First, I would like to say, even if this shocks certain amongst you and even if I myself took my head in my hands when Richard Rorty said that I was sentimental and that I believed in happiness, I think that he's right. This is something very complicated that I would like to come back to later, but I am very grateful to Richard Rorty for having dared to say something very close to my heart and which is essential to what I am trying to do. Even if it appears very provocative to say it and even if I began by protesting, I think that I was wrong. I am very sentimental and I believe in happiness; and I believe that this has an altogether determinant place in my work. There are so many rich and complex matters to which to respond and I cannot, in improvising, respond to all that has been said. I have the choice between several possibilities and I am going to choose the following: I am going to offer some introductory general remarks after which I will try to respond to some of the questions posed by Simon Critchley, Ernesto Laclau and Richard Rorty.
I will speak French, I am the first to speak French here, and I do this both in order to save time, but also because I think that the question of language is essential to everything that we are discussing here. At bottom, if there are differences between us, this essentially derives from a question of language, not in the sense of different traditions of thinking, national differences, about which there would be a lot to say: for example, my incomprehension with regard to what happens in the United States, whether that concerns Rorty's thinking, or whether that concerns what takes place within American deconstructionism, and whether this derives from an ignorance on my part with regard to their tradition; but it is not this which I am going to insist upon, although it is very important. It is rather the fact that I try to take language seriously, and the contingent fact, of which the consequences are incalculable even if I am not French by birth, that I am bound to the French language and I would like to take account of this in the work of thinking and the work of politics. From this question of language a whole world of consequences follow, at the end of which I will try to come back to our theme.
First of all, the question of argumentation. We are here in order to discuss, and in order to exchange arguments as clear, univocal and communicable as possible. On the other hand, the question that is often raised on the subject of deconstruction is that of argumentation. I am reproached-deconstructionists are reproached-with not arguing or not liking argumentation, etc., etc. This is obviously a defamation. But this defamation derives from the fact that there is argumentation and argumentation, and this is often because in contexts of discussion like the present one where the prepositional form, a certain type of prepositional form, governs, and where a certain type of micrology is necessarily effaced, where the attention to language is necessarily reduced, argumentation is clearly essential. And what interests me, obviously, are other protocols, other argumentative situations where one does not renounce argumentation simply because one refuses to discuss under certain conditions. As a consequence, I think that the question of argumentation is here central, discussion is here central, and I think that the accusations that are often made against deconstruction derive from the fact that its raising the stakes of argumentation is not taken into account. The fact that it is always a question of reconsidering the protocols and the contexts of argumentation, the questions of competence, the language of discussion, etc.
I think that deconstruction-excuse my frequent usage of this word-shares much, and Simon Critchley noted this very well, with certain motifs of pragmatism. In order to proceed quickly, I recall that from the beginning the question concerning the trace was connected with a certain notion of labour, of doing, and that what I called then pragrammatology tried to link grammatology and pragmatism. And I would say that all the attention given to the performative dimension, which Simon Critchley examined very thoroughly in his essay, is also one of the places of affinity between deconstruction and pragmatism.
Since one of the topics of this volume concerns the distinction between the public and the private and since the questions posed by Simon Critchley were rightly orientated by this question, I would like to say the following, particularly to Richard Rorty to whom I have a great deal of gratitude for the reading, at once tolerant and generous, that he has given of many of my texts. Nevertheless, I must say that I obviously cannot accept the public/private distinction in the way he uses it in relation to my work. This distinction has a long history, of which the genealogy is not so well known, but if I have tried to withdraw a dimension of experience-whether I call it 'singularity', the 'secret' or whatever-from the public or political sphere, and I will come back to this, I would not call this private. In other words, for me the private is not defined by the singular (I do not say personal, because I find this a slightly confused notion) or the secret. In so far as I try to thematize a dimension of the secret that is absolutely irreducible to the public, I also resist the application of the public/private distinction to this dimension.
