Here is a wonderful site with many interviews and other recordings of Bernard Stiegler. It includes even a portion of The Ister in which he plays a prominent part in the discussion of Heidegger.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
The fundamental thesis of the Gift of Death is that the experience of the apprehension of death is inseparable from an experience of responsibility. This in itself is nothing new: among the people Derrida himself discusses in his book, Patočka, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger all explicitly say the same thing. Fundamentally, the finitude of existence conditions existence itself. However, Derrida shows, using all these thinkers, that this finitude also implies a certain structure of a relation to infinitude: that is, the apprehension of death is also inseparable from responsibility because infinitude intrudes in this apprehension and in this responsibility.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
The two characteristics I isolated in the last post regarding the writing of Merleau-Ponty--namely, 1) its synesthesic descriptions of phenomena and 2) its being full of phenomenal examples/examples that can't be said to be exemplary--end up in their combination as the basic topic of Derrida's discussion of Merleau-Ponty in his amazing On Touching--Jean Luc Nancy.
Lyotard's dictum (not reducible to his philosophy, which is much richer than this dictum) regarding postmodernism and its leading thinkers--namely, that for it and for them there is at least always incredulity towards metalanguages, if not the outright belief that metalanguages do not exist ("there is no metalanguage" as we often say in Lyotard's name)--does not exactly fit Derrida's thinking, despite the frequency with which this dictum is associated with Derrida. For Derrida, there is equally the possibility that all that exists is metalanguage: in other words, that there is a metalanguage (a language after another language) and "there is no language before it" ("Psyche: Inventions of the Other," 13). There is no metalanguage and there is only metalanguage: the equiprimordiality here is crucial for grasping anything Derrida says about language in particular and his thought more generally. As Derrida himself puts it: "There is no metalanguage... there is only that, says the echo, or Narcissus" (ibid, 13).
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
3. A qui donner (savoir ne pas savoir). "Whom to Give To (Knowing Not to Know)" excellently captures the sense of this movement, except that "savoir ne pas savoir" can also be rendered to better accommodate the play on "ne pas," that we find throughout Derrida's work, so as to elucidate the thing known as opposed to the knowing involved (David Wills again emphasizes the "learning" perhaps too much, even though his translation is in most respects just unbelievably good, given Derrida's extremely fuzzy phrasing of things in this particular text). The remark in the parenthesis would then be closer to "knowing not-knowing." This is important because the name of this section gets at the experience of that apprehension featured the last section. Furthermore, upon traversing this section's content we see that this "not-knowing" is the precise experience of the responsible subject that Derrida finds in Kierkegaard. The movement here, then, seeks to show via the secret in the gift of death that Patočka's responsible Dasein can be interpreted (if he is reshaped a little) as a responsible knight of faith. However, we then find that this Knight, in order to accommodate the secret of responsibility Derrida has already wrested from Patočka, gets reshaped precisely to encompass the "formula" named in the title of the last movement:
Friday, December 21, 2007
Jan Patočka's interpretation of some of the basic concepts within Being and Time in the fifth of his Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History explores and exploits a point (one point of many) on which the whole of that treatise turns: the relationship of everydayness (Alltäglichkeit) to authenticity (Eigentlichkeit). Recently in America, this point (again, it is one of many crucial points, however) is only explored explicitly with comparable depth by Bill Blattner in his work on Heidegger's notion of temporality (though Hubert Dreyfus' entire presentation of Heidegger could be said to stem from or be founded upon the implicit exploration of this distinction, specifically his conviction that the first division of Being and Time is actually wider in philosophical import than the second: such an assertion can only arise from a move similar to Patočka's and actually needs to be seen as this). The problem revolves around how there is no term that Heidegger opposes to everydayness that easily bridges the gap between everydayness and authenticity: the only mediator is inauthenticity (Uneigentlichkeit). So it is here that Patočka must begin (that is, it is here that any analysis of this problem in depth must begin: so while many people analyze the relationship between authenticity and everydayness, it is only with respect to clarifying the relationship of inauthenticity to everydayness in with a view to explicating authenticity that we can have an explicit, in depth analysis of the real unity or lack of unity of the treatise at this point--this is just to clarify the above).
