Thursday, January 31, 2008

"Des engins à donner la mort:" Technical Responsibility in The Gift of Death, Concluded

(Continued from last time... Note: the end of this is all mushed up--I had to finish it some time to turn it in. In further posts I'll probably work out what is going on in the last few paragraphs. Enjoy!)

Something in this metaphysics is not working: as we said, the purported goal of this technical metaphysics is to expose and to calculate so as to account for the entirety of the thing that it is adding to the circulation of forces in calculated rationality. It proceeds then to render everything calculable, dissimulating the dissimulation of being. However, with the possibility that, in its double dissimulation of being, the technical metaphysics of force can let being be as well as do violence to it, we encounter the fact that something always would be left undetermined or uncalculated for this technics: the possibility that through its protection there could be being that it has not calculated. If the technical metaphysics of force was simply violence to being, annihilating being in its reduction of things to calculability, then nothing could escape its calculation—because if it were not calculated it simply would not be. However, because Patočka asserts that this metaphysics makes everything so calculable that all relationship to being gets dissimulated, this violence is not the same as technics itself. Thus, there is a possibility that being could be protected and, with this, a possibility that calculation would still have something to calculate. And since this possibility does not come from a metaphysics of force that remains dependent for its functioning on being or is an expression of it, like in Heidegger, this incalculable element comes always from the calculation of forces itself in its operation. Technics’ possibility of doing more than just violence to being—the possibility that in its double dissimulation of being it lets being dissimulate itself—not only protects being, but also does so precisely through the disruption of the operation of its own technicity. The protection would come through technics, then, but in a form that would, at the same time as it worked, interrupted its operation or did not work.
This is what we mean when we say that something in this metaphysics is not working: what is not working is the machine that works, precisely in its working. We see now that the form of tekhne finally thought by Patočka through his extreme extension of Heidegger’s metaphysics of force and its dissimulative capabilities is further extended and further (in fact, completely) theorized by Derrida. This is because, though Patočka may have thought of a machine that works, Derrida thinks a machine that, while “defined in its pure functioning, and not in its final utility, its meaning, its result,” also is not defined by the last item in this list that we until now have omitted: “its work.” Not even the working of the machine can serve to define the working of this machine: not even its own pure (or mere) operation can add the possibility of meaning or being to it, since that possibility rests outside the maintenance of that purity. Its externality to the order of reappropriation into the possibility of meaning or being makes it impossible for it to acquire even the possibility of meaning or being that it itself generates in just remaining as pure working. So the working must interrupt itself. Or rather, out of the space of its own interruption beyond the order of being, there would issue forth a space in which work would work. This makes sense: if there is a machine that works, in order to be working it must at some point not even be that working that it is. Thus, the machine must already be somewhere outside and beyond that working, in a working that is still purely working, just working, for as soon as its operation is reduced to the working that it brings about it ceases to be a machine that purely operates or works. The machine must always be in that space where there is working still to be done, which is a space that it itself must generate by failing. It thus would perhaps be more accurate to say that the machine must work right at this interruption, at the point at which there takes place the reinstitution of working beyond where there is working, rather than saying that the machine must work through this—if only because this working right at work’s interruption is what allows us to think wholly, completely, or rather further than any order of reappropriation to being the working that takes place through work.
This should make it clear that in this work of disruption there lies the potential for a form or responsibility through (or right at) this technics that would move beyond Patočka’s sense of the word “responsibility.” The responsible act, in this other sense, would take place through this disruption, in act of technical calculation that ensures through its failure that it will never be able to determine or calculate enough: never enough, since it must always calculate more elsewhere than where it has calculated, precisely in that space where being could possibly be protected by the calculation that it is doing, in that space in which it has already interrupted itself and out of which it must interrupt itself again. In other words, there is never enough determination of things as calculable forces for this new responsibility, because the particular form of technics in which this determination takes place insists on engendering the undetermined or the incalculable existing just beyond it through its own operation of determination. This is because, if we recall, technics simultaneously has already and yet still wants to completely replace and remain indifferent to being. Thinking about it this way, this form of technics that disrupts itself in working could constitute a demand that being remain respected through or at the point at which there is the possibility that it may be harmed by calculating indifference. This indifference could not help but also be its opposite, because it is an indifference that fails to be indifferent or calculating enough to eradicate the possibility that it might indeed also be protection. In other words, one could say that technical calculation, through and as this demand, dedicates itself to the possibility of preserving being not because being is what must be properly respected—because this technical form preserves being as being—but merely because this preservation is possible there at the limit of its possibility.
Of course, we still could not tell whether being ends up preserved or not by this technical calculation, as it is indeed indifferent to and outside of the acts of explicit concern for and protection of being. And so we still could not distinguish between a responsible act and one that lacked responsibility by looking at the act. Indeed, if this calculation is also the dissimulation of the dissimulation of being that takes place in calculating, we could say that it insists on dissimulating the possibility for its own dissimulation as this second dissimulation—in its operation as what Derrida calls secrecy. Technical dissimulation does not just make being secret, it makes secret for calculation, for this process of technical dissimulation, precisely what it would need to determine or dissimulate. Thus if it is responsible, the act of technical dissimulation in calculation is responsibility that actively makes it impossible for it to take hold of or assert the name of responsibility. But at the same time it is this lack of distinction, this making the result of its own operation secret for it, that, for the responsible act, demands responsibility again; that is in itself the failure of this technics to be enough to be a replacement of being and thus a calling to be more. There, where it could just as well be doing violence to being as preserving it, there is responsibility in this other sense, because at this point this incalculability itself is what makes the responsible dedicate itself again to ensure, through calculation, further incalculability and thus the further possibility of being remaining preserved. And indeed, if there is no form of responsibility that takes place without technics being possible alongside it, if there is no form of responsibility that is not equally able to be attributed to a technical act of calculation or a series of decisions, then this would be the only way in which letting being be could take place through that calculation or through those decisions. In other words, if we could not distinguish between a technical act and an act of respect for being or a letting of it be, this form of technical calculation would be the only one by which being could be respected—that is, if technics was its breaking down. It is precisely the technicity of this act, its calculative expansion as a metaphysics of force into that area where it has disrupted and will always, as technics, disrupt itself, that makes this structure of responsibility respect being right at the very limit of or through the pure, mere possibility for this respect.
Because responsibility is constituted both alongside and through technics, Derrida says elsewhere in The Gift of Death, when he is isolating the instant in which responsibility is possible, that instant at which there is a decision or a calculation to be responsible, that it takes place in secret—or, we may now say, alongside secrecy—and is itself the possibility of keeping a secret—that is, takes place through secrecy. This means that the mere technical registration of the situation in the calculating assessment that “there is one to be responsible for,”—the dissimulation thoroughly divorced from maintaining a relationship to being’s dissimulation that it—would not, precisely in the fact that it could protect being, ever be enough to exhaust that situation. One’s responsibility takes place in secret, beyond that calculation of the other, of the thing, of whatever, in a space that must still be calculated. And in fact, because this calculation is not enough, there can be this protection: thus it is constituted by the possibility of keeping a secret. Thus, must be more than one to be responsible for within this “one” that is registered. The situation itself must be unaccountable, infinitely unaccountable or wholly other than the possibility of calculation, but at the same time, only wholly other because it has not yet been calculated, because what can be registered is calculable, is a bit or a “one” that can be brought before technical—in other words, because it is every bit other (cf. GD, 82-84). Indeed, this is why Derrida must have recourse to work and to the work of a machine that works to describe this instant or this situation: the instant “suspends both the work of negation and work itself, perhaps even the work of mourning” (GD, 65).
The work of mourning, indeed, because this work, this calculation, of a form of tekhne that can assume or be represented by the figure of a machine that works is always a work connected to the possibility of accounting for death, the fact that being is not preserved. We thus return to Derrida’s sentence, regarding machines of death and the machine of the gift of death: “Des engines à donner la mort sans compter livrent une guerre sans front,” he says. Does this sentence condemn when it relates the machines, the engines, to death as a gift or a giving? We can see now that this machine, as much as one that relates itself to being or is a machine that is responsible, would have to be responsible, for it (and us along with it) could not tell whether it was indifferent to being or not—that is, whether it were not already this machine that was responsible. But it would also be lacking in responsibility as this machine, because it would be a machine that worked. We seem to be left only with a demand, then, that it be made responsible, just like anything else. The machine cannot be condemned because it is a machine.
But what now might jump out at us from this sentence is not the phrase “donner la mort,” the gift or giving of death, but the phrase “sans compter:” innumerable, unexpectedly—or, a bit more literally, without counting, without calculation. These machines, that are incalculable in number, do not calculate. This play of Derrida’s on sans compter announces precisely how the calculation is going about: without calculation. Indeed, this means that there is not calculation enough. But it also means that the machines of dogmatic interpretation seek to do away with the calculating that they do, with the technicity of their own acts of responsibility. This, too, means that they do not calculate enough, but in a different way, in a way that can be most condemned, because it has the possibility to be most heinous. The machines that give death are like any other giving of death: they relate to death as something that cannot be calculated, simply because, like any other thing, it can not be or have being beyond calculation just as much as it can. But at the same time they announce that they are not calculating, that they are giving death in the name of a religion. They thus do not seek to calculate again, to bring death into the sphere of what must be calculated in the sense that it must be beyond calculation with the equal possibility that it may be—that is, what must be a gift. For the gift—and this is what we did not outline above—must also be calculated in order to be incalculable or beyond calculation or exchange, in order to be what we call a gift. They thus refuse to bring death into the double demand that technics allows responsibility to answer to: that one must calculate and calculate beyond technical calculation. And indeed, every act is guilty of the same lack of responsibility. But these machines of dogma explicitly set themselves against their own calculation in order to refuse the possibility that death may be the gift beyond calculation that they say it is. Indeed, this is precisely what is sought by those mechanized systems of murder that Derrida condemns: they seek to calculate, and yet destroy the traces of their own calculation—that is, not to be responsible, but to evade the possibilities of the calculation that they employ and of which they take advantage, such as numbers, registers, archives that render the individual or the animal or anything simply what is to be exterminated. It is this way, in their acting sans compter, in their claiming that they work when working can only mean to fail, to renounce its own name and any name in its incalculability in the possibility that it would not be as much as be, that the machines are condemned by Derrida. But this act of condemnation is no different than or is merely an extension of a demand for it to be technical more or enough—which will be only more or, in other words, never enough. Derrida with all of us can only condemn these acts such that we force them to be more responsible: the work does not stop with condemnation but in the work of a machine that works.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