Let's take the example of literature, since in the 'developmental thesis' of which Simon Critchley spoke and which Rorty now seems clearly to reject, Rorty distinguishes my first works, which are judged to be more philosophical from my later, allegedly more literary works. Rorty returned to this topic when he said that it is necessary to begin by publishing works which reassure the university and that this is also a question of politics and editorial legitimation. This is true, but it is not only that. I believe that my first texts, let's call them more academic or philosophically more reassuring, were also already well beyond the editorial field of social legitimation, and were also a discursive and theoretical (I do not say fundamental or foundational) condition, an irreversibly necessary condition for what came later. It would not only have been impossible to publish Glas without De la grammatologie, but it would also have been impossible to write Glas without the early work. It is here a question of an irreversible philosophical-or quasi-philosophical-trajectory. For me, the texts that are apparently more literary, and more tied to the phenomena of natural language, like Glas or La Carte postale, are not evidence of a retreat towards the private, they are performative problematizations of the public/private distiction. There are a number of examples: in its way, the question of the family in Hegel discussed in Glas, of the relation of the family to civil society and the state, can be seen as a performative elaboration of the private on a theoretical, philosophical and political plane; it is not a retreat to private life. La Carte postale, the very structure of the text, is one where the distinction between the public and the private is rightly undecidable. And this undecidability poses philosophical problems to philosophy, and political problems, such as what is meant by the public and by the political itself; it poses questions to Heidegger on the concept of destination and the sending of destiny; and when one speaks of destination and the irreducible indeterminateness of destination, we are not simply within literature and within the private, assuming for the moment that one can distinguish the two.
I would like to insist on this because it is a recurrent accusation and, given the constraints of time and context, I will have to speak a little brutally: I have never tried to confuse literature and philosophy or to reduce philosophy to literature. I am very attentive to the difference of space, of history, of historical rites, of logic, of rhetoric, protocols and argumentation. I try to be attentive to this distinction as much as possible. Literature interests me, supposing that, in my own way, I practise it or that I study it in others, precisely as something which is the complete opposite of the expression of private life. Literature is a public institution of recent invention, with a comparatively short history, governed by all sorts of conventions connected to the evolution of law, which allows, in principle, anything to be said. Thus, what defines literature as such, within a certain European history, is profoundly connected with a revolution in law and politics: the principled authorization that anything can be said publicly.
In other words, I am not able to separate the invention of literature, the history of literature, from the history of democracy. Under the pretext of fiction, literature must be able to say anything; in other words, it is inseparable from the human rights, from the freedom of expression, etc. One could, if there were time, examine the history of this right that literature has to say anything, and the many limits that are imposed upon it. It is obvious that if democracy remains to come (à venir), this right to say anything, even in literature, is not concretely realized or actualized. In any case, literature is the right in principle to say anything, and it is to the great advantage of literature that is an operation at once political, democratic and philosophical, to the extent that literature allows one to pose questions that are often repressed in a philosophical context. Naturally, this literary fictionality can, at one and the same moment, make one responsible (I can say anything and thus, not only do I not simply say what I please, but I also pose the question concerning to whom I am responsible), and make one irresponsible (I can say whatever I like and I say it in the guise of a poem, a fiction or a novel). In this responsibility to say anything in literature, there is a political experience as to knowing who is responsible for what and before whom. This is a great good fortune which is linked to the historical adventure of democracy, notably European, and towards which political and philosophical reflection must not be inattentive, and must not confine literature to the private or domestic realm.
I also want to speak of the secret in this regard, because-and at the same time-the right to say anything is said in keeping the secret. For example, in La Carte postale anything is said, nobody tells me what to say, but at the same time the secret is kept absolutely. And this secret is not something that I keep within me; it is not me. The secret is not the secret of representation that one keeps in one's head and which one chooses not to tell, it is rather a secret coextensive with the experience of singularity. The secret is irreducible to the public realm-although I do not call it private-and irreducible to publicity and politicization, but at the same time, this secret is that on the basis of which the public realm and the realm of the political can be and remain open. It is on the basis of the secret that I would take up again the question of democracy, because there is a concept of politics and democracy as openness-where all are equal and where the public realm is open to all-which tends to deny, efface or prohibit the secret; in any case, it tends to limit the right to secrecy to the private domain, thereby establishing a culture of privacy (I think that this is the dominant and hegemonic tendency in the history of politics in the West). This is a very serious matter, and it is against this interpretation of democracy that I have attempted to think an experience of the secret and of singularity to which the public realm has no right and no power. Even if we take the example of the most triumphalistic totalitarianism, I believe the secret remains inaccessible and heterogeneous to the public realm. And this heterogeneity is not depoliticizing, it is rather the condition of politicization: it is the way of broaching the question of the political, of the history and genealogy of this concept, with the most concrete consequences.
