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Duke University Press Books
Derrida and the Time of the Political

Derrida and the Time of the Political

by Suzanne Guerlac, Pheng Cheah


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An intellectual event, Derrida and the Time of the Political marks the first time since Jacques Derrida’s death in 2004 that leading scholars have come together to critically assess the philosopher’s political and ethical writings. Skepticism about the import of deconstruction for political thought has been widespread among American critics since Derrida’s work became widely available in English in the late 1970s. While Derrida expounded political and ethical themes from the late 1980s on, there has been relatively little Anglo-American analysis of that later work or its relation to the philosopher’s entire corpus. Filling a critical gap, this volume provides multiple perspectives on the political turn in Derrida’s work, showing how deconstruction bears on political theory and real-world politics. The contributors include distinguished scholars of deconstruction whose thinking developed in close proximity to Derrida’s, as well as leading political theorists and philosophers who engage Derrida’s thought from further afield.

The volume opens with a substantial introduction in which Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac survey Derrida’s entire corpus and position his later work in relation to it. The remaining essays address the concerns that arise out of Derrida’s analysis of politics and the conditions of the political, such as the meaning and scope of democracy, the limits of sovereignty, the relationship between the ethical and the political, the nature of responsibility, the possibility for committed political action, the implications of deconstructive thought for non-Western politics, and the future of nationalism in an era of globalization and declining state sovereignty. The collection is framed by original contributions from Hélène Cixous and Judith Butler.

Contributors. Étienne Balibar, Geoffrey Bennington, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, Pheng Cheah, Hélène Cixous, Rodolphe Gasché, Suzanne Guerlac, Marcel Hénaff, Martin Jay, Anne Norton, Jacques Rancière, Soraya Tlatli, Satoshi Ukai

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822343721
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 01/16/2009
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Pheng Cheah is Professor of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Inhuman Conditions: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights and Spectral Nationality: Passages of Freedom from Kant to Postcolonial Literatures of Liberation and co-editor of Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation.

Suzanne Guerlac is Professor of French at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of Thinking in Time: An Introduction to Henri Bergson and Literary Polemics: Bataille, Sartre, Valéry, Breton, co-winner of the Modern Language Association’s Scaglione Prize.

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Chapter One

Jacques Derrida: Co-Responding Voix You

HÉLÈNE CIXOUS Translated by Peggy Kamuf


His thoughtful, insistent worry in the face of every scene of political convocation, several times a year-and each time unique naturally-could be translated more or less exactly in these terms: "If I knew what I must do, then I would know how to do it. But how to speak of the GATT? So complicated. How to find the schema, as Kant would say, between philosophical thought and the scene of ordinary decision? Very difficult."

In other words, "How not to respond?" to a situation that is apparently novel? What good way of disappointing expectations can I invent? [Quel bon faux bond inventer?]

The Time of the Political

1. Before I begin, allow me to confide that I am not sure I understand this title, or know where it is leading us.

Am I supposed to understand that the Time of the Political is "now"?

Or to come? Or else is it the call to a phenomenology of Time qualified as political? Is it an allusion to Politics of Friendship and to the undecidable leitmotiv of the Time is out of joint? Is not Time more or less always out of joint? Like you and me moreover ...

I will go on endlessly turning around this phrase and its reasons ... 2. That said, allow me to declare that everything Jacques Derrida will have given to be thought, in the movement of the deconstructions whose stakes he will have constantly raised, is directly political in its cause or its effect, including the apparently autobiographical texts or those that intersect with psychoanalysis or literature.

Voix You

Several parerga, outworks, dedicated to the voyou that he is, and that I am, to the rogue-that-I-am/follow, the voyou-que-je-suis as he would say by antonomasis, cautiously and slyly, drawing right away from two French words-je suis-a philosophy of the equivocal.

Parerga of the twenty-six parerga that "precede" (but can one say "precede"?) the premises (but can one say "premises"?) of those reflections inventoried under the subtitle Crypts, encrypted under the Post-Scriptum, followed by a post-cryptum and that in fifty-two points enumerated February 28, 1994, by Jacques Derrida will have made the philosophical light required to think what comes.

