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The ongoing publication of Derrida’s courses and seminars is, without a doubt, a fitting occasion to experience his particular way of dealing with philosophy, its history, and some of its main problems. In them, one has access to a process of thinking taking place “in front of us”; but also one can see many of the distinctive problems an enthusiastic reader of Derrida would find in his better known oeuvre. Somehow, with these publications one can appreciate the working-place of deconstruction, right before it becomes a solid and identifiable “university discourse”, when it is still a process and not the product of a particular discipline other than the discipline of reading. Of course, the not so implicit irony here is against the so-called university domestication of deconstruction, which has produced an already interesting cohort of experts and representatives that seem to forget how deconstruction itself is, among many things, a solicitation, without pause, of the notion and institution of the modern university.
In other words, if deconstruction is an interrogation directed to the university, to its promises and potentialities, which is evident in the series of texts Derrida dedicated to Kant’s The Conflict of the Faculties, the French higher education system, his involvement with the foundation and consolidation of the Collège International de Philosophie, and his own teaching practice; it should be clear too that what the courses and seminars ‘refresh’ is the singular relationship deconstruction establishes between thinking and writing, which is forgotten when deconstruction becomes a fossilized reference within professional debates and its authoritative system of references. My point, of course, does not concern only the way deconstruction became identified, in the North American academia, with “French Theory”. I am also referring to what Lorenzo Fabbri has called the domestication of Derrida, alluding to the difficulties Derrida’s works have encountered in the North American philosophical tradition (analytic philosophy and pragmatism) and its hegemonic position within the departments of philosophy.
On the other hand, it is impossible for me to emphasize enough the occasion opened by these publications, as the so-called “domestication” of deconstruction is not only a matter of philosophical quarrels, but also affects the practices and discourses associated with the Humanities, and particularly with the always-ongoing denunciation of theory in the fields of English and Comparative Literature. This goes without saying that the problems and interrogations disclosed by deconstruction also include the historical division of labor within the North American university, allowing one to wonder about the specific place and function of Area Studies, in particular, Hispanic and Latino American studies. In this sense, the question of up to what point could these publications trigger a problematization of the naturalized positions informing Hispanic and Latin American Studies is yet to be decided, but I would like to contend that the very problematization of what I will call ‘anchored historicity’ is an inescapable aspect of deconstruction affecting the heart of these studies (I will come back to this later). In short, the ongoing publication of these materials complicates what one might take for granted in relation to deconstruction and its relationship to the history of philosophy, the university and its internal divisions, since these publications show again deconstruction as a practice of meticulous reading and problematization, but also as an ‘exercise’ oriented to question the truth of history, including the so-called truth of deconstruction.
How then one can think this occasion, the occasion opened by the rigorous edition, translation, and publication of Derrida’s courses and seminars, without reducing its singularity to another moment within the infinite reproduction of the university discourses and its permanent accumulation of critical tools? And, at the same time, how one can think these courses and seminars in relation to the “image” of deconstruction and in relation to the ‘compulsive’ periodization with which many people attempt to organize Derrida’s thinking as a theoretical product, a ready-made set of concepts and strategies? Somehow, the publication of these materials enables a ‘reactivation’ of Derrida’s idiosyncratic way of thinking and sends us back to his more known and already published texts with different emphases, if not with different questions.
The focus of the following reflections is the 1964-5 course entitled Heidegger: The Question of Being and History; a course that performs a generous and exhaustive reading of Being and Time, but also a course in which one can see the careful and complex relationship Derrida develops with Heidegger’s thought. As you can read in the epigraph that precedes this text, Derrida suggests that a careful reading and consideration of Sein und Zeit is a necessary condition to deal with both, the status of Heidegger’s thought and his involvement with National-Socialism. Therefore, beside the series of texts dedicated explicitly to him, and beside the fact that the very possibility of Derrida’s thought lies, in part, on the ‘ground’ cleared up by Heidegger’s efforts, it is in the 1964-5 course where Derrida, most systematically, engages with the German philosopher and his seminal book.
