Monday, November 29, 2010

Guest Post: Michael O'Rourke, "After"


For Jeffrey Jerome Cohen

Finir, Commencer/ To End, To Begin
There is no end without beginning. How could the end be known as end if it weren’t recounted by someone? –Jean-François Lyotard, Soundproof Room[1]

My talk is organized by a series of watchwords: words to watch out for and words which watch over me.


Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, in their most recent book
Commonwealth[2], caution against a newly arisen apocalyptic tone in contemporary politico-philosophical thought, a tone which finds its fullest expression in Slavoj Žižek’s latest gloomy opus, Living in the End Times[3]. We are, if we are to believe what we read, and I am taking some randomly chosen examples as indicative of this trend, after the subject (Rei Terada)[4], the human (discourses of the posthuman[5]), sex (Andrew Parker and Janet Halley’s special number of South Atlantic Review[6]), God (Altizer[7]) and the death of God (John Caputo and Gianni Vattimo[8]), finitude (Quentin Meillassoux[9]), theory (Terry Eagleton[10]), poststructuralism (Colin Davis[11]), the humanities and so on (even After Derrida, the title of so many essays and special journal issues since his death in 2004 [including a special issue of Mosaic][12].

Žižek informs us that the underlying premise of his latest book is “a simple one”: “the global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero-point. Its ‘four riders of the apocalypse’ are comprised by the ecological crisis, the consequences of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself (problems with intellectual property; forthcoming struggles over raw materials, food and water), and the explosive growth of social divisions and exclusions”
[13]. To counter this preoccupation with, even fetishization of, ends, and the language of catastrophization (embodied in so many newisms, postisms, and other small seismisms, as Derrida would say[14]) this paper traces the preposition “after” (but also “before”) across a range of Derrida’s texts. If for Derrida, in Of Grammatology, the end of the book heralds an opening for the book to-come, then this paper seeks out a recalibrated futurity for the humanities which recognizes that its future will always have been its end, which, more affirmatively put, is to say that its future will have been always to begin its ending again[15]. I argue that we can find a certain dignity in what we are doing if we maintain absolute fidelity to the incalculable and unreckonable event of the university to-come, the university without condition.

Living in the End Times itself struggles against the prevailing gloominess of its own pronouncements to try to imagine a world beyond catastrophe: “the present book” he writes, “is thus a book of struggle, following Paul’s surprisingly relevant definition: ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against leaders, against authorities, against the world rulers [kosmokratoras] of this darkness, against the spiritual wickedness in the heavens’ (Ephesians 6:12). Or, translated into today’s language: ‘Our struggle is not against actual corrupt individuals, but against those in power in general, against their authority, against the global order and the ideological mystifications which sustain it’. To engage in this struggle means to endorse Badiou’s formula mieux vaut un désastre qu’un désêtre: better to take the risk and engage in fidelity to a Truth-event, even if it ends in catastrophe, than to vegetate in the eventless utilitarian-hedonist survival of what Nietzsche called ‘the last men’”[16].

Quentin Meillassoux, in
After Finitude, almost at its end, describes a “glacial world”: “a world in which there is no longer any up or down, centre or periphery, nor anything else that might make it a world designed for humans. For the first time, the world manifests itself as capable of subsisting without any of those aspects that constitute its concreteness for us”[17]. Zizek’s zero-point apocalypticism and Meillassoux’s quasi-radical-atheist[18] glaciality are matched in the apocalyptic tone of Dominic Fox’s Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection and the Politics of Militant Dysphoria where he describes for us a world so cold that it is “voided of both human warmth and physical comfort. The cold world is the world made strange, a world that ceased to be the ‘life-world’ in which we are usually immersed and instead stands before us in a kind of lop-sided objectivity”[19]. But Fox doesn’t simply immerse himself in this world that has “ceased to be the life-world”. He avers that what ecological disaster scenarios—we might think of the recent BP oil spill here— reveal is an “ontological mishap, a disorder in the real”[20]. Because of this ontological rupture, Fox can argue “that ‘another world’ is not only possible but inevitable, since this world cannot go on as it is (and, indeed, has in a sense already ended, inasmuch as its condition has already been diagnosed as terminal). To put it another way: not only is another world possible, but the present world is impossible[21]. Derrida, in one of his last ever texts, shared a phantasmo-oneiric dream of his, an experience of the impossible, which reveals the childlike wonder of deconstruction: “To dream, as [Ignacio] Ramonet says, that ‘another world is possible’, but to give ourselves the strength to do all that would make it actually possible. Billions of men and women in the world share this dream. Through slow and painful labor they will give birth to it some day”[22].