After these few general remarks, I would now like to turn to some of the themes discussed by Simon Critchley, Ernesto Laclau and Richard Rorty. As Simon Critchley remarked on a couple of occasions, the question of the transcendental has been modified by the 'quasi', and therefore if transcendentality is important to me, it is not simply in its classical sense (although that still interests me greatly). It is because of the highly unstable, and slightly bizarre character of the transcendental that, in Glas, I wrote 'quasi-transcendental' and Rodolphe Gasché has made a great deal of this 'quasi'. Now, one of the questions one can pose with regard to this 'quasi' is the connection between it and the question of fiction and literature of which I spoke just now. Do I just speak of this 'quasi' in an ironical, comic or parodic manner, or is it a question of something else? I believe both. There is irony and there is something else. As Simon Critchley said, quoting Rorty, I seem to make noises of both sorts. Now, I claim this right to make noises of both sorts in an absolutely unconditional manner. I absolutely refuse a discourse that would assign me a single code, a single language game, a single context, a single situation; and I claim this right not simply out of caprice or because it is to my taste, but for ethical and political reasons. When I say that quasi-transcendentality is at once ironic and serious, I am being sincere. There is evidently irony in what I do-which I hope is politically justifiable-with regard to academic tradition, the seriousness of the philosophical tradition and the personages of the great philosophers. But, although irony appears to me necessary to what I do, at the same time-and this is a question of memory-I take extremely seriously the issue of philosophical responsibility. I maintain that I am a philosopher and that I want to remain a philosopher, and this philosophical responsibility is something that commands me.
Something that I learned from the great figures in the history of philosophy, from Husserl in particular, is the necessity of posing transcendental questions in order not to be held within the fragility of an incompetent empiricist discourse, and thus it is in order to avoid empiricism, positivism and psychologism that it is endlessly necessary to renew transcendental questioning. But such questioning must be renewed in taking account of the possibility of fiction, of accidentality and contingency, thereby en-suring that this new form of transcendental questioning only mimics the phantom of classical transcendental seriousness without renouncing that which, within this phantom, constitutes an essential heritage. And I believe that what I said earlier about fiction and literature is indispensable for the elaboration of this quasi-transcendentality.
This is notably the case when I think of how I have been regularly lead back over the past thirty years, and in relation to quite different problems, to the necessity of defining the transcendental condition of possibility as also being a condition of impossibility. This is something that I am not able to annul. Clearly, to define a function of possibility as a function of impossibility, that is, to define a possibility as its impossibility, is highly unorthodox from a traditional transcendental perspective, and yet this is what reappears all the time, when I come back to the question of the fatality of aporia. I think I am in complete agreement with what Ernesto said about the question of transcendentality from a political point of view.
A word on the important theme of emancipation. Simon Critchley claimed that I said something surprising when I remarked, in 'Force of Law', that I refuse to renounce the great classical discourse of emancipation. I believe that there is an enormous amount to do today for emancipation, in all domains and all the areas of the world and society. Even if I would not wish to inscribe the discourse of emancipation into a teleology, a metaphysics, an eschatology, or even a classical messianism, I none the less believe that there is no ethico-political decision or gesture without what I would call a 'Yes' to emancipation, to the discourse of emancipation, and even, I would add, to some messianicity. It is necessary here to explain a little what I mean by messianicity.
It is not a question of a messianism that one could easily translate in Judaeo-Christian or Islamic terms, but rather of a messianic structure that belongs to all language. There is no language without the performative dimension of the promise, the minute I open my mouth I am in the promise. Even if I say that 'I don't believe in truth' or whatever, the minute I open my mouth there is a 'believe me' at work. Even when I lie, and perhaps especially when I lie, there is a 'believe me' in play. And this 'I promise you that I am speaking the truth' is a messianic apriori, a promise which, even if it is not kept, even if one knows that it cannot be kept, takes place and qua promise is messianic. And from this point of view, I do not see how one can pose the question of ethics if one renounces the motifs of emancipation and the messianic. Emancipation is once again a vast question today and I must say that I have no tolerance for those who-deconstructionist or not-are ironical with regard to the grand discourse of emancipation. This attitude has always distressed and irritated me. I do not want to renounce this discourse.