Obviously, this course is not rare, as it is related to Derrida’s early texts, as well as to the kind of problems he addresses in other courses and seminars. In fact, there is a sort of ‘structural bond’ between the problematization of historicity as the question of being, proper to the 1964-5 course, and the interrogation of Marxism (mainly Althusser’s) and its elaboration of the question of history, which is the focus of his 1976-77 course entitle Theory and Praxis. In this later course, Derrida confronts the Hegelian idealist conception of what I will call anchored historicity as a problem that pervades Althusser’s conception of history and his complex version of Marxism, suggesting that Heidegger’s critique of Marx’s entrapment with Hegel is still unresolved in contemporary Marxism. This observation, however, is not meant as a critique that sanctions Marxism’s inability to deal with the problem of history in a conclusive way; on the contrary, Derrida’s interrogation keeps the very question of historicity opened to further elaborations, in Marx, Marxism, but also in Heidegger’s thought. By the same token and beyond these earlier courses, I believe that Derrida’s later interrogation of the sacrificial relationship between sovereignty, cruelty, and the death penalty, belong to the same problematic, as the question of historicity seems to enable a way to deal with the shortcomings of the onto-theological tradition that grounds our understanding of law, sovereignty and democracy. In other words, in reading this course one is already confronting the insistent and singular signature of deconstruction, a signature that, of course, does not send us back to an “origin” but one that works as a trace, tracing a problematic for which the conventional division of Derrida’s thought (between an earlier and more “philosophical” moment and a later and more “political” one) seems inadequate, granting one instead the possibility of a problematic field that I will tentatively call infrapolitical historicity.
Before expanding on this infrapolitical historicity, let me dwell in Derrida’s reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time. In his reading and explanation, Derrida begins by affirming that the question of being belongs neither to the classical ontological tradition nor to the possibility of founding a new radical or fundamental ontology. The question of being is the question of historicity, but this notion of historicity requires the suspension of any articulation between history and the archeo-teleological understanding of time as a historicist conception of history. In other words, the question of being as the question of historicity requires the ‘disarticulation’ of history and the modern ‘politics of reason’, as this philosophically informed politics shapes history according to the privilege of a specific referent (man, subject, reason, conscience, meaning, high values, god, etc.) that limits the historicity of history, the historicity of being by subsuming it to its rationality. Heidegger’s destruction of metaphysics is, therefore, the destruction of the onto-theological configuration of the tradition that thinks being and history in a limited way and, at the same time, is the destruction of the history of ontology, since this history of ontology is also shaped by the same evolving and historicist understanding of time. Somehow destruction requires the disarticulation between history and ontology in order to access history beyond (or before) its conversion into a schematic realization of an idea, a plan, the fundament of which rests in another place, in a non-historical place. This required disarticulation is, of course, the disarticulation of the theory and practice dichotomy, in each one of its historical articulations.
Nonetheless, the replacement of ontology by historicity is not an easy step in so far as the nature of this historicity remains not fully disclosed in Heidegger’s elaboration. There are two series of difficulties here: 1) those related to the complex differentiation between history (Historie) as science or history as the writing practice one calls historiography, and history (Geschichte) understood as the historicity of Dasein, which, at the same time, comes from an originary movement called Geschehen that should not be confused with regular historical events as “The Geschehen is the originary movement, the emergence of what subsequently is called history, Geschiste” (Heidegger: The Question of Being and History 96). Thus, Heidegger’s attention is focused on Geschehen as this is what structures Dasein’s factical life. 2) But this focus on the historicity of Dasein, or on its factical life, not only grants one the access to a hermeneutical comprehension of Dasein that should not be confused with a theoretical approach to everyday life; it also secures the privilege of Dasein to access, indirectly, the historicity of being, or to disclose being in its historicity, which is not accessible in any other way. Obviously, if Dasein’s facticity is determined as the central place where the articulation between the historicity of being in the world with others and the truth (or the meaning) of being happens, then this Dasein becomes a ‘place’ of interrogation. Derrida knows perfectly well that Dasein is not the ‘man’ of the human sciences, as he is confronting the humanistic appropriation of Heidegger’s philosophy; but if Dasein is not the man but factical existence, the access to it is already impure, as Dasein is also a word, that is to say, a particular metaphor that disguises itself as non-metaphoric. The status of this word, whether we are talking about the privilege of the spoken word or about the textuality and then about the trace, is, as Derrida suggests (and fully develops later), what complicates Heidegger’s existential analytics, introducing by this resource an unquestioned metaphoricity.
