of autoimmunity.”92 In Alex Thomson’s formulation, the invocation of Europe serves as an interruption. Derrida “affirms the existence of something like a European identity which might open up the concept of identity itself (“what is proper to a culture is not to be identical with itself ”) but equally the risk of a terrifying retreat into enclosure and insularity.”93 So, there would be an opening or chance of a greater justice, but also a risk or threat that could eliminate or foreclose other alternatives: “Every event is in this sense violent. Our responsibility is to locate ourselves in this economy of violence.”94 But Derrida is also aware—and this has been apparent since his reading in The Gift of Death—that this Europe is also a Christian Europe and his writing has been a rigorous deconstruction of the Christian inheritance and the Abrahamic filiation that underwrites it. This is the obverse of an ethnocentrism; it “haunts” his writings


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on Algeria, on hospitality and the sans papiers, as well as on the archive. It is also why I believe it will be so important for the future work in a discipline that is already so promising in works of comparative political theory95 and open to creative empirical work on race and immigration if we would learn to live with these phantoms and even better, speak with them. Moreover, this openness to an “autoimmune” and allegorical reading of Europe is done in concert with a pluralization of Islam. Islam is always either pluralized explicitly: “Islams” or in a qualified fashion: “a certain Islam.”96 As other commentators have noted, one also has to look at the precise placement of Islam in both Rogues and its complementary piece, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides.”97 Islam or “a certain Islam” appears in Chapter 3, “The Other of Democracy, the “By Turns”: Alternative and Alteration,” where Derrida will carefully use Arabic and Islamic in turns to separate the literal language of the Koran (Arabic) from Islam, and do away with the “abusive hyphen.”98 Europe is qualified as the “what is called the European tradition,” “the Greco-Christian and globalatinizing that dominates the worldwide concept of the political,” “ambiguous secularization” of the Enlightenment, “supposed modernity.”99 Thus, when “a certain Islam” enters the scene, it is juxtaposed with a less than celebratory assessment of Europe, where the democratic has become synonymous with the political not due to any intrinsic merit but rather, due to the free play of its indetermination. Derrida is quite careful to say that not all anti or nondemocratic regimes are Muslim but rather, only that, “the only ones that do not present themselves as democratic, unless I am mistaken, are statutorily linked to the Muslim faith or creed.”100 This is where Islam makes its appearance, as a point of possible resistance to cultural and political imperialism: “Islam or a certain Islam, would thus be the only religious or theocratic culture that can still, in fact or principle, inspire and declare any resistance to democracy.” But Derrida goes on to both clarify as well as to up the ante: “If it does not actually resist what might be called a real or actual democratization, one whose reality may be more or less contested, it can at least resist the democratic principle, claim, or allegation, the legacy and old name of “democracy.” ”101 Alex Thomson notes that Derrida’s “audacity” consists of precisely this juxtaposition between democracy’s old name and Islam; thus it occupies that same strategic site as “democracy to come”—a site of emergence for something new. The question of democracy’s future may now be imbricated with that of Islam, as that of deconstruction with the question of Algeria and postcoloniality.102 At deconstruction and democracy’s heart, might not be individual liberty and recuperated liberal sovereignty as Brown suggests, but a challenging and risky exposure that a possible identification with Algeria entails. The two framing examples of Rogues are the suspension of the 1992 Algerian elections and political reality of post 9/11 America as seen in the Patriot Act and the creation of categories such as the enemy combatant. What is at stake in preferring one old name— democracy, double bind—to some new ones—democracy to come, autoimmunity? What’s in a name? Paradox, catachresis, or autoimmunity? Brown’s reference point is popular sovereignty and its abrogation in a Bush/ American state of exception. But she offers another way in to understanding a gap between democracy’s ideals of popular self-governance and a state decisionism that would violate these norms via a University of Virginia textbook author, Locke and his

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


“double register” of legislative,that is, routine (electoral) and prerogative or federative powers, that which governs the exception. Prerogative power results in a paradoxical formulation: “Insofar as the people authorize the suspension of their own legislative power, they suspend the sovereign in the name of their own protection and need. But a sovereign that suspends its sovereignty is no sovereign.”103 Brown will repeatedly state a paradox or double bind: that sovereignty is inherently antidemocratic (“it must overcome the dispersed quality of power in democracy”) but democracy too needs a supplement to be effective politically. The history of sovereignty’s conceptual incoherence in liberal democracy is well inscribed in political theorists such as Rousseau and Marx, who are duly noted. Indeed, Brown offers a very apt reading of Marx’s On the Jewish Question: “The very existence of the state as that which overcomes our particularity . . . is evidence for Marx that we do not actually rule ourselves or live freely.” Yet Brown cites Marx precisely to show “. . . it would seem that there can be no political life without sovereignty, that is, not simply without decisiveness and finality, but without a power that gathers, mobilizes, and above all deploys the collective force of an entity on behalf of and against itself, as its means of governing and ordering itself.”104 As further proof of this paradox, Brown offers Derrida’s statement that “it is not certain that “democracy” is a political concept through and through.”105 Brown accuses Derrida of not “tarrying with the catachresis of popular sovereignty,” but rather “he sets it aside with the remark that “democracy and sovereignty are at the same time in contradiction and inseparable from each other.” ”106 Derrida then will attempt to rework this co-imbrication through ipseity, “being properly oneself.”107 Unlike Brown, I would like to tarry, not with popular sovereignty as such, but rather with Marx. For it is as suggestive that as soon as she cites Marx (“Yet—and here is where we no sooner pick up Marx than we leave him again—it would seem there can be no political life without sovereignty.”108 she beats a hasty exit strategy from him. For Marx is a symptomatic signifier, both in her reading and, more importantly for Derrida’s concept of autoimmunity. First of all, Brown discusses why there can be no political life (and autoimmunity is above all about living on, giving time, and survival) without a mobilizing, gathering force that deploys this force “on behalf of and against itself.” As she will write in the next sentence of sovereignty’s gift: “it gives and represents political form.” (One might also read her earlier example of prerogative power109 as somewhat autoimmune in setting aside its own self-protections.) However, Brown consistently overlooks key words (e.g., autoimmunity) even when she is citing from pages where they are mentioned or foregrounded. If we look to where Derrida intimates that “democracy” might not be a “political concept through and through,”110 it occurs as the penultimate sentence of a paragraph and the next paragraph contains what might be the most famous (and often cited) cri de coeur explicating the lack of a political or ethical turn in the 1980s or 1990s. For it enunciated the logic of Derridean thought that can be traced to différance: “The thinking of the political has always been a thinking of différance and a thinking of différance always a thinking of the political, of the contour and limits of the political, especially around the enigma or autoimmune double bind of the democratic.”111 Similarly, where Brown cites “democracy and sovereignty are at the same time in contradiction and inseparable from each other”112 she not only removes


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

(without any ellipses) Derrida’s figure of the ellipses: “As always, these two principles, democracy and sovereignty, are at the same time, but also by turns, inseparable and in contradiction from one another.”113 (emphasis mine) Leaving out this turn will have consequences for a subsequent reading that sees an inherent oscillation between freedom and equality, rather than autoimmunity within these concepts. Moreover, it is not just that these two principles—democracy and sovereignty—are contradictory, Derrida states that the relation that pertains is one of autoimmunity: democracy does indeed require sovereignty, but if this sovereignty is to represent as well as protect (world) democracy (this passage of Rogues discusses the United Nations as the earlier passage involved Carl Schmitt), it must also “betray and threaten it from the very outset, in an autoimmune fashion and in a way that is just as silent as its is unavowable.”114 We will see that there is a paradox to sovereignty, but it might not be where democratic theorists such as Brown locate it. Sovereignty’s incompatibility may be less with democracy than with universality, language, and time.115 But let us first briefly return to Marx, as it is here—in Specters of Marx—that Derrida116 first uses the tern “autoimmunity” in a discussion of the German Ideology. Both Marx and Max Stirner share: . . . an unconditional preference for the living body. But precisely because of that, they wage endless war against whatever represents it, whatever is not the body but belongs to it, comes back to it: prosthesis and delegation, repetition, difference. The living ego is auto-immune, which is what they do not want to know. To protect its life, to constitute itself as unique living ego, to relate, as same to itself, is necessarily led to welcome the other within (so many figures of death . . . all of which begins with language, before language), it must therefore take the immune defense apparently meant for the non-ego, the enemy . . . at once for itself and against itself.117

Autoimmunity makes its second appearance in “Faith and Knowledge,” in the context of a discussion of religion, global telecommunications, and politico-economies: “The same movement that renders indissociable religion and tele-technoscientific reason in its most critical aspects reacts inevitably to itself. It secretes its own antidote but also its own power of auto-immunity.”118 In an extended footnote, Derrida notes the lexical derivation from biology where an “immunitary reaction protects the “indemnity” of the body proper in producing antibodies against foreign antigens.”119 But what is most salient about autoimmunization as a “process” is the way a “living organism” protects “itself against its self-protection by destroying its own immune system.” Derrida will speak of a general logic of the autoimmune for thinking not only the relation between science and religion, but also the “duplicity of sources in general.”120 What is compromised by this generalized logic of autoimmunization is “life”, not just the life of some self-identical being or a notion of life as opposed to prosthetic techno-life of machines, prostheses, clones, or transplants but the very question of life as opposed to death and absence, to ideality, to self or ipse. Derrida draws a clear distinction of autoimmunity from its near concept (which Brown does recognize) of suicide: “For what I call the autoimmune consists not only in committing suicide or in threatening to do so, but more seriously still and through this, a threatening the I

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


(moi) or the self (soi), the ego or the autos, ipseity itself; compromising the immunity of the autos itself . . .”121 Autoimmunity thus does not just put oneself at risk: it puts the self (the sui or self) of self-referentiality, the sui of suicide at risk. “Autoimmunity is always more or less suicidal, but more seriously still, it threatens always to rob suicide of its meaning and its supposed integrity.”122 It is the sovereignty of the autos (or its Latin cognate, ipse) that is autoimmune. Yet this risk or threat is also a chance; autoimmunity enables a radical exposure, vulnerability without indemnity, to “what or who comes,” (ce) qui arrive. In “Faith and Knowledge” Derrida argues that there can be no community without autoimmunity, no easy guarding of the “safe and the sound” without a potentially dangerous opening of borders. He links the munis to immunity and community, an etymological move that William Corlett made in his 1989 book, Community Without Unity.123 Autoimmunity defends not against some constitutive outside (which could be reconciled with a Cold War logic or an axis of evil binary one: “for us or against us”) but addresses political realities that are increasingly difficult to ignore in post 9/11 America (of imagined sleeper cells, an activist Supreme Court, and corporate media.) For democracy to be “democratic,” it must be “open” to what could destroy it (e.g., a passenger with a valid visa on a Delta Christmas flight wearing very packed underwear; immigrants in search of pilot licenses) as well as what might alter it. This could be a tea bag party, a Supreme Court decision (Bush v. Gore), or a legislative act (the Patriot Act). In Martin Hagglund’s felicitous formulation, “democracy must protect against its own threat and be threatened against its own protection.”124 There is always the risk that any immune system can be autoimmune; it need not necessarily work to promote health. “What is attacked as an enemy of the body may turn out to be an essential part of the body and what is welcomed as beneficial may turn out to destroy the body.”125 The same democratic right to free speech that affirms Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 can mobilize that film in an argument for a Supreme Court decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) that might seriously hamper future speech by unrestrained corporate financing. The double bind of democracy is an autoimmune one. How do these terms differ? Derrida will state that they are not exactly synonyms. Aporia, double bind, autoimmunity connote an internal contradiction, but there is something else that links all three “an indecidablility, an internal-external, nondialectizable antimony that risks paralyzing and thus calls for the interruptive decision.”126 There has been much attention on the potential depoliticizing effects of the aporetic (i.e., “the risks of paralysis”), but insufficient attention has been placed on the concomitant necessity of the call or chance for the event of the decision that would interrupt such stasis. It is important to remember that Derrida elaborated his concept of autoimmunity in Rogues in relation to a specific context: the suspension of the Algerian elections in  1992 and the American political response following 9/11. Derrida reminds Elisabeth Roudinesco that his evaluation of certain concepts can change: depending on the singularity of the context, he can be for or against sovereignty. “Deconstruction . . . demands a difficult dissociation-almost impossible but indispensable, between unconditionality (justice without power) and sovereignty (right, power, or potency.)”127 He further specifies that deconstruction takes sides: for unconditionality (“even when


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it seems impossible”) and not sovereignty (“even when it seems possible.”) In Rogues specifically (and contra Brown), Derrida is calling for an “unconditional renunciation of sovereignty,” a separation of sovereignty from unconditionality (through a renunciation of sovereign identity and an exposure to (ce) qui vient, to who or what comes. (R xiii-iv) As mentioned in a previous section, this challenge (of a vulnerable force) exceeds a performative logic. The sovereign instant is both an event and a necessarily silent act, “without any thickness of time, even if it seems to come by way of a shared language and even a performative language that it just as soon exceeds.”128 Another way of specifying Derrida’s presentation of sovereignty in Rogues is that he is less concerned with its relation to the exception (as are Schmitt and Agamben) and more on how sovereignty attempts to immunize itself against the other (time, space, language.) Derrida does concur with Brown in the unsharable, essentially indivisible nature of sovereignty: it is not transferable, undeferrable, and has no need of justification. In Barthes’ words, it “goes without saying.” Thus it is not subjected to différance; the becoming time of space (temporization) and the becoming space of time (spacing). As soon as it would attempt territorial extension, temporal or spatial regime maintenance or to otherwise immunize itself by justifying itself, it opens itself up to law and language; it begins to undo itself. This is the autoimmune essence of sovereignty, described as “cruel,” likened to the death drive: Sovereignty neither gives time nor gives itself the time: it does not take time. Here is where the cruel autoimmunity with which sovereignty is affected begins, the autoimmunity with which sovereignty at once affects and infects itself . . . It is not some particular thing that is affected in autoimmunity, but the self, the ipse, the autos, that finds itself infected. As soon as it needs heteronomy, the event, time and the other.129

Derrida’s autoimmune sovereignty is different from Brown’s “paradoxical” loosening of democracy from ipseity “which makes the subject or the political stand strictly for itself through sovereignty and an ipseity that makes the individual the source of his or her own governance and will.”130 This ipseity is “conditional, decentered, incomplete, nonidentical” yet it still “stands for oneself ” and “remains at the heart of the freedom” that Derrida putatively identifies with democracy but resembles some aspects of sovereignty. Two features immediately distinguish Brown’s reading. Ipseity and not autoimmunity is the hinge between sovereignty and democracy. A principle of “self ” remains “unscathed” or “immunized,” however conditioned and decentered. Ipseity now represents a “certain truth” of democracy. Its opposite will be foreign political occupation. Democracy or sovereignty’s enemies are not internal as a model of the autoimmune would suggest; rather: “instead of being opposed or in tension, democracy becomes one with sovereignty one word; as sovereignty signified the capacity to rule what it possesses, what is its own, the capacity of an entity to be in possession of itself.”131 Democracy is now defined as collective self-possession and ipseity will “conjoin democracy with sovereignty” as it “also conjoins sovereign power with freedom.” Brown will attribute a reading to Derrida where “ipseity remains at the heart of freedom understood as selfgovernance.” This reading of Derrida based on ipseity and not on autoimmunity returns Brown to her initial paradox of statism: ipseity emphasizes the force that would make a

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


unified subject possible; an analogy is established between the “I” of ipseity (the “I can”) and the constitutional (liberal democratic) state: “Just as this absolutism, unification, subordination and violence, makes the “I” possible, ipseity makes democracy possible in Derrida’s account: it constitutes the state we know as constitutional democracy.”132 We find ourselves back within a disciplinary (political science) reading of Derrida that reduces Rogues to a constitutional civics lesson. What Derrida adds is the performative paradox in (the conservative Cheah and Guerlac) sense; “Democracy requires sovereignty but sovereignty undercuts democracy.”133 There is a double bind that neither Derrida (nor us) can escape but merely “loosen.” Moreover, there is even something anachronistic if not outright “ringard” about this very statism, as the present moment would indicate the very absence of state power in failed states, unified or incipient ones, in ethnic conflicts or sites such as Iraq which make either exemplary sovereignty in the form of Iraqization of the military or exemplary democratic options such as elections failed strategies. Is there a way past this “dialogue of the deaf ” (as I am staging the disciplinary reception of democratic theory that insistently overlooks or looks away from Derrida’s conceptual contribution)? If the autos of autoimmunity and ipse of ipseity are cognates, autoimmunity departs from the empowering “self-possessive” autos (or disciplinary drive) of autonomy, autotely, automobility. As noted before at length, autoimmunity is not just suicidal but it threatens the very sui of suicide. Democracy poses an analogous problem. Brown reads it (as do Lefort and Laclau) as an empty signifier134 and discusses in a language of supplementarity and lack, (partially) citing Rogues: “What is lacking in democracy is proper meaning . . . Democracy is defined as the very ideal of democracy, by this very lack of the proper and the selfsame. And so it is defined only by turns, by tropes, by tropisms.”135 Let me supply the relevant missing ellipsis, starting at “. . . proper meaning, the very (même) meaning of the self-same (même) [ipse, metipse, metipsissismus, meisme], the it-self (soi-même), the selfsame, the properly self same of the it-self.”136 This is not a question of the mere nonidentity, but one that puts the very question of identity into question and makes philosophical principles of noncontradiction “tremble.” Derrida is issuing a challenge to the authorizing philosophic paradigms of democracy as a Platonic eidos as well as a Kantian regulative idea at the same time that he is underlining democracy’s dual and constitutive affirmation and defiance for the “proper.”137 Brown will link democracy’s lack of determination, its lack of proper meaning, and the free play that inheres in its concept to its “suicidal” nature. “ “Democracy has always been suicidal”, he writes [no citation given] not only because of its impossible semiotic condition (an emptiness that can not stay empty) but because of the tendency of the majority to kill it by having their way with it.” What substitutes for autoimmunity is a peculiarly self-assertive “To have one’s way with and in democracy” “To have one’s way with and in democracy is to destroy democracy by giving specific content to this fragile contentless creature. To have one’s way in democracy,138 which is the very meaning of majority rule, is thus to risk democracy.” (emphasis mine) I can think of no better American translation of autoimmunity than that last sentence. Brown brings it home in the next sentence: “And what democracy has not committed suicide, often electing to kill themselves?”139 Her examples are compelling,


