Category: philosophy

Violence/democracy

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To associate violence with democracy seems, on the surface, to be a profound misunderstanding of both terms. Violence, which was either associated with the arbitrary, spectacular display of power of the Absolutist State or with the life of human beings in the “state of nature,” would appear to be the antithesis of democracy. One version of the secularization thesis might hold that the violence visited upon Western European nations by the wars of religion has been sublimated into the ‘violence’ of competition in the unregulated market and the partisan political public sphere. The rule of law, guided by principles of equality, fairness, and justice, would seem to have removed the conditions that gave rise to societal and State violence.

In the view of many scholars of American democracy, the United States has been exceptional with respect to the phenomenon of political violence which has plagued much of the rest of the world in the twentieth-century. Louis Hartz’s still compelling thesis, that the liberal tradition took root in the United States to such an extent that Americans are unwittingly Lockean in political behavior, is still reflected in social scientific analyses. David Truman and Robert Dahl, in a less synthetic-historical mode, argue that American politics does not involve ideologically-driven political violence because it is oriented to compromise and negotiation. For Truman, this is explained by the fact that America’s robust associational life cause individuals to hold overlapping memberships in multiple interest groups. For Dahl, this associational life does not allow a minority interest group can become a dominant majority. In a word, then, American politics is about moderation. The views of Hartz, Truman, and Dahl indicate that American democracy is fundamentally incommensurable with violence; moreover, any violence that has occurred has been exceptional.

 

The definition of violence and its function

At the most general level, violence has been characterized in two forms: physical and symbolic violence. Physical violence is more clearly described: Weber’s generic definition of power coupled with his argument that the State monopolizes the legitimate use of violence might provide an initial sociological definition of physical violence. Violence that compels the action of individuals or groups includes, assault, torture, killing; the use of force to restrain action; the use of threats and/or physical force to compel conformity or acquiescence.

In the sociological literature and democratic political theory, physical violence is treated as synonymous with “violence.” Studies of social movements, collective action, and revolution as well as normative arguments against Absolutism, totalitarianism, and authoritarianism have focused almost exclusively on physical violence: from the violation of the physical integrity of individuals and groups to the physical exclusion or removal or individuals and groups from access to such social resources as food, wealth, occupations, and membership in a political community.

However, a different form of violence has come to be recognized in more recent years in a range of disciplines: anthropology, gender studies, literary theory, poststructuralist philosophy, and psychoanalytic studies. This violence, termed symbolic, pertains to what I have called the symbolic order of society: its representations, discourses, signifiers, names, and categories. These symbolic forms are both the means through which we understand the social world and the way in which we become situated within the social world. This system of social meanings can be construed as exerting a type of force or violence to the extent that these meanings and the bodies upon which they are projected are arranged hierarchically and, more importantly, are not necessarily freely chosen. Individuals and groups situated at the bottom of society’s symbolic order are more likely to experience symbolic violence (stigma, disparagement, hate speech, and representational dispossession) and are more likely to be the target of physical violence (political subordination, violations of bodily integrity, and material deprivation).

What explains the existence of violence? Leaving aside explanations that might be found in evolutionary psychology, three broad explanatory models offer different answers. Social theory and political theory have emphasized explanations of political violence; what can be called cultural theory has emphasized explanations of symbolic violence.

Briefly…

First, social theory:

Max Weber: physical violence is connected to societal domination; it is the power that can compel actions that individuals or groups would not otherwise undertake.

Emile Durkheim: Physical violence is meted out by society in the form of punishment: its function is moral insofar as it restores the that aspect of society that is integrated via mechanical solidarity.

Michel Foucault: On his account, the spectacle of physical violence as a mechanism of social control has gradually been replaced by the disciplines; the disciplines implant within each individual a predisposition to self-surveillance and correction. Institutions like the school, the military, and the medical professions (as well as correctional institutions themselves) are sites where disciplinary power produces docile bodies. This power cannot be understood in terms of the relations of State and society.