"Des engins à donner la mort:" Technical Responsibility in The Gift of Death, 5

(Continued from last time...) We seem, then, to have reconstructed how responsibility is only possible alongside technics. Right from the beginning, as soon as there is being and as soon as there is responsibility as an act of letting being show itself, this technics that effectuates a double dissimulation beyond appropriation by being—realizing itself in the working of a machine (that works)—would also be possible. This not only implies that Patočka’s modern form of technics always already exists, but it also means that the history of responsibility takes on a completely different emphasis. It could not be seen any longer only as a series of attempts at resisting the dissimulation of the dissimulation of being, failing in a civilization where only this second dissimulation, this complete and continual erasure of a relationship to being, is possible. Instead, it would also have to be a history of integrations or refusals of this technical double dissimulation along with each act that claimed to purely, without technics, let being be. Responsibility thus would never be able to escape the possibility that it could be equally brought about through technics—that is, through a determination or calculation of the other as a force that could, underneath that determination, be respecting her. This would seem to make sense, though it may open itself up into what Patočka would call “decisionism:” the history of responsible actions is also a history of possible calculations or decisions that could account for the occurrence of the same acts. Indeed, it is precisely this other history that, throughout the other portions of The Gift of Death than the one we are reading, Derrida tries to bring into relief from out of that one narrated by Patočka with constant assurances that Patočka’s history cannot escape or “break” (GD, 2) with secrecy: this is Derrida’s name for the double dissimulation of being—considered to be just as protective of being as any act of letting it be.
But can this other history—a “history of secrecy” (GD, 7)—still be called a history of responsibility? In other words, does responsibility happen through technics as well as alongside it as we claimed? Throughout his text Patočka insistently answers these questions in the negative. We must not forget that while technics may protect being in rendering it secret through a metaphysics of force, its indifference to being does not lessen. When responsibility gets conceptually extended to encompass the possibility of technical secrecy, it also extends itself beyond remaining only constituted by the commitment to letting being be. In other words, responsibility would exist also precisely at that point where it is equally possible for it to be doing violence to being, and therefore a history of responsibility would be a history of acts that are unable to be distinguished from this violence. The reason for this is apparent if we recall the technicity of the dissimulation through which this new secret responsibility is constituted: because it dissimulates through the determination of all things as reserves of energy or forces, technics preserves being only by claiming to account for it—in claiming to expose and reveal through calculation all that can be understood in the being of the other or of oneself or anything else. In its mere registering of the fact that is most superficial—that is, “that there is one to be responsible for”—it pretends to be a comprehensive response to the fullness of a situation. And yet, since it still can protect being, this act of calculation would not be merely the derivative aspect of a more profound act of letting being be that happened alongside it, but would be able to be passed off as this responsibility itself. This is the unavoidable “logic” of this secrecy, as Derrida puts it: the “dissimulation” in being “is never better dissimulated by means of this particular kind of dissimulation that consists in making a show of exposing it, unveiling it, laying it bare.” (GD, 38-39). We then could say that responsibility is possible only through technics but, as soon as this step through it is taken, responsibility as Patočka formulates it would be lacking. The constitution of responsibility through technics is what Patočka must have responsibility incorporate and repress, always refusing to think it explicitly except in the form of a condemnation of the civilization in which this repression is unable to be carried out.
So if this other history is a history of responsibility, it must also imply a different or other sense of what the word “responsibility” means than Patočka, even as it employs the logic of his discourse. Given that for Patočka a responsibility constituted through technics remains impossible, we could describe this sense as what comes from a faith in “another experience of the possible:” a belief that the possible is what is only possible through the impossible. And indeed, at this point in the reconstitution of the possibility of responsibility alongside technics in Patočka, Derrida is provoked to ask an impossible question (from Patočka’s point of view) that puts this other sense to work: does not this secrecy, this possibility of the protection of being, accomplish precisely the opposite of what it intends as a technical metaphysics of force?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Des engins à donner la mort:" Technical Responsibility in The Gift of Death, 4

