Philosophy triumphs easily over past, and over future evils, but present evils triumph over philosophy.
Neither the sun nor death can be looked at steadily
As other "Theory"-literate and serious denizens of the blogosphere duly note, Specters of Marx is a book that continues to look better with each passing year. Generous, intricate and faithful expositions of Derrida's later political thought, meanwhile, are so few and far between that a recent article by Ross Benjamin and Heesok Chang (ProjectMuse) is most welcome, and also conveniently works as a rather natural continuation of our Spivak (and Europe, and technology, and democracy) discussions.
Suffice to say that many familiar themes make an appearance. I provide some brief excerpts and comment below the fold, as the authors are friends and were kind enough to share a copy. (Those interested and without Muse access may I suppose ask very nicely via email.) The excerpts are by no means generous enough, as indeed the article covers quite a lot of ground, including responsible forays into anonymous internationalism (composed of "no one" who is , nevertheless, "not just anyone" – cf. Thomas Keenan; recalling also Blanchot's communism), Spivak's (partly just) criticisms in Ghostwriting, Derrida's distinctly atheist transformation of Benjamin's 'weak messianism' and Roland Barthes' reflections on the photograph among other things. The bold and truly excellent SUBSTANCE Magazine was once kind enough to grant us a generous "fair use" permission to quote from its "Counter-Obituaries" issue on Derrida from some time ago...so consider this too a first step, if you will, toward a more precise engagement there.
From the key orienting and introductory 'graph (or rather, a bit of graft on my part, as the framing, justifying work performed by introductions certainly is important to get right):
As admirable as [their] aims may be, Habermas and Derrida’s proclamation inevitably raises the question of their global bias. Although their article closes by “renounc[ing] Eurocentrism,” it seems nonetheless to reassert a particular European obligation to act on behalf of the world. American political philosopher Iris Marion Young objects to the publication’s premise in an essay for the web-based journal openDemocracy. She asserts, “Europe needs not globalism but a provincialism that will enable a dialogue of equals with the rest of the world.” Young points out that the anti-war rallies of February 15, 2003 were planned at a World Social Forum held in Porto Alegre in January 2003 and, moreover, took place in hundreds of cities throughout the world. Such a “coordination may signal the emergence of a global public sphere, of which European publics are wings, but whose heart may lie in the southern hemisphere.” Though [Iris Marion] Young correctly calls into question their geopolitical assumptions, a closer evaluation of Derrida’s key statements makes clear that his position on Europe is distinct from the one Habermas sketches in their jointly signed text* [...]
Contrary to his press, Derrida never made a secret of his allegiance to the European Enlightenment. Our title, “the last European,” is meant as a tribute and a provocation, a corrective to the idée fixe that “deconstructionism” seeks to corrode Enlightenment ideals. The allusion to Blanchot’s Le dernier homme notwithstanding, it is unlikely Derrida himself would have recognized the descriptive pertinence of the phrase or accepted its eschatological pathos. We certainly do not wish to suggest that he clung to the Continent. On the contrary, the globe-trotting itineraries of his teaching and lecturing – in particular his numerous visiting professorships in the US – imparted a decisively non-European competence and tonality to his numerous public stances. The topic of European identity, he admitted, is predictably tired: “Old Europe seems to have exhausted all the possibilities of discourse and counter-discourse about its own identification” (Other Heading 26). And yet, paradoxically, European identity has never really been taken up in the promise that it holds for the future. For Derrida, this at one and the same time old and young identity is a fine example of Hamlet’s famous declaration that “the time is out of joint.” In the following, we argue that this temporal rift is precisely what compelled him to speak in the name of Europe.
The authors proceed to engage first with Derrida-Valéry in a manner that deserves to be quoted at some length, though again I will limit myself:
Valéry’s texts figure in The Other Heading, then, as telling, modernist examples of the Eurocentric idealism that continues (in a somewhat threadbare mode) to animate the West’s cultural politics. To Jameson’s account of Derrida’s strategic use of Valéry we would only add that Valéry does not simply function as the object of an ideology critique. His outmoded Eurocentrism also serves, paradoxically, to advance Derrida’s deliberation on the future of Europe. Valéry forcefully elucidates the expansive limits of a high cultural European self-understanding, and thereby, points a way out from within....
* [Sadly and rather inexcusably, the actual Habermas statement co-signed by Derrida appears to be unavailable online...or at least eluding my night's efforts.]
I was reminded today of the English artist Stanley Spencer. I doubt he's well known outside of the UK: he was in some ways a very provincial figure. He lived almost his whole life in the small village in which he was born, Cookham-on-Thames, just to the West of London. And very many of his most famous paintings are of Cookham and its inhabitants, as he translates religious edict and prophecy into the vernacular of rural England.
Étienne Balibar has surely written some fine and interesting things.
Just a quick follow-up to the post below. In poking around for Martti Koskenniemi's review of Borradori's book, I came across a fascinating talk he later gave: Martti Koskenniemi: International Law in Europe: Between Tradition and Renewal [pdf]. (Koskenniemi is also the editor of this.) An excerpt from the talk:
Before I continue, let me state my conclusion. The fact that international law is a European language does not even slightly stand in the way of its being capable of expressing something universal. For the universal has no voice, no authentic representative of its own. It can only appear through something particular; only a particular can make the universal known. A danger and a hope are involved. The danger is that of mistaking one's preferences and interests as one's tradition–and then thinking these a universal, a mistake we Europeans have often made. Therefore, I will suggest that we should take much more seriously the critiques of international law that point to its role as a hegemonic technique. Once that critique has been internalised, however, I want to point to its limits. If the universal has no representative of its own, then particularity itself is no scandal. The question would then be, under what conditions might a particular be able to transcend itself? What particular politics might we have good reason to imagine as a politics of universal law?