“One impoverishes the question of power if one poses it solely in terms of legislation and constitution, in terms solely of the state and the state apparatus. Power is quite different from and more complicated, dense and pervasive than a set of laws or a state apparatus.” (“The Eye of Power,” Power/Knowledge, 158)

Political theory: in the main, democratic theory views physical violence that rests outside of the maintenance of social order or national security to be anathema to the rule of law. The forms of violence enacted by the democratic constitutional state (from criminal justice to military defense) is legitimate so long as it is governed by rational procedures.

In contrast to this view of legitimate violence, Carl Schmitt dispensed with normative justification. Schmitt argues that the political only comes into existence in the fact of an existential threat to the way of life of a nation-state. Violence (as the transgression of Law) arises from an act of Sovereignty (the decision to suspend the Law) and is not guided by legal norms.

“The concept of the State presupposes the concept of the political” (19). “The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism, and every concrete antagonism becomes much more political the closer it approaches the most extreme point, that of the friend-enemy grouping” (29). “The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy” (26). “The friend enemy concepts are to be understood in their concrete and existential sense…” (27). “[The enemy] is not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy is solely the public enemy…” (28) (The Concept of the Political).

Cultural theory: cultural explanations articulate the logic and effects of symbolic violence, a form of violence that is not typically recognized as such in conventional social and political theory. Understood as the violence that is produced by virtue of the fact that we are situated in the force-field of language, symbolic violence is ubiquitous. In Judith Butler’s account (reflecting J. L. Austin and Louis Althusser), subjects are interpellated by linguistic performances. For Pierre Bourdieu, classifying practices consign individuals to high or low positions within various social fields.

Assumptions (…)

So far, I have proceeded without acknowledging several assumptions that lie behind these definitions.

1. I’ve assumed that physical violence is primarily produced by the State. Yet, violence occurs within the institutions and private spaces of civil society. Moreover, social movements have resisted as well as initiated violence against the State or segments of civil society with which they have come into conflict.

2. I’ve also assumed that physical and symbolic violence is illegitimate from a moral or legal standpoint). However, one can certainly ask whether there are violent acts that can be considered “normal”, as guided by norms? Or what distinguishes normal violence (such as incarceration) from exceptional violence; that is, violence that transgresses the legal order itself? Or, is violence that transgresses the law and social order in the name of law and order, legitimate?

In order to address these assumptions and questions, I’ll limit my discussion to two areas: the question of legitimate versus illegitimate violence in relation to democratic institutions. Here I’ll touch on the opposition of normal and exceptional violence, and of internal and external violence. Second, I’ll touch on the American case itself, namely, the relation of Republicanism to violence and the American State.

 

Legitimacy/Illegitimacy

Presumably clear-cut examples of legitimate forms of violence would include the internal violence that is related to the punishment of criminals and the external violence that arises in the case of a “just war.”

It is taken for granted that specific acts, classified as criminal, are punishable under the law. Leaving aside capital punishment, incarceration involves violence to body of the criminal: it restrains his or her movement. It also constitutes a form of symbolic violence or symbolic exclusion: the criminal is the one who is no longer fit to walk freely among us; she is the one who “forfeits” her right of liberty. The violence that relates to punishment is legitimate as long as the rule of law is upheld, as long as legal procedures have been carried through fairly and justly. Nonetheless, inside prisons violence and the threat of violence is every present, from sexual assault to prison riots. Can the exposure of convicted criminals to these forms of violence be justified with respect to the rule of law or the claim that this is the price of social order?

With respect to the legitimate violence that is directed externally towards other societies, there are two ways of legitimizing extra-territorial violence. The first is related to the theory of just war. For Michael Walzer, States may, with moral justification, inflict violence against another State in defense of its integrity and the lives or its citizens. Included under this notion of defense is the pre-emptive strike that maybe justly undertaking when a threat of war is imminent.