What matters for me about this ambiguous status of Dasein are two apparently different things: 1) the necessary differentiation between this observation and the Object-Oriented-Ontology’s accusation of a sort of Dasein-centrism in Heidegger, which would impede him to transcends the limitations of humanism. 2) The disclosing of the ‘textual’ character of Dasein not only as the condition for Heidegger’s destructive hermeneutical phenomenology, but also, as the postulation of an existence already contaminated by language, rhetoric, and, up to a certain point, politics. The consequences are obvious: the infrapolitical focus on existence as something else than politics, should not be read or understood as the postulation of existence and politics as separated and autonomous spheres, which would re-introduce ‘paradoxically’ the image of a pure moment (pre-historical, pre-political, pre-linguistic, without mediation) to which one might claim to have access. The infrapolitical orientation towards existence claims that even if contamination, rhetoric, language, co-belong to existence, existence is not fully reducible to politics, particularly as articulated in the onto-theological tradition, that is to say, politics as a demand that subsumes existence into an archeo-teleological structuration of temporality. However, the problem is indeed complicated: if infrapolitics claims that existence is something else than its onto-political representation, without postulating a pure, uncontaminated, notion of existence, then infrapolitics is claiming surreptitiously to be a “better” politics than (onto-theological) politics. This ‘folding’, however, is more than just paradoxical, it is a necessary strategy to deal with the aporetic condition of the problem involved here.
It is in this context that I understand infrapolitical historicity not as a closure neither as the promised solution to the problem of historicity, in Heidegger and beyond. On the contrary, infrapolitical historicity is the tentative name for a problematic field that, far from choosing between Hegel or Heidegger, or between Heidegger and Derrida, keeps alive the very possibility of such a historicity, despite the complication Derrida’s reading of Being and Time discloses, as Derrida is not just “generously” reproducing Heidegger’s main elaboration of the question of being and Dasein, but he is also interrogating the series of decisions taken by Heidegger in his own formulation of the question of being. In other words, what I call infrapolitical historicity is not a response or an alternative to the ‘anchored historicity’ of the onto-theological tradition, but the name of a problematic field in which this tradition is questioned and, as such, it remains open to an infinite solicitation. Let me repeat this point: I am not presenting infrapolitics as an answer, a solution, or even as an exit to the limitations of the onto-theological tradition (nothing more distinctive of this tradition than this appealing to the new beginning). On the contrary, for me, infrapolitics and the infrapolitical historicity are related to the chances of a sustained problematization of the question of history and its subsumption to the calculative thinking informing our understanding of the political.
My hypothesis therefore is the following: I contend that Derrida’s 1964-5 course enables a problematization of the conventional understanding of the political, whether we are referring to political philosophy or to a more prosaic conception of the political. There is, of course, a link between the theoretical and philosophical elaborations about politics and the ordinary understanding of the political, and this link, I would say, comes from the representation of temporality as history, but as an evolving history oriented to fulfillment and realization. In this sense, the deconstruction of this archeo-teleological notion of history, this historicist notion of history, appears as the very condition of possibility for questioning the conventional understanding of the political. Let me be clear, what I am saying does not have anything to do with the more conventional, and increasingly tiresome question about the relation or lack of relation between politics and deconstruction, neither I intent to give a new argument to prove the ‘intrinsically political character of deconstruction’. What I am arguing is that deconstruction, particularly in this course dedicated to Heidegger’s Being and Time, when it has not discovered its own name yet, enables the solicitation of the archeo-teleological structuration of time, understood mainly as human history, which implies not only the solicitation of the logocentric understanding of language as signification, but also the interrogation of existence beyond its naturalized ‘subsumption’ to politics as practical life.
Let me anticipate any confusion here by declaring that I am not using the notion of ‘subsumption’ due to it ‘metaphoric power’, but because I am evocating Marx’s analysis of formal and real subsumption of life under capital’s logic of accumulation, to express the particular articulation between human existence and the onto-political demand imposed on it by the sacrificial conception of history as fulfilment. If Hegel has been read as the philosopher of modern society who discloses the logic of labor as production and self-production (a claim that Marcuse systematically elaborated even before Heidegger, and in a positive sense); he might also be the philosopher who better represents, thanks to his onto-political conception of history, the increasing subsumption of existence into the modern political demand that characterizes his auto-telic philosophy of history, which presupposes the full correspondence between the coming to be of the Spirit and the realization of history’s rational plot as an universal State. In short, Derrida insistence on Heidegger’s interrogation of the Hegelian subsumption of labor and politics to his onto-theological version of history is what enables the problematization that we have called ‘anchored historicity’.