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

a veritable honor roll of political theory and international relations textbook cases: Athens during the Peloponnesian War, the Roman Republic, the Terror, Stalinism, late Weimar, and Bush’s America. This would be an American translation to the extent that it is not a question of a subject having one’s way, but rather a matter of a constitutive set of tensions that puts democracy at risk. Autoimmunization is a process within democracy that follows a differential logic that in Rogues is called a renvoi; it is both a sending off and a deferral or putting off. A temporal renvoi is a postponing or deferral, putting off. One can delay democracy or postpone it until times are more opportune. Democracy can delay reform in the name of protecting democracy in the long term. It can suspend or circumscribe forms of free speech or civil liberties, impose travel restrictions, authorize illegal wiretaps in the name of defense. Ballots can (legally) be stopped from being counted in an election (Bush v. Gore) and an electoral process can be otherwise interrupted as it was in the 1992 Algerian elections when the probability of a nondemocratic outcome (the election of a “religious fundamentalist” party) put an end to the electoral process for fear of killing democracy. But this renvoi in Algeria was a temporal postponement that also displayed the constitutively double nature of autoimmunity as it also had a spatial aspect. It sent off or excluded a part of the electorate (who did not count as they were seen as at risk for democracy and had to be suppressed.) Democracy’s spatial renvoi is in its exclusionary mechanisms—the expelling, rejecting, casting off of domestic enemies. It is seen in acts of forced repatriation (increasingly frequent in Sarkozy’s France), keeping felons off of election rolls, the forced institutionalization of psychiatric patients or the elderly, the prison warehousing, or sequestration of Native American populations away from national or public spaces. But the sending off is also a referring to, a respect for or deference to the other, a welcoming, an invitation, or hospitality, an extension of rights. The autoimmunity involved in the renvoi operative in immigration law or electoral policy reveals that the same law can be more or less democratic; the very same law can protect itself or threaten itself. Derrida writes in Rogues that it would be impossible to prove that “more” democracy would necessarily result in a vote for immigrants or minorities (one could always have a California Proposition 8 outcome for example.) Similarly, it would be difficult to prove that there is more democracy in a straight majority than in another proportional voting scheme. (Just ask Lani Guinier.) “It could be shown concretely, with regard to the problems of immigration, whether with or without integration and assimilation, that these two contradictory moments of renvoi, of sending off, haunt and autoimmunize one another by turns.”140 The spatial renvoi—as both a possible invitation to and deportation from—rein­scribes the violence of the exclusions democracy’s spacing performs. “By definition, there is no given criteria, no assured rule, no incontestable unit of calculation, no trustworthy and natural mediating schema to regulate this calculation of the incalculable and this common or universal measure of the incommensurable.”141 Thus Derrida is forced to ask about the limits of democratic equality. Does it end at national citizenship or transnational human rights? It is in this context that the question of the animal arises, the question of life and structural survivorship, the lack of a measure or metric because of democracy’s constitutive autoimmunity and not as some compensatory mechanism

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


as in Brown’s reading. For Derrida there can be no democracy without these violent exclusions, thus there will always be a violation of the very principle of the equality it defends. There is no democracy without conditionality, without discriminating criteria (just as there is no pure unconditional hospitality). Yet animal rights activists, liberationists, environmentalists, ecoterrorists, (and all those who might speak for a cryogenicized parent or frozen embryo) will always contest these very conditions in the name of an unconditional justice. In contrast to this view, Brown sees Derrida’s inclusion due to “unease” about backing into “a fidelity to classical sovereignty” and “affirming the circuit between sovereignty and individual sovereignty required by the liberal formulation of freedom.” Thus Derrida finds it necessary to “enlarge the reach of the liberal conception of freedom to encompass the inanimate and nonhuman world and to render it a civic atmosphere and ethos . . .”142 Derrida here is cited (in relation to Nancy) as extending democracy and freedom to “. . . everything that appears in the open . . . including whatever comes in the free form of non living being and of the “thing” in general.” Brown cites from page 54,143 yet, on that very page, Derrida is asking the very question of the spatial renvoi; “. . . how far is democracy to be extended, the people of democracy, and the “each “one”” of democracy? To the dead, to animals, to trees and rocks?” Derrida is interrogating whether a cadaver is human or nonhuman, again bringing us back to the question of life and its implication in nonlife and democracy’s imbrication with both. Once again, it is a symptomatically (in a precise disciplinary sense) interesting translation which takes a consistent elaboration of autoimmune logic applied to the delimitation of democratic citizenship and regrounds it in a liberal group interest logic, an extension of the franchise to the formerly excluded (the animal, nonhuman, plants, and spirit worlds). David Truman and other liberal political scientists would not have a problem with the logic behind this depiction of the extension of a “group interest,” beyond the “human and agentic.”144 So it should not be surprising that Derrida reserves some of the sharpest challenges to democratic theory (and Brown as one of its most astute avatars) in what follows the question of the animal or the reliability of the limit between life and nonlife. Again this is excised from her discussion even though it is part of the very paragraph she is citing from and is the logical conclusion of a remarkable reading of Nancy on freedom; Derrida—it should be noted, and, he does make note of it, does not often use the “f ” word.145 He does undo freedom from unconditional ipseity as Brown notes but goes further in a direction political scientists will most likely not follow. Freedom is not “the attribute of a subject. Of a mastery (maitrise) or measure (metrique), the unit of calculation can no longer be the civil identity of a citizen with a patronym, nor the equality of one person to another nor the equality of one ego to other egos . . . ”Although it will come about by a surprising set of rhetorical questions. (“How many voices, how many votes (voix) for an unconscious?”)146 Derrida will be arguing for a view of freedom without autonomy precisely because it comes from the other, as in psychoanalysis. Drawing an analogy between the lack of measure and metric between the psychic and political system, its processes and representatives: “How are we to think a psychic and yet nonegological metronomy of democracy, with its alternations and its by turns?”147 It will be to psychoanalysis and the unconscious that Derrida will turn as this concept passes the “test of the autoimmune”


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

(or at least understands it is taking it). For the unconscious is a “mortal and mortally vital reserve or resource for this implacable law of self destructive conservation of the “subject” or of egological ipseity.” Derrida states the interrelation and stakes more boldly: without autoimmunity, there would be no psychoanalysis, no unconscious, no death drive, “no cruelty of “primary sadism or masochism”148 – or even what we just as complacently call “consciousness”. ” Psychoanalysis and the “Political Science to Come” . . . by speaking in just this way of autoimmunity, I specifically wanted to consider all the processes of, so to speak, normal or normative perversion quite apart from the authority of the representative consciousness, of the I, of the self, and ipseity. This was the only way, it seemed to me, of taking account within politics what psychoanalysis called the unconscious.149

V. Wendy Brown reserves her sharpest political critique of Rogues for Derrida’s choice of democracy over the demos. It is here where the deepest disciplinary investments are displayed and the greatest distance between Derrida’s vision of an autoimmune democracy and radical democratic theorists who situate a gap between the ideals of democracy and its failed, sometimes abjected enactments. Thus Brown translates “democracy to come” as democracy as it has been dreamed of but never realized and attaches all sorts of postpolitical attributes to it: cosmopolitanism, postnationality “universalizing – without – colonizing redress and redemption of most of the wrongs of history and the present once held out by communism.”150 She understands its psychological appeal: a formulation as “open and unsatisfied yet urgent and insistent” and is critical of the implications of a positive reception as it permits leftists to have it both ways; rescuing democracy from what has been carried out in its name while still “holding out for self-governance”; allowing us to keep our projects without really confronting “actually existing democracy.” She sums up: “We’ve been here before, with communism, with revolution, with people power of every sort.”151 What Brown has described is a pattern of disavowal that the “syntagma democracy to come”’ enables. Disavowal is one of the three ways (opposed to psychotic foreclosure and neurotic repression) that the psyche negates reality. It is characteristic of perversion. I would like to conclude with a discussion of disciplinary disavowal. For if my initial anecdote of a professional meeting in the 1980s exemplified an instance of “foreclosure” of Derrida’s writing, can one say the discipline has now moved to that of disavowal or has it repeated Derrida’s move in Rogues? Rather than reading the text through its dominant conceptual lens of autoimmunity, it has projected onto him the enabling and disabling constitutive paradoxes of political science’s originary liberal inscription. For, it is not Derrida who is on a liberal recuperation mission. He is quite clear that he is seeking through autoimmunity to address “normative perversion apart from the authority of the representative consciousness . . .” But this very authority of the representative consciousness (even in its collective form of shared power) is precisely what readings anchored in the discipline insistently return to, whether in a consideration of a (conservative) performativity of a founding document or a recursive paradox of popular sovereignty’s undemocratic supplement. This does not only do considerable violence to Derrida’s text but it limits the possibilities of Derrida’s

A Most Inhospitable Discipline


contribution to thinking a way out of our present impasse as other political scientists such as Susan Buck-Morss or Jodi Dean, to just cite two very different approaches, have been attempting.152 I will conclude by juxtaposing one last example of textual elision as it concerns democracy and contrast it with democracy to come. Brown is suspicious of “democracy” and she decontextualizes one question on page 41 of Rogues: “Is democracy that which assures the right to think and thus to act without it or against it?” I will not comment on the choice of this excision, but note there is much that is going on here that goes against the implications of democracy as divisive and dividing that Brown develops. She motivates her reading to say that a divisive and dividing democracy works precisely to the benefit of “empire makers, capitalize as they render as despotism neoliberal experiments in shared power from Latin American to Palestine . . . as they de-democratize under the sign of democracy.”153 This of course could be read as part of autoimmunity’s diagnostic strength as opposed to democracy’s always already bad faith as alibi of neoliberalism or some other global apologists. It also neglects the structural dehiscence of democracy, as having attributes that are dividing and divisive but internally riven at its core. Those interested in democracy are trivialized as too focused on championing civil (i.e., championing gay marriage?) rights rather than demanding and seizing a share in power that would lead to increasing exposure to neoliberalism and global violence. But this too neglects the spatial renvoi and the fact that the autoimmunity of democracy attaches it to life, to exposure, to the other in unforeseeable ways. That is its threat, but it is also its promise. But instead of reading this threat and promise together in the exposure to the other, Brown reads Derridean democracy in a triumphalist manner: “democracy has always been a colonialist discourse in the west since its emergence in ancient Greece. Democracy as concept and practice has always been limned by a nondemocratic periphery and contains an undemocratic substrate that at once materially sustains the democracy and is what the democracy is defined against.”154 Similar to the spatial renvoi, Brown will enumerate democracy’s always excluded inside: slaves, natives, women, the poor, subordinated races and religions, sans papiers. Congruent with radical democracy she details its constitutive outside: “barbarians.”155 But she draws an implication out of this that intellectuals always formulate democracy as universal and quotes Derrida on what she thinks is the same thing: democracy as “the only paradigm that is universalizable”.156 Thus Derrida becomes part of a “unwitting neo-Orientalism on the European left” that harbors various “anxieties.” I will pause momentarily to mark that while political science is normally averse to psychoanalysis on most matters (the unconscious), it does have no problem with attributions of “paranoia” and “anxiety.” To be fair, Brown does admit that her thesis about democracy is tendentious and tentative.157 How could Derrida’s sentence “the only paradigm that is universalizable” be different from the neocolonizing mission projected above? Democracy to come is less about a neocolonial recarving of the globe, polarizing a democratic “Us from Them.”158 First of all, universalizable marks a potentiality that lies within democracy; it is one that has to do with time, and the openness to time; it addresses the aspect of democracy that is open to futurity and like psychoanalysis is an interminable process even if it


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

happens daily. Rather than the depoliticizing view of Brown, Derrida states clearly that “democracy to come” does require a “militant and interminable political critique.” Moreover, it takes into account in its openness, as opening to the unforeseeable future, precisely those who have been excluded and might not even have been previously imagined as a possible form of excluded life. I cannot help but imagine what a political science that not only thought of life beyond the nation state, but of identifications that would go beyond the usual metaphysical imagos of citizen (world or otherwise): “subject, human person, or consciousness . . . compeer, compatriot, kin, brother, neighbor, fellow religious follower.” Democracy to come allows for a new imagination and openness to what Derrida, following Jean Paulhan, would call, “le premier venu,” “the first to happen by,” “anyone, no matter who.”159 This again meets up with the same liminality as life and nonlife, (“living being, cadaver, ghost”) of bare life and biopolitics, but in a way that offers exposure and vulnerability as conjoined promise and (not just Gitmo) threat. It is the combination of fragility and chance, of indeterminacy and openness, that can welcome both the best and the worst. It may seem like a utopian thought to a discipline unwilling to confront its own foundational dilemmas, yet for those of us who have taught Derrida to our (defenseless) undergraduates, it is easily accessible and even useful explaining some of the new social movements, hospitality practices, workings of international tribunals and presidential campaigns. Its lesson is even reassuring: “. . . autoimmunity is not an absolute ill or evil. It enables an exposure to the other, to who or what comes . . . Without autoimmunity, with absolute immunity nothing would ever happen or arrive; we would no longer wait, await or expect, no longer expect one another, or expect any event.”160 My hyperbolic conclusion is that Derrida’s democracy to come and his concept of the autoimmune are the future of political science, if there is to be one.

Notes 1 This chapter is dedicated to my beloved friend and mentor, David Apter, who, as my first year graduate advisor at Yale University urged me to leave the discipline and go on to comparative literature, what he saw (in 1976) as political theory’s future (a venir). Despite my obstinate refusal to follow his advice, he has remained my supporter, friend and source of inspiration. 2 David Ricci, The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 23, 25. 3 Jacques Derrida, The Politics of Friendship, trans. George Collins (London: Verso, 1997), 306. 4 The narrative that follows is of an American, not Anglophone political science for reasons that will be detailed below. Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac in their introduction to Derrida and the Time of the Political (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009) note the differential reception of Derrida’s later political writings in the Anglophone world in comparison to those that exist in French. My presentation here is telling another disciplinary story in which there are both distinct differences between the openness to Derrida such as the work of the Aberystwth Post-

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6 7 8 9


International Group (Jenny Edkins, Nicholas Vaughn-Williams, Maja Zehfuss), or Michael Dillon at Lancaster’s Institute for Cultural Studies (all of the above work in political science) to cite just two examples. What I will be detailing here is a particular disciplinary story as it concerns the genealogy of political science within an American university system of the liberal arts. Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other; or, The Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998). Derrida claims that he-and not his friend Khatibi- is the “most Franco-Maghrebian” participant at the Louisiana conference they are attending. (11–13). Some of the calculable measures of hospitality or openness to Derrida might include how many political scientists-as opposed to scholars with PhDs in other disciplines such as literature or philosophy participate in publication venues or scholarly meetings. A recent theory and event symposium on Derrida (12:1, “Structure, Sign and Play after 40 years”) contained no articles from an American political scientist. The commemorative APSA panel after Derrida’s death on his disciplinary legacy, organized by Bonnie Honig (during a year when the convention theme was “Mobilizing Democracy”) originally comprised two philosophers (Simon Critchley, Samir Haddad) and two professors with joint appointments in political science having philosophy PhDs (Seyla Ben Habib and the late Iris Marion Young.) It was only at the last minute that I substituted for Seyla as she had other commitments and so there was one panelist speaking (apart from the chair’s introductory remarks) with a PhD in political science. An organized panel proposal containing some political scientists who had written books on Derrida such as William Corlett as well as nonpolitical scientists such as Thomas Keenan, who regularly has attended APSA meetings, was rejected by the sectional groups (Foundations of Political Theory; Normative Theory: Race and Ethnicity) as there already was one scheduled memorial panel at the Association level. This memorial panel did not present research as the other proposed panel would have on the implications of “Democracy to Come.” This proposed panel was accepted and took place that year at the British International Studies Association’s annual meeting. This is part of a pattern of institutionalized national disciplinary “resistance” to theory. Geoffrey Bennington, Interrupting Derrida (London: Routledge, 2000), 33. Paul DeMan, The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). Derrida, “Some statements and truisms about neologisms, newisms, postisms, parasitisms, and other small seisms,” in Derrida d’ici, Derrida de là, edited by Thomas Dutoit and Philippe Romanski (Paris: Galilée, 2009), 243 (translation mine). GREPH is an acronym for the Groupe de Reforme sur l’Enseignement Philosophique, founded in 1974 at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, which was involved in a struggle against educational reforms that limited the teaching of philosophy in French high schools. It was instigated in opposition to Minister René Haby’s proposed reforms. “Where a Teaching Body Begins . . .” can be seen as an inaugural lecture or anti-inaugural lecture of sorts, the first class or meeting of a counter-seminar for the Research Center on the Teaching of Philosophy.) The other texts that served as comparisons for Derrida’s writing on the philosophic institution and its teachers were Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, Pierre Bourdieu’s Reproduction, Distinction, and Homo Academicus, and Regis Debray’s Teacher, Writer, Critic. Derrida’s writings on GREPH can be found in Who’s Afraid Of Philosophy? The Right To Philosophy 1, Jan Plug, translator,




12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002. “Where a Teaching Body Begins and How It Ends” can be found on pp. 67–98. An earlier French version of this essay appeared in an edited French volume, Politiques de la philosophie (Dominique Grisoni, Paris: Grasset, 1976, 55–98) and including important contributions from François Chatelet, Michel Serres, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Michel Foucault. The definitive French version of Derrida’s writings on these questions appeared in 1990 with the Galilée tome, Du Droit a la Philosophie, that included Mochlos: The Eye of the University. Jacques Derrida and Elisabeth Roudinesco, In “Droit à la Philosophie,” 124. The context is the Renaud Camus affair and the Gayssot law that prohibits publication of Holocaust deniers (“negationism”). Renaud Camus, a popular author published La Campagne de France (Paris: Fayard, 2000). The book was seen by some as racist, anti-immigrationist and anti-semitic (i.e., giving a “count” of the number of Jewish journalists at the state radio station “France-Culture.)” Yet some took the side of Renaud Camus, invoking censorship and political correctness, as many of these themes existed in his earlier books that had not been subject to the same polemics and penalties. Derrida did sign Claude Lanzmann’s petition against the “criminally” racist and anti-semitic passages. (Le Monde, May 25, 2000.) The book reappeared with passages expurgated but remained a subject of contestation about the Gayysot law specifically and the right to literature more generally. Bill Martin, Matrix and Line: Derrida and the Possibilities of Postmodern Social Theory. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1992 and Humanism and Its Aftermath: The Shared Fate of Deconstruction and Politics (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1995); Thomas Dumm (1988), “The Politics of Postmodern Aesthetics: Habermas contra Foucault,” Political Theory 16, 209–28; William Connolly, Politics and Ambiguity (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987). Arthur Kroker, The Possessed Individual: Technology and the French Postmodern, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1992, 14–17. Ibid., 17. Derrida and Elisabeth Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow . . . A Dialogue, trans. Jeff Fort (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 14. Ibid. Rodolphe Gasché, The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 7, 177–8. See also Geoffrey Bennington, “Genuine Gasché,” in Interrupting Derrida, op. cit., 155–61. Derrida and Elisabeth Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow . . . A Dialogue, trans. Jeff Fort (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 14. Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other: Or, The Prosthesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah (Stanford: Standford University Press, 1998), 57. Derrida and Roudinesca, For What Tomorrow, 16. Ibid. Dwight Waldo, “Political Science: Tradition, Discipline, Profession, Science,” cited in David Ricci, The Tragedy of Political Science: Politics, Scholarship, and Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 71–2. See the works referenced in footnote 7 above (Who’s Afraid of Philosophy and Du Droit à la Philosophie) as well as the more recent The University Without Condition, in Without Alibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002).