The second way for democratic states to “justify” external violence dispenses with Walzerian normative considerations. Again, Schmitt is a useful guide. For Schmitt, war is the moment when the political comes into existence. In order to defend the way of life of a nation from internal and external enemies, the State (the Sovereign) must suspend the rule of law. However, the justification for this action is not a legal norm but rather self-preservation.

“Sovereign is he who decides the exception. . . . The assertion that the exception is truly appropriate for the juristic definition of sovereignty has systematic, legal-logical foundation. The decision on the exception is a decision in the true sense of the word. Because a general norm, as represented by an ordinary legal prescription, can never encompass a total exception, the decision that a real exception exists cannot therefore be entirely derived from this norm. . . . The exception, which is not codified in the existing legal order, can at best be characterized as a case of extreme peril, a danger to the existence of the state, or the like. But it cannot be circumscribed factually and made to conform to a preformed law” (Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, 5-6.)

What Schmitt imagines is a scenario in which sovereignty comes into sharp focus, such as when the State (a single or collective actor) takes an action that transcends the existing legal order.* Such an exceptional action, which Schmitt associates with a situation of extreme political or economic peril, abjures the rule of law even if the decision on the exception is premised on the presence of legal norms. This decision corresponds to events that cannot be entirely planned for within the normatively and normally valid legal system. In short, the occurrence of the unexpected calls forth, and can only be addressed by, the decision on the exception: the sovereign.

In this formulation, Schmitt affirms that it is the sovereign who possesses unlimited power. He points out that the tendency of the liberal constitutional state is to “repress the question of sovereignty by a division and mutual control of competences.” Such a tendency is evidenced by system of checks and balances provided for in the American Constitution, of which the enactment of the War Powers Act of 1973 is a prime example.** Yet, according to Schmitt, no amount of constitutional maneuvering can remove the defining moment of sovereignty: the act of deciding the exception.

Of course, what constitutes a state of emergency or crisis or threat to a way of life is not given objectively but rather involves social construction. Take the United States: Emergency and crisis rhetoric has been used at various points to justify physical and symbolic violence against numerous internal and external enemies who may or may not have been existential threats: from the civil war to the post-Reconstruction era one party system of the American South; from the red scares and anti-immigration legislation of the late 1910s-20s to the New Deal; from the forced relocation of Japanese American citizens in WWII to the Cold War and McCarthyite anti-Communism. The current post-9/11 situation offers many illustrations of the social construction of a state of emergency that authorizes the Sovereign decision on the exception.

 

The Birth of a Violent Nation

Yet the question of the legitimacy of violence in relation to democratic regimes (in particular, the United States), can be traced back to the constitutive moments of the nation; the birth of a violent Nation. The founding of America was conditioned by three forms of physical violence: the violent relations that arose between the English puritan settlers and the native populations of North America; the violence that was connected with the importation of indentured and slave labor; and the violence that was associated with the Revolution. Moreover, violence is imbricated in the juridical documents that define the scope of democracy in America. The act of Founding itself, the constitutive (and constitutional) act of writing the nation into Law, begins with the words, “We the People.” This can be construed as an act of symbolic violence insofar as it called into being a “people” that did not exist prior to the performative act of naming and insofar as the act itself presupposed that a particular “people” already existed. Whereas, logically, the “people” did not exist prior to the document calling it into being, it did exist as a practical reality: the “people” included those who were not already excluded by previous and ongoing acts of physical and symbolic violence (Native Americans, enslaved Africans, and British loyalists). The non-recognition or misrecognition of these forms of physical and symbolic violence that inhere in the founding of the American nation—the naturalization of history, or what Bourdieu calls genesis amnesia, that is encouraged by the natural rights tradition—has meant that the subsequent unearthing of this repressed memory of violence—exemplified by the Dred Scott v. Sanford decision of 1857—makes violence appear to be more the exception than the rule in American history. Moreover, the process through which violence in American democracy has been naturalized leads, I believe, to an interesting disconnection of the official discourse of America as an exceptional democracy from the continuation of violence after the Founding: for example, violence associated with Indian Removal during the Presidency of Andrew Jackson, the conditions of involuntary servitude in the plantation economy, the violence associated with post-Reconstruction institution of Jim Crow segregation (lynching), and the violence the swirled around the history of labor organizing.

