A minimal definition of theory would include the project’s challenge to the foundation of humanism, namely, human being: the sovereign subject or the I. Theory, therefore, has clearly failed to intervene into University research, whether it itself be responsible for the failure or not. In fact, never has the I been more espoused within the University than today—by administrators, instructors, and students; by each field within the humanities (comparative literature, philosophy, English, French, Latin American studies, and so forth); by conservatives (efforts to conserve the canon or “literature,” for instance, are identity discourses), liberals (advocates of a pluralism that appends to “the “dominant discourse,” perhaps the canon, the West, or heteronormativity, the “voices” or contributions of those who have been excluded from this discourse, create, through the “addition,” a sovereign subject who is so, an I, by virtue of a liberty to choose among the now multiple alternatives, as one chooses on the market) and, for reasons to be explored, theorists.

Among the greatest impediments to theory’s impact, to the contestation of the subject, is indeed the latter: theory. It is difficult to discuss or even imagine such facts: theory, as espoused by the Derrideans, the Lacanians, the Foucauldians, the Deleuzians, the de Manians (and so forth), by those who aver rigor or “close reading” with regard to these figures, obstructs the project of theory as much as do the intellectuals who crassly appropriate and utterly rebuff theory. So-called theorists, with precious few exceptions, recover the sovereign that they would confront in the form of the figures who represent this sovereign, namely, Derrida, Lacan, Foucault, Deleuze, and de Man (etc.). Efforts within theory to reform the foundation of the humanities are blocked by theory itself.

In “Some Statements and Truisms about Neo-Logisms, Newisms, Postisms, and Other Small Seismisms,” one of Derrida’s few essays about theory “as such,” Jacques Derrida posits theory as a jetty, playing on the French jeter, to throw, hence on Heidegger’s Dasein: the being-thrown-thither. A theory is thrown into other theories as a condition of its emergence, says Derrida. Thus, from this perspective, deconstruction, insofar as it is theory—and, according to Derrida, deconstruction is, if only to a certain extent, “theory”—cannot, as such, as Derridean deconstruction, be compared and contrasted to Foucault’s endeavors, for Derrida’s work already includes an account of Foucault, into whom Derrida is flung in advance. To extricate Derrida from Foucault in order to relate the two would begin by extracting a part of Derrida from himself, which part is named Foucault. In other words, to reject Foucault via Derrida, however necessary the gesture may seem, is always already to misread, not Foucault, but Derrida. Derrida is Derrida and Foucault; and it is the and, the copula that—as jetty—organizes and unravels, propels and destroys, both deconstruction and theory as a whole. For a jetty, on the one hand, cuts down waves, pacifying the sea in the interest of boat safety. Yet, on the other hand, when the waves prove too powerful, the same jetty, thrown back and forth, can intensify the tumult, yield the very damage that it, the jetty, is laid out to prevent. Theory, if in fact theory, confronts the Other in order to stir the waters that it calms and calm the water that it stirs.

Thus deconstruction, as Derrida defines it, either contains, marks the limits and borders of alternatives; or else it, still acting as a border, serves as a contact zone, source of an overflow from without, a potential agent of its own annihilation.  In “Some Statements and Truisms,” Derrida further suggests that theory is a North American artifact (71). Foucault, Deleuze were doing philosophy; Lacan did psychoanalysis; de Man did literary analysis, and so on. The American academic reception joins these discourses into a single topos, theory, hence compels a thinking of the and. Derrida may be a philosopher, and Lacan a psychoanalyst; but only through the and between Derrida and Lacan, which and or common both divides and joins the two, does the theoretical project, the interpretation of Derrida and/or Lacan—neither exists without the other—commence.

When a critic, one such as Geoffrey Bennington in Chapter 1 of Scatter 1: The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, and Derrida (2016), conducts an analysis of Foucault’s last three seminars, seminars that tackle a word, the Greek parrhēsia, he cannot help but note the way in which the thinker, Foucault, is so absorbed in his singular concern that he betrays no inclination to open to any others, for example, the concerns of Derrida. Yet this is solely because Foucault’s focus on parrhēsia is itself the opening. Deviating from itself throughout the seminars, Foucault’s examination of parrhēsia in fact passes through, thus writes up an account of Derrida in Foucault’s way, in the style of Foucault. Foucault and Derrida present distinct styles of one thing (not only of this one thing, yet this is one of the one things): theory. Style is the difference of (objective and subjective genitive) theory. It makes all the difference in the interpretation of Foucault and Derrida. Style, stated differently, would be the difference itself of theory—would be, that is, if difference or style or theory in fact enjoyed an “itself” or “as such.”