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23 Ricci op.cit. 29–46. See also, Anna Haddow, Political Science in American Colleges and Universities 1636–1900, edited by William Anderson, NY: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1939, 127–33. 24 Ricci, 69. 25 Ibid. 26 Bernard Crick, The American Science of Politics: Its Origins and Conditions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1959), 134. 27 Ricci, 69. 28 Henry James Ford, “Present Tendencies in American Politics,” The American Political Science Review February 1920: 3–5 (emphasis mine). 29 Ricci, 76. 30 Jesse Macy, “The Scientific Spirit,” The American Political Science Review February 1917: 6–7. See Ricci’s discussion 76. 31 See Derrida, “‘Le parjure’, Perhaps: Storytelling and Lying,” Without Alibi, op. cit. and “Faith and Knowledge: Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone” in Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion, edited by Gil Anidjar, NY: Routledge, 2002. 32 Ricci, 70. 33 Herbert McClosky, “Consent and Ideology in American Politics”, American Political Science Review June 1964, 363; discussed in Ricci, op.cit. 71. 34 Kenneth R. Minogue, The Liberal Mind, NY: Vintage, 1968, 1; discussed in Ricci, op. cit. 71. 35 Ricci, 71. 36 Bernard Crick, The American Science of Politics, op.cit. 14–15; William Munro’s presidential address, “Physics and Politics: An Old Analogy Revised,” American Political Science Review February 1928, 3. 37 Bonnie Honig (March 1991), “Declarations of Independence: Arendt and Derrida on the Problem of Founding a Republic,” American Political Science Review 85 (1), 97–113. (The paper was first delivered at the 1989 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.) Derrida’s “Declarations of Independence”, New Political Science 15: 7–15 (Thomas Keenan and Thomas Pepper, translators). 38 Honig (1991), “Declarations of Independence: Arendt and Derrida on the Problem of Founding a Republic,” in American Political Science Review 85 (1), 101. 39 Derrida (1986), “Declarations of Independence,” trans. Thomas Keenan and Thomas Pepper, in New Political Science 7 (1), 9. 40 Honig, 106. 41 Honig, 110. 42 Honig, Democracy and The Foreigner (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001); “Another Cosmopolitanism? Law and Politics in the New Europe,” Another Cosmpolitanism, edited by Robert Post (The Berkeley Lectures: Seyla Benhabib), NY: Oxford University Press, 2006, 102–27. 43 See, for example John P. McCormick (2001), “Derrida on Law; or, Poststructuralism gets Serious,” Political Theory 29, 395–423 and Michael J. Shapiro, Deforming American Political Thought: Ethnicity, Facticity, and Genre (Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2006). Both citations are quite different examples of an American reception of Derrida that treat the question of a founding violence. 44 Anne Norton, The Republic of Signs: Liberal Theory and American Popular Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 154. The citation within the Norton quote is from Derrida’s Of Grammatology.

220 45 46 47 48

49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56


58 59 60 61 62

Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts Norton, 7. Norton, 82. Norton, 77. Murray Edelman, Constructing the Political Spectacle (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 115. Edelman’s book was attractive to French editors and exists in translation as Pieces et Règles du Jeu Politique (Paris: Seuil, 1991), trans. Christian Cler (Christan Cler also translated Oliver Sacks, The man who mistook his wife for a hat.) Edelman, 115. Ibid., 116. Ibid, 121. Ibid., 117. Ibid., 116. Ibid., 117. Ibid. Richard K. Ashley, “Untying the Sovereign State: A Double Reading of the ‘Anarchy Problematique,’ ” Millenium: Journal of International Studies 17 (2): 227–62; and “living on Border Lines: Man, Poststructuralism, and War”, in International/ Intertextual Relations: Postmodern Readings of World Politics, edited by James DerDerian and Michael J. Shapiro (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1989); David Campbell, Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (2nd edn), 1998 and National Deconstruction: Violence, Identity and Justice in Bosnia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998). Pheng Cheah, “The Untimely Secret of Democracy”, and with Suzanne Guerlac, “Introduction: Derrida and the Time of the Political,” Derrida and the Time of the Political (Durham: Duke University Press 2009); Samir Haddad (2006), “Reading Derrida reading Derrida: Deconstruction as Self-Inheritance,” International Jounal of Philosophical Studies 14 (4), 505–20 and “Derrida and Democracy at Risk” Contretemps 4, September 2004, 29–44; Martin Hagglund, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), Chapters 1, 4, 5; Michael Naas, Derrida From Now On, NY: Fordham, 2008; Alex Thomson, Deconstruction and Democracy (London: Continuum, 2005) and “Derrida’s Rogues: Islam and the Futures of Deconstruction,” in Derrida: Negotiating the Legacy, edited by Madeleine Fagan, Ludovic Glorieux, Indira Hasimbegovic and Marie Suetsugu (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007). The contribution of Geoffrey Bennington is too copious to cite fully but some notable works are: Interrupting Derrida (Lonon: Routledge, 2000); “La democratie à venir”, in La Democratie à venir: Autour de Jacques Derrida, edited by M. L. Mallet (Paris: Galilee, 2004); “Sovereign Stupidity and Auto-immunity” in Cheah and Guerlac, op.cit. Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac, Derrida and the Time of the Political (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009), 21. Ibid., 21. Derrida (2000), “Performative Powerlessness: A Response to Simon Critchley,” in Constellations, 7 (4), 467. Cheah and Guerlac, 21. Michael J., Shapiro, Deforming American Political Thought, op.cit. 168.

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63 Michael Shapiro, “Democracy’s Risky Business,” in Shapiro, Deforming American Political Thought (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2006), 168. 64 Ibid. 65 Ibid. 66 Ibid. 67 Ibid., 169. 68 Ibid., 168. 69 Ibid., 169. 70 Cheah and Guerlac, 21. 71 Ibid. 72 Ibid., 22. 73 Ibid. 74 Ibid., 22. 75 Shapiro, 172. 76 Derrida and Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow . . . A Dialogue, 179. 77 Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Nass (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005), 14. 78 Wendy Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” op.cit., edited by Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac, 114–35. 79 Brown, States of Injury (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995); Brown and Janet Halley (eds), Left Legalism/Left Critique (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002). 80 Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 114. 81 Ibid. 82 Ibid. 83 Ibid., 115. 84 See Derrida, Rogues, 152. 85 Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 115. 86 Ibid., 116, emphasis mine. 87 Ibid, 116. 88 Ibid., 120. 89 Ibid., 128. 90 Ibid., 116. 91 See Michael Nass, op. cit., especially Chapters 4 and 5; Marc Redfield (Spring 2007), “Derrida, Europe, Today,” South Atlantic Quarterly 106 (2), 373–93. 92 Derrida and Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow . . . A Dialogue, 178, emphasis mine. 93 Alex Thomson, “Derrida’s Rogues”, op. cit. 67. 94 Alex Thomson, “Derrida’s Rogues: Islam and the Futures of Deconstruction,” in Derrida: Negotiating the Legacy, edited by Madeleine Fagan, Ludovic Glorieux, Indira Hasimbegovic and Marie Suetsugu (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2007), 67. 95 See for example the work of Roxanne Euben, Journey to the Other Shore: Muslima nd Western Travelers in Search of Knowledge (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006). 96 See also Rogues 33: “. . . the task would consist in doing everything possible to join forces with all those who first of all in the Islamic world . . . fight for an interpretation of the Koranic heritage that privileges, from the inside as it were the democratic virtualities that are probably not any more apparent and readable


97 98 99 100 101 102

103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122

Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts at first glance and readable under this name, than they were in the Old and New Testaments.” Giovanna Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2003), 85–136. Ibid., 28. Ibid. Ibid., 29. Ibid, 29, emphasis mine. See for example, the many volumes and articles that take up this question: Mustapha Cherif (ed.), Derrida à Alger: Un Regard Sur Le Monde, barzakh/Actes Sud, 2008; Mustapha Cherif, Islam and the West: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida, trans. Teresa Lavender Fagan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008); Soraya Tlatli, “Algeria as Archive,” in Cheah and Guerlac, op. cit. 177–95; Abdelkebir Khatibi (2004), “Lettre Ouverte à Jacques Derrida,” Europe mai 901, 202–11; Hachem Foda, “Poetes disparus du register des’poetes assassinés,’ ” L’Herne: Jacques Derrida, edited by Marie-Louise Mallet and Ginette Michaud (Paris: Herne, 2004), 290–4; Catherine Malabou and Jacques Derrida, Counterpath: Travelling with Jacques Derrida, trans. David Wills (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Helene Cixous, Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint, trans. Beverly Bie Brahic, NY: Columbia University Press, 2004. The Derrida corpus of texts on Algeria would include his Circumfession, Geoffrey Bennington, Jacques Derrida, trans. Geoffrey Bennington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993); Monolingualism of the Other, op. cit.; “Taking Sides for Algeria” and “The Deconstruction of Actuality” in Negotiations, trans. and edited by Elisabeth Rottenberg (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002). Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations, 117. Ibid., 118, emphasis mine. Derrida, Rogues, 39. Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 118. Ibid., 119. Ibid., 118, emphasis mine. Might Locke’s prerogative power have an auto-immune structure? See Diane Rubenstein, “Allegories of Reading Tulis,” Critical Review 19 (2–3), 458–9. Derrida, Rogues, 39. Ibid. Ibid., 100. Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 129. Derrida, Rogues, 100. Ibid., 101. Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf, NY: Routledge, 1994. Ibid., 141. Derrida, “Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone”, Acts of Religion, edited by Gil Anidjar, NY: Routledge, 2002, 79. Ibid., 80, n.27. Ibid. Derrida, Rogues, 45. Ibid.

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123 William Corlett, Community Without Unity: A Politics of Derridian Extravagance (Durham: Duke University Press, 1989). Corlett’s book was written well before Derrida’s writings on auto-immunity, yet it oddly anticipates much of the logic of auto-immunity and democracy to come. 124 Martin Hagglund, Radical Atheism: Derrida and the Time of Life (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008), 14. 125 Ibid., 15. 126 Derrida, Rogues, 35. 127 Derrida and Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow . . . A Dialogue, 92. 128 Derrida, Rogues, 10, italics mine. 129 Ibid., 109. 130 Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 118–19. 131 Ibid., 119. 132 Ibid., 120. 133 Ibid. 134 Ibid., 122–3. 135 Derrida, Rogues, 37. 136 Ibid. 137 Ibid. 138 Brown, 123. 139 Ibid. 140 Derrida, Rogues, 36. 141 Derrida, Rogues, 53. 142 Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 127. 143 Ibid., ellipsis hers. 144 Ibid. 145 Derrida and Roudinesco, For What Tomorrow . . . A Dialogue, 48. 146 Ibid. 147 Derrida, Rogues, 54–5. 148 See also Rogues, 157: “. . . this pharmakon of an inflexible and cruel auto-immunity that is sometimes called the ‘death drive’ and that does not limit the living being to its conscious and representative form.” 149 Ibid., 109–10. 150 Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 122. 151 Ibid., 121. 152 Susan Buck-Morss, Thinking Post Terror: Islam and Critical Theory on the Left (London: Verso, 2003); Jodi Dean, Zizek’s Politics, NY: Routledge, 2006. 153 Brown, “Sovereign Hesitations,” 129. 154 Ibid., 130, emphasis mine. 155 Ibid. 156 Ibid. 157 Ibid., 131. 158 Ibid. 159 Derrida, Rogues, 86. 160 Ibid., 152.


Spacing Deconstruction Keith Woodward

The ideal formal geographic description is the map. Anything that has equal distribution over the earth at any given time may be expressed by the map as a pattern of units in spatial occurrence. In this sense geographic description may be applied to an unlimited number of phenomena. Thus there is a geography of every disease, of dialects and idioms, of bank failures, perhaps of genius. That such a form of description is used for so many things indicates that it provides a distinctive means of inspection. The spacing of phenomena over the earth expresses the general geographic problem of distribution, which leads us to ask about the meaning of presence or absence, massing or thinning of any thing or group of things variable as to areal extension. Carl O. Sauer1 Often conceived as a spacing, the force of deconstruction collapses the oppositions that classically constituted the space-time dyad. Consequently, its influence upon critical human geography has been far-reaching. Western spatial thought has tended to equate space with presence, to assume that it is static and transparently available to empirical observation, and thus to grant it a certain ontological givenness. On the one hand, deconstructive geographers highlight how these spatial logics often carry traces of “geographic imaginaries” that install hierarchies, privileges, and alterities at the intersections of space and social life.2 Scientific explanation, for example, has historically privileged certain spaces — the field site, the space of the encounter — as the sites in which knowledge becomes manifest. And yet, this very logic can mask the many fictions that sustain and disseminate difference. On the other hand, they also question suppositions that, although representations of the world might invoke, evoke, and mime geographic realities, are only secondary in the production of spaces. Accordingly, modes of geographic representation, such as maps, come to be viewed as merely correlational tools that reference far more real and complex, preexisting and present spaces of experience. This chapter explores the recent efforts by several critical geographers to deconstruct the common notions that drive these dichotomies between thought, space, presence, and representation. Looking to geography’s “carto-semiotic” systems (maps and mapping)

Spacing Deconstruction


as well as its longstanding conversation with phenomenological accounts of spatiality (the space of experience), it considers how encounters with Derrida have inspired new ways of thinking about space and spacing. After examining the aporias within geography’s semiotic terrains, it describes the changes to geographic representation in light of new practices in critical cartography. Following upon this, it examines the “place” of presence and absence in landscape studies that explore intimate, embodied spaces of the encounter (e.g., the sense of place). Finally, it asks how such interventions might speak to the politics of spacing when conceived as both a geographic and a deconstructive effort.

Spacing semiotics Thinking différance as a kind of “spacing” challenges the restoration of the metaphysics of presence in “Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger.”3 Specifically, Derrida queries the prevailing tendency to place signs and presence in proximate relation to one another such that each is rendered an object of intuition.4 In connection with this, he casts doubt upon the immediacy of experiential knowledge (whether empirical or auto-affective) and thus problematizes Western traditions that grant speech a privileged, presentational connection to language and meaning while marginalizing representational modes such as writing. Destabilizing such hierarchies, Derrida describes the tendency for signs to come loose from their structural moorings, to detach from localized articulations and disseminate across disparate fields, such that difference proliferates by installing their traces in the “intuitive” fictions of other systems. This acknowledgment that signification wanders recognizes that différance is a kind of force:5 the movement of signification arises from velocities, where traces of now absent contexts lend to meanings to come (in the form of gestures to the “outsides” of future signifyings). Thus différance is simultaneously a differing and a deferring: it confronts the history of philosophy with a philosophy “to come.” The Western privileging of presence effectively miscalculates the stakes at play in the circulation of signs, for, as Derrida notes, “Force itself is never present; it is only a play of differences and quantities.”6 Différance invokes the momentum through which the happening of signs is displaced onto their differencing. It is appropriate, then, that Derrida’s deconstruction of semiotics should discover within Husserl’s phenomenology of signs7 the squeaky wheel upon which Saussurean linguistics overturns itself.8 That Husserlian turning point helps reverse phenomenology’s privileged assumptions regarding the proximity of speech to language (with regard to meaning) and of language to the transcendental image (with regard to the object of presentation). It is telling that, within the same discussion, Derrida signals an affinity with Charles Sanders Peirce, who likewise conceptualizes signification as an endlessly circulating, generative process. Peirce, he asserts, is both “more attentive than Saussure to the irreducibility of [the] becoming-unmotivated . . . of the symbol”9 and “closer [than Husserl?] to [being?] the inventor of the word phenomenology.”10 Peirce offers his own spacing-out of semiotics, where mobile symbols render pointless the search for any initial or terminal, indicative or derivative points upon which the play of signs might finally rest or be exhausted.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Rather than implicating — however errantly — any such object, image, or message, the continuous generation of meaning is enabled by the circulation of its symbols. Strongly resonating with Derrida’s wandering “dissemination”: both find within the generative character of signs a perpetual capacity to differentiate, grow, supplement, and extend signification. The very notion of spacing, according to Derrida, “signifies, precisely, the impossibility of reducing the chain to one of its links or of absolutely approving one – or the other.”11 Such a system cannot be reduced to a catalog of objects and their attendant signifiers, it is rather itself productive, signifying: “manifestation itself does not reveal a presence, it makes a sign . . . The so-called “thing-itself ” is always already a representamen.”12 Peirce’s wandering system has been relatively marginalized within Western critical doxa in favor of more linear, hierarchical and presentist logics that tend to mask or hide discontinuity and difference in circulating signs. Derrida’s deconstructive focus upon popular constructions of language and presence targets the erasure of space in signification; that is, the supposition that intuition can jump the gap between cognitionrepresentation and language-speech, and thereby engender and privilege their “internal” relations. Anchored to accounts of speech and phenomena, this gap arises with a fundamentally transcendental idealist chord struck by Descartes and sustained by Kant:13 maintaining that intuition negotiates phenomenal experience via an internal schema — pure time — thus establishing representation as correlational supplements to external present reality. Nowhere is this notion more explicitly Derrida’s target than in his deconstruction of the common notion that links temporality to dynamism and mutability while simultaneously restricting spatiality to linearity and stasis. This dichotomy was central to the Cartesian reading of space as extensio, a totality of quantifiable distances extending from a perceiving subject. From this perspective, space is a kind of measurable emptiness that, much like the modern view of the sign, awaits an object whose presence will make manifest its specific points. That is, space becomes an ideal container. How else could a space manifest itself without the prior presence of a population of objects that constitute its points, take up positions within it, and allow us to measure, quantify, and affirm it? The Cartesian reading of space offers another iteration of the perceiver/presence problem. Here, space is rendered both contingent and static: Contingent because it can only become manifest through the presences of (1) a population of object-presences constituting it by distributing within it, and (2) a subject-perceiver (representer) who constitutes it as the extension of (its) objects from his/her body; Static because in such relations it is rendered absolutely passive, a vacuum to be filled with things and processes. One of geography’s key contributions to contemporary critical thought has been its challenge to marginalizations and dematerializations of space. This intervention has drawn considerably upon the deconstructive prying-open, for example, of the gaps between words within a written text — absent-presences, the operative lacunae, spacings — where the production of meaning is mediated, interrupted, and enabled by progressions and distanciations — timings. The unfolding, emergent relation between signs and their spaces provides the hammer with which Derrida cracks open the production of meaning by problematizing the supposedly intuitive correspondences between speech and phenomena, meaning and presentation. Resultantly, representation