 

Puritanism and Republicanism: A Thick Culture of Violence

To be explicit: the opposition I set up initially between violence and American democracy might actually be better conceptualized as a relationship of co-constitution. To consider this possibility means one must take up, at first, an anti-Tocquevillean perspective, or at least one that treats the Tocquevillean interpretation of democracy in America critically.

I will only briefly suggest two discursive and logics by which we might uncover the constitutive element of physical and symbolic violence at the heart of America’s Founding. One discourse is that of Puritanism; the other, Republicanism. The discourse of Puritanism has the “virtue” of being explicit in its advocacy of symbolic and physical exclusion of those deemed morally unworthy of inclusion. The Puritan mission into the wilderness was both a trial of faith and a realization of the purification of faith in a community of believers (see Bercovitch, American Jeremiad; Slotkin, Regeneration Through Violence). The encounter with both nature and North American native populations, both of which were rendered theologically as manifestations of the Devil, produced violent acts against the Native Other and the Other within the Puritan community: backsliders and witches. There are echoes in the sermons of seventeenth-century Puritan ministers like Cotton and Increase Mather of present day jihads against Western infidels.

The other dominant discourse, Republicanism, is less explicit about violence but has been able, nonetheless, to construct a logic that naturalizes its violent aspects. Republican discourse, like Puritanism, raises the question of political boundaries (who are the “people” who are to be the authors of democratic legality). Until the late 1910s and 1960s, women and racial minorities (respectively) were not fully included as part of “the people.” From the compromise on slavery during the Constitutional Convention to the Plessy case to the rise of various racial sciences which justified the exclusion of racial and certain immigrant groups; from vigilante justice deployed in race riots, police riots, and the resistance to such violence by subject groups, Republican principles have helped to define “the people” in both physical and symbolic terms.

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* Nonetheless, Schmitt intends his discussion as a presentation of a “general concept in the theory of the state, and not merely to a construct applied to any emergency decree or state of siege.” (Political Theology, 5). His larger point is to ground the legal order on sovereignty rather than a norm: “After all, every legal order, which is applied as something self-evident, contains within it the contrast of two distinct elements of the juristic—norm and decision. Like every other order, the legal order rests on a decision and not on a norm.” (Political Theology, 10). Schmitt’s decisionism is not the concern here; rather, I am only interested in the insight that his concept of sovereignty provides on the decision that defines an act of war (being-in and at-war).

** The War Powers Act (Public Law 93-148) was aimed at the perceive abuses of the Nixon Presidency (e.g., withholding information from Congress concerning deployment of American forces in Cambodia during the Vietnam conflict).

Ballad of lemons

Trump’s former associates should fear Putin’s ire more. Trump retaliates with childish nicknames; Putin uses chemical weapons.

The White House released a picture of a Putin puppet and opioid addict playing golf.

One can’t be a Republican politician without also being a hypocrite. What this lot have added to their list of official positions is “Russian agent.”

Sarah Sanders’ soul is predestined for the hot place for lying like the Devil.

Journalists are not astute thinkers.

They’re limited by very short term thinking (tomorrow’s front page, tomorrow’s A block) and an obsession for the “scoop” as opposed to the truth. Big news events like Russia-Trump collusion are simply beyond their pay grade.

In 50 years, no one will know who Brian Leiter was.

Metall auf metall

To paraphrase Kant: English is the language of commerce; German, the language of philosophy; French, the language of poetry.

MDMA is making a comeback. It’s safe to bring out your pacifier and glow sticks.

The most dangerous drug is monotheism.

It’s no surprise that Mr Trump stiffed the Veterans, got caught, and was forced to pony up.

The law & order, family values Republican Party is throwing its support behind a twice divorced harlequin, who is also a grifter and a cheat.

We are not even close to peak Bond watch. It’s time for a non-binary Bond.