Accordingly, to oppose this anchored and limited notion of historicity one does not need a ‘new’ beginning, a rupture, a refutation, or a cancellation of the tradition, but a problematization opened to the chances of a radical historicity. A historicity that is neither snared by the archeo-teleological structuration of temporality nor fascinated with the political demand that subsumes life to its schemata. To emphasize this possibility, in Heidegger and beyond, Derrida interrogates some few decisive referents of the modern philosophical history: Descartes, Kant Hegel, Marx, Husserl, etc. However, Hegel is, by all means, the principal adversary in a confrontation that differs radically from any sort of criticism, refutation or denunciation. Derrida, far from conventional criticism (as refutation, denunciation, judgment, etc.), starts by recognizing the relevance of Hegel, the thinker who has elaborated the most perfect articulation between history and logic. But continues toward Marx, Husserl, and one might add, to the Marxist tradition as this tradition would be still trapped in the same conception of history as realization through action, transformation, and final reconciliation. Here one may add a series of thinkers, from Descartes to Jünger, that identify themselves with the figures of the total mobilization, the principle of action, the affirmative forces, and the self-configuration, or better, the auto-production of the human history by the human practices. What matters for Derrida is not a simple mistake or an ideological blindness, on the contrary, what really matters is the fact that all these thinkers belong to the same constellation; one that has been unable to think historicity in a radical, non-limited, non-anchored way even if this historicity is what constitutes the matter of their respective thoughts.
What anchors historicity in each case, is the same ruse of reason with a different name: historical materialism, dialectical mediation, subject, reason, self-consciousness, science, practice, force, mobilization, production and auto-production, communicative language, among many others. In other words, what Derrida emphasizes in Heidegger is the radical interrogation of the shortcoming of contemporary philosophy (Hegel, Marx, and Husserl) enabled by his philosophical auseinandersetzung, without renouncing to question Heidegger’s own limitations, or to confront Heidegger’s Dasein analytics and its resoluteness:
This confrontation, I was saying, had to give a place, give place to a certain “destructive” rupture by Heidegger, a rupture with the Hegelian-Husserlian metaphysics of history, a spiritualist metaphysics, a metaphysics of Geist and Ratio determining historicity still too rapidly on the basis of knowledge and self-knowledge, of science and consciousness, letting itself be dictated by the categorial difference, held to be originary and irreducible, between nature and culture. (Heidegger: The Question of Being and History, 105)
In other words, what Derrida does in his 1964-65 course is not just a presentation of Heidegger’s main elaboration of the notion historicity as what would come after ontology, even after or instead of a fundamental ontology, but in pointing to the problem of historicity, and its ambivalences, Derrida also questions the series of decisions made by Heidegger in his particular elaboration of the Dasein’s existential analytics. Thanks to this sustained interrogation of Heidegger’s decisions, and to the role of decision as such in his existential analytics, the question of historicity remains undecided, opened to différance, as its other name, and not as a theory that would resolve anything. Therefore, my simple and single claim is this: in so far as deconstruction formulates the problem of historicity and formulates historicity as a problem, which is also the solicitation of the archeo-teleological understanding of time, it already opens the possibility for a politics that is not trapped in the onto-theological tradition, particularly in its modern (Hegelian) version, in which politics, understood as politization, is the key that articulates the metaphysical representation of time (metaphysic historicism) and human history as fulfillment, realization or coming to be of being, whether we speak about the achievement of a rational State or the reconciliation of humankind as a self-transparent community. I call this opening “disarticulation” in so far as what is delinked here is temporality, which is no longer organized by the structuration of the archeo-teleological ruse of reason, and human history divorced from the demands of a calculative political rationality.