Spacing Deconstruction


is extended well beyond the cognitive image and beyond even the grapheme — the mark — to the spacings that distance them and extend their meaning production. Thus, three aspects of deconstruction add nuance to our conceptualizations of space: (1) it locates a productive site in the gap between speech/writing and signs/ presence (difference), (2) it follows the circulation of meaning (to come) by surveying texts for the traces of other meanings (dissemination), and (3) it perpetually delays the determination of meaning by distancing signs from any specific idea-image in favor of becoming somethings else (deferral). Each dimension develops a complex critical counter-picture that reverses the conditional relations between space and presence, making possible otherwise static spaces, emerging spaces — spacings — become the epistemic, graphic, different-deferred, and temporal conditions for signification, meaning, and even thought. Deconstruction’s participation in geographic thought has had as much to do with Derrida’s discovery of a spacing unconditioned by abstract extension as it will with geography’s recent efforts to describe signs unconditioned by presence. If the distanciated relation that he is most keen to deconstruct is signaled under the heading of speech and phenomena, then underwriting his influence upon geography is the growing desire to interrogate and initiate more nuanced, dynamic understandings and representations of space. It is to several of these that I now turn.

Deconstructing the map The rise of Derridean deconstruction within geographic semiotics was doubtlessly eased by the fact that, despite their considerable graphic differences, maps and linguistic systems tend to be subject to similar representational crises. Just as writing gets regarded as a representational supplement to speech, geographers have often placed maps at a similar distance from the “real” spaces (or places) of embodied encounters and material processes. These parallels are made explicit in the sense of artistry and artifice that haunts cartography and geographic work: geography, after all, is “earth writing.”14 Though the grapheme may be sometimes displaced or replaced by the map’s “carto-semiotic” symbols, the representational effect remains much the same: the map-sign becomes a mimetic supplement to a “corresponding” area or place — a representation, a gesture toward a spatial presence that it echoes. Map-makers and -readers are invited to intuit and overlook the distance and anexactitude of these signs — to leap the gap and in this way to infer real, spatialized presence in absentia that those signs imperfectly invoke. The deconstructive relation to texts is one that recognizes map-signs as constitutive of multiple, circulating places and spatialities. Despite their participation in the production of space, maps often ask to be regarded as presenting a transparent spatial perspective, the symbols-signs with which they are populated, and the circuits of representation they attempt to (en)close. However, recall that geography also played a crucial role and shares a deep complicity in the long history of Western colonialism. Critical geographers have argued that, rather than presenting an objective, “bird’s eye” view-from-nowhere, mapping builds hegemonic perspectives as much by what it names and places as by what it silences and erases.15 Naming, placing, silencing, and erasing all record traces of the geographer’s participation in the


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

construction of the spatially inflected distribution of not only master signifiers, but also the master’s signifiers. “Geography was not something already possessed by the earth but an active writing of the earth by an expanding, centralized imperial state,” Ó Tuathail explains. “It was not a noun, but a verb, a geo-graphing, an earth-writing by ambitious endo-colonizing and exo-colonizing states who sought to seize space and organize it to fit their own cultural visions and material interests.”16 The foundational text for such discussions is unquestionably Harley’s “Deconstructing the Map,” which gives birth to critical cartography by espousing the “search for metaphor and rhetoric in maps where previously scholars had found only measurement and topography.”17 A cartographer and co-founder of a massive “History of Cartography Project” that traces the social history of mapping, Harley reads the map as a text that, on the one hand, produces and is the product of imaginaries about truth and objectivity and, on the other, naturalizes exploitation and privilege. As texts, maps normalize difference and disempowerment by hiding both “behind a mask of a seemingly neutral science.”18 However, calling attention to the bias of “importance” that guides the cartographic emphasis of certain features over others — for example, “the estate of a landed gentleman is more worthy of emphasis than that of a plain farmer” — Harley explains that cartography “embodies a systematic social inequality. The distinctions of class and power are engineered, reified and legitimated in the map by means of cartographic signs.”19 The signs, the normalization of their historic use when training cartographers, the employment of cartographers by specific agencies with certain interests — gentrifying rentiers, border-blazing capitalists, battle-hungry statists — all play into the making of mapping a normative power game. “In the map itself,” Harley explains, “social structures are often disguised beneath an abstract, instrumental space, or incarcerated in the coordinates of computer mapping.”20 Thus, for example, we find the carto-semiotic traces of capitalist desire in maps that privilege sites of consumption and production, and simultaneously mask sites of resistant or alternative economic relations. Similarly, mappings of tourist desire often erase indigenous spaces and populations, or, as Del Casino and Hanna have argued regarding sex tourism in Thailand, reduce local populations to a symbolic catalogues of use value.21 However, Derrida’s analysis of spacing reminds us that the sense of a site is not only constituted by its identification within the matrix of the map’s graphic symbols. Carto-semiotics is as much a language of the spaces — left curiously unmarked — that surround the symbol: this vacuum is the absence that is introduced by the act of locating (i.e., marking) a place on the map. In addition to the social production of carto-semiotic perspectives, there is an extensive, abstract spatial logic at work in the distribution of signs across its surface. But no matter how “blank” the spaces between its marks, they do not reference an abstract emptiness waiting to be filled by “real” objects. Just as the edges of the map constitute an enclosure, the gridded, extensive space of the map produces its own effects, moving across the page, reducing spatial complexity, replacing contested spaces with absolute space, erasing minority and contingency (inevitably the town or village is sacrificed to the city), and amplifying the importance and the presence of the signs that remain. The active role that Derrida attributes to space — spacing — as a producer of sense in Western writing systems is a direct challenge to the notion

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that meaning accomplished by the intuitive erasure of those spaces. Classically, the effectiveness of the mark comes to be measured in proportion to the ability of the reader to ignore it in favor of its referent. Spacing is sacrificed in the same synthetic gesture that overlooks the graphic components of writing (e.g., the letter) as arbitrary and contingent tools in the reproduction meaning. There, the reader makes a leap of faith from sign to sign as the eyes move across the page, just as she makes a similar leap from page to idea as the intuition and imagination synthesize representation. It might be suggested, on the other hand, that geographic texts — carto-semiotics — seem to explicitly invoke space as one of the fundamental components of the map. But consider how maps, at the same time that they locate specific places or sites, also invite the eyes of the viewer — the explorer, the developer, the military strategist — to make similar leaps from site to site, to partake in the erasure of the material meanings and complexities that circulate within those blank or empty spaces between the map’s cartographic symbols. Though carto-semiotics lack the linearity of Western writing, they nonetheless occupy a closer relation to Derrida’s critique than we might expect: each sign on a map is constituted by its proximity to other signs, of which the spaces in-between are regularly subject to erasure. This erasure can only be compounded when we supplement and overlay further carto-logics such as scale, and the hegemony of symbolic biases in the form of governmentality, Western religiosity, capitalism, and so on. By “paying attention to the absences and silences that structure,” WillemsBraun highlights just such a challenge in circulating narratives about forest mapping and sustainability: “What remains completely unmarked in the photographs, text, and figures is a subtle manoeuvre whereby the ‘land,’ the ‘forest,’ and a commodity, ‘timber,’ are simultaneously abstracted and displaced from existing local cultural and political contexts, and resituated in the rhetorical space of the ‘nation’ and its ‘public.’ ”22 Clinging to the crooked branches of nationalism, we become emboldened to swing from tree to tree, all the while dismissing the constitutive, shifting ground below us. But it is precisely the specific spatio-centric orientation of one sign toward those within whose distribution it is located (and localized) that spacing in the particularly Derridean sense continues to be an important factor in the deconstruction of geographic semiotics. Barnett has noted that: After deconstruction, context might be best thought of as a distinctively spatial figure not of containment but, insofar as it refers to what precedes, follows and surrounds texts, of the relations of contiguity and proximity between elements. While deconstruction certainly acknowledges that texts cannot appear in places, it also provokes a rethinking of place in terms of difference, mobility, dislocation and openings, rather than in relation to that areal logic of consensus and enclosure.”23

At the same time, in many ways maps and mapping distinguish themselves from Derrida’s usual suspects — individual philosophers — because maps and cartography have generally been the products of several hands and can subtly accommodate many varying styles and circulating discourses in one text. Now, I grant that this description hits at the very heart of Derrida’s critical analytic: that is, that every text reveals itself to be written by many hands. However, the practice of map making, its actual production as a material object, offers a multiplication, an amplification, and an literalization


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

of such a notion by its dependence upon a labor force to assemble and produce its representational content. Not only is this the case for the classic forms of the map, but also cartographic representations that emerge from GIS science likewise draw upon sets of data assembled by diverse researchers working on diverse projects asking dissonant questions. Consider, then, that the map — as text — differs in what it seems to reference when it presents itself as a coherent totality. It is neither a great novel nor a total philosophical system — both of which, in the Western tradition, reference the ideational content of the thinker-genius (the subject). The map is the produce of an army of workers and references not novel vision of the mapper. Rather, by way of a scientized set of learned practices, it references a series spatio-cultural artifacts — places of commerce, churches, nature spaces, and so on — framing them from the perspective of no one and distributed across a nonspace (a planar field). And yet, this impossible viewpoint that surveys this impossible space, generates constitutive effects within deliberations upon war, reifications of the nation-state, legitimations of private property, and so on.

Phenomenal space Maintaining a certain hierarchical split in the constitutive force granted to representation, early deconstructive geography tended to make a distinction between: (1) graphic representation (the sign, i.e., mapping space), the inscription of artificial or mimetic marks upon a surface; and (2) psychic representation (or image, i.e., thinking space), the synthesis or assembly of experiential data as a cognitive or phenomenal image, particularly as it is formulated in Kant’s transcendental aesthetic and subsequently reworked by Husserl and Heidegger.24 Broadly speaking, the languages of scientific and critical mastery tend to reinstall a metaphysics of presence where they rely upon presuppositions about both the privileged access to truth and the possibility of determining correlation and finitude. The utilitarian logics behind these notions distance the graphic sign from the psychic image and yet found their own legitimation upon the promise of future correspondence between those same terms. Concretizing the dichotomy between absence and presence, the metaphysics of presence invites us to read signs under conditions of being detached from and entwined with phenomenal reality. When we consider that scientific research often sustains itself through communication with and support from capitalist and governmental funding organizations — the motors of which are turned by promises of identifiable outcomes and bottom lines — it is easy to discern the traces that situate presence at the heart of scientific desire. The very act of signifying becomes a matter of perfecting correspondences that will be, in turn, subject to tests of empirical verification: that is, where the scientific test delivers reproducible, confirmable accuracy, its solution should be there for all to see and/or “use.” What else can such determinations by empiricism be if not a “dream of presence,” as Derrida might have put it?25 Few scientific artifacts make a larger contribution toward the reification of the possibility of such correspondences within the popular imaginary than the map. One of the most familiar iterations of modernity’s worldview, the map simultaneously

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(1) pretends at being objective — though everyone knows it is not — and (2) masks a legion of signs that do constitutive work and that we take as our academic task to expose. While either of these might ground the criticism in projects such as Harley’s, the entire framework — both of these dimensions — is the proper target of Derridean deconstruction. There is as much to be deconstructed in the expository criticism that reduces wandering traces to mere presences as there is in the more obviously flawed (though no less dubious) pretense to totality. Not only does each question direct a hermeneutics of suspicion directed at the other, both are also anchored to the intuitive fiction that demands a hard dichotomy/correlation between modes of representation. Deconstruction will not have come to completion once it has laid out a negative or expository critique of its object or/and concept. For negation stakes its claim upon the givenness of the absence-presence model that is fundamental to the metaphysics of presence.26 Striking out the imaginaries employed within a text — highlighting, for example, that the map is neither total nor innocent — embraces the very test of presence that it struggles to eschew: the map, by virtue of being representational, is not representational. Attending to the presentational bias that lingers even in the enactment of its critique, deconstruction must effectively fall short of being tool for supplanting objective Being (just as it is ineffective as means of subjecting texts to the politics of suspicion and ideology hunting): “one can no more speak of an “ontology” with regard to the deconstruction that I try to put to work than one can speak, if one has read a little, of “Heidegger’s ontology” or even “Heidegger’s philosophy.” And “deconstruction” – which does not culminate – is certainly not a “method.” ”27 Rather, deconstruction is “about” the exploration of différance, a difference that is “prior” to Being. Language pitched in the present tense — and the stasis of mapsymbols — rails against such a formulation and installs priority in Being: x is different, it must be (as must its other) before it can be different-from. This is an immanent difference, predicated upon dialectic relation. Différance, on the other hand, more closely resembles the subjunctive: something, insofar as it might-be, will have been different than it was, which it is-not-yet. Barnett reads the spacing of différance as prior to both presence and the absences it stabilizes: “a geography of texts must be premised upon movement, spacing and difference, rather than upon place, identity and containment.”28 Thus a subjunctive geography of difference might concern itself with something that will-have-been-in-motion and will-have-been-doing a certain bit of positive work within that movement. It may be true that such spacings wander through and crisscross the map, and thus become implicated in the progressions of the written text. But there are also broader contexts for intersection of space, spacing, and the text. One key contender in this regard has been cultural geography, which emerged, literally, out of wanderings and (dis)oriented engagements with landscapes as texts. Before turning to an example of one current line of thought whose theoretical trajectory suggests a possible turn into a richer Derridean geography, I briefly recount the development and contexts of this subfield. Though cultural geography resonates with several key interventions in deconstruction, two stand out in particular. On the one hand, the extension of texts and textuality beyond the enclosures of the speech/writing (language/sign) dichotomy plays well with the geographic efforts to “read” the landscape. On the other hand, the


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

problematization of the constitution of text and meaning as matters of intuition bears directly upon the challenges that have accompanied the development of methodologies in cultural geography. Though geography draws upon an unusually broad range of scientific branches and philosophical roots, early work in cultural geography, particularly Carl Sauer’s (1963) early twentieth-century studies of the “cultural landscape,” displays a decided preference for ideographic and empirical treatments of the impacts and imprints of human life and activity in the transformation of physical spaces. Where modern science insisted upon generalization and reproducible observation, Sauer’s work attended to the specific, the localized, and the particular, rendering this through the situated, immersive, and embodied — present — search for the material-cultural composition of places. Still, though his studies concerned the constitution of spaces by localized phenomena, Sauer’s descriptions of the new field were simultaneously marked by a certain descriptive inexactitude regarding the character of landscape and the researcher’s engagement with it. While Sauer was far from rejecting the era’s more standard scientifico-geographic epistemology, he also tended to suggest that interpreting the landscape was at least in part a matter of innate and intuitive, and not wholly universal, capacities. Significantly in that regard, Sauer opens his key text, “The Morphology of Landscape,” with an invocation of Keyserling’s Prolegomena zur Naturphilosophie, declaring that “All science may be regarded as phenomenology, the term science being used in the sense of organized process of acquiring knowledge.”29 Read as phenomena, “cultural landscape” highlights the manifestation of culture within the transformation of localized spaces — landscapes, places — and the presentation of cultural significance to the embodied experience of the geographer. Of course, insofar as such studies are founded upon empirical experience, lay observers are equally capable of bearing witness to such phenomena. The specialism of this science, Sauer explains, arises paradoxically from the “unspecialized” perspective of the geographer as a kind of situated bricoleur: “The individual worker must try to gain whatever he can of special insights and skills in whatever most absorbs his attention.”30 Training the classic cultural geographer was thus a matter of nurturing and honing an intuitive spatial awareness through the extensive and immersive study of a single site. Central to this pedagogy was the field course, which Sauer suggests is not only highly textual in character, but unfolds in a manner reminiscent of Socratic dialogue, with movement constituting a series of embodied exchanges between landscape and geographer: Locomotion should be slow, the slower the better, and be often interrupted by leisurely halts to sit on vantage points and stop at question marks. Being afoot, sleeping out, sitting about camp in the evening, seeing the land in all its seasons are proper ways to intensify the experience, of developing impression into larger appreciation and judgment. I know no prescription of method; avoid whatever increases routine and fatigue and decreases alertness.31

Like eyes moving across the printed page, the slow progress of the cultural geographer’s engagement with landscape is one that has the coming-into-meaning — not unlike coming into a clearing — as its object. In many ways, it might be said that Sauer’s focus upon phenomena distributed in specific ways (and harboring specific traces)

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across the surface of the earth — not to mention the literal mobility of the geographerreader — predicts the key role that spacing will play in Derridian deconstruction. At the same time, considerable critique has been leveled against early cultural geography for envisioning culture to be a real, present, causal force and for tending mystify the methodologies for reading landscapes through gestures toward intuition.32 Geography’s “humanistic” turn in the 1970s drew further upon the nuances of German phenomenology — particularly in the work of Heidegger but also, if to a lesser extent, Husserl — and in many ways set the stage for the arrival of deconstruction in the subsequent decade.33 Resonant with the spatial and methodological perspectives introduced within cultural geography, humanistic geography is “a form of criticism” that “helps to counter the overly objective and abstractive tendencies of some scientific geographers.”34 Following from, but also filling in, portions of the picture left blank in the cultural geography’s intuition-driven methodology, humanist space gets aligned with the phenomenal contents of subjective experience, and thus answers the former’s appealing-but-groundless intuitive understanding with a “sense of place” rooted in an individual’s phenomenologico-biographical experiences.35 Likewise, where spatial description in earlier treatments had favored spatial extension and becoming, in which culture was the causal agent behind landscape change, humanist accounts turned toward intensive accounts that played upon the emotional and perceptual subtleties of embodied experience. The sense of place often highlighted the ways that individuals make identity and identification a constitutive component of spatial encounters, a process often borne through intimate relations to, negotiations of, and connections with localized spaces and the others who traverse them. Seizing upon the space-inflected language that animates phenomenological notions such as “dwelling” and “clearing,” humanists answered the uncertainty that characterized the vague boundaries of cultural landscape by elucidating the sense of place on the basis of its contingency to the spatial intimacies of the experiencing subject. Thus, a place’s capacity to signify and “mean” was not the product of a superorganic force operating “out there” in the world — culture — but arose with the human, reflective capacity to synthesize the phenomena of experience — to represent — in ways that are subjectively meaningful (“for-me,” as Kant would put it).36 Emotion, investment, the repetition of the encounter, familiarity, resentment, and countless orientations toward a place might inform or inflect such spatial representation. Consider how dominance and affection give rise to psychic paradoxes within socio-social relations, particularly where power and care commingle, such as the weird love expressed by the powerful toward the powerless or between humans and nonhumans.37 Elsewhere Tuan notes that such work — while it, like Sauer’s studies of cultural landscapes, describes the transformation of the earth — shifts the focus “from economic to aesthetic exploitation”: insofar as his “point of departure is psychological rather than economic . . . its concern is more with human nature than with nature “out there.””38 So doing multiplies the possibilities for interpreting the landscape/place at the same time that it hardens the constitutive tissue dividing the internal from the external world. Generations of cultural geographers following in Tuan’s footsteps will renegotiate this interface over and over again, and while doing so will often result in its being shaken and shifted, it will just as often reconfirm classic internal/external divisions. Thus, for example, the sense of place will


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

be written onto difference in terms of place and identity, producing — in one space — multiple overlapping places emerging out of identitarian relations: raced and gendered spaces, queer spaces, spaces of exploitation and extravagance, and so on.