Montaigne

If doctors want to know how to cure syphilis it is right that they should first catch it themselves! I would truly trust the one who did; for the others pilot us like a man who remains seated at his table, painting seas, reefs and harbours and, in absolute safety, pushing a model boat over them. – Montaigne 1595 (2003: 1225)

Michel de Montaigne’s (b. 28 February 1533) Essays (1595), a set of personal meditations notable for their earthiness, concern with common matters, and aphoristic style, stand in stark contrast to the formalism, and logical reasoning, of the Schoolmen that had been perfected over the course of three centuries. This contrast is no more apparent than in the concluding book of the Essays, in which Montaigne writes at length about experience as leading closer to the truth of things than scholastic reasoning alone. “Of Experience” opens with the declaration that “No desire is more natural than the desire for knowledge. We assay all the means that can lead us to it, when reason fails us we make use of experience.” Although, in comparison to logical rigor of scholasticism, experience is “a weaker and less dignified means,” the search for truth is “so great a matter that we must not disdain any method that leads to it” (Montaigne 2003: 1207). Experience is recommended as a means to knowledge because reason can fail and because, according to Montaigne, truth can be made accessible by several methods. Therefore, experience – which lacks dignity in comparison to scholastic reason – has a legitimate contribution to make to human knowledge. One indication of the failure of reason cited by Montaigne is the burgeoning number of commentaries on topics ranging from law and ancient philosophy to matters of divinity.

We have doubts on reading Ulpian: our doubts are increased by Bartolo and Baldus. The traces of that countless diversity of opinion should have been obliterated, not used as ornaments or stuffed into the heads of posterity. All I can say is that you can feel from experience that so many interpretations dissipate the truth and break it up. Aristotle wrote to be understood: if he could not manage it, still will a less able man (or a third party) manage to better than Aristotle. By steeping our material we macerate it and stretch it. […] Can anyone deny that glosses increase doubts and ignorance, when there can be found no book which men toil over in either divinity or the humanities whose difficulties have been exhausted by exegesis? The hundredth commentator dispatches it to his successor prickling with more difficulties than the first commentator of all had ever found in it. Do we ever agree among ourselves that ‘this book already has enough glosses: from now on there is no more to be said on it?’ That can be best seen from legal quibbling. We give force of law to an infinite number of legal authorities, an infinite number of decisions and just as many interpretations. Yet do we ever find an end to our need to interpret? (Montaigne 2003: 1210)

This embarrassment of riches of multiple and diverse interpretations and opinions on a multitude of topics fails to achieve what is sought after – certainty in knowledge – and, consequently, debilitates knowledge rather than enhancing it. Montaigne refers to a question posed by Socrates to Meno, “what is virtue?,” to illustrate this point. “‘There is,’ said Meno, ‘the virtue of a man, a woman, a statesman, a private citizen, a boy and an old man.’ That’s a good start,’ said Socrates. ‘We were looking for a single virtue and here is a swarm of them.’” (Montaigne 2003: 1213). If opinions are necessarily diverse, and if interpretation and commentary macerates the material to be understood, then the possibility of generalizable knowledge is put into question.

The inability of philosophical reasoning to arrive at certain statements of truth lies at the basis of Montaigne’s skepticism and his resulting turn to, and rehabilitation of, the idea of experience as a guide to living and acting within the world, as an additional method for the apprehension of truth. To be sure, Montaigne’s examples are drawn primarily from the areas of justice and morality, rather than the study of the empirical world. One could argue that judgments of right and wrong behavior and action are necessarily indeterminate,[1] whereas statements of fact about what is the case are not.[2] Nonetheless, Montaigne only lends credence to knowledge found in his own experience, and not to the lessons offered by the experiences of others: “there is enough, I find, in my own experience to make me wise.” Thus, he asserts