Of course, I am not claiming that infrapolitical historicity is a better notion than politics, the political, the biopolitical, the impolitical, the metapolitical or any other notion that circulates today within our academic debates. Infrapolitical historicity is not a concept but a name that points towards a space other than the space of onto-politics, and as such, it remains as a possibility, not as an instance that can be clearly cut and separated from our conventional understanding of politics, which is fed by a historicist understanding of history. As a possibility, it cannot be confused with any foundational notion of ‘the new’, with any appealing to ‘the end’, with any notion of ‘rupture’, ‘break’ or even ‘realization’ as what is at stake here, in the very possibility of an infrapolitical historicity, is the relationship thinking could establish with the metaphysical notion of “the end of metaphysics” as the end of a mistake, the end of a nightmare, and with all the figures convocated by the rhetoric of the end and its promises. In other words, in so far as infrapolitical historicity remains as a possibility, its relation to politics could never be authoritative, critical, normative, condemnatory, reactive, without introducing by this, the whole problematic of metaphysics, that is to say, the whole petition principii that characterized the onto-political articulation it wants to detach from in the first place. As such, this possibility is “more important than its facticity” as it does not belong to the ontic realm of factuality, and because it remains as a possibility it is actually an impossible possibility that erodes the closure onto-politics promises, disclosing at the same time onto-politics itself as governed by the logic of the promise. There is not infrapolitical promise but only a possibility, the possibility of a problematic that thinks the articulation and disarticulation of ontology and politics as an opening to historicity.
So, it seems to me that Derrida emphasis on Heidegger’s destruction of the archeo-teleological structuration of time articulated as human history oriented to realization, questions also the very structure of the political demand, putting this demand in suspense. To suspend the political demand (and the demand as a political interpellation) is to open oneself to a thinking otherwise the political, or to think in a politics that is disarticulated from this onto-theological and archeo-teleological articulation to which labor and politics are the instantiations of reason (as a principle or arché that commands history). But, as we already stated, this disarticulation does not ‘work’ as a new ‘politics’, but as an interregnum or suspense of the demand and its subsumption of existence into its schema, and, as such, it stays open, as a problematic territory without principle or arché.
To think otherwise the political, is to think beyond any archeo-teleological trick, and without any politics of friendship. And this otherwise happens not as the foundation of a better politics, a more radical version of politics, it is neither the critique of what has been called the real politics of our time nor the calling for a new political philosophy. Again, and somehow against the grain of a predominant reading of the “late Derrida”, it seems to me that the questions asked and worked one time and another in the nine lectures of this course make evident that the so-called “late” political concerns of this thinker were already present and working through his books and interventions from the “beginning”, and were working there not as political concerns but rather as a deactivation of the political demand that burdens every intervention in our modern university and in our political modernity. The sustained interrogation of the onto-theological understanding of historicity performed by Derrida in these lectures are to be understood neither as an endorsement nor as a critique of Heidegger’s thought, they occur through a deactivation of the political demand that is also a deactivation of a particular articulation between historical fulfillment and political realization; an articulation whose consular figures are the idea of reconciliation, rationality, conscience, science, subject, sovereignty, politics and labor as production and mobilization.
These figures constitute what one might call a political metaphoricity that works anticipating the full realization of the archeo-teleological structuration of time as human history. As such, they are mobilized by a telos that works also as the promise of a better future, but at the cost of a sacrifice that ‘imprints’ its demands on a present that can only be lived through the metaphysics of presence, that is to say, a present that is always already subsumed to a principle of reason that gives reason to history, shaping it normatively. This political metaphoricity operationalizes the metaphysical notion of time, the onto-theological structuration of history, and the onto-political organization of action, defining the relationship between theory and practice, and providing a rationale to any particular political articulation. Reconciliation, human realization, universal community of men, active mobilization against passive nihilism, commitment against apathy, rationality against anomia, and so on, still refer to operations and displacements within the onto-theological capture of historicity. They belong to a repertoire that has proven unable to go beyond the anchored and limited notion of historicity that haunts the Western philosophical tradition including, up to a certain point, the thought of Martin Heidegger. And this is something we should keep open as the generous reading of Being and Time performed in the 1964-65 seminar does not subdue Derrida’s objections and solicitations addressed to Heidegger’s philosophy.