Patočka first makes inauthenticity and authenticity a parallel movement to the movement of everydayness. He then introduces a distinction within everydayness that seeks to clarify the second division's movement towards authenticity in being-towards-death. Put simply, he introduces another distinction in opposition to everydayness, the exceptional or the holiday ("holiday" of course seems a little too playful at first, but it becomes interesting when one reads Heidegger within a more Marxist framework, focused as it is on leisure and the work in leisure capitalism creates--see Adorno especially for this). Saying that Patočka merely introduces another distinction is indeed putting it simply, however, because this fundamentally understands the care-structure with more clarity than Heidegger himself understood it in the text. Whether Heidegger would have subscribed to this interpretation is of course questionable, but that is what makes Patočka's reading as much of an expression of a unique philosophy of his own as it is a reading of Heidegger--thus we had to begin with the vague expression that this is an "interpretation of some of the basic concepts" within the Heidegger's book. The specific alteration of the care-structure accomplished here is a clarification of the component of "falling" (verfallen) and its relationship to everydayness, which remains hazy in the book (even though one can piece together what Heidegger might be getting at, it lacks the same phenomenality as mood and understanding, for example). But I'll leave this only as a suggestion for now: the important thing is to outline how Patočka's distinction then allows for two binaries (inauthenticity/authenticity, everydayness/exceptionality) to set themselves up in relation to each other.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Revisiting Maurice Merleau-Ponty's work as I have been lately, I am revisiting again the infuriating experience of reading that his words create. At the same time, I am also revisiting some judgements this experience had originally created in me, and find myself still in deep agreement with them: if I could ever weigh in on which philosopher writes with the most brilliance, I would say that it would absolutely have to be Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
But why brilliance? Precisely because of this looking again we just had to put in parentheses. The double-take you make when seduced, to try and slip out of the hold his words have on you is actually what constitutes the achievement of his writing. This violence done to language, this clumsy, lazy babble, punctuated with spasms of unbelievably acute phrasing, this catastrophe of signifiers brings forth nothing less than the phenomenon nearly always in some way, so that you must nearly always go back to understand and not merely experience what the words seem to give you almost immediately. It is basically like reading Proust: it isn't a matter of grammar or of verbal wit as much as with the tempo of his sentences and how that inflects the content that rises up before you out of them. You are consistently surprised at the speed that you move with him through a thought, or rather with a phenomenon, that you have to then turn back, stop his exposition, and return to ask him what you just underwent actually meant. How can you be surprised and carried away at the same time? This question structures his mode of interrogation, forges the flow of every sentence. He throws experience at you in layers, one after the other, so that each concentrated illustration envelops you as you proceed through them. Or rather, never through them: it isn't as if you punctuate these sheets of meanings ever. You collect them, are obscured by them, covered and buried in them, and can only move on if you stop to take one or two off: the weight is too much.
Look at how he describes the intentionality within spoken language in his Phenomenology of Perception:
The intention to speak can reside only in an open experience. It makes its appearance like the boiling point of a liquid, when, in the density of being, volumes of empty space are built up and move outwards.
-Phenomenology of Perception, 228
This is almost too contracted, too tightly wound, and yet, precisely because of this "almost," because it only remains a threshold experience described through a simile, it is not aphoristic. This almost shorthand, which could equally be the most polished rhetoric: it remains situated on the fold that creates this dual possibility and its mirror-effect. It works by extending a metaphor almost sloppily to the point at which the phenomenon seems circumscribed by its play, if it is not at the same time exactly suggested by its condensation into an image. And yet it resists being pinned down to just this experience. This is the type of writing you make in a cafe after a little too much coffee--or a little too much to drink. It hits you hard as it carries you along, like a wave slapping you in the face as you get sucked out into the deep.
The following quote is probably more typical, because more extended in its effort to outflank what it's getting it: it is less compact, and yet, actually by virtue of this, it is just as oddly precise:
...The thing is at the end of my gaze and, in general, at the end of my exploration... I must acknowledge that the table before me sustains a singular relation with my eyes and my body: I see it only if it is within their radius of action: above it there is the dark mass of my forehead, beneath it the more indecisive contour of my cheeks--both of these visible at the limit and capable of hiding the table, as if my vision of the world itself were formed from a certain point of the world. What is more, my movements and the movements of my eyes make the world vibrate--as one rocks a dolmen with one's finger without disturbing its fundamental solidity. With each flutter of my eyelashes a curtain lowers and rises, though I do not think for an instant of imputing this eclipse to the things themselves; with each movement of my eyes that sweep the space before me the things suffer a brief torsion, which I also ascribe to myself; and when I walk in the street with eyes fixed on the horizon of the houses, the whole of the setting near at hand quivers with each footfall on the asphalt, then settled down in its place...