One might reverse this discussion. Derrida’s Foucault (his well-known studies of Foucault) advances Foucault—Derrida, after all, does not offer a critique of Foucault; deconstruction is never reducible to critique—in the name of Derrida. And the same could be said of, for example, Derrida’s Lacan: Derrida’s Lacan is Lacan in Derrida’s way, which way is how Derrida makes his way through Lacan. A determination of the “winner” of the debate between Derrida and Lacan over Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Purloined Letter” (put forth in Lacan’s “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter’” and Derrida’s “Le facteur de la verité”) is unlikely if not impossible because the division between the two thinkers does not appear in the dispute. It is not represented therein. It is, instead, a manner of speaking, thus legible: a demand for the reading (for the only kind of reading that theory supports) of that which withdraws from visibility, of the mode or manner that separates and joins Lacan and Derrida, which mode this and marks. The task of theory thus falls, according to Derrida’s theory of theory, to the “North Americans,” metonym for the aftermath of the disciples; it is compelled to inherit and explore, for example, not deconstruction as such—it is not available—but deconstruction and psychoanalysis or, to put a Lacanian spin on it, Derrida avec Lacan (or with Foucault, with de Man, with Deleuze), as the avec of the other. Theory is the forging of conjunctions, which forging is, at once, possibility and impossibility, an (im)possibility highlighted by the fact that Derrida and Lacan always already falls to Derrida’s side, while Derrida avec Lacan slips over to Lacan.

Theory is not happening, then, nor did it ever happen. To be sure, it might happen, it still could come; but it has not yet. In fact, the aftermath of deconstruction and psychoanalysis, which Derrida calls North America, which aftermath is neither quite psychoanalytic (see, for example, Zizek; one may like or admire Zizek but one cannot say, with any seriousness, that his work addresses psychoanalysis) nor quite deconstructive, has exclusively gravitated to proper names, to identity, to the subject proper of deconstruction or psychoanalysis or Foucault, not to avecs or intersections. The North American (again: not a population or a people but, for the Derrida of “Some Statements and Truisms,” a time and place within the time and place of theory), “theory,” demonstrates how, for example, Derrida one-ups Lacan (or Foucault or de Man or Deleuze, and lots of others too). Derrida says all that Lacan says plus he corrects Lacan, rendering Lacan not only superfluous or epiphenomenal—the message, stated or unstated, is: everything one can get from Lacan one can get from Derrida—but also misleading. Of course, the two descriptions, epiphenomenal and wrong, amount to the same: the Lacanian project, for the Derridean, is not essential, not a being, since it puts forth an imitation, a representation, a mimetic reproduction of a theory whose eidos is Derrida. Derrida for Derrideans, Lacan for Lacanians, Foucault for Foucauldians, de Man for de Manians, Deleuze for Deleuzians—these proper names name, for the individual scholar, the proper name of theory. Derrideans, Lacanians, Foucauldians, de Manians, then, do not undertake the task of theory. Their task is one of branding. Derrideans brand Derrida over against the Lacan brand, the Foucault brand, the anti-theory brand, the political brand, the race brand, the gender brand, the literature brand, the philosophy brand, the religion brand, the atheist brand, and so on. “North American” theory is not theory, at least not yet. It is marketing. Within humanities research, it is easy to see that “identity politics” is a marketing technique that promotes a name in the interest of the position (individual or collective) of the academic; and while the name differs (race, sex, gender, class, racegenderclass, LGBQ, LGBQI, environment, animal, etc.), its proper name, the brand behind the label, is always the same: “politics.” “Politics,” in this discourse, is the manifestation, the figure of the I. North American theory, which in theory opposes identity politics, resists the adoption of the subject, has influenced so little the humanities for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that theory, today, is but one identity politics among others, a full collaborator within the supermarket that is humanities research. Fredric Jameson argues, throughout The Political Unconscious, that Marxism is the most appropriate theory to gain an understanding of theory in general, for Marxism is a theory of the market that theory is. This might be true if Marxism, or at least Jameson’s Marxism, Marxism on the North American scene, were in fact theory. It is not; it is a proper name and brand, just like all other so-called theories, a product on the market which is unable to think itself since such a thinking would require a reading of the and or avec—for example, Marxism avec Derrida—irreducible to the product or proper name. “North American” theory is the selling of the subject of theory, hence not theory at all which, if it is anything, is not a subject.