Picking up on a word used on several occasions by Simon Critchley and Richard Rorty, I would not call this attitude utopian. The messianic experience of which I spoke takes place here and now; that is, the fact of promising and speaking is an event that takes place here and now and is not utopian. This happens in the singular event of engagement, and when I speak of democracy to come (la démocratic à venir) this does not mean that tomorrow democracy will be realized, and it does not refer to a future democracy, rather it means that there is an engagement with regard to democracy which consists in recognizing the irreducibility of the promise when, in the messianic moment, 'it can come' ('ça pent venir'). There is the future (il y a de I'avenir).
There is something to come (il y a à venir). That can happen…that can happen, and I promise in opening the future or in leaving the future open. This is not utopian, it is what takes place here and now, in a here and now that I regularly try to dissociate from the present. Although this is difficult to explain briefly in this context, I try to dissociate the theme of singularity happening here and now from the theme of presence and, for me, there can be a here and now without presence.
I am completely in agreement with everything that Ernesto Laclau has said on the question of hegemony and power, and I also agree that in the most reassuring and disarming discussion and persuasion, force and violence are present. None the less, I think that there is, in the opening of a context of argumentation and discussion, a reference-unknown, indeterminate, but none the less thinkable-to disarmament. I agree that such disarmament is never simply present, even in the most pacific moment of persuasion, and therefore that a certain force and violence is irreducible, but none the less this violence can only be practised and can only appear as such on the basis of a non-violence, a vulnerability, an exposition. I do not believe in non-violence as a descriptive and determinable experience, but rather as an irreducible promise and of the relation to the other as essentially non-instrumental. This is not the dream of a beatifically pacific relation, but of a certain experience of friendship perhaps unthinkable today and unthought within the historical determination of friendship in the West. This is a friendship, what I sometimes call an aimance, that excludes violence; a non-appropriative relation to the other that occurs without violence and on the basis of which all violence detaches itself and is determined.
Thus, and this is the point that I wanted to emphasize in relation to Ernesto Laclau, once it is granted that violence is in fact irreducible, it becomes necessary-and this is the moment of politics-to have rules, conventions and stabilizations of power. All that a deconstructive point of view tries to show, is that since convention, institutions and consensus are stabilizations (sometimes stabilizations of great duration, sometimes micro-stabilizations), this means that they are stabilizations of something essentially unstable and chaotic.
Thus, it becomes necessary to stabilize precisely because stability is not natural; it is because there is instability that stabilization becomes necessary; it is because there is chaos that there is a need for stability. Now, this chaos and instability, which is fundamental, founding and irreducible, is at once naturally the worst against which we struggle with laws, rules, conventions, politics and provisional hegemony, but at the same time it is a chance, a chance to change, to destabilize. If there were continual stability, there would be no need for politics, and it is to the extent that stability is not natural, essential or substantial, that politics exists and ethics is possible. Chaos is at once a risk and a chance, and it is here that the possible and the impossible cross each other.
I would like to come back to what Ernesto Laclau said about the subject and the decision. The question here is whether it is through the decision that one becomes a subject who decides something. At the risk of appearing provocative, I would say that once one poses the question in that form and one imagines that the who and the what of the subject can be determined in advance, then there is no decision. In other words, the decision, if there is such a thing, must neutralize if not render impossible in advance the who and the what. If one knows, and if it is a subject that knows who and what, then the decision is simply the application of a law.
In other words, if there is a decision, it presupposes that the subject of the decision does not yet exist and neither does the object. Thus with regard to the subject and the object, there will never be a decision. I think this summarizes a little what Ernesto Laclau proposed when he said that the decision presupposes identification, that is to say that the subject does not exist prior to the decision but when I decide I invent the subject. Every time I decide, if a decision is possible, I invent the who, and I decide who decides what; at this moment the question is not the who or the what but rather that of the decision, if there is such a thing. Thus I agree that identification is indispensable, but this is also a process of disidentification, because if the decision is identification then the decision also destroys itself.