-The Visible and the Invisible, 7
Two things to note about this now:
1) the synesthesia here that no longer even appears as a mixing of metaphors within the sentence but as a grasping of the involved-ness of actual, everyday experience, which is a predominant feature of these extended descriptions (usually more so than here), and
2) this is not an example exactly, but rather a sketch that seems to be able to accommodate an example if one wanted to actually rigorously think the point being made here for oneself--one could never say of walking along the street however that it is the primary, most important case in which this happens.
The task is for Merleau-Ponty not (merely or only) to activate this indexicality, or retrace its originality through a sort of etymological or philological gesture as old as philosophy itself, but rather to simply jostle it into enacting the phenomenon before you in its inadequacy: perhaps all it is is just a heightening and refinement of this indexicality, a learning to respond to it. Thus when he says in The Prose of the World, that "men have been talking for a long time on earth, and three-quarters of what they say goes unnoticed," (3) the key thing about this phrase is precisely that this is a statement of a fact rather than a lament: that is, the important thing is not that, given this proposition, we get called to notice what gets lost and has for a long time gotten lost in talking, but that we notice the the fact of the "unnoticing," that we bring this to language, and see there what it can bring to us of the unnoticed.
Experiencing the ruination of an experience before you just as you seem to grasp it in the play of language, as you become more and more certain that you have had something similar happen and would have described it that way: this is my experience of reading Merleau-Ponty. This crude, dirty, even almost false language that cannot help but accurately render in the most striking and beautifully worded turns of phrase what the things themselves are, what the phenomenon is--I know it isn't either the most refined or the most scandalous writing, and it certainly doesn't provide for the most coherent and helpful experience of reading, but I think it is the most brilliant and the best.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
How should one read Merleau-Ponty if one is a physicalist? That is, how can one make his vigorously anti-empirical (and yet anti-idealist) theories of the embodied mind in the Phenomenology of Perception (and elsewhere) amenable to physicalism--perhaps even against the ramifications of these theories? To put it perhaps in the best way, how can Merleau-Ponty be introduced to a physicalist, without the physicalist having to totally transform her or his conceptions? I don't have time now to consider this, but I'll name what I see as the big hurdle: What in the physicalist would be most challenged by Merleau-Ponty would be a simple notion of causality, the mainstay of both type and token physicalism, as well as the supervenience theory. Causality for Merleau-Ponty is interpreted through the concept of intentionality (interpreted as external to will or decision, suffusing the "objective" space of nature), which makes any physical state (of the brain, for example) a readiness to be-influenced by a cause: one would have to think the effect as a response that so closely resembles an anticipation of the cause that one could not distinguish between effect and merely an actualization of what was latent in the influenced object. Can one still use the vocabulary of physicalism to address even just the non-mental (the physical) that operated according to these terms? Physicalism to an extent already encounters these problems in the reflex. But could it address the physical if this reflex-like action were all that constituted the physical? I'll elaborate on this perhaps later.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Cathy Caruth's important book, Unclaimed Experience, at bottom just proceeds on the wrong path to understanding how trauma marks experience in Freud. I'll elaborate on this more, but the problem can actually be stated quite simply. Caruth, like Lacan (to a certain extent), starts out from Beyond the Pleasure Principle to understand trauma, and then proceeds to read its structure back into the rest of Freud's corpus. What this overlooks is the persistence of the concept of the memory-trace from Freud's earliest writings on. Thus a confusion occurs in Caruth as to the relationship between trauma and the memory trace. Trauma marks the subject like the memory-trace. The only difference is one of degree: traumatic experience is the excessive force of an experience entering the psyche and puncturing the whole mystic structure of the memory apparatus. Thus the memory-trace is only a potential trauma: trauma is latent in any experience. This faulty reasoning, which seeks to merely use a language of marking without looking into its logic, becomes most evident in her hackneyed attempt to outline an "ethics" of trauma (she says trauma must be remembered, which makes no sense), though again this is present already in her first sketches of her reading of Freud. In the end it empties out the concept of trauma of much of its meaning.