(Continued from last time...) Now, surprisingly, Derrida thinks that this condemnation can completely disrupt the tradition of the condemnation of technics (even as it is continued uniquely through Heidegger), because in its unheard-of virulence and pessimism it thinks what this tradition is unable to think: “a machine that would work,” as Derrida says elsewhere. That is, what ironically remains unthought in this tradition is a form of technics or tekhne that operates with complete indifference towards being, or (what is the same thing) takes the form of “a machine defined in its pure functioning, and not in its final utility, its meaning, its result”—the most basic utility, meaning, and result remaining to continue needing to be in order to operate. A machine or form of tekhne “that would work without… being governed by an order of reappropriation” to being would be that in which “philosophy would see… a nonfunctioning, a non-work; and thereby philosophy would miss that which, in such a machine, works.” As we said, even Heidegger thinks this order, this most basic utility is necessary for technics: indeed, the fact that technics still needed to be in order to determine and account for things became the most essential aspect for him concerning its danger. We see then how much Patočka differs from Heidegger: far from making technics into an attempt at the replacement of being which is dangerous in how it is condemned to fail, technics is dangerous for him precisely because it is what escapes being condemned to fail at replacing being. It does this because it already has replaced it.
But if Patočka disturbs the history of technics because he condemns the unthinkable, he also disturbs it because what he thinks ends up working against his own condemnation of it within his history of responsibility. This is because at the same time as there is more dissimulation in Patočka’s conception of technics than in Heidegger, being itself is dissimulated less and even can be preserved. Precisely because technical dissimulation in Patočka no longer has a relationship to being or is no longer an expression of it—or, as we can now say, precisely because it allows the thinking and (what is more) the operation of a machine that works—being itself is left by itself: we indeed “approach it only by letting it be what it is in truth.” Of course, what it is in truth is, like in Heidegger, “veiled, withdrawn, dissimulated;” so, as we said, technical dissimulation does not bring being to the fore as a wholly present thing but dissimulates doubly, “not in the name of a revelation or truth as unveiling, but in the name of another dissimulation” (GD, 37). But what is important about this double dissimulation is that it makes being so unable to be seen again underneath it that being itself is not dissimulated by a metaphysics of force. Being can be protected or preserved in its mystery by the second dissimulation of technics; it can be left to dissimulate itself on its own. Out of the supposed impossibility of responsibility in a technical world, then, there issues forth a possibility: if responsibility is what Patočka calls this preservation of being, this mode of letting being be what it is in truth, then this technical double dissimulation can be just as responsible as any other responsible relation to being. In other words, what is signified by “responsibility” must be extended beyond the sphere of being to encompass the possibility that technics, in its utter indifference to being, can be just as responsible towards it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"Des engins à donner la mort:" Technical Responsibility in The Gift of Death, 3

(Continued from last time...) Derrida recognizes, however, that it is precisely because of the unique way in which Heidegger denounces technics that Patočka may end up saying something different, something “Heidegger would never have said” (GD, 38). For Heidegger, dissimulation is conceived with respect to being, and not with respect to the things that get determined by being when being is interpreted as force. In other words, the existence of things that implement this metaphysics of force—technical machines—is not what dissimulates. What dissimulates is being itself. The disturbance or danger in this dissimulation, then, comes from how the technical setting up of everything as force—as we said, as if force wanted to completely replace being—is condemned to fail. Being loses its dominance over the world because force seems to account for or calculate everything that is but being. Yet, because being cannot be eradicated without all these forces ceasing to be, being keeps this dominance still. Indeed, a technical metaphysics of force still needs being in order to be calculating, both in the sense that it need to exist to calculate and it must calculate forces that are—it cannot calculate nothing. And as long as this is the case, force’s dissimulation dissimulates in vain. This constitutes the core of the problem because technics, in reaction, challenges things to exist in conformity with force with more and more violence, with greater and greater risk of annihilating everything so as to carry out force’s replacement of being. Technical reason would rather have itself be calculable as nil rather than allow something to remain uncalculated or indeterminate for it. This is what constitutes the uniqueness of Heidegger’s consideration of technics: when technics dissimulates being, it is dangerous precisely because, except through extreme nihilistic violence, it cannot overcome the fact that beyond any ability of it to dissimulate being, being would have to be already dissimulating itself. In other words, it cannot overcome the fact that, since force needs to be, it is still not essentially a dissimulation, but an expression of being. So technics is not improper or inauthentic because it dissimulates being: it is inauthentic to the extent that it disturbs the possibility of the proper as a process of letting being dissimulate itself by itself.
Patočka subscribes to all that Heidegger says, except he also claims that this act of letting being relate to itself as its proper, dissimulative self is an act of responsibility: “the civilization… produced by techno-scientific objectivity hides mystery,” or the self-dissimulation of being precisely when, in opposition to this, “authentic mystery must remain mysterious, and we should approach it only by letting it be what it is in truth—veiled, withdrawn, dissimulated” by itself (GD, 36-37). That is, responsibility consists of a letting being “bear” itself as itself or letting being become visible in things properly, as what grants existence and the possibility of meaning to things and yet hides itself (HE, 97-98). As such, it is not the mere response to situations through an act of deciding between equal possibilities that bring themselves forward prior to how responsibility is enacted. Before deciding, there is letting being be: responsibility does not include the decision or accounting that would, upon the choice of a possibility, then bring it about (HE, 98). This sort of “decisionism” is, as Patočka says, “from the start a false, objectified, and objectivistic perspective” that only accounts for that deciding which is a derivation from the act of letting being be (HE, 98). Put a different way, responsibility is an overcoming of what, within oneself and within one’s relationship to the other, would obscure or dissimulate the ability of meaning to “break into” those relationships as itself, as a mystery that should continue to be respected (HE, 98). Guarding the possibility of being’s self-dissimulation in our lives: that is responsibility, and its history is the history of the different ways the dissimulation of being is allowed through these acts of guarding or protection to show itself in different determinations of things or entities.
However, Patočka distances himself from this last, most unique point of Heidegger’s—that technical dissimulation can never escape being reappropriated back to a process of dissimulation within being itself—precisely in using it to be more condemnatory of technics. According to Derrida, he does this in saying that the rise of a metaphysics of force is, of itself, beyond being a dissimulation of being, “fictitious and inauthentic” (HE, 116). This is what Derrida claims that “Heidegger would never have said” (and we now understand how he is able to claim it): “Heidegger would never have said that metaphysical determinations of being or the history of the dissimulation of being in figures or modes of entities developed like myths or like fictions” (GD, 38, translation modified; cf. DM, 43). That is because saying this means the determination of being as calculable force in a technical metaphysics is so dissimulative that its expression or relation to being as dissimulation is itself dissimulated. In other words, it suggests that force is not even an expression of being, because it is a form of dissimulation that completely escapes all reappropriation into being’s process of self-dissimulation. This means that while Heidegger holds out the exceptional possibility that being can explicitly be understood again by some effort to reach underneath this technical determination of everything, Patočka thinks that with the rise of force in the history of the ways of relating to being—that is, in the history of responsibility—being, and responsibility with it, is completely lost. Being no longer has any dominance over force because it releases itself into a dissimulation that, beyond being’s own dissimulative expression, operates on this very expression. With Patočka, “the mystery of being is dissimulated” (GD, 39).
Technics, then, does not just threaten the proper and the responsible: a world determined by technics announces the impossibility of responsibility, the impossibility of the possibility of letting being relate to itself. One’s relationship to oneself and to the other is so calculable, so much a matter of completely understandable forces, that meaning cannot be possible in it. The other, instead of showing up as a “profound individuality” (HE, 112), is at most a fact one must momentarily register only in order to dispense with and move on to other facts or forces, other things to be calculated. One’s achievements are to be accounted for only in terms of their output into the flow of rationality, and one’s sins only matter perhaps insofar as they hinder this flow. In short, responsibility would devolve into the most basic assessment of or decision about the situation—that “there is one to be responsible for”—which, as we have seen Patočka already say, is merely a derivative phenomenon of responsibility and is thus not itself responsible. Any real attempt at responsibility going beyond this ends up in either in self-annihilation or in war—the full utilization of all technically determined energies (HE, 113-114). With the rise of technical reason, one cannot even see there is such a dissimulation of being that being cannot be seen...