Is Bennington’s Scatter 1 a theory as Derrida explores the term, a perusal of an original errancy or thrownness-into-others which both steadies and troubles the theoretical waters? Is it a jetty? Judging from the book’s first chapter, which is all I can tackle here, this does not appear to be the case. As indicated, the chapter focuses on Foucault’s lectures on parrhēsia. Bennington’s stated reason for this point of departure, in a study that does not pretend to be even marginally about Foucault (Scatter 1, while including “Foucault” in its subtitle, does not glance at Foucault after page 48, concentrating its final 233 pages on Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and Derrida), is that Foucault, while upholding Heidegger as one of his models, rejects mimesis, rhetoric, writing, techne, and the proton pseudos in the name of eidos and truth. Parrhēsia is truth-speaking or frank-speaking; it posits truth as ground, and Foucault himself adopts this ground. Foucault hence rejects, according to Bennington, the premise pursued by Derrida in his interpretation of Plato’s Phaedrus, “Plato’s Pharmacy” (of course, Derrida investigates the matter in many other places as well), namely, that truth is turned from itself, split from itself by its imitation, “scattered” in advance by the mimesis that touches it, invades it, from the start. Heidegger and Kierkegaard, along with Derrida (and others), explore the premise; Foucault resists it. And in fact Foucault’s effort to dismiss the underpinning (as Foucault understands it) of “Plato’s Pharmacy,” found in the 1982-83 seminar The Government of Self and Others, is explicit (325-37). Yet Bennington’s true reason, I suspect, for commencing Scatter 1 with a scrutiny of Foucault (who, again, interests Bennington scantly), is located in Scatter’s subtitle: “The politics of politics in Foucault, Heidegger, and Derrida.” Foucault’s advocacy of parrhēsia represents Foucault’s particular endorsement of the “politics of politics.” And while Bennington offers varied definitions of this “politics of politics” in Scatter 1, one such definition is quite negative. The “politics of politics,” insofar as it relates to Foucault, names an avowal of “politics” whose interest is actually the power of the subject, of the sovereign. Bennington believes that, in Foucault’s eyes, both philosophy and politics have the task of “speak(ing) truth to power” (34). The expression, “speaking truth to power,” assigned to Foucault by Bennington, is not one that Foucault ever uses; nor does he deploy articulations that are even like it. Bennington imputes the “speaking truth to power” to Foucault because he wants to proclaim that Foucault, by arguing for truth, for parrhēsia, argues against theory, against deconstruction, against Derrida, in the interest of empowerment that, in fact, is quite conservative, and that is indeed emblematic of all theory that does not depart from Derrida.

“Speaking truth to power” is a sort of refrain that concerns the truth of the Other as subject, an Other who is, in theory, silenced or misrepresented by the discourse of “power” or those in power. To this power that denies the Other’s existence and/or capacity, the Other objects, speaks, “voices” his self. The truth, then, that the Other speaks, to which his “voice” bears witness, is the fact that the Other is. The truth of the “speaking truth to power” is not what is said but who does the saying. However Foucault, in Government of Self and Others, actually and openly rejects truth as subjectivity and politics as “empowerment.” Pages 61-68, dedicated to an analysis of the performative utterance, mark this position most explicitly. Here Foucault distinguishes parrhēsia, truth-speaking, from the performative since the performative endorses “unwelcome implications of a residual subjectivity or ipseity with a power or ability to bring off the performance” (Scatter 1, 5). The last citation is not Foucault’s. It is Bennington’s as he correctly notes why Derrida also, in the end, discards the performative. Foucault agrees, though Bennington does not mention this fact. The performative, according to Foucault, assumes a subject with the ability and standing necessary for this performance. The performative, as opposed to the constative, in theory makes actual the things that it might appear merely to describe, as when a CEO states that the “meeting is now open.” Reality, the opening of the meeting, coincides with a description: the meeting is open given the saying “the meeting is open.” However, if a server, arranging coffee cups, napkins and donuts, announces to a company’s board, at 9AM, the hour of meeting, that the “meeting is now open,” the meeting is not open; perhaps the server is making a joke, which is well-received, but he cannot, because he is a server, open the meeting. If the CEO, conversely, makes the same announcement, the meeting is open: the CEO’s qua subject’s statement, the “meeting is open,” is an act. However, it is so not because it makes real what it pronounces since what is real, what matters, what is, precedes the announcement: the subject position of the speaker, whether the spokesperson is a server or CEO, authorized or not to open the meeting. In truth, if Foucault’s general oeuvre is about any one thing it is about the fact that power is not a property or possession of the subject; it circulates, neither emitting from nor concerned with subjects. The subject is never empowered by speech. Speech in Foucault, in fact, is akin to writing in Derrida. Language is never of the I to use or lose, though there is usage, or what Heidegger calls Brauch; I cannot discuss the notion here. The point is that the condition of the I’s use of speech is that the speech expose the I to the other, to a relation that opens that speech to the force of the other, to a relation of forces which no power, no subject, no voice, individual or collective, possesses the power to determine. The condition of power, which must be made public or spoken to be power, is the limit of power: language. Language, for Foucault, is thus not a property or product of the subject by means of which this subject can “govern self and others”—speech always already fails to represent both the subject and the Other—just as writing is not of the subject for Derrida. There is no power without speech; yet speech empowers no one, no I and no group.

