A ‘Decision’ for Existence. Infrapolitics and the Politics of Politics. On Geoffrey Bennington’s Scatter 1. The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, Derrida.
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Geoffrey Bennington tells us or has been telling us all along in Scatter 1 that its continuation, “Scatter 2,” will be a book about “democracy.” And then, at the end of Scatter 1, Bennington says that a book on democracy is or will be also a book about “the future of deconstruction.” In this last chapter Bennington’s considerations on “dignity” are offered as an investigation into what seems to be an inversion of the main modus operandi of early deconstruction, which was to question metaphysics from a subordinate term within a given pair of terms. The second strategy of deconstruction, if we may call it that, will be the solicitation of metaphysically privileged terms, like “dignity,” that find themselves in need, that find themselves in lack. For instance, take “hospitality,” a term that concerned Jacques Derrida for a number of years, through seminars and a number of writings, and which has an important presence in Rogues (Voyous, 2003), Derrida's last book. Hospitality, Bennington will say not just following Derrida but really attempting to show what Derrida’s stakes were, is a term never quite worthy of its own name. Hospitality does not seem to be hospitable enough, not even to itself. Or take sovereignty, also from the seminars, also from Rogues—sovereignty is not worthy of its own name, it is never quite sovereign, and of course the same happens to dignity, and certainly the same happens to democracy—democracy is not worthy of its own name. What indeed is at stake here?
Bennington presents the study of the difficulties that arise through the idiom digne de son nom, worthy of its name, as a kind of second-order deconstruction of the Kantian Idea. If the Kantian Idea is always already regulated by an eskhaton, then the gap of dignity, the incommensurability between something and its measure, the brutal fact that things cannot live up to their own promise—well, that is an interruption of the eskhaton, a structural one, and the trace of a blinding point in the Augenblick, in the kairós, an impossibility for any decision to be a decision and a displacement of the core problematic of the political towards something that Scatter 1 has been calling all along “the politics of politics.”
“The politics of politics” is, Bennington has previously told us, “a name for the persistence of the political in the face of all attempted philosophical resolutions of it and indeed for its ability to turn them (and all other philosophical enterprises) into so many rhetorico-political gestures.” There can be no clear boundary between truth (or philosophy) and rhetoric, which of course means that the range of the rhetorico-political grows exponentially and that there is no clear point at which a discourse of truth can oppose political discourse. Dignity, democracy, sovereignty can never constitute themselves into a discourse of truth. They are only, because unworthy of their own names, demi-dignity, demi-democracy, demi-justice. No hyperbolic denial of their insufficiency, or of their auto-immunity, can organize a politics—or rather, it does, all the time, but this is then a bad politics, a self-destroying one. “The politics of politics” is Bennington’s name for what we could call the recognition of the auto-immunitarian drift of any and all political concepts. He links this to the Derridean “necessary possibilities” structure, namely, to the fact that the conditions of possibility of any political concept are at the same time its conditions of impossibility. Granted, this structure—ultimately, deconstruction—impedes any decisionistic approach to politics, whether from the left or from the right, because it organizes the absolute refusal of trust in the moment, the kairotic approach, what Kierkegaard would have referred to as the situation “when the man is there, the right man, the man of the moment.”
The political chance, even the chance of a politics of politics, would have to do with turning demi-democracy into . . . necessarily more demi-democracy, since there is no plenitude, there is no end to the course of insufficiency, and you could never make democracy worthy of its name. At the same time, this gives you work to do, it creates an infinite finiteness for you, and your task, political, will never be done. So—the problem: Bennington gives us a formal indication of it in the phrase “the unconditional affirmation of the unconditional as the arrival of the event ‘itself.’” The democratic event, to be unconditionally affirmed, is the realization that demi-democracy cannot be hyperbolically reduced or turned into democracy proper, democracy worthy of its name. This is the “event” of politics every time—what in fact Jean-Luc Nancy, in an essay that Bennington regards highly and that is commented in Scatter 1, “The Decision of Existence,” would perhaps have called “the decision for (political) existence,” through a very particular notion of decision I do not have the space to go into: the event of politics is always the event of the politics of politics, because politics must assume its infinite finiteness, its radical incapacity for hyperbolic closure.  This is the path towards a politics concerned with “justice,” which at some point in his book Bennington argues is the arresting trope (the undeconstructible) in Derrida’s tropology of thought.
In my own terms, I would like to say I accept all of this. It does seem to me that Bennington is precisely pointing us to a “future of deconstruction” that merges with any possible future of democracy (and justice), and which preempts or organizes the need to stop talking about democracy, or its construction, in terms of hegemony or counterhegemony. The “necessary possibility” structure means that all hegemony is an illegitimate hyperbolic suture that not only fails to make (political) names worthy of their names, but in fact condemns them to become the very opposite of what they mean (a demi-democracy hyperbolized into full democracy becomes, through hyperbolization, the very opposite of democracy, an unjust democracy.)