In On Touching--Jean Luc Nancy (and not only here), Derrida says he tries to shore up the following arguments concerning the gift in Given Time, but I think by connecting them to Nancy's conception of freedom and his own meditations on the fraternal in The Politics of Friendship, in the somewhat more confessional form of On Touching--all perhaps unable to be written without Given Time having been completed--they are in fact better articulated here:
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I've been wrestling with Derrida's massive, somewhat disturbing essay "Force of Law" for a week or so, not only reading the essay but turning over its questions and its analysis in my head--I must have started and stopped about five or six posts on it (a rare instance where what is on my mind won't directly make it to this blog). The essay attempts two tasks, really, or situates itself between them, in the space and time in which they both overlap and exclude each other: first, an analysis of the relation of deconstruction(s) to law and justice, second, an analysis of Walter Benjamin's "Zur Kritik der Gewalt" ("Critique of Violence") that interprets his work on violence in the light of what it could or could not say about the Holocaust.
But ultimately unproductive, I think, even if one disagrees with Derrida's conclusions. In Derrida's willingness to critique Benjamin (and extend by suggestion this critique to some central concepts within Benjamin's oeuvre), he reminds us that this is reading (or not-reading) against Benjamin's own theses on the identification with a personality-figure at the head of fascist states. But in a deeper manner, he reminds us that the real desire to identify with the cause of someone like Benjamin really lies in a desire for solidarity in a politico-juridico-ethical position against forces that destroy life without legitimacy or even with legitimacy. Foremost in this desire for solidarity that brings forth the personality of Benjamin instead of his texts is a desire, then, for a position. And specifically a position as a guarantee, a guarantee that "I am just," (237) or even (and perhaps especially) "we, and not they, are just." Here is the link back to the law and to justice I suggested that this digression would somewhat elucidate, and the reason why ultimately Benjamin needs to be not just followed but always reread. The guarantee against the risk of a destruction of life of even immense proportions: this is what is sought in a "position" that would refuse to think the somewhat aberrant nature of Benjamin's "Critique of Violence" with the rest of his texts (if not with the larger concerns like fascism that we use his critiques to critique), that would preserve the figure of Benjamin above and beyond all concern for whether what Benjamin says could be said more coherently, that would pit the guarantee in the name of Benjamin against the real possibility that in covering up the sight of the risk one could become complicit with it. This risk, Derrida reminds us, is essential in any position that could deserve the status of a "position:" to dilute its reality through a guarantee would indeed mean that a position could become perhaps more stable and opposed to the destruction of life, but it does not mean that it can interrogate it more responsibly and in fact remember, mourn, and prevent it. The position, for Derrida, must deconstruct itself: it cannot be a position at all, but must be a continual insistence on rereading, a love of rereading. This does not mean that any position is problematic, but only that a position that could do what it professes to do would be impossible. (Thus compromising within the politico-juridical-ethical domain Derrida does not oppose: when it takes the form of a compromise to "take up a position," however, he sees it as dangerous, because it comes with the clause that we do away with rereading, with the singular risk.)
Situating himself within this impossibility as much as he can, Derrida reads Benjamin against Benjamin, shows how the discourse of Benjamin itself refuses to engage this impossibility, this risk, and thus becomes complicit with the type of destruction that a position as clearly articulated as Benjamin's is supposed to prevent: the destruction of someone thinking "I am just" or "we are just." It is for this very specific reason that he reads Benjamin within the context of the Holocaust.