And, if for Fox, the disfigured world ceases to be the lifeworld, then, in both Derrida and Badiou, we find portals into other logics of world: “the grace of living for an idea” in Badiou and “learning to live finally” in Derrida. Badiou, again at the very end of a book,
Logics of Worlds, explains that, for him, “the infinite of worlds is what saves us from every finite dis-grace. Finitude, the constant harping on of our mortal being, in brief, the fear of death as the only passion—these are the bitter ingredients of democratic materialism. We overcome all this when we seize hold of the discontinuous variety of worlds and the interlacing of objects under the constantly variable regimes of their appearances. We are open to the infinity of worlds. To live is possible. Therefore, to (re)commence to live is the only thing that matters”[23]. Badiou calls this “living for an idea” and, more recently, in The Communist Hypothesis, he demonstrates how this generic procedure dehisces the apocalyptico-catastrophic-disaster rhetoric of the global financial crisis: “a radical rupture with capitalo-parliamentarianism, a politics invented at the grassroots level of the popular real, and the sovereignty of the idea: it is all there, and it will distract us from the disaster movie and remind us of our uprising”[24].

Learning to Live

In his “Exordium” to
Specters of Marx Derrida first talks about “learning to live”, this strange watchword, which keeps guard over so much that he wrote about living on, survival, inheritance, the right to philosophy, and so on (right up to the haunting last interview which has been given the title, in English, of “Learning to Live Finally”[25]). “Who would learn? From whom? To teach to live, but to whom? Will we ever know how to live and first of all what ‘to learn to live’ means? And why ‘finally’? By itself, out of context—but a context, always, remains open, thus fallible and insufficient—this watchword forms an almost unintelligible syntagm. Just how far can its idiom be translated moreover?” Derrida asks[26]. This paper ventures that learning to live ought to be thought alongside other “unintelligible syntagms” in Derrida such as “democracy to come”, “university to come”, “university without condition”, and I will add “dignity to come”. While “democracy to come”, “university without condition” and “university to come” are familiar terms in the Derridean lexicon, dignity is not, or at least it is not, yet. Dignity might be, then, what Rodolphe Gasché has called in The Tain of the Mirror a quasi-transcendental taking its place alongside différance, écriture, undecidable, aporia, and so on[27]. It does not merit an entry in Simon Morgan Wortham’s recently published The Derrida Dictionary [28]but you could say that it appears apparitionally there under the headings for gift, hospitality, decision, justice and so on. We can find, it, as J. Hillis Miller does words like “‘reste’ (‘remainder’) and ‘deuil’ (‘mourning’) in the virtual concordance of Derrida’s writings, as though we ‘were searching for it [dignity] in an electronic database of the sort that does not yet exist”[29]. Dignity, I want to say, and it might be a stretch, is a term which we can read metonymically in Derrida’s writing, a term which is faintly traceable across his remarkably consistent corpus, taking on many names, “altered” by “repetition” under his signature[30]. Dignity as a new Derridean watchword, then, one which I will return to again, at the end.