Experience, embodiment, and nonrepresentation While geography’s adventures in “nonrepresentational theory” find many points of entry in the earlier cultural and humanistic traditions, they also attempt to push beyond them in several ways. Perhaps the most important of these is the endeavor to think spatial difference as something that arrives ahead of the representational limitations of a priori intuitionism and transcendental subjectivism inherent in modernist spatialities. Taking cues from deconstructive and poststructuralist criticism, recent geographies question the reduction of complex perceptive and affective spaces to categorical stasis, while problematizing the attendant epistemologies that enable such reductions, such as the reification of abstractions (e.g., “culture”) or the prioritization of ego-centered syntheses of experience (e.g., “for-me”). In their place, geographers increasingly view space neither as a rationalistic/solipsistic capture of experience (Kantianism and phenomenology) nor as an emergent relation between two distinct beings/abstractions (spatial dialectics), but as the gathering of fragmented and transitory engagements, enactments, and encounters. Space is coming to be understood as something complex, multiple, dynamic; an articulation — not to mention the power that can both run through and constitute it — that concerns matters and orientations of “becoming” and that cannot be cleanly and clearly transposed onto tests of Being (i.e., presence). Still, earlier geographic notions such as the “sense of place” — a formulation that describes the character of a place on the basis of its presence “for-me” — continue to figure prominently in nonrepresentational geographies. A sense of place offers a representational overlay, mediating complex spatial experience by reducing it to identity and synthetic understanding. For example, insofar as I cognitively make or reflectively have a sense of a place, I represent that phenomena to myself: it is not only ordered, organized, and spatialized, but conditioned by being the subject of my own experience. The resultant place is, always already, by-me and for-me. But this is to subject certain aspects of spatial experience to transcendent structure that contextualizes “space” or “place” in terms of my own supposedly relatively stable ego and its equally suppositional capacity to “be-there,” while simultaneously ignoring or displacing the noisy parts of that experience that do not make sense for-me. Such a procedure is akin to that famously employed by Descartes in his Meditations: throughout the deliberation, the presence of the Cogito — the “I think” — is always already given, being both assumed by and in-play in the very act of defining a specific sense of place. While this is systemically less problematic for the humanist, it does present a substantial difficulty when it gets employed by nonrepresentational geographers who attempt to discern spatialities unfolding outside of representation while paradoxically being damned to describe those phenomena under the standard representational constraints of the social sciences (data, empirics, the academic article, and the like). In response to the givenness of the Cogito

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and the implicit representationalism of the discipline, several thinkers have attempted to find lexicons and methods for discerning the spatial experiences placed under erasure by cognitive representation, transcendent syntheses, ego-driven understandings for-me, and so on. Practically, these efforts have manifested in studies of such complicated questions as the politics that linger in non/acts of stillness and passivity (Harrison 2008). The most prominent of such nonrepresentational geographies are no doubt the recent engagements with landscape geography that arose alongside rereadings of phenomenological texts — in the wake of a long geographic romance with variants of structural and cultural Marxism — that sought to re-interrogate Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty in particular from the emerging critical perspectives of Levinas, Derrida, and Deleuze.39 Perhaps even more so than it was for the humanists, sensation has played a central role in these studies. However, if the former set the conditions for the existence of sensation and the sensed upon presence, the latter endeavors to de-prioritize that phenomenological reduction in favor of considering the possibility that landscape and attendant geographic sensation is much more rich than that which avails itself of presence and representation. Drawing upon the Heidegger’s distinction between the ontic and the ontological (the thing-hood of an object vs. the thought of Being), Rose explains, “an animated landscape . . . begins with the idea that we should not start our analyses of landscape from the position of what can be seen: that is, the landscape’s presence . . . landscape is not an object whose presence needs to be explained but a presence whose object-like appearance needs to be thought.”40 Thus, where cultural geography had projected something called culture onto the landscape as causal phenomenon and humanism tended to restrain itself to the post-Kantian synthetic-phenomena “for-me,” Rose asks how we might come to understand — to think — how the presence of whatever being animates the landscape in a manner that is oriented toward its Being rather than toward its ideational construction. “The aim of the project,” he continues: is to reorient the study of landscapes from analysing landscapes as systems of presence to exploring them as dreams of presence; that is, as intimate collections of material sensations where other dreams of presence (dreams of who we are, or where we belong, and of how we get on with life) are consigned. Thinking about the relationship between culture and landscape in these terms not only avoids the tendency in cultural studies to be seduced by the landscape as an actual system of presence, but, more importantly, presents the landscape as an integral part of, rather than simply a reflection of, our being-in and attached-to the world.41

Here Rose maintains a connection to the metaphysics of presence, but he does so in order to expand the conceptualization of sensation as a constitutive surface across which the presentation of the world and the composition of the subject is extended. At the same time, the total manifestation of something called culture becomes an impossibility: “The fact that . . . imaginations of everyday life never arrive in the form of a fully present culture is not the point. The central question, rather, is what attachments do they engender, how do they provide a sense of rhythm to everyday life and, thus, provide a bearing for becoming subjects.”42 The phenomenality of space — and spacing — is articulated in bits, fragments, and silences against which landscape and subject struggle.43


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Seeing for-the-other The latent Heideggerian presence in Rose’s antiessentialist portrait of fragmentary-yetconstitutive sensation and, as he notes, the similar Merleau-Pontyean influence upon Wylie, trace subtle lines between phenomenal and deconstructive understandings of subjective and environmental relations.44 Incorporating modes of stylized prose to communicate and interrogate embodied experience, Wylie’s postphenomenological approach treats the movement of the researcher’s body a key site of inquiry in landscape studies. His research has involved, for example, ascending a tor in Glasonbury, walking a southwestern coastal path, and wandering amid coastal memorial benches.45 The resonances are not hard to detect between these texts and key elements of Rose’s phenomenologically driven deconstruction. However, his most recent work has begun to question the tendency within the landscape literature to assess the spacing of landscape on the condition of presence.46 I will discuss what this means for Wylie’s vision of landscape in a moment, but for the sake of comparison, I first turn to an example from his earlier work — his walk along the coastal path — that repeats landscape studies’ reliance upon presence-as-orientation. Wylie’s landscape texts often dialogically stroll from section to section: rich descriptions of landscape are answered by explications of a resonant philosophical concept, followed by further empirical description, and so on. The continuity that supposedly runs between these modes of discussion is the movement of the researcher-observer, who endeavors to remain simultaneously aware of his embodied, affective engagements with the surrounding environment and the auto-affection of his ongoing reflections. This departs from classic approaches to cultural geography that often limited their attention to transformations in external, surrounding spaces. But it diverges from humanistic geography, where the sense of place, for-me, would often turn upon a (transcendentally) stabilized site so as to explore the dynamic experience of a situated subject. Wylie’s treatment, by contrast, is an attempt to keep both in play, merging the morphology of landscapes with the immanently fragmented and mutable perceptions, affections, and thoughts of the researcher. His attention thus lingers not only upon the kernels of consistency that lend specificity to a sense of place, but also — importantly — upon the inconsistencies of the encounter that slip away and recede before they have been grasped, cognized, or coded. Thus, he presents a changing researcher moving through a changing landscape, where neither are necessarily or entirely transforming in ways that can be consistently, clearly, or causally attributed to recognizable or present to hand causes. But despite considerable attention to that which is fleeting, narratives of such encounters nevertheless remain anchored to the conditions of presence and presentation, both in their accounts of the manifestation of landscape and in their presentation of the researcher-subject as a changing, cognizing being. Consider a scene from Wylie’s walk along the Costal Path that appears in a section appropriately entitled “The Other.” As he continues down a wooded portion of the path, “Suddenly the morning silence of the forest was broken by a cry. A loud, undulating cry, one which perfectly mimicked, in every detail of pitch, variation and length, the cry of Tarzan, lord of the jungle.”47 There is, however, no one to be seen. A bit further

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down the path, coming upon a river in a clearing, “emerging out into the open,” he gradually situates the author — a presence — of the disembodied call: a dog appeared, as if out of nowhere; a thin, greyhound-shaped dog with a grey coat, sniffling its way erratically shoreward, and pausing at one point to turn and gaze intently back into the trees on the other side. A moment later, from out of the trees the figure of a man appeared, striding steadily toward the sea. He walked erect, fixedly, with a wooden staff in one hand. The crown of his head was smoothly bald, but a long and straggly beard hung down from his face. He was naked to the waist and his leathered, lean torso writhed with tattoos. A battered, earth-stained kilt was all he wore. Straightaway, I knew that he was the source of that Tarzan-like cry, and knew as well that . . . he had cried out like that all alone in the middle of the woods, at the very top of his voice.48

Although he notes that he had pegged the individual “straightaway” as the source of the cry, Wylie entangles the suddenness of this intuition within the piecework of several emerging perceptions — the coming-into-presence of the encounter: features on the landscape, the cry, the woods, the clearing, the river, the dog, the Other, and so on. These fragments appear partially and by fits and starts, synthesized by the presence of multiple, simultaneous durations juxtaposing the time of the gradual, unfolding presentation of the figure of the Other, his dog, his surroundings, his tattoos, against the narrator’s recognition that this individual is the source of the cry which, he assures the reader, has happened “straightaway.” Reassembling the space of this encounter, Wylie’s narrative gaze guides the reader through a series of presences — from the dog, to the woods, to an Other emerging from the trees. As this retelling progresses through a series of manifestations, their comingsinto-presence becomes all the more striking by their possible linkages to the absence signaled by the Tarzan call. The sense of expectation that this narrative’s absences will resolve themselves into presences (that we will find the source of the cry) is often a product of narrative synthesis, its re-presentation. Note, for example, the narrative gesture in the placement of the cry at the opening of the section, a textual space that makes it the problem that the subsequent fragment must resolve. This is echoed even within the economy of small gestures: the dog gestures back toward the woods from which the Other then emerges. These fast-moving maneuvers are important because they open up moments of narrative expectation, a seeming phenomenal suspension, that works itself out in the eventual presentation of the Other to the senses. That is, the narrative poses the problem of an absence (the disembodied cry) that it subsequently solves by signaling presence (the Other). When the figure emerges from the woods, he seems to arrive with the full weight of phenomenological manifestation, and Wylie knows — straightaway — that his has always been the source of the cry. In that moment, all of the dangling narrative threads get tied up and sorted. There is a certain construction of narrativity at work here, where only those circuits where absence is resolved by presence find a place in the text. Presence gets privileged in the landscape geographer’s selection of narrative content. The reader is never subject, for example, to absences as such, but only absences that function as signs for a presence that will eventually become manifest.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

What does it mean for this sequence of the narrative to culminate in presence of an origin, source, or cause of the cry? What (different) representational work is being performed Wylie the Walker and Wylie the Writer — not the same individual at all — intuitively jump the spatio-temporal gap between the cry and the passing body? Why is the disembodied cry rendered more present, more substantial, when it is tattooed to the body of the Other? Singing in concert with the eventual manifestation of the source of the Tarzan call is the familiar modern refrain linking phenomena to transcendent causes — Others, culture, whathaveyou. At that point of phenomenal-causal resolution, the landscape before him comes to resemble the representational theater that Derrida challenges in his reading of Artaud: The stage will no longer operate as the representation of a present, will no longer re-present a present that would exist elsewhere and prior to it, a present whose plenitude would be older than it, absent from it, and rightfully capable of doing without it: the being-present-to-itself of the absolute Logos, the living present of God. Nor will the stage be a representation, if representation means the surface of a spectacle displayed for spectators. It will not even offer the presentation of a present, if present signifies that which is maintained in front of me . . . And nonrepresentation is, thus, original representation, if representation signifies, also, the unfolding of a volume, a multidimensional milieu, an experience which produces its own space. Spacing [espacement], that is to say, the production of a space that no speech could condense or comprehend (since speech primarily presupposes this spacing) thereby appeals to a time that is no longer that of so-called phonic linearity, appeals to “a new notion of space” and “a specific idea of time.”49

In subsequent research, Wylie draws closer to Derrida’s treatment of nonrepresentation by questioning the broad tendency in cultural geography to resolve the absences of narrative encounters by reducing them to signs of presence. He acknowledges that: such writing works creatively and critically at the threshold of presence/absence. The shreds and patches of things, whether treasured possessions or soiled ephemera – handled, venerated or discarded – all the traces of those now absent are worked in such a way so as to show, synchronously, the absence of presence, the presence of absence, and so in the final analysis the threshold assumes the status of an enlarged, uncannier zone of indiscernability and dislocation, disrupting all distinctions . . . [However,] it can also be argued that the accent of much of this recent work is still upon a certain bringing-to-presence – upon, in other words, bringing to light things previously hidden or lost, unearthing memory, making the invisible visible.50

Turning to the memorial benches dotting the coasts of Southwestern England, Wylie gives “instead an account of landscape, matter and perception couched more explicitly in terms of absence, distance, displacement and the non-coincidence of man and world. I want to think about absences as the heart of the point of view.”51 He accomplishes this by drawing dis/connections between those signaled-yet-absent figures memorialized by the benches, the orientations of the benches toward the surrounding landscape

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(an orientation the memorialized may never have embodied), and the position of the geographer, who, while engaging the benches in terms of their contextualizations and attributions — their invocations — finds no manifested body (no Other, to recall the logic of Wylie’s encounter along the coastal path) to contextualize or locate the viewpoints that the benches present. Unlike the disembodied cry, these disembodied viewpoints do not resolve themselves in presence or manifestation, but rather hold presence-absence in an ongoing suspension. Sitting upon a bench, Wylie explains, “you are at one and the same time looking with and looking at the person (or sometimes couple) being commemorated.”52 Although the benches invite the witness to take up a specific point of view, it is not a viewpoint witnessed by the absent memorialized (who may have never even visited that spot). Rather, the points of view themselves memorialize: “They project the person commemorated outwards, and so they become the view itself.”53 Wylie explains that, by researching the benches, he hopes to contextualize and consider the intertwining of love and landscape as a projective vision that invites us to rethink the relationship between hospitality, embodiment and the Other. Where his earlier encounter with the Other offered a tale of causality sparked by disembodied phenomena — a cry — here, Wylie develops a relationship with an Other whom he can never encounter: the perpetually absent, the memorialized. But what does it mean to project the memorialized onto the landscape? Does this not risk, again, reducing a complex absence to presence (ie, the absent is manifested in this view of the landscape)? Making the act of memorialization into a bearing witness to a perspective that the memorialized may have never experienced, the viewer, by viewing, does something more than look with or look at that absent. Does s/he not offer her/ his percepts and affects to that point of view in memory of someone who may have never witnessed it? That is, the memorial benches invite Wylie to become host to certain perceptions and sensations that are less for-him than in-memory-of the absent, to become-haunted by the viewpoint of those who, in being absent, cannot be present to view it themselves. Such a phenomenal experience, — hosting presence for the absent — is to introduce the possibility — impossible though it may be — of a kind of perceptual hospitality, a sensing-for-the-other, where presentation gestures to an absent viewer. By seeking to make bodily sensation a site of hospitality for an absent Other, Wylie peeks past the metaphysics of presence that have characterized landscape studies. However, the impact of such an intervention extends far beyond the Sauerian tendency to reduce perceptual phenomena to external causes/presences. More importantly, becoming host to the impossible perceptions of the Other substantially challenges the largely presentist and and spatially extensive conditions that guide the ethics of empathy that Husserl lays out in Ideas II. The experience of empathy is, for Husserl, an impossible possibility because it depends upon the “appresence” of the Other: a paradoxical presence whereby one finds oneself in the place of the Other by transcending the embodied, spatio-temporal isolation that is phenomenological life. That is, empathy with the Other is the experience of the Other’s space as simultaneously one’s own space: “Because we grasp them in empathy as analogons of ourselves, their place is given to us as a “here,” in opposition to which everything else is a “there.” ”54


