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02/07/2006

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Jodi

Adam,
Would your Derridean solidarity then be something like the infusion of the Other into a political calculation? If it is, I don't see how that is solidarity in any political sense; it seems to come after, to supplement, the calculation; and, it is hard to tell apart from a general ethical regard. Solidarity should be something stronger, no?

On Agamben, I thought that his discussion of Paul in The Time That Remains was premised on an account of separation and an analogy between messianic time and the state of exception.

Also, on Agamben, it isn't clear to me how he can have a properly destitute subject and still have politics; in other words, even if I was congenial to the 'pure experience of language' idea (which I simply don't get), how this connects to politics is another matter. Precisely insofar as the idea (if I've understood you correctly) involves overcoming or surmounting division, it would involve overcoming or surmounting the constitutive feature of the political; in short, it would establish a kind of totalized field with no outside and hence beyond politics. Isn't the very notion of one big community a kind of anti-politics? A fantasy of unity and fullness?

Matt

Well you've added a bit since I last saved my comment, will see if this can still ap-ply at all...(We may not advertise it much, but there's still an ongoing discussion of Donner la mort and that upcoming Politics of Friendship reading on Long Sunday, you know.)

For whatever it's worth, this strikes me as a very fair and accurate (beginning-)reading of a central point, or points of contention. (As you're probably aware, another place where Derrida raises the question of more than one language--for which the enigmatic and economic phrase, "plus d'un" sometimes stands in--is of course certain essays collected in Acts of Religion, though certainly you're correct it runs throughout.)

The passage you mention from Politics of Friendship comes at the very end. I've had the exact same experience trying to remember, triggered I think by John Caputo's really good review (since become book chapter?) which correctly dwells there and--for me, at least--forever reinforced the association of this massive book with that small, still humble statement...as if Derrida is still wondering, even after such a work, whether Blanchot would ever return his calls or not...thinking also of Counterpath.

I do worry about overly reducing Agamben, or his potential distance from Heidegger--though not really qualified to speak to this. For instance, Agamben still gives his own twist to the phrase, "it is divided in two that we live-speak." And what does he really mean by a pure being-in-language yet one--at root, perhaps--not divorced from a certain willing? It makes one wonder if Agamben's certain proto-Catholicism, or adherence to certain proto-Catholic strands, as Derrida might have said, doesn't lead him to a theory of the origin to which--while it may share more affinities with that of Blanchot than he would like to admit--Derrida was never comfortable subscribing. But have we really begun to understand this whatever-being, and how to keep from erring on the side of "the intelligibility of the universal?"

The danger of minimizing the distance between Derrida and Levinas is probably just as great, though. One has to be pretty careful in discussing "Derrida's politics" or even moreso Derrida's "ethics," no? In any case, the Caputo chapter may be found, at least in part and for those with (at least one) Google account, here.

Thanks v. much for sharing this. Looking forward to more.

Clark Goble

Just a clarification. I'm not saying Being can reduce down to discourse precisely because of the way Being gives itself to Dasein.

AT

Clark, that makes sense, thanks for the clarification. I think Agamben would say that Being doesn't "give itself to discourse" but is this "giving" itself (and hence the being's "sayability," etc.), but that certainly doesn't make you wrong. And apologies if my post sounds dismissive (I hope it doesn't, but fear on re-reading that it may); that's not at all what I intended. Matt and Jodi, most interesting and I want to respond, but have to go write a brief so will have to get back to this later . . . .

Adam Thurschwell

Matt: On one hand, I share your concern about reducing Agamben to Heidegger. To the extent that I understand Heidegger, I think Agamben's fundamental "thought of Being" is not the same -- as I suggested in my response to Clark's comment, "Being" for Agamben is almost a process value, the being's emergence-as-such-in-language rather than that which "gives itself," and so on. It's something like a radical linguistification (to use an abominable term) of Lichtung or "the open," an attempt to isolate the event and, simultaneously, the medium in which beings can first be said to "be." That said, by the same token, it seems to me that Agamben nevertheless remains firmly within the Heideggerian paradigm in that he is seeking an even more refined answer to the same fundamental questions -- the philosopher's questions of the meaning of Being, the essence of Truth, and so on. Those are not, by contrast, the questions with which Levinas or Derrida begin. Or rather, in Derrida's case at least, what he discovers is that even if one begins with these questions one finds that they lead elsewhere, outside of philosophy and the "question of Being" and into another realm, the realm of the Other. More specifically, what one finds is that the question of Being turns out to be dependent upon this constitutive outside, in the form of the Zusage ("pledge," "grant") of what is to be questioned that the later Heidegger identified as prior to the (philosophical) question. In other words, to go way out on a limb (so don't hold me to this, this is working out an idea on the fly), I think Derrida interprets the Heideggerian "es gibt" in terms of the Levinasian Other, which means first of all that what "gives" in every case is not Being but a being -- a concrete other, in whose very particularity (his or her (or, I think Derrida would add, its) "face") resides the only "meaning of Being" available to us mortals. (Whew, clearly don't get me started talking about Heidegger -- I don't sound like this most of the time, I hope.)