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Notes on Derrida and politics

Without the opening of an absolutely undetermined possible, without the radical abeyance and suspense marking a perhaps, there would never be either event nor decision. Certainly. But nothing takes place and nothing is ever decided without suspending the perhaps while keeping its living possibility in living memory... In the order of law, politics or morality, what would rules and laws, contracts and institutions indeed be without steadfast... determination, without calculability and without violence done to the perhaps, to the possible that makes them possible? We insist on the decision in order to introduce the aporia in which all theory of decision must engage itself, notably in its apparently modern figures--for example, that of Schmittian decisionism, of its "right-wing" or "left-wing" or even neo-Marxist heritage... Such a decisionism, as we know, is a theory of the enemy. And the figure of the enemy, condition of the political as such, takes shape in this century against the backdrop of its own loss: we would be losing the enemy, and thereby the political.
-The Politics of Friendship, 67-8

Whether or not this is a valid reading of Schmitt (and Derrida's reading of him is extremely rigorous) is not as important here as the link established between calculability, decision, and the figure of the enemy. Calculating or establishing a political decision for Derrida cannot be the calculating of who it is made against: it is the undermining of precisely this setting-up of an enemy, which means that, since all calculation inevitably fixes and determines and thereby always heads in the direction of establishing an enemy, is the interruption of calculation or decision-making itself. I'll elaborate on these notes later, but one can already see that the insistence of Derrida is against establishing a space in opposition to decisionism, but rather that interrupts decisionism from within it--that is, is always a call for more calculation (there is never enough of it in the political). How would anything get done? This is also a question, of course, but Derrida is emphasizing that no political decision ever takes place such that only after it there is action on it or that brings it into effect. Deciding is already bringing about its results. But, at the same time, this pre-decision never is itself the real, authentic locus of the deciding: we do not jump into a sphere where all that matters is the condition of the possibility of deciding--this essentially constitutes Derrida's opposition to (and faithfulness to) Marxism.

Verfallenheit

I was looking again through Ontology: the Hermeneutics of Facticity and the Phenomenology of Religious Life, and thinking about the various critiques Derrida and others levy against a distinction Heidegger makes between the proper and the improper. One can't understand these critiques as just critiques of the distinction between the two or a taking apart of a binary opposition (which some would call a "deconstruction" but that, without what follows here, does not get at the sense of the word as Derrida and others like Nancy mean it), because it is a critique that is really an investigation of a problem very internal to the nature of the phenomenon that Heidegger was (in an unbelievably amazing manner) attempting to investigate in Being and Time and elsewhere that he names Verfallenheit, fallingness (a coinage I prefer over "fallenness," the standard translation). This is the spirit of the account and explanation Nancy makes that I quote in an earlier post: one needs to understand the complications of the distinction between the proper and the improper within the phenomenon of their meeting, in fallingness and in the other phenomenon of anxiety before one can start critiquing the distinction--or rather, understanding the critiques of the distinction (by Derrida, especially), because they are indeed thinking precisely about this phenomenon when they critique it.
So what is Verfallenheit? Nothing more (and nothing less) than absorbtion in the world, the withdrawing of the possibility of access to something in the face of one's actual process of accessing it, even when one is trying to investigate or discern the reasons for one's ability to encounter it (in fact, falling shows up really concretely there). The process is quite simple, actually, because we encounter it every day:

During the course of a factically experienced day, I deal with quite different things; but in the factical course of life, I do not become aware of the different hows of my reactions to those different things. Instead, I encounter them at most in the content I experience itself: factical life experience manifests an indifference with regard to the manner of experiencing. It does not even occur to factical life experience that something might not become accessible to it. This factical experience engages, as it were, all concerns of life. The differences and changes of emphasis are found entirely in the content itself. The self-sufficiency of factical life experience is, therefore, grounded upon this indifference, an indifference which extends itself to everything; it decides even on the highest matters within this self-sufficiency.
-from The Phenomenology of Religious Life

But of course its simplicity does not extend to its ramifications or even in the reasons for its constitution as such. And this is the same spirit in which we should encounter the critiques that Derrida (and others) levy against this: the fact that for Derrida the experience of falling is also interrupted all the time, that in fact it is always interrupted prior to its being constituted as such and from outside what it distinguishes itself from (authentic projection of oneself into the future as the future and as oneself), is also just a simple phenomenon--with of course vast implications, since it is the structure or non-structure in which we (and more than we) encounter and are able to encounter anything.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