Certainly, as we already stated, Derrida’s generous reading of Being and Time moves away from the existentialist appropriation of Heidegger’s thought in France and elsewhere and emphasizes his overt novelty regarding the neo-Kantian and the phenomenological “schools” of that period. Nonetheless, this does not impede him the formulation of crucial questions addressed to the linguistic repertoire chosen by Heidegger when dealing with the necessity of asking the question of being again. His reading, in other words, solicits the misunderstanding around Heidegger’s main work and the shortcomings of what we might call Heidegger’s own metaphoricity when dealing with the problem of historicity, historiography, the historical, the immemorial, the proper and the improper, the authentic, and the very status of language as the house of being. In this sense, Derrida’s interrogation is not just the denouncement of the metaphors to which Heidegger appeals regularly. Derrida’s questioning of the function of language does not point toward the metaphysical postulation of an analytical language expurgated, once and for all, of any metaphoric or ambiguous content. On the contrary, his reading and teaching practices as an infinite interrogation, as an incorruptible solicitation, deals with Being and Time and other texts of that period, showing that the radical novelty of Heidegger’s formulation was not without a risk. The risk one runs when dwelling inadvertently, as a somnambulist, between sleep and wakefulness.
This risky thinking, nonetheless, could not be ignored or dismissed by the disqualifying accusation of Nazism to which Heidegger’s thought has been exposed. Already in these early lectures, Derrida confronts philosophically Heidegger without falling prey to any vulgar or common place. His solicitation values the thinking of the thinker and does not reduce its complexity to any sociological or derogatory plot. Even if the recent publications of the Black Notebooks have reopened the debate regarding Heidegger and his anti-Semitism, and the amount of interventions interested in proving his inner tendency to National-Socialism has increased during the last years (beyond the Farías’ affair and Faye’s persecutory work), Derrida already in these lectures attains a point of view that seems crucial, philosophically; a point of view that is further reaffirmed in his later work, making impossible to conflate and undifferentiated deconstruction with Heidegger’s destruction. In other words, the reading of Heidegger performed by Derrida is more complex than a mere denunciation. The Nazi echoes of Heidegger’s thought are, of course, to be problematized in his works, both in the overtly committed texts related to the German political situation of the 1930s, as well as in those dealing with his “best” philosophy. But the problem is more complex than this: “I believe [states Derrida], and here I agree with Lacoue-Labarthe, than the reading of Heidegger can help us, not on its own, of course, and not a simply orthodox and philological reading, but a certain active reading of Heidegger can help us to approach a way to think through what we condemn”. Consequently, it is necessary, for a radical interrogation, to singularize the Nazi elements in Heidegger but then to think these elements in tandem with the whole metaphysical tradition, not only because Heidegger would not be the first philosopher that shows some naiveté in relation to politics, but more importantly, because this naiveté is the consequence of the self-positioning of philosophy in a commanding relation to history. After all, the question of historicity that Derrida emphasizes as the question defining Being and Time is also the solicitation of the granted or naturalized relationship between philosophy and politics, a relationship that far from affecting only the thinking of Heidegger, marks the tragedy of philosophy in all its ‘misencounters’ with politics.
I am not just talking about the fantasy of the King-philosopher (Plato) or about the modern Sage (Hegel or Husserl); I am also referring to the structural determination of the relationship between theory and practice that grants philosophy, in general, a commanding role, whether we are speaking about the classical onto-theological tradition or about the modern conflict of the faculties. This problem is not a minor issue whatsoever and will be a constant preoccupation of Derrida as he deals with the question of philosophy and the national language, the University without conditions, the non-humanist humanities, the status of criticism, the resistance of psychoanalysis, and so on. But this interrogation should not be confused either with a simple renounce to philosophy, or even worse, with an anti-philosophical secret move that discards philosophy as a ‘death discipline’. The disarticulation between philosophy and politics as articulated in the onto-theological tradition, opens itself to radical historicity understood as a scattering logic of différance, to which no principle could be imposed without limiting again this historicity as it would become anchored to a new principle of arché. Heidegger’s national-socialism is a big and serious example of this, but not the only one.
Derrida’s reading of Being and Time, his questioning of the shortcomings of the Marxist tradition, his reformulation of the question of historicity, and his dealing with Hegel and others modern philosophers, are just preliminary elements to formulate the more difficult question regarding what we called infrapolitical historicity, understanding it neither as a simple re-elaboration of the political nor as the preparation for a “new” political philosophy, but rather as an interrogation of being as historicity and as différance that cannot be misunderstood as a politics of being.