Derrida’s “essay in the night”
[31] on the “magisterial locution” (xvii) “I would like to learn to live finally” advances into the “unknown of that which must remain to come” (xviii). It is neither before nor after the end. Rather, learning to live, “remains to be done, it can only happen between life and death” (xviii). “Neither in life nor in death alone” (xviii). This spectrality occupies the space of a kind of half-life, which is “neither substance, nor essence, nor existence, is never present as such” (xviii). Given this non-contemporaneity of the living present with itself, inhabiting as it does the time out of joint, for Derrida, the question “where?” “where tomorrow?” “whither” always arrives, “if it arrives, [and] it questions with regard to what will come in the future to-come. Turned toward the future, going toward it, it also comes from it, it proceeds from [provient de] the future” (xix). This disjoins and disproportions the logic of before and after because “if this question, from the moment it comes to us, can clearly come only from the future (whither? Where will we go tomorrow? Where, for example, is Marxism [or medieval studies, or the humanities] going? Where are we going with it?), what stands in front of it must also precede it like its origin: before it. Even if the future is its provenance, it must be, like any provenance, absolutely and irreversibly past” (xix). Geoffrey Bennington starts off his essay “RIP” in Future: of Jacques Derrida by reminding us that:
Philosophy is a discourse that knows all about the future, or at least about its future. It knows, and has always known, that it has no future. Philosophy knows that the future is death. Philosophy is always going to die. Always has been going to die. Always will have been going to die. From the beginning, its future will have been its end: and from this end, its future will have been always to begin its ending again. Philosophy happens in this archaeo-teleo-necrological solidarity. The end of philosophy is the end of philosophy[32].
Again, this is a kind of “half-death” or “half-life”, a necro-teleology which “prevents philosophy from finding itself in its telos, which would be its finis, its death”[33]. Teleology, read as that which provides the opening for the monstrous arrivance, that which arrives but without definable telos, is “just what holds philosophy short of its end and thus gives it the possibility of a future in spite of itself ... the half-death of the philosopher would then never be completed, but would be the half-life of philosophy, which half-lives as a repeated call to reading thrown toward a future in which that reading will never be finished”[34]. Derrida’s futures [like the futures of medieval studies, of the humanities] are both “absolutely predictable and absolutely uncertain”[35]. Those futures will, let me hope here and now, always be marked, in reading, by a gratitude for opening just that futurity to reading, always elsewhere, in the past, in the before.


Before, another critical watchword, is what precedes in time, with respect to a given reference point, some “now” point, be it current or not. For Lyotard and Derrida before makes sense only in correlation with the after, the “turnstile” as Geoffrey Bennington has it “of before and after pivoting on the peg of the now”
[36]. He goes on “Behind us, already past, so that we are in front of it, before it; we are before before, which has gone before us, got ahead of us, inciting us to run after it, catch it up, make up our delay, our belatedness”[37]. Before, gone before us, is still before us, yet to come. The humanities, medieval studies, the university, is still before us, here and now, still to come. Before “calls me, always ahead of me perhaps but always behind me, more or less secretly, quietly, even shiftily, and the call that comes from behind me, back of me, pushes me forward, surprised”[38]. And “Nothing can happen except from behind”, as Lyotard warns us in The Confession of Augustine[39]. The originary delay that means that we always run after before also means not only that we are always behind it, but that before is also behind us, the Other never presents itself face on, but will rather take us from behind. This dorsal perspective, as David Wills calls it[40], is precisely the “logic of the queer” that Glenn Burger and Steven Kruger describe in Queering the Middle Ages. The logic of the “preposterous” is precisely what effects a disturbance of temporal sequentiality, of before and after, or pre- and post-. “Queer theorizing, in its ‘preposterous’ revision of temporal sequence has important implications for how we think about history” because “traditional historicism is anything but preposterous; instead, it insists on straight chronologies that privilege a value-based movement of supersession and progress—classical antiquity, Dark Ages, Middle Ages, modernity; pre-, modern, and post-. The preposterous thinking of queer theory might usefully interrupt such teleological sequences”[41].

As Derrida argued in
The Post Card, since Plato and Aristotle it has been understood that “Socrates comes before [avant] Plato”. It is “an order of generations, an irreversible sequence of inheritance”[42]. But when Derrida sees a postcard of a drawing in the Bodleian library depicting Plato standing behind Socrates, it suggests that “Socrates is before, not in front of, but before Plato, therefore behind him”[43]. What comes before suggests at once what is behind (before) and what is in front (before). “What precedes us”, Derrida writes in Specters of Marx, is “as much in front of us as before us”[44]. Before and in front, avant et devant. As Sean Gaston has demonstrated, “one of the ways in which Derrida responded to the dilemma that to challenge or resist Western metaphysics one must somehow start again and recognize that it is always too late to start again was through the movement of what he calls a palintrope[45]. In Greek, palin means to move back, to go backwards, and also to do something again, to do something once more. Gaston explains that “The word is perhaps best known today as a palindrome, a word or phrase that reads the same backwards and forwards. A palindrome starts and ends the same way. But a palintrope has a slightly different rhetorical flourish, it starts differently, with a start, it startles itself as it starts again. It startles itself, and as Derrida says, loses the logos[46]. Rather than moving backwards and forwards through the same word, or over the same ground, it suggests a turning backward that happens more than once, a turning backwards that—always already—repeats, splits, doubles and exceeds itself (and catastrophe we might note, means a turning downwards). The palintrope displaces the origin and the arche.