As a consequence, one must say that in the relationship to the other, who is indeed the one in the name of which and of whom the decision is taken, the other remains inappropriable to the process of identification. This is why I would say that the transcendental subject is that which renders the decision impossible. The decision is barred when there is something like a transcendental subject.
In order to take things a bit further I would say that if duty is conceived of as a simple relation between the categorical imperative and a determinable subject, then duty is evaded. If I act in accordance with duty in the Kantian sense, I do not act and furthermore I do not act in accordance with duty. It is easy to see that this raises many paradoxes and many aporias. That is to say that the decision, if there is such a thing, cannot be taken in the name of some thing. For example, if one says that the decision is taken in the name of the other, that does not mean that the other is going to take on my responsibility when I say that I always decide in the name of the other. To take a decision in the name of the other in no way at all lightens my responsibility, on the contrary, and Levinas is very forceful on this point, my responsibility is accused by the fact that it is the other in the name of which I decide. This is an alienation much more radical than the classical meaning given to this term. I decide in the name of the other without this in the least lightening my responsibility; on the contrary the other is the origin of my responsibility without it being determinable in terms of an identity. The decision announces itself from the perspective of a much more radical alterity.
I would now like to try very rapidly to respond directly to points made by Richard Rorty on the use of the word deconstruction. On the one hand, I have often said I do not need to use this word and I often wondered why it should have interested so many people. However, as time passes, and when I see so many people trying to get rid of this word, I ask myself whether there is not perhaps something in it. I would ask you how you would explain why this word, which, for essential reasons, and I agree with Rorty, is meaningless and without reference, could impose itself? How is it that something 'x', which does not have a stable meaning or reference, becomes indispensable in a certain finite, but open, context, during a certain period of time, for a certain number of actors?
When you said that you do not see the necessary relation between deconstruction and pragmatism, I would say 'yes and no'. I have the same feeling as Rorty in the sense that deconstruction, in the manner in which it is utilized and put to work, is always a highly unstable and almost empty motif. And I would insist that everyone can use this motif as they please to serve quite different political perspectives, which would seem to mean that deconstruction is politically neutral. But, the fact that deconstruction is apparently politically neutral allows, on the one hand, a reflection on the nature of the political, and on the other hand, and this is what interests me in deconstruction, a hyper-politicization.
Deconstruction is hyper-politicizing in following paths and codes which are clearly not traditional, and I believe it awakens politicization in the way I mentioned above, that is, it permits us to think the political and think the democratic by granting us the space necessary in order not to be enclosed in the latter. In order to continue to pose the question of the political, it is necessary to withdraw something from the political and the same thing for democracy, which, of course, makes democracy a very paradoxical concept.
To move on to a question that Rorty raised in discussion concerning the weakening of the political left in the United States, this would demand a great deal of analysis and perhaps Rorty is right in seeing such a weakening. But even if Rorty is right, my hope, as a man of the left, is that certain elements of deconstruction will have served or-because the struggle continues, particularly in the United States-will serve to politicize or repoliticize the left with regard to positions which are not simply academic. I hope-and if I can continue to contribute a little to this I will be very content-that the political left in universities in the United States, France and elsewhere, will gain politically by employing deconstruction. To a certain extent, and in an unequal way, this is a movement that is already under way.
I do not believe that the themes of undecidability or infinite responsibility are romantic, as Rorty claimed. Of course, I can see how one might associate these motifs with a certain dramatic romantic pathos, but personally I would prefer this not to be the case. The necessity for thinking to traverse interminably the experience of undecidability can, I think, be quite coolly demonstrated in an analysis of the ethical or political decision. If we analysed the concepts of decision and responsibility in a cool manner, we would find that undecidability is irreducible within them. If one does not take rigorous account of undecidability, it will not only be the case that one cannot act, decide or assume responsibility, but one will not even be able to think the concepts of decision and responsibility.