In Government of Self and Others Foucault’s initial definition of parrhēsia offers various illustrations of this point. In one, he describes how the philosopher within Euripides’s Ion, via an ironic turn of a phrase, challenges the authority of the despotic king by conveying to him an insulting truth concerning the king’s corruption. Via the same ironic phrase, the philosopher strives to teach the sovereign about the proper governing of self and others. Far from empowering the subject, this parrhēsia imperils the philosopher’s life. Truth-telling invites, a priori, the force of the despotic other’s aggressive reaction to it. However, equally true, and perhaps more importantly, the philosopher emerges as a philosopher only at this point. The philosopher exercises his freedom via truth-telling as the risk of liberation. The exercise of speech, exposure to freedom and death, makes the philosopher as philosopher. The philosopher, unlike the just-mentioned CEO, is not an I who speaks in public (and speech, of course, is always public) for he is not himself, not a philosopher, without the danger of circulation, which speech represents. The philosopher, exposed in order to be, is betrayed by the speech—without which, nonetheless, he is not a philosopher.

Derrida offers a parallel to Foucault’s analysis of Ion when he notes, in the film “Derrida’s Elsewhere,” that the lover who says to the beloved “I love you” performs an act of betrayal. In fact, the beloved is so because singular to the lover, without potential replacement. The beloved, indeed, is not so because enjoying this or that trait, which trait would be, by definition (because identifiable), conventional, hence potentially possessed by more than one individual, by another who could, at least theoretically, substitute for “the one.” The beloved is singular because loved for no reason, for no purpose; if the Other is loved due to a quality, he or she is not loved, since anyone could own the same characteristic —the Other or beloved is thus utterly discardable, hence not loved. In other words, “I love you,” however sincere, calculates by standardizing or conventionalizing—a signifier, obviously, exists due to convention no less than does the cliché “I love you”—the value of another. Yet the Other who is beloved, if he or she is beloved, is invaluable. “I love you” consequently betrays the truth of the lover’s love, namely, that it is never sufficiently true. The truth of love, the parrhēsia of love, is that love is not true; and this can only be made clear through the speech of true love, that is, through the fault of that speech.

Such an examination of “I love you” might lead one to glean that, in Derrida, an old-fashioned divide between present and representation, being and saying, exists. The Other is loved and lovable, hence singular, irreplaceable; but this love cannot be expressed except through common, conventional, arbitrary signs, such as “I love you,” which expression bypasses the love itself. Yet “I love you,” in fact, often produces the love, as in: “I love you due to the way in which, or the fact that, you tell me that you love me.” “I love you” does something: terminate, stagnate, intensify, or grow the relationship between lover and beloved. Thus “I love you” can indeed end the relationship, the love, precisely because it seems to the beloved insincere, “forced,” trite, banal. The one who says “I love you” is always potentially not that lover, not that I, the moment he or she makes the statement. Of course, lovers do not typically, or at least always, express their love with the verbal statement “I love you.” They develop, frequently, pet names, or to take off from the TV show “Seinfield,” utterances such as “shubee shubee,” banter which feels unique to the couple and which, when used as if a secret code that only “we two know,” produces and/or maintains intimacy. “Shubee shubee” is a rhetorical device that is true to the love, since it makes that love. And yet, “shubee shubee” is never secretive or singular since the condition of its apprehension by the Other is its commonness or iterability. The secret code that lovers apportion out is in advance the betrayal, publication, and obscenity of this code, the same love. Lovers, then, must believe in the truth of the love, of the secret (that the secret is in fact secret), which belief is the truth: only because I believe that our love is true can the statement “I love you” be true, that is, make and/or break, preserve and betray, at once, our love.