Elsewhere, in response to the supplement, Ben Wolfson points to a fascinating essay in this book by Jonathan Z. Smith entitled, "Religion, Religions, Religious," most of which you may find by searching within for, say, "any house of worship," beginning on page 269.
And in other (unsuprising) news, Pussy "President" in Chief gets severely rattled by a little old lady and stays rattled, practically foaming at the mouth. For the billionth time, God help us. Bush has quite obviously met his "philosophy" equal in fundamentalist Islam, and he is losing. Favorite line, from the waxing "philosophical" part: "And history has proven that democracies don't go to war!" "What kind of mindset is it... that questions?...uh, Democracy is...is based upon, um...is a universal...is a belief." And et cetera.
Why should we care when Bush, being pressed for actual thought, blows bubbles out his ass? Because it proves the world's only military superpower is in the hands of only an ass with no thoughts and only beyond-facile "beliefs", that's why.
None of the parties involved in the struggle against terrorism can afford to refrain from talking about it, but the more they do so the more they help the terrorist cause, by giving it status, visibility, and a sense of purpose...victims of a traumatic experience need to endlessly play the trauma back for themselves in order to feel reassured that they have withstood it. This self-destructive tendency becomes a destructive weapon in the hands of the media and the political leadership. Imagine, said Derrida, if we told the American public and the world that what has happened is no doubt an unspeakable crime, but it's over. Everyone would then begin their own period of mourning, the preliminary step to turning the page. All responsible parties need to facilitate this turning of the page and stop hindering it. This is an urgent responsibility, the evasion of which transforms the enemies of terrorism into its allies. (Borradori, Philosophy in a Time of Terror, 153-154; image via remue.net)
I may not share the proclivity (or mixed fascination) for sterilized images of the zeitgeist's self-appointed spokesmen, but I do appreciate the impetus of Alain's post. And I suspect he would agree that discussions of Fukuyama and B-Henri, while revealing things by falling rather decisively short, don't really do the subject at hand much of any justice. Which is the way I prefer to read his concluding remarks, in any case. That subject being, broadly, the social and political role of philosophers, and even more broadly their relation to the question of Europe.
As to the former, Alain cites those two repellents attempting to distinguish strictly between "government" and "private life", and "realistic" and "idealistic" intellectual labor, respectively. But as Alain himself, and one savvy commenter do not fail to note, neither of these sets of bins are very helpful, or even all that relevant.
Rather, and in a manner that overlaps a great deal with John Emerson's recent forays into questions of global citizenship and intellectual responsibility in "analytic" vs. "continental" frameworks, one might more usefully distinguish, following Giovanna Borradori, between models of social and political commitment aligned with either a "liberal" or "Hegelian" lineage.
Well the voting is underway. I don't mean to belabor this, and neither do I pretend to be an expert on the subject, but maybe the referendum is not the “pseudo-democratic aberration” Paul Virilio recently claimed it to be (while gushing, it must be noted, over Blair's infinite wisdom) (via). That is, perhaps the “pseudo-democratic aberration” is the constitution itself! Is it even correct to call this thing—500 pages of detailed trade agreements— a constitution? I have not read it, no, but from what I've been able to understand, not least of all regarding the eventual prospect of a privatized BBC (and a FOX News for Europeans?), I'm very inclined to insist: let us hope they succeed in voting this abberation down so that a genuine constitution may be written; one more responsive to the needs of the working class, one capable of leaving itself open to alternatives to an unchecked neoliberal world order. One can only wonder what a Lacanian would make of Virilio's rather exemplary, closing remarks:
We are moving from a democracy of opinion toward a "democracy of public emotion", where what is desired of voters is less a free choice, a firm affirmation by a sovereign people, than a "limp consensus", a friendly solution in the name of a population subjected to all possible forms of brain washing after the excesses of the polls. In the meantime, after the progress of electronic democracy in real time, we are seeing the era of virtual democracy, inspired by the most outrageous marketing strategies, as exemplified by the election of the current governor of California.
In any case, Blair is about to get off the hook, which I imagine he has some mixed feelings about. Is the far left up to this fight? We had better hope so.
There have been several lively discussions recently (see for example, somewhat shamelessly, here, here, here, here or here) regarding the immanent vote in France on whether or not to ratify the European constitution as currently structured. Is a "yes" vote an immediately despicable but ultimately necessary gesture? Intellectual figures far and wide seem to be calling for the “courage” and “strength” to vote “yes,” but significant enough doubts have been raised, among a remarkably diligent and conscientious public (ah, if only we had such a thing here!), as to make the likelihood of a majority “no” vote in France very strong. The issue seems to be one of either compromising with a neoliberal “free” market wet dream for the sake of "progress" and meaningful competition with the U.S., versus taking an active stand for something better, more just, more wary of the disaster that is unchecked privatization, perhaps more democratic and yet to come (which is not to say, of course, inevitable). Needless to say the corporate press, even in France, seems to be rolling over itself in a mad rush to grant space to luminaries, writers and philosophers of all stripes who fervently oppose the “no” vote, yet rarely if ever do these public intellectuals address the concerns of what appears to be the majority of French citizens. Just what are Habermas, Grass, Kluge, and Baudrillard thinking?