"Des engins à donner la mort:" Technical Responsibility in The Gift of Death, 2

(continued from last time...) Derrida shows that, despite some earlier references to work or labor as it functions within the opposition of the sacred and the profane (HE, 99-100), technics begins to figure significantly in Patočka’s history of responsibility through the rise of its modern, technological form; a form sustained by the spread of an understanding of the world in terms of what Patočka calls a “metaphysics of force” (HE, 119). Derrida recalls that the determination of this “metaphysics of force” as the essential support of modern technics is a “schema that is analogous to that employed by Heidegger” (GD, 37). According to Derrida, this schema belongs to a “tradition” older even than Plato and his dismissal of hypomnesis. It consists of the “denunciation of technology in the name of an originary authenticity” in the understanding of being—i.e. what allows things to have meaning—that modern technics or technology is supposed to contaminate (GD, 36).
Heidegger explains that with the rise of reason as the privileged standpoint from which things in the world are viewed, being comes to be understood in terms of what can be immediately apprehended or presented with certainty to a consciousness. That is, what allows things to have meaning becomes what allows an object to come and stay before rational thought. Science and industry, with the help of the machine (which is not yet technical in a modern way, as we shall see), take this determination of being and extend it rapidly on a planetary scale: they set up all things in the world to exist and to mean only in conformity with this conscious reason in front of which being gets revealed. Things thus become raw material that produces particular effects for reason, while the revealing of being becomes this productive work. In other words, something is seen as understood in its being when it is being accounted for, stored, exchanged or transformed—in short, calculated—by reason, whether by man or by the network of rational devices and systems with which he surrounds himself (culture, law, the economy, as well as stockpiles of resources, potencies, etc.). Eventually, this understanding gets so rigidified that the thing itself is seen as having its being only as the amount of calculating work necessary for this production. In other words, it only has meaning as a reserve of energy for rational action no different from any other except perhaps in the amount of energy also involved in the calculating effort of gathering or releasing it. In short, the thing is only a suspended moment in the circulation of reason. This narrows down the aspects produced or brought out of it to one: what guarantees the maintenance and expansion of the circulation itself. In other words, the thing has its being or its possibility of meaning only as what is calculated by this rational circulation so as to power its constant, boundless expansion. Now, this thing determined in its being is what Heidegger calls force, and this calculating rationality by which force is determined is what he designates as modern technics—thus, as we said, modern technics supports a determination of the being of things (or, a metaphysics) as force, and force, in turn, supports a process of technical calculation. Now, what is crucial about force is that it is precisely coordinated by this calculating technics to replace any need for the determination of a thing in its being at all. In other words, since the entire world is set up in advance through technics as wholly determinable quantities for technical reason; since everything will exhaust its meaning only as a force, being or what makes meaning possible no longer matters. Setting itself up more and more to understand only itself and make only itself understandable, technical reason will interpret itself by itself without regard for being: it will make decisions about how and even whether it should be without being able to see or understand anything concerning why it is instead of not.
Derrida stresses that this inability to see that Heidegger locates in the technical metaphysics of force is what will be especially important in Patočka’s rendering of this schema (which Derrida is here paraphrasing): “man, instead of relating to the being that is hidden under this figure of force, represents himself as quantifiable power” (GD, 37). Derrida emphasizes “hidden under” because if, as we just said, technical force does not merely make everything calculable or fit for processing by technics but also does so in opposition to the ability to determine anything outside of calculation, it does not just simply render the possibility for ontology unavailable for our sight or understanding in any way whatever: according to Heidegger the metaphysics of force specifically dissimulates this possibility, or makes any attempt to rediscover being underneath force’s prevalence almost impossible. We can now see fully why Derrida says Heidegger falls into a tradition of denouncing technics in the name of authenticity: technics, taken to its extreme in its modern form, disturbs our proper relationship to being or our proper ability to see why things mean—to the extent that the proper cannot be recovered except through an extreme effort. We must begin to ask whether Patočka cannot help but duplicate this fall if he grants even more importance to dissimulation...

Division II, baby

Ohh yeah... get ready for it: Classes start soon at Berkeley, and Hubert Dreyfus' lectures on Division II of Being and Time are going to be downloadable.

They're amazing lectures, and a really great way to begin to learn what Heidegger is talking about. It's interesting: you see that many people are critical of Dreyfus for being too pragmatist, leaning too much on Division I and not pursuing paths, very much present in Being and Time, that open up so easily into his later work--all this you hear, but I think Dreyfus' interpretations have held up for so long despite the changes in Heidegger scholarship over the years because he has a real sense of what he continually refers to as "the phenomenon:" Dreyfus thinks extremely hard about the sort of happening, the sort of taking place, the phenomenology that Heidegger is doing when he is doing phenomenological ontology and that can be overlooked quite easily, because he just has so much to say about ontology! This doesn't mean Dreyfus interprets Heidegger like he is Husserl or something, or even like Merleau-Ponty... it just means that he gives you such a solid foundation from which you can either take off from or ground yourself within in order to deal with Heidegger, because he gives you a vivid sense of the moment of the phenomenon taking place--the point of its withdrawal. You really see that this aspect of what Heidegger is doing is almost indispensable for some of his larger claims: the interpretation of time as futural must show up in worldhood somehow, and show up in a definite phenomenon that we can sort of see every day... this "must," this necessity, is the mark of Dreyfus' rigor--getting you to see it like this is his job, and he does it wonderfully. I think that one thing that he said during last semester's course is absolutely true: that in this sense Division I is more expansive and anything said in Division II. Whether Dreyfus thinks this is because Division II is less worked out and a more rough draft than Division I, or because it constitutes less of an interpretation and working out of Aristotle, or anything else, I think that this claim remains legitimate if only because you can see how much mileage Dreyfus himself is able to make of it. That is (sorry for these fragmented comments, they'll have to do for now, given that I'm traveling a lot and writing papers), I think Division I is more expansive because it is making a claim about the merits of ontology in its exposition that is unprecedented and sets the tone, so to speak, for anything that could follow from it. More than the courses, or even the Contributions to Philosophy, the first division of Being and Time is such a sustained effort of an argument about ontology that it colors everything that will follow. It is the struggle with the attempt to think beyond or before "values" or "experiences" and to bring them back to a "how," a reason or a structure that runs deeper than any particular way you can specify that structure--any "what." It is that amazingly creative leap Heidegger makes away from Husserl and back towards Aristotle, that one can see in his early lecture notes.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Derrida and the crypt, continued: notes from "Fors"

Here, continuing from last time, are some notes on the logic of mourning outlined in Derrida's essay "Fors."

The secret of the crypt 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.

Derrida begins to show that the crypt, the locus of the self, is erected because of "the contradiction springing up from the incorporation itself" of any thing that would serve to become that within the space of the self:

The crypt is always an internalization, an inclusion intended as a compromise [between the desires in incorporation, that for pleasure and that for rejecting/submitting to a prohibition, reality], but since it is a parasitic inclusion, an inside heterogeneous to the inside of the Self, an outcast in the domain of general introjection within which it violently takes its place, the cryptic safe can only maintain in a state of repetition the mortal conflict it is impotent to resolve.

Introjection and incorporation are seen as what mourning lies between. That is, Freud defined mourning as a setting up of a relationship with the lost object. In order to clarify the way in which the relationship could occur, it was postulated that 1) the other could be taken up as a part of one's self, to integrate the memory of the lost (for example) into a self-memory or a selfhood--this is "normal" mourning"--or 2) this whole taking-in could be mimed or played out, to refuse that the other is dead and still a part of me. The first is introjection, the second is incorporation. In either situation there is an attempt to de-cathect the object and place the cathexis somewhere else in the self--the second option offering a quicker way to do this than the first.

At this point Derrida raises a key question:

The question could of course be raised as to whether or not "normal" mourning preserves the object as other (a living person dead) inside me.

Incorporation and introjection seem to blend into each other here, because incorporation in its miming of introjection must at some point refuse to continue, still leaving the other in me still (since it wasn't the other dealt with in the first place, but the mimed object of introjection):

...a foreign body [is then] preserved as foreign but by the same token excluded from a self that henceforth deals not with the other, but only with itself. The more the self keeps the foreign element as a foreigner inside itself, the more it excludes it.

Failed incorporation (which is also doubly failed introjection), then, is the source of the crypt:

What the crypt commemorates, as the incorporated object's "monument" or "tomb," is not the object itself, but its exclusion.

Derrida later elaborates this in the following way:

The cryptic place is also a sepulcher... The inhabitant of a crypt is always a living dead, a dead entity we are perfectly willing to keep alive, but as dead, one we are willing to keep as long as we keep it, within us, intact in any way save as living.

This means the following:

Cryptic incorporation always marks an effect of impossible or refused mourning (melancholy or mourning)... but at the same time the incorporation is never finished.

Why? Looking back at "Mourning and Melancholia," we see that melancholia gets rid of the object or other by killing its ambivalent relation to the subject in its decathecting. If the object or other won't die for the subject as a loss, as in "normal mourning," Freud supposes, it must be made to be lost. One would think that this would then send the other off to the process of mourning. But no, because the object or other has only died in the subject, ideally, fantastically, as a process of substitution for an actual loss that could be introjected. This is why incorporation refuses to be done and return to introjection and to mourning: it has already given up the possibility of having an actual loss to mourn in its attempt to kill off the other so that it could lose it. The other's death cannot be taken over or repeated as a loss once it is killed. Incorporation is, actually, the avoidance of loss. The other's death can never be taken over by me. This is a thesis we find in Heidegger. But at the same time the other's death is what I must integrate or take over. This is a thesis we find in Levinas. This double demand is the space of mourning for Derrida.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Des engins à donner la mort:" Technical Responsibility in The Gift of Death


I'll be posting a paper I wrote for a class last semester in several installments. Here is the first:

In the third section of The Gift of Death Derrida explains how the Biblical sacrifice of Issac, the paradigmatic event of responsibility, takes place every day. He also explains that the three monotheisms’ war over its interpretation, “themselves sites of bloody, holocaustic sacrifice,” also continues every day. As if to sum up this last point, he says the following: “Countless machines of death wage a war that has no front.” The sense here seems straightforward, precisely through the intervention of the figure or concept of the machine: David Wills’ translation preserves the gift as a mark of responsibility and the machine as a mark of a lack of responsibility. That is, the word “machine” is used in a pejorative, condemnatory sense. Death occurs mechanically in the waging of war over how responsibility (the sacrifice of Issac) is to be interpreted, or rather over how it is to be reduced to dogma. The machine of the dogmatic interpretation of responsibility kills everywhere and recklessly; that is, in a place “without front,” without any place of opposition or recognition between those that kill and those that are killed. As a result, though this machine causes death, it does not give death or have a relation to death as a gift. This gift, in the sense that Derrida gives it—as we shall see, it is what exceeds any “machinated” program of exchange or retribution, any act of “mechanistic” or rule-governed calculation that would reduce it to something that another act of donation could set to rights—this gift would be a call precisely for the responsible suspension of the machines of dogma, and so could not be related to them. According to this translation, then, the sentence articulates a condemnation of the machine just as much as a condemnation of a dogmatic “interpretation” of responsibility.
Derrida’s French, however, is more complicated: “Des engins à donner la mort sans compter livrent une guerre sans front” (DM, 70). The gift is in fact integral to the operation of machine: “machines of the gift of death” wage this war without front. Thus, rather than renouncing the gift of death, the violent struggle in the name of dogma over the interpretation of responsibility is precisely an instance of death existing in relation to the gift. “Machine” therefore is not being used pejoratively, but in a more complicated way; a way that does not strictly oppose the mechanical to the responsible. But how is this possible? The problem here exceeds that of whether Wills translates the sentence correctly or not, for much more is at stake in the possibility that it can be rendered differently. If the machine itself is not being condemned here, how can Derrida still denounce the mechanical death in this sentence, as he seems to be doing? Furthermore, how would he not contradict the numerous critiques he levies elsewhere of historical atrocities abhorrent precisely in their deployment of gigantic mechanized systems of murder. Only a problem concerning how to register Derrida’s most basic understanding of the machine would bring such questions into play. Thus we must look within The Gift of Death for his interpretation of that more fundamental concept which constitutes what is peculiarly mechanical about the machine: techne—that is, craft or skill, as well as the whole sphere of work, production, and technology.
Derrida explicitly discusses techne or (as we will call it) technics at the beginning of the second section (“Au-delà: donner à prendre, apprendre à donner—la mort”), where he recalls the question posed in the title of the text of Jan Patočka that he is in the process of reconstituting: “as the title of his essay indicates, Patočka asks why technological civilization is in decline” (GD, 35). Though this reflection seems more like a digression or an afterthought (stuck as it is in the small space between the political meditation that concluded the first section and the thought concerning apprehending one’s death and the death of the other that makes up the majority of the second) Derrida here makes quite an expansive claim: far from being what most threatens the history of responsibility that Patočka is in the process of narrating, technics must constitute it. That is, according to the logic of Patočka’s discourse, responsibility only becomes possible alongside and through technics. If we can reconstruct Derrida’s reading of Patočka, we can perhaps locate where and how this possibility functions, and how it encompasses the operation of the machine in his own statement, “des engins à donner la mort sans compter livrent une guerre sans front.” In other words, we might be able to see how a particular form of technical responsibility is the only kind condemned here and, for Derrida, is the only kind that can (and must) be condemned in general.

Nancy on Heidegger

Jean-Luc Nancy has a great comment often repeated by those who study Heidegger but never quite so elegantly, and yet simply rendered, that I thought I'd just reproduce here:

In general, what people have gotten into the bad habit of translating "authentic" but which is, in fact, the "proper" (eigen, Eigentlichkeit), takes place nowhere other than right at the "improper," right at everyday existence--and, what's more, in the very mode of the improper's "turning away" from the proper.
-from "Originary Ethics" in A Finite Thinking

Thinking this "right at," as Derrida often remarks in his On Touching--Jean-Luc Nancy, is the key.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Active, passive

Here's a way to think about the relation of three thinkers to the activity or passivity in intentionality--that is, in the emphasis or accent placed on one or the other, such that intentionality does not become so strictly Husserlian but rather turns into an interpretation of what Husserl is or should be getting at (so when I speak of intentionality, obviously none of these thinkers--and especially Husserl--would call it by that name):

For Heidegger, the fundamental intention is anticipation beyond anticipation in being-towards death.  One could label this activity beyond activity.

For Levinas, the fundamental intention is awaiting beyond awaiting in the ethical relation to the death of the other. So one could call this passivity beyond passivity.

For Derrida, the fundamental intention is living-on, or sur-viving, anticipating that is already beyond what it anticipates, or awaiting that is already missing what it is ready for. In other words, it could be called passivity beyond passivity to the point that it is indistinguishable from activity beyond activity.

Each one of these "intentionalities" implies a temporality (but also a spatiality--in the case of Heidegger it would be absent, or, more technically, involve the dispersion of the ecstases out of futurity to the extent that one would be talking about time when one properly talked about space... besides this, one wonders about Levinas), too: for Levinas, for example, time is what is given in relation to the other. Upon the institution of this relation, I am related to a future that is never to be here, that is disproportionately other than any any now or even any presence--or, perhaps put in a better way, to anything that has being. Being is secondary to or merely an effect of a relationship to the other that is temporal and gives me time.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Accounting for mourning

...here, this title announces both a subject and, for Derrida, a tautology or identity in difference, precisely as it also enacts the explanation or account that it announces: a substitution, a translation, a switching between one and the other is mourning, and is accounting or calculating--that is, work, mourning work. Accounting is substituted for mourning: this is the account of mourning, for Derrida. In other words, the transit between accounting or calculation, and the work which we do in mourning, can be summed up in how, in The Politics of Friendship, "how many of us are there?" is precisely the question of the work of mourning and friendship. Am I the other? Which other am I? My body becomes a crypt for the incorporated/introjected other, and for every other. For each other is every bit other, for Derrida. Counting the others--mourning them--is, then, accounting for them, being responsible for them. And for me, who is included in the "us" of "how many of us are there?" I too am other (like in Levinas), and account for myself in counting the others. But counting is only accounting--that is, mourning work--if this counting is interminable, impossible, unable to be calculated or counted. For the moment I stop counting, I stop accounting. This is the double-bind of responsibility and friendship, which are mourning, for Derrida.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Levinas on Heidegger and Aristotle

I just think this is a wonderful interpretation of Heidegger, that lets you into the amazingly rich place where Levinas is coming from: the entirety of Being and Time can perhaps be read as the attempt to think as gathered-together or non-separated this separation Levinas marks in Aristotle:

Man is thus Da because this manner of having being in his charge is not an intellectual affair but man's entire concreteness. The Da is the manner of being-there in the world, which is to question about being. The search for the signification of being does not come about in the same manner as in Aristotle. Like Aristotle (see Metaphysics A, 2 ["We begin by wondering that things are as they are."]), Heidegger speaks of astonishment or wonder, but for Aristotle wonder is nothing other than the consciousness of one's own ignorance: knowledge comes from my wanting to know. There is in Aristotle a complete separation between Sorge and questioning, a complete disinteredness of knowledge. This is not at all the case in Heidegger.
-God Death and Time, 25

Now, the crucial thing for Levinas is that this gathering-together of what in Aristotle is separated is not taken far enough by Heidegger.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Translation of Derrida

David Wills, despite being a wonderful translator of The Gift of Death, suppresses a lot of crucial aspects of the French in his rendering the following sentence (on page 70 of both the French and the English editions):

Des engines à donner la mort sans compter livrent une guerre sans front.

Wills translates this as:

Countless machines of death wage a war that has no front.

While this gets at the condemnation of the horrific deaths occurring every day over the claims of religions to the divine logos that is happening here at this stage in Derrida's text, it makes it sound as if the (interpretative) machines were bad in and of themselves. What Derrida is getting at is more subtle: he is saying that machines both without number (i.e. there are many of them, too many) and, more significantly, without calculation--sans compter--relate themselves to death. The play on sans compter is crucial because Derrida advocates a type of dissimulative counting or accounting for the other throughout the text: it is one of his main theses regarding the economy of the gift of death. These machines are being condemned because they refuse to account: and this is the only way in which Derrida follows in the tradition of the philosophical condemnation of machinery or technology. The only machine Derrida will condemn (and yet there are so many, an innumerable amount) is one that does not calculate.
Furthermore, this gift of death is there in the French sentence! Machines, without counting and without number, give death (donner la mort!). Wills is trying to suggest that any death given by a machine is not a gift. Derrida, however, is asking, "What would it be like for a machine to give death?" This machine would be, for Derrida, a dissimulative machine, a machine that calculates but that breaks its own mode of functioning, its law or its program, through that very calculation. It is only thus that it could relate to death as a gift, as something inscribed within yet exceeding its ability to account for it. I'm moving too quick--there will be another post that will outline this stuff in more detail. For now, let me just suggest a different translation:

Machines of giving death without number(ing) wage a war without front.

I can't really think of a good way to bring the "sans compter" into the sentence with its dual signification, so this will have to do for now (using number in the sense Derrida gives to it in the section on "Enumerating" in The Politics of Friendship). I'll get on it, however, and make something better--including a more computational, machinelike sense. One should also note that "front" can also mean "face:" so we are getting a war where the face of the other (in the sense that Levinas gives to this formulation and that Derrida discusses with respect to the front earlier in the text), is not present or able to be faced--it would truly be a machinelike waging of a war if machines, who have no face, are the ones that are putting to death. Any suggestions however are very welcome!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The big Marx, Hegel, Feuerbach post, part 6

To continue from last time, this entry being the culmination of the encounter between Feuerbach and Hegel, and having the promised appearance of some music:

...This all may seem tedious, but it is necessary to grasp in order to see where Marx is coming from when he refers to “materialism.” For what Feuerbach does next is show that Hegel did indeed ground the necessitation of the relationship between Spirit and the Absolute, but merely did not emphasize it: he grounded this necessitation precisely in what is seen by Feuerbach as material “nature,” that supposedly non-Spiritual category that is both prior to and outside of significance. This “nature” proves to be nothing other than what Hegel must refer to in Feuerbach’s eyes in order to fully develop the consistency of his God: not the Absolute in Spirit, but the principles that compose Spirit itself. It is thus clear to us why this is such a revolutionary overthrow of Hegel, and why this changes the whole essence of God “as a religious object:” if Hegel specified what “nature” was, then God, the culmination of Spirit, would issue forth necessarily not from His own essence (the essence of the Absolute), but only from the completion of Spirit insofar as Spirit itself completes itself only in accordance with its presuppositions. Instead of the existence of God and the meaningful found within the self-developed principles of Spirit (the layerings of meaningful action that produce later layerings), God would be the result of the “nature” that exists before and outside of these principles—in what makes these principles possible. To put it yet another way, if the principles that direct and propel Spirit’s development are shown to lead Spirit to a state of culmination, then calling this state of culmination “God” will not be arbitrary. Nothing will exist other than this culmination, and since it culminates necessarily, it will be full, final, perfect. Thus the preconditions of Spirit, the structure that effectuates and provides for its development, its “nature,” are what are to be elucidated for Feuerbach, because they are what, instead of Spirit alone or by itself, will be considered real, since they make up God. All that needs to be done is lay the emphasis on “nature” instead of the Absolute when asserting the identity of the Absolute and Spirit, and Spirit will be organized from the ground up, and its culmination (God, significance itself) as well.
To digress shortly, we may remark that a good example of the difference between the two—an example one can experience for oneself—can be culled from the sphere of music. Hegel’s God is a symphony by Beethoven. Notes appear in one of these symphonies and move in both harmony and discord based on the genius of the compositional ideas that form them and break them apart: Beethoven composes a symphony to articulate and bring into a vocabulary of notes various ideas and feelings, letting them take shape in accordance with their meaning and intention. Take Beethoven’s third “Eroica” symphony. Composed in 1803, it is a grand statement about the nature of heroism and the hero, dedicated to Napoleon. Throughout the symphony, heroism as an idea is brought to music such that when the idea ceases its movement, when it is completely stated, the notes stop, and the symphony is over. Each section, each movement in one of these symphonies is one such statement of the author regarding heroism, organized around a discrete and distinct notion that occurs in his head, and together they make up nothing less than an epic series of articulations that convey this general idea. Led on by his own intentions, the symphony is Beethoven’s statement regarding Napoleon—this is such the case that after Beethoven (like much of Europe) witnessed Napoleon’s coronation of himself in late 1804, he supposedly scratched out the dedication to him on the title page of the symphony, giving the symphony itself a different meaning, a different intention. Now, turning to Feuerbach, we might say that he is advocating a type of articulation of meaning that would look like a composition by the British composer Steve Reich. In his “Music for 18 Musicians” (1974) Reich assigned various instruments a particular series of notes to play, a particular tempo to play them at, and a particular way to play them, and then simply had them begin and maintain that particular assignment. The result is a massive series of noises that are merely the collection of various instruments each keeping to and repeating their individual utterance. At any moment of the work, the 18 musicians are busy combining together their individual sounds in different permutations, and doing so only really because they are playing in the same room together. In fact, the entire work is the result of an exhaustion of all the possible permutations of the various instruments: when each individual instrument’s series of notes are over and played, they simply stop, and the end of the work is achieved when they all are simply done with. Thus, each movement of the music is a product of the maintenance of the original presuppositions assigned to each instrument. Each moment is organized from the bottom up, and does not express any idea other than that produced by the mathematical combination of the instruments. Far from being something led on by the genius of a divinely inspired mind articulating a vast meditation on the nature of heroism in his historic era, the composition of Reich is about the beauty of the ability of individuals to combine and create harmony out of nothing more than their own movements, out of their own natures. These works give some weight and definiteness to Hegel and Feuerbach’s ideas of God, embodying them, as it were.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Technics in The Gift of Death

At the beginning of the second section of The Gift of Death, Derrida recalls us to the question posed by the title of the text of Jan Patočka that he is in the process of reconstituting: “as the title of his essay indicates, Patočka asks why technological civilization is in decline” (The Gift of Death [GD], 35). Perhaps Derrida recalls this because we might expect the analysis within “Is Technological Civilization Decadent and Why?” not to depart from an explicit questioning of technology or technics and how it affects civilization. But this is precisely what it does: it quickly becomes the relation of a history of responsibility and religion that instead will only answer the question of what might be “a criterion, a standard by which we could judge something decadent” or not (Heretical Essays in the Philosophy of History [HE], 97). Thus by the end of the essay, if the question as to the decadence or decline of civilization still remains to be asked, the question as to the decadence or decline of specifically technological civilization seems barely posed. However, Derrida soon begins to alert us to how this history of responsibility and religion is dominated throughout by something that secretly acts as a proxy for technics.
As Derrida points out immediately after recalling Patočka’s title, this proxy can be localized in Patočka’s discussion of the rise of a “metaphysics of force” (HE, 119). He recounts that with this phrase Patočka is referring to the understanding of being that according to Heidegger supports the essence of modern technics (GD, 37). In many of his texts Heidegger outlines how, with the rise of reason as the privileged way of access to beings (reaching its peak with the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution), these beings come to be understood or disclosed in their being only as units of power always already available to be calculated and then distributed across space and time. Technics takes this determination of beings and extends it rapidly: first, in machinery specifically, but also more importantly in the setting up and challenging of the world to exist in conformity with this principle of reason and this determination of beings. Technical reason as this setting up and challenging thus ontologically determines everything as infinitely calculable or quantitative as well as infinitely transformable—in short, everything exists as a force. What is crucial is that this specific determination is precisely coordinated to conceal any need for ontological determination at all: since all beings are set up in advance as quantities exchangeable with each other, it no longer matters what and how anything is.
Derrida stresses that this concealing in the metaphysics of force is what is important to Patočka, and that his handling of it is what distinguishes him from Heidegger. If, as we just said, force does not merely render everything calculable; if it does so in opposition to the ability to determine what a being is outside of calculation, it does not just eradicate the possibility for ontology: the metaphysics of force dissimulates it. Being is not only unnecessary, all access to it is covered up. Now, Heidegger would call this event of dissimulation another crucial destining of being—and thus in a sense a necessary dissimulation, a dissimulation in conformity to the essence of being itself as what mysteriously conceals itself. Thus, for Heidegger, this dissimulation would essentially not be a dissimulation. For Patočka, however, this event is of itself, by being constituted by dissimulation, “fictitious and inauthentic” (HE, 116). Thus, what conceals in the metaphysics of force is more thoroughly concealing for Patočka than for Heidegger. At the same time, it is also less concealing, for it turns being’s mere representation as a force as such into this very concealment. As Derrida says, Heidegger would never have claimed this: “Heidegger would never have said that metaphysical determinations of being or the history of the dissimulation of being in figures or modes of beings developed like myths or like fictions” (GD, 38, translation modified). The history of being for Heidegger is never purely reducible to the history of the representation of being in or as beings. For Patočka, however, force as a determination of being keeps being dissimulated merely in showing itself as force. If this is the case, then the mystery or concealment Heidegger places in the essence of being itself, which for Patočka does not govern the dissimulation present in the manifestation of beings, would be itself dissimulated: dissimulation would dissimulate itself. As Derrida says, according to the logic of Patočka’s discourse, “the mystery of being is dissimulated by this inauthentic dissimulation that consists of exposing being as a force, showing it behind its mask, behind its fiction or its simulacrum” (GD, 39).
In other words, through a reference to a metaphysics of force, which is at its center a technical metaphysics, Patočka constructs “a logic of secrecy” whereby, as Derrida says, what is concealed “is never better kept” concealed “than in being exposed. Dissimulation is never better dissimulated by means of this particular kind of dissimulation that consists in making a show of exposing it, unveiling it, laying it bare” (GD, 38-39). For Patočka, then, any and all secrecy depends essentially on the presence of a relation to a technical understanding of being. Now, throughout The Gift of Death, Derrida tries to demonstrate how Patočka’s history of responsibility and religion cannot escape being a history of secrecy. For Derrida, then, Patočka’s history of secrecy must also be a history of a rise of a technical metaphysics of force in the logic of that secrecy. Thus, the proxy that secretly acts within the history of secrecy for technics is secrecy itself.