I study myself more than any other subject. That is my metaphysics; that is my physics. […] I, unconcerned and ignorant within this universe, allow myself to be governed by this world’s general law, which I shall know sufficiently when I feel it. […] Scientific investigations and inquiries serve merely to feed our curiosity. They have nothing to do with knowledge so sublime: the philosophers are very right to refer us to the laws of Nature, but they pervert them and present Nature’s face too sophistically, painted in colours which are far too exalted, from which arise so many diverse portraits of so uniform a subject. As Nature has furnished us with feet to walk with, so has she furnished us with wisdom to guide us in our lives. (Montaigne 2003: 1217, 1218)

Montaigne refers to a “Platonic paradox” to illustrate the inadequacy of philosophical reasoning: “those who know do not have to inquire since they know already: neither do those who do not know, since to find out you need to know what you are inquiring into” (Montaigne 2003: 1220).[3] Those who know have no need of philosophical reasoning for they already have knowledge; Those who don’t know have no use for philosophical reasoning, since they would already have to know that about which they would deploy such reasoning. The discussion in “Of Experience” of Montaigne’s bodily constitution, his physical debilities (in particular, kidney stones), his preferences with respect to food, wine, sleep, and the quality of his mattress, is an exemplary model of self-reflection that dispenses with, and shows the limits of, philosophical reasoning (i.e. scholasticism) in favor of the experiential and the bodily knowledge of human life.

Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays [1595]. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

[1] “Now laws remain respected not because they are just but because they are laws. That is the mystical basis of their authority. They have no other. It serves them well, too. Laws are often made by fools, and even more often by men who fail in equity because they hate equality: but always by men, vain authorities who can resolve nothing” (Montaigne 2003: 1216).

[2] “1 The world is all that is the case. 1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things. 1.2 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts. 1.12 For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case” (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 5).

[3] The superiority of self-knowledge derived from experience extends into the scientific field. According to Montaigne, experience is the “proper dung-heap” of medicine. “Tiberius said that anyone who had lived for twenty years ought to be able to tell himself which things are harmful to his health and which are beneficial and to know how to proceed without medicine” (Montaigne 2003: 1225).

il n’y a pas de hors-texte

In “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”, Jacques Derrida comments on problem of interpretation. The epigram from Montaigne that introduces this essay is curious, a sort of anti-Thesis 11 (Marx):

We need to interpret interpretations more than to interpret things.

We can stop our reading here and ask, why? Why not interpret things? Doesn’t study of human society involve the interpretation of things, the things of society?

Perhaps Derrida answers this question in Of Grammatology, where he discusses the relation of writing and reading:

…the writer writes in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely. He uses them only by letting himself, after a fashion and up to a point, be governed by the system. And the reading must always aim at a certain relationship, unperceived by the writer…” (p. 158)

Now Maurice Blanchot in The Space of Literature:

The writer belongs to a language which no one speaks, which is addressed to no one, which has no center, and which reveals nothing. He may believe that he affirms himself in this language, but what he affirms is altogether deprived of self. (Space, p. 16)

Back to Derrida: What, then, is the “task of reading”? Reading involves a doubling commentary, which is unavoidable but is never really a reading of a text; the reading of the text does not involve reaching beyond language to a referent external to the text:

To produce this signifying structure obviously cannot consist of reproducing, by the effaced and respectful doubling of commentary, the conscious, voluntary, intentional relationship that the writer institutes in his exchanges with the history to which he belongs thanks to the element of language….Without this recognition and this respect, critical production would risk developing in any direction at all and authorize itself to say almost anything. But this indispensable guard rail has always only protected, it has never opened, a reading. (Of Grammatology, 158).

Yet if reading must not be content with doubling the text, it cannot legitimately transgress the text toward something other than it, toward a referent (a reality that is metaphysical, historical, psychobiographical, etc.) or toward a signified outside the text whose content could take place, could have taken place outside of language, that is to say, in the sense that we give here to that word, outside of writing in general. That is why the methodological considerations that we risk applying here to an example are closely dependent on general propositions that we have elaborated above; as regards the absense of the referent or the transcendental signified. There is nothing outside of the text [there is no outside-text; il n’y a pas de hors-texte]. (Of Grammatology, 158).