In “Cogito and the History of Madness”, where Derrida’s work turns initially to the palintrope, he evokes the
hysteron proteron, a sixteenth-century rhetorical figure, to describe an argument or phrase that has erroneously put what should come last (hysteros, come late, be behind) in front, before or first (proteron). For Derrida, “if there is a historicity of reason in general, the history of reason cannot be a history of its origin (which already demands the historicity of reason in general), but must be that of one of its determined figures”[47]. The palintrope confuses the proper order of the before and after. As Nicholas Royle has shown, Shakespeare was preoccupied with anachronism, and the uncanniness of anachronism is at the heart of Derrida’s reading of Shakespeare[48]. As Hamlet suggests, it is all a question of looking before and after (and the university to-come is, as Derrida notes, in the eyes of its pupils): “Looking before and after, gave us not/that capability and god-like reason/ to fust in us unused” (Hamlet Act 4, Scene 4). The Norton Shakespeare editors explain that looking before and after can be read as “able to see past and future”. But, looking is not quite the same as seeing (and Derrida enjoins us to close our eyes to hear better and learn better)[49]. Also, as we have seen, for Derrida what is before can always suggest both what is behind (in the past) and what is in front (in the future). The phrase, “it is before us” can always be anachronistic, untimely. I call this indetermination of before and after the Hamlet Effect[50]. The future of the past is somehow still to come. Eileen Joy, after Cary Howie, calls this “traherence”, “the way in which every “Now is thus, simultaneously, a ‘not yet’ and a ‘then’”[51].

Philosophy too, inhabits a countertime, a time out of joint and starts, by preceding itself. Derrida tells us that “in its own proper position, philosophy presupposes. It precedes and replaces itself in its own proper thesis. It comes before itself and substitutes for itself”
[52]. The precedent, like the palintrope, in a queer logic, cannot avoid being at once behind and ahead, before and in front of its proper position, of the position of the proper. It is, Derrida says, a “pro-position” that always relies on and is replaced by a “pros-thesis”[53]. He ends “Khora” by observing that: “In order to think khora it is necessary to go back to a beginning that is older than the beginning”[54]. And, some years later, in “Provocation: Forewords” he goes on to say that “what remains to be thought: the very thing that resists thought. It resists in advance, it gets out ahead. The rest gets there ahead of thought; it remains in advance of what is called thought. For we do not know what thought is. We do not know what the word means before or outside of this resistance. It can only be determined from, in the wake of, what resists and remains thus to be thought. Thought remains to be thought”[55].


In his book
Counter-Institutions: Jacques Derrida and the Question of the University, Simon Morgan Wortham shows how Derrida was always concerned with the institutional question of the contre and traces Derrida’s vexed relationship to the academic institution and his active involvement both in arguing for the right to the teaching of philosophy against the interference of the state (something we are currently witnessing in the UK), and simultaneously arguing against the institutionalization of philosophy. We also know that Derrida passionately advocated for what Morgan Wortham calls a counter-institution: the International College of Philosophy in France[56]. The counter-institution occupies a strange position and temporality: it is neither inside nor outside the institution proper. The counter-institution tilts philosophy, the humanities, the university, toward another heading, an incalculable future. We might recall here the opening words of “The Ends of Man”:
Every philosophical colloquium necessarily has a political significance. And not only due to that which has always linked the essence of the philosophical to the essence of the political. Essential and general, this political import nevertheless burdens the a priori link between philosophy and politics, aggravates it in a way[57].
Wortham points out that for Derrida the “counter-institution” must always be “counter-institutional”, must always meddle with the institution/al. At the same time, Wortham argues that the contre, a movement with and against the institution, always resists programming, calculation, reckoning, while simultaneously demanding programming, calculation, reckoning. For Wortham, “to think the counter-institution according to the irreducible trait of the ‘other’ is to continually shift the force of the ‘counter-institutional’ so that it works, again, at an angle with or to the institution. Never the same as an institution, the counter-institution is made—in an ‘interminable process’—precisely at this angle”[58]. How does one teach, does one profess today? Wortham’s book asks (and this should remind us of the “Exordium” to Specters of Marx). This is a question that, as with learning to live, unsettles the onto-theo-logical certainties of before/after and presence/absence; learning to live and learning to teach occupy a counter-temporality which always already disarticulates the before and after. The “counter begins by coming back, promising to answer the call along the lines of a certain artifactuality or actuvirtuality, or in other words by way of complex effects of spectrality, virtuality, the as if, and the tele-effect”[59]. The question of how one teaches today begins with this artifactuality or actuvirtuality, the counter that begins by “coming back”. The past which we inherit is always open to its own future possibilities (that is to say, we inherit the opening of the past’s future possibilities, its actuvirtualities). The trace of the past, that which “comes back” and remains to come in the unanticipatable future (Derrida calls this revenance) is at once before and in front of us, behind and ahead. We try to catch it and make up our delay, our belatedness. And Wortham says about this untimely belatedness that: “Rather like ‘the political’, the counter-institution—the counter itself—seems to get delayed or held up in deconstruction, drawing its particular and peculiar force from a constitutive hesitation. But one which is similar to philosophy’s interminability or irreducibility—its ongoingness—in relation to decision or action (brought about by deconstruction). Never fully present in deconstruction’s own register, then, the ‘counter’ might nevertheless be taken to name or sign (improperly) for deconstruction, however surprizing this may seem”[60]. And, as he points out, for Derrida, the countering of what comes back is always a question of the here and now.