I apologize if I moved too quickly, especially with regard to how Derrida thinks of "complicity:" obviously Derrida is not saying that we need to submit thinkers to a test, the criterion of which would be atrocity. He is trying to show that complicity means a shutting down of reinterpretation, of deconstruction, through the setting up of a position that would supposedly be fixed and stable and just. The link then between a figure like Benjamin and an event like the Holocaust would hinge on the proscriptive "positioning" of several of Benjamin's articulations, how his discourse is actually inconceivable without a fixing of a position on a particular issue. That is, Benjamin's concepts must foreclose at a certain point a their own coherency in order to use them to give a position: Benjamin's articulation itself is inseparable from this foreclosure. This is what Derrida means when he says, in a postscript to the essay, that Benjamin mobilizes a discourse of authenticity too much for him. It is not that the authentic is itself bad, but that there is too much of it: enough that it ends up sacrificing coherence for the setting up of a politico-juridical-ethical position. Here the this preliminary sketch would expand, but perhaps another time--let's move on. All this noted, this does not mean that Derrida is saying that fluidity must be preserved for its own sake. He is arguing in favor of an accountability for a risk which is the condition of justice and also of injustice, the individual event in its undecidability. I also apologize for moving too quickly with such sensitive issues, and for not getting to the law an justice as much as I should. I'll take these up later, perhaps. I hope though that I've somewhat shown the interconnectedness of both concerns of the essay in some way. This is all not yet to agree with Derrida and what he says, but to prepare a better reading.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
There are several things I must fix about my summary of Memoirs of the Blind, below: first of all, I move too quickly to the scene of the self-portrait and overlook the more basic thrust of the two theses posed in the beginning and played with (that is, interwoven) throughout the text. These are that 1) drawing (the process, the act of tracing) is blind and 2) drawing (the trace itself) is of the blind (double genitive: what is drawn is some blind thing/person, what is drawn is for the blind). This sticks closer to the text but also stays closer to the trace and farther from the subject position implicated in the text--I was hunting for the latter while reading. Hopefully that makes it clearer: the entire book is an amazing meditation on the trace and, more significantly, on tracing, what it means to lay down a trace or compose a text (in the Derridian sense of this word, which includes drawing but also aspects of living more generally).
Thursday, December 13, 2007
What this means is that physis, nature, mourns and eats itself as the crypt and in the crypt. The space of the crypt, its gap in nature, is nature mourning itself and consuming itself (stepping outside of itself to eat itself [the entombed] so it can return to itself). Thus,
The crypt is thus not a natural place, but the striking history of an artifice, an architecture, an artifact: a place comprehended within another but rigorously separate from it.
Derrida continues, saying that this space or place is constructed so as to...
...purloin the thing from its rest.
This is a reference to Heidegger's conception of the thing, though perhaps also to Lacan's thing--the play on the two I think is mobilized here. Derrida rejects both interpretations of the thing by saying that the movement of nature out of itself into the space of the crypt steals away its own movement inside the crypt itself, erases its own trace, and thus never lets what is put to rest in the crypt (the thing) remain itself or get some rest from self-effacement.
Derrida calls this a space that is external to the forum, outside of the reach of humanity (the human) and exchange. But then he shows it is a space that is not just simply what is external--i.e. the internal, the underground--since it is also secret. What is underground is known to be under the ground, i.e. not above the ground in the forum and within the reach of exchange. The secret is exiled from exchange above ground but not simply to the underground, because it is exiled from there too:
...a secret interior within the public square, but, by the same token, outside it, external to the interior.
Derrida then moves to a logic of the secret, which will reappear crucially in The Gift of Death:
The crypt can constitute its secret only by means of its division, its fracture. "I" can save [also in the sense of "make an exception of"] an inner safe [a crypt, le for intérieur] only by putting it inside "myself," beside(s) myself, outside.
This complicated sentence means that I can save or make an exception of what is a crypt (an inside/outside outside of the outside [or inside] and outside of the inside) the secret within the space of the crypt, only by putting it inside what is already outside, a performance of myself--and this without regard to this self or any self or even in spite of it. I can only have a secret by showing it, as Derrida will say in The Gift of Death: this does not mean that the only secrets are open ones (i.e. non-secrets), but rather that keeping a secret will make it take its place somewhere in the open. In other words, secrets, if they are secrets, only constitute an interiority elsewhere. If an other learns a secret, then, this only exposes an exterior or something outside the subject to that other. The secret is encrypted to others and--this is the crucial point--for others. It becomes indecipherable for the subject whose secret it is, and always able to be decoded in such a way that the other will misread its contents.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
θεωρία means to see, to have vision (like in French, savoir has at its root to see, voir). The danger in theory is therefore always that the visual will overpower what touches us in our vision, what resides outside the overflowing of light.
A good example of what Marx is getting at by saying rights are "rights to inequality" can be found recently in Chief Justice Roberts' opinion (and especially in the oral arguments) in Parents Involved v. Seattle School District (which I wrote about previously here). As I said, Marx shows that the discrepancy between the form of rights granted by the law and the actual content of those rights as determined by the conditions surrounding a subject is the space in which the notion of rights moves and inhabits and tries to correct, but never is the space which it tries to do away with completely. This means that the language of rights can be used to take away rights, because rights are a notion that apply equally across all sectors of the economy and conditions surrounding a subject. This is because the subject of rights is a bourgeoisie subject, according to Marx.