What I call infrapolitics in reference to an existence otherwise than political makes no claim to an unpolitical realm of affairs (which would be the equivalent of what the tradition Bennington debunks calls a realm of truth, existential truth if nothing else). Rather, infrapolitics merely claims that the rhetorico-political does not exhaust the world, no matter how much it expands or even while it expands. Let me offer the thought that infrapolitics might be something like the existential residue of an overextended, hence exhausted, politics of politics. Nancy’s decision of existence, of which Bennington shows how it connects, through the notion of formal indication, with the totality of Heidegger’s early thought, up to and including the existential analytic and beyond, is already an infrapolitical decision. Infrapolitics marks the point at which the politics of politics remembers, we could say, the ontico-ontological difference, and points to a realm—perhaps the Be-Reich that the late Heidegger mentioned as the space of play ““wherein all relationships of things and beings playfully solicit each other and mirror each other. Saying is reaching in the sense of [be-reichen] . . . The realm is the location in which thinking and being belong together” (Basic Principles of Thinking 1957)–that is no longer political, no matter how much it is still crossed by politics.
In 1974, a year and a half or so from his death, Heidegger, still obsessed with Paul Cézanne’s work on Mount St-Victoire, wrote the following postcript to one of his essays: “What Cézanne names ‘la realisation’ is the appearing of what is presencing in the clearing of presence—in such a way, indeed, that the twofold of both is converted (verwunden) in the simplicity of the pure appearing of its image. For thinking, this is the question of the overcoming of the ontological difference between being and beings. The overcoming, however, is only possible when the ontological difference is first experienced as such and taken into consideration, which again can only occur on the basis of the question of being, as posed in Being and Time. Its unfolding requires an experience of the dispensation of being (Seinsgeschickes). The insight into this is first prepared in a walk along the field path, which finds its way into a simple saying in the manner of a naming of the outstanding, to which thinking remains exposed” (Gedachtes, GA 81: 347-48). Infrapolitics could also be referred to as the preparation for a “naming of the outstanding” in the politics of politics: for what out-stands the politics of politics Bennington has so beautifully elaborated. We could talk about the parergon, to use another notion dear to Derrida. Infrapolitics is parergonic thought past the politics of politics, the walk into the Be-Reich of play that is also a necessary consequence of the “necessary possibility” structure when applied to the politics of politics.
In Rogues Derrida says that “it is on the basis of freedom that we will have conceived the concept of democracy.” And he adds, rather enigmatically, a diabolical phrase: “It is not certain that ‘democracy’ is a political concept through and through.” Well, if democracy is not totally political, it is because its concern with freedom makes it partially infrapolitical. To my mind, that “democracy” may not be a political concept through and through organizes the link between infrapolitics and posthegemony in the corollary that politics is not the parergon of deconstruction. Deconstruction insists, or de-sists, in the politics of politics, but it calls for a parergon to it, to the extent deconstruction also out-stands its own position in order to be worthy of its name, where the politics of politics is un-worked in the direction of an enigmatic freedom we have not yet begun to glimpse. To sum it up, inadequately, but not as a provocation: I for one cannot conceive of a future of deconstruction that does not walk the path of infrapolitics.
- Bennington, Geoffrey. Scatter 1. The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, Derrida. New York: Fordham UP, 2016.
- Derrida, Jacques. Rogues. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas translators. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2005.
- Heidegger, Martin. Basic Principles of Thinking. In Bremen and Freiburg Lectures. Insight Into That Which Is and Basic Principles of Thinking. Andrew J. Mitchell translator. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2012, 77-166.
- —-. Gedachtes. Gesamtausgabe, Vol. 81. Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 2007.
- Nancy, Jean-Luc. "The Decision of Existence." In The Birth to Presence. Brian Holmes et al. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993, 82-109.
But here is my note on Nancy's essay and its possible relation to Bennington's book: It seems to me that Bennington’s resolution of the question about the politics of politics in terms of “the unconditional affirmation of the unconditional as the arrival of the event itself” has to do with Nancy’s take on Being and Time’s existential analytic, Nancy’s thought of decision, and Nancy’s understanding of the inconspicuous incident of “the decision of existence.” The difference Nancy ends up affirming might be crucial precisely to an understanding of the relationship between politics, politics of politics, and infrapolitics. For Nancy, “philosophizing decides to think . . . when it grasps the fact that existence unfolds in the midst of an understanding of Being, and the fact that, while understanding Being in a ‘vague, average’ manner, existence finds itself, in a wholly exceptional and precise way, in an essential (that is, existentiell) relation to its own understanding . . . Thought in its decision is not the thought that undertakes to found Being (or to found itself in Being). This thought is only the decision that risks and affirms existence on its own absence of ground” (Nancy, “The Decision of Existence,” 84). The affirmation of existence on its own absence of ground is parallel to the “unconditional affirmation of the unconditional as the arrival of the event itself.” This is so because “decision” has no positive content—it is merely “the disclosive projection and determination of what is factually possible at the time” (85). The relationship to the “event” is indicated here: “Decision, in this sense (in a sense that no meaning of the word ‘decision’ will suffice to open, or to decide), is what most escapes existence, or it is that to which and in which existence is most properly thrown—and what offers existence its most proximate, its ownmost or most intimate, advent: Ereignis. . . . Ereignis is, or makes, decision, and decision is, or makes, Ereignis” (87). Note that, in this understanding, a decision is always "passive," in the precise sense that the notion of holding back on it, of leaving it "undecided," is meaningless. There are indeed two decisions, but they are unreachable through the very notion of a decision on decision.