Specters of Marx Derrida puts this clearly: “differance ... does not mean only (as some people have too often believed and so naively) deferral, lateness, delay, postponement. In the incoercible différance the here-now unfurls. Without lateness, without delay, but without presence, it is the precipitation of an absolute singularity, singular because differing, precisely, and always other, binding itself necessarily to the form of the instant, in imminence and in urgency[61]. This untimeliness, belatedness, is precisely what opens us up to that which is held in reserve, remains still to come, to arrive, as promise: “the counter hides itself, but it must (belatedly?) come, with the force of a promise, or of the promissory structure of the to come ... in taking a position of any kind, therefore, the counter-institution must always negotiate with the demand to fulfill itself into action—this demand is, of course, unavoidable, just as the taking of positions will always be a necessary contingency—but it must do so by way of negotiating with that which calls or founds it, that which affirms it, which must be linked, here, to the disjunctive temporality of the “counter”. Such a negotiation is at once always already urgent and yet utterly interminable”[62].


That urgent and imminent
call which founds lies somewhere in between life and death, the actual and virtual, before and after, as an ethical and political imperative. In the “University without Condition” Derrida argues that the university should be a place of absolute, unconditional resistance where everything can be said and that this opens it up to a kind of responsibility that is not the same as that of other institutions: as an institution, Derrida claims, the university must subject the institution in general, the very institutionality of institutions, to a kind of questioning, calculating, or reckoning. “The University (and, more especially, says Derrida, the ‘Humanities’), have a responsibility to foster events of thought that cannot fail to unsettle the University in its Idea of itself. For this to happen, the special institution that the University is must open itself up to the possibility of unpredictable events (events ‘worthy of the name’ as Derrida often says, being by definition absolutely unpredictable) in a way that always might seem to threaten the very institution that it is. On this account, the University is in principle the institution that ‘lives’ the precarious chance and ruin of the institution as its very institutionality”[63]. In his later writing, Derrida used the language of autoimmunity to describe this precariousness of institutions as the very chance for their living on. As Morgan Wortham argues the counter hides within the institution not only to threaten it with its ruin but also to open it up to its very possibility, its “chance of being, as it were, alive, in the sense that life entails an openness (a ‘hospitality’, perhaps, to use another late-Derridean concept) to alterity and event, which is also an openness to the possibility of instant death and destruction (for a life that did not involve this openness would not be worthy of the name ‘life’)”[64]. Without the autoimmunization of the institution, the counter that comes back, there can be no chance of an event worthy of the name at all. In Rogues, Derrida writes that:
If an event worthy of the name is to happen, it must, beyond all mastery, affect a passivity. It must touch a vulnerability that is exposed, without absolute immunity, without indemnity, in its finitude and in a non-horizontal fashion, where it is not yet or already no longer possible to face up to, to put up a front, to the unpredictability of the other. In this respect, auto-immunity is not an absolute evil. It allows for the exposure to the other, to what is coming and to who is coming—and must therefore remain incalculable. Without auto-immunity, with absolute immunity, nothing would ever happen again. One would no longer wait, expect, expect oneself and each other, or any event at all[65].