To accomplish here my role as Prologue, it would suffice that I read you the powerful pages from "Faith and Knowledge" where Jacques Derrida will have assembled everything needed to think "Jacques Derrida and Politics or the Political": everything-and the rest, naturally.

If I choose "Faith and Knowledge" today, it is (1) by chance, (2) by economic calculation, (3) while resuscitating one of our conversations, which dates from January 1993 (1994) 1995-whose echo I will let you hear in a moment.

Let's say that it is apropos "Religion," Faith, and Knowledge that one time, on an island, site of the philosophical dream par excellence, Jacques Derrida will have, one time among countless others, given the political to be thought, what there will be to think for still longer than more than one century, by linking right away, on this occasion "the question of religion to that of the evil of abstraction" and

to radical abstraction. Not to the abstract figure of death, of evil or of the sickness of death, but to the forms of evil that are traditionally tied to radical extirpation and therefore to the deracination of abstraction, passing by way-but only much later-of those sites of abstraction that are the machine, technics, technoscience, and above all the transcendence of tele-technology. "Religion and mechane," religion and cyberspace," "religion and the numeric," "religion and the digital," "religion and virtual space-time": in order to take the measure of these themes in a short treatise, within the limits assigned to us, to conceive a small discursive machine that, however, finite and perfectible, would not be too powerless.

Please pardon the Prologue that I am for "adding" to this and even piling it on.

-If I do so it is because one must always repeat the message, relaunch the thinking, since mortals have a short memory.

So as to rule out from the start the sort of discourse I hear circulating here and there, and that claims-whether out of naïveté, bad faith, or dimness-that Jacques Derrida is not, has not always been, would not have always been "political," whereas from the first trace of his thinking, just as from the first trace on his body, which will have made him the poison-gift of the inevitability of the poison-gift, of the wound, the traumatism, as what presides over cultural, political destiny ... etc. of every being. Thus, with the first trace of the thinking of the trace in Of Grammatology, the whole machine that tends to replace the word "writing" in the ordinary sense by "trace" or the word "speech" by trace, had as its final purpose that writing, speech, trace are not the proper characteristic of the human. There is animal trace, animals write. From the beginning, the deconstruction of the properly human, and thus of its empire, its rights, is in place. Jacques Derrida has always resisted the opposition between the human and the animal, just as he does the opposition and thus the hierarchization between man and woman; this is the absolutely permanent, archoriginary trait of his political trajectory.

* * *

Jacques Derrida will have always been archipolitical, acted and acting, and therefore acting reflexively and, with time, more and more broadly, forcefully, insisting, testifying, warning, even while thematizing and ramifying the networks of everything there is to think otherwise about the coming times.

If one had to say "two words," as he would say, on the subject of the Politics of Deconstruction, of Deconstruction as Politics, it would of course be à venir, to come. This à venir to which he will have joined, in an unforgettable way, the word, the idea, the dream of democracy. From now on it will no longer be possible to think Democracy otherwise than through this phrase: Democracy to come. And not Democracy coming. It is not, as he takes care to repeat, a matter of messianic anticipation, not of messianism but of messianicity, of a promise, of a horizon that regulates law. It is necessary that Democracy remain to come. It is necessary to think it and to think of it with a thought that will always and still remain beyond what is realizable. Beyond the possible, that is to say, beyond that for which I am prepared, beyond what I can claim, beyond what I, myself, a finite and delimited being, can do. Responsibility, in its secret splendor, consists in going further than one's own power. And this is to be lived, with difficulty, as he lived it, in the daily renewal of effort, fatigue, in a courageous insistence at the heart and core of discouragement.

I could recount here a hundred concrete acts of "engagement" in which I participated or that I witnessed during the more than forty years of friendship in activity where we crossed (conjugated) our presence, speech, acts, but I don't have the time to establish the archive of an entire life inspired by the tireless, exhausting sense of responsibility. I would need a book to cite all the causes to which he devoted himself-and I emphasize here, that he always did so generously, that is, as modestly as possible, without seeking to capitalize through the media, without selling the cause for his image.