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

Empathy concerns “introjecting into the exterior” by way of an intuition of the other that transcends the material impossibility of phenomenal simultaneity in space-time: Each person has, from the same place in space and with the same lighting, the same view of, for example, a landscape. But never can the other, at exactly the same time as me (in the originary content of lived experience attributed to him) have the exact same appearance [experience] as I have. My appearances belong to me, his to him. Only in the manner of appresence can I have, co-given with his Body, his appearances and his “here,” to which they are related.55

Here, time is the condition for the impossibility of phenomenal simultaneity. Husserl seems willing to allow for many experiences of same space, but never at the same time. This is a classic example of the privileging of time over space that receives such heavy deconstruction by Derrida.56 And given that time is determinant in empathizing with the other, we see the correlation between temporality as the classic phenomenal force of “life,” subjectivity, and introspection. Thus, Husserlian empathy remains chained to logics of presence for-me: I empathize because I bring myself to experience the presence that I cannot possibly experience via sensation. Wylie’s experience among the memorial benches is something else altogether. On the one hand, the Other’s absence makes Husserlian empathy a different kind of impossibility, because s/he may never have encountered or witnessed this space or viewpoint. While the benches invoke the commemorated, this is not in itself sufficient to constitute a “there” — in the phenomenal sense of the word — from which a “here” might be intuited. The memorialized — somewhere, anywhere, or nowhere else — introduce a rupture within the memory-phenomena relation, between which arises an unclosable nondistance, an unleapable gap. The views from the benches cannot create the conditions for Husserlian empathy because they cannot close the gap between the witness and the space and time of an absent Other. On the other hand, memory fairs no better for Derrida where it concerns an individual’s “immediate” experience. Consider this in relation to Derrida’s experiential ordering of memory and perception: “When I hear myself speak the hearing is a repetition of the speaking that has already disappeared; representation . . . has intervened, and that intervention means, in a word, space.”57 For Husserl, phenomenal simultaneity with the time of other was impossible. Derrida answers this impossibility by extending it to the selfexperience of inner-time, or durée. His deconstruction of Husserl’s privileged coupling of time and identity thus makes auto-affection a matter of spacing: to hear myself speaking is to be out of sinc, displaced.58 It is to arrive late, to be — always already — somewhere, somewhen, someone else. Sitting on the bench, Wylie is affected by the landscape, but the experience is already second-hand, an echo, a repetition of the experience for-the-specter. Thus, the exterior, rather than being introjected, becomes a gesture to a something else, an absent presence. “Spacing designates nothing, nothing that is, no presence at a distance; it is the index of an irreducible exterior, and at the same time of a movement, a displacement that indicates an irreducible alterity. I do not see how one could dissociate the two concepts of spacing and alterity.”59 Thus, it is not spatio-temporal empathy but geographic love that Wylie

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claims to find where his percepts become host to the presentation of phenomena that are not (or not entirely) “for-me.” This radically revises Kantian and post-Kantian accounts of spatiality. Whereas the space of modernity was the immediate, intuitive product of the cognitive organization — synthesis — of sensory experience, here space is the movement of other spaces, other — possibly impossible — encounters. Rather than landscape’s coming-to-presence through the synthesis of fragments, it gestures to and recalls the absences prefiguring it and echoing throughout it.

Spacing politics But you are right, I have never been, as you were saying, a “militant or engaged philosopher in the sense of the Sartrean figure, or even the Foucauldian figure, of the intellectual.” Why? But it’s already too late, isn’t it?60

It is not uncommon to have encountered — within geography and without — representations of Derrida as an apolitical figure or, often amounting to the same thing, suggestions that deconstruction is a relativistic exercise.61 But even if his playfully ambiguous observation is correct, if indeed it is “too late” for the “militant or engaged philosopher,” this has not caused Derrida to shrink from asking political questions or from viewing deconstruction as a mode of “radicalization.”62 Given its devotion to the Other, to alterity, and to the loud silences of absence-presence, Derridean philosophy, far from being a conduit for blind nihilism, has opened spaces for formulating different politics, political thoughts, and political lives. Proceeding by way of deconstructive questioning, it acknowledges its own inevitable lateness as an untimeliness, having arrived only to find a multitude of politicalities already at play within and at work upon circulating texts, mass mobilizations, and capillary power reflexes. The ghosts of the Sartre of the French Resistance and the Foucault of May 1968, for example, put the “present” out of joint, haunted by their own specific questions. Any contemporary political field, for this reason, constitutes at least a partial response “to a spectral injunction: the order comes down from a place that can be identified neither as a living present nor as the pure and simple absence of someone dead.”63 It is perhaps right that these restless ghosts should bemoan an unpayable debt; still, their sometimesinsistent reminders (their institutionalization, their naturalization) can also drown out the voices of the future. His observation of the complex relation between pasts and futures makes Derrida’s project something substantially more than a mere mode of theoretical abstraction or a simple exercise in philosophical exposé. Turning to sites where academic-activist imaginaries mask traces that nevertheless condition political questions (e.g., the metaphysics of presence), his texts discover supplements and counter-signs capable of recognizing the impossible possibility of a politics “to come.” Encounters with such realities make deconstruction an exploration of the radicalizing différance of politics, the spacing of politics between unglimpsed pasts and im/possible futures. Before turning to some brief concluding thoughts, I quickly explore three such encounters in Derridean politics.


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

It is April and May of 1968. Derrida, still living in France, is invited to speak at an Anthropology conference in New York. Prefacing his talk on “The Ends of Man,” he explains: When I was invited to this meeting, my hesitation could end only when I was assured that I could bear witness here, now, to my agreement, and to a certain point my solidarity with those, in this country, who were fighting against what was then their country’s official policy in certain parts of the world, notably in Vietnam . . . [I]t will be recalled that these were the weeks of the opening of the Vietnam peace talks and of the assassination of Martin Luther King. A bit later, when I was typing this text, the universities of Paris were invaded by the forces of order . . . and then reoccupied by the students in the upheaval you are familiar with. This historical and political horizon would call for a long analysis. I have simply found it necessary to mark, date, and make known to you the historical circumstances in which I prepared this communication.64

The passage glimpses a politically-explicit Derrida posed in a gesture of solidarity. However, his statement is also conditional: it is solidarity — elliptically — “to a certain point.” Why limit such a gesture? Why not, impossibly possible though it may be, attempt a gesture of infinite solidarity, as Critchley has recently suggested?65 Derrida’s statement demarcates the limits to acts of solidarity by acknowledging the excesses and discontinuities at work between distant-yet-proximate politicalities. Although the writing of his text unfolded during the student uprisings of 1968 — and although he leverages his conference participation upon the allowance of expressing this “certain solidarity” with other activists — it (and its reading) remains at a distance, unable to appropriate or equate such politicalities with his itself. Derrida cites only a certain proximity that this act of writing has had to those events, but signaling this proximity does not enfold his talk into the historic force of unfolding events (e.g., the revolutionary telos of anti-war activists in the U.S. and les enragés in Nanterre). Neither does it opportunistically attempt to add political gravity to his text by painting it — or its author — and an agent or master-reader of such a history. Limiting mention of the political horizon to a marking, a dating, within the preface, Derrida’s solidarity remains, like the historic events it references, irreducibly outside the text, and yet inevitably a part of it, a trace within it. The political act is not a presence in the text, but only a retelling. Unfolding in what he might regard, from his own writing desk, as a parallel universe, their events are aberrant traces. They become resonant yet distant — rather than determinate and immediate — conditions for the text that he reads after the fact. Its political conditions, put another way, thus find their proper site in the very spacing that introduces the inscription of historic events as proximate events: they are spaced-out, at a distance, and yet their traces are there. Accordingly, Derrida sutures to the text a differing and deferring relation to displaced political acts that are not of his text, but for which his text might some day be. Distinct from — but unfolding in relation to — political mobilization, the politics of deconstruction thus begin with spacing and a gesture.

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A number of admirable thinkers in geography have shed light on what it might mean to approach politics — after Derrida — as a deconstructive spacing.66 Perhaps the clearest of such contextualizations have been those set out in connection with postcolonial and counter-colonial development. In this regard, Wainwright’s recent intervention is particularly adept at reframing political problems in the context of carto-semiotics and the experiences of spacing within Derridean geographies.67 Merging questions of geography’s complicity in the histories of colonialism and globalized capitalism with investments in political change and autonomy, he recognizes a (post)colonial present confronted by an impossible situation. Given the retention and amplification of patterns of exploitation through the transition from colonialism to globalization, political life appears trapped in the paradox. It is desirable to subvert the spread of global capitalism by seeking to abolish globalization qua “development.” And yet, seeking to resolve the really-existing exploitation inherent in uneven development today means mobilizing for further development. Working with the Toledo Maya Cultural Council in southern Belize during the mid-‘90s, Wainwright attempts to think through this definitive aporia of development by assisting in the production of the Mayan Atlas. The project culminated in a Mayan “counter-mapping,” an “effort to decolonize space”68 by collecting representations of the lifeworld of the Mayan community: “In their own words and with their own maps, the Maya describe their land and their life, the threats to their culture and rain forest, and their desire to protect and manage their own Homeland.”69 Wainwright explains, “In short, the Atlas is a work of anticolonial geography that seeks to show the reader an other world that is not recognized — to bring before us a world that we have not been able to see.”70 The resonances between Wainwright’s description of the goals of Mayan countermapping and accounts of both critical cartography and Derridean landscapes are striking.71 Here, Wainwright matches the strategy of bringing-to-presence with reflections upon the Atlas’s absences and their connection to thinking a deconstructive politics. But this interplay of presences and absences does not simply replay or provide a reactionary anti-discourse to past constructions of alterity in colonialist logics. Instead, these are but a few of the many traces that finds their way into — or become obscured by — the Atlas’s mapping of the encounters with Mayan life. Wainwright notes, for example, that although gender plays a substantial role in everyday Mayan life, it get entirely erased from the Atlas.72 Recognizing the proximities that the Atlas both presents and elides recognizes a kind of emergent and dynamic politics that are continuously transformed and supplemented by their own spacings: This is why the complex politics of the worlding of “the Maya world” is so intensely political: the territorialization of the land through counter-mapping is sure to displace or map land claim disputes onto other conflicts. Because participation in the process of producing maps and control over the new forms of spatial information are certain to be uneven, there is no way to ensure that counter-maps could fully represent subaltern knowledge’s.”73

Following Spivak, Wainwright suggests that counter-mapping becomes “a practice that we cannot say “no” to, and yet must call into question.”74 In this way, the deconstructive


Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts

political gesture is a gesture toward a spacing that a practice both constitutes and unfolds with. Where Wainwright explores the aporias of development logics haunted by the legacies of colonialism, Gibson-Graham highlight the ways that the pervasiveness of the political discourse of anti-capitalism within the academy (and beyond) has given way to political visions that, ironically, cannot see beyond capitalism. In an earlier work, they spend a bit more time with Derrida by pursuing several ghosts that haunt capitalism.75 However, it in their later attempts to envision alternatives to “capitalocentrism” that they articulate a deconstructive politics. There, capitalism is rendered all the more inevitable because it makes any alternative appear impossible: Alongside the hegemonic discourse of the economy as capitalist many counterdiscourses of the economy have arisen from alternative strands of economic thinking – classical political economy, economic anthropology, sociology and geography, public sector economics, feminist economics and from workingclass, third-world, and community activism – the socialist, cooperative, and local sustainability movements, for example. Diverse languages of economy already exist but are rendered ineffectual by the hegemony of capitalocentrism. They have become, in Santos’s terms, “non-credible alternatives to what exists” . . . subsisting in the shadows of mainstream economic thinking. To produce a potential dislocation of the hegemony of capitalocentric discourse, we need to identify and begin to liberate these alternative languages from their discursive subordination.76

Gibson-Graham’s project acknowledges otherwise unrecognized or represented divisions of labor that capitalist discourses push to its own margins: reproductive labor, care-taking, service, and so on. At the same time, they reference any number of alternative economies that are completely erased by the logic of capitalism, particularly those that have appeared with the rise of the alter-globalization movement of the past couple decades, but also those that have in various ways resisted capitalism all along. Developing an anti-capitalocentric narrative in relation to these movements is important because, like Derrida’s solidarity above, it re-routes academic discourse to the acknowledgment of proximate events that challenge the hegemony of accepted political discourses in the academy. It highlights the possibility of other spaces of politics. Where Wainwright called upon the inevitable traces of the past, GibsonGraham mark to alternatives to-come in the spirit of the declaration that “Another world is possible.”77

Conclusion If geography offers a reconsideration or an amplification of deconstruction as a political spacing, it does so by way of a simultaneous re-visioning of its own disciplinary imaginaries. That is, rather than lording over or offering a supplement to Derridean philosophy, it has attempted, echoing Lawlor, “to follow him.”78 The distinction is

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crucial. Geographic deconstruction has not, for the most part, meant an effort to simply “apply” Derrida or to “add space” to what is presumed to be an otherwise complete philosophical system. On the contrary, it more often has been an effort to transform thinking from “within” by acknowledging its participation in logics from without. This has been perhaps most important with regard to re-exploring the taken-for-grantedness of spatiality, but given that this treatment of space appears throughout Kantian and phenomenological thought, it is little surprise that we find its traces in our accounts of representation, politics, sensation, and embodiment. Accordingly, encounters with Derrida that read deconstruction as a kind of spacing should turn out thoughts to the geographies to come. By this we should mean neither further entrenching ourselves in the global capitalist imaginary nor simply planning and management. Rather, thinking the geographies to come should constitute efforts to further explore the spacing of politics, to build complex solidarities that, instead of being subject to conditions of transcending space, work at constituting proximities, and, finally, to imagining the possibilities of worlds . . .

Notes 1 Carl O. Sauer (1941), “Forward to historical geography,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 31, 6. 2 See: Derek Gregory, Geographical Imaginations (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994); Matthew Sparke (1998), “A map that roared and an original atlas: Canada, cartography, and the narration of nation,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88, 463–95; Joel Wainwright, Decolonizing Development (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008). 3 Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 117. 4 See: Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973); Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Jacques Derrida, Edmund Husserl’s Origin of Geometry: An Introduction, trans. John P. Leavey, Jr. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989). 5 Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 17. 6 Ibid. 7 See: Edmund Husserl, Logical Investigations, Vol. 1, trans. J. N. Findlay (New York: Routledge, 2001), 188–90. 8 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, Corrected Edition, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 48–9. 9 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 48. 10 Ibid., 49. 11 Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 107. 12 Derrida, Of Grammatology, 49. 13 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Vol. 1, trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1982), 142.


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14 Derek Gregory (1995), “Imaginative geographies,” Progress in Human Geography 19, 447–85. 15 See: Matthew Sparke (1994), “Writing on patriarchal missiles: The chauvinism of the ‘Gulf War’ and the limits of critique,” Environment and Planning A 26, 1061–89; Matthew Sparke (1998), “A map that roared and an original atlas: Canada, cartography, and the narration of nation,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88, 463–95; Gearóid Ó Tuathail, Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); Bruce Willems-Braun (1997), “Buried epistemologies: The politics of nature in (post) colonial British Columbia,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87, 3–31; Clive Barnett (1998), “Impure and worldly geography: The Africanist discourse of the Royal Geographical Society, 1831–73,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 23, 239–51; and Joel Wainwright, Decolonizing Development (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008). 16 Gearóid Ó Tuathail, Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 2. 17 J. B. Harley (1989), “Deconstructing the Map,” Cartographica 26 (2), 3. 18 Ibid., 7. 19 Ibid., 7. 20 Ibid., 5. 21 Vincent J. Del Casino, Jr. and Stephen P. Hanna (2000), “Representations and identities in tourism map spaces,” Progress in Human Geography 24, 32. 22 Bruce Willems-Braun (1997), “Buried epistemologies: The politics of nature in (post) colonial British Columbia,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 87, 10. 23 Clive Barnett (1999), “Deconstructing context: Exposing Derrida,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24, 288. 24 See: Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987); Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996); Edmund Husserl, Analyses Concerning Passive and Active Synthesis: Lectures on Transcendental Logic, trans. Anthony J. Steinbock (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 2001); Martin Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretation of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Parvis Emad and Kenneth Maly (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997). 25 Mitch Rose (2006), “Gathering ‘dreams of presence’: A project for the cultural landscape,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24, 537–54. 26 John W. Wylie (2009), “Landscape, absence and the geographies of love,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, 275–89. 27 Jacques Derrida, Points . . . Interviews, 1974–1994, edited by Elizabeth Weber, trans Peggy Kamuf et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 187. 28 Clive Barnett (1999), “Deconstructing context: Exposing Derrida,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24, 290. 29 Carl O. Sauer, Land and Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963), 315. 30 Ibid., 396. 31 Ibid., 400–1. 32 See: James S. Duncan (1980), “The superorganic in American cultural geography,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70, 181–98; Don Mitchell (1995), “There’s no such thing as culture: Towards a reconceptualization of the idea of culture in geography,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 20, 102–16.