To come back to the question of the decision, this is a subject for argumentation and I would like to be very argumentative on the question of the decision. The same thing is true of responsibility, whether that is a question of Levinas or of what I owe to him. I believe that we cannot give up on the concept of infinite responsibility, as Rorty seemed to do at the end of his essay, when he wrote of Levinas as a blind spot in my work. I would say, for Levinas and for myself, that if you give up the infinitude of responsibility, there is no responsibility. It is because we act and we live in infinitude that the responsibility with regard to the other (autrui) is irreducible. If responsibility were not infinite, if every time that I have to take an ethical or political decision with regard to the other (autrui) this were not infinite, then I would not be able to engage myself in an infinite debt with regard to each singularity. I owe myself infinitely to each and every singularity.
If responsibility were not infinite, you could not have moral and political problems. There are only moral and political problems, and everything that follows from this, from the moment when responsibility is not limitable. As a consequence, whatever choice I might make, I cannot say with good conscience that I have made a good choice or that I have assumed my responsibilities. Every time that I hear someone say that 'I have taken a decision', or 'I have assumed my responsibilities', I am suspicious because if there is responsibility or decision one cannot determine them as such or have certainty or good conscience with regard to them. If I conduct myself particularly well with regard to someone, I know that it is to the detriment of an other; of one nation to the detriment of another nation, of one family to the detriment of another family, of my friends to the detriment of other friends or non-friends, etc. This is the infinitude that inscribes itself within responsibility; otherwise there would be no ethical problems or decisions. And this is why undecidability is not
a moment to be traversed and overcome. Conflicts of duty-and there is only duty in conflict-are interminable and even when I take my decision and do something, undecidability is not at an end. I know that I have not done enough and it is in this way that morality continues, that history and politics continue. There is politicization or ethicization because undecidability is not simply a moment to be overcome by the occurrence of the decision. Undecidability continues to inhabit the decision and the latter does not close itself off from the former. The relation to the other does not close itself off, and it is because of this that there is history and one tries to act politically.
When Rorty says, for example, that he does not think that change is dramatic and that things just are the way they are, I can understand what he says. Indeed, in the conduct of our private lives and in relation to the great events of history and politics, our usual response is to say, c'est comme celà, that's the way things are. One has the impression that choices and decisions are of no importance and we could provide a thousand examples of this. But, the fact that this is the way things are does not mean that choice is simply an epiphenomenon or that it does not engage infinite responsibility. I believe that we should try to think 'the way things are' together with infinite responsibility, impossible choices and madness. I do not think that we can choose between the two alternatives, and we cannot conclude that there is no choice from the fact that this is 'the way things are'.
Does Rorty renounce the question of choice? Would he say, in the final account, that there is no choice and that although choice is a word that is employed, that is also just 'the way things are'? I often use the expression s'il y en a, when I speak of our relation to choice, decision and responsibility, but this does not mean that these things do not exist or that they are impossible, it means rather that our relation to matters like choice, decision and responsibility is not a theoretical, constative or determinate relation. It is always a suspended relation. Even when I believe myself to have opted for a decision, I do not know if I have in fact taken a decision, but it is necessary that I refer myself to the possibility of this decision and think it, s'il yen a. I would say the same thing about responsibility and this is linked to what I said above about the 'quasi'. We have a relation to things as they are for which a determinate or constative truth, a constative presence, is impossible, and at the same time we are not able to renounce these things, we should not renounce them.
I say this in order to underline the fact that I would not be in agreement when Rorty speaks of philosophy as depoliticizing. I would also, very quickly and as a final word, come back to what Rorty said about 'The Politics of Friendship' and clarify that when I speak of virile homo-sexuality as a dominant concept in discussions of friendship and politics, what interests me is the fact that the historically transmitted concepts of love and friendship are essentially heterosexual, but that there can be no friendship amongst women and that there is only friendship amongst men. This is the phallogocentric concept of friendship that has dominated the tradition, and defines it as homosexual and virile and which always connects political responsibility to young men. It is this that has dominated the concept of friendship and it is this that I wanted to place in question.
Derrida's response to Rorty, taken from Deconstruction and Pragmatism (page 77 to 88). Translated from French by Simon Critchley.
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