Autoimmunity, in the last ten years or so of Derrida’s writing, joined the long list of quasi-transcendental terms that Derrida introduced, beginning with trace, archi-writing, différance, dissemination, undecidable, aporia and so on. As Bennington says this term “attempts, perhaps more clearly than some of the others, to capture a ceratin undecidability of life and death (including the ‘life’ and ‘death’ of institutions) but to do so [as Derrida puts it in
H.C. for Life, That is to Say...] on the side of life[66]. Deconstruction if there is such a thing, is as Derrida often says, essentially, on the side of life and an affirmation of life, of learning how to live (and how to teach) finally. The work of deconstruction itself takes place “in the interests of a life that would be ‘worthy of the name’ [like the event], which is a life that involves death in itself as part of its affirmation”[67].

The life of the humanities, of medieval studies, of the university, affirms itself as life just by affirming its exposure to the absolutely unpredictable event, the chance of life, just as it always might end life at any instant. Only then would the life of the humanities have any future, a future that comes from no horizon of expectation. As Bennington reminds us, Derrida increasingly “related this thought to his call for an unconditionality without
sovereignty”. Sovereignty is just the attempt at immunity that would be a kind of death through foreclosure of any possibility of event: being after the end or in the post-catastrophe is to embrace this living death of politico-institutional paralysis. If we are after the end, then nothing can happen. This is what Derrida calls on occasion the worst, where nothing happens, where there can be no trace beyond its fatal eradication. On the other hand, the unconditionality of the university without condition, the á venir, involves absolute “exposure to the unexpected event as a condition of anything like life”[68]. This is the only chance of the institutions of medieval studies and the humanities, or of the university’s living on.


Geoffrey Bennington has recently added “dignity” to the long list of quasi-transcendentals in Derrida’s writing, seeing it as a watchword for the last fifteen years of Derrida’s work, in the context of valuing the dignity of what we do
[69]. Just like the demi-deuil or half-mourning Derrida often spoke of, Bennington talks about a demi-dignity, or half-dignity, which would be unconditional, less than sovereign, an unconditional sovereign to-come. This unconditional dignity lines up with the out-of-jointness of time in the “Exordium” to Specters of Marx and is axiomatic for the very possibility, the very chance or life of deconstruction. By exposing itself—like trace or différance—to something outside itself, dignity is an undeconstructable. It mirrors the structural endlessness of deconstruction itself in that it can never be achieved, nor is it ever finished. Dignity is, Bennington tells us, an infinite task and an ongoing responsibility.

Derrida says in the “Exordium”: “No justice ... seems possible or thinkable without the principle of some
responsibility, beyond all living present, within that which disjoins the living present, before the ghosts of those who are not yet born or who are already dead, be they victims of wars, political or other kinds of violence, nationalist, racist, colonialist, sexist, or other kinds of exterminations, victims of the oppressions of capitalist imperialism or any of the forms of totalitarianism”[70]. In the face of this depressing list, Derrida’s reparative gesture is to affirm the chance of life as he faces exposure to the unpredictable event: “Even if the future is its provenance, it must be like any provenance, absolutely and irreversibly past. “Experience” of the past as to come, the one and the other absolutely absolute, beyond all modification of any present whatever. If it is possible and if one must take it seriously, the possibility of the question, which is perhaps no longer a question and which we are calling here justice, must carry beyond present life, life as my life or our life”[71]. The university as a locus of dissensus (as Bill Readings and J. Hillis Miller have both argued for[72]), the humanities without condition, a medieval studies without condition will certainly never be achieved (“it takes place, it seeks its place wherever this unconditionality can take shape”[73]), but we must affirm their possibility here and now, in this moment of fragile institutionality, today.

In the end, then, after all I have said, some professions of faith: there can be no deconstruction without dignity, no dignity without deconstruction. And there can be no humanities without dignity, and more importantly, no dignity without the humanities. So, “take your time but be quick about it, because you do not know what awaits you”

*This is a revised version of my keynote paper presented at the 1st Biennial Meeting of the BABEL Working Group “After the End: Medieval Studies, the Humanities, and the Post-Catastrophe” on Saturday 6 November 2010 at the University of Texas at Austin. I would like to thank Eileen Joy and Michael Johnson for inviting me and for putting together such an enlivening conference. You can read Eileen’s conference report here.

