Tag Archive: Derrida


almost a real Paris

I haven’t wanted to tread into the recent Speculative Realist debates over Derrida, in part because I haven’t had time for them (and my internet access has been a little unreliable), but in part also because I think they’re mostly reiterating themes that have already been well covered. OOO makes a valid and important point about Continental philosophy’s overall neglect of the nonhuman world, but it pushes too hard with its Meillassouxian critique of correlationism, which I don’t think ultimately holds up. (That’s a much larger topic than I want to get into here, but it should be enough to say that I think I agree with Chris Vitale’s Whiteheadian “absolutization of the correlation, with a multiplicitous twist.“)

And of course, as Graham and Levi argue, Derrida wrote mostly about texts. But he also wrote about death, mourning, friendship, cats, politics, and many other things, either directly or by way of texts about those things. Derrida’s defenders are right to defend him from the “correlationist” charge insofar as he did, at least in his later work, address the nonhuman world (animals) in innovative and useful ways, and insofar as his ideas lend themselves well to “non-correlationist” uses. But that doesn’t get most Derrideans (except those like Calarco) off the hook for what they haven’t done – which is OOO’s point.

All that aside, the recent exchange between Chris, Levi, and Graham has piqued my interest. In fact, Levi’s and Graham’s point about there being a “real Paris” is one I can almost get myself comfortably on board with — and I think that Chris could, too, if the terms of the exchange were made a little clearer. Here’s what I mean, and why the hesitant “almost”…

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cataclysmic eventology

Hiroshima mon amour (dir. Alain Resnais, 1959)

In my reply to kvond’s and Meg’s comments on the Event, I alluded to a quote from Derrida’s Cinders, which I thought would be worth posting, especially since I can’t find any reference to it online and I don’t have the book handy to check it.

“At what temperature do words burst into flame?

Is language itself what remains of a burning?

Are cinders all that’s left from the ringing at the origin of words?”

Derrida’s reference point is the Holocaust, but it’s also the entry into language, which resonates with Lacan’s notion of a gap between the Real and the Symbolic. Following up on Meg’s suggestion of petrification and Pompeii as western civilization’s perhaps archetypal reference point for volcanic/traumatic cataclysmic events, what’s left behind, and what Herzog dwells on in the films I mentioned, is the signature of the Event (though, in the case of La Soufriere, it’s a non-Event). Rather like a nuclear explosion that leaves its radioactive shadow splayed across everything, the traumatic event leaves everything askew, haunted by a spectre, or ringing with an inaudible sound, the meaning of which we can’t make out. The vacated city, the empty landscape, the city frozen in time, with its illegible ciphers, the Event we can never come back to, yet which we perpetually circle around. If the human disappearance from this planet is genuinely thinkable, Herzog is one of its most evocative thinkers.

But sometimes reading these fragments can only be done in still shots, not in movement images. Unlike Deleuze’s time-image, which is always an image of movement, these might be something more like a geological frozen-time-image, which is always an image of movement stilled, of time passed, and, as Barthes put it in Camera Lucida, ultimately an image of (one’s own) death.

La Jetée (dir. Chris Marker, 1962)

For all that I value the vibrant materiality of process-relational and vibrant-materialist ontologies, I still turn to Derrida (and Buddhism) to remind us of the resonant emptiness at the heart of things. Derrida and his followers (Caputo, Mark Taylor) groped toward an ethic, a call, a claim on us from within that emptiness; but for a pretty reliable method for hearing that call, we could do worse than to turn to Nagarjuna and the Buddhists.

Continuing from the previous post…

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“For Buddhism,” Clark writes, “the negative path of the destruction of illusion is inseparably linked to the positive path of an open, awakened, and compassionate response to a living, non-objectifiable reality, the ‘nature that is no nature.’’’

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Or, Toward an eco-Buddhist-processualist cultural criticism

Note: This is work in progress and probably won’t be published for a while, and not in this form in any case. It comes from an attempt to theorize an ‘ecocritical’ understanding of culture that is in dialogue with the Marxist tradition of social and political analysis, Derridean poststructural philosophy, Buddhist psychology, and the psychoanalysis of Freud, Lacan, and Zizek, among others. I welcome comments.

For Fredric Jameson, it is history, understood in Marxian terms as a series of changing relationships among and between social groups and their systems of material production, that serves as a relatively stable ground or horizon against which the vicissitudes of human culture play their figure. For Derridean deconstruction (and other brands of poststructuralism), there is no ultimate ground, and textuality in its groundless infinite play is what shows us this most clearly. For the approach I’m working on, rooted in a more naturalistic understanding of the world than Derrida’s and a more ecological one than Jameson’s, there is similarly no ultimate ground, but there are relative grounds that can be found in the unfoldment of social and ecological relations. The hermeneutic I’m proposing doesn’t leave us errantly wandering among texts and discourses (as does deconstruction), but leaves us ethically responding to others (as many deconstructionists themselves do) among relations that are simultaneously material and biological (a la Marx and Darwin), discursive (a la culturalism), and imaginal-phantasmic (a la psychoanalysis).

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On the surface, “immanence” would appear to favor certain religiosities (paganisms, pantheisms, animisms, earth spiritualities) over others (transcendentalist monotheisms, rigid dualisms, Buddhist “extinctionism,” et al). But its resonance works within traditions as well: towards panentheistic strains of Christianity, where the Christ is seen as in-dwelling, where Easter is the rebirth of nature and life as well as of social relations after the long hard winter, where Mary is the cosmos; or toward a boddhisattvic liberationist Buddhism that cherishes life rather than seeking to flee from it.

Immanentism redirects our attention to what is going on in the moment-to-moment shaping of the world, to our experience and ability to shift things in one direction or another, to karmic conditions as open-ended rather than fixed. When we grasp something (the self, political power, the object of our desire), we lose it. Immanentism redirects us to the between: the grasping, the finding and losing, the power-to and power-with, the swelling current that pushes for change (e.g., in the build-up to the last US election) rather than the icon of change it gives rise to (Obama) though that icon be instrumental to the change.

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