Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The NOT Derrida Wars

I'm back blogging, and we already have a small, low-level fight about Derrida. I think most of us really don't want this to become another chapter in the Derrida Wars. However, the current discussion has provoked some comments from me.

First, Graham Harman began this round with this post here, arguing that Derrida refuses to ever be responsible for his claims. This prompted this extension of that argument by Job Cogburn over at APPS. And it also prompted this defense by Eric Schliesser. And I made this comment, basically saying I think their particular passage doesn't do the work they think it does. But I wanted to expand on some of these thoughts.

First, I think this very strong, affective hatred that Cogburn talks about is interesting. It is one I feel for, say, Heidegger (okay, maybe only Heidegger). What interests me about such an anger is what it can do, how it can be intellectually and productively useful. I sometimes think it can only be useful if the person who gets you so angry is herself an amazing philosopher. Heidegger, his many faults aside, is certainly an amazing philosopher. And therefore, I have learned as much in my articulating my disagreements with Heidegger, than I have from many thinkers I generally agree with. This anger is also a really different feeling from the dislike, apathy, or simple disagreement I might have with other thinkers. Those feelings tend to simply make me not interested in reading those thinkers' books, rather than that intellectually useful. Anyway, I think that Cogburn and Harman have it wrong in their criticisms of Derrida. My hope, though, is that their hostility is philosophically useful for them.

Second, the more important note on the idea of Derrida, and political and ethical engagement. First, let us just say that personally, Derrida was involved in quite a few political and ethical stances on specific and concrete things (I was about to make a list of some, when I realized that Wikipedia beat me to it). That's not the important part. Derrida's philosophy in many places is a direct refutations of Heidegger's own beautiful soulism. I am thinking here particularly of "Force of Law" and Rogues, texts in which Derrida argues for the necessity of calculation in any ethical and political act. Rather than continue in a certain strain of Continental philosophy that refuses any sort of consequentialist politics, and therefore refuses any policy action that cannot be perfect, Derrida challenges us to commit to the need of calculation. This is huge. If we are to follow Jane Bennett's suggestion in Vibrant Matter that what we need are "enabling instrumentalizations", this will mean a some sort of calculative relationship, but an ethical one. I definitely think Derrida helps push into such directions, which certainly means into accountability (literally).