[1] Jean-François Lyotard, Soundproof Room: Malraux’s Anti-Aesthetics, trans. Robert Harvey (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001) 2. The Frech text which faces the English translation reads: “Il n’ya pas de fin sans commencement. Comment saurait-on que la fin était une fin si on ne le racontait pas?” (3).
[2] Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Commonwealth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).
[3] Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times (London: Verso, 2010).
[4] Rei Terada, Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the ‘Death of the Subject’ (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001).
[5] Cary Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).
[6] Andrew Parker and Janet Halley (eds) After Sex? On Writing Since Queer Theory, South Atlantic Quarterly 106.3 (2007).
[7] Thomas J.J. Altizer, The Gospel of Christian Atheism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966).
[8] John D. Caputo and Gianni Vattimo, After the Death of God, edited by Jeffey W. Robbins (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007).
[9] Quentin Meillassoux, After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency, trans. Ray Brassier (London: Continuum, 2008).
[10] Terry Eagleton, After Theory (New York: Basic Books, 2004).
[11] Colin Davis, After Poststructuralism: Reading, Stories and Theory (London: Routledge, 2004).
[12] Nicholas Royle’s wonderful book After Derrida (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995) appeared, of course, before his death. The special issue of Mosaic (39.3) was published in 2006.
[13] Žižek, Living in the End Times, x.
[14] I am referring here to Derrida’s essay “Some Statements and Truisms about Neo-Logisms, Newisms, Postisms, Parasitisms, and Other Small Seismisms”, trans. Anne Tomiche, in David Carroll (ed) The States of ‘Theory’: History, Art and Critical Discourse (New York: Columbia University Press), 63-95.
[15] Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1974). See especially the section on “The End of the Book and the Beginning of Writing”, 6-26. I also have “Ellipsis” from Writing and Difference (trans. Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978, 294-300) and “The Book to Come” from Paper Machine (trans. Rachel Bowlby, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005, 2-18) in mind here.
[16] Žižek, Living in the End Times, xv.
[17] Meillassoux, After Finitude, 115.
[18] I say quasi radical atheist because Meillassoux does believe in a virtual God. See his essay “Spectral Dilemma”, trans. Robin Mackay, Collapse IV (May 2008): 261-275. Richard Kearney’s latest book Anatheism returns to God after God to disorder the logic of before and after. He explains that the ana “signals a movement of return to what I call a primordial wager, to an inaugural instant of reckoning at the root of belief. It marks a reopening of that space where we are free to choose between faith or nonfaith. As such, anatheism is about the option of retrieved belief. It operates before as well as after the division between theism and atheism, and it makes both possible”. Richard Kearney, Anatheism (New York: Columbia University Press), 7.
[19] Dominic Fox, Cold World: The Aesthetics of Dejection and the Politics of Militant Dysphoria (Winchester, Zer0 Books, 2009), 4.
[20] Fox, Cold World, 8.
[21] Fox, Cold World, 8. My thinking has been greatly helped by Nathan Brown’s short essay “Cold, Glacial, Generic” on Meillassoux, Fox, and Badiou which can be accessed here: And also by Elie Ayache’s important book, The Blank Swan: The End of Probability (Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2010), especially 125-162.
[22] Jacques Derrida, “Enlightenment Past and to Come”, Le Monde Diplomatique (November 2004).
[23] Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds: Being and Event II, trans. Alberto Toscano (London: Continuum, 2009), 514.
[24] Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis, trans. David Macey and Steven Corcoran (London: Verso, 2010), 100.
[25] Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live Finally: The Last Interview (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007). In French the title read “Je suis en guerre avec moi meme”/ “I am at war with myself”.
[26] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning, and the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge, 1994), xvii.
[27] Rodolphe Gasché, The Tain of the Mirror: Derrida and the Philosophy of Reflection (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
[28] Simon Morgan Wortham, The Derrida Dictionary (London: Continuum, 2010).