In this sense, if one of the main claims of the infrapolitical thinking is the privilege of existence beyond its political reduction, this already implies several decisive moves: 1) to conceive of existence beyond its egological reduction. 2) To understand existence as the key place in which historicity and authenticity are related to a particular decision, a passive decision that remains as a decision, and still demands interrogation. 3) To “step out” of the hegemonic battles for power and to express the infrapolitical political position as a post-hegemonic position, beyond the recurrent “mistake” of falling within the metaphysical will to power. 4) To think existence beyond the anthropocentric and humanistic reduction of life to human life, Bios and Zoë, and all the determinations linked to the human privilege. And 5) to think of existence not only as irreducible to politics, but also as irreducible to any identitarian formulation related to the idea of representation (people, class, national identity, etc.), without postulating a notion of existence based upon a transcendental pureness, uncontaminated or pre-political.
My argument is that only and in so far as infrapolitics historicity be able to deal with these problems, the question of historicity could reach a radical formulation, one different than the anchored historicity of the tradition. For this, the consolation of a final moment of history (the liberal end of history or the Hegelo-Marxian moment of human reconciliation), does not and should not work, precisely because the very condition of a radical historicity implies a confrontation with facticity, without telling oneself stories.
One of these stories, with which I come back to Hispanic and Latin American Studies and conclude this intervention, is related to the recent decolonial claim about the rationality of colonized subjects. The logic of this claim homologates modernity, colonialism and capitalism and presents itself as a refusal of the Western philosophical tradition since this “tradition” would have been based upon an epistemological misconception of the non-Western cultures, peoples and ways of thinking. In order to opposed this philosophical and epistemological colonialism, this imperialism of the Western reason, the exponent of this claim postulate a delinking from the West that would allow a recovery of the always-forgotten historicity of subaltern subjects and cultures, without realizing that this is an inverse historicism, a historicism that far from dealing and soliciting the imperial condition of a particularly limited notion of historicity (the one proper to the rational, white, European man, for example), operates just as an expansion of it within the same horizon. In other words, the decolonial delinking shows itself as an imperial historicism in reverse or, even worse, as the reverse of imperial reason, in so far it is unable to radically problematize the anchored historicity feeding its claim. And this is important, beyond the university’s division of areas, because the problem of historicity also affects the geo-political representation of the world, a representation that the decolonial delinking shares even if by turning it upside down. In other words, what is at stake here, in the problematization of historicity and the onto-theological subsumption of life, is not the propriety of any disciplinary discourse, it concerns the status and the possibility of justice, which is deconstruction’s other name.
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- Marcuse, Herbert. Reason and Revolution. Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory. New York: Humanity Books, 1999.
- Schürmann, Reiner. Heidegger on Being and Acting: From Principles to Anarchy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
- Vitale, Francesco. Biodeconstruction. Mauro Senatore Trans. Albany; State University of New York Press, 2018.
- Williams, Jeffrey. “The Death of Deconstruction, the End of Theory, and Other Ominous Rumors”. Narrative, Vol. 4, No. 1 (Jan. 1996), pp. 17-35.
This article comes from my presentation at the “Transformative Thinking: A Conference on Jacques Derrida’s Seminars (1964-1965, 1975-1976)”, University of Michigan, September 29 and 30, 2017. I want to thank the participants of that conference whose interventions were important for my own reflection.
In the General Introduction to the courses, the editors explain the singular way the French academia understands the notion of ‘seminar’, a notion reserved for his lectures at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (the seminars on The Beast and the Sovereign, and The Death Penalty). Consequently, ‘course’ is used in reference to his lectures previous to 1984, year considered as the last in which Derrida was involved in the practice of curriculum design. This is, as they say, a division oriented by the idiosyncratic French university system, since the structure of courses and seminars is similar.
A denunciation that has recently recurred as one can see in relation to the series of interventions surrounding the so-called Avital Ronell affair. Despite the position one might take regarding the accusations and demands in this case, it is surprising (or, maybe not that much) the use of the “case” to discredit deconstruction and theory in general, in a context in which the calling for a non-theoretical approach to literature meets the age-old denunciation of deconstruction’s death. See Jeffrey Williams. “The Death of Deconstruction, the End of Theory, and Other Ominous Rumors”. 1996, as an antecedent to the series of interventions (Judith Butler, Jean-Luc Nancy, Marjorie Perloff, John Wiener, among many others), that frame what more sensationalists pieces refer as “cultural wars in the academia”, “the future of humanities”, and so on.