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33 For a key treatment of Heidegger, see: Anne Buttimer (1976), “Grasping the dynamism of the lifeworld,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66, 277–92; for Husserl, see: J. Nicholas Entrikin (1976), “Contemporary humanism in geography,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66, 615–32. 34 J. Nicholas Entrikin (1976), “Contemporary humanism in geography,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66, 616. 35 Yi-Fu Tuan, Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1977). 36 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1996). 37 Yi-Fu Tuan, Dominance and Affection: The Making of Pets (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), 167. 38 Yi-Fu Tuan, Who Am I?: An Autobiography of Emotion, Mind, and Spirit (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1999), 102. 39 See: Mitch Rose (2002), “Landscapes and labyrinths,” Geoforum 33, 455–67; Mitch Rose (2006), “Gathering ‘dreams of presence’: A project for the cultural landscape,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 24, 537–54; John W. Wylie (2002), “An essay on ascending Glastonbury Tor,” Geoforum 33, 441–54; John W. Wylie (2005), “A single day’s walking: Narrating self and landscape on the South West Coast Path,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30: 234–47; John W. Wylie (2009), “Landscape, absence and the geographies of love,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, 275–89. 40 Mitch Rose, “Gathering ‘dreams of presence,’ ” 538. 41 Ibid., 539. 42 Ibid., 549. 43 Ibid., 547. 44 Ibid., 546–7. 45 See: John W. Wylie (2002), “An essay on ascending Glastonbury Tor,” Geoforum 33, 441–54; John W. Wylie (2005), “A single day’s walking: Narrating self and landscape on the South West Coast Path,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30, 234–47; John W. Wylie (2009), “Landscape, absence and the geographies of love,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, 275–89, respectively. 46 John W. Wylie (2009), “Landscape, absence and the geographies of love,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, 275–89. 47 John W. Wylie, “A single day’s walking . . .”, 238–9. 48 Ibid., 239. 49 Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 237. 50 John W. Wylie, “Landscape . . .,” 279. 51 Ibid., 279. 52 Ibid., 281. 53 Ibid., 281. 54 Edmund Husserl, Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy, Vol. 2, trans. F. Kersten (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1989), 176. 55 Ibid., 177. 56 See: Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena, trans. D. B. Allison (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1973); Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); Jacques Derrida,


57 58 59 60 61

62 63 64 65 66

67 68

Derrida and the Future of the Liberal Arts Of Grammatology, Corrected Edition, trans Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). Leonard Lawlor, Derrida and Husserl: The Basic Problem of Phenomenology (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), 194. Jacques Derrida, On Touching—Jean-Luc Nancy, trans. Christine Irizarry (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 34. Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, 81. Jacques Derrida, Points . . . Interviews, 1974–1994, 190. See: Michael J. Dear (1986), “Postmodernism and planning,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 4, 367–84; Michael J. Dear (1988), “The postmodern challenge: Reconstructing human geography,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24, 277–93; David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990); David Harvey (1999), “On fatal flaws and fatal distractions,” Progress in Human Geography 23, 557–66; Frederick Jameson (1984), “Postmodernism, Or, The logic of late capitalism,” The New Left Review 146, 53–92; A. P. Lagopoulos (1993), “Postmodernism, geography, and the social semiotics of space,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 11, 255–78; Peter Marden (1992), “The deconstructionist tendencies of postmodern geographies: a compelling logic?” Progress in Human Geography 16, 41–57; Ed Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (New York: Verso, 1989). Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, trans. Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994), 92. Jacques Derrida, Points . . . Interviews, 1974–1994, 213. Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 113–14. Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding (New York: Verso, 2007). Most notably Clive Barnett (1993), “Peddling postmodernism: A response to Strohmayer and Hannah’s ‘Domesticating postmodernism,’ ” Antipode 25, 345–58; Clive Barnett (1998), “Impure and worldly geography: The Africanist discourse of the Royal Geographical Society, 1831–73,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 23, 239–51; Clive Barnett (1999), “Deconstructing context: Exposing Derrida,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 24, 277–93; Clive Barnett (2004), “Deconstructing radical democracy: Articulation, representation, and being-with-others,” Political Geography 23, 503–28; Clive Barnett (2005), “Life after Derrida,” Antipode 37, 239–41; Barnett, C. (2005b) “Temporality and the paradoxes of democracy,” Political Geography 24, 641–7; Clive Barnett (2005), “Ways of relating: Hospitality and the acknowledgement of otherness,” Progress in Human Geography 29, 5–21; Trevor J. Barnes (1994), “Probable writing: Deconstruction, Derrida and quantitative revolution in human geography,” Environment and Planning A 26, 1021– 40; E. Jeffrey Popke (2003), “Poststructuralist ethics: Subjectivity, responsibility and the space of community,” Progress in Human Geography 27, 298–316; E. Jeffrey Popke (2007), “Geography and ethics: Spaces of cosmopolitan responsibility,” Progress in Human Geography 31, 509–18; Matthew Sparke (1994), “Writing on patriarchal missiles: The chauvinism of the ‘Gulf War’ and the limits of critique,” Environment and Planning A 26, 1061–89; Matthew Sparke (1998), “A map that roared and an original atlas: Canada, cartography, and the narration of nation,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 88, 463–95; Matthew Sparke, In the Space of Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005). Joel Wainwright, Decolonizing Development (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008). Ibid., 243.

Spacing Deconstruction


69 Qtd in Wainwright, Decolonizing Development, 243. 70 Wainwright, Decolonizing Development, my italics. 71 Critical cartography (J. B. Harley (1989), Deconstructing the Map, Cartographica 26 (2), 1–20) and Derridean landscapes (John W. Wylie, “A single day’s walking: Narrating self and landscape on the South West Coast Path (2005),” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 30, 234–47; John W. Wylie (2009), “Landscape, absence and the geographies of love,” Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 34, 275–89.) 72 Wainwright, Decolonizing Development, 257–9. 73 Ibid., 259. 74 Ibid., 269. 75 J. K. Gibson-Graham, The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 243–8. 76 J. K. Gibson-Graham, A Postcapitalist Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), 57. 77 Another World is Possible, edited by William F. Fisher and Thomas Ponniah (New York: Zed Books, 2003). 78 Leonard Lawlor, This Is Not Sufficient: An Essay on Animality and Human Nature in Derrida (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007), 1.

An Afterward: In Brief Vincent J. Del Casino Jr and Mary Caputi

The university professes the truth, and this is its profession. Academic institutions are unavoidable.

Jacques Derrida, 2004.1 Simon Critchley, 2010.2

It is our belief that the intellectual energy and creative powers that inspire the essays contained in this book contravene the “psychic impotence” alluded to in our introduction. We agree with Simon Critchley’s observation that a certain resignation and angry cynicism pervade the academy today, especially the liberal arts whose very reason for being is under assault in the face of financial hardship. Critchley is correct to point out that these are discouraging times for those of us eager to protect our academic turf, and we agree with his assertion that we must think creatively about restructuring the institutions and rethinking the disciplinary boundaries that have long been housed in the liberal arts. Nevertheless, a forward motion propels these nine essays which display anything but intellectual languor. Rather, drawing upon Derrida’s argument regarding the central purpose of the university — that of interrogating social norms, of questioning social values, and of holding up to scrutiny the reigning cultural ethos — we believe that our collection exemplifies an inquisitive verve emanating from the resilience and continued salience of our fields. The essays in this book thus illustrate how useful Derridean philosophy proves in defending the liberal arts inside the current embattled arena of higher education in the Western world as well as the challenges faced by those who chose to deploy Derrida’s approach to deconstruction. Indeed, the very act of questioning the current assault on the liberal arts, of pausing to unpack the claim that a liberal arts education is no longer held in esteem in the West, contains a Derridean moment in that it holds open the possibility that there exist different, deferred meanings as to what it is to be an educated person. As stated in the introduction, the standard argument of those seeking draconian cuts to the liberal arts is that the latter lacks “practical” value: it exercises the mind in ways that have no significant use-value, is arcane, and does not equip our students with marketable skills. In challenging this position through the essays contained in this book, we query the mandate for

An Afterward: In Brief


a purely practical, outcomes-oriented education, and highlight how such a mandate begs the very question regarding the “less practical” knowledge of many liberal arts disciplines. Knowledge that is practical and instrumentally useful already implicates itself in a conversation about knowledge that has no obvious “outcome;” it goes back to its own premises as it unwittingly unveils another argument. As was made clear in Christopher Norris’s essay on Derrida’s reading of Rousseau, language and rhetoric always situate the speaker/writer within a broader conversation about which he or she was originally unaware, for it is in the nature of discourse to contain deconstructive maneuvers and counter-maneuvers that prove a foil to any linear argument. Norris’s “deviant logic” thus clarifies how the liberal arts perform a crucial function within a democracy, for they ensure that a contrapuntal stance can always be taken alongside or against the (potentially intolerant, potentially self-serving) mainstream. In Norris’s words: “Deconstruction thus assumes a prominent role as avatar of the ‘unconditional university’, one that keeps open a critical space for the questioning of various entrenched disciplinary bounds while none the less maintaining a due regard for those standards of validity in argument and textual interpretation without which its questions would be merely rhetorical.”3 Thus, to speak of “practical knowledge” and “useful skills,” whose obvious worth will trump critical thinking and knowledge for knowledge’s sake, is to clarify the degree to which the former already exists in relationship to the latter. The ability to do something with our knowledge, to render it instrumental, implicates one in a conversation regarding the nature of use value and indeed the very nature of knowledge. In this way, the trace of philosophy carrying the imprimatur of epistemological questions and value-laden critique always accompanies the assertion that, at the end of the day, instrumental rationality is what really counts. Philosophy’s trace is the lining to the statement, the underside of the claim that one form of education is more worthwhile than the other. To proclaim the superiority of a skills-based university that teaches marketable skills thus deconstructs on its own to a pronouncement about critical, “deviant” logic. Such a proclamation murmurs the echo of the Socratic principle that an interrogative mind posing value-laden questions must operate as a gadfly to any social and political entity lest the latter lose sight of its larger purpose. The larger purpose in question involves the role of the university in a democratic society, one whose commitment to free speech, defense of civil rights and liberties, rule of law, and adherence to egalitarian principles disallows antiquated hierarchies or abuses of arbitrary power. The role of the inquisitive, contrapuntal gadfly kept alive by the university’s deconstructive nature is indeed vital to a democratic system, for as the essays by Mark Mason, Colm Kelly, and Keith Woodward explain, the histories, societies, and spaces through which democracies defines themselves are constantly open to reinterpretation, a statement which has never been so true as in today’s globalized setting. If democracy is true to its principles, the manner in which a society articulates its own self-definitions remains forever open to scrutiny and reinterpretation, and what begins as a widely accepted cultural norm can be relegated to the sidelines thanks to the fluid nature of our shifting, interpenetrated world. To be sure, Bill Readings’s assertion that the liberal arts no longer acclimate students to one standardized culture, to one cohesive reference point within a given society, has never been truer than today.


An Afterward: In Brief

Because there is no single, unifying culture for the liberal arts to simply transmit, the latter’s task becomes that of interrogating the myriad practices, norms, and values that prevail: the purpose of a liberal arts education is to train our minds to query the culture in which we are steeped, to engage the critical faculty whose atrophying would prove harmful for the culture at large. An educated citizenry would thus be one capable of questioning, dialectically, a culture’s defining characteristics, recognizing, for instance, that any canon of received wisdom implies a body of marginalized work, and that any mainstream reading of history tacitly affirms an untold story by voices that were silenced. Thanks to its education, this citizenry would perceive the Derridean trace implicit in a society’s own self-assertions even as it listened to the silences that speak out from within its many defining narratives. In Mark Mason’s words, “Derrida’s work constitutes a ceaseless effort to radically critique (in an affirmative way) any attempt in any representation - including historical representations, i.e. historical narratives.”4 The same may be said of the other social sciences. In sum, while it is important for such a population to have practical skills that render it viable in the world economy, it is equally essential that it be able to call out its own social values and critique these with impunity from within, “to re-conceive the social as the relation to the other,”5 to use Colm Kelly’s phrasing. Indeed, a democratic society is one whose freedom of speech, tolerance of multiple positions, and openness to unwelcome, unconventional voices endorses a certain vulnerability on its part. If it is truly democratic and open to critique, the deconstructive impetus that holds open its central values may cause it to implode. The essays by Jonathan Culler, Diane Rubenstein, and Mary Caputi have all discussed this openness toward alterity whose radical difference must be embraced by democracy. That such a gesture renders the society vulnerable only underscores its need for an educated population not likely to respond to difference with hardened, exclusionary tactics. Because we live in a world marked by increasingly permeable boundaries and sophisticated communication technologies, we believe that the liberal arts play a vital role in countenancing our potential implosion as we learn to live in close proximity to forms of radical alterity. More than ever, a democratic society is one comprised of contested definitions and shifting, multivocal signifiers. As Rubenstein explains, democracy always embodies a potential internal implosion as it remains open “to life, to exposure, to the other in unforeseeable ways. That is its threat, but it is also its promise.”6 We have tried to illustrate this promise, at least in part, through our demonstration of the manner in which an oppositional mindset capable of holding open stated values in fact strengthens the community (e.g., a democracy, an academic discipline) it argues against. By returning that community to its assumed first principles and uncovering the deviant logic contained in its rhetoric, deconstruction forces that community to rely on the force of critical thinking which necessarily exposes the aporiae, the internal contradictions, and the silences implicit in its claims. Because we remain committed to an unconditional university whose central role in a democratic society is incontrovertible, we thus affirm that the encounter with alterity, the ability to discern the trace of the other, must be part of higher education’s mission. Rather than merely

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transmit the information needed to maintain the university as an institution, the liberal arts must safeguard the play of ideas that enrich the life of the mind. The essays by Clorinda Donato and Matthew Calarco discuss two encounters with alterity that underscore the value of the liberal arts within the context of a globalizing, interpenetrated world concerned about its geopolitical and ecological future. Donato affirms the many gifts that Derridean philosophy has given to foreign language departments, and thereby acknowledges the value in studying foreign languages, literatures, and cultures. This we believe to be an essential element of “the university without conditions,” for it allows one to approach the status quo from an alternative angle and a different cultural lens. If Bill Readings is correct that globalization is essentially tantamount to “Americanization,” it is imperative that we keep alive a commitment to learning about cultures not grounded in the Anglo-American worldview. The psychic impotence we are eager to combat necessitates such connections, for the different and deferred meanings that reside within alternative civilizations offer ways of revisiting the Western canon that can energize, rather than debilitate, our experience. Of course, learning about alternative worldviews has always been central to our academic tradition, and the critical insights offered by other worldviews is a staple of liberal arts training. Yet the malaise described by Critchley and Readings indicate that we must be able to vigorously counter the university’s potential “Americanization” in order to combat the possible calcification of thinking and imagining that might accompany standardized, purely instrumental ways of approaching education. Encountering the Other is what the study of a foreign culture is all about; faced with an assault on the less “practical” fields within the liberal arts, we underscore how a student’s discovery of other societies can unleash energies and intellectual creativity that contravene the psychic impotence that besets many of us today. In fact, it is not only other languages, literatures, and civilizations that are at stake, but indeed the entire humanist tradition. In the context of a globalizing world marked by serious ecological changes, we bemoan any calcification of thinking going on in the upper echelons of higher education. Our relationship to the earth and to nature surely rates among our highest priorities, and we believe that a changed relationship to industry and technology intent on ameliorating that relationship begins with thinking: viz., how we conceive of our relationship to the planet. Leonardo di Caprio’s thoughtful film, The Eleventh Hour, eloquently expresses the collective opinion of numerous scientists that the way in which we conceive of our relationship to nature is key in producing a more ecologically balanced world. Our ecological footprints now tread too heavily on the planet, they explain, and our sense of human entitlement and natural sovereignty is to blame. Our intellectual energies must therefore work to realign our relationship to nature in ways that unveil the trace of alternative meanings behind the human condition, asking us to revisit the premises of the humanist tradition that have sanctioned our abuse of nature. What traces of an alternative civilization are implicit in a world dominated by human industry and technological advancement? Matt Calarco’s discussion of deconstruction in relationship to the animal demonstrates the usefulness of Derridean philosophy in this regard, offering an encounter with an alternative humanism that displaces human sovereignty vis-à-vis nature. Calarco reminds us that reconsidering the foundations of the unconditional


An Afterward: In Brief

university through an examination of humanism’s anthropomorphic assumptions is an ethical imperative. In ways that part company with Heidegger’s ontotheologic inquiry into the nature of Being, for Derrida “the term ‘human’ gains sense only in relation to a series of excluded terms and identities, foremost among them nature and animality.”7 Acknowledging the trace of other forms of life implicit in the terms “humanity” and “humanism” forces us to reconsider the privileged position we have long taken for granted, and to articulate those aspects of the humanist tradition that are worthy of revaluation. As we revalue our relationship to nature, the normative claims of culture stand out in relief against empirical statements of fact, and we are clearly presented with the value-laden dimensions of all that is human-made. Perhaps more than the other articles contained in this book, this aspect of Colarco’s argument underscores Critchley’s hope that we might rediscover joy in what we do as professors of the liberal arts. For once we are made to defend humane, humanitarian values to our students — a commitment to justice, an appreciation of beauty, a valuing of creativity and innovation, and above all the ability to speak out against the reigning social norm — we appreciate the vulnerability of such an education in the context of budgetary crises that seek to eliminate the “less practical” fields of study. At this writing, we are dismayed but not aggrieved by the current assault on the liberal arts, for we are convinced that the trace of the latter remains imprinted on every effort to render higher education more “practical.” The liberal arts are the home of critical thinking, and the latter constitutes an essential component of a democratic society. If we lose the ability to critique the norms with which we have been raised, we risk being absorbed into a cultural mainstream that cannot see beyond the confines of its own established demarcations. The joy and power of an educated mind resides in its ability to call out the premises on which its own convictions rest. With these nine essays, we hope to have demonstrated the enormous contribution that the work of Jacques Derrida has made in this endeavor. If this book assists in the larger effort to ensure that the Western university remains unconditional, it will have succeeded in its task.

Notes 1 Jacques Derrida “The University Without Condition” in Without Alibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 202. 2 Simon Critchley (2010), “What Is the Institutional Form for Thinking? Differences: A journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 21 (1), 19. 3 Norris, p. 49. 4 Mason, p. 94. 5 Kelly, p. 170. 6 Rubenstein, p. 215. 7 Calarco, p. 162.