At any rate, my response to your warning against collapsing Derrida and Levinas may be implicit in all of this as well. It seems to me that Derrida radicalizes the Levinasian Other (taking it beyond the human Altrui to include the animal and perhaps non-living nature as well, and more generally emphasizing, in the very un-knowability of its Otherness, the futility of any such presumptive characterizations or categorizations, as human or animal, good or evil, etc.), and brings it back in an uneasy but productive relationship with Heideggerian Being. Finally, while I agree that one has to be careful talking about a "Derridian" politics or ethics, I think the whole point of his later ethico-political writings is that that is precisely what one has to do -- one has to decide, make the political decision, just because the (abstract, non-normative) ethical injunction demands it. So I'm willing to take the risk even if Derrida himself would undoubtedly have resisted any such attempt to pigeon-hole him. Derrida sometimes reminds me of Moses (I haven't read the Susan Handelman (sp?) book about Derrida and Moses so maybe she says this) -- he takes you to the promised land and points the way over the river, but is forbidden by the same law that sanctifies the land from crossing over himself. But that's his problem, not ours.

Jodi: Great questions and I share your precise doubts about the possibility of a genuine politics given Agamben's ontological (or quasi-ontological or onto-linguistic or something) commitments, but want to respond to this in a separate post on the solidarity thread wending its way around the philosophical blogosphere at the moment.

Matt

Adam, thanks for that. My general impression is that Agamben is indeed closer to Heidegger than Derrida (comments about "proto-Catholics" included).

I'm currently, slowly, reading The Time That Remains, and one thing that strikes me repeatedly is how it's possible to read-- sometimes between Agamben's lines, sometimes bluntly, often humorously--a very willful resistance to...shades of 'Derrida, and this book is indeed largely a response that way.

So what? Well, if Derrida sometimes reminds you of such things, you're certainly in good (and bad) company. Not that Agamben is inherently right, and least of all about Derrida, of course!

squibb

I am going to frame my comments as questions as I am pretty sure I am out of my league here, especially with regards to Agamben, so any response is appreciated.

What is the nature of the relationship between ‘sayability,’ posited by Agamben, and politics? What distance does he seek to cross in linking one to the other, be this link grounding, infusing, motivating or what have you?

In other words is he saying ‘sayability’ accounts for the possibility of politics? Or for the possibility of a certain kind of politics? Or is there no difference?

In still more words, am I mislead in seeing the resonance between Derrida’s (essential, definitive) musing that no one has ever experienced language as such, and the utopian impulse Agamben locates within ‘sayability,’ within language-as-such?

Is it precisely because no one has experienced language-as-such, that only language-as-such can provide the possibility for the politics which, I am assuming we can all agree, has never been experienced?

So the question then becomes our access to “language-as-such”?

Assuming we agree with Agamben that language-as-such has a political viability, how do we avoid ending up with Habermas’ communicative ethics? Or at least with tracing out his attempts to extract a politics from the bare-being of language, the bluntness of sayability’s presence? Is there only a cold, moral solidarity here? Like asking people to believe in the idea of democracy but not in the president himself, ever?

Or saying we side with Derrida, that language-qua-language is only a performance of academic privilege, and is never accessible in any way that can ever be whatever-it-is something needs to be to be political? Than must solidarity itself become impoverished, and hopelessly ontic? (or just specific?) But doesn’t this in turn grant to the word ‘solidarity’ a unique status, as that which is always already ontic because political?
Does solidarity participate in language in the same way then?
Or does it become unsayable because ‘sayability’ is never, ever political, and solidarity is never otherwise? (What is the nature of solidarity’s participation in language in this case?)

Does this make any sense?

Adam Thurschwell

Squibb, fantastic questions all -- want to respond to them in the same post on solidarity that takes up Jodi's questions, too, so check back here in the next couple of days (if I can squeeze in the time).

Matt, thanks for your continuing comments, and I agree that Agamben is in frequently silent, but also frequently quite explicit, dialogue and disagreement with Derrida. For whatever they're worth, my full (or I should say, developing) views on this are in a paper I wrote on Agamben's most explicit engagement with Derrida (abstract and cite here).

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