I will cite among the examples of institutions that we have at the same time instituted or co-initiated and then left in a big hurry once these brand new machines that we were fabricating like dreaming children and that we assumed to be more or less pure, yes, pure (for the philosophy of contamination arises from a desiring reference to incorruptible purity), were being changed and corrupted in a nonnegotiable manner, I will cite Paris 8 for both of us-and for him the GREPH and the Estates General of Philosophy, the mock-heroic episode of the new CNL, where we lived like the kings in Rimbaud "a whole morning," the Collège International de Philosophie, then the International Parliament of Writers. But there would also be all the causes from apartheid up to the latest commitments for the new Russell Tribunal against Bush's engagement in Iraq or else the animal cause (President of the Association for the Abolition of Bull-Fighting in 2004).

One can designate the principles of all these philosophical actions that come in such heterogeneous guises: each time it was a matter of giving refuge, thus of saving life, thus of forcing the retreat of all the death penalties beginning with the Death Penalty properly speaking. Practically, this means:

1. Finding oneself on the side of those who are the current victims, in a precise historical moment, of violence and the denial of justice, but without ever letting oneself be appropriated by a cause or a party, or another community, serving solely and rigorously the idea of justice. Thus no blank check, no identification, no idealization ... 2. Without illusion, without ever giving the opposition good/evil a chance to seduce, knowing full well that there is always more contamination in store, feeling full well that there are plural incalculable resources in compassion.

In reality, in practice, in his life, in his relation to the world, to others, and first of all to himself, always vigilant, careful, and at the same time letting himself give in at moments to the temptation to believe, at least briefly, in his life as in the different scenes of his creation-always at work to think politically otherwise, as never yet. That he loathed demonstrations did not prevent him from letting himself at times be dragged by friendship into the streets, his loathing of spectacular action making his surrender out of solidarity all the more worthy of affection.

Between action and thought, there is always reflexive exchange, circularity. Thus it is with his great unleashed and unleashing seminars that reweave all philosophies and their specters around some event, be it secret or worldwide. I will cite for example the great years devoted to philosophical Nationality and nationalism, to (Politics of) friendship, to Eating the other, to the Secret, to Testimony, to the Lie, to Hostility/hospitality, to Perjury and pardon, to the Death Penalty, to the Beast and to the Sovereign.

An immense living pedagogical work, vibrating with an address to that vast public, which took the place not of a party but of the people who are heir, he says in Voyous, to that mysterious thing never yet seen, Democracy. Responsibility is his mission and his torment: no one will ever measure how far he went putting himself under obligation to answer for the world to the world, from day to day, welcoming into his thought surprise-scenes. (Example: September 11 he was in Shanghai. From one moment to the next, overwhelmed, he set himself to thinking the unthinkable, applying himself, plying himself to analyzing and deconstructing what he will have called "the event" as yet unnamed, this eruption, this seism in political time that leaves creatures mute and defenseless.) I cannot recall a single moment, a single episode arising on the French or worldwide stage to which he remained indifferent, from war, beginning with all the wars of decolonization, up to what is no longer recognizable as "war" (see the concept of September 11), up to scenes of another species of cruelty, like that of bullfighting, which he became involved in combating in 2004. To each minimal or cosmic cause he applied his heart and the forces of his thought. And at home, constantly appealed to, the telephone like a divine or prophetic switchboard: what to think, how to think?

He sleeps little. He is like that lone man awake and standing under the starry sky at the edge of the encampment where humanity sleeps that Kafka talks about: "There has to be one who keeps watch." The responder, or answering machine, that he is, however, is not reassuring. His Message is disturbing because not trenchant, not deciding but deferring, complicating, indicating in every case a supplementary fold, a step beyond. Not comfortable, not exalting. Similar to one of those prophets or poets who do not command, do not direct, but spread over the gaping anxieties sentences that welcome the unnameable (see Psychoanalysis Searches the States of Its Soul). Yes, he says, we are suffering, and we do not exactly know who we is, or what suffering is, or what is suffering in us, but there is some friendship in thinking how-to-suffer.