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Index absent-presences  26, 70, 156, 201, 204, 225–6, 230–1, 237–43 absolute space  228 Agamben, Giorgio  20, 22–3, 27, 205, 210 alterity  7, 22, 27, 29, 31, 123, 126–31, 134, 161, 174, 190, 240–1, 243, 252–3 Althusser, Louis  23, 169, 173, 175, 197 American anti-intellectualism  9, 18 Americanization  9, 253 American Political Science Association (APSA)  198, 217 American Political Science Review (APSR)  199 anarchy/anarchist  43, 100, 121, 184, 201 animality  69, 162–3, 166, 167–8, 254 animal rights  31 anthropocentrism  162–3, 166–7 anticolonial geography  243 antiessentialism  236 anti-realism  65, 68 aporia  5, 16, 22, 60, 65–6, 71, 74, 94–5, 100, 203–4, 209, 225, 243–4, 252 Apparent Project  133–4 application  3, 13, 49–51, 57, 60, 67–9, 75, 107, 144, 174 applied knowledge  3, 13, 32 applied research  1, 13 and practical skills  13, 57, 132, 250–4 archive  3, 112–13, 206 Aristotle  22, 37, 72 author  5, 7–8, 49, 51–3, 73, 76, 84–8, 126, 195–7, 237 autoimmunity  188, 195–6, 198, 200, 204–16 autonomy  16, 37–8, 41, 43–6, 104, 116, 143, 179, 204, 211, 213, 243 Badiou, Alain  20, 23–5, 27, 34–5 Bataille, Georges  44, 184, 188 Beauvoir, Simone de  148–9, 159 becoming  132, 170, 174, 210, 225, 227, 233–5, 239

being  19–20, 23–8, 30–1, 87, 162–7, 178–9, 231, 234–5, 254 Bennington, Geoffrey  3, 9, 100, 194, 220 Biesta, Gert J. J.  4, 18 binary  3, 7, 13, 25, 71, 148–9, 162–3, 166, 209 biography/autobiography  6, 142, 150–2, 233 Blanchot, Maurice  82–3, 89 Bologna Accords  40 Bourdieu, Pierre  7, 170–1, 175–83, 189, 185 capitalism/capital  1–2, 6, 16, 21, 38, 42–3, 80–1, 90, 116, 129, 131–2, 177, 181, 186, 228–30, 243–5 Cartesian  100, 172, 183, 226, 234 chiffonnier  126 Cixous, Hélène  24, 145, 158 class  30, 40, 70, 147, 158, 175–6, 228, 244 Collège Internationale de Philosophie  16, 177 colonialism  111, 123, 128–9, 215, 227, 243–4 comparative literature  140–1, 146, 150, 156 continental philosophy  147, 165–6 Cornell, Drucilla  20, 27, 29–32, 123, 126, 128–31, 135 cosmopolitanism  151, 153, 187, 190, 214 Critchley, Simon  4, 9, 15, 18, 32, 47, 104, 106, 173–4, 217, 242, 250, 253–4 cultural studies  2, 80–1, 139, 153–5, 166, 189 culture  1, 3–8, 15, 18, 20, 25, 27–32, 38, 40, 42–5, 50–1, 53, 55, 58, 60–4, 68, 70–3, 75, 80–1, 90, 100, 114, 116, 120, 123, 125–6, 128–31, 134, 144, 147, 151, 158, 170, 175–7, 181, 200, 205–6, 228–9, 232–5, 238, 250–4



Davidson, Donald  53–9, 66 Declaration of Independence  199–200, 202 deconstruction  3–9, 14, 16–20, 22–33, 49, 52, 55, 57, 65, 71–2, 74, 82, 90, 93–115, 123, 126–8, 131, 140, 142, 145, 153, 158, 161–3, 167, 169–76, 179–80, 182–4, 188–9, 191, 194–6, 200, 204–6, 209, 224–45, 250–3 and history  93–121 as method  4–5, 8, 18–20, 52, 94–6, 171, 189, 195, 200, 226, 227–30, 245 defer  8, 14, 22, 126, 210, 212, 225, 227, 242, 250, 253 Deleuze, Gilles  24, 26, 34–5, 100, 169, 196–7, 235 democracy/democratic  2–3, 5, 7–8, 13–16, 18, 31, 33, 38, 43, 55, 65, 80, 86, 88–90, 142, 184, 186–7, 190, 194–223, 251–2, 254 as democracy to come  89–90, 108, 164, 204, 206, 214–16 and secret  89–90 dereferentialization  15 Descartes, René see Cartesian dialectics  15, 24–7, 173, 196, 231, 234, 252 différance  8, 14, 16–18, 20, 22, 25–6, 28, 101, 107, 123, 126, 128, 133–4, 163, 190, 196, 205, 207, 210, 225, 231, 241 difference  19–20, 25–6, 31, 50–1, 54, 63–4, 68–71, 103–5, 107, 126–8, 134, 162–3, 174, 184, 197, 208, 212, 224–7, 234, 252 discipline (as in the/a discipline)  2–9, 13, 15, 17–18, 27–30, 37–40, 49, 55, 65, 68, 97–8, 102, 108, 115, 123, 131, 139, 141–5, 150, 154–6, 161, 166–7, 176, 178–9, 183, 189, 214, 216, 235, 251–2 distant strangers  16 double gesture  103 Dummett, Michael  65–6, 68, 74 economics  129, 180, 189, 198, 244, education  1–5, 13–18, 32, 38–41, 43, 55, 80–2, 84, 87, 90, 133, 145, 195–6, 198, 250–4 empirics  1, 8, 15, 21–2, 33, 65–9, 72, 74,

88, 106, 108, 115, 156, 163, 175, 178, 181, 183, 187, 189, 206, 224–5, 230, 232, 234, 236, 254 encounter  7, 20, 24, 27–9, 42, 123, 126, 128–31, 164–6, 170, 175–91, 204, 224–5, 227, 233–4, 236–41, 243, 245, 252–3 epistemic  127, 227 epistemology  6, 98, 103, 105, 108–11, 128, 166–7, 178, 196, 232, 234, 251 erasure  6, 142–56, 200, 226, 229, 235 eschatological  102, 114, 196 essence  26, 81–2, 99, 101, 103–4, 108, 114, 171, 173–4, 178, 187, 190, 204, 210 ethics  7, 14, 16, 20, 27, 29–30, 42, 82, 88, 90, 108, 110, 126–7, 129, 131, 153, 161–7, 174, 179, 182, 185, 190, 198, 202, 207, 239, 254 ethnicity  30, 122, 147, 200, 211 ethnic studies  2, 166 ethopolitics  32 ethos  1, 15, 39, 44–5, 123, 213, 250 Eurocentric/Eurocentrism  27–8 and Anglo-Americanism  27, 76, 253 event  23–5, 43, 57, 83, 85, 87, 89–90, 98–100, 113–14, 127, 142, 145, 165, 187, 191, 201–3, 205, 209–10, 216, 242, 244 faith, professions of  17–18, 94, 115, 190–1 feminism  6, 27–31, 122–6, 128–35, 148–50, 159, 179, 244 as ethical feminism  30 as feminist praxis  6, 28, 30, 122, 128, 130 fiction  90, 98 forgiveness  18, 188, 190 Foucault, Michel  8, 40, 97, 100, 142, 146, 151, 157, 169, 183–4, 188, 195–7, 218, 241 freedom  5, 16–17, 43, 88, 124, 150, 172–3, 183, 199, 201, 204–5, 208, 210, 213, 252 friend  22, 85–6, 127–8 friendship  22, 35, 126–8, 133–4, 142, 151–3, 164

Index gender studies  6, 30, 122, 134, 142, 189 genealogy  50, 112, 159, 178, 194, 217 generosity  29, 194 see also hospitality geopolitics of education  3 Gibson-Graham, J. K.  244 Giddens, Anthony  170–3, 175 gifts  83, 85, 151, 164, 188, 205, 207, 253 globalization  3–4, 6, 9, 21, 55, 123, 129, 131, 134, 186, 205, 243–4, 251, 253 grammar  56, 60, 66–7, 69, 73, 191 GREPH (Le Groupe des Recherches sur l’Enseignement Philosophique)  14, 195, 217 grrrl power  6, 124 Habermas, Jürgen  7, 41, 170, 183–8 lifeworld  41, 243 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich  24, 28, 37, 114, 131, 157, 188–9, 225 hegemony as counter-hegemonic  6–7, 126 Heidegger, Martin  19–23, 26, 37, 114, 162, 176, 184, 197, 225, 230, 233, 235–6, 254 historicism  84, 98–100, 114, 170–1, 181 historiography  94, 97–8, 104, 109, 111 history  6, 14, 22–3, 25, 30, 38, 44–5, 52–3, 64, 70–2, 80–1, 93–121, 131, 141–6, 148, 150, 154, 156, 161, 177–8, 180–1, 184, 188–91, 198, 200, 207, 214, 225, 227–8, 242, 252 as lower/upper case  98–9, 107–8, 112, 115 Hobbesian  39, 204 hospitality  18, 126–8, 132–6, 151, 164, 188, 190, 200, 206, 212, 216–17, 239 human  7, 21, 23, 25, 32, 42, 44, 51, 60–3, 66, 68–72, 114, 130, 155–6, 159, 161–7, 170–1, 189, 197, 202, 212–13, 216, 232–3, 253–4 human/animal  7, 60–6, 68, 161–4, 167, 213, 254 humanities  1–4, 17, 20, 32, 37–8, 40–6, 80, 84, 90, 94–6, 115, 139, 145–6, 161–7, 169–71, 175, 188–91 identity  6, 21, 31, 58–9, 73, 80, 112, 127, 142, 151, 162–3, 173, 180,


182, 188, 205, 210–11, 213, 231, 233–4, 240, 254 imperialism  28–30, 128, 131, 133–4, 206, 228 individualism  21, 100, 123, 128 institution  5, 16–18, 37, 40, 43–6, 86, 95, 149, 171, 175–8, 195, 217, 253 interdisciplinary/interdisciplinarity  17, 38–9, 44, 189 internet  81, 133 interpretation  5, 23, 28–30, 49, 52–3, 57–9, 68, 72, 90, 129, 148, 150, 156, 170, 174, 176, 184–5, 251 intersubjectivity  62, 183–4 intertextuality  140, 142 iterability  58–9, 83, 87, 145, 150, 153, 180, 188, 190 Jefferson, Thomas  202–3 jurisprudence see legal philosophy Kant, Immanuel  17, 28, 52, 72, 176–82, 188–90, 196, 211, 226, 230, 233–5, 241, 245 Khatibi, Abdelkebir  194, 217 knowledge  2–3, 6, 16–17, 27, 29, 40–3, 66–8, 72, 80–2, 87, 108, 112, 115, 132, 145, 150, 167, 177–82, 196, 198–9, 224, 232, 243, 251 as experiential  225, 230 Lacan, Jacques  20–1, 34, 37, 42–4, 146, 173, 197 Laclau, Ernesto  44, 170, 173–5, 205, 211 landscape  21, 225, 231–41 language  1–3, 4–7, 20–5, 28, 49–76, 81–4, 87, 97, 100–1, 107, 122–3, 126, 130, 140–3, 151–3, 156, 163, 171–2, 181, 187, 197–8, 200–2, 208, 210–11, 225–6, 228, 231, 233, 251 and linguistic meaning  21, 52–4, 58–9, 83, 87 Laruelle, François  20, 25–7 le différend  123, 128, 133–4 legal philosophy  29–30 Levinas, Emmanuel  89, 101, 126–7, 157, 162, 164–5, 235 Levi-Strauss, Claude  25, 61, 71, 188, 197



liberal arts  2–9, 13–15, 18–19, 22, 27, 32, 47, 55, 65, 81, 94, 124, 131, 134, 170, 190, 194, 250–4 lifeworld  41, 184, 243 literary criticism  5, 50, 55, 68, 71–2, 82–90, 148 literary experience  81–2, 86–7, 142, 145 literature  5–6, 17–18, 38, 44, 80–90, 105, 122, 131, 140, 142–51, 153–6, 158, 175, 203, 236, 253 and secret  84–90, 151 logic  5–8, 13, 26, 35, 49–56, 58–76, 95, 100, 102, 105–8, 110, 125–8, 162, 164, 169, 173–4, 178–9, 182, 200–1, 205, 207–10, 212–13, 224, 226, 228–30, 239–40, 243–5, 251–2 logocentrism  23, 61, 93, 99, 102, 105, 107, 188, 200 MacKinnon, Catharine  30–1 maps/mapping  8, 150, 224, 227–31, 243 as carto-semiotic systems  224, 227–30, 243 margin  28, 189 Marxism  21, 40, 98, 113–14, 118, 170, 173, 175, 183, 187, 189, 207–8, 235 media and culture  19, 55, 81, 132, 187, 209 memory  45, 83, 99, 194, 238–40 metaphysics  20, 22–5, 31, 58, 81, 93, 95, 97, 99–112, 162, 165–7, 178–80, 216 and presence  172, 225, 230–1, 235, 239, 241 methodology  14, 76, 93, 107–8, 178–9, 189, 232–3 methods  15, 19, 39, 67, 82, 118, 144–5, 148, 178, 195, 198, 231–2, 235 metropolis  152 mirror  173–4 Modern Language Association (MLA)  154–6 Mouffe, Chantal  173, 205 naturalism  179, 196 nature  25, 50–1, 53, 61, 63–4, 68–9, 71–2, 153, 159n. 32, 161, 166, 183–4, 191, 196, 230, 233, 253–4

neoliberal/neoliberalism  6, 21, 123, 129, 215 New Girl Order  124–6, 128, 130 Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm  26, 55, 183–4, 188–9 nihilism  23, 147, 241 nonhuman  61, 161, 164, 166–7, 213, 233 non-philosophy  25–6 nonrepresentational theory  234–5, 238 objectivity  7–8, 105, 108–10, 115n. 1, 145, 178–9, 182, 227–8, 234 Occidental  123, 131, 134, 180 ontic  19–20, 24–5, 235 ontology  19–20, 25–6, 58, 72–3, 108, 166–7, 231 ontotheology  99, 162–4, 254 Paglia, Camille  140, 146–50 parallax  22 patriarchy  28, 30–1, 134, 203 Paulhan, Jean  216 pedagogy/pedagogical  4–5, 18, 42, 45, 55, 95, 144, 175, 177, 198, 232 performativity  87, 90, 115, 156, 191, 199–203, 210–11, 214 Peters, Michael A.  18 pharmakon  71, 83 philology  22, 185 Plato/Platonic  23, 28, 42, 52, 61, 82–4, 93, 143, 204 political action  21, 31, 149 popular culture  20, 80–2, 147–8, 176 postcolonial theory (and studies)  27–8, 130–1, 155, 189, 206, 243 postmodernism  96–7, 169, 189 post-structuralism  146, 169, 172–3, 175 power  5–6, 9, 14, 21, 28–30, 35, 41, 50, 58, 62–3, 70, 82, 87, 89, 96, 116, 123–6, 128, 132–4, 173–4, 178–81, 188, 196, 201, 203, 205, 207–11, 214–15, 228, 233–4, 241, 251, 254 praxis  3, 6, 21, 40 psychical impotence  4, 9, 18, 40–1, 47 psychoanalysis  17, 44, 74, 204, 213–15

Index queer studies  166 ragpicker  6, 126 Readings, Bill  2, 9, 14–15, 55, 251, 253 reason  3–4, 14–15, 17, 24, 51, 65, 69, 72–3, 75, 122, 132, 142, 147, 150, 163–5, 170, 177–80, 183–4, 187–8, 204, 208, 241, 250 relativism  20, 55, 204 representation  8, 24, 29, 93–4, 99, 102, 106–10, 113, 115, 127, 180, 199, 224–7, 229–31, 233–5, 238, 240, 245, 252 Research Assessment Exercise  39 resistance  8, 14, 17–18, 55, 73, 90, 112, 195–6, 206 responsibility  5, 24, 32, 44, 88, 90, 94, 126, 128, 174, 130, 134, 163, 166, 182, 209 rhizomatic  44 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques  49–55, 59–76 Sartre, Jean-Paul  48, 149 Sauer, Carl  224, 232, 239 Saussure, Ferdinand de  76, 266 and language-as-system 54 see also language; structuralism science  1–4, 7–8, 17, 20, 24, 29, 37, 39, 43–5, 67–8, 78, 80, 145, 150 secret  84–7, 89–91 117, 125, 130, 151, 208, 220 semantics  54, 56, 58, 72, 76–8, 116 semiotics  125, 225, 227–9, 243, 248 sense of place  225, 233–4, 236 sexual difference  31 sign  51, 58, 61, 73, 75, 77–9, 83, 101, 103–4, 133, 153, 200, 215, 217–19, 225–32, 237–8, 252 and countersign  83–4, 87, 95, 200, 241 signifiers  8, 22, 101, 116, 131, 197, 200–2, 205, 207, 211, 226, 228, 252 Social Science Research Council (SSRC)  198 social sciences  2, 4, 30, 38, 44, 47, 150, 168, 170–1, 177–8, 182, 234, 252 social studies  171, 191 social theory  173, 188, 196, 218, 264


sociologism  170–1, 179, 181 Socrates  42, 77, 70, 258 sovereignty  6, 8, 29, 126, 190, 194–5, 199, 204–10 spatio-temporal gap  238–40 spectrality  90, 113, 188, 241 speech-acts  54, 59, 69, 75, 142, 157n. 7 Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty  6, 20, 27–30, 111, 123, 126, 129–30 the state  17, 21, 27–8, 34, 36–8, 40, 43, 72, 89, 106, 139, 153, 202, 207, 211, 218 structuralism  18, 172 student success  1–2 subaltern  24, 28–9, 111–12, 128–9, 243 subject, death of  21, 23 subjectivity  23, 86, 116, 163, 184, 240, 248, 265 supplementarity  5, 18, 49–51, 53, 55, 59–60, 64–76, 107, 110, 200–1, 211 telos/teleological/teleology  101–2, 114, 121, 190, 242 third wave feminism see feminism trace, the  13, 18, 30, 101–2, 105–7, 127, 129, 134, 140, 142–3, 156n. 5, 162, 165, 169, 171, 173, 201, 227, 230, 238, 251–2 translation  24, 54–5, 58–9, 89, 140–2, 150, 152–6, 195 transnationalism  1, 6, 131–2, 142, 155, 212 truth  7, 14, 16–20, 23–5, 30, 40–1, 43, 54–6, 58–9, 64–7, 70, 75, 84–7, 89, 99–100, 102, 104–5, 108–9, 111–12, 144–5, 153, 170, 182–3, 189–90, 198, 202, 210, 228, 230, 250 truth-knowledge  112 unfolding  108, 143, 226, 234, 237–8, 242 university and accountability  15, 39, 43n. 1, 59, 68 and bureaucracy  38 as factory  38

274 and quality  39, 41, 45 and transparency  39, 41 without condition  4, 13, 18, 161, 190–1, 197, 253 virtual, the  140

Index Weltanschauung  15, 45 women’s studies see gender studies working class  147, 244 Wortham, Simon Morgan  5, 95, 117, 267 Žižek, Slavoj  20–2, 34, 267