Voyou Désœuvré

I’m no expert in the nuances of French, but it’s always struck me as interesting that Derrida’s La voix et le phénomène was published in English under the title Speech and Phenomena. “Voix” could also be translated “voice,” as it is in a more recently published translation (and doesn’t speech suggest a different book called La parole et le phénomène?). I find this interesting because of a faint difference of meaning between “voice” and “speech,” which for all I know isn’t reflected in the meanings of voix but which anyway seems relevant to the book, and to Derrida’s work. Speech has a stronger connection with language as social and conventional, whereas voice is more embodied. What’s interesting about this distinction is how it reflects the English reception of Derrida’s work, particularly the way in which connecting Derrida with the “linguistic turn” might have occluded important features of his work. I’m thinking particularly here of the importance of phenomenology to Derrida’s early development of his philosophy. The story I got told when I was introduced to Derrida was one which placed Derrida, and post-structuralism more generally, one one side, and the opponent of this side was phenomenology. This kind of direct opposition now seems to me very un-Derridean, and indeed looking again at his early work, it’s clear that the deconstruction of phenomenology is not a rejection of phenomenology, but retains phenomenology with a deconstructive twist. The narrative which set up an opposition between speech and phenomena, or which posited a linguistic turn against phenomenology, however, has had important theoretical ramifications. Read more↴

Let us accept that all identity is a differential identity. In that case two consequences follow: (1) that, as in a Saussurean system, each identity is what is is only through its differences from all the others; (2) that the context has to be a closed one – if all identities depend on the differential system, unless the latter defines its own limits, no identity would be finally constituted. But nothing is more difficult – from a logical point of view – than defining those limits. If we had a foundational perspective we could appeal to an ultimate ground which would be the source of all differences; but if we are dealing with a true pluralism of differences, if the differences are constitutive, we cannot go, in the search for the systematic limits that define a context, beyond the differences themselves. Now, the only way of defining a context is, as we have said, through its limits, and the only way of defining those limits is to point out what is beyond them. But what is beyond the limits can only be other differences, and in that case – given the constitutive character of all differences – it is impossible to establish whether these new differences are internal or external to the context. The very possibility of a limit and, ergo, a context, is thus jeopardized. (Laclau, Emancipation(s), 52)

This far, Laclau’s argument seems pretty reasonable, and the consequence presumably would be that, indeed, “no identity would be finally constituted,” that is, the differences that establish any identity would be indeterminate, there would be no point at which we could say we could say we “had” the full determination of the identity, and so any discussion of a particular identity would always be open to further questioning and the need for further investigation into the specificities of that identity. Oddly, though, that’s not the conclusion Laclau draws. Having “jeopardized” the possibility of a total context, Laclau nonetheless goes on to assert that a total context is possible, with the limit being provided not by a difference, but by an antagonism, which “poses a threat to (that is, negates) all the differences within that context.” Read more↴

I really enjoyed Adam Kotsko’s Why We Love Sociopaths, in part because of the additional perspective it gives on his previous book, Awkwardness. The “fantasy sociopath” the book studies is introduced as the opposite of  awkwardness: where awkwardness is an anxiety in relation to social norms, sociopaths, at least in TV fantasy, never experience social norms as something that makes them anxious, only as tools they can use to manipulate others. But what unites awkwardness and sociopathy is that these anti-social experiences reveal something fundamental which underlies the possibility of sociality. That is to say, Adam’s project is a kind of dialectical redemption of the anti-social, in which anti-sociality, by revealing the conditions of our sociality denaturalize it and provide ways of thinking about an alternative sociality which we might choose. Awkwardness and Why We Love Sociopaths thus I think have something in common with what Judith Halberstam calls “anti-social” queer theory; the connection is perhaps clearest in the anti-familial theme that surfaces periodically through Why We Love Sociopaths (which Adam has also discussed at An und für Sich). Read more↴

“Yoü and I” is comfortably the worst song on Born this Way (well, on the standard edition; bonus track “Black Jesus / Amen Fashion” is basically everything bad that people who don’t like Lady Gaga say about her songs); an all too accurate re-creation of a dark period of early-90s MOR, painful for all of us who remember the 16-week reign of terror of  “(Everything I do) I Do it for You.” The video is good, though, following Gaga’s usual pattern of stitching together signifiers in the hope of creating some kind of theoretical life. My favorite thing about the video is the presence of Gaga’s drag alter-ego, Joe Calderone. Partly this is just because of a personal, erm, interest in women in masculine clothes, but it also brings up, or at least reminds me of, various questions about essentialism and gender. Read more↴

It’s brave of Meillassoux to begin After Finitude with the argument from the archefossil, because it’s such a terrible argument. Indeed, Meillassoux admits that it is a terrible argument, which the correlationist will have no trouble dispatching; the reason for this, though, is that the discussion of the archefossil isn’t actually supposed to be an argument at all. When I first heard of it, it seemed to be a strange updating of Johnson refuting Berkeley by kicking a stone, with the curious addition of a complicatedly constructed hypothetical stone. But that’s not really how the discussion of the archefossil is supposed to work: the archefossil isn’t supposed to present an example of brute reality and thereby disprove idealism. It is presented and refuted as such during the course of the first chapter, but this argument is really preparing the ground for the real use of the archefossil, which is not to prove something about reality, but rather to raise a question about the relationship between thought and reality. Read more↴

From an excellent post about the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords at Lenin’s Tomb:

Assassination is as American as the hackneyed patriotic schtick that often seems to motivate it. This isn’t about the gallows humour of the Republican right which consists precisely of knowing, wink-wink in-jokes (gun-sight imagery, ‘Reload’, and so on) about the barbarism that already exists, and which they have done so much to cultivate. It’s about what the jokes advert to.

This is a point that needs to be made repeatedly, particularly when the consensus opinion of “reasonable voices” in the media is, as Angus Johnson paraphrased Jon Stewart, “Let’s come together in this crisis, put aside division, and focus on our real enemy: The mentally ill.” Read more↴