* * *

So I chose to call my Prologue "Voyous/Voix You" while obeying the dictation that decides in me in my place, as it always decided in him. I find in this more than one pleasure and more than one emotion.

1. As you know, he unites under this word (Is it one word? Is it not more than one word?) and this name two great political texts engendered in 2002, which contain all imaginable problematics for the mortal human beings that we are, poor passers-by, or criminals, subject to an autoimmunitary fatality.

2. As you know, this text is roué in all senses of this French word, beginning with that of cunning, but above all that of cruelly tormented, drawn and quartered. And the first to be tortured on the wheel, la roue, is he. As he admits at the outset after having cited with urgency On Democracy in America (I must recall that here) (Voyous, 34-35) in order to link up with, or to unleash, as the Proteus-Prometheus that he is, the theological and the political

God, circle, volt, revolution, torture: I should perhaps confess that what tortures me, the question that has been putting me to the question, might just be related to what structures a particular axiomatics of a certain sphere, and thus the ipseity of the One, the autos of autonomy, symmetry, homogeneity, the same, the like, the semblable or the similar, and even, finally, God, in other words everything that remains incompatible with, even clashes with, another truth of the democratic, namely, the truth of the other, heterogeneity, the heteronomic and the dissymmetric, disseminal multiplicity, the anonymous "anyone," the "no matter who," the indeterminate "each one."

3. You know that he put (himself) America to the question by tormenting himself etc. I thus note here, leaving it pending, that the first of the four algebraico-comical pseudo-definitions of Deconstruction that it amuses him to wave about is (1) Deconstruction is America. It amused him to say that in 1984 by way of "boutade" as one says in French, a little like saying it's a dream, it's the jackpot, it's Eldorado, it's the end of the world. It's not by chance if this very religious, hegemonic, but fragile country offers Deconstruction a scene, if not a battlefield or a field of privileged confrontation. But Deconstruction happens everywhere naturally; it has no frontiers. Why not say: Deconstruction is Europe? Precisely, he is concerned with it more and more, observing the aporias of the Europe to come ever since "Europe" has forced itself into a dislocated assembly. How to inherit from this thing called the European "spirit," phantasm and memory, without Eurocentrism? Another turn of the wheel.

Torment and chance, travail and uncertainty: he will have wished for and analyzed, without concession, all these elements that make up the contrary forces of Deconstruction, whether this putting to the question applies to Israel and Palestine, to North Africa or South Africa, or yet again to misogyny and phallocratism, which are not always the simple prerogative of men, as one may sometimes forget.


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

1. Introduction: Derrida and the Time of the Political / Pheng Cheah and Suzanne Guerlac 1

Part I. Openings

Jacques Derrida: Co-Responding Voix You / Helene Cixous 41

Part II. The a-venir: Undoing Sovereignty and Teleology

Eschatology versus Teleology: The Suspended Dialogue between Derrida and Althusser / Etienne Balibar 57

The Untimely Secret of Democracy / Pheng Cheah 74

Sovereign Stupidity and Autoimmunity / Geoffrey Bennington 97

Sovereign Hesitations / Wendy Brown 114

Part III. Responsibilities within and without Europe

European Memories: Jan Patocka and Jacques Derrida on Responsibility / Rodolphe Gasche 135

"Call Me Ishmael" / Anne Norton 158

Algeria as an Archive / Soraya Tlatli 177

Fine Risks, or, The Spirit of a Pacifism and Its Destiny / Satoshi Ukai 196

Part IV. Between Ethics and Politics

The Aporia of Pure Giving and the Aim of Reciprocity: On Derrida's Given Time / Marcel Henaff 215

Pseudology: Derrida on Arendt and Lying in Politics / Martin Jay 235

The Fragility of the Pardon (Derrida and Ricouer) / Suzanne Guerlac 255

Should Democracy Come? Ethics and Politics in Derrida / Jacques Ranciere 274

Part V. Afterword

Finishing, Starting / Judith Butler 291

Bibliography 307

Contributors 323

Index 327

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