[29] J. Hillis Miller, For Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), xvi.
[30] Jacques Derrida and Maurizio Ferraris, A Taste for the Secret, trans. Giacomo Donis, ed. Giacomo Donis and David Webb (Cambridge: Polity, 2001), 47.
[31] Derrida, Specters of Marx, xviii. All parenthetical references in this section are to the “Exordium”.
[32] Geoffrey Bennington, “RIP”, in Richard Rand (ed), Futures: of Jacques Derrida (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2001), 1-17, at 1.
[33] Bennington, “RIP”, 17.
[34] Bennington, “RIP”, 17.
[35] Bennington, “RIP”, 17.
[36] Geoffrey Bennington, “Childish Things”, in Minima Memoria: In the Wake of Jean-François Lyotard, (eds) Claire Nouvet, Zrinka Stahuljak and Kent Still (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2007), 197-217, at 197. See also Margret Grebowicz’s introduction, “After Lyotard”, to her edited collection Gender after Lyotard (New York: State University of New York Press, 2007), 1-9.
[37] Bennington, “Childish Things”, 198.
[38] Bennington, “Childish Things”, 210.
[39] Jean-François Lyotard, The Confession of Augustine, trans. Richard Beardsworth (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 43.
[40] David Wills, Dorsality: Thinking Back Through Technology and Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).
[41] Glenn Burger and Steven Kruger (eds), Queering the Middle Ages (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), xii.
[42] Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1987), 20. If I had the time I would track the numerous references to both “after” and the “catrastrophic” in Derrida’s “Envois”.
[43] Derrida, The Post Card, 20.
[44] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 17.
[45] Sean Gaston, Starting with Derrida (London: Continuum, 2007), vii.
[46] Gaston, vii-viii.
[47] Jacques Derrida, “Cogito and the History of Madness” in Writing and Difference, 43.
[48] Nicholas Royle, How to Read Shakespeare (London: Granta, 2005).
[49] Jacques Derrida, “The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of its Pupils”, in Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2, trans. Jan Plug et al (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2004), 129-155.
[50] For a further reading of anachronicity and the before/after in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale see my preface (co-authored with Noreen Giffney) to Queer Renaissance Historiography: Backward Gaze (eds) Vin Nardizi, Will Stockton and Stephen Guy-Bray (Farnham: Ashgate Press, 2009), ix-xi.
[51] Eileen Joy, “The Traherence of the Past”, postmedieval: a journal of medieval cultural studies 1.3 (Fall/Winter 2010): 291-298 at 293.
[52] Jacques Derrida, Glas, trans. John P. Leavey and Richard Rand (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 95a.
[53] Derrida, Glas, 96a.
[54] Jacques Derrida, “Khora” in On the Name, trans. Ian McLeod (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1995), 87-127, at 126.
[55] Jacques Derrida, “Provocation: Forewords” in Without Alibi, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2002) xv-xxxv, at xxxii-xxxiii.
[56] Simon Morgan Wortham, Counter-Institutions: Jacques Derrida and the Question of the University (New York: Fordham University Press, 2006).
[57] Jacques Derrida, “The Ends of Man” in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 111.
[58] Morgan Wortham, Counter-Institutions, 18-19.
[59] Morgan Wortham, Counter-Institutions, 29.
[60] Morgan Wortham, Counter-Institutions, 32-33.
[61] Derrida, Specters of Marx, 31.
[62] Morgan Wortham, Counter-Institutions, 34.
[63] Geoffrey Bennington, “Foundations”, Textual Practice 21.2 (2007): 231-249, at 240-241.
[64] Bennington, “Foundations”, 241.
[65] Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005), 152.
[66] Bennington, “Foundations”, 242. My parenthetical reference is to Derrida’s H.C. for life, that is to say..., trans. Laurent Milesi and Stefan Herbrechter (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2006).
[67] Bennington, “Foundations”, 242.
[68] Bennington, “Foundations”, 243.
[69] Geoffrey Bennington, “Derrida’s Dignity”, keynote paper presented at the Second Derrida Today Conference, Goodenough College, London, July 21 2010.
[70] Derrida, Specters of Marx, xix.
[71] Derrida, Specters of Marx, xix-xx.
[72] Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996) and J. Hillis Miller, “The University of Dissensus” in Oxford Literary Review 17 (1995): 121-143.
[73] Jacques Derrida, “The University Without Condition” in Without Alibi, 202-237, at 236.
[74] Derrida, “The University Without Condition”, 237.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant and helpful! Thank you.