Back to the epigram, “We need to interpret interpretations more than to interpret things”: What does this mean for the human sciences? Don’t the human sciences attempt to reach through interpretation to the things themselves? Isn’t language really just a tool used to reach the things of reality? Or is Derrida correct to remind us that language, as a system of signs, has its own materiality, its own force and play, its own energia? Should we not see that the contradiction between our concepts and the reality out there (the dualism that haunts Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Gadamer, and numerous others) does not arise at the level of reality but rather at the level of language itself, in the space of textuality?

Or is Foucault’s criticism of Derrida correct:

Today Derrida is the most decisive representative of the [Classical] system in its final brilliance; the reduction of discursive practices to textual traces; the elision of the events that are produced there in order to retain nothing but marks for a reading; the invention of voices behind the texts in order not to have to analyze the modes of implication of the subject in discourse; assigning the spoken and the unspoken in the text to an originary place in order not to have to reinstate the discursive practices in the field of transformations where they are effected. (Harari, p. 41, Histoire de la folie, p. 602).

I read Foucault to be saying the following: whereas Derrida thinks force resides in the text, I (Foucault) think force resides in the field of forces in which the text has its effectivity. If Foucault is correct that Derrida’s emphasis on the text and play within the sign or structure of language leaves behind the play of language in practice, is there a way to reinsert Derrida’s critique into this field of transformations? Or should we agree with Derrida, who might have argued that the field its only possible through language?

Perhaps Josué Harari  can provide some clarity: speaking of deconstruction he writes

Deconstruction implies an operation involving the dismantling of something into discrete component parts and suggests the ever-present possibility of putting the object back together in its original form. This is clearly not the case with, nor the aim of, Derridean deconstruction, which consists more of the tracing of a path among textual strata in order to stir up and expose forgotten or dormant sediments of meaning which have accumulated and settled into the text’s fabric. (‘A text always has several epochs and reading must resign itself to this fact’ [Of Grammatology, p. 42]) Thus, deconstruction is really more of a technique of de-sedimentation…a technique of de-sedimenting the text in order to allow what was always already inscribed in its texture to resurface (Harari, Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism, p. 36-37)

This makes sense (I think) when speaking of written texts; what does it mean for the possible de-sedimentation of social action? If we treat social action as a text, as does Ricoeur, does deconstruction, de-sedimentation, makes more sense: social scientists would then “stir up and expose forgotten or dormant sediments of meaning”? Is this analogous to stirring up the forgotten – the repressed – social unconscious, that arises from action itself, action qua text?

All that, and we’ve only just finished with the epigram…

Jacques Derrida, “Structure, sign, and play in the discourse of the human sciences,” Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 278-293

Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974)

Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982)

Being alive

Munich is the Austin of Bavaria.

Madonna has been accused of “cultural appropriation.” However, none of the critics are aware that so-called cultural appropriation is otherwise known as life. In the sphere of popular culture, it is otherwise known as late capitalism. There’s nothing remarkable about it.

*

New information has surfaced about Sartre’s refusal of the Nobel Prize for Literature:

A letter sent by French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in 1964 declining the Nobel Prize for Literature came too late to avert one of the biggest debacles in its history, Swedish media reported Saturday.

Sartre’s letter arrived nearly a month after he had been picked as the top choice by the Nobel Committee, the daily Svenska Dagbladet reported, based on archival material made available at the end of a customary 50-year period of secrecy.

The report throws light on the sequence of events leading to Sartre’s decision to become the only person to willingly turn down the world’s most prestigious literary prize.

Perhaps Sartre was prescient: his “literary” works are hardly read anymore. Even worse, his philosophical texts are now antiques from the bygone age of existentialist Marxism.

For example, in Search for a Method Sartre asserts “we are convinced at one and the same time that historical materialism furnished the only valid interpretation of history and that existentialism remained the only concrete approach to reality” (1968, p 21). Who today would have the courage to embrace either of these claims?