And far from suggesting that deconstruction emerges and continues the work of Destruktion, or that deconstruction is just an emphasis of the former, it would be almost impossible to select a finite group of texts written by Derrida that do not have to do with Heidegger’s thought. Not only the now completed Geschlecht series, or Of Spirit, but from early on to the last seminars, the presence of Heidegger in his texts is undeniable.
As those texts that appeared in 1967: Of Grammatology, Voice and Phenomenon, and, especially Writing and Difference (1978, a series of text published originally in 1967, but written between 1959-1967); along with those edited in 1972 as Margins of Philosophy (1984), since many of the problems Derrida addressed in those early interventions are also worked and thought in his courses. In fact, I consider the elaboration of the question of différance, his note to the note of Being and Time as an interrogation of the so-called “vulgar” conception of time, his own revision of Levinas’ critique of Heidegger and the solipsistic limitations of the existential analytics of Dasein (in “Violence and Metaphysics”), but also his interrogation of the origin as an always contaminated genesis in Husserl’s philosophy, and so on, as further developments of the kind of problems he identified in his earlier reading of Being and Time presented to us in the 64-5 course.
Neither against Heidegger and in favor of Marx nor the other way around, deconstruction’s permanent attention to différance could be understood as an alternative elaboration of radical historicity, an elaboration that, by definition, could not be formalize as theory.
Of course, in order to sustain this, Derrida reads not only Being and Time (2010) but a series of texts whose proximity is evident, among them, The Letter on Humanism (2008) and Introduction to Metaphysics (2000). Thanks to that, he can go over what seems to be Heidegger’s declared first intention, the constitution of a fundamental ontology that corrects the forgetting of being distinctive of classical ontology.
This is an observation articulated from the session four on, in the 1964-65 course. Matías Bascuñan’s intervention at the Conference, entitled “Heidegger’s ‘First Letter to Being’”, focused mainly on this problem. However, this is a point also related to what Bennington does regarding the status of the apophantic discourse in Aristotle and the cooriginary condition of the true and the false, a problem revisited by Heidegger and Derrida insistently. See: Geoffrey Bennington’s “Pseudos” (48-101), in Scatter 1 (2016).
A subsumption that would have occurred already with the very definition of life by Aristotle’s metaphysical and its principial philosophy, according to Reiner Schürmann’s an-archic approach. See Schürmann’s Heidegger on Being and Acting (1987).
The subsumption of life, in Marx’s analysis, however, should be understood as the subsumption of social life, that is to say, existence, and not life as a ‘natural’ or ‘biological’ fact. Nevertheless, there is not such a thing as ‘natural’ or merely ‘biological’ life (as postulated by biopolitical discourses and contested by Derrida in his seminars on The Beast and the Sovereign). This is also why the homologation of Derrida with the discourses on sovereignty and the biopolitical (see Malabou’s “Will Sovereignty Ever Be Deconstructed?” (37-46) in: Brenna Bhrandar and Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller Editors, Plastic Materialities 2015), seems to forget Derrida’s own interrogation of biology’s texts (I am taking advantage here of the recently published volume by Francesco Vitale, Biodeconstruction 2018).
But, I confess, I hesitate to use this notion of ‘ontic’ as it seems to re-introduce the problematic of the ontological difference that needs to be confronted now when we have introduced the question of historicity: how a radical historicity could deactivate or reformulate the presuppositions of the ontological question? Or, alternatively, up to what point the very disarticulation between history and logic implies also the dissolution of the ontological difference into a scattered logic of différance and dissemination?
But here, once again, every thinking of the end that presents itself as something new, would always run the risk of re-inseminating what they want to disseminate in the first place. Derrida somehow links this aporetic condition to the unfinished status of Being and Time, but far from presenting this unfinished condition as the abandonment of the project, he uses the figure of a “running out of breath” as a sensation of exhaustion that would have taken Heidegger while he was putting together (under many pressures, we know) his seminal book.