This is why Foucault conflates truth and the belief in truth. The parrhēsia of the philosopher, the politics of truth, turns on the fact that the philosopher’s belief in truth is true. Belief, never separate from passion, yields the work of truth, the simultaneous emergence and death of the subject that language, expression, renders possible. The expression of truth is the truth. The logos is the ergon, which ergon is never accomplished, complete, since the coincidence, the at once, of speaking and acting, speech as ergon, never materializes as such. It is to come.

I, the lover, say to the beloved, I want to put X into your Y, for the sake of our experiment, our experience. The saying, as ergon, strips its rhetoricity: I, as lover, believe that what I say is true, namely, that if I put X into your Y, our love will be deepened. You the beloved, and me the lover, will liberate our bodies, our pleasure, thereby our love; we are empowered through my frank speech to generate this happiness. My belief as lover, which is true, cannot however avert the possibility that the beloved respond: “you pervert, get the hell out of my Z.” My announcement is a work, an ergon that is true, that is not merely rhetorical, Foucault says, because it alters inalterably, materially, the relationship. Once what I believe to be the truth—whether it is true or not—is communicated, it forms an unwithdrawable “arrivant” within the relationship of same and other, one that makes or unmakes this relation. Foucault’s speech as ergon, (rather than as logos), like Derrida’s “writing, cannot emit from the subject since it is that subject’s doing and undoing.

Scatter 1 addresses Foucault’s thought as a mere reflection, as an inferior, epiphenomenal, erroneous version of the Derridean deconstruction of the writing/logos binary. Derrida proper is guarded from infection by a defanged Foucault—author, according to Bennington, of an immaterial, if not stupid, identitarian “speaking truth to power.” Derrida’s dissemination consequently is freed to travel indemnified as it runs through Heidegger and a Kierkegaard, yielding, less a strewing, than a controlled pluralism, a division of theory into so many brands, some bad, some good, some better: into a market in which Derrida operates as general equivalent, the standard by which intellectual activity is judged, thus as sovereign: as the value that cannot be evaluated. That is the foundational point of Scatter: Derridean dissemination, renamed by Bennington as scatter, is the good, the model and measure of value, setting a standard for thought and politics in general. And yet Bennington cannot tell us why. Or rather, he tells us precisely why: dissemination is the good, the best, though not completely just (for the good, according to Derrida, is that justice remain always to come), because it is Derridean. Foucault, who in Government indeed takes shots at Derrida, fails because he advocates what Derrida does not: truth and speech. And yet, Foucault’s parrhēsia, as frank-speaking, is so close to Derrida’s writing that it demands an examination of their relation, of Derrida avec Foucault, as that avec, which Scatter refuses to open to, which Scatter 1 attempts to check and restrain. Scatter 1 is thus, at bottom, a pitch for scattering, that is, for dissemination and Derrida.

Foucault notes that, as to analyses of the subject of truth, “I can see only Heidegger and Lacan” (Hermeneutics of the Subject, 189). In Scatter 1’s reading of this citation, the mention of Lacan goes unmentioned, as if Foucault’s statement alluded to Heidegger alone. Psychoanalysis, which had something to say about Scatter 1’s main foci, moment, madness, decision, is cast aside. The philosophical lineage that Scatter 1 avers (Kierkeegaard-Heidegger-Derrida) is thus cast as knowledge itself, contained by Scatter 1 within itself, within Derrida, absolutely unscattered: it is not Lacan that Scatter 1 avoids but the scattering of deconstruction that Lacan, like Foucault, and like truth, might “do.” Scattered about in Scatter 1 are missed encounters, which Bennington’s study must avoid in order to be—between Foucault and Derrida, Derrida and Lacan, Lacan and Heidegger, and so forth— thus the determination not to scatter, not to throw, not to jeter, not to theorize, but to establish positions within a war in which no one can die, war without risk for those whose value allows them to enter it, for value or worth is not risked in any given subject’s claim on risk.

Works Cited

  • Bennington, Geoffrey. Scatter I: The Politics of Politics in Foucault, Heidegger, and Derrida. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016.
  • Derrida, Jacques. “La Facteur de la verité.” In The Postcard: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond. Trans. Alan Bass. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987, 411-496.
  • ——— . “Some Statements and Truisms about Neo-Logisms, Newisms, Postisms, and Other Small Seismisms.” In The States of Theory: History, Art, and Critical Discourse. Ed. David Carroll. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1994, 63-94.
  • Foucault, Michel. The Government of Self and Others. Lectures at the College de France, 1982-1983. Trans. Graham Burchell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Lacan, Jacques. “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter.’” In Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English. Trans Bruce Fink. New York and London: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006, 6-48.