So, “thought is nothing but the exercise of the appropriation of decision” (87). There is no transcendental here, and thought does not leave the existentiell behind. It simply tries to catch up with it. Everything moves in the ontic, that is, in the terrain of what Bennington calls the rhetorico-political. But thought, and thought’s decision, are precisely a take of/on facticity—a take, a relationship to facticity, not the discovery of an alternative, this time ontological realm. This take on facticity—some call it deconstruction. Deconstruction calls for no transcendent, it also dwells in facticity. Otherwise. The nature of this “otherwise” is of course the crucial kernel of the existential analytic. And it has everything to do with the ontological difference. It in fact “is” the ontological difference. It has to do with suspending Dasein’s suspension in the everydayness of “average understanding.” “Suspension is suspended, and firmly maintains itself, just in the average ontical floating” (96).
“Therefore, ‘to decide’ means not to cut through to this or that ‘truth,’ to this or that ‘meaning’ of existence—but to expose oneself to the undecidability of meaning that existence is. This can take place only just at ‘uprooted’ everydayness, and just at ‘the impossibility of deciding’” (97). One does not “cut through” to anything, one does not write or think or say in order to reach a different world. Where would it be? And the politics of politics is simply that: an exposure to the undecidability of meaning that politics is. But an exposure with a twist. The twist is called, in Being and Time, just a “modified grasp” that does not abandon the existentiell. This from Heidegger: “existence in its ownness is not something that floats above falling everydayness; existentially, it is only a modified grasp in which such everydayness is seized upon” (quoted by Nancy, 99). But is the politics of politics something other than a modified grasp of politics in precisely that sense? The (metaphysical) illusion, the illusion and delusion, powerful as it may be, powerful as it always is, is precisely the reverse of the following: “In decisiveness, there is no decision to be made, or not to be made, by a subject of existence of any sort whatsoever, or by a subject-existent who would emerge to cut through the possibilities offered in the exteriority of the world, in a way that would be consistent or inconsistent with respect to its own Being” (101). The notion of a decision on decision is a metaphysical illusion that neither Heidegger nor Nancy propose.
And still there are, there would be, at least two decisions. The average one, the metaphysical one, the subjective one, the egoic one—the decision of the hero who cuts through in order to reach a new level of existence, the heroic machination of politics in the modern sense. And then the other one, from a modified grasp. And I cannot help but think this is the model of Bennington’s “politics of politics:” “Thus ‘decision’ and ‘decided-Being’ are neither attributes nor actions of the existent subject; they are that in which, from the first, existence makes itself into existence, opens to its own Being, or appropriates the unappropriable event of its advent to Being, from a groundlessness of existence. Existing has nothing more its own than this infinite ownability of unownable Being-in-its-ownness. That is the truth of ‘finitude’ (and that is the sole ‘object’ of the existential analytic)” (102-03).
But is there not a sense that, by now, “the politics of politics” is too narrow a phrase? That we should also cut through it? That we should abandon, from existence, the supposition that existence lives in politics, that politics allows no outside? For one thing, if there is a “joy” that comes from the modified grasp of the one who decides “to exist, to render oneself passible to non-essence” (106), that joy happens “in an existence that exists only in its existing—that is, in the free ‘nullity’ of its foundation of Being” (107). This joy is no longer the joy of the politics of politics—it is rather the parergonic joy of infrapolitics, which enables a politics of politics.
Nancy makes here a claim, perhaps monstruous for some, which I believe is decisive, and which may mark the difference between what I would like to call the first and the second turns of deconstruction: “It is necessary to understand that decision, its anxiety, and its joy take place ‘outside’ the ‘text’—in existence” (107). Existence escapes the text of the politics of politics. Nancy uses “exscription” for this, which I am calling the infrapolitical parergon. “The excription of a text is the existence of its inscription, its existence in the world and in the community: and it is in existence, and only therein, that the text decides/reaches its decision—which also means in the existentiellity of the text itself, in the anxiety and joy of its work of thought, its play of writing, its offer of reading” (107). So, infrapolitics, because “thought has no decision of practical, ethical, or political action to dictate. If it claims to do so, it forgets the very essence of the decision, and it forgets the essence of its own thinking decision . . . the essential, active decision of existence. Its necessity is also called freedom . . . but freedom is not what disposes of given possibilities. It is the disclosedness by which the groundless Being of existence exposes itself, in the anxiety and the joy of being without ground, or being in the world” (109). Which does not make for an antipolitics, only for an otherwise—minimal, maximal—than political. From which a politics of politics may be thought